This is so weird. I mean, Derek Jeter announcing that the 2014 season will be his last is not the most surprisingly thing in the world, but it was still a kick to the gut when it finally happened. He was never my favorite player (Mariano Rivera was) but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss him or didn’t appreciate his historically great career. Jeter is probably the greatest Yankee I will ever see and the fact that he maintained such a clean image while spending his entire career in New York is impressive. What a great player.
Here is the nightly open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus you’ve got the Olympics. Talk about any of those games, Jeter, or anything else right here. Enjoy.
A historic era of Yankees baseball is coming to an end. Derek Jeter announced on Wednesday that he intends to retire following the 2014 season. Joel Sherman says the Yankees were not aware the announcement was coming, but Casey Close, Jeter’s agent, confirmed the news. Here is the important stuff from the announcement letter:
“Last year was a tough one for me. As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would become time to move forward.
“So really it was months ago that I realized that this season would likely be my last. As I came to this conclusion and shared it with my friends and family, they all told me to hold off saying anything until I was absolutely 100% sure.
“And the thing is, I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”
Buried within the announcement, Jeter says he wants to start focusing on his personal life and begin a family of his own. That he managed to keep his personal life so private and his image squeaky clean over the years is truly impressive, especially in New York. Kinda weird to think about Jeter finally settling down and starting a family, isn’t it? Good for him.
“Derek called me this morning to tell me that he planned to retire following the season,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “In our conversation, I told him that I respected his decision because I know he put a lot of thought into it. I also let him know that I thought it was great that he was letting fans know now so they will have a chance to say goodbye to him.
“He is unquestionably one of the greatest Yankees ever. He has meant so much to fans, the organization, my father and our family. I’m glad we have this year to celebrate everything he has meant to us and all the great things he still stands to accomplish.”
Jeter, who will turn 40 in June, missed all but 17 games last year due to a series of leg injuries, including the fractured ankle he suffered during Game One of the 2012 ALCS. Continued setbacks hampered him all year. He is healthy now and preparing for the season on his normal offseason schedule, so he should be able to avoid a repeat of 2013.
The Yankees drafted Jeter with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 draft, and he will retire as both the unquestioned greatest shortstop in Yankees history and as one of the top four or five shortstops in baseball history. With all due respect to Mariano Rivera, Jeter will likely be the greatest Yankee many of us ever see. He is all over the various franchise leaderboards, from hits (first) to games played (first) to batting average (seventh) to bWAR (fifth) and all sorts of other stuff. He is the only man in team history with 3,000+ hits and he also has those five World Series rings as well.
As of right now, Jeter ranks tenth all-time with 3,316 hits. He is only 99 hits away from tying Honus Wagner’s record for most hits by a shortstop, and a good but not great season (117+ hits) would push him into sixth place all-time. Another 199+ hit campaign would move him into fifth all-time, behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial. That’s some company right there. The Cap’n will retire following the 2014 season and be inducted into the Hall of Fame five years later, no doubt about it.
I assume this coming season will feature another Rivera-esque retirement tour, with mini-celebrations on the road and a massive blowout at Yankee Stadium in September. The Yankees play their final home game on Thursday, September 25th against the Orioles. Their final regular season game is scheduled for Sunday, September 28th at Fenway Park. Needless to say, they need to send this man out with a World Series championship.
Everyone likes a shiny new toy. The Yankees have plenty of them this spring, having spent hundreds of millions on seven new players. But here’s the thing about shiny new toys: no matter how many we have, we never mind having another.
The desire to sign Ubaldo Jimenez absolutely stems from the idea of acquiring another shiny new toy. Removing that aspect from the equation reveals reality. The Yankees don’t need to sign Jimenez.
At the same time, there are practical reasons why signing Jimenez could benefit the Yankees now and in the future.
The Pineda factor
If the Yankees signed Jimenez, they would bring five surefire starting pitchers to camp. It would terminate the fifth starter battle, effectively ending Michael Pineda‘s chances of breaking camp with the team.
By all appearances, Pineda is ready to win a rotation spot. Given his youth and potential to help in 2015 and beyond, he is the ideal fifth starter candidate. Why remove him from the race, then?
1) Pineda has never thrown more than 171 innings in a season, and that came two full years ago. He threw just 40 last year. Coming off major shoulder surgery, can the Yankees count on Pineda for even 120 innings this year?
2) Five starters might come into camp, but what are the chances all five are healthy and effective come June 1? They’ll need a sixth starter before long, whether that’s due to injury or even Ivan Nova pitching like he did in 2012. Pineda will have opportunities.
3) If the Yankees don’t need a sixth starter until, say mid-May, they might even eke out yet another year of control on Pineda. This is not a decisive factor by any means, but rather an added bonus.
The Yankees can manage Pineda’s workload much more closely in AAA, where the results won’t affect their playoff chances. They can pace him for 120 or 130 innings (if that’s their goal for him) and adjust when he’s needed in the majors.
In an ideal world, Michael Pineda breaks camp as the fifth starter and pitches like a No. 2 or No. 3 all season long. In reality, that’s not at all likely. Adding Jimenez would hold back Pineda, but it might make his transition back to the majors a bit easier.
Warren, Phelps, Nuno
Even if the Yankees don’t sign Jimenez, they have alternatives in case Pineda does indeed require more seasoning. Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno all started games last year. Why not just use them?
None of them strikes me as a long-term starter on a first-division team. If needed to spot start four or five times during the season, they’re fine. But are they guys capable of taking the ball every five days while facing off against AL East offenses?
Consider also the bullpen situation. Both Phelps and Warren have shown success in the bullpen, and could strengthen a unit that has just lost the greatest closer of all time. There are plenty of bullpen spots up for grabs this spring. It’s doubtful any of the candidates fit the bill better than Phelps and Warren. Even if one of them does shine, there are four total spots up for grabs.
The man himself
It has become clear that Jimenez will not get an A.J. Burnett contract. Rumors swirled that he was willing to take three years and $39 million, but he might not get even that much. What seems more realistic is the Kyle Lohse special, three years and $33 million.
That price seems reasonable for a 30-year-old who just put up the best strikeout rate of his career. Jimenez started slowly, which was concerning after his nosedive in 2012. But he came back strongly and looked straight dominant in the second half. He might not be an ace, but in this situation he wouldn’t need to be one, nor would he get paid like one.
Three years seems a reasonable commitment. The Yankees will almost certainly need another starter next year, assuming Hiroki Kuroda retires. Jimenez could give the Yankees another decent starter while they clean up the mess on the farm.
Do the Yankees need to sign Ubaldo Jimenez? Absolutely not. That’s money they could spend elsewhere, namely the infield, even if they don’t spend it until mid-season. (Because it’s tough to spend money now when you can count the remaining infielder free agents on one hand.)
But if Jimenez falls into their laps for three years and $33 million?
Even ignoring the shiny new toy aspect, it’s something they’d have to consider.
Via NYP: Hideki Matsui will be with the Yankees at Spring Training as a guest instructor this year. The team invited him to camp last year, but he declined because his wife was due to give birth to their first child. Matsui was working with the Yomiuri Giants during their pre-season workouts recently and he spent time with various minor league teams last year, so it seems like he really enjoys helping out younger players. Maybe he’s heading for a coaching career. · (12) ·
Pitchers and catchers are due to report on Friday, so between now and then we’re going to look at the best prospects in the Yankees’ system heading into the new season. My annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List will be posted tomorrow morning, but first we’re going to look at some players on the outside looking in. These are the guys with a chance to jump into the Top 30 next year.
Only one of last year’s Not Top 30 Prospects made the actual Top 30 this year, but another was among the final cuts. As a reminder, these five prospects should not be considered prospects 31-35. The are simply five prospects who I believe have a chance to make next year’s Top 30 with a healthy and strong 2014 season. That’s all.
RHSP Domingo Acevedo, 19
Signed to unknown bonus during the 2012-13 international signing period, Acevedo pitched to a 2.63 ERA (2.05 FIP) with 43 strikeouts (24.2%) and eleven walks (6.2%) in 41 innings down in the Dominican Summer League last year, and he’s poised to come stateside in 2014. He is a massive kid, listed at 6-foot-7 and 242 lbs. despite not turning 20 years old until this June. His fastball cashes the check that big frame writes, sitting in the mid-90s and running as high as 99 on occasion. Acevedo’s top secondary pitch is a changeup, which at this point is just okay and still a work in progress. His breaking ball needs work as well. Yes, he’s very raw and he has a lot of development ahead of him, but Acevedo has a huge ceiling and could soon rank among the system’s best arms.
RHSP Rookie Davis, 20
Davis, the team’s 14th round pick in the 2011 draft, dominated with Short Season Staten Island last year, posting a 2.36 ERA (2.72 FIP) with 39 strikeouts (20.6%) and 13 walks (6.9%) in 42 innings. That performance earned him a late-season promotion to Low-A Charleston, where he threw ten scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and zero walks in two spot starts. Davis is another big guy, listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs., and these days his fastball sits 91-93 mph after sitting 89-90 in high school. His big breaking curveball has developed into a reliable secondary pitch and his changeup has made some progress as well. With that big frame and the makings of a three-pitch mix, Davis has all the look of a mid-rotation workhorse. He’ll likely rejoin the River Dogs to start the season.
RHSP David Palladino, 20
As big as Acevedo is, he’s no Palladino. The Bergen Country raised right-hander is listed at 6-foot-9 and 235 lbs., but unlike other pitchers that size, he does a good job of repeating his delivery. Palladino’s fastball is an easy 90-93 mph, occasionally touching 96-97. A mid-70s curveball is his top secondary offering but also throws both a slider and a changeup. His mechanics can fall apart from time to time, but Palladino has a good fastball and three distinct offspeed pitches. There’s little doubt he can remain a starter long-term thanks to his strong frame and deep repertoire, and if either his slider or changeup develops into a reliable third pitch, he could shoot up the minor league ladder in a hurry. Palladino pitched to a 4.67 ERA (3.85 FIP) with Short Season Staten Island after being drafted in fifth round last year and is likely to join Davis in the Low-A Charleston rotation when the 2014 season opens in a few weeks.
SS Thairo Estrada, 17
The Yankees signed Estrada for only $49k back in 2012 and they aggressively pushed him to the U.S. last year, but he more than held his own in the Rookie Gulf Coast League: .278/.350/.432 (~130 wRC+) with eleven doubles, five triples, two homers, and seven steals in 50 games. Thairo is right-handed hitter with a real quick swing and the ability to consistently get the fat part of the bat on the ball. He’s a speedy runner and a slick fielder who showed the Yankees he could play both second base and shortstop during his GCL stint last summer. There are questions about how much power Estrada will have in the future because his swing is so level and he’s on the small side (listed at 5-foot-11 and 155 lbs.), but he also has plenty of development left ahead of him. Thairo could return to the GCL for another year not only because he’s so young, but because both 2B Gosuke Katoh and SS Abi Avelino (and SS Tyler Wade) are likely heading to Short Season Staten Island.
LHSP Omar Luis, 21
Luis was New York’s last big international signing before the new spending restrictions were put into place, agreeing to a $4M bonus that was reduced to $2.5M after something popped up in his pre-signing physical. His pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks was uneven — 5.68 ERA (~3.10 FIP) with 43 strikeouts (26.2%) and 29 walks (17.7%) in 31.2 innings — but somewhat expected after he spent eight months waiting for his visa. There was quite a bit of rust to shake off. When at his best, the 6-foot-0, 210 lb. southpaw sits anywhere from 90-95 mph with his fastball while showing two swing-and-miss pitches in his changeup and curveball. Some herky jerky-ness in his delivery affects his command. Luis will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter due to a contract snafu, but he hasn’t exactly made a strong first impression between the poor showing in the GCL and a recent DUI arrest. Still, as a three-pitch lefty who received a sizable bonus, the Yankees will have their eyes on Luis this summer and strongly consider him for a 40-man roster spot after the season. I expect him to start the year with a full season team, possibly High-A Tampa.
Let’s set the over/under on the most runs the Yankees will score in a single inning this coming season right now: 8.5. Sound good? They did manage to score eight runs in an inning last year (this game) and the year before they topped out at nine runs in one inning (this game). Obviously the better the lineup, the more runs you’ll score, but I feel like scoring eight or nine or 12 runs in an inning is a fluke thing. It takes a pitcher(s) having a truly awful day more than a good lineup. Right now I’ll take the under on 8.5 but just barely, I bet they score eight runs in an inning at some point this summer but not 9+.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Neither of the basketball locals are playing, so the Olympics are the only sports on television tonight. Talk about whatever you like right here.
In case you missed it this afternoon (or just want to watch it again), here is this afternoon’s press conference introducing Masahiro Tanaka at Yankee Stadium.
Regardless of what Brian Cashman says during radio interviews, the Yankees have very high hopes for Masahiro Tanaka. No team spends $155M on a guy unless they expect him to be an impact player. Sure, there may be an initial adjustment period coming over from Japan, but the Yankees are expecting Tanaka to slot in near the top of their rotation for at least the next four years.
Just about every scouting report we’ve seen these last few weeks says Tanaka owns a swing-and-miss splitter, arguably the best split-finger fastball in the world. That’s the pitch that separates him from the Kei Igawas and Kaz Ishiis of the pitching world and has everyone thinking he’ll be a number two-ish starter long-term. Despite that out-pitch splitter, Tanaka’s strikeout rate hasn’t been all that impressive in recent years:
The big league average was 7.6 K/9 and 19.9 K% last season, so striking out fewer than one-quarter of batters faced in NPB doesn’t exactly scream “ready to dominate MLB,” especially considering the downward trend in Tanaka’s strikeout rate. Having a swing-and-miss splitter that is racking up fewer and fewer strikeouts is a red flag, no doubt. We do have some explanation for the dropping strikeout rate though, courtesy of Keith Law (subs. req’d):
Tanaka used to pitch away from contact, but in the past two years, he has become more aggressive within the zone with his fastball, and his splitter is a solid 60 on the 20-80 scale.
According to Law, Tanaka essentially started pitching to contact these last few years. The hitters in Japan are not all that great, and it seems like he realized he didn’t need to nibble on the edges to succeed, he could simply pound the zone. That approach won’t work in MLB, or at least it won’t work as well. Tanaka will have to go back to living on the corners, and by all indications, he can do that.
Sticking to the edges of the plate should help increase Tanaka’s strikeout rate naturally — he is bound to get some favorable calls on borderline pitches, especially since Brian McCann and Frankie Cervelli are better than average pitch-framers — but other factors will work in his favor as well. First and foremost is the general hitting style around the league. Here’s something Buster Olney (subs. req’d) wrote a few weeks ago, with an assist from former Yankee Casey McGehee, who was Tanaka teammate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013:
McGehee believes that Tanaka will continue to improve pitching in the major leagues because the style of play suits Tanaka. The bottom of the lineups in Japan, McGehee said, are often rounded out with hitters whose goal is merely to fend off the forthcoming pitch. They’ll shorten their swing, foul the ball off, and survive to see another pitch. Hitters in the majors, McGehee noted, are more apt to look to do damage — to take bigger and more aggressive swings, in turn having plate appearances with few pitches.
The league average strikeout rate in Japan last year was 6.7 K/9 and 17.5 K%, so a large portion of the hitters definitely focused on simply making contract. The idea of hitters “whose goal is merely to fend off the forthcoming pitch” is not a thing that exists in MLB. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all trying to make contact, but the emphasis is on hard contact. Strikeouts are generally more accepted these days, as long as the trade-off involves a higher on-base percentage and more power.
The idea of a pitcher coming over from Japan and improving his strikout rate in MLB seems kinda silly — the competition level in NPB is clearly not the same as is in the big leagues — but it’s hardly unprecedented. Here are how the five most recent NPB imports fared after coming over to the States:
|MLB K%||Final NPB Season K%||Final Three NPB Seasons K%|
Chen is from Taiwan but he did pitch for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan from 2005-11 before signing with the Orioles. Anyway, aside from Dice-K, recent Japanese starters have maintained if not improved their strikeout rate after coming over to MLB. The hitters over here are better than the hitters in Japan, but they will also sell out for power and strike out more often. Furthermore, the bottom of the zone has expanded in recent years (as Jon Roegele recently explained), which should help Tanaka and his diving splitter.
There is one other thing to consider, and that is pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Rothschild came to the Yankees with a reputation for improving strikeout rates and that has held true during his time in pinstripes: Yankees pitchers had a 7.38 K/9 (19.2 K%) during the three years before Rothschild and a 7.80 K/9 (20.5 K%) in the three years with Rothschild. Obviously personnel has something to do with that, but veteran guys like CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte have seen their strikeout rate improve under Rothschild. Tanaka may do the same.
It’s pretty obvious why strikeouts are good, right? Nothing bad can happen when the ball is not put in play, and that is especially true for the Yankees, who could have a pretty ugly infield defense this year. Tanaka’s strikeout rate with Rakuten last year wasn’t anything special, but there are a number of reasons why he might whiff more batters in MLB going forward. His pitching approach, more aggressive hitters, the expanding zone, Rothschild, all of that and more can work to his advantage. Tanaka doesn’t necessarily need to strike a ton of guys out to be effective, but the more strikeouts he records, the better off he and the Yankees will be.
The Yankees will introduce Masahiro Tanaka at a press conference this afternoon and then pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Friday, so the offseason is dangerously close to an end. Here are some thoughts as we wait for the 2014 season to get going.
1. At first, I thought it was pretty weird Alex Rodriguez dropped his various lawsuits and accepted his suspension over the weekend, but it makes more sense now that I think about it. First and foremost, A-Rod wanted to avoid having to testify under oath, which he already did once by storming out of his arbitration hearing. I know he denied everything on Mike Francesa’s show a few weeks ago, but doing it under oath is a different matter entirely. I’m sure Alex hopes to get back into baseball one day — I don’t know how realistic that is at this point, either as player or coach or broadcaster or whatever — and the whole scorched Earth approach isn’t conducive to returning to the game. The move caught me by surprise and it seems like Rodriguez simply came to his senses a few weeks too late.
2. Know how there are usually a ton of off-days in April? That isn’t the case this year. The Yankees play 13 straight games and 19 games in 20 days to start this season — ten of their first 19 games will either be indoors or in a park with a retractable roof (Houston, Toronto, Tampa) — so they’re going to need their fifth starter right out of the chute. The schedule doesn’t allow them to hide whoever wins the job until the end of the month or anything like that. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, necessarily, because all those off-days they should get in April will be spread out during the other months. It just means that whoever wins the fifth starter’s job has to be ready to go as soon as the regular season begins. There’s no grace period at the end of Spring Training.
3. As of right now, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs in camp, assuming either David Phelps or Adam Warren steps in as the long man. I’m interested to see if the Yankees use one of those spots on a second left-hander (Cesar Cabral?) because while carrying one would be rather useful with guys like David Ortiz and Chris Davis in the division, I think there’s a need to take the best relievers regardless of handedness. If the bullpen was a little stronger — let’s face it, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton are solid but not exactly shutdown relievers — it would be easier to squeeze that second southpaw in there. The Yankees don’t really have enough quality depth right now to get super specialized with bullpen roles.
4. My annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List comes out on Thursday and the thing that stood out to me the most while writing it was all the turnover. Sixteen (!) players from last year’s list did not make this year’s list due to a variety of a reasons. Graduated to MLB, traded, released, poor performance, injury, whatever. More than half the players are new to the list and that’s pretty mind-blowing. They Yankees had three first round picks in last summer’s draft and a bunch of young international guys had strong stateside debuts last year, so that helped fill in the gaps, but it’s still crazy to see that much turnover in one year. It’s not a bad thing either, the team needed some change down on the farm.
5. Speaking of the Top 30, one prospect I am really looking forward to following this summer is third baseman Miguel Andujar. I just didn’t realize how good he actually is. The kid mashed in the Rookie Gulf Coast League last summer (.323/.368/.496 while repeating the level) and he has just about every tool other speed, plus he doesn’t turn 19 until next month. The Yankees will probably hold him back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island when the season starts in June, but there’s some serious breakout potential there. Andujar, who signed for $775k a few years ago, can do almost everything on the field and it might not be long before he follows Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez as an internationally signed position player who becomes the team’s top prospect.