Here is tonight’s open thread. The World Series begins at 8pm ET and you can watch on FOX. The Devils are playing and the NBA season begins tonight as well, though neither the Knicks nor Nets are in action. Talk about the World Series, any of those other games, or anything else right here. Have at it.
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees reached out to former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to see whether he had interest in joining the team’s front office a few weeks ago, but Cherington declined. “I reached out to him. I have a lot of respect for him, his integrity and how he did his job,” said Brian Cashman to Sherman.
Cherington, 41, stepped down as Red Sox GM in mid-August after the team named Dave Dombrowski their president of baseball operations. The BoSox gave Cherington an opportunity to remain with the team, but he decided to leave, feeling his authority within in the organization had been diminished.
A few weeks ago Cherington told reporters he planned to get away from the GM life for a while. He reportedly turned down opportunities to interview with Mariners and Angels about their since filled GM positions. Cherington signed on to teach a “leadership in sports” course at Columbia recently.
I’m not at all surprised Cashman reached out to Cherington. The Red Sox have kinda sucked the last few years, but Cherington’s been there a very long time and had a hand in building their 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series title teams. As far as I’m concerned, the more smart people in the front office, the better.
The Yankees lost assistant GM Billy Eppler a few weeks ago when he left to take over as Angels GM. Trusted scout Tim Naehring was recently promoted to vice president of baseball operations to replace Eppler. Cherington would have helped fill the void created by Eppler’s departure, for sure.
Third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang has asked his club, the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization, to make him available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason, reports Yonhap. The two sides were set to continue talking in recent days and weeks.
“Any baseball player would dream of playing in the majors,” said Hwang to Yonhap. “And I have been working hard to realize that dream myself. I’ve already signed on with an American management company … I wanted to keep a low profile, but when articles on (teammate Ah-Seop Son) mentioned my name, I decided to go public, too.”
Hwang, 28, is a right-handed hitting third baseman who is known for his power and bat flips. Here is one of his better bat flips (skip to the 0:46 mark if you’re impatient):
|All Levels (9 Seasons)||1057||4131||508||1024||197||22||88||481||148||76||336||707||.280||.343||.417||.761|
So far Hwang has only had one big power season, and he attributes his 2015 power spike to a new offseason training regime designed to add muscle. It’s worth noting his strikeout rate jumped from 15.0% from 2012-14 to 20.5% in 2015. That suggests some approach changes as well. It seems Hwang is swinging for the fences more often.
Inevitably, Hwang will be compared to Jung-Ho Kang, who was a smashing success for the Pirates this year. Kang was a consistent 20+ homer guy in Korea and he swatted 40 dingers in 2014. He struck out in 21.2% of his plate appearances in his final season in KBO, so his strikeout rate was in line with Hwang’s. Of course, he also hit way more homers too.
Our Sung-Min Kim tells me Hwang is considered a natural third baseman with a strong arm. He has played some shortstop in the past but works exclusively at the hot corner these days. Plenty of teams have scouted Hwang this year and the consensus is his plate discipline and approach are a bit worrisome, though that seems to be the case for all foreign position players.
The Giants do not have to post Hwang this offseason — MLB’s posting agreement with KBO is like the old posting system with NPB, meaning a blind bid and then a 30-day negotiating window — but they have incentive to do so because he will qualify for international free agency next offseason. They could either post him now and get gobs of money or lose him for nothing next year.
Kang is the first Korean position player to successfully transition to MLB through the posting system, and because of his success, I’m sure teams will spend some extra time evaluating Korean position players. There are 29 clubs right now who wish they had pursued Kang more aggressively. Hwang could benefit from Kang’s success simply because there figures to be more attention paid to position players in KBO now.
The best third baseman on the free agent market this offseason is David Freese, so yeah. Hwang figures to generate some interest. The Yankees have Chase Headley at third base, though they are said to be seeking a right-handed bat, so I suppose it’s not impossible they could trade Headley and bring in Hwang to play third. Unlikely? Oh sure. But not impossible. The Yankees will surely explore every option.
Given the lack of alternatives, I doubt the Yankees would have much trouble finding a taker for Headley, especially with only three years and $39M left on his contract. That’s nothing these days. I doubt the Yankees pursue Hwang this offseason, but he is an option that exists.
Once upon a time, CC Sabathia was a rock in the Yankees rotation. He was the guy who allowed Joe Girardi to sit back and relax every fifth day, because Girardi knew Sabathia would give the team a quality outing. The Sabathia of old was an ace in every way — he soaked up innings and they were all high quality innings. It was great.
The Sabathia of old is now just old Sabathia. All those innings and all those years of his massive frame coming down hard on his right (landing) knee have taken a toll on Sabathia physically. At age 35, things don’t work as well as they once did. Sabathia was ineffective in 2013 and both hurt and ineffective in 2014. What would 2015 bring? No one knew heading into Spring Training.
A Spring Away from the Spotlight
Sabathia’s season ended in mid-May last year due to ongoing knee problems, which eventually required a clean out procedure in mid-July. The surgery was season-ending but it was much better than the alternative: career-threatening microfracture surgery. Sabathia had his knee cleaned out and came to camp healthy and ready to pitch.
The Yankees didn’t necessarily hide Sabathia during Spring Training, but he did most of his prep work away from the spotlight in minor league and simulated games. The team wanted him in a more controlled environment following knee surgery. Sabathia made just three Grapefruit League starts and got hammered: nine runs on 14 hits and three walks in ten innings. He did the rest of his work on the side.
“I don’t give a (expletive!) what stock they put in (my performance),” said Sabathia to reporters at the end of March. “It is what it is. I’ve had Spring Trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had Spring Trainings like last year where I didn’t give up (any) runs and I gave up (six) in the first game (Opening Day against the Astros). So you all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”
Sabathia wasn’t worried about his spring performance and that’s good, an athlete needs to be confident, but it didn’t make fans feel any better. He struggled big time from 2013-14 and it would have been nice to see some zeroes in camp. It’s Spring Training, it wouldn’t have meant anything, but geez, seeing him get lit up so soon after knee surgery was not reassuring.
Once again, the start of the season was a struggle for Sabathia. He allowed five runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays in his first start of the year — that was the third game of the season, the Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka the Opening Day start (and Michael Pineda the second game) after Sabathia started Opening Day every year from 2009-14 — and then allowed four runs in seven innings next time out.
In his third start, Sabathia held the Tigers to two runs in eight innings in a tough complete game loss. It was a game the Yankees should have won, but their offense let them down. That’s baseball sometimes.
The Sabathia we saw from 2013-14 was the Sabathia we were seeing in 2015. His strikeout (20.2%) and walk (4.4%) rates were wonderful, but he was exceptionally homer prone (1.80 HR/9) and not the same caliber of workhorse — Sabathia averaged just under six innings per start in those first 16 starts. From 2009-12, Sabathia failed to complete six innings only 13 times (!) in 129 starts. He did it six times in his first 16 starts of 2015.
Committed, For Better or Worse
The Yankees made is clear they were committed to keeping Sabathia in the rotation in late-June, when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery and Adam Warren was sent back to the bullpen. On merit, Warren had no business being demoted. He was pitching well as a starter — especially at that time too, he was really starting to settle in — and was one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization. He might have been the second or third best at time.
And yet, the Yankees were committed to Sabathia, and obviously his contract has something to do with that. I’m guessing the team wouldn’t have been so hesitant to yank him from the starting rotation if he was owed, say, $10M in 2015 rather than $53M from 2015-16 (and possibly $73M from 2015-17). Sabathia stayed in the rotation, and in his next eight starts, he had a 4.57 ERA (5.30 FIP) in 43.1 innings. That’s … better?
To their credit, the Yankees started to shelter Sabathia in the second half. They rearranged the rotation whenever possible — they did this with off-days and an occasional spot sixth starter — to make sure he avoided the Blue Jays, for example. The Yankees knew Sabathia was a detriment, and while they were not willing to take him out of the rotation, they did the next best thing. They used him sparingly.
The Knee Brace That Fixed Everything, Maybe
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sabathia during his seven years in pinstripes, it’s that he’s willing to pitch through just about anything. He pitched with knee pain most of 2010 and with a bone spur in his elbow in 2012. Sabathia suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in September 2013 and finished the damn start. For better or worse, Sabathia wanted to be out there.
That’s why, on August 23rd, it was disheartening to see Sabathia remove himself from a start against the Indians. He was struggled big time — he allowed two runs on four hits and four walks in only 2.2 innings — and the pain in his right knee simply became too much. He pulled himself from the start without even attempting a test pitch or lobbying to stay in the game.
After all of that, Sabathia missed only the minimum 15 days. The Yankees put him on the DL and activated him as soon as possible. He didn’t need any additional surgery or anything like that, just rest. Well, rest and new knee brace. Sabathia had been wearing a sleeve on his knee for much of the season, but, after the injury in August, he switched to a clunkier brace that reduced the bone on bone contact.
For whatever reason, the new knee brace or otherwise, Sabathia was awesome after coming off the DL. Five starts, 29 innings, and only nine runs (seven earned) allowed. He held hitters to a .224/.320/.327 batting line. It wasn’t the old ace version of Sabathia, but it was a heck of a lot better than what the Yankees were getting from him most of the season. He allowed one earned run or less in four of those five starts.
The Yankees were never not going to have Sabathia in their postseason rotation — he probably would have been their fourth starter at best had they qualified for the ALDS, but he was going to be in the rotation, that was clear — but after his September dominance, he belonged in that postseason conversation. Sabathia really stepped up in that final month.
He ended the season with a 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 29 starts and a team leading 167.1 innings, which obviously isn’t very good despite the great finish. Right-handed batters crushed Sabathia — they hit .303/.362/.500 (.370 wOBA) against him while lefties hit a mere .186/.235/.283 (.231 wOBA). Manny Machado hit .286/.359/.502 (.370 wOBA), for comparison. Righties absolutely destroyed Sabathia.
Bigger than Baseball
It can be easy to forget baseball players are regular people too. Regular people with kids who keep them up at night and bills they hate paying and other problems. Sabathia had a drinking problem, little did we know. A problem severe enough that he decided he needed help at the end of the season.
Sabathia approached Girardi on the final day of the regular season and told him he needed treatment. The Yankees, who were set to play in the wildcard game a few days later, gave their erstwhile ace their unwavering support. This was about Sabathia the person, not the baseball player, and Sabathia is beloved and respected within the organization. He’s a team leader, without question.
How severe was Sabathia’s drinking problem? Severe enough that it even spilled into the clubhouse near the end of the season. From Wally Matthews:
After the Yankees’ game with the Baltimore Orioles was rained out on Friday afternoon, Sabathia was seen by reporters walking unsteadily as he left the Yankees’ clubhouse. The normally affable pitcher also failed to respond to the greetings of reporters who have known him for a long time.
A short time later, an onlooker noticed Sabathia offering a paper cup containing a brown liquid to a teammate who was finishing up a workout, urging the teammate to “take a sip.” The teammate refused, saying he still had some running to do. Sabathia was then ushered out of the building and into a waiting cab by a third teammate.
Yikes. We’ll never know what pushed Sabathia to get treatment — did his wife give him an ultimatum? did he come to the decision on his own? did his teammates push him? — but the important thing is he decided to get treatment. Sabathia was criticized by some for leaving the team right before the start of the postseason, that was inevitable, but this isn’t like getting a tooth pulled. He couldn’t put it off. Addiction ruins lives.
So on Monday, October 5th, the day between Game 162 and the wildcard game, Girardi and Brian Cashman took part in a press conference at Yankee Stadium to discuss Sabathia leaving the team. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this,” said Cashman. “What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”
From a baseball perspective, Sabathia leaving the team had little impact. James Pazos made the wildcard game roster in his place, but pitching wasn’t the issue in the loss to the Astros, so Sabathia being on the roster wouldn’t have made a difference.
From a human being perspective, Sabathia is doing what is best for himself and his family. He’s a father and a husband first, and a baseball player second. I’m sure leaving the team right before the postseason killed him. But baseball is a secondary concern at a time like this.
Looking Ahead to 2016
Sabathia is expected back for Spring Training and will enter the final guaranteed year of his contract. (His 2017 vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, which has been fine so far.) As long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in the rotation. The Yankees are going to want to see if the new knee brace leads to a sustained improved performance, plus they still owe him a boatload of money, so his leash will be long.
The Bronx Bombers returned in 2015. The team’s power production slipped big time from 2013-14, mostly due to personnel (Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts, etc.) and injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, etc.), but they rebounded in a big way this year. The Yankees hit 212 home runs this season, fourth most in baseball behind the Blue Jays (232), Astros (230), and Orioles (217).
Naturally, some of those 212 home runs were very long. The Yankees hit some bombs this year, and in this post we’re going to look back at the five longest. Because Statcast data is not fully available yet — the MLB.com Statcast leaderboard only runs 50 players deep and is not sortable by team for whatever reason — we’re going to rely on good ol’ Hit Tracker for home run distance data. Maybe next season the Statcast leaderboard will be a bit more user friendly. Anyway, on to the Yankees’ five longest homers of 2015.
5. July 25th: A-Rod‘s third homer ties the game. (box score)
There’s a lot to unpack with the fifth longest home run of the season. First, it tied the game in the top of the ninth. Second, it was Alex Rodriguez‘s third home run of the game. Third — and spoiler alert — it was only A-Rod’s second longest home run of the game. This was one of those “it’s the Twins, of course the Yankees are going to find a way to win” games, and, sure enough, Alex tied things up with this dead center bomb off Glen Perkins.
4. October 1st: Refsnyder almost reaches the left field bleachers. (box score)
There’s a whole lotta A-Rod in this post, and Refsnyder is not the player I would have guessed to break up the monopoly. If you’d asked me to predict the longest non-Rodriguez homer of the season, I would gone with Teixeira or Brian McCann. Maybe Carlos Beltran or Greg Bird, but Teixeira or McCann seem like better guesses. But nope, it’s Rob Refsnyder, with this 439 foot blast against the Red Sox:
3. July 25th: A-Rod goes third deck at Target Field. (box score)
I think my favorite part of this home run was John Flaherty’s call. Flaherty was talking about A-Rod and how he had never hit a home run at Target Field when Alex launched this Tommy Milone pitch into the third deck in left field. Check it out:
2. July 22nd: A-Rod takes Gausman to the bleachers. (box score)
This is the inevitable forgotten homer. The one I forgot about completely. Seems to happen with each and every one of these top five play posts I put together each year. Anyway, the Yankees were home against the Orioles, and A-Rod turned around a hanging 85 mph changeup from Kevin Gausman. It landed in the left field bleachers.
1. April 17th: A-Rod goes way deep at the Trop. (box score)
I remember this game and this home run specifically as the moment it became clear Alex still had something left in the tank and was going to help the Yankees. There were a ton of questions about him coming into the season given his age and suspension and all that, and while the early returns were promising, we still wanted to see more evidence A-Rod could contribute. Then he did this:
The season-long home run was the highlight of A-Rod’s monster game, in which he went 3-for-4 with two home runs and four runs driven in. He tied the game with a two-run blast in the sixth and drove in the go-ahead run with an eighth inning single. Huge home run and a huge game from Rodriguez.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Ravens and Cardinals are the Monday Night Football Game, plus the Islanders are playing as well. The NBA season starts tomorrow, apparently. You folks know how these threads work by now, so have at it.
Trusted scout Tim Naehring has received a “major promotion” and will replace departed assistant GM Billy Eppler, according to multiple reports. Eppler left the Yankees to take over as the Angels GM earlier this month. An official announcement is expected soon. Apparently the Yankees may also shuffle some other front office personnel into new roles as well.
Naehring, 48, will hold the title of Vice President of Baseball Operations — not Assistant GM like Eppler — and assume all of Eppler’s responsibilities. That essentially means he will take over as Brian Cashman‘s right hand man. Cashman indicated he would look outside the organization for Eppler’s replacement but preferred to promote from within.
The Yankees hired Naehring back in 2007 after he spent time working for the Reds. He has had a trusted voice in the organization for a few years now — Naehring was the first to recommend Didi Gregorius, for example — but reportedly turned down promotions in the past so he could remain close to his family in Cincinnati. I guess this promotion was too good to pass up.
Naehring, a former Red Sox infielder, was one of three internal candidates to replace Eppler. Scout Jay Darnell and player personnel head Kevin Reese were also in the mix, reportedly. I don’t know anything about Naehring’s front office skills, so I have nothing to offer. Sorry. All I know is Cashman trusts him enough to make him his top lieutenant.