Yankees take no one, lose no one in 2014 Rule 5 Draft

Kahnle. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
Kahnle. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

The Yankees neither selected a player nor lost a player in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. That includes both the Major League and minor league phases. New York did have three open 40-man spots, but Brian Cashman told reporters on Wednesday the club was unlikely to select a player and instead keep those three spots open for flexibility.

All of the Rule 5 Draft picks can be seen right here. The best Yankees farmhands left unprotected this year were RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Zach Nuding, and 1B Kyle Roller. As a reminder, Rule 5 Draft players must stay on their new team’s 25-man active roster all season or be placed on waivers and offered back to their original team before going to the minors. The Yankees added OF Tyler Austin, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Branden Pinder, and OF Mason Williams to the 40-man roster in November to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

The Yankees have made a few Rule 5 Draft picks over the years, most notably LHP Cesar Cabral in 2011 and UTIL Josh Phelps in 2006. Phelps stuck for a few weeks in a regular season and Cabral, who was actually selected by the Royals and immediately traded to New York for cash, nearly made the team out of Spring Training in 2013 before fracturing his elbow at the end of camp. The Yankees lost RHP Tommy Kahnle to the Rockies in last year’s Rule 5 Draft. He had a 4.19 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 68.2 generic innings this summer.

I thought the Yankees would roll the dice and take a player in the Rule 5 Draft given all their open 40-man spots, maybe a hard-throwing reliever or something, but obviously they felt it wasn’t worth it. The Rule 5 Draft is more fun as a concept than in reality. There have been a few success stories over the years, most notably Johan Santana and Dan Uggla, but the vast majority of players selected have no impact and are returned to their former teams. It’s not really a way to accumulate talent. It’s a shot in the dark.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: James Shields

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Now that the Yankees know their dominant bullpen will feature only two elite relievers rather than three, the focus turns to the rotation, which needs quite a bit of help given all the injury concerns. The idea of relying on the Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller tandem in the late innings only works if the starter can get through the first six or seven innings, and right now I’m not sure if the Yankees have anyone capable of doing that.

Behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the consensus third best pitcher on the free agent market this winter is ex-Rays right-hander James Shields. He’s older than Scherzer and Lester but is still outstanding and will command a hefty contract. Shields is also a top of the line workhorse and the Yankees sure could use someone they could count on for innings. Let’s see if he makes sense for New York given their pitching situation.

Consistently Excellent

Outside of an ugly 2010 season in which he was alarmingly homer prone (1.50 HR/9 and 13.8 HR/FB%), Shields has been outstanding these last few seasons. He was very good but not truly elite with the Rays from 2007-09 before that down 2010, but since them he’s been dynamite. Here are the stats:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2010 249.1 2.82 3.42 23.1% 6.7% 46.2% 11.1% .286 .269
2011 227.2 3.52 3.47 23.6% 6.1% 52.3% 13.4% .286 .306
2012 228.2 3.15 3.47 20.7% 7.2% 41.6% 8.6% .331 .276
2013 227.0 3.21 3.59 19.2% 4.7% 45.2% 9.7% .310 .309
TOTAL 932.2 3.17 3.49 21.7% 6.2% 46.3% 10.6% .303 .290

Like I said, Shields has been consistently excellent since that ugly 2010 campaign. The declining strikeout rate is a red flag, especially since the league average strikeout rate continues to increase year after year, but there appears to be a perfectly valid non-decline explanation for the lack of strikeouts, which we’ll look at in the next section. Otherwise you’re getting everything you could want from a pitcher — innings, few walks, lots of grounders, no platoon split, the works. In summation: Shields definitely has a G Factor of 1.

Stuff Breakdown

Unlike Scherzer, Shields is not someone who will blow hitters away with high-end stuff. He doesn’t throw in the mid-90s, doesn’t buckle knees with a breaking ball, nothing like that. Shields succeeds because he throws five different pitches and consistently locates them in the lower third of the zone. In fact, among the 128 pitchers to throw at least 5,000 pitches over the last three seasons, Shields has 26th highest percentage of pitches in the lower third of the strike zone (and below) at 56.0%, according to Baseball Savant.

The strike zone continues to expand downward league-wide — this Jon Roegele post and this Jeff Sullivan post do a great job detailing recent strike zone expansion — so it’s easier to get a called strike at the knees (and below!) than ever before. Having the ability to keep the ball down like Shields is a great weapon. Nowadays hitters have to swing at these pitches to protect the plate and very few can hit balls that far down in the zone with authority. The result is a lot of weak contact and that’s a big reason why Shields is able to continually outperform his FIP.

As for his actual stuff, Shields does throw five pitches regularly, but his pitch selection did change a bit when he got to Kansas City two years ago. Check it out (via Brooks Baseball):

James Shields pitch selection

For whatever reason, Shields scaled back the usage of his changeup and curveball while with the Royals and instead ramped up the use of his cutter. The changeup was his go-to pitch for the early part of his career, he sold it extremely well (meaning it looked like a fastball out of his hand) and the pitch tumbled right off the table. It was devastating. The curveball is a good strikeout pitch in general. Certainly moreso than the cutter.

Fewer changeups and curveballs could explain why Shields’ strikeout rate has dropped the last two years, his only two with the Royals. Let’s look at the swing-and-miss rate of his five pitches over the last few years:

Four-Seamer Sinker Cutter Curveball Changeup
2011 3.8% 4.0% 6.7% 13.4% 22.1%
2012 5.3% 6.7% 8.4% 10.4% 21.6%
2013 5.6% 4.4% 9.8% 9.6% 20.5%
2014 6.0% 4.7% 11.1% 16.2% 18.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 5.4% 9.7% 11.1% 14.9%

The changeup and curveball have been, by far, Shields’ best pitches for swings and misses over the last few years. The cutter is trending in the right direction and is it starting to catch up a bit, but there’s still a comfortable gap between that pitch and the other two. So this makes sense then, right? Shields has thrown more cutters but fewer changeups and curveballs during his two years in Kansas City, which is why his strikeout rate is down. We can’t really prove this but it certainly sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

I spent some time scouring the internet to try to figure out why exactly the Royals had Shields change his pitch selection — or whether he did it on his own — but came up empty. Maybe they wanted him to pitch to contact and get quick outs? Unless there’s some sort of underlying physical reason why he can’t throw his changeup or curveball as much anymore — I guess that if his elbow barking, it could explain fewer curveballs, but I’m not sure what would physically prevent a pitcher from throwing changeups — Shields should be able to use those pitches more in the future and boost his strikeout rate a few percentage points.

Otherwise Shields’ stuff has held up remarkably well over the years. In fact, his velocity increased this past season. Check it out:

James Shields velocity

Not often you see a soon-to-be 33-year-old pitcher add about seven-tenths of a mile an hour to his pitches, especially not when they’ve thrown as many innings as Shields. Hey, maybe throwing fewer changeups and curveballs allowed him to better build and maintain arm strength throughout the season. Who knows. Either way, Shields’ stuff is more than fine. No red flags here.

Big Workload & Injury History

Like I said, Shields has thrown a ton of innings so far in his career. He missed the entire 2002 season in the minors due to major shoulder surgery but has otherwise thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2007 and at least 220 innings in each of the last four years. The guy is a bonafide horse. Shields has taken the ball every fifth day and gone deep into games his entire career now. He’s never been hurt aside from that 2002 shoulder issue. It’s pretty remarkable.

Shields has thrown just short of 2,000 careers innings to date (1,910.1 to be exact), so I wanted to see how other recent pitchers with similar workloads fared later in their careers. Since 1990, 40 pitchers other than Shields threw at least 1,800 innings before the age of 33, and 26 of those 40 have finished their careers. Excluding Daryl Kile, the remaining 25 pitchers averaged 2,080.1 innings and 36.3 bWAR before their age 33 season. But, starting with their age 33 season, they averaged only 586.2 innings and 7.2 bWAR the rest of their careers. That’s scary. (Here’s my spreadsheet.)

Now, I think we can all agree Shields is more Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte than Jeff Suppan and Jaime Navarro, but what if he’s Brad Radke? Or Andy Benes? Those guys were workhorses earlier in their careers and completely done after 32. Like done done. Without warning too. What if he’s Barry Zito or Kevin Appier? Healthy enough to continue pitching but simply not any good? That’s the risk whichever team signs him is going to take.

Contract Estimates

The Royals did make Shields the qualifying offer, so he will cost a draft pick to sign, but that’s only a minor consideration when talking about a player of this caliber. No team will lose sleep over forfeiting a pick to sign a high-end starter. Here are some contract estimates from around the web.

The offseason has been very quiet for Shields so far. The same is true for Scherzer. It seems like everyone was waiting for Lester to come off the board before turning their attention to the rest of the pitching market. The Giants and Marlins are said to have some interest in Shields but that’s all right now. Check out his MLBTR archive if you don’t believe me.

I think Shields is going to wind up with something like five years and $100M, right in line with the estimates. That’s basically the A.J. Burnett and John Lackey contracts from a few years ago adjusted for inflation. He’s not young and there are a ton of miles on his arm, but he is excellent and would be a major short-term upgrade for a contending team. Whoever signs Shields will be focused on winning in 2015 and 2016, not worrying about how the deal will look in years four and five of the contract. He makes the most sense for a win now team, basically.

Wrapping Up

Between his performance, his stuff, and his injury, Shields carries no red flags whatsoever. The only concern is his career workload to date and the expectation that it will eventually catch up to him and he’ll break down. After everything that’s happened with CC Sabathia these last two years, it’s hard not to be concerned about Shields’ workload. (To be fair, Sabathia threw way more innings at a young age than Shields.)

Shields would help the Yankees the way he would help every team. There’s not a rotation in baseball that wouldn’t get better by adding him. The contract figures to be shorter than the massive pacts Lester and Scherzer will receive, but you’re also getting fewer of his theoretical prime years. After all, is seven years for 30-year-old Lester or Scherzer all that different than five years for 32-year-old Shields? You’re getting a similar chunk of his career minus some peak years. Shields offers AL East pedigree and is a reliable innings guy, so that alone makes him a good fit for New York. Whether the price is right is another matter.

Rosenthal: Brandon McCarthy close to four-year deal with Dodgers

Later, Brandon. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Later, Brandon. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Right-hander Brandon McCarthy is close to a four-year contract worth $48M with the Dodgers, reports Ken Rosenthal. No word on the money. The Yankees had interest in re-signing McCarthy but, like most teams, they were not in love with the idea of going four years given his history of his shoulder problems. In fact, Andy Martino says the Yankees told McCarthy’s camp they were unwilling to exceed three years.

McCarthy, 31, had a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 14 starts and 90.1 innings for the Yankees this past season after being acquired from the Diamondbacks for Vidal Nuno just before the trade deadline. McCarthy was damn near ace-like in New York and a huge help in the second half. The Yankees will not get any kind of draft pick for losing him — they were unable to make McCarthy a qualified offer because he was traded at midseason.

The pitching market has finally started to heat up these last few days. McCarthy is going to the Dodgers, Jon Lester is going to the Cubs, and Francisco Liriano is staying with the Pirates. Max Scherzer and James Shields are still available, ditto reclamation projects like Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson. Middle of road options include Edinson Volquez and, uh, Hiroki Kuroda maybe?

Wednesday Night Open Thread

According to Maury Brown, MLB set a new revenue record in 2014, taking in approximately $9 billion for the calendar year. That’s up about 13% from last year, which is nuts. The new national television deals with FOX, ESPN, and TBS were a big part of the increase. That number is going up too. MLB Advanced Media announced today they will provide back-end infrastructure for HBO’s streaming service — they already do the same for ESPN, WWE, and CBS March Madness — and Brown says MLBAM could top $1 billion in revenue by itself in the near future. Lots and lots of money in the game right now.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about those games, MLB’s revenues, the Winter Meetings, or anything else right here.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

2014 Winter Meetings-002Aside from losing David Robertson to the White Sox, the first two days of the Winter Meetings have been rather quiet for the Yankees. Brian Cashman confirmed he did have talks with the Athletics about Jeff Samardzija before the right-hander was traded to the White Sox, but the two sides were unable to find a match. With Jon Lester finally off the board — he signed with the Cubs late last night, in case you missed it — the pitching market should soon take off.

All we learned on Monday and Tuesday was that the Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley as long as the annual salary comes down. That’s really about it. They’re not in on Max Scherzer, they don’t know if Hiroki Kuroda is retiring, and they’ve spoken to a handful of clubs (Braves, Marlins, Royals) about bullpen help. Exciting times. We’ll again keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:37pm: Stephen Drew is much more popular this offseason than last despite his awful 2014 season, likely because he isn’t attached to draft pick compensation and will come pretty cheap. The Yankees are one of many teams with some level of interest, presumably so he could play second base. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:33pm: Any talks between the Yankees and Sergio Romo have been limited so far. There’s interest but nothing is imminent. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:25pm: Given the way the team’s budget is constructed at the moment, the Yankees would have to bottom feed for rotation help if they sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract. They may spend on pitching and go with Martin Prado at third and kids at second base instead. Of course, this could all be posturing. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:56pm: The Yankees are more than just “monitoring” Sergio Romo — they have legitimate interest in signing him. Romo was off the charts good from 2010-13 but took a step back in 2014. He’s still a capable late-inning reliever. (Jerry Crasnick)
  • 11:10am: Two unidentified owners flew to the Winter Meetings in San Diego to meet with Scott Boras about Max Scherzer. I’m not saying Yankees ownership is one of them, but they do have a history of dealing with Boras directly, namely with Rafael Soriano a few years ago. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:28am: Brandon McCarthy is seeking a four-year deal at $48M while teams are stopping at three years and $36M. The Yankees are also “monitoring” relievers like Jason Grilli, Rafael Soriano, and Sergio Romo. [George King]
  • 9:44am: Well, forget about Luke Gregerson. He just agreed to a three-year, $18.5M deal with the Astros. That’s the second biggest contract ever given to a non-closer reliever, just ahead of Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants and way behind the contract the Yankees just gave Andrew Miller. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees are among the teams with interest in Luke Gregerson. He’s no David Robertson, but Gregerson is a damn fine high-leverage reliever who would be a big boost to New York’s bullpen. (Shi Davidi)
  • The Yankees continue to have interest in retaining Brandon McCarthy. Francisco Liriano’s three-year, $39M contract with the Pirates could be a reference point in talks. (Jack Curry)

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jason Grilli and Rafael Soriano

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With both Andrew Miller and David Robertson now off the board, the free agent reliever market is starting to heat up. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek agreed to deals with the Astros earlier today, Sergio Romo is in talks with several teams, and I’m sure many more relievers are drawing interest right now as well. The Yankees don’t absolutely need another reliever, but there’s always room in the bullpen for another quality late-inning arm.

Two of the more, shall we say, veteran relievers on the market are right-hander Jason Grilli and ex-Yankee Rafael Soriano. New York is said to be at least “monitoring” both guys. Both Grilli and Soriano are on the wrong side of 35 — well, Soriano turns 35 next week, so close enough — whose best days are likely behind them, but are still good enough to be assets in relief. Plus they both figure to come on short-term contracts. Is either a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Because they are older relievers on the downside of their careers, I think we’re better off focusing on what Grilli and Soriano did this past season moreso than the last two or three seasons and especially what they did earlier this careers. I don’t think what Soriano did in his first stint in New York tells us a whole lot about what he’ll do in 2015, for instance. That was a long time ago in reliever years. So here’s what these two did during the 2014 season:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
Grilli 54.0 4.00 3.37 24.3% 8.9% 32.0% 6.5% 0.313 0.310
Soriano 62.0 3.19 3.08 23.4% 7.5% 31.6% 4.8% 0.297 0.273

Grilli had a pretty bad first half (3.95 ERA and 4.63 FIP) and a better second half (4.05 ERA and 2.08 FIP), at least when you look at things like strikeout and walk rates rather than runs allowed. Soriano was the opposite — he had a dynamite first half (0.97 ERA and 2.43 FIP) but a yucky  second half (6.48 ERA and 4.05 FIP). Both guys lost their closer’s jobs to ex-Yankees draft picks (Mark Melancon and Drew Storen) during the summer too.

Grilli and Soriano are very similar pitchers. They strike out an above-average number of hitters, walk about a league average number of hitters if not a tick more, and don’t get any ground balls. Instead of grounders they get a lot of weak pop-ups, which are actually preferable. Pop-ups are damn near automatic outs. A ridiculous 17.7% of Grilli’s fly balls last year were infield pops, and he’s consistently been over 14.0% infield pop-ups since resurfacing with the Pirates a few years ago. Soriano had a 7.7% infield pop-up rate in 2014 after sitting well over 12.0% from 2010-13.

Soriano’s decline in pop-up rate is not necessarily a sign of decline — he had a 12.0%+ pop-up rate from 2006-08, dipped down to 7.3% in 2009, then jumped right back up to 12.0%+ from 2010-13. It could just be one of those weird random baseball things. Like when Robinson Cano hit .271 in 2008 and .320 in 2009. Both Soriano and Grilli rely on pop-ups and strikeouts to get their outs, which is a really great strategy, though it is worth noting Grilli’s strikeout rate dropped quite a bit in 2014 while Soriano’s has been holding steady for a few years now:


Source: FanGraphsJason Grilli, Rafael Soriano

Grilli bounced around earlier of his career and didn’t turn into a stellar late-inning reliever until the 2011 season, when the Pirates gave him a shot. Since that 2011 season he’s been a strikeout machine, much moreso than Soriano. Even in 2014, in which Grilli’s strikeout rate dropped considerably, he still fanned more batters than Soriano. That said, it was still a significant drop. Grilli struck out 36.9% of batters faced in 2012, 36.6% in 2013, and 24.3% in 2014. Big drop.

Overall, Grilli and Soriano are very similar pitches who got different results this past season. Grilli’s declining strikeout rate is a red flag, moreso than Soriano’s drop in pop-up rate. They’ll both make you pull your hair out with walks from time to time too. Grilli was better than Soriano from 2012-13 (2.82 ERA and 2.42 FIP vs. 2.68 ERA and 3.48 FIP), but at his age I don’t think you can bank on 2012-13 Grilli coming back. The upside for both guys at this point of their careers is probably maintaining their 2014 performance in 2015 and not declining any. Obviously that seems more realistic for the soon-to-be 35-year-old Soriano than the 38-year-old Grilli.

Stuff Breakdown

Both Grilli and Soriano are fastball/slider guys, so this will be a pretty straight forward comparison. (Soriano threw a ton of cutters earlier in his career but has since scaled back on it big time.) Grilli’s fastball has consistently sat right around 93 mph since he returned to the show with Pittsburgh while Soriano’s has been gradually declining from 92.6 mph with the Yankees in 2012 to 91.5 mph with the Nationals in 2014. They both throw their sliders a lot, basically one-third of the time, and Soriano throws his in the mid-80s, a bit harder than Grilli’s low-80s offering.

Since they’re both fly ball pitchers, I’m not going to bother looking up the ground ball rates for their fastballs and sliders. Instead we’ll just focus on the swings and misses over the last few seasons:

Grilli FB Grilli SL Soriano FB Soriano SL
2012 14.9% 18.2% 10.9% 13.9%
2013 12.3% 20.9% 9.1% 13.7%
2014 10.3% 15.6% 13.6% 16.7%

The MLB average swing and miss rate for fastballs and sliders are approximately 6.9% and 15.2%, respectively. Grilli gets a ton of whiffs with both his fastball and slider, though they are trending in the wrong direction. Soriano has gotten an above-average amount of empty swings with his fastball but, up until the 2014 season, a below-average amount with his slider. Soriano’s swing and miss rates were better than Grilli’s in 2014 while Grilli’s were better than Soriano’s from 2012-13.

Given his age, it’s no real surprise Grilli wasn’t able to generate as many swings and misses this past season, and that’s a red flag. Chances are he’ll get even fewer swings and misses next season. Soriano’s whiff rates actually ticked upwards and that’s encouraging. Neither guy has a big platoon split — Soriano did last season but bounced back this season — so their fastballs and sliders work against batters on both sides of the plate. How much longer will that last?

Injury Histories

This is where it gets really ugly. Grilli had Tommy John surgery back in 2002 and missed the entire 2010 season with a torn quad. He missed two months with an elbow strain in 2003, three weeks with elbow inflammation in 2009, and six weeks with a flexor tendon strain in 2013. An oblique strain sidelined him for a month this past season. That’s a lot of elbow issues over the years. Grilli has thrown 50+ innings each year from 2012-14, the first and only other time he’s done that since 2006-08.

Soriano, meanwhile, just threw 50+ innings in three straight seasons for the first time in his career. He had Tommy John surgery way back in 2004 then needed another surgery to correct a nerve issue and remove a bone spur from his elbow in 2008, which caused him to miss most of the season. Soriano also missed three months with elbow inflammation while with the Yankees in 2011. His history of elbow problems is pretty severe, though aside from some shoulder fatigue and a concussion when he was hit by a comebacker, both back in 2006, he hasn’t had any other injury problems.

Both Grilli and Soriano have a long history of elbow problems and also of not staying healthy for extended periods of time. If they managed to throw 50+ innings in 2015, it’ll be the first time either guy throws that many innings in four straight seasons in their careers. Given their ages and injury histories, I’m not sure how reasonable it is to expect them to continue to stay on the field going forward. Not saying it can’t happen, just that there’s a risk factor.

Contract Estimates

Grilli has definitely reached the point in his career where he’ll have to go year to year to continue playing. No club is giving a just turned 38-year-old reliever multiple guaranteed years. Soriano, on the other hand, is still young enough and close enough to his best seasons that he might be able to secure a two-year pact. Here are some contract estimates:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Two years, $14M for Soriano. (No results for Grilli.)
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Two years, $16M for Soriano. One year, $3.5M for Grilli.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): One year, $3M to $4M for Soriano. One year, $2M to $3M for Grilli.

KLaw seems to hate relievers, so I’m inclined to throw out his contract numbers for Soriano based on the other estimated. Based on FanGraphs and Bowden, Soriano’s looking at something like two years at $7.5M annually. Based on Bowden and Law, Grilli’s looking at a one-year deal at $3M or so. Those numbers make sense to me. Soriano’s deal would be similar to what the Padres gave Joaquin Benoit last year and Grilli’s deal would be in line with basically every late-career reliever contract in recent history.

Wrapping Up

At this point, with Robertson and Miller off the board, all remaining free agent relievers have some kind of red flag. Grilli’s strikeout rate fell a ton last year and Soriano had that brutal second half. Both guys also have a history of elbow problems. The Yankees know Soriano from his time in New York — that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to strike a deal, remember Brian Cashman very publicly said he didn’t want to sign him, so maybe Soriano holds a grudge or something — but Grilli would be coming in blind.

There is clearly a spot in the bullpen for another veteran late inning reliever, and both Soriano and Grilli could assume the closer’s job so Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller could remain in setup roles. I would prefer the Yankees to stick to a one-year contract so they could more easily cut bait at midseason if necessary, which would take them out of the running for Soriano. Of course, the team may feel differently and could be open to bringing Soriano back on a two-year contract. Both are qualified for the late innings and both are risky. Pick your poison.

Girardi Talks: Robertson, Bullpen, A-Rod, Rotation, Didi, Offseason, More

San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via Ian Clarkin)
San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via @iClarkin)

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi held his annual “state of the Yankees” press conference at the Winter Meetings. It was a fairly standard Yankees press conference, meaning lots of words were said but there wasn’t a whole lot of substance behind them. The organization has mastered the art of saying a lot and nothing at all at the same time, if you know what I mean. Here’s a recap of the important stuff from Girardi’s press conference with some thoughts as well.

David Robertson and the Bullpen

  • On losing Robertson: “Obviously we’re going to miss David … I’m happy for him because I feel like relievers usually get one shot at the long-term contract, and he got that shot and he took full advantage of it. And we’re going to miss him. He was a great young man to manage and had a lot of confidence in him. I wish him the best of luck, except against us.”
  • On the bullpen with Robertson: “Well, we feel that our bullpen is going to be very strong again. With the additions of (Andrew) Miller and (Justin) Wilson and the development of (Adam) Warren and (Shawn) Kelley, we feel like we have a number of great arms … I feel like we’ll have a very good bullpen.”
  • On naming a new closer: “We’ll talk about it as Spring Training goes on to see what is the best situation. I think you have to figure out who is in your bullpen. And the one thing is that we feel that — you look at four of the guys down there, (Dellin) Betances, Miller, Warren, Shawn Kelley, they all have significant amount of time in the back end and have been set up — so you could do probably a lot of different things. It could be dependent on how many days in a row a guy has worked. But like I said, we don’t need to figure that out (now). But I like the arms that we have down there.”
  • On bullpen roles in general: “I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used, but sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out this season Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh inning. So that takes time to get ironed out.”

The Yankees have a great opportunity to use a co-closer system, with Betances and Miller sharing eighth and ninth inning duty based on matchups. The Braves did this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago — Soriano (27 saves) faced the tough righties whenever they were due up and Gonzalez (ten saves) faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up. The Yankees could do similar but I think there’s no chance they will. Girardi likes having set roles — seventh inning guy, eighth inning guy, closer, etc. — and so do the players. Someone will replace Robertson as the closer and everyone will fall into place behind him. I just have no idea who the new closer will be.

All A-Rod, All The Time

  • On communication with Alex Rodriguez: “We text, we email, we talk on the phone. We do different things, see videos. It’s been good. I know he’s working extremely hard and that’s going to be a hot button in Spring Training. And we’ve just got to go through Spring Training and see where he’s at. He hasn’t played a lot in two years … We have to see where he’s at.”
  • On first base: “Well, I talked to him about first base and I said ‘We’ll talk about it in Spring Training’ because let’s see the makeup of our club. If we have another first baseman, if I want to give (Mark Teixeira) a day off, then we can put the other one in there. If we don’t, we could possibly move you over there. I’ll see if he’s comfortable and go from there.”
  • On distractions: “You know, I think our guys will handle it well. I’m not so sure over the last three years, when he hasn’t garnered a lot of attention when he’s been in the clubhouse — think about when he came back to Chicago, in San Diego, when he came back — so it’s something we have to pay attention to, but I think our guys are up for it and have the experience and know how to handle it and we’ll handle it.”

Girardi also mentioned he saw some video of A-Rod hitting and working out and other stuff and said he looked good. I fully expect Spring Training to be a total circus because of Alex and I think he will spend some time at first base, at least in camp. It’s really hard to expect him to be productive though. How you do you think Chipper Jones would perform in 2015 if he returned to the game after a two-year retirement? That’s basically what A-Rod will be doing, but with two surgically repaired hips.

The Rotation

  • On depth: “There’s some concerns, I think just because of guys coming off injuries. We feel good about them. We feel good about them coming back … But as we’ve seen, you need more than five starters, usually. You have to have some players that have the ability to do both. So we’re going to have to see what our rotation is, where everyone is at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “We’re counting on him to make his 32 starts. That’s something we’ll have to look at as the season progresses. We have a little bit more experience with him being on a five-man rotation now than we had before. He seemed to do pretty well. He did get hurt. But a lot of times when you talk about guys that have that situation it’s not necessarily one incident — it’s over time. But he came back well. His velocity was there, his split was there. So it’s just something I think you have to pay attention to.”
  • On other injury concerns: “In the back of your mind there’s some question marks. (Ivan) Nova will not be ready for Opening Day. We’ll have to wait a little bit, for sure. He’s had a great rehab … (CC Sabathia‘s) rehab has went well …. Michael Pineda has not thrown 200 innings in a while.”

I’m sure the Yankees are hoping Tanaka will make 32 starts next year but are planning for a scenario in which he makes, well, none. Nova not being ready in time for Opening Day is no surprise — he had surgery in late-April 2014 and at the very earliest would be ready in late-April 2015, but the more likely scenario is May or June. Who in the world knows what Sabathia can do. Not really much more to add here. The Yankees need some rotation depth.

The New Shortstop

  • On Didi Gregorius in general: “I think he’s a good young player that has a chance to blossom in New York. A very good defender. Had success with the bat last year with right-handers and is still young and has the ability to grow into a very good player.”
  • On Gregorius having to replace Derek Jeter: “I think the most important thing for Didi — and I’ll stress it — and I’ll have all the coaches stress it and the people around him, you just need to be yourself. You don’t need to try to be Derek. I think Robertson did a really good job of filling in for a superstar, a legend, a Yankee legend and was just himself. And we need to pay attention to that and make sure that Didi, hey, go out and play, just do what you do.”
  • On Jeter being gone: “I think the reality for me started to hit a little bit the last games in Boston. That that was going to be kind of it … We’re starting anew now. It’s kind of a new era for the Yankees without Derek at shortstop. He’s been there a very, very long time and played at a very high level. But I’ll say it again, Didi, just be yourself.”

Gregorius replacing Jeter is going to be a thing all season, isn’t it? May the baseball gods help the poor kid if he gets off to a slow start in April. Every slump at the plate and error in the field will be scrutinized. That’s just how it will be. I’ve already seen articles saying Gregorius has what it takes to succeed in New York (link) and articles saying he won’t be able to handle the bright lights (link), so no one has any idea what the hell they’re talking about. We just have to wait and see.

Girardi’s right when he says Gregorius just has to be himself, and at the same time the Yankees can’t baby him either. Treat him like any other 24-year-old you’re trying to develop into your shortstop of the future. Play him everyday — sitting him against a tough lefty like Chris Sale or David Price is fine, but a straight platoon with Brendan Ryan would be so, so dumb — and give the kid an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s curious to see how the team balances Gregorius’ development with winning because, frankly, they’ve sucked at developing players lately.

The Offseason

  • On the team’s biggest needs: “You know, when I look at our club, I think you have to think about the depth of the rotation … You need depth in your rotation. You have to. I don’t know how many starters we used last year, but I know we lost four. So we used a lot and that’s something that’s a concern.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda: “We’re not sure what he’s going to do. That’s a decision he has to make and it’s about the time a player either has in his heart, I want to come back, or It’s time for me to retire. So it’s a decision that he has to make.”
  • On Francisco Cervelli: “We’re going to miss him. He was a good player for us …. He’s a player that was loved in the clubhouse. We loved his energy and the way he played the game. The way he went about his business. I’m happy that he gets an opportunity to play every day. I’ve said all along, I believe he’s an everyday catcher, and he’ll help someone.”

Getting Kuroda back would add some stability to the rotation but the Yankees can’t wait around forever for him to make his decision either. The pitching dominoes are starting to fall and the club has to act soon to get the help they need. If Kuroda decides to play later, great. They can figure it out then. The Yankees don’t want to be left standing at the game of pitching musical chairs because they spent weeks on end waiting for Kuroda.

Miscellany

  • On losing two homegrown stars in two offseasons: “It’s the nature of the revenue sharing and what TV contracts have allowed other clubs to do. I think the game has changed (from what) it was 20 years ago.”
  • On incorporating young players: “We need our system to be productive and for our young players to come up and help us out because, as I’ve said, the game has changed. And more clubs are able to bid on players than probably ever before. So the price goes up and sometimes you lose those players. I feel pretty good about our young kids that are coming. And it’s not just (Rob) Refsnyder or (Jose) Pirela, there’s more that you could talk about and that excites me.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We’ve had some interviews and things have kind of got interrupted with the GM Meetings and organizational meetings and changes in our organization and then coming down here … We’ll probably pick up again when this is all said and done, and we’ll iron out our coaching staff.”
  • On Martin Prado: “I don’t think you have an ideal (position). Would you like to leave him at one spot?  Yeah. But his versatility allows us to rest people at times. We might ask him to do that depending on the makeup of our club.”

Imagine if the Yankees don’t re-sign Chase Headley and go into next season with a double play combination of Gregorius and either Pirela or Refsnyder. How much patience will they have for those growing pains on the middle infield? I’m guessing not much but more than most fans. And, as I’ve said before, I think I’m more curious to see how long the team can go without a hitting coach and first base coach than I am to see who they actually hire. Today’s the two month anniversary of them firing Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher, you know.