The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a shrewd bullpen pickup.
Over the last few years, the Yankees have shown a knack for plucking useful relievers off the scrap heap. Guys like Brian Bruney, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, Luis Ayala, Edwar Ramirez, and Cody Eppley have contributed to the team’s bullpen in recent years. They usually don’t stick around that long and their tenures tend to end uglily, but being able to consistently grab a guy off waivers or as a minor league free agent and squeeze 50 good innings out of him is a nice skill to have.
The Yankees landed this summer’s bargain bullpen pickup in a mid-February trade, on the very day pitchers and catchers officially reported for duty in Tampa. They shipped minor league outfielder Abe Almonte to the Mariners for right-hander Shawn Kelley, who Seattle had designated for assignment after signing Joe Saunders a week earlier. Given his resume — 3.52 ERA (4.12 FIP) with an 8.58 K/9 (22.6 K% and 2.74 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) in 128 career big league innings — it was unlikely the 29-year-old Kelley would have made it to the Yankees on waivers, hence the trade.
Now, believe it or not, New York actually had a surplus of relievers in camp. David Robertson and Boone Logan were returning, Mariano Rivera was back after his knee injury, and there were a bunch of people (myself included) who expected Joba Chamberlain to be a solid option for the middle innings as he got further away from elbow reconstruction. Both Rapada and Eppley were still around, as where David Phelps and Adam Warren. David Aardsma was with the team as well. Kelley looked like a guy who would be stashed in Triple-A Scranton — had a minor league option remaining — and await the inevitable call-up.
Instead, Kelley grabbed a bullpen spot and made the Opening Day roster because, as it tends to do, the pitching depth disappeared in a hurry. Rapada hurt his shoulder in camp and was eventually released, plus Phelps had to start the year in the rotation because Phil Hughes hurt his back and opened the year on the DL. That made Warren the long man by default. Kelley won the last bullpen spot over Aardsma because he was physically able to throw two innings at a time — Aardsma was a pure one-inning guy after missing what amounts to two full years following hip and Tommy John surgery. The Yankees wanted the flexibility.
Early in the season, it looked like the team kept the wrong guy. Kelley was a low-leverage reliever who had yet to gain Joe Girardi‘s trust, which is why only two of his eight April appearances came with the score separated by fewer than three runs. One of those two was in extra innings of a tie game, a last reliever standing kind of thing. Kelley was awful in the season’s first month, allowing nine runs on 12 hits (four homers!) and four walks in 10.1 innings (7.84 ERA and 6.34 FIP). Needless to say, he did not gain Girardi’s trust in April.
Thanks to a few strong outings in early-May and Joba’s oblique injury, Kelley slowly began to climb the bullpen pecking order. It helped that he suddenly started striking pretty much everyone out too. By relying on his sharp low-80s slider, Kelley allowed one run on three hits and a walk while striking out 18 of 28 batters faced (!) during a six-appearance, eight-inning stretch in the middle of May. Striking out 18 of 28 batters faced across however many appearances is off the charts good. Like, literally off the chart.
All of those strikeouts and a strong month of May landed Kelley regular seventh inning work — the setup man for the setup man, basically — even after Chamberlain returned from the DL. From May 1st through August 31st, a span of 105 team games, Kelley pitched to a 2.50 ERA (2.42 FIP) with 51 strikeouts (11.57 K/9 and 31.5 K%) while stranding 32 of 34 (!) inherited runners (94%) in 39.2 innings. That inherited runner strand rate is ridiculous. Kelley held batters to a .194/.278/.285 batting line during that stretch, more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team in 2013 (.193/.252/.286).
Like most of the pitching staff, Kelley fell apart in September (six runs in 3.1 innings), in part because of a bout with triceps inflammation. He is a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, so arm trouble wasn’t the most surprising thing in the world. The poor final month left Kelley with an ordinary 4.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 53.1 innings, numbers that sell short how effective and important he was for much of the summer. An ugly April and an ugly September mask four months of excellence.
Kelley ended the year with an 11.98 K/9 (31.3 K%) and 3.88 BB/9 (10.1 BB%), so plenty of whiffs but more walks than you’d like to see. Not a back-breaking amount though. He is homer prone — 1.35 HR/9 and 13.1% HR/FB this year, right in line with his career 1.34 HR/9 and 10.5% HR/FB — and that’s what keeps him from being a true eighth or ninth inning option going forward in my opinion. Kelley was a big part of Girardi’s bullpen for a big chunk of the summer and the Yankees got him on the cheap. Could ask for more from a guy who was cut from another team’s roster right as Spring Training opened.
Only four questions this week, but they’re good ones. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Nate asks: If Homer Bailey is indeed being dangled, what kind of package would it take to land him? Should the Yankees go after him?
There has been speculation the Reds could trade Bailey in an effort to create payroll space, perhaps to sign Shin-Soo Choo long-term. Matt Swartz’s insanely accurate arbitration model projects the right-hander to earn $9.3M next season, his last before qualifying for free agency. Bailey reportedly hasn’t shown much interest in signing a long-term contract and presumably has his eye on a massive contract a year from now. Hard to blame him.
Bailey, 27, has emerged maybe not as an ace these last two years, but something damn close to an ace. He had a 3.49 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 209 innings this season after posting a 3.68 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 208 innings last year. Bailey was once one of the very best pitching prospects in the game — he was one spot behind Phil Hughes on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list after the 2006 season — and now he’s coming into his own as he enters his peak years.
Even though he only has one more year of team control left, I do think the Yankees should pursue Bailey if the Reds are indeed open to moving him. Not only would they be acquiring a really good pitcher –they could definitely use one or two of those, you know — but they would get a year to evaluate him in their league and ballpark before deciding whether to commit to him long-term. If not, they’ll get a draft pick. Kind of a win-win situation, I suppose.
Not too many pitchers of Bailey’s caliber have been traded one year from free agency in recent years, so we don’t have a good idea of what it would take to acquire him. Javy Vazquez (Expos to Yankees) and Cliff Lee (Phillies to Mariners) kinda fit the bill, but they were both better and more established than Bailey at the time of those trades. I’m guessing three prospects — one stud and two lesser pieces — is in the ballpark. The Reds don’t have any urgency to trade him though, so they won’t give him away. I don’t even think they will trade him. He’s a guy a win-now team keeps.
Andrew asks: With Jason Giambi looking to play one more year (according to Ken Rosenthal), would a reunion on a cheap one-year deal make sense? Cheap power designed for Yankee Stadium off the bench to hit for offensively challenged Yankees late in games (i.e., Brendan Ryan types should they re-sign him).
Giambi, who turns 43 in January, hit .183/.282/.371 (85 wRC+) with nine homers in 216 plate appearances for the Indians this year. That includes some really memorable walk-off homers as the Tribe made their push for a wildcard spot. I think it’s safe to assume moving into Yankee Stadium would help his power output, but how much? An extra five homers? Eight? Ten? The concerns I have are a) Giambi can’t play the field, and b) Derek Jeter figures to eat up a lot of DH time next season. The Yankees had an inflexible DH-only type on the roster this year (Travis Hafner) and it was a problem at times. I love Giambi as much as the next guy, but I don’t think he’s a fit for the current roster.
Michael asks: I wanted to know your thoughts about seeing Johan Santana in pinstripes for next year? He has a $25 million player and a $5.5 million buyout option. Can you picture Brian Cashman offering him a one-year, league minimum contract?
The Mets are obviously going to buy Santana out, but no, I can’t see the Yankees giving him a one-year contract at any salary. There’s no way they would (or should) guarantee him anything coming off his second (!) torn shoulder capsule. Torn capsules are the kiss of death; no one has ever had one and come back the same pitcher. The victim list includes Santana, Rich Harden, Mark Prior, Chien-Ming Wang, John Maine, John Danks, and Dallas Braden, among others.
That said, I do think the Yankees would be open to giving him a minor league contract a la Wang this year or Bartolo Colon in 2011. Santana came back from the first torn capsule and had a 4.85 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 117 innings last season, and that was in a big ballpark in the easier league. I’m not sure how anyone could expect anything out of him after another capsule injury, nevermind moving into Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Santana has been adamant that he wants to continue pitching, so if he wants to take a minor league deal to prove himself in Spring Training (and likely Triple-A early in the season), great. If not, no biggie.
Donny asks: After reading your “What Went Right: One-Run Games” post, I came to the conclusion that the team should keep David Robertson in the eighth and find someone else for the ninth. I came to this conclusion based on how Robertson reacted to his first introduction to closing (not good). My worry is that changing his role might have similar effects that it had on Joba Chamberlain and, to a lesser extent, Phil Hughes. Do you agree with this thought and if so, who should top the wish list (reasonably) if you are Brian Cashman?
Two things here. One, why is everyone freaking out about Robertson as the closer? How long as he actually been the team’s closer? A week, maybe, before getting hurt? That’s not enough to tell us anything about anything. Mariano Rivera blew three saves in the first two weeks of the 1997 season, remember. Robertson is one of the absolute best non-closer relievers in baseball. If you aren’t comfortable sticking him in the ninth inning, then who? He’s the perfect candidate. Two, moving Robertson from setup man to closer is not at all similar to moving Joba and Hughes back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. All you’re changing is the inning Robertson throws. The other two guys had to change their preparation, off-day routines, the way they pitched, everything. Huge, huge difference. Huge.
Now, all of that said, yeah the Yankees definitely need to bring in a good late-inning reliever this offseason in my opinion. With Rivera retiring, they’re losing an elite reliever. That’s 60 or so elite innings gone.Off the roster. Doesn’t matter what inning or role they came from, that’s a lot of production to replace. Free agent relievers are always risky investments, but the Yankees don’t really have a choice. A bullpen full of kids scares the crap out of me. Looking at the list of free agents, potential bullpen targets include Jesse Crain, Matt Lindstrom (if his option is declined), Edward Mujica, and the perpetually underrated Jamey Wright. I had my eye on Grant Balfour earlier this year, but he had a great season and won’t come cheap.
Via George King: Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka “is a priority” for the Yankees this winter, and they “are going to be serious players” in the posting process. “He is better than [Yu Darvish] because he is a strike thrower,’’ said one overly-enthusiastic scout. “Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like [Hiroki Kuroda], he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.’’
Tanaka, 25 next month, had a 1.24 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 181 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year. He is indeed expected to be posted this winter. The Yankees have been scouting him quite a bit in recent weeks, most notably sending assistant GM Billy Eppler and special assignment scout Don Wakamatsu to see him. King spoke to several executives who expect the bidding to approach $60M, which would be a record. Only the contract, not the posting fee, would count against the luxury tax. The Yankees have shied away from Japanese players (via the posting process) since the Kei Igawa disaster, so bidding big on Tanaka would be a big chance of pace. · (73) ·
A few winter ball assignments have started to trickle in, but remember, just because someone is on the roster doesn’t mean he’ll actually play. The team controls the player’s winter ball rights but his big league team may ask him not to play, something like that. Guys who are coming off injuries or pitchers nearing their workload limit usually don’t see much playing over the winter. Here are the few names we have so far.
- Mexican Pacific League: OF Jose Figueroa, IF Walt Ibarra, and UTIL Ronnie Mustelier.
- Venezuelan Winter League: C Francisco Arcia, IF Ali Castillo, C Frankie Cervelli, C Jose Gil, and UTIL Jose Pirela.
Obviously Cervelli is the big name there. He plays winter ball most years anyway, but he missed a bunch of time to injury/suspension this summer and could use the extra at-bats. Now for the updates from the desert:
AzFL Scottsdale (12-2 loss to Salt River) Wednesday’s game
- 3B Peter O’Brien: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — 23rd homer of the year … I imagine he’ll hit a few more out here before it’s all said and done
- LHP Fred Lewis: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — only ten of 22 pitches were strikes (45%) … he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter and I wonder if the team sent him out here just to get one last look before deciding whether he can help them out of the bullpen next year
- RHP Brett Gerritse: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — only 16 of 33 pitches were strikes (48%) … fun fact: his 2.42 FIP this year was the fifth lowest in minor league baseball among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched (538 qualifiers)
AzFL Scottsdale (6-3 loss to Peoria) Thursday’s game
- 1B Tyler Austin: 0-3, 1 RBI, 1 K
- CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — threw a runner out at second
Here is my spoiled Yankees fan admission: I remember almost nothing about the 1999 World Series. Most fans will remember pretty much everything about a recent World Series win — I could give you a game-by-game recap of the 1996 and 2009 World Series no problem, 1998 and 2001 would be a bit more difficult but still doable — but nothing about that 1999 series sticks out to me. Apparently Chuck Knoblauch hit a game-tying homer off Tom Glavine in the eighth inning at some point. That’s … neat. I’m embarrassed.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Tigers and Athletics are wrapping up their ALDS with Game 5, which starts at 8pm ET and can be seen on TBS (Justin Verlander vs. Sonny Gray). Giants-Bears is the Thursday night NFL game while the Rangers are the only hockey local in action. Lots of fun stuff tonight. Talk about all of it and more here.
The Yankees re-signed Joe Girardi to a new four-year contract worth $16M yesterday, but there are still some other coaching staff and front office situations to address. Here’s the latest from George King, Andy Martino, and Andrew Marchand.
- Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is close to signing a new contract extension. Brian Cashman recently said the team hoped to bring him back, but they needed to get the manager’s spot settled first. All of the coaches’ contracts expire on October 31st.
- The Mariners have internally discussed the possibility of pursuing Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson for their managerial opening. They have not yet asked New York for permission to interview Thomson or any of their coaches, however.
- The Phillies named Pete Mackanin their new third base coach earlier this week. He spent this past year as a Major League scout with the Yankees. Mackanin is very highly regarded within the game and was reportedly on the team’s short list of managerial candidates if Girardi left.
- The Yankees will not bring back Charlie Wonsowicz, who has been an advance scout/video coordinator for the last five years. The position has being eliminated for whatever reason. Wonsowicz had been in the organization for 21 years.
- Lastly, former Yankee and current YES broadcaster Paul O’Neill has some interest in replacing the since-fired Dusty Baker in Cincinnati. However, Reds GM Walt Jocketty confirmed the team has “not reached out to Paul regarding our managerial vacancy.”
During a conversation with Erik Boland, Frankie Cervelli opened up about his performance-enhancing drug use and admitted he was looking for “a quick” after a fouled pitch broke his left foot in Spring Training before the 2011 season. “I felt — so many times in my career — a little scared I’m going to lose my job,” said Frankie. “Every year I have to go to Spring Training and fight for a job.”
Cervelli, 27, did not discuss the substances he took or who pointed him towards Biogenesis, but he did say he traveled to New York to personally apologize to Joe Girardi shortly after his 50-game suspension was handed down in August. “I went to the Stadium to talk to him because the team, maybe they don’t deserve all the distractions,” said Cervelli. “I went there to apologize to him because he’s one of the people that’s believed in me, gave me the chance, and he’s a gentleman.”
Cervelli managed a 143 wRC+ in 61 plate appearances this year before a broken right hand and subsequent setback ended his season. I don’t know what the Yankees are planning to do with him next year — I get the sense they want to distance themselves from PED guys as much as possible, though that’s just a hunch — but until they come up with two better catchers, his spot on the roster figures to be safe. · (46) ·
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees’ ill-advised outfield pickup.
The Yankees traded for Vernon Wells at the end of Spring Training and paid him $11.5M this past season. On purpose. Despite a .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) batting line in 791 plate appearances for the Angels from 2011-2012, someone in the front office looked at Wells and thought he would be a good use of a roster spot and tens of millions of dollars. Desperation makes people do weird, weird things.
Injuries had taken their told on the Yankees even before Opening Day arrived. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had offseason surgeries delay the starts of their seasons while Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in camp. Add in Nick Swisher leaving as a free agent, and the Bombers lost five of their six best hitters from last season without importing adequate replacements. That’s how you wind up trading for a guy like Vernon Wells. Desperation.
Amazingly, Wells actually made the Yankees look good for the first few weeks of the year. He hit .300/.366/.544 (148 wRC+) with six homeruns in April and legitimately belonged in the middle of the order. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. Wells was an everyday player and a big reason why the club exceeded expectations for the first 50 games or so. It looked like the pro scouting department had found another gem like Eric Chavez or Bartolo Colon, the guy with something left after everyone wrote him off.
But, of course, it didn’t last. I mean, it really didn’t last. There was no gradual decline, no steady slide back to Earth. Vernon just fell right off in the middle of May and stopped hitting all together. He just … stopped. Rollover grounder to short after rollover grounder to short, that’s what followed. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Healthy players — maybe Wells was nursing an injury, who knows? — just don’t stop hitting like that. Here, look:
That’s what it looks like when a hitter goes from really really good to really really bad in a heartbeat. Wells hit a homer on May 15th to raise his season batting line to .301/.357/.538 in 157 plate appearances, but his next 157 plate appearances? How about a .185/.204/.225 batting line. It didn’t stop there though. After hitting that homer on May 15th — his tenth of the season — Wells put up a .199/.243/.253 line with one (!) homer in his final 301 plate appearances of the year. One homer! It wasn’t even a real homer either. Look at this thing:
Hit Tracker says that homer traveled 344 ft. and would have been out in exactly one ballpark — Yankee Stadium. Vernon hit one dinger in his final 300 or so plate appearances and it bounced off the top of the wall of the shortest right field porch in baseball. Unbelievable.
Relegated to platoon status by the end of the season (even that was generous on Joe Girardi‘s part), Wells hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) with eleven homers in 458 plate appearances this summer. That includes a .269/.318/.379 (89 wRC+) line in 198 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, so he didn’t even have much platoon value. On top of all of that, Wells was downright Andruw Jones-esque in the outfield, with little range and half-hearted retrieval skills. The total package was sub-replacement level (-0.2 bWAR and -0.8 fWAR) for the low price of $11.5M.
Big league teams know more about stuff than fans ever will, but every so often a move is made that is just so head-scratching and obviously bad. The Yankees asked Wells to buck two years of terrible performance and paid good money to do it. I guess the good news is that because of the way the money in the trade is structured, Vernon will count $0 against the luxury tax in 2014. The team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars though, so it’s not like he’s free. Wells was awful for two straight years before coming to New York and he made it three straight in pinstripes. I just don’t know why anyone expected otherwise.
I’ve got two fun links to share tonight. First, friend of RAB Jonah Keri put together a comprehensive baseball dictionary at Grantland, complete with memes (#HIROK), sabermetric terms (xFIP), and quirky historical stuff (Operation Shutdown). It’s both fun and informative, so check it out. Second, Grant Brisbee authored a great pitch-by-pitch breakdown of Max Scherzer’s bases loaded, no outs escape job in yesterday’s ALDS Game Four against the Athletics. It’s a comprehensive look at Scherzer’s overpowering dominance that points out he was millimeters from disaster on more than on occasion. Brisbee is awesome and that one gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.
Once you’re done with those two, use this as your open thread. The Cardinals and Pirates will play their decisive Game Five at 8pm ET on TBS (Adam Wainwright vs. Gerrit Cole, sob sob), plus the Knicks are playing a preseason game. Talk about those games or anything else here. Have at it.
[2013 sad Hawk Harrelson compilation video via Awful Announcing]
The Yankees have taken care of their first (and arguably the most important) piece of offseason business. The team announced on Wednesday that they’ve re-signed manager Joe Girardi to a four-year contract that will keep him in pinstripes through 2014. Jon Heyman and Howie Rumberg say the deal is worth $16M guaranteed plus another $4M in bonuses, making Girardi the second highest paid manager in baseball behind Mike Scioscia.
“We decided this is where we wanted to come back,” said Girardi to reporters during a conference call. “There were some things I wanted to make sure — in my home (with my family) — that people were okay with what I want doing. My kids love what I do. [My wife] Kim is still extremely supportive and continues to love what I do. I had to make sure everyone was still on board.”
Girardi, 48, just completed his sixth year as the team’s manager. His previous managerial contracts with the Yankees were both three-year deals, but Girardi confirmed his side pushed for a four-year contract this time around. The team made it clear they wanted to bring him back — “We’re going to give him a real good reason to stay,” said Brian Cashman during his end-of-season press conference — so they tacked on the extra year.
“I think stability is important,” added Girardi when asked about the four-year term. “That was something we brought up to them. It is more stability for all of us involved in my household. It was something we brought to them and they were okay with it … It’s good for both sides.”
The Yankees are 564-408 (.580) all-time under Girardi, including 85-77 (.525) this past season. I thought 2013 was his finest year as the team’s manager given all of the major injuries and, of course, the Alex Rodriguez circus. Girardi handled the A-Rod situation well and the club remained in the hunt for a wild-card spot far longer than I think anyone expected. Still, the team’s future is up in the air and is something Girardi considered before returning.
“It was something I definitely thought about,” said Girardi when asked about the state of the franchise going forward. “What will the New York Yankees look like in 2014? I don’t think you can necessarily expect to have everything you want every year … To me, I want to be a part of this. I want to get us back on track. That is important to me.”
Girardi’s contract didn’t expire until October 31st and the Yankees did not grant him permission to speak to other clubs in the meantime for obvious reasons. His hometown Cubs reportedly made it clear through back channels they were willing to top any offer, plus the Nationals had interest as well. It’s not hard to argue those two clubs are better set up for success over the next four years than New York, but Girardi returned anyway.
Assuming Girardi sticks around for the full four years, the Yankees will have had just two managers over the previous 22 years. That’s after having 12 different managers for a total of 21 different stints in the previous 22 years. Yeah, the days of the late George Steinbrenner hiring and firing people on a whim are long gone. The Yankees are going through a rather delicate transitional period at the moment and Girardi has done a pretty good job of getting them through the early stages. Now they can move forward and start focusing on other stuff.
“[There is] a lot more work to do this offseason than there has been in the past,” added Girardi. “It’s a special place to manage. Just to be able to put on the pinstripes as a coach, a player, a manager is special. I’ve always thought about it that way. I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think we could win a championship.”