Feinsand: Gary Denbo to replace Mark Newman, Pat Roessler out as player development director

Denbo. (NY Post)
Denbo. (NY Post)

According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have tabbed Gary Denbo to replace Mark Newman as vice president of baseball operations. Newman, who has run the team’s farm system for more than a decade, is retiring. Denbo has been part of the interview process as the Yankees look for a new hitting coach, which was an indication he was moving into a more prominent front office role. The team has not yet made any kind of official announcement.

Denbo, 53, has worked three stints with the Yankees since 1990. He has served as a minor league hitting coach and manager (1990-96), minor league hitting coordinator (1997-2000, 2006-07), assistant minor league director (2000), hitting coach for the MLB club (2001), and scouting and player development consultant (2009-14). Denbo was also a hitting coach for the Nippon Ham Fighters (2003-05) and Blue Jays (2008). He played four years in the minors (1983-86) as an outfielder with the Reds but never made it above Double-A.

Feinsand also reports Pat Roessler is out as the team’s director of player development, a position he had held since 2005. There is no word on his replacement just yet, but the Yankees are reportedly considering former Expos and Mets GM Omar Minaya for a front office position, and he could be a fit there. When we first learned Newman was retiring a few weeks ago, it was reported Roessler and some other player development folks could be in danger as well.

The brain trust and especially Hal Steinbrenner have not been pleased with the team’s unproductive farm system these last few years, specifically their inability to produce position players. They evaluated their player development system late last year but only made procedural changes. This time around they changed some personnel. (Newman’s contract expires this month and I get the sense the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back anyway.) Hopefully the new voices lead to a more productive farm system.

Yankees will not hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan did not get the Yankees hitting coach job, he confirmed to Susan Slusser. Magadan and Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis are the only people who have been confirmed to have interviewed for the job, and the Red Sox are set to hire Davis. The Yankees hired Larry Rothschild as pitching coach out of nowhere four years ago. Seems like we’re in for the same thing with the hitting coach job. Intrigue!

2014 Season Review: The Perfect Fit Who Didn’t Fit

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

On paper, signing Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth $3M last offseason made perfect sense for the Yankees. They had questions at both second and third bases, plus he’s a dead pull left-handed hitter who figured to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch. When Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners a week later and Alex Rodriguez was eventually suspended for the entire 2014 season, Johnson went from shrewd signing to essential piece.

Johnson, who turned 32 in Spring Training, hit an unsexy yet effective .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven steals in 118 games for the Rays last year. He also saw time at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as left field. That kind of production and versatility would be at an absolutely bargain at $3M. Given his 2012-13 spray chart …


Source: FanGraphs

… there was every reason to believe Johnson would hit a few cheap homers in the Bronx and see his offensive numbers tick up a bit. His struggles against left-handers were a concern but there were ways to minimize his exposure to southpaws. Add in the fact that he was very familiar with the AL East after spending part of 2011 and all of 2012 with the Blue Jays before joining the Rays 2013, and Johnson was a damn near perfect fit. The Yankees were wise to jump on him so relatively early in free agency.

Of course, as so many people are eager to point out, baseball is not played on paper or spreadsheets and things don’t always go according to plan. It would be really boring if they did. Despite his versatility and left-handed pull power, Johnson did not work out as planned for the Yankees. It took all of three games for him to lose the starting third base job — that had more to do with Yangervis Solarte‘s early-season performance than Johnson’s — and by midseason he had been relegated to full-time bench duty.

The first two weeks of the season actually went quite well for Johnson. He was able to stay in the lineup despite Solarte’s dominance because Mark Teixeira‘s injury created an opening at first base, and he went 10-for-35 (.286) with two doubles, a triple, and three home runs in the team’s first 12 games of the season. The three homers came in a five-game span against the Orioles and Red Sox. Johnson played as expected (better, really) for the first two weeks of the season. It was wonderful.

And then it all went south. Johnson went 3-for-26 (.115) in the team’s next 12 games and it took a set of back-to-back 2-for-4 games at the end of May to get his season batting line to .217/.286/.409 (93 wRC+) on June 1st. That’s not all that far off from his 2013 production, but he cooled off big time following the hot start and the move into Yankee Stadium hadn’t help his production as hoped. By the time June rolled around, Johnson was playing sparingly at first and third bases with the occasional start at DH.

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

A strong two weeks in mid-July — 8-for-27 (.296) with a homer, four walks and zero strikeouts from July 6th through the 21st — wasn’t enough to save Johnson’s job with the Yankees, so, a few hours before the July 31st trade deadline, he was traded to the rival Red Sox for close friend Stephen Drew. Johnson finished his time in pinstripes with a .219/.304/.373 (91 wRC+) batting line and six homers in 77 games. That includes a .224/.300/.402 (94 wRC+) line with five homers at home and a .213/.308/.340 (86 wRC+) line with one homer on the road.

Johnson spent most of his time with the Yankees at first and third bases, though he see spot duty in both outfield corners and at second base. His defense on the infield corners was pretty terrible and that probably has a lot to do with inexperience. Coming into the season, Johnson had playing only 18 career innings at first base and 118 career innings at third base. All of them came with the Rays last season. The inexperience doesn’t absolve him of blame, he misplayed some balls any big leaguer should make, but it’s not something we can ignore either.

I do wonder if Johnson would have had more success with the Yankees if they had kept him at his natural second base position. That’s where he has spent most of his career and is presumably the most comfortable. Maybe keeping him there would have helped his offense somehow. These guys are only human. Learning a new-ish position is demanding and his game could have suffered elsewhere. This stuff happens all the time all around the league. Oh well. I’m just thinking out loud.

Johnson playing sparingly for the Red Sox (-12 wRC+ in ten games) before being shipped to the Orioles (111 wRC+ in 19 games) in a late-August waiver trade. Baltimore was looking for some extra third base depth following Manny Machado’s season-ending knee surgery. He did end up making their postseason roster but only got two at-bats in October. Johnson made a ton of sense for the Yankees coming into the season thanks to his versatility and left-handed pop, but it didn’t work out for several reasons and the team moved on at the trade deadline. That’s baseball.

Cafardo: Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang to be posted this offseason

According to Nick Cafardo, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization will make star shortstop Jung-Ho Kang available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason. The posting agreement with KBO is different than the posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan. The posting system for Korean players is the same as the old posting system for Japanese players, meaning MLB teams will make blind bids for the right to negotiate with the player for 30 days.

Kang, 27, had a monster season this year, hitting .360/.463/.756 with 33 doubles, 38 homers, 62 walks, and 98 strikeouts in only 107 games. He’s had other very good years for the Heroes but nothing like this. Here are his stats since becoming a regular:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 21 -7.2 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 -6.3 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 -5.0 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 -4.5 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 -3.4 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 -2.5 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 107 458 98 137 33 2 38 107 3 3 62 98 .360 .463 .756 1.219
9 Seasons 892 3517 465 904 190 10 137 535 51 28 381 593 .298 .382 .503 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/19/2014.

After a monster season like that, Kang’s value is unlikely to get any higher. I doubt he’ll improve on that performance at any point in the future. Kang is two years away from international free agency, so it makes sense for Nexen to post him now, when his value is at its absolutely highest. Otherwise they’ll loose him for nothing after the 2016 season or get stuck with a smaller posting fee next winter.

Cafardo says there is “some pushback from scouts who have seen (Kang) play on whether he translates to major league baseball,” mostly because of a very high leg kick that may leave him vulnerable against better than KBO pitching. Here’s more on Kang from one of my recent mailbags:

Kang is said to be a true shortstop with strong defense, and his best offensive tool is his big power from the right side. Supposedly he’s a dead fastball hitter who struggles against good breaking pitches, which would be a major concern if true. Remember, Kang is playing in Korea, where the level of competition is even lower than Japan.

I remember reading something a few years ago that pointed it almost all the successful position players to come over from Asia were outfielders because the game on the infield is simply too fast and too big of an adjustment. Akinori Iwamura is the most notable recent Asian import to make it work on the infield in MLB, and he was nothing more than a league average player for two and a half years. Others like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped despite being high-profile pickups and stars in Japan. That doesn’t mean Kang will be a bust, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The only Korean-born position players in MLB history are Hee-Seop Choi and Shin-Soo Choo, both of whom signed as amateurs and came up through the minors like every other player. Kang will be the first position player to come over from KBO via the posting system and second star player overall, joining Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu. Los Angeles bid $25.7M for Ryu and signed him to a six-year deal worth $36M.

The Yankees need both a short and long-term shortstop after Derek Jeter‘s retirement, and with J.J. Hardy recently signing an extension with the Orioles, Stephen Drew is the only true shortstop set to hit free agency this offseason. Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all second or third basemen masquerading as shortstops. I’m not sure how many people are eager to see Drew back in pinstripes, even on a cheap one-year contract.

There have not yet been any reports saying the Yankees or any other team has interest in Kang, though it’s probably a little too early for that. I’m sure it’ll pick up after the World Series. I don’t know enough about Kang to say whether the Yankees should look into signing him. All I know is they need a shortstop and he’ll be available this offseason. This isn’t a Masahiro Tanaka situation though, where every report indicates he will be an impact player right away. Not even close, really.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 20th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for postseason

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