Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. All three local hockey teams are in action tonight but both of the basketball teams have an off-day. Talk about those games, Jeter’s dog, or anything else here.
As expected, the Yankees declined Andrew Bailey‘s club option for 2016 earlier today, the team announced. Also, Brendan Ryan exercised his 2016 player option worth $1M. The Yankees actually hold a $2M club option for Ryan, but there’s no reason to pick that up now. Not unless the Yankees feel like being generous and giving Ryan an extra million bucks.
Bailey, 31, originally signed a minor league contract with the Yankees prior to last season that included a club option for 2015. The team declined the club option and re-signed him to a new minor league contract last winter because he was still rehabbing from shoulder surgery. The club option for 2016 was worth $2M and I didn’t see anything from Bailey during his limited time in September that made me think he’s worth $2M.
Even though the Yankees declined their club option, Bailey remains with the organization as an arbitration-eligible player. MLBTR’s model projects a mere $900,000 salary for Bailey next season if the Yankees decide to keep him around. That’s probably worth it, though Bailey can refuse an assignment to the minors at his service time level, so stashing him in Triple-A probably isn’t an option.
Ryan, 33, was likely looking at a minor league contract if he went out into free agency this offseason, so it’s no surprise he picked up his $1M option. He hit .229/.275/.333 (64 wRC+) in 47 games and 107 plate appearances this summer while playing strong defense. Joe Girardi regularly used him against left-handed pitchers and Ryan responded by hitting .283/.321/.453 (109 wRC+) against southpaws.
The Yankees could eat the $1M and cut ties with Ryan this offseason, but they’ll need to replace him with another shortstop capable backup infielder. They don’t have anyone like that in the minors. The list of free agent backup middle infield types includes Mike Aviles, Clint Barmes, and Cliff Pennington. Spoiler: They’ll annoy you just as much as Ryan. He’s an acceptable backup infielder as long as his playing time is limited.
According to Jon Heyman, Orioles left-hander and impending free agent Wei-Yin Chen is a possible target for the Yankees this offseason, along with Jeff Samardzija. Although he’s only been in the big leagues for four seasons, Chen’s contract allows him to become a free agent before reaching six years of service time. That’s common for guys who played overseas.
Chen, who turned 30 in July, had a 3.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 31 starts and 191.1 innings this season. He has averaged a 3.72 ERA (4.14 FIP) and 176.2 innings per year during his four years with the O’s. The rate stats — Chen’s walk rate (5.2%) was great this year but his strikeout (19.3%), grounder (40.5%), and homer (1.32 HR/9) rates were below-average — suggest he’s a classic mid-rotation type.
The Orioles are going to make Chen a qualifying offer and he’ll reject it, because he will easily clear $15.8M guaranteed this offseason. (He’s a Scott Boras client.) My guess is he gets something in the three-year, $39M (Francisco Liriano) to four-year, $48M (Ervin Santana) range. I tend the underestimate free agent contracts, so maybe something like five years and $80M (Anibal Sanchez) is more realistic.
Chen is unspectacular but he is a quality pitcher who would improve most rotations. The Yankees do have seven starters either under contract (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia) or team control (Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda) next season, but pitching depth is never a bad thing. Tanaka, Sabathia, and Eovaldi all have some level of injury concern right now.
My thinking is the Yankees are unlikely to forfeit their first round draft pick for anything less than a player with high-end skills — Jason Heyward or even Samardzija, who’s an ace on his best days, for example. Chen’s a very good AL East proven pitcher, and there is value in reliability, but I wonder if the Yankees will to shoot higher this offseason. They have a lot of mid-to-back-end starters as it is.
Then again, Chen could be the “second” signing. For example, the Yankees could give up their first rounder to sign Heyward, then only give up their second rounder for Chen. That would allow them to trade someone like Pineda to fill a need elsewhere. That’s how the Yankees tend to operate — if they’re going to forfeit a pick, they might as well forfeit two or three. It’s better than giving up your first rounder every winter.
I like Chen. There’s nothing sexy about him but he’s reliable and has been relatively healthy throughout his MLB career. Well, his arm has been healthy. He had some oblique and knee trouble in 2013. The Yankees are not shy about bringing pitchers into the AL East — Eovaldi last offseason, for example — but Chen’s experience in the division has to be a plus, right?
Two years ago the Yankees were desperate for catching help. That catching pipeline they put together in the minors didn’t amount to much — Jesus Montero was traded away, Austin Romine never developed, Gary Sanchez hit some speed bumps, etc. — so the team was forced into free agency. The Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli plan for 2013 failed miserably.
That venture into free agency brought veteran Brian McCann to the Bronx on a five-year contract worth $85M. Year one was a disappointment, at least offensively. The Yankees were expecting much more than a .232/.286/.406 (93 wRC+) batting line. Year two of the McCann era was better, but again, it was probably less than what the Yankees were expecting when they signed him, especially defensively.
More Comfortable in Year Two?
There was an awful lot of talk about McCann needing time to get comfortable in New York during and following his disappointing 2014 season. It was understandable too. He had a lot to process. New city, new teammates, new league, new division rivals, new coaches, new trainers, new pitching staff … that’s a lot to take in. It’s easy to understand why that may have impacted McCann’s performance.
“I think it’s typical with all of our guys. Unless you’re coming from the Red Sox, like (Jacoby) Ellsbury or Johnny Damon. They were used to that,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff about McCann’s adjustment period back in Spring Training. “I think our experiences have been, for players coming outside of the Northeast environment in New York, it doesn’t matter who you are. There’s definitely a settling-in period.”
McCann had kind of a normal Spring Training — he hit .234/.302/.404 with two homers in 19 games — for a veteran catcher. For him, the games were more about getting ready and getting familiar with the new pitchers on the staff, not so much about impressing coaches to a win roster spot. His job was safe. He was just going through the motions. At least this year he had an idea of what to expect in camp.
“I know the league a lot better,” said McCann over the summer. “I’ve seen all these guys for a fourth and fifth and sixth time. When you’re changing leagues, that’s kind of what you take for granted is facing the No. 1’s and 2’s, the lefty specialists all for the first time. I’m definitely more comfortable in that aspect.”
First Half Dominance
During the first half of the 2015 season, McCann put up a stellar .259/.331/.471 (117 wRC+) batting line with 14 home runs in 72 games. That was right in line with the .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) batting line McCann put up in his final season with the Braves. He was back to where he was prior to that disappointing 2014 season. It was great to see.
Amazingly, McCann actually started the season poorly, so poorly that he bottomed out at .228/.279/.382 (76 wRC+) with four home runs on May 19th, 136 plate appearances into his season. It not only looked like McCann wasn’t going to rebound in year two with the Yankees, but it looked like he was declining even further six weeks into the new season. It was pretty scary!
McCann’s bat took off soon thereafter — he hit a home run in four consecutive games from May 25th to 29th — and he was an absolute monster at the plate the rest of the first half. From May 20th through the All-Star break, a span of 39 games and 154 plate appearances, McCann hit .288/.377/.553 (153 wRC+) with ten homers. His biggest homer came on July 3rd:
Second Half Swoon
Like most Yankees, McCann slumped big time in the second half. He did swat 12 home runs in 63 games after the break, but that came with a .200/.306/.395 (91 wRC+) batting line. Granted, a 91 wRC+ isn’t bad by catcher standards — the league average catcher had an 85 wRC+ in 2015 — but the Yankees were counting on McCann to be a middle of the order thumper, and he wasn’t doing that in the second half.
Looking at McCann’s batted ball profile, it’s easy to see what happened in the second half:
The blue line represents McCann’s fly ball rate while the green is grounders and the red is line drives. McCann put the ball in the air way more often in the second half, and it’s not just that he hit more balls in the air, he hit more weak pop-ups. You know what I mean, those uppercut swings that result in McCann immediately putting his head down after contact. These fly balls:
We see an awful lot of those weak pop-ups when McCann is struggling that the plate. Fly balls like that are BABIP killers. They’re easy outs even the worst defensive outfielders can convert. McCann went from a .271 BABIP in the first half to a .191 BABIP in the second half.
The poor BABIP in the second half was not dumb luck. This is not a “just give him some more at-bats and it’ll even out” situation. McCann’s swing and approach in the second half resulted in a lot of those towering pop-ups that are easy for the defense to catch. He had a low BABIP because the balls he was putting in play were easy to turn into outs. It’s the same thing that plagued McCann in 2014.
McCann finished the regular season in a 3-for-28 (.107) slump and went 0-for-4 with three ground outs and a fly out in the wildcard game. He swung at the first pitch and grounded out to shortstop in the ninth inning to end the season.
Between the great first half — given that slow start, wasn’t it really more like 39 great games? — and the dreadful second half, McCann hit .232/.320/.437 (105 wRC+) with a career high 26 home runs this past season. The home runs are great! The Yankees signed McCann to hit dingers and take advantage of the short porch, and, sure enough, he hit 20 of those 26 home runs at Yankee Stadium.
McCann’s walk rate rebounded from a career low 5.9% last year to 9.7% this year, which is right in line with his career average (9.2%). His strikeout rate was actually a career high (18.1%) yet still below the league average (20.4%). McCann struck out 14.3% of the time last season. His power production increased a bit and his walk rate returned to normal in 2015, but McCann also had a .235 BABIP, which is the new normal. He has .241 BABIP in his last 2,000 plate appearances dating back to 2012.
At this point of his career, there’s little reason to think McCann will ever hit for a decent batting average again. Maybe he has a lucky year and some of those pop-ups start falling in, but that seems unlikely. Chances are McCann is a low average, decent on-base, high power hitter from here on out. That’s useful, especially at the catcher position, but it’s not star caliber production. It’s just solid. McCann is now two years into his contract and that’s really all you can say. He’s been solid. Nothing more.
The Yankees value catcher defense very highly and that’s a huge reason why they targeted McCann. Not only was he one of the best offensive catchers in the league, he was also an elite gloveman. We saw it last season, when he threw out 37% of base-runners, rated as a top notch pitch-framer, and excelled at blocking balls in the dirt. He was the total package behind the plate.
This past season, McCann was something less than that. He still threw out a ton of attempted base-stealers — McCann threw out 28 of 78 this year, or 36% (league average was 32%) — but the various stats say he took a step back as a pitch-framer. Both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner rated McCann as right around league average in 2015. Last year both had him near the top.
Pitch-framing is rather fickle and I still have questions about the exact run values, but it is obviously a valuable skill you’d like your catcher to possess. The eye test is … tough. It’s tough to evaluate pitch-framing with your eyes because you don’t know if the catcher deserves props or if the umpire was going to call it a strike anyway. The stats say McCann’s framing took a step back this year. How much of a step back? That’s debatable. But a step back.
Blocking balls in the dirt is another matter. Those are pretty easy to evaluate with your eyes and gosh, McCann was pretty terrible at it this year. McCann was behind the plate for 56 passed pitches this year, fourth most in baseball. Here’s the funny thing: he was charged with one passed ball. The other 55 passed pitchers were wild pitches. That … yeesh. That seems hard to believe based on what I saw this year.
The Yankees do have a tough-to-catch pitching staff. Masahiro Tanaka, Chasen Shreve, and Nathan Eovaldi were bouncing splitters all summer and both Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances had no idea where the ball was going at different points of the season. But geez, just one passed ball? Really? That seems wrong. I remember seeing more than a few blockable pitches scoot away from McCann this summer.
Last season McCann allowed one passed pitch every 22.8 innings. This season it was one every 18.6 innings. That matches up with the anecdotal evidence — McCann allowed balls to get by him at a higher rate this summer. It’s not surprising either. He’s a 31-year-old catcher who has been a big league starter since age 21. That’s a lot of wear and tear on his legs. Of course McCann is not as mobile as he once was.
I’m going to go back to this word again, but McCann’s total package on defense was solid this year. He was great at throwing out base-runners but his framing and blocking took a step back. Between the offense and defense, McCann was an above-average catcher this summer, rather easily too, but the signs of decline are evident both offensively (bye bye BABIP) and defensively.
Looking Ahead to 2016
McCann has another three years and $51M coming to him, so of course he’s going to be the starting catcher next season. He should be too. I’m the world’s biggest John Ryan Murphy fan but McCann is the better player right now and should start. There’s almost no way to argue otherwise.
Joe Girardi indicated at his end-of-season press conference that he may begin to scale back on McCann’s workload going forward — he started 119 games behind the plate this year, his most since 2010 — which is smart at this point of his career. Fewer days behind the plate and a few more at DH could help keep him productive deeper into the season. Either way, McCann will be back behind the plate and in the middle of the lineup next year.
The offseason is one day old now. The Royals won the World Series over the weekend and the free agent chaos will begin this coming weekend, at least in theory. MLB free agency tends to develop slowly — hey, it’s a marathon, not a sprint — though the Yankees made notable moves on November 9th (re-signed Chris Young) and November 12th (Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson) last offseason. Something could come together quickly again. Anyway, I have some thoughts.
1. Expect to see and hear a lot of “copy the Royals model!” stuff in the coming days and weeks. It happens with the World Series winner every year. In reality, the Royals only showed that once again, you have to be good at everything to win these days. That’s the winning formula: be well-rounded and a little lucky. (Every team needs a little luck to win a title.) The Royals play a very unique and entertaining style of baseball that seemed to expose every one of their opponent’s flaws this postseason. The Mets were done in by their bullpen inferiority and porous defense. Those were two enormous advantages for Kansas City. So copy the Royals model? Sure, you can try. This one seems damn near impossible to duplicate to me. Hats off to them. (Example: Among the teams with the six highest contact rates this season, only the Royals made the postseason. It ain’t that simple, folks.)
2. The Marlins officially hired Don Mattingly as their manager yesterday and maybe I’m just naive, but I think that’s a pretty good situation for both parties. Mattingly gets a nice four-year contract to manage a team with a lot of young talent (Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, first and foremost) and a brand new ballpark in a fun city. The Marlins finally get someone who can put an end to their managerial revolving door. They’ve had eight managers in the last six years. Eight! Owner Jeffrey Loria is a transplanted New Yorker who grew up a Yankees fan, and he’s said to love Mattingly, which is why he was handpicked for the job. I have to think that means Mattingly will get a longer leash than their other recent managers. That franchise needs some stability. In the clubhouse at the very least. Mattingly commands instant respect as a former star player and those young players should benefit from finally having a manager stick around more than a few months. Also, the Yankees were never going to hire Mattingly to be on their coaching staff because of possible friction with Joe Girardi. Girardi beat out Mattingly for the managerial job a few years ago, so there might be a bit of a grudge there, plus every time the Yankees lose three straight next year, we’d hear talk about firing Girardi and replacing him with Mattingly. Not fair to anyone. It was never going to happen.
3. We’re going to spend the next few weeks analyzing players and looking at possible trade and free agent pickups just like we do every offseason. These days it seems like we focus too much on what a player can’t do — I am absolutely guilty of that — instead of looking at what he can provide. Daniel Murphy, for example. He’s a terrible defensive player with questionable power. He’s also a contact machine in an era where strikeouts are at all-time high — his 7.1% strikeout rate was the lowest in MLB in 2015 — who can play the three non-shortstop infield positions and hit just about anywhere in the lineup. You’re going to hear a lot about Chris Davis’ strikeouts and low batting average and not his unmatched power and surprisingly good defense at first base and right field. It’s easy to find ways to say a player is not worth acquiring. Every single player has some sort of flaw, most of them a major flaw. The hard point is looking from the angle and appreciating what a player can give you and seeing where he fits into your roster. I want to do a better job of that this winter.
4. I think the Yankees are heading for another offseason with more trades than free agent signings. They don’t have much money coming off the books at all — they’re shedding basically $5M each for Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Garrett Jones, and Young (when you count the incentives he reached) — and their roster flexibility is limited. The Yankees kinda sorta have a solution at second base — a Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon seems like one of those things that sounds great in November and awful in May — and of course the pitching staff needs help, but otherwise the team is locked in everywhere. Heck, they’re locked into the rotation too. They have seven starters for five spots if you include Adam Warren, and yet, it still feels like they need more rotation help because of the various health risks. Given the roster and payroll situation, I have a hard time seeing how the Yankees can add pieces this offseason without subtracting others. Trades make more sense than free agent additions.
5. We can finally start to see the light at the end of some of these long-term contract tunnels. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be off the books next season, clearing $38M in annual salary, and there’s at least a small chance CC Sabathia‘s option for 2017 won’t vest. Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will definitely be off the books following the 2017 season. Clearing all that money is exciting because it means the Yankees can go big for free agents again — that said, the Yankees went big on free agents during the 2013-14 offseason and pretty much all of those deals are already regrettable — but freeing up roster space is pretty important too. We saw it with Sabathia this year. The Yankees weren’t going to take him out of the rotation no matter how poorly he pitched because they still owe him all that money. They’re doing this to themselves, don’t get me wrong, but at least they won’t be able to do it to themselves much longer because they’ll have fewer huge contracts on the books. At least until they sign a few more.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Colts-Panthers is the Monday Night Football game and both the Knicks and Nets are playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here. Have at it.
6:34pm ET: The Yankees have officially announced the moves. Cockrell takes over as hitting coach and Thames is the assistant hitting coach.
5:23pm ET: According to George King, the Yankees are planning to promote assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell to the primary hitting coach position. Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames will be promoted to serve as Cockrell’s assistant. The Yankees have not yet confirmed or announced the moves.
Hitting coach Jeff Pentland was let go earlier this month, as was bullpen coach Gary Tuck. The Yankees hired Pentland and Cockrell last offseason after firing Kevin Long. Pentland always seemed like a stopgap coach, though I thought he would stick around longer than one year. I was wrong.
Cockrell, 52, was the Rockies hitting coach from 2006-08, the Mariners hitting coach from 2009-10, and a minor league hitting coordinator with the Diamondbacks from 2011-12. He served as a roving minor league hitting coordinator with the Yankees from 2013-14 before joining the big league staff.
Thames, 38, played for the Yankees in 2002 and 2010. They hired him as a coach prior to the 2013 season and he steadily climbed the minor league ladder — Thames was the hitting coach for High-A Tampa (2013), Double-A Trenton (2014), and Triple-A Scranton (2015) in recent years.
It has seemed as though the ultra-likable Thames was being groomed for the hitting coach job the last few seasons. King says the Yankees were impressed with his minor league work and notes other clubs were showing interest in Thames as a coach. The Yankees decided he was ready for a big league job. Neat.
With Cockrell and Thames promoted, the Yankees now only have to replace Tuck as bullpen coach. There have not been rumblings any yet, but I do think it’s worth noting ex-bullpen coach Mike Harkey was let go as D’Backs pitching coach a few weeks ago.