Here is your open thread for the night, folks. The Tigers and Orioles are playing Game One of their ALDS right now (on TBS) and later tonight the Royals and Angels will play Game One of their ALDS (9:30pm ET on TBS, Weaver vs. Vargas). Somehow we’ve reached the point where the Tigers are the AL postseason team I dislike the most. I guess I’m going soft. Anyway, there’s also the Thursday football game as well (Packers vs. Vikings). Talk about any of those games or whatever else is on your minds right here.
Hal Steinbrenner appeared on Michael Kay’s radio show yesterday and, among other things, he apologized to Yankees fans for the team’s second straight postseason-less year. “I apologize. We did not do the job this year. We know what you expect of us, and we expect the same thing of ourselves, and we certainly did what we thought we could do in the offseason to field a pretty good team come April 1st, but it didn’t work out,” he said. The full interview is above, but if you don’t want to sit through all 20 minutes of it, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
- On incorporating young players going forward: “There’s no doubt, young players, player development, that’s going to play a big part, because you’re correct, it’s hard to just play in the free agent market and bring a bunch of veterans on board because you’ve got a lot of parity in the league now … We’ve had our struggles in player development and the minor leagues.”
- On the upcoming offseason: “I’ve been a little trade averse as far as getting rid of younger kids as you saw last year, but we’re going to have to analyze. We know we need a shortstop, of course. I think with (Ivan) Nova coming back probably not until May, I think we need a starting pitcher. And then we’re going to have to go from there. As we do, every offseason, we’re going to look at everybody.”
- On the $189M luxury tax threshold: “The decision to go over 189 was for one player and that was (Masahiro) Tanaka, and I have no regrets about that because he’s going to be everything that we saw in the first three months of the season. He’s going to be great.” Steinbrenner indicated the team will try to get under the luxury tax threshold again sometime in the future. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season and the threshold will probably go up then.
- On the coaching staff: “The hitting coach is responsible for the hitters, the pitching coach is responsible for the pitchers, and we’ve got an infield coach responsible for defense and fielding. That comes with any position in life. You are liable for what goes on. We have not made any decisions yet as to what we’re going to do with any of the coaches. That will be the first step to look at the manager and the coaches as we do every single year.”
- On making decisions and changes: “I don’t have an answer to that because I don’t make rash decisions. I want to talk to all my people, including having long discussions with (Brian Cashman) and his people and really get into, could anything have been different or did these guys just have a down year, these three or four guys? But, rest assured, we’re going to get to the bottom of it. And if I do deem that somebody is liable, or if I do deem that somebody is responsible, that things could have been better, I will act.”
- On Alex Rodriguez and the possibility of releasing him: “I’m not a lawyer, so (I’m won’t) get into what can be done to a contract or not. But like I said, when he’s healthy, he’s an asset. We need those kind of assets. We need the hitting … If he’s healthy, he’s going to be an asset to the team, and I would never not want that.”
- Steinbrenner also said they are planning extensive interviews to replace VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, who is retiring this winter. Newman has run the farm system for more than a decade now.
Since we’re on subject, also make sure check out Joel Sherman’s recent sit down with Hal as well. He discussed some of the same stuff as in the radio interview plus some other topics as well.
Baseball America continuing breaking down the top 20 prospects in each minor league today with the Low-A South Atlantic League. The list is free but the scouting reports are not. Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Nationals RHP Reynaldo Lopez claim the top three spots. Three Yankees’ prospects made the list: RHP Luis Severino (No. 4), OF Aaron Judge (No. 8), and LHP Ian Clarkin (No. 15).
“In Severino’s case, he throws a 95-97 mph fastball that he locates to both sides of the plate with excellent life. His changeup is not always consistent, but it was average at least most of the time. His slider varied between well below-average to average depending on the outing,” said the scouting report, which also notes Severino is very quick to the plate and “nearly impossible” to run on. He is clearly the top pitching prospect in the organization after posting a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) in 113.1 innings at three levels this summer.
The write-up notes Judge is a complete hitter more than a brute masher, and he is viewed as a “capable defensive right fielder with a strong arm.” Clarkin “doesn’t necessarily have an above-average pitch, but he throws a solid-average three-pitch mix consisting of a fastball, curveball and changeup,” according to scouting report, which also called Clarkin one of the “safer bets” among league pitching prospects. “He already shows a feel for keeping hitters off-balance by pitching backwards at times.”
You could make the case Severino, Judge, and Clarkin are three of the organization’s top four prospects right now, along with C Gary Sanchez. The Yankees have Severino on the fast track and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him in the big leagues in 2015. The next list of interest to Yankees’ fans is the High-A Florida State League, which will be released next week. Judge is a lock for that list and 3B Eric Jagielo, 1B Greg Bird, and OF Jake Cave are good bets to appear as well. Severino didn’t throw enough innings with High-A Tampa to qualify.
According to his agent, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas has been declared a free agent by MLB. He already established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so this was the final step in the process. Tomas is free to sign with any team and he reportedly already has a $75M offer in hand.
Tomas, 23, held a showcase for scouts a week ago and is currently visiting teams for private workouts. It’s unclear if the Yankees have invited him for a private workout — they did have Aledmys Diaz and Rusney Castillo come to Tampa for firsthand looks earlier this year, for what it’s worth — and their level of interest is unknown at this point. Tomas is said to be a middle of the order right-handed hitter with power, and, if true, I think the Yankees should be all over him.
For the last two decades, the Yankees had the luxury of knowing Derek Jeter would be their starting shortstop. It’s a tough position to fill and he was excellent. Jeter had an insane peak year in 1999 but his greatness was always built around his durability and consistency, the write it in pen year-after-year production. He didn’t have that crazy 7+ WAR per year for five years peak, but he was a 4+ WAR player for like 15 straight years. Every year, he produced.
The Yankees have to replace Jeter at shortstop this offseason and — let’s be honest here — replacing his 2014 production won’t be difficult. Out of 146 qualified batters he ranked 124th in OBP (.305), 145th in SLG (.313), and 140th in wRC+ (73). He was bad even by shortstop standards (league average at the position was an 87 wRC+). Add in the poor defense and Jeter’s on-field contribution was basically replacement level this year.
Replacing the 2014 version of Jeter on the field doesn’t figure to be particularly difficult. They’re not going to be able to replace him in the clubhouse — I don’t think the lost leadership will be a big issue but it’s not negligible either — and they definitely won’t be able to replace his marketability and drawing power. That’s impossible. All they can do is upgrade on the field at shortstop, which will be both relatively easy given Jeter’s performance and difficult at the same time.
The timing worked out well and Jeter’s retirement coincides with a free agent class heavy on quality shortstops. That’s good! The Yankees will have their pick of the litter, assuming they’re willing to pay the price. I don’t know if playing for the Yankees is as much of a draw as it once was (money still talks) and I’m sure some are put off by the idea of replacing Jeter and having to try to live up to an impossible standard.
We’ll inevitably take many, many looks at the various free agent shortstops this winter, but for now here’s a quick look at the group:
- Asdrubal Cabrera: Average-ish hitter, bad overall defender but with a knack for highlight plays, generally healthy, won’t cost a draft pick.
- Stephen Drew: Awful at the plate this year, pretty good last year, very good defender, injuries have been an issue, won’t cost a draft pick.
- J.J. Hardy: Average-ish hitter whose power disappeared in 2014, very good defender, lingering back issues, will cost a draft pick.
- Jed Lowrie: Above-average hitter from 2012-13, less than that in 2014, okay defender at best, healthier in recent years, might cost a draft pick.
- Hanley Ramirez: Legitimate middle of the order masher, terrible defense, lots of injuries in recent years, will cost a draft pick.
Every so often a free agent comes along who fits a team perfectly. CC Sabathia fit the 2009 Yankees perfectly. Brian McCann fit the 2014 Yankees perfectly. Nelson Cruz fits the 2015 Mariners perfectly. None of these shortstops fit the 2015 (and beyond) Yankees perfectly though, and that’s the case with most free agents. They’re all good to great players with their own sets of pluses and minuses.
Any of these guys would represent an on-field upgrade over 2014 Jeter but the Yankees must determine who is the best fit. Do you want to go long-term with Hanley knowing he’ll possibly be a 120 games a year third baseman as soon as 2016? Is Hardy’s power and defense worth that risky back? Back problems never really do away, you know. They just get more manageable. The Yankees have enough dead weight on the payroll as it is and the free agent shortstop class looks like a minefield of potential bad contracts.
There are always trades to consider — Jimmy Rollins, anyone? — but if no appealing long-term shortstop solutions exist, isn’t the best move finding a short-term stopgap and trying to figure it out again next winter? Drew, for example, is destined for a small one-year contract. There’s at least a chance he will hit next year following a normal offseason — “I haven’t had a regular Spring Training in three years. I had the ankle, the concussion and then all the stuff this past year. I haven’t had a normal routine in a while. I had to play the cards I got dealt and make the best of it. This offseason, I can take a step back and prepare for next season the right way. I’m healthy and looking forward to it,” he said to George King — which is more than you can say for Brendan Ryan.
I wouldn’t blame the Yankees at all if they walked away from Drew given how terrible he looked this year, both in pinstripes and with the Red Sox. His 44 wRC+ in 300 plate appearances happened. It can’t be ignored. But, if the Yankees don’t want to spend big on a shortstop, he’s probably the best one-year stopgap they’ll find. And that’s kinda scary. This isn’t like finding a left fielder or a DH for a year. Quality shortstops are rare and teams tend to jump on them given the chance. Ryan’s two-year contract (plus a player option!) looks silly but that’s what it takes to get someone to play the position competently.
The Yankees will not be able to replace Derek Jeter the person this winter but they have to replace Derek Jeter the shortstop and that shouldn’t be tough given the year he had. The question is how do they want to replace him? There are cases to be made for going long-term for one of the big name free agents — Hanley sure would look great hitting third behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, wouldn’t he? — or going short-term until a better fit comes along. Until they can pry one of the Cubs’ young shortstops loose, for example. Either way, the Yankees will upgrade at short this winter. It’s just a question of how.