Via Jack Magruder: The Diamondbacks are set to name Mike Harkey their new pitching coach on Monday. Good for him. Harkey, 47, has been the Yankees’ bullpen coach since 2008 and he is one of Joe Girardi’s closest friends and confidants. Obviously the team will need to dig up a replacement now. Triple-A pitching Scott Aldred, who also interviewed for the D’Backs pitching coach gig, could be a candidate for the job. · (14) ·
Hopefully all of you stuck traveling are doing well right now, I hear things are pretty chaotic because of the weather. Holiday travel always sucks but bad weather makes it like, a trillion times worse. Hope everyone is doing okay.
Here is your open thread for the night. All five hockey and basketball locals are in action, plus there’s college something on somewhere. Talk about whatever. Have at it.
Given how the 2013 season unfolded and where the Yankees finished in the standings, you might assume that we’ve produced more What Went Wrong posts than ever in the past. How could things have gone more wrong than any year in the recent past? you might ask. Apparently more things went wrong last year, when we produced twenty-six posts in the What Went Wrong series. This post marks number twenty-three this year.
In one sense, this statistic does not check out. How could have more things gone wrong in a season when the Yankees won the division, owned the best record in the American League, and made a trip to the ALCS, than in a season where they won 85 games and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin? Clearly that is not the case. So why did we produce more What Went Wrong posts last year than this year?
Because the entire roster suffered from poor construction and bad luck.
Perhaps that was by design, to an extent. Last year’s free agent crop was paltry and pathetic, with few players worthy of a multiyear deal. This off-season, while thin by 00s standards, stands out above both the 2013 and 2015 free agent classes. Better to hold off, then, during a poor free agent class and reload when there are better players available.
Design cannot explain all, or even most, of the Yankees’ roster woes in 2013. Many needs went completely unaddressed in the off-season. Losing a few key players during, and before, the season hurt them further, exacerbating those off-season construction flaws. As a result the Yankees fielded what was almost certainly their weakest roster since 1993.
The 2012 Yankees featured a fairly balanced lineup. They hit lefties and righties very well, and hitters of both handedness produced impressive numbers. But as we quickly learned, many of those players would not be back. Nick Swisher, for one, was almost certainly a goner. Russell Martin jumped on an early offer from the Pirates. Then we learned that Alex Rodriguez would require hip surgery, shelving him until July at the earliest. More than 30 HR from the right side of the plate were leaving town, and it was anyone’s guess how much they’d lose from A-Rod. Combine that with Derek Jeter‘s injury and uncertain return, and it added up to an enormous need for right-handed production.
Adding Kevin Youkilis made sense in many regards. He hit right-handed and played third base, and so could replace at least some of Rodriguez’s production. One folly was replacing an injured player with a guy who has had trouble staying on the field, specifically with back troubles. The other was adding no other right-handed hitters, at all.
Instead the Yankees added Ichiro Suzuki, a no-power lefty, and — and that’s basically it. Perhaps the players they liked wanted to play elsewhere, or signed contracts the Yankees deemed out of their desired price range. Maybe the trade market didn’t develop in the way they’d imagined. Whatever the case, the Yankees knew they were losing a huge chunk of their right-handed production and did very little to address that depletion.
Why didn’t the Yankees make a more concerted effort to keep Martin (he reportedly would have accepted a one-year deal) or sign a player who fit, like Torii Hunter? The story we heard was that they were focusing on pitching. They wanted to make sure that they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That would ensure a strong pitching staff. The offense, by their own admission, took a back seat. By the time they were ready, the good players were off the board. It showed in the team’s performance.
Key injuries and replacement players
At least when the Yankees learned of Rodriguez’s injury, they had time to find a replacement. When a J.A. Happ pitch stuck Curtis Granderson‘s forearm in his first spring training at-bat, the Yanks had few potential replacements; while Brett Gardner could slide into center field, that still left vacant an outfield spot and further depleted the lineup’s power.
About a week later further disaster struck when Mark Teixeira left the WBC with a wrist injury. Not only would the Yankees be without their slugging first baseman for the start of the season, but they had absolutely no one in camp to replace him; at the time the candidates were Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera, who ended up getting a combined 5 PA in the majors in 2013 (all Johnson), and Youkilis, who was already replacing Rodriguez.
Had they been so inclined, the Yankees could have used Eduardo Nunez to replace Rodriguez at third, sliding Youkilis over to first. Alas, towards the end of camp Derek Jeter reinjured his ankle, moving Nunez into the shortstop position. To man first base they nabbed Lyle Overbay, who had been released by Boston — who wouldn’t have been so bad if they had a right-handed platoon partner for him.*
*Overbay did hit .258/.317/.432 against righties, and that number was quite a bit higher earlier in the season, so he wasn’t a total zero the entire time. Then again, who’s to say what would have happened if they’d found a platoon partner. Does Overbay produce those numbers while sitting against lefties? That’s the big unknown about platoons: anyone in one has to buy into it. If a guy feels he needs consistent at-bats to get into a groove, chances are he won’t succeed in a platoon even if his splits suggest he would. Ya know, 90 percent of the game being half mental and all.
To replace Granderson the Yankees flexed their financial biceps to acquire Vernon Wells from the Angels. They ended up paying him $13 million in 2013, just so they could avoid having him count against the luxury tax in 2014. For about a month that worked out well — which seemed perfect, because Granderson was due back in a little over a month. Which is another disaster story in itself.
It didn’t take Youkilis even a month to hurt himself, even further depleting the infield. Matters got worse when Eduardo Nunez got hurt in early May — and you know your roster is in poor shape when it takes a significant hit with a Nunez injury. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, Jayson Nix, the guy who might not have even made the team had Jeter not reinjured his ankle, got hurt in early July. That necessitated acquiring Luis Cruz, recently DFA’d by the Dodgers.
In early May Travis Hafner, who had enjoyed a resurgent April, suffered a shoulder injury. Fans winced, but to our surprise he did not go on the disabled list. Clearly he should have. From that point onward he hit .169/.250/.301, after hitting .260/.383/.510 through mid-May. It should have been predictable that Hafner, who made four disabled list trips in 2011 and 2012, would have gotten hurt.
Granderson came back and got hurt again. Teixeira came back and wasn’t ready for action. Youkilis came back and hobbled around until it was apparent he needed surgery. Jeter eventually came back, and then got hurt. And then came back again. And then got hurt. Finally, after collecting just eight hits in 44 at-bats, he shut it down. Even Rodriguez got hurt after coming back, forcing him into the DH spot for the last 20 or so games of the season. Gardner got hurt at the end of the season, which seemed to demolish whatever little hope the Yankees had remaining; they went 6-9 afterward, half of those wins coming against the punchless Astros and another two coming against the nearly equally punchless Giants.
Lack of outfield depth
To say the Yankees have failed to produce outfielders doesn’t state the case strongly enough. Yes, they drafted and developed Brett Gardner, a small speedster who developed into a decent ballplayer, but other than him what outfielders have they developed in the last six years? The last eight? The last ten? It seems that ever since they traded away Juan Rivera and Ricky Ledee 10 years ago that they have lagged greatly in the outfielder development department. There was Melky Cabrera, who was OK, Gardner, who is a fair success, and who else?
It is no wonder, then, that they were ill prepared for injuries in the outfield. By itself letting Swisher walk might not have been a bad call. They acquired him for essentially nothing, one of those my junk for your good player trades we frequently see, and laugh at, in the comments. They paid him a wage commensurate with his contribution, during his prime years. Letting him go was probably the smart move, if not the typical Yankee move. Only problem was, they had no viable replacements.
Did they honestly think Ichiro would continue the run he started after heading to the Yankees? From what we read in the aftermath, ownership forced the issue there, convinced Ichiro would earn his salary in marketing dollars. When Granderson went down they had to trade for Wells, who had produced an 86 OPS+ in the last two seasons combined. Their only hopes on the farm were Melky Mesa, a strikeout-heavy guy who wasn’t going to hit major league pitching, and Zoilo Almonte, another strikeout guy who actually got better in that regard during the 2013 season, came up, hit some baseballs, and got hurt.
It wasn’t until they acquired Alfonso Soriano that they started to trot out halfway decent outfields. Which brings us to…
Futility of the trade deadline
At close of business on May 23, the Yankees sat alone atop the AL East. A combination of unexpected offensive contributions and an expectedly good pitching staff put them in a position to contend. That’s all they could have asked for, given the circumstances. It appeared that reinforcements were in the offing. Curtis Granderson had just returned to the lineup. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were nearing rehab games. The band was getting back together.
The next day, Granderson got hit with another pitch that broke a bone. A week after that both Teixeira and Youkilis did return, but they provided almost no positives before they both went back on the DL and underwent season-ending surgeries. The Yankees, still in first place by a few percentage points on May 26, had fallen into third place by June 13. On July 1 they sat in fourth place. The fill-ins had done an admirable job while the main players recovered from injury. But now that they were injured again, the Yanks needed more reinforcements.
The trade deadline can be considered a failure, but only because the Yankees didn’t acquire the players they needed to put them over the top. But could they really have expected to replace all the players who fell victim to injury? The list of needs ran deep: an outfielder and a first baseman, one of whom absolutely needed to be a right-handed hitter with power, and a pitcher, at the very least. A catcher would have been nice, too, if unattainable. When was the last time a team was able to add that many players — at least two of them impact players — at any one trade deadline?
Complicating the issue was the matter of players available. It takes two parties to consummate a trade, so if other teams weren’t selling, or weren’t buying what the Yankees were offering, no deals were possible. There didn’t seem to be many impact hitters available at all. In fact, the Yankees undoubtedly got the best hitter who was traded at the deadline in Soriano. In terms of pitching there were Matt Garza and Jake Peavy, who both could have helped the Yankees. But can it be considered a failure that they failed to acquire either?
The problem with the trade deadline represented a microcosm of the trouble with the entire roster throughout 2013. The pickings were slim. Flaws cropped up in the off-season, and became exposed when a few key players suffered injuries. The lack of depth on the farm, resulting in the inability to call up useful players, further complicated the roster woes. By the time the trade deadline rolled around it was too late to make any meaningful upgrades. There were too many holes.
It remains a surprise that the Yankees, with their pitiful roster, managed to remain interesting for more than half of the 2013 season (April, May, August, half of September). They managed to win only 85 games, but that far outpaced almost all of their projections, based on run differential and strength of schedule. So while the team was pretty unwatchable for a few months, they did manage to remain in contention far longer than anyone imagined.
Last year, the Yankees signed 21-year-old Cuban left-hander Omar Luis to a $4M signing bonus, their last big money international pickup before the new spending restrictions were implemented. A visa issue kept him in Haiti for several months, but the southpaw made it to the United States this summer and pitched for one of the team’s two Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates. He is one of their better pitching prospects at the moment.
According to Ben Badler, a contract snafu leaves Luis exposed in next month’s Rule 5 Draft even though he signed his first contract just last year. Players typically are not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until they’ve played at least four and usually five years professionally. It’s complicated, so I’ll let Badler explain:
The Yankees signed Cuban lefthander Omar Luis last year for a $4 million bonus, with an official contract date of July 1, 2012, the day before the inaugural $2.9 million international bonus pools went into effect.
However, Luis and several other Cuban players also represented by Praver Shapiro Sports Management who were claiming permanent residency in Haiti ran into visa issues and were unable to get into the United States. When Luis arrived in the U.S. this year after spending eight months in Haiti, an unknown issue popped up in his physical, which led the Yankees to void the contract.
Luis signed a new contract with the Yankees for a reduced bonus—$2.5 million—on April 9, 2013. Since Luis signed his second contract with his original team and the Yankees did not place him on their 40-man roster, he is available in the Rule 5 draft, which is Dec. 12.
The timing of Luis’ two contracts also forced MLB to make a decision regarding whether his contract would be subject to the international bonus pools. While his April 2013 contract falls within the 2012-13 signing window where every team had a $2.9 million bonus pool, because his initial agreement came just before the new system kicked in, MLB determined that Luis’ new contract was exempt from the bonus pools.
Badler notes this is not unprecedented. The Brewers, Reds, and Mariners have had players go through similar situations in recent years.
The immediate impact is negligible. Luis had a 5.68 ERA and 43/29 K/BB in 31.2 innings at lowest level of the minors this past season, so even if a team loves his stuff grabs him in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll stick in the big leagues for all of next season. Jumping from the rookie ball to the big leagues almost certainly will not happen, at least not successfully.
This is a problem long-term, however. Luis will be Rule 5 Draft eligible every offseason from here on out, so even though he won’t be able to stick in MLB right now, that might not be the case next year. The Yankees will likely have to add him to the 40-man roster and start burning through his minor league options sooner than expected. That means they might have to try to develop him pretty quickly.
Furthermore, if Luis is selected in the Rule 5 Draft and returned to the Yankees at any point, he will have been outrighted off the 40-man roster. The first time that happens is no big deal, but the second time will allow him to elect free agency over returning to New York. He could leverage that into a new contract, which two-time Rule 5 Draft guys have done before (though none were as good a prospect as Luis). That too could force the club to add Luis to the 40-man sooner than they would like.
This sounds like a really unique and unfortunate set of circumstances. I suppose the Yankees could have kept him on the original $4M deal rather than negotiate a lower bonus, but if there’s something in the physical they didn’t like, then they should protect themselves. We’re talking about a ton of money here. It sounds like their options were either deal with the contract/40-man headache or not get the player. Seems like an obvious choice to me.
At some point soon — probably next week — the Yankees are going to finalize their agreement with catcher Brian McCann. They will add one of the best backstops in baseball at a substantial cost, reportedly $85M across five years with a vesting option for a sixth year. They’re clearly expecting big things out of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s been one of the most productive hitters of the last decade or so, especially relative to his position. Catchers who hit like this are rare.
Because the Yankees invested so much in McCann, they’re likely to look for ways to control his workload behind the plate in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. They want him to catch for all five years of the contract because that’s where he’s the most valuable — McCann is just another guy at first base or DH — even though it may not be realistic. He turns 30 in February and a five-year contract covers the years when most catchers turn into pumpkins, especially guys who have been starters for a long time. All that squatting behind the plate and all those foul tips take their toll.
McCann was a workhorse throughout his career with the Braves. He made his big league debut at age 21 and was an everyday catcher by age 22. From 2006-2012, his age 22-28 seasons, he started at least 113 games behind the plate each year and led all of baseball with 944 games caught total. He was limited to 91 starts at catcher this past season only because he missed April following offseason right shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of wear and tear and the team knows it. They don’t want their new addition to be a full-time DH by year three of a five-year deal.
Thankfully, that DH spot gives the Yankees a little bit of flexibility. It allows them to keep McCann’s bat in the lineup while getting him out from behind the plate for a day. Obviously other players like Derek Jeter will need to rotate through that DH spot — I really don’t like the rotating DH in general, but it’s a necessity for this roster at this point — but there should be enough starts available for McCann throughout the course of the season. Remember, he’s going to be the catcher first and foremost. DH is just an alternative for a day, nothing more.
The Yankees faced between 52-61 left-handed starters in each of the last five seasons, so a straight platoon with presumed backup Frankie Cervelli would limit McCann to roughly 100-110 starts behind the plate next year. That’s a bit below the 123 starts at catcher he averaged from 2006-2012 and it seems like a decent target to me. He could DH another 30-40 games — he will need some full days off of course, catching is hard — and that would get him in the lineup 140-ish times a year.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, platoons rarely work out as intended, especially for catchers. Blame injuries and hot/cold streaks and sorts of other unpredictable stuff. At some point next year the Yankees will face nine right-handed starters in nine days, something like that, and that will throw a wrench into everything. The Yankees also might not want to admit their shiny new $85M toy is a platoon player just yet. That stuff does happen. They could run McCann out there everyday against both righties and lefties at first just to see what happens. He did hit lefties from 2010-2012 (104 wRC+), maybe 2013 (72 wRC+) was a blip.
There’s an awful lot of stuff to consider when laying out a plan to keep McCann productive and behind the plate over the next half-decade, including his preferences. McCann might hate being the DH and that would be a factor in how they use him. Ultimately, the team owes him big bucks over the next five years and they should figure out the best way to keep him at catcher for as many of those year as possible. I think that 100-110 starts behind the plate number sounds pretty good because he would still get the majority of the games at catcher while having his workload reduced a bit from recent years. Coming up with a plan that works will be much easier said than done and it will be important. McCann’s going to be here for a while. The Yankees have every reason to look after his long-term well-being.
Via Jon Heyman: Officials from NPB traveled to the United States this week to discuss changes to the posting system face-to-face with the folks at MLB. They spoke today and are expected to do so again tomorrow, reports Joel Sherman. There is “renewed hope” an agreement will be reached but it is far from a sure thing. The Japanese players’ union agreed to a revised system earlier this month, but MLB withdrew the proposal because NPB took too long to review. Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka can not be posted until the two sides hammer this thing out.
In other news, Sang-Soo Kwon reports Samsung Lions closer Seung-Hwan Oh will join the Hanshin Tigers in Japan on a two-year, $8.9M contract. The best closer in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization was considering jumping to MLB via the posting system — the posting agreement with Korea is still valid, only Japan is an issue at the moment — but he apparently decided to head to Japan instead. The Yankees, who are in the market for late-inning bullpen help, were said to be among the teams scouting Oh. · (6) ·
The BBWAA announced the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot today, which you can see right here. It runs a ridiculous 36 players deep. Nineteen of those 36 players are eligible for the first time, including all-time greats Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. Former Yankee Mike Mussina is among the first timers as well. He is right on the Cooperstown bubble — I think he belongs — and there are good arguments to be made on both sides.
Don Mattingly will be on the ballot for the 14th time, but he received only 13.2% of the vote last year. He’s a long way off from the 75% needed for induction with only two more years of eligibility. Other former Yankees on the ballot include Armando Benitez, J.T. Snow, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, Roger Clemens, and Tim Raines. Obviously some have greater legacies than others. Voters can only vote for ten players maximum, and there looks to be about 15 Cooperstown-worthy player on the ballot this year. These next few years will be messy. · (44) ·
Remember how Brian McCann was going to be in town for his physical today, the last step before his five-year contract becomes official? Scratch that. It looks like he won’t take the physical until next week, according to Wally Matthews. Blame the weather. They’re worried that if McCann comes to New York this week, he could get stuck here due to the upcoming storm and miss Thanksgiving with his family. Considering the way things went for the Yankees in 2013, I’m more concerned he’ll get poked in the eye with a TSA wand during a private screening and being sidelined until June. Oh well. Spring Training isn’t for another two months anyway. No rush.
Here is your open thread for the night. The Nets are the only local team in action, so between that and the rain, it’s a good night to catch up on the Netflix queue. Feel free to talk about whatever here. Have at it.
According to multiple reports, the Yankees met with Robinson Cano’s representatives today to continue contract negotiations. It’s unclear if the two sides made any progress towards a deal, but the “gap is still very substantial.” They’ll talk again tomorrow before presumably breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday. As Joe wrote yesterday, the Yankees have been playing hardball with Cano and there’s a chance it will work to the benefit of all involved. The team has to continue to move forward and address their other needs though, they can’t wait around forever. · (50) ·