Weekend Open Thread

Two weeks! Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training! It’s getting closer, folks. Also coming in two weeks: my annual top 30 prospects list and RAB’s eighth birthday. Eight years, man. Time flies. Here are the weekend links:

  • Jonah Keri released his annual list of the worst contracts in baseball. One Yankees player made the top ten and three others made the honorable mentions. I’m guessing you don’t even need to click to know who they are. Three of the five worst contracts belong to one team though, and it ain’t the Yankees.
  • David Waldstein wrote about Rob Refsnyder, but it’s not your typical puff piece. He covered Refsnyder’s upbringing — Refsnyder was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California as an infant — and all the challenges he faced growing up, including being heckled as a college player.
  • There have been a bunch of interviews with new commissioner Rob Manfred since he officially came into power two weeks ago, and I think Bill Shaikin’s is the best. He hit Manfred with questions about growing the game, labor piece, the Athletics’ stadium situation, and more. It’s good stuff.
  • Last week, Baseball America republished a really great roundtable article on the “stats vs. scouts” debate from 2005. Two scouts and two stats guys sat down and discussed the usefulness of each other and where the game was going moving forward. It’s still really great read. Check it out.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, and there’s a ton of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the links, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Saturday: This is your open thread again. The Rangers have already played but the Islanders, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all in action tonight. And there’s college hoops as well. Talk about whatever’s on your mind here.

Sunday: For the last time, here’s your open thread. The Rangers are playing right now and that’s pretty much it. Have at it.

#RABRetroWeek Mailbag: The Decades Yankees Team

A Daily Digest reader sent in such a phenomenal question that I had to answer it for everyone. It’s the perfect end to Retro Week.

(P.S.: Sign up for the Daily Digest now, so you can get Monday’s edition. We’re nearing 2,000 subscribers, so don’t be left out.)

Jimmy asks: If you had to build a team choosing one player from each decade (e.g. one from the 1920’s, one from the 1930’s, etc.) to fill out all 9 fielding positions plus a DH, who would you pick?

The problem is that there are 10 decades (including the current one, which I’m using) and only 9 starting positions. So I’m going to throw in one starter here.

Let’s start out with the obvious ones, shall we?

1920s

Right Field – Babe Ruth

I don’t have to spend time justifying this one, do I? This and the next one were the slam dunkiest of picks.

1930s

First Base – Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was actually better in the 30s (181 OPS+) than he was in the 20s (174 OPS+). His 1934 through 1937 seasons are one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history (187 OPS+), during which he led the league in OBP all four years, led in OPS three out of the four, led the league in homers twice, and won a batting title. In 1934 he led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS (naturally), HR, and RBI, yet finished fifth in the MVP voting because…no, seriously, someone find the 1934 voters. We need an explanation. Even teammate Lefty Gomez got more first place votes, which is just bizarre.

Anyway, Gehrig was probably the most dominant player of the 1930s. He led the way in Offensive WAR (because there is no way you’re getting me to factor defense into analyzing the 30s), trailed closely by Jimmie Foxx. I suppose you could make an argument that Foxx was the most dominant player, but it’s really him or Gehrig.

1940s

Center Field – Joe DiMaggio

At this point I had to start making a graph of who I was picking where. Do I go with DiMaggio as the CF in the 40s, or Mantle as the CF in the 50s? As it turns out, the 50s was a crowded time. If I wanted to use Mantle in CF, I’d pretty much have to use Charlie Keller as my 40s guy in LF. After mapping it out, I stuck with DiMaggio.

1950s

Pitcher – Whitey Ford

Originally I had Yogi here, and there wasn’t much thought in my mind to change it. Then I realized that pitcher would be the toughest position to fill. Sorry to say, but it was easier to flip out Yogi for Whitey than it was to flip out Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio for Ruffing, Gomez, or Hoyt. I still think it all works out for the better.

1960s

Left Field – Tom Tresh

Probably my weakest pick, but for good reason. For a while I had Roy White as LF in the 70s and Elston Howard as C in the 60s, but the difference in production is just too great. I love Howard, but Thurman Munson just dominated in the 70s. Tresh held his own in the 60s though, so he’s a fine pick, if not the flashiest.

1970s

Catcher – Thurman Munson

I did not know this: White has the most Offensive WAR of any Yankee who has played at least 50 percent of his time in left field. It was tempting to go with him here, but Munson was just a powerhouse in the 70s. He led the team in WAR, and is right with Posada, behind Berra and Dickey, as the one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history.

1980s

DH – Dave Winfield

We now reach the most fudged selection of the group. My initial inclination was to go with Giambi in the 2000s as DH, but then I realized that was stupid. A-Rod is the best-hitting 3B in Yankee history by no small margin. Again, could have gone Nettles in the 70s, but then I have to go with a lesser LF from the 80s. And, well, there were no Yankees with 1,500 PA who got half their time at LF in the 80s. Seriously, zero. Winfield qualified for DH in that he got more than 25 percent of his at-bats there in the 80s. I’m not particularly proud of this pick, but it’s what works.

1990s

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

By this point you can see what positions and decades remain and guess my three picks. So I’ll just list them.

2000s

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

Hate him? Fine. But he won two MVPs and led the team to its first World Series in nearly a decade. Wah wah Graig Nettles wah wah.

2010s

Second Base – Robinson Cano

Cano took a huge step forward in 2010, which is convenient for this list. He is 10 Offensive WAR against the next-best Yankee hitter from the decade (Curtis Granderson), which makes me really depressed about the 2010s Yankees.

Offensive WAR Ranks

How did I do? Let’s look at the Yankees Offensive WAR leaders by decade to see how many wins they produced. Before looking I’m pretty sure I got near the top guy in each decade.

Note, this is the WAR produced with the Yankees in that decade only.

Decade Player WAR Rank
1920s Ruth 95.7 1
1930s Gehrig 75.0 1
1940s DiMaggio 42.2 1
1950s Ford 26.6 1
1960s Tresh 22.4 3
1970s Munson 42.6 1
1980s Winfield 33.6 1
1990s Jeter 25.9 3
2000s Rodriguez 41.8 2
2010 Cano 25.8 1

Note: Jeter actually produced more WAR, almost double, in the 00s (the most on the Yankees), but that creates a problem in the 90s. Only Bernie and O’Neill ranked ahead of him in Offensive WAR. O’Neill is right out, and to swap out Bernie would be to pick Keller in the 40s. That leaves 3B to the 60s, which means Clete Boyer, which is just not happening. This is a balancing act. Going Bernie-Jeter in 90s-00s makes the team weaker elsewhere.

If you think you can produce more than the 431.6 cumulative Offensive WAR of this squad, be my guest. But I’m pretty sure this is the best team, under the given circumstances, that you could create.

Minor League Notes: Prospect Lists, Just Misses, Palmer

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

Got a whole bunch of miscellaneous minor league notes and links to pass along, most involving some sort of prospect ranking. Let’s get to it …

Baseball America’s updated top ten lists

Baseball America finished their annual series looking at the top ten prospects in each organization a week or two ago, but, as usual, there were several trades that threw a wrench in the rankings. Earlier this week they released updated top ten lists to reflect all the transactions that went down this offseason. The Yankees’ list is unchanged one through nine, but the recently acquired RHP Domingo German jumps into the tenth spot, bumping 3B Miguel Andujar down. German ranked sixth in the Marlins’ system before the trade, for what it’s worth.

Keith Law’s top ten prospects by position

Two weeks ago, Keith Law released his team top ten prospect lists and overall top 100 list. Last week he posted his top ten prospects by position (subs. req’d) and only two Yankees’ farmhands made the cut: 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge rank third among first baseman and outfielders, respectively. Bird is behind Mariners 1B D.J. Peterson and Mets 1B Dominic Smith, Judge is behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law’s really high on Judge, obviously. The most notable omissions are RHP Luis Severino, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and C Gary Sanchez, but I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to say those three are not among the ten best prospects at their positions right now.

MLB.com’s just missed prospects

MLB.com published their top 100 list and top ten prospects by position a few weeks ago, and both Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo followed by writing up their “just misses.” The guys who, well, just missed the top 100 and top ten by position lists. C Gary Sanchez just missed the top 100 (“Though he hasn’t lived up to his $3 million bonus yet, he still has big raw power and a bazooka arm and is only 22.”) and OF Aaron Judge just fell short of the outfield top ten (“There’s a lot more power in his 6-7 frame, too, though I like how he focused on just hitting. The power’s going to come and he fits the RF profile perfectly.”) So Law has Judge as the third best outfield prospect in the game and MLB.com has him outside the top ten. That’s ranking prospects for ya.

Top 100 prospects by ZiPS projections

This is sort of a goofy exercise but I found it interesting. Dan Szymborski ranked the top 100 prospects in baseball using his ZiPS system and their projected mean career WAR (subs. req’d). Needless to say, there are caveats abound with something like this. It’s not meant to be a hardcore analysis. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant sits in the top spot and is followed by Dodgers OF Joc Pederson and Indians SS Francisco Lindor. OF Aaron Judge (48th) and 1B Greg Bird (60th) both make the top 100. No Sanchez or Severino. Ex-Yankees farmhand C/1B Peter O’Brien ranks 99th, interestingly enough.

Palmer suspended 50 games

SS Tyler Palmer, who signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent last June, has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines and a drug of abuse (second offense). The 22-year-old hit .255/.350/.431 (125 wRC+) in 52 games for the rookie GCL Yanks last year. Palmer was the No. 1 NAIA prospect heading into the draft, according to Baseball America. His back story is pretty interesting: Palmer was the Marlins’ fourth rounder out of high school in 2011 and was set to sign with the team for $600,000, but he suffered severe nerve damage to his throwing arm in a freak broken window accident days before signing the contract, so the Marlins withdrew the offer. Palmer rehabbed, mashed for a season in junior college even though he still hadn’t regained full use of his thumb, then needed another surgery that kept him out of baseball until the spring of 2013.

Yankees sign undrafted free agent Marzi

The Yankees have signed undrafted free agent left-hander Anthony Marzi, according to Dom Amore. Marzi pitched at UConn and had a 3.13 ERA in 299.1 innings across four years. His 217/96 K/BB doesn’t exactly stand out, however. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out, and the organization I’m getting a chance with. I’ve been a Yankees fan all my life. My whole family are Yankees fans, and they’re seriously pumped up,” said Marzi to Amore. He figures to start the season as an extra arm with either Low-A Charleston or High-A Tampa.

Cashman confirms Yankees will meet with A-Rod to clear the air

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

A few weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air as he prepares to return from his 162-game suspension. At the time it was reported the Yankees had declined a meeting with A-Rod, but Brian Cashman shot that down today. The GM told Nick Cafardo the team will meet with Alex in the near future. “We’re more than happy to meet with him,” said Cashman.

So no one is surprised by this, right? Like it or not, the Yankees seem committed to giving A-Rod a chance to show he has something left this season, and there’s no sense in holding any kind of grudge or making a bad situation worse. The two sides will meet, shake hands, force some smiles, and move on. There’s really not much else they can do at this point. Feuding with Alex accomplishes nothing.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Rodriguez to hit .229/.312/.399 (96 OPS+) with 15 dingers in a little over 400 plate appearances this coming season, which stinks but isn’t a total disaster. Then again, ZiPS doesn’t know Alex has two bad hips and it doesn’t know how to treat his missing an entire year. Point is, no one knows what he can do next season. I hope he mashes and creates total MSM chaos.

The Fifth Member of the Core Four

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

For most of the last two decades, the Yankees were led by a collection of four homegrown players, two who became first ballot Hall of Famers and two who became borderline Hall of Famers. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada were forces at key up the middle positions while Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera dominated at the start and end of games. It ain’t that hard to build a winner when you have elite players at short, catcher, in the rotation, and in the bullpen.

The term Core Four is a bit disingenuous though because there are 25 guys on the roster and Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera didn’t do it all by themselves. I know it’s not intentional, but “Core Four” does minimize the contributions of everyone else who played for the Yankees in the late-1990s and 2000s. More than anyone else, the term unfairly disparages the career of Bernie Williams, the fifth member of the Core Four.

In 1991, Bernie became the first member of the Core Four to reach the big leagues, when he was called up to fill in for the injured Roberto Kelly in June. “It’s very different. I’ve been dreaming of this since I signed, six years ago … I was nervous out there at first. I didn’t expect this many fans,” said Williams to Filip Bondy after his MLB debut, in which he went 1-for-3 in drove in two of the team’s three runs in their 5-3 loss to the Orioles.

By August of 1992, Williams a big league regular, hitting leadoff and putting up a .280/.354/.406 (114 OPS+) batting line with five homers, 29 walks, and 36 strikeouts in 62 games as a 23-year-old. The following year he slipped down to a 100 OPS+, but in 1994, Bernie hit his stride and started a nine-year peak in which he hit .319/.404/.525 (140 OPS+) in over 5,500 plate appearances with an average of 23 homers and 12 steals per season. From 1997-2002 — the peak of his peak, shall we say — he hit .326/.411/.538 (146 OPS+).

My favorite thing about peak Bernie was his consistency. From age 28-33, Williams sat between 4.8 and 5.1 WAR each and every season. Check it out:


Source: FanGraphsBernie Williams

WAR is sort of dumb, but I find Bernie’s consistency aesthetically pleasing. The guy was one of the best outfielders in baseball year after year and a lynchpin to the late-1990s dynasty. He hit in the middle of the order every year from 1996 through 2002 and received MVP votes in each of those years except 2001. Williams even won a batting title in 1998, hitting .339.

Although his center field defense left a little something to be desired — especially his arm, I love Bernie, but gosh was his arm bad — Williams did it all offensively, drawing walks and hitting for average and producing power from both sides of the plate. And, of course, the Yankees were always considering trading him, because George Steinbrenner was seemingly always looking to trade his good young players.

During the postseason, Williams put up a .275/.371/.480 batting line in 121 games — 121 postseason games! — including .278/.379/.479 during the club’s title runs in 1996 and 1998-2000. In Game Three of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, Bernie became the first player in history to go deep from both sides of the plate in a postseason game:

A year later, in Game Four of the 1996 ALDS against the Rangers, Williams homered from both sides of the plate again. It wasn’t until Chipper Jones in 2003 that someone other than Bernie managed to go deep from both sides of the plate in one postseason game. Williams was named the 1996 ALCS MVP and he still holds the all-time record with 80 RBI in the postseason.

The end of Bernie’s career was pretty ugly — he hit .264/.326/.399 (90 OPS+) with awful defense from 2005-06 — though he is hardly unique in that regard. At his best, Bernie was a high impact hitter at the center of a bonafide dynasty. He’s not the best center fielder in Yankees history because Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio existed, but he is undoubtedly one of the best players in franchise history. So why doesn’t he get recognized for it?

For starters, Core Five just doesn’t sound cool. Let’s not kid ourselves here, “Core Four” became a thing because it rhymes. Michael Kay likes to say Bernie isn’t part of the Core Four because he wasn’t there for all five World Series titles from 1996-2009, but Posada had 15 plate appearances with the Yankees in 1996. He wasn’t exactly a key cog in that machine. It’s lazy reasoning. Core Five doesn’t roll off the tongue easily. It really is that simple.

Secondly, I think Bernie gets overlooked because he was never considered the best player at his position. He was stuck playing in the Ken Griffey Jr. era, not to mention the Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton era. Stretch it out to all outfielders and Williams also had to compete against Barry Bonds and Larry Walker and Manny Ramirez as well. There were a ton of great outfielders in the 1990s and 2000s, especially center fielders. That made it easy to overlook someone like Bernie.

Third, he wasn’t even the best player or biggest star on his own team. The late-1990s Yankees were Derek Jeter’s team. And if they weren’t Derek Jeter’s team, they were Paul O’Neill’s team. Then there was David Cone and Roger Clemens and all sorts of other players who grabbed more headlines than Williams. Bernie was a quiet, unassuming guy who didn’t have much flash to his game, didn’t smash water coolers, didn’t do anything like that to draw attention to himself. He produced in a boring way.

That all worked against Williams. But make no mistake, he was a great player — an all-time great Yankee, there’s no doubt about that — who was a major factor in the late-1990s dynasty. He was also the first homegrown player from that era to come up and become a regular with the team. Bernie’s place in recent Yankees history has been undersold because of a gimmicky nickname. He belongs in the Core Four every bit as much as Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera.

RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Shields, Moncada, Rotation, O’Brien, Tanaka

I know it’s Retro Week, but nothing gets in the way of the weekly mailbag. I’ve got a dozen questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Many asked: Is it time for the Yankees to jump in on James Shields?

Yes, I think so. They passed on Max Scherzer because they don’t want another never-ending big money long-term contract, but, at this point, Shields’ market seems to be slow and there’s a chance he’ll come at a relative discount. As I wrote in our Scouting the Market post, the only concern with Shields is his age and workload. His performance continues to be excellent. He had been asking for five years and $110M earlier this offseason, but what if he’s willing to take something like three years and $54M now? Or even one year at $20M so he can try again next offseason? I don’t think that will happen — multiple reports indicate Shields will sign soon and I still think he’s going to get four or maybe even five years — but Spring Training is right around the corner and his agent is presumably feeling the heat. The Yankees have to at least check in. They could end up getting a very good pitcher on very favorable terms.

Mark asks: What are your thoughts on the current and future state of the franchise if the Yanks either elect not to pursue Yoan Moncada or end up losing him to another team? I would also be curious to get your thoughts as to whether this likely means the Yanks are not in on any major free agent for the foreseeable future?

My thoughts on the state of the franchise wouldn’t change all that much regardless of whether the Yankees sign Moncada. It would improve slightly if they sign him but not a substantial amount. We are still talking about a 19-year-old kid here who, in the best case scenario, is two years away from being an impact player. It would be great if the Yankees sign him, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a franchise-altering decision.

Moncada isn’t a major free agent in the traditional sense — he’s going to cost a massive amount of money up front, not some kind of multi-year contract. I do think the Yankees are looking to avoid big money long-term contracts right now, at least until guys like Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran start coming off the books following the 2016 season. That could always change in an instant, plans have to be flexible (e.g. Shields), but I definitely think the team is trying to avoid those pricey contracts that buy decline years in bulk for the time being. It’s about time, really.

Chris asks: Do the Yankees have an advantage in the Moncada situation because they have already burned their next two years of international spending? It would seem like other teams would be hesitant to do so without also having signed a huge IFA class like the Yankees did this past year.

If they do have an advantage, it’s a very small one. Whoever signs Moncada is going to blow through their international spending pool and get stuck with the 100% tax, so it’s an even playing field in that regard. I don’t think many clubs will hesitate to pursue a player of this caliber because international free agency is such a crapshoot each summer. Every MLB club can afford an ~$80M up front payment — say $40M bonus and $40M tax — it’s just a question of which owners are most willing to be aggressive. It’s hard to believe anyone would pass on Moncada based on talent. This feels like something that will come down to ownership’s approval.

Will asks: With regard to the international spending penalties in 2016-2017, is there a hard cap on total spending, or just the $300K player cap?

This is important: the Yankees spending pool for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods will not change. They’re still going to get the same amount to spend as they normally would — based on last year’s pools the team will have $2.3M or so to spend in 2015-16 — but won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000. So, instead of a few big bonuses, they just have to hand out a lot of small bonuses. The Yankees are quite good at finding quality Latin American prospects on the cheap (Luis Severino signed for $225,000, for example), so they’ll still be able to do some damage, they’re just going to have no shot at the top talent.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Dan asks: In your opinion, do the Yankees have enough starting pitching depth to compensate for the major injury risks to their rotation?

Right now, no. I like Bryan Mitchell but I don’t think he’s as ready to step into a big league rotation as Shane Greene was last season. That said, I’m pretty confident — perhaps foolishly confident — the Yankees will be able to patch the rotation in-season. Remember, they were without Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova for big chunks of last season too, and they still got by. I think Brian Cashman & Co. will be able to cobble things together again if necessary. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of rumors about impending free agents like Ian Kennedy, Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, Bartolo Colon, and Kyle Lohse being rental candidates as the season progresses.

Bill asks: Loved the series “Ranking the 40 man roster,” but it got me thinking … What if you had to rank the 40 most important players in the organization regardless if they are on the 40 man roster or not? What about Moncada?

I’m glad someone liked that series. If we opened it up to every player in the organization, the top of my list wouldn’t have changed all that much. The highest ranked non-40-man player would have been Aaron Judge and I would have had him tenth, behind Chase Headley and ahead of Andrew Miller. Judge is the Yankees’ best prospect, but, at the end of the day, he’s still a prospect who has yet to play above Single-A. Moncada is a different story because he’s supposedly so damn good. I would have had him fourth behind Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Pineda. The back-half of the list, the 20-40 range, is where there would have been a ton of change. Guys like Severino and Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder all would have ranked ahead of big leaguers like Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson.

A.J.R. asks: Not sure if anything is different, but this offseason, the writing has been excellent regarding the historical articles. Has this been a decision bought on by the current state of the Yankees, or have I just underestimated the past few winters’ writing sprees?

Nah, it has nothing to do with the state of the team. We did a Retro Week two or three years ago and people liked it, so we decided to do it again. These last few weeks of the offseason in late-January and early-February really drag and it’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been written about a bunch of times earlier in the offseason. It’s a good time to do something different and Retro Week is a change of pace from the usual.

Ethan asks: What the heck is Arizona thinking with Peter O’Brien? Do you really think he’ll be on their 25 man on opening day?

The D’Backs traded Miguel Montero to the Cubs earlier this winter and the only catchers on their 40-man roster are journeyman Tuffy Gosewich and Rule 5 Draft pick Oscar Hernandez. They also just signed Gerald Laird to a minor league contract. GM Dave Stewart, manager Chip Hale, and bench coach Glenn Sherlock all mentioned O’Brien as a MLB catcher candidate to Nick Piecoro and that seem so very far-fetched. Basically no one outside the D’Backs organization thinks he can catch. I’m rooting for him, I hope he makes the Opening Day roster, but it’s tough to see him hacking it as a big league catcher. The Yankees seem to know catcher defense as well as any organization in baseball and they were relatively quick to cut him loose.

Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)
Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)

Anthony asks: Outside of fewer pitching changes or a pitch clock, how else could MLB make the game more appealing to the younger generation?

I think pace of play is incorrectly being blamed for MLB losing out on younger viewers. Shaving 10-15 minutes off the average won’t make much of a difference reeling in young fans. I think the easy answer is better marketing and more outreach programs. MLB finally got around to putting together a player-specific commercial last year (Clayton Kershaw) and needs to do more of that. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Felix Hernandez, Tanaka … plaster these guys on billboards and stick them in commercials and internet ads. The stars need to be promoted. More FanFest or caravan events would help too. Maybe mandate that each team has to do at least one event each offseason, and/or that every player on the 40-man has to be available for autographs at some point in the offseason? I’m not sure. The closer the kids get to the players, the more appealing baseball will be to them.

Bobby asks: Is it just me or is the offense and defense bound to be better than last season?

No, it’s not just you. I’m apparently one of the few people who think the Yankees are better than last season. The left side of the infield has been upgraded tremendously, on both sides of the ball too. (I love Derek Jeter, but c’mon, he was pretty terrible last year.) The worst case scenario at second base is what, that Stephen Drew repeats what Brian Roberts did last season? In that case he’d be cast aside and Refsnyder would get a chance. The bullpen is much better and deeper as well. I also think the farm system is in much better position to provide help, both in terms of calling guys up and using them as trade chips. Are the Yankees substantially better than they were in 2014? No, but I do think they’re a handful of wins better, mostly because the run prevention is improved.

Doge asks: So I get that four doctors told Tanaka to hold off on getting surgery. But do you think there’s a risk to him staying healthy for a year or so, only to fully tear the ligament when the team is finally in as spot to make a WS run and needs him the most? Would it have made sense for the team to get the surgery out of the way now, when they don’t have the best shot at making the playoffs? Conversely, do you think that the timing of his inevitable surgery could have an impact on whether or not he exercises his opt out clause?

Oh sure, I totally get it. There’s a very good chance Tanaka will need Tommy John surgery at some point in the future, and he could need it at a very inopportune time. Right before the postseason, after all the top free agent pitchers sign next offseason, right before his opt-out clause, something like that. If he blows out his elbow and is unable to show he’s back to being the awesome version of Tanaka before the opt-out, I think he’d stay with the Yankees and take the guaranteed money.

That said, what are the Yankees supposed to do? When four world-renowned doctors tell you to rehab your $175M investment, you rehab him. Surgery is always a last resort, remember. There’s always a chance Tanaka will come back like, say, Ryan Madson, which is to say he wouldn’t come back at all. This is a really sucky and unfortunate situation. There’s really nothing more we or the Yankees can do other than hope for the best.

Stan asks: Who are your choices for greatest Yankees at their positions ever, and that you have seen play?

What better way to close out the Retro Week mailbag post than with this question? Here are my picks:

Position Best Ever Best I’ve Seen
C Yogi Berra Jorge Posada
1B Lou Gehrig Don Mattingly
2B Robinson Cano Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
OF Babe Ruth Bernie Williams
OF Mickey Mantle Rickey Henderson
OF Joe DiMaggio Dave Winfield
RHSP Red Ruffing Mike Mussina
LHSP Whitey Ford Andy Pettitte
RHRP Mariano Rivera Mariano Rivera
LHRP Dave Righetti Dave Righetti

I skipped DH because it’s just a weird position. (The team’s all-time WAR leader at DH is Danny Tartabull with 7.9.) Otherwise most of this is straight forward, yes? You could nitpick a few spots — Dave Winfield over Hideki Matsui, etc. — but I think this is in the right ballpark. I suppose you could argue Graig Nettles was the best third baseman in franchise history if you really detest A-Rod for the off-field stuff, but in terms of on-field production, it’s not close. And I know I just wrote about Willie Randolph’s awesomeness, but Cano is far and away the best hitting second baseman in franchise history, so I’m going with him. So what do you think?