Tuesday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the night. The Dodgers and Cardinals are playing Game Three of the NLDS right now (on FOX Sports 1) while later tonight the Giants and Nationals will play Game Three of their NLDS (9pm ET on FOX Sports 1). The Cardinals and Giants are both up two games to one in the series. Feel free to talk about those games or anything else right here.

(Thanks to reader Stephen Kennedy for sending in the video.)

AP: Qualifying offer set at $15.3M for 2014-15 offseason

Via the AP: The qualifying offer for free agents will be $15.3M this coming offseason. It is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in the game. Teams have until five days after the end of the World Series to make the qualifying offer, then players get seven days to accept or rejent the offer. No player has accepted the qualifying offer in its three years of existence but that may change this winter following the Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales (and Ervin Santana!) fiascoes.

The Yankees have one slam dunk qualifying offer candidate in David Robertson. They can not make the offer to Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy, or Drew because they were acquired at midseason. Several big market teams will seek bullpen help this winter (Dodgers, Tigers), so Robertson will be a hot commodity as a free agent. If he accepts, great, the Yankees will have him on a high-priced one-year deal. (They could always work out a multi-year deal after that.) If not, then at least they’ll get a draft pick if he goes elsewhere. It’s worth noting the Yankees made Hiroki Kuroda the qualifying offer in each of the last two years. They could do so again if they want him back in 2015.

2014 Season Review: The Fall of Alfonso Soriano

The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new preview format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into the season, there were many reasons to think the Yankees would have a better offense in 2014 than 2013. For starters, they committed more than $280M to the free agent trio of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom brought a different dynamic to the lineup. The Yankees were also getting Mark Teixeira back from wrist surgery, and although Lyle Overbay filled in admirably last year, Teixeira at this phase of his career was still an upgrade.

On top of all of that, the Yankees would also have a full season of Alfonso Soriano. The club re-acquired Soriano at least year’s trade deadline and he was a force in the second half, hitting .256/.325/.525 (130 wRC+) with 17 homeruns in 58 games after the trade. He hit exactly as many homers and drove in nearly the same number of runs (51 to 50) in 58 games with the Yankees as he did in 93 games with the Cubs. Returning to New York seemed to reinvigorate the 38-year-old Soriano.

Because of the Ellsbury and Beltran additions, the Yankees forced Soriano into an unfamiliar role. He was either going to have to play right field or serve as the DH to stay in the lineup — and, coming into the year, there was every reason to want him in the lineup everyday — but he didn’t have much experience at either spot. In fact, Soriano had never played right field in his career until this year, and he had only 38 games of DH experience spread across the first 15 years of his career. He played DH only 14 times with the Cubs from 2007-13.

But, the Yankees painted themselves into a roster corner, so Soriano worked out in right field during Spring Training and also took some reps at DH to get familiar with sitting on the bench between at-bats. He opened the regular season as the regular DH while occasionally seeing time in left (whenever Ellsbury or Brett Gardner sat) and right (whenever Beltran sat). It wasn’t until Beltran’s elbow began to act up that Soriano moved into the field full-time — he took over as the regular right fielder in mid-May and was routinely taken out for defense in the late innings.

We can’t trust such a small sample of defensive stats but I thought Soriano actually looked decent in right field, especially considering he had never played the position before. I mean, he wasn’t great, but he made all the routine plays and occasionally surprised with a no-so-routine play. Opponents did run on his weak arm at will — runners attempted to take the extra base 12 times in 15 opportunities, a 20.0% hold rate that was well below the 46.4% league average — but that wasn’t surprising. You knew other teams were going to test him at a new position.

Adjusting to life as a part-time outfielder and part-time DH was not going to be easy, but the Yankees were expecting Soriano to be their top right-handed power source and a consistent threat near the middle of the lineup. Instead, they got one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Soriano hit .242/.275/.414 (88 wRC+) with five homers in 138 plate appearances as he regular DH before hitting .194/.200/.306 (29 wRC+) with one homerun in exactly 100 plate appearances after taking over in right field following Beltran’s injury. From May 5th through June 12th he went 16-for-83 (.193) with 37 strikeouts (43.5%).

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

The end result was a .221/.244/.367 (64 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 238 plate appearances. Among the 349 players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2014, Soriano ranked 298th in AVG, 343rd in OBP, 228th in SLG, 316th in OPS+, 332nd in wRC+, 327th in strikeout rate, and 346th in walk rate. He struck out 71 times (29.5%) and walked six times (2.5%), including once intentionally. The Yankees were counting on Soriano to be a major weapon against lefties and he hit .249/.269/.416 (84 wRC+) against southpaws, which is both terrible and way better than the .204/.228/.336 (51 wRC+) line he put up against righties.

The Yankees finally pulled the plug on July 6th, designating Soriano for assignment to clear both a 25-man and 40-man roster spot for career minor league journeyman Bruce Billings. Joe Girardi had relegated Soriano to the bench for spot start study a few weeks before that, opting to use Ichiro Suzuki in right field full-time once Beltran returning and took over the DH spot. Soriano told reporters he would spend some time with his family before deciding whether to retire or continue playing, but we haven’t heard anything since. No team showed interest in him even at the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Soriano was one of the most exciting players in recent Yankees history when he first came up all those years ago because of his speed and big power despite a rail thin frame. He returned to New York a decade later and had an excellent half-season in pinstripes in 2013 before things came crashing down in 2014. Maybe changing positions hurt his offense — to his credit, Soriano never complained about being asked to change positions — or maybe it was just old age. He is 38 after all, and he had already switched to a lighter bat with the Cubs to compensate for lost bat speed. Add in his plate indiscipline and it’s not really a surprise he fell off the cliff so quickly.

The Yankees did improve their offense from 2013 to 2014 but not as much as expected for many reasons, including Soriano’s sudden fall from grace. He wasn’t even able to be a bench bat who played against lefties by the end. The fall of was that drastic. Maybe Soriano will decide to play again, but players his age usually don’t get job offers after seasons like this, which included spending the last three months at home. In all likelihood, his excellent but not quite Hall of Fame worthy career is over, and that makes me sad.

Headley indicates willingness to return, doesn’t want to be “a part-time guy”

Via Dan Martin: Chase Headley indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Yankees following the team’s season finale last weekend, but made it clear he wants to be an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”

Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers while playing top notch defense in 58 games for the Yankees this year. Joe Girardi said the Yankees are counting on A-Rod to be their third baseman next season but that’s just a ruse — saying otherwise would give guys like Headley and Pablo Sandoval more leverage. In fact, Nick Cafardo says the team views Alex as a DH until he proves otherwise. There’s an obvious place for Headley on the roster and in the lineup, but I think he’s going to wind up getting three or maybe even four years from someone. Free agent contracts always end up bigger than expected and I think clubs will look at him as buy low candidate with standout defense and switch-hitter who showed more life with the bat outside Petco Park.

The Five Longest Yankees’ Homers of 2014

Gardner makes an appearance ... twice! (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Gardner makes an appearance … twice! (Jim Rogash/Getty)

In what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to look back at the longest Yankees’ homeruns of this past season. Admittedly, this post has gotten a little less exciting in recent years as power around the league had dropped, especially in the Bronx. The number of 450+ blasts has gone down considerably. I guess that makes them more special.

The longest homer of the 2014 season in general belongs not to Giancarlo Stanton, but Mike Trout. He hit a ball 489 feet off Jason Vargas back in June. Here’s the video. That’s just ridiculous. By the way, that was the longest homer in baseball since this 494-foot Stanton blast in 2012. The last player to hit a 500+ foot homer was Adam Dunn back in 2008. Here’s video of his titanic blast of Glendon Rusch.

As always, this post is made possible by the indispensable Hit Tracker, which tracks every homerun hit every season. It’s truly awesome. No Yankee came particularly close to hitting the longest homerun of the season but that’s not really surprising. Here are the longest homer posts for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 — there isn’t much analytical value here, it’s just appreciation of some monster dingers — and now, 2014:

t-5. April 12th: Kelly Johnson vs. Burke Badenhop (video)
t-5. July 29th: Brett Gardner vs. Nick Martinez (video)
t-5. August 3rd: Gardner vs. Craig Breslow (video above)

We’ve got a five-way tie for fifth place. Johnson’s homer landed in Monument Park and gave the Yankees an eighth inning insurance run, stretching their lead to 7-4 over the Red Sox. Gardner’s blast on July 29th was his third homer in two games and the first in back-to-back games with a leadoff homer. I’m sure you remember when he went on that little homerun binge, right? A few days later he broke a 7-7 sixth inning tie with a solo shot off Breslow. It ended up winning the game. That was an ESPN Sunday Night Game at Fenway Park and one of the most exciting games of the year. Here’s the box score. All three homers traveled 420 feet, though Johnson’s measured 106 mph off the bat while Gardner’s July homer measured 107.5 and the August homer measured 107.9.

4. April 12th: Brian McCann vs. John Lackey

This was part of what looked like McCann’s big breakout after a rough start to the season. He opened his first year in pinstripes with a 6-for-37 (.162) skid before swatting two homers off Lackey in the team’s 12th game of the year. His second homer of the game was the team’s fourth longest of the season. It came on a hanging 2-1 curveball and landed in the Yankees’ bullpen, extending their lead to 6-2 in the sixth inning. It had the good sound, the sound a homer is supposed to make. The two-homer game didn’t exactly start a hot streak, but two-homer games are always great. McCann’s blast traveled 421 feet and left the bat at 108.2 mph. His first homer of the game traveled 366 feet with an exit velocity of 97.1 mph, by the way. It was one among the bottom-third of the team’s homers in distance this season.

3. August 29th: Chase Headley vs. Dustin McGowan

I remember all of the other homers in this post, but this one escaped me. I watched the video and still didn’t remember it. But, it happened. Headley ambushed a first pitch fastball leading off the ninth inning, extending New York’s lead to 6-3. It cleared the bullpen at Rogers Centre and landed several rows back in the first deck. It was Headley’s tenth homer of the season and third with the Yankees. Also his second against the Blue Jays. The ball traveled 425 feet according to Hit Tracker and left the bat at 106.3 mph.

2. August 2nd: Mark Teixeira vs. Breslow

Teixeira came out of the gate with a barrage of homeruns this season, hitting nine in the team’s first 41 games and 17 in their first 90 games. He went deep only five times after the All-Star break though, and one of those five was this towering blast off Breslow. I guess we have to give Breslow some props for serving up two of the Yankees’ five longest homers of the year, don’t we? Three of the eight homers he allowed this season were hit by Yankees. Anyway, Teixeira’s solo blast traveled 427 feet with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, which was enough to carry it over the Green Monster and onto the roof of a parking lot across Lansdowne Street. It stretched the team’s lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning. Lot of long homers for insurance runs this year, apparently.

1. April 22nd: Carlos Beltran vs. Edward Mujica

Once again, Fenway Park. The Yankees did a lot of damage there this season, including scoring 24 runs in one three-game series in late-April. Beltran capped off the scoring in the first game of that series with the team’s longest homer of 2014, a 434-foot shot that left his bat at 111.6 mph. It stretched the team’s lead to 9-2 in the eighth inning — another long homer for an insurance run! — and landed about ten rows back in right field. This was Beltran at his best, getting into a hitter’s count (3-1) and putting a sweet swing on a hitter’s pitch. We didn’t see enough of that Beltran this year, unfortunately. I think Teixeira’s blast was more aesthetically pleasing because it literally left the ballpark and landed across the street, but Beltran’s dinger cut through the cold April night early in the season to travel seven feet further.