Whether they want to actually acknowledge it, the Yankees are in the middle of a rather significant transition. A historic era in team history has come to an end with the recent retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, and soon enough Derek Jeter‘s retirement will make that transition complete. The ties to the dynasty years are fading away and a new era of Yankees baseball is being ushered in.
That transition could occur in any number of ways. It could be smooth, it could be painful, it could be a little rocky … chances are it will be all of the above at one time or another. Up until this season, it had gone rather well for the Yankees. The team remained competitive after through the entire 2000s and into the early 2010s before things fell apart this year. As Brian Cashman said during yesterday’s press conference, they’ve “been really fortunate for a long time to avoid what happened this year.”
For the last six years, Joe Girardi has been tasked with managing the team through this transition. He was at the helm when Hideki Matsui had to become a permanent DH and when Johnny Damon had to be told he was no longer a center fielder. Most notably, he had to phase out Jorge Posada, first by taking him out from behind the plate and then by taking him out of the lineup on an everyday basis. As fans we sit back and think that’s easy — just take Posada out of the lineup because he stinks. It’s not that easy though. Managing isn’t just about making the lineup or changing pitchers, it’s about managing people.
“You learn how difficult it’s going to be,” said Joe Girardi to David Waldstein, referring to the end of a star-caliber player’s career. “It’s sensitive because they are competitive. It’s what makes them who they are. It’s a will to find a way to overcome anything that’s in your way, whether it’s a bad shoulder or a bad back or cranky elbow; whatever it is, they are used to finding a way, and that’s what made them great.”
Joe Torre had to deal with the end of Bernie Williams‘ career and, for the most part, Girardi had it easy with Rivera and Pettitte. He had to cut back on Andy’s workload a bit, making him an 85-90 pitch starter instead of a 110-115 pitch starter, but that’s it. Mo was elite and Andy was rock solid right down to the very end. Matsui and Damon both became free agents before the real ugliness started. Posada was tough for a number of reasons, like his ineffectiveness and who he was and what he meant to the organization.
“In a sense, you almost feel like you’re protecting them against themselves,” added Girardi while talking to Waldstein, “which is difficult because you know they want to be out there all the time. But if you are going to keep them productive through the course of a long season, you could have to protect them, and that’s not always what they want to hear.”
It appears the Yankees have another Posada-esque situation on the horizon, only about a million times worse. Jeter, who is already well past the usual expiration date for shortstops, turns 40 next June and missed just about the entire 2013 season with leg injuries. It was the thing Cashman said they were fortunate to avoid for so long. The Cap’n is broken down. Taking him off shortstop and out of the lineup against right-handers is an obvious move to make on paper, but Derek Jeter the person has to be managed as well.
“I expect him to play and I expect him to do everything in his power to get back to the form that he had in 2012,” said Girardi to Waldstein. “He has a lot of strength that he wants to gain back in his legs and have a normal off-season, and it should be good for him … It could be difficult. Only time will tell how tricky that situation becomes. We all know he wants to be out there every day. And that’s what I love about him, I do. But it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Up until now, Girardi has handled the team’s transition from the dynasty years to … whatever the hell is coming next … about as well as could possibly be expected. The Jeter situation is going to require extra-special care not only because it’s Derek Jeter and he can be a bit of a pain in the ass, but also because he’s the last tie to the dynasty years and a generation of baseball. That’s an iconic page to turn. It’s not a situation any ol’ manager can handle either, at least not handle properly. Girardi has shown he can manage that transition these last few years and he’s by-frickin’-far the best man for the job. His contract negotiations are about much more than pitching changes and second inning sac bunts. He’s essential for getting this team through the next few years.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Mark Reynolds hopes to return to the Yankees next season and will have his agent contact Brian Cashman. The 30-year-old hit .236/.300/455 (105 wRC+) — a pretty great approximation of what he’d give you over a full season — with six homers in 120 plate appearances for New York this season. Given how hard it is to find right-handed power these days, the team should definitely consider bringing Reynolds back in a part-time/platoon role next season.
Meanwhile, Brendan Ryan told Chad Jennings he has some interest in returning next year, but also said it’s tough to know what the team will do given their unsettled infield situation. The slick-fielding shortstop hit .220/.258/.305 (51 wRC+) with one homer in 62 plate appearances after being acquired in mid-September. Ryan, 31, is pretty much my last resort at shortstop. I’d rather him play everyday over Eduardo Nunez, but I’d want the Yankees to look for a better shortstop solution — preferably someone who can actually hit — first. There’s a more obvious place on the roster for Reynolds than Ryan. · (66) ·
After one day of silence, we finally had our first bit of offseason news this afternoon. Brian Cashman confirmed he spoke to Joe Girardi face-to-face about a new contract yesterday and is scheduled to meet with his agent tomorrow. The Yankees certainly haven’t made it a secret that they want to re-sign their manager, and Girardi has understandably played the “I need to speak to my family before making a decision” card. The Cubs canned Dale Sveum yesterday, so if nothing else, Girardi will be able to use them as leverage. Hopefully they can work out a new agreement and soon so the team can move on to other important business.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Reds and Pirates are playing the NL Wildcard Game at 8pm ET on TBS (Johnny Cueto vs. Francisco Liriano), officially starting the postseason. Last night’s tiebreaker game between the Rays and Rangers was technically a regular season game. The NHL season starts tonight, but otherwise there’s not much else going on. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
Sporcle Quiz!: This is a good one — you have to name the 95 (!) pitchers who have had a win saved by Mariano Rivera. I only guessed 55 and got almost all of the obvious ones, but I completely spaced on Hiroki Kuroda. There’s a freebie for ya. Good luck.
Via Dan Martin: Derek Jeter as not yet made a decision about the $9.5M player option in his contract for next season. “I haven’t even thought about it. Our season just ended right now, so I’ve given no thought to the offseason,” said the Cap’n, who has until three days after the end of the World Series to officially exercise or decline the option. Awards-based incentives could increase his salary to $16.5M.
Jeter, 39, went 12-for-63 (48 wRC+) in only 17 games this season while missing time with a series of leg injuries, most notably the fractured left ankle he suffered last October. He has called this season a “nightmare” and I have a really hard time thinking he will decline the option and try to coax the team into giving him a two or (gasp) three-year contract. Jeter has zero leverage at this point.
In other news, Jeter said he is planning to begin offseason workouts relatively soon. He couldn’t work out on his usual schedule last winter because of the ankle injury, so hopefully having a regular offseason will help keep him healthy and productive next summer. · (25) ·
Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday afternoon and, unsurprisingly, there were no announcements made. Not even a minor one. He fielded questions for about an hour and in typical YankeeSpeak, the GM said a lot of words that had little substance. The team’s higher-ups have a knack for dodging questions and giving vague answers while talking a whole bunch. Anyway, let’s recap the presser:
On Joe Girardi
- Cashman confirmed he met with Girardi “for a while” yesterday and will meet with agent Steve Mandell tomorrow to continue talks. “After tomorrow, I think I’ll get a real good feel for where we’re at,” he said. “I think he likes it here. We’re going to give [Girardi] a real good reason to stay.”
- “His effort and his efforts in pre-game preparation for each series and how he runs Major League Spring Training … he’s been consistently tremendously at it,” said the GM while also crediting Girardi for working with such a poor roster this season. “[His] job as a manager is to make sure these guys compete on a daily basis … I thought he did a great job, him and his staff.”
- Cashman would not comment when asked if the Cubs (or any other team, for that matter) had contacted the team to ask for permission to speak to Girardi. His contract expires November 1st.
- Cashman closed the press conference with a preemptive “no comment” about how things go (went?) with Mandell tomorrow. He told the media not to bother to reach out for an update because he won’t give one. It was kinda funny.
Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued today with the Short Season NY-Penn League. OF Harold Ramirez (Pirates) grabbed the top spot despite being only 18 years old in a league mostly full of experienced college draftees. The Yankees landed one player on the list: 3B Eric Jagielo at number six. That’s not surprising; the Staten Island squad was littered with fringe prospects.
Jagielo, 21, hit .266/.376/.451 (153 wRC+) with six homers in 218 plate appearances after being the team’s first of three first round picks in June. “He has a smooth lefthanded swing with good rhythm, and he can turn on a fastball or wait back for an offspeed pitch,” said the subscriber-only scouting report. “His swing can get long at times, but he projects as a solid-average hitter with plus power potential … He’s a below-average runner, and he doesn’t figure to have the mobility to be a standout at third, but most evaluators give him a chance to stick at the position. He has enough arm strength and good accuracy.”
The Yankees had six players on the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League list. The next list of interest is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which will be released tomorrow. 1B Greg Bird is a lock and so is RHP Rafael DePaula, assuming he has enough innings to qualify. I’m pretty sure he does. RHP Jose Campos has a decent chance to make the list, OF Jake Cave, 2B Angelo Gumbs, and LHP Dan Camarena less so. · (18) ·
Later today, Brian Cashman will hold his annual end-of-season press conference, during which he’ll probably reveal … not much in particular. These things never really bring major news, but you never know. Three years ago we found out pitching coach Dave Eiland was being let go, for example. Both Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman say the Yankees are “decompressing” at the moment and will take a few days before getting down to business, most notably hammering out a new contract with Joe Girardi. Until then, here are some random thoughts.
1. My gut feel is heads on the player development side are going to roll this winter. The Yankees replaced both Billy Connors and Nardi Contreras — two long-time player development linchpins — last offseason, the first sign the braintrust wasn’t happy with the development staff. Yesterday we heard amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman were most likely to get the axe, and it stands to reason director of player development Pat Roessler will be in that mix as well. The Yankees tend to promote from within and there’s definitely something to be said for loyalty and continuity, but it’s time for some new voices. If they make changes (they absolutely should at this point), they should bring in people from outside the organization. That’s easier said than done obviously — “throw money at whoever runs the Rays/Cardinals farm system” is not a realistic solution because those guys have contracts that usually aren’t broken for lateral moves — but what they’ve been doing isn’t working. It’s time for philosophical change, not rearranging the furniture.
2. Among players who are under contract/team control next season, how many would you say unquestionably belong on the Opening Day roster? Here’s the contracts info from Cot’s for reference. I count six: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Mark Teixeira. When Derek Jeter exercises his player option, it’ll be seven. I’m assuming Alex Rodriguez gets suspended. A few other guys deserve long looks in Spring Training — David Phelps, Adam Warren, Austin Romine, Preston Claiborne, for example — but I’m not a big fan of handing young players who have been up-and-down (at best) jobs out of camp. Nova’s the exception. That’s just my preference, remember. Anyway, the point of this exercise was just to show just how many holes the Yankees have on their roster. Only seven guys who are slam dunks for the Opening Day roster? Yikes.
3. Eduardo Nunez played just well enough down the stretch to keep the Yankees from replacing him. That’s not a good thing. He hit .260/.307/.372 (83 wRC+) in 336 plate appearances overall this season and .284/.321/.426 (101 wRC+) in 211 second half plate appearances. The Yankees obviously love Nunez and saw just enough late in the year to not move on this winter. He was well on his way to playing himself out of the team’s plans with a rough first half, getting exposed by playing everyday as Jeter’s replacement. Now he’ll get another chance and be back next season. That would be fine if he wasn’t a disaster on defense or if I had any confidence in him being even a league average hitter in the near future.
4. Given the current state of the organization, my biggest concern right now is re-signing Robinson Cano to massive contract and being unable to surround him with quality support players because payroll is coming down. They can’t give Cano huge money and fill out the rest of the roster with washed up reclamation project types like Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki. That’s a recipe for mediocrity and will waste however many elite seasons Robbie has left. This is where the unproductive farm system and having … well … washed up reclamation project types like Wells and Ichiro under contract next season really hurts. The Yankees are stuck relying on free agency which is a) not cheap, and b) completely inefficient. Getting bang for the buck is a thing now, the team has to consider that as long as they try to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold.
Via Andrew Marchand: Joe Girardi acknowledged having conversations with Robinson Cano about his lack of hustle, particularly running to first base. “I’ve talked to him about it,” said the skipper. “He has played every day. He has been kind of nicked up. I’ve talked to him about it.”
Cano, 30, hit .314/.383/.516 (142 wRC+) with 27 homers in 160 games this year. He doesn’t always run hard down the line though … okay fine, he pretty much never runs hard down the line and many fans hate that. It looks terrible and isn’t exactly something you want to see out of your best player, especially when he’s asking for $300M. It’s annoying but I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Glad Girardi got in Robbie’s ear though. · (88) ·
The first day of the offseason is always the worst. This afternoon I went to check the night’s pitching matchups and then my fantasy team (btw, booya!) out of habit, but there was nothing to check. This first day always sucks the most. Brian Cashman will hold his annual end-of-season press conference at noon tomorrow and I’m guessing Joe Girardi will speak then as well. This is typical, they do it every year, but obviously this offseason is expected to be anything but typical. It would surprise me if there was major news tomorrow; there rarely is at these things. I enjoy the “surprise, these guys were playing with these injuries” announcements more than anything. We’ll see how it goes.
Here is your open thread for this lovely evening. The Rays and Rangers are playing their tiebreaker game at 8pm ET on TBS (David Price vs. Martin Perez), with the winner moving on to play the Indians in the wild-card game on Wednesday. Dolphins-Saints is the Monday Night Football game. Talk about either game or anything else you want right here. Go nuts.
Sporcle Quiz!: The 2013 Yankees quiz is now available. All you have to do is name the franchise record 56 (!) players who played for the team this season. I managed 52 of 56 and am pretty damn proud of that. Got all the pitchers and the obvious guys, but missed four spare part position players who were only with the team for a few weeks each. One was even on the Opening Day roster too.
Via Mark Feinsand: Left-hander Boone Logan will have surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow this Thursday. He is due to become a free agent this offseason and is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. We first heard he needed the procedure about two weeks ago.
Logan, 29, pitched to 3.23 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 39 innings across 61 appearances this year while holding left-handers to a .215/.274/.377 (.281 wOBA) line with a 40.0% strikeout rate. It’s unclear if the surgery will affect how teams value him this winter — tests confirmed the ligament is fine — but the going rate for top lefty relievers is in the three-year, $12M range. We haven’t heard anything about whether the Yankees will try to retain Logan, who has been their best lefty reliever since Mike Stanton. · (11) ·