Yankees promote Alan Cockrell to hitting coach, Marcus Thames to assistant hitting coach

Thames. (Blade/Julia Nagy)
Thames. (Blade/Julia Nagy)

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.

Capuano, Drew, Young become free agents; Yanks outright Santos, Moreno to Triple-A

Drew. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Drew. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

At 9am ET this morning, a total of 139 players officially became free agents. Here’s the full list. Only three of those 139 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew and Chris Young. The Yankees hold exclusive negotiating rights with them until 12:01am ET this Saturday, when free agency officially begins. Here’s the offseason calendar.

Also, the Yankees activated both Sergio Santos and Diego Moreno off the 60-day DL and outrighted them to Triple-A Scranton today, the team announced. Santos refused the assignment and instead elected free agency. Moreno could not elect free agency since this was his first outright assignment, but he’ll become a minor league free agent in a few days anyway.

Santos, 32, appeared in only two games with the Yankees this season before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He started the season with the Dodgers, was released in early-June, then signed with the Yankees a few days later. Santos’ most notable act as a Yankee was escaping a bases loaded, no outs jam against the Marlins on June 15th.

Moreno, 28, threw 10.1 innings across four appearances for the Yankees this season as part of the bullpen shuttle. They originally acquired him from the Pirates as part of the A.J. Burnett salary dump trade a few years ago. Moreno had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow late in the season and did not pitch after August 1st.

Moreno’s most notable act as a Yankee was throwing 5.1 hitless and scoreless innings of relief against the Rangers on July 28th, after Capuano failed to escape the first inning.

Rico Noel was outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this month, so between that move and today’s moves, the Yankees now have four open spots on the 40-man roster. They’ll be filled when Domingo German (elbow), Jacob Lindgren (elbow), Chase Whitley (elbow), and Mason Williams (shoulder) are activated off the 60-day DL in the coming days.

The 2015-16 Offseason Calendar

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Thanks to a yet another miraculous comeback, the Royals won the 2015 World Series last night. It is their first championship in three decades, since their Don Denkinger aided 1985 title. The Royals seemed to expose every single one of their opponent’s flaws this postseason.

Now that the baseball season is over, the offseason officially gets underway today. There are a lot of important dates and deadlines coming up over the next few weeks, plus some not so important ones as well. Here’s a list of the various offseason dates and what they mean for the Yankees.

  • Today, November 2nd: As of 9am ET, eligible players become free agents. The Yankees had only three players hit free agency: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, and Chris Young. That’s all. Young has said it is “too soon” to know whether he wants to re-sign with the team.
  • Wednesday, November 4th: Option decisions due. Most of them, anyway. Some contracts specify a different date. The Yankees have two option decisions: Andrew Bailey and Brendan Ryan. The Yankees hold a $2M club option for Bailey and I can’t imagine they’ll pick that up. He’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player if the option is declined. As for Ryan, the team holds a $2M club option and he holds a $1M player option. I expect the Yankees to decline their option and Ryan to exercise his. He’s likely looking at a minor league contract if he tries his hand at free agency.
  • Friday, November 6th: Lots of stuff happens Friday. First of all, it’s the deadline to make eligible free agents a qualifying offer, which is a one-year contract worth $15.8M this offseason. Here’s my qualifying offer primer. The Yankees don’t have any qualifying offer candidates. No extra draft picks next summer. Bummer. Secondly, it’s the deadline for teams to activate players off the 60-day DL. The Yankees have six players on the 60-day DL: Domingo German, Jacob Lindgren, Diego Moreno, Sergio Santos, Chase Whitley, and Mason Williams. They also have 39 guys on the 40-man roster, so even with the three free agents, the Yankees will still have to clear two 40-man spots by Friday. Santos is an obvious roster casualty. Chris Martin, Austin Romine, and Bailey are candidates to be the other. And third, eligible players become minor league free agents at 5pm ET. There will be many.
  • Saturday, November 7th: End of the five-day exclusive negotiating period. Free agents are free to sign with any team as of 12:01am ET this coming Saturday. This isn’t the NFL or NHL or another salary capped league, however. Players rarely sign on the first day of free agency. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • November 9th to 12th: GM Meetings in Boca Raton. This is usually to handle business matters and whatnot, but in recent years there have been more transactions completed at the GM Meetings. If nothing else, a lot of groundwork gets laid.
  • November 10th: Finalists for the major awards announced at 6pm ET. Alex Rodriguez is a bonafide Comeback Player of the Year candidate, and that’s about it. The Yankees don’t have any other major award candidates. Also, the Gold Glove winners are announced at 7pm ET. Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Didi Gregorius are among the finalists at their positions.
  • November 12th: Silver Slugger awards announced, if that’s your thing.
  • November 13th: Last day for free agents to accept or reject the qualifying offer. No one has ever accepted the qualifying offer and there’s not much of a reason to think that will change this year, though we need to see who gets one first. Players who decline the qualifying offer will be tied to draft pick compensation.
  • November 16th to 19th: Major awards announced.  Rookies of the Year on Monday, Managers of the Year Tuesday, Cy Young Awards Wednesday, and MVPs Thursday. All announcements are at 6pm ET, live on MLB Network.
  • November 18th to 19th: Quarterly owners’ meetings in Dallas. Official business stuff. Other than maybe an interesting quote or two, nothing fun ever really happens here.
  • November 20th: Deadline to set the 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. (Also the deadline to set Triple-A and Double-A rosters for the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.) Among the Rule 5 Draft eligible players this offseason are Jake Cave, Rookie Davis, Ben Gamel, Johnny Barbato, Tony Renda, and I believe both Abi Avelino and Miguel Andujar. It’s tough to know for sure with the international guys because we rarely know the exact date they signed.
  • December 2nd: The non-tender deadline. All pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players must be tendered a contract by this date, otherwise they become free agents. Santos is an obvious non-tender candidate but he’ll probably get cut to clear a 40-man spot early in the offseason anyway. Bailey is another non-tender candidate. A new batch of free agents will hit the market this day.
  • December 7th to 10th: Winter Meetings in Nashville. Historically, this is when the most hot stove activity goes down, though there have been more major moves in the weeks leading up to the Winter Meetings the last few years. Both Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury signed the week before the Winter Meetings two years ago, for example. Still though, this is a hectic week. Well, Monday through Wednesday is hectic. It calms down Thursday.
  • December 10th: Rule 5 Draft, which unofficially ends the Winter Meetings. Everyone heads home after that. The Yankees haven’t selected anyone in the Rule 5 Draft since Cesar Cabral and Brad Meyers back in 2011, and it appears 40-man roster space will be at a premium this offseason, so I wouldn’t expect any selections this year either. Also, the Yankees won’t be able to protect all their Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects — nor should they! — so they’ll probably lose a few players.
  • January 6th: Hall of Fame voting results announced. Here’s the list of players who will appear on this year’s ballot. Ken Griffey Jr. is the most notable newcomer and I think he’s the only lock to get in this winter, though Mike Piazza keeps inching closer. He received 69.9% of the vote last year. Players need 75% for induction. The most notable ex-Yankees on the ballot are Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, and Gary Sheffield.
  • January 12th: Deadline for eligible players to file for salary arbitration. A formality. The Yankees have nine arbitration-eligible players this winter, including Santos and Bailey. Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Gregorius are the team’s most notable arbitration cases this offseason.
  • January 15th: Deadline for eligible players and their teams to file salary figures for arbitration. The Yankees tend to sign all of their arbitration-eligible players before salary figures are filed.
  • February 1st to 21st: Salary arbitration hearings. The Yankees haven’t gone to a hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008 and I have no reason to think they’ll go to one this offseason.

The Yankees have not yet announced their Spring Training reporting dates — no team has but they should start rolling in soon — though camp will open sometime in mid-February, as always. The club opens the 2016 season on Monday, April 4th, at home against the Astros in a wildcard game rematch. A whole lot is going to happen between now and then.

The First Baseman of the Future [2015 Season Review]


For the first time in a long time, the Yankees came into the season with some high-end prospects close to the big league level. We’ve spent the last few years talking about how the farm system was on the rise due to the team’s lower level talent, but geez, that’s lame as hell. Every team has talented players at the lower levels. That didn’t make the Yankees special as much as we wanted it to.

This year was different because of that upper level talent. And, given the club’s newfound commitment to young players, many of those players got an opportunity to help at the big league level this summer. Greg Bird, who I ranked as the fifth best prospect in the organization coming into the season, was one of those players even though he was what you could have considered a “blocked” prospect because of his position. Nevertheless, Bird got a chance late in the season and had an impact.

The Joys of Spring

The Yankees invited the 22-year-old Bird to Spring Training and he was arguably the most impressive young hitter during Grapefruit League play. It was either Bird or the resurgent Slade Heathcott. (Heathcott received a James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp, for what it’s worth.)

Either way, Bird appeared in 13 spring games and went 6-for-17 (.353) with three doubles and a home run. He stood out most for his ultra-refined approach and insanely quick hands.

Bird had almost zero chance to make the Yankees out of Spring Training. He just wasn’t at the point in his career where that was a possibility. That said, young players like Bird still have a chance to make a strong impression on the front office and coaching staff in Spring Training. You might not make the team, but you can put yourself in position to be considered for a call-up during the season, and that’s exactly what Bird did it in camp. He was dynamite.

Back to the Minors

The Yankees assigned Bird to Double-A Trenton to start the season — he ended last year with 27-game cameo for the Thunder — and he started slowly, going 7-for-39 (.179) with only three extra-base hits in the first eleven games of the season. Bird eventually got hot, raked for a few weeks, then landed on the DL with a right shoulder injury. He was sidelined a month.

Bird returned in early-June, crushed the ball for a month (143 wRC+ in 24 games), then was promoted to Triple-A Scranton as part of the team’s mass midseason promotions. He hit .258/.358/.445 (133 wRC+) with six homers, a 14.2% strikeout rate, and an 11.3% walk rate in 49 Double-A games this year. Bird shook off the slow start and showed no ill-effects following the shoulder injury.

After the promotion to Triple-A, Bird hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in only 34 games with the RailRiders, with an 18.0% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate. It was his first taste of the level and, like pretty much every other stop in his career, Bird put up big numbers. He hit .277/.356/.469 (139 wRC+) with 12 home runs, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 9.7% walk rate in 83 minor games split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015.

A Surprise Promotion

On August 13th, a little more than one week after calling up Luis Severino, the Yankees surprisingly called up Bird to bolster the bench. Trade deadline pickup Dustin Ackley was hurt and Garrett Jones hadn’t been all that productive, so the Yankees saw it as an opportunity for an upgrade. A marginal upgrade — the plan was to use Bird to rest Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on occasion, that’s it — but an upgrade nonetheless.

Bird made his Major League debut in Cleveland on August 13th, the day he was called up. They put him right in the lineup. Bird went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts as the seventh place hitter and first baseman. He started again two days later at first base — Teixeira sat on the 13th then served as the DH on the 15th with A-Rod resting — and went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in Toronto.

Bird’s first career hit came in his ninth plate appearance. He had been making solid contact but had a knack for finding gloves early on. That’s baseball. So, naturally, his first career hit was a little ground ball through the left side side of the infield.

Two days after Bird picked up his first career hit, Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin and suffered what proved to be a season-ending fracture. Bird’s stint as a bench player or spot starter or whatever you want to call it lasted five days. Bird replaced Teixeira off the bench that game, then, in the tenth inning, he sparked the team’s game-winning rally with a leadoff double against Glen Perkins.

That was Bird’s first career extra-base hit. Later in the inning he scored his first career run to win the game. He drew his first career walk in the seventh inning, in his first at-bat after coming in for Teixeira. Bird got a lot of “firsts” out of that way that night.

We didn’t know Teixeira’s injury was season-ending at the time, but it looked like he was going to miss at least a few days, so Bird was going to get an opportunity to play a few games in a row. It was an unfortunate way to get him in the lineup. That’s usually what it takes for a young player to get a chance though, an injury.

An Everyday Player, Suddenly

Teixeira started just one game the rest of the season. About a week later, with his shin feeling only slightly better, he started and played six innings against the Astros in a blowout loss. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning the next night. Teixeira did not play again the rest of the season.

In his first game as the starting first baseman, Bird went 2-for-4 and drove in a run. In his second, he went 2-for-4 with a pair of two-run home runs in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Twins. He provided all of the offense with his first and second big league dingers.

Bird was, like most players, consistently inconsistent the rest of the season. He went 3-for-23 (.130) with nine strikeouts in the nine games immediately following the two-homer game. Then he went 11-for-35 (.314) with three home runs in the next ten games. A 2-for-19 (.105) stretch followed that. On and on it goes. That’s pretty normal. Day-to-day consistency is a myth in baseball. The season is just a bunch of hot and cold streaks.

Bird’s most dominant stretch of the season was a seven-game span from September 15th to the 22nd, when he went 9-for-26 (.346) with three doubles and five home runs, including a homer in three consecutive games at one point. The third of those three was a go-ahead three-run shot in the tenth inning in Toronto, with the Yankees desperately trying to keep pace with the Blue Jays in the AL East.

The Yankees struggled big time in the final week of the season but not because of Bird. He was one of their few reliable bats down the stretch. Bird went 7-for-21 (.333) in his final seven games of the season and finished the year with an overall .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) batting line in 178 plate appearances across 46 games. He hit eleven home runs and drew a lot of walks (10.7%), but also struck out quite a bit (29.8%). Pitchers attacked him relentlessly with high fastballs. Here is the pitch type and location of his 53 strike threes.

Greg Bird strike threes

The high fastball is definitely a vulnerability for Bird right now. It is for a lot of hitters — fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone and above have a 9.1% whiff rate compared to 6.9% for all fastballs overall — so this isn’t unique to Bird. Opposing teams identified it as a weakness — they were throwing Bird high fastballs in strikeout situations the day of his debut, scouting reports are crazy good these days — and now it’s up to Bird to adjust.

The Yankees had only three hits against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros in the wildcard game and Bird had one of them, a solid line drive single to right in the second inning. Bird hit an acceptable .238/.347/.405 (110 wRC+) against southpaws like Keuchel overall this season — he hit .270/.341/.574 (147 wRC+) against righties — though it’s both a small sample (49 plate appearances) and quite misleading. Bird crushed lefties early and then went 5-for-31 (.161) against them in the final month.

Even with those late-season struggles against lefties, Bird was an excellent fill-in for Teixeira. The original plan was the play him two or three times a week to rest Teixeira and A-Rod, but the injury forced him into everyday duty, and Bird excelled. I didn’t think he would get called up at all this year coming into the season, the call-up was a total surprise to me, but Bird handled the promotion well. At least offensively. His defense remains rough around the edges.

Fly Balls & Hard Contact

Three things about Bird stood out to me during his relatively brief time as a big leaguer this season. One, he’s very calm at the plate. Joe Girardi called it a “slow heartbeat.” Bird seems very controlled with a bat in his hands. Two, he rarely hits the ball on the ground. And three, he hits the ball very hard. Combine two and three and you get a lot of hard hit balls in the air.

Here are Bird’s batted ball rates compared to the MLB average, just to give you an idea of how extreme his fly ball/hard hit tendencies really are:

GB% LD% FB% Soft% Medium% Hard%
Bird 26.7% 21.9% 51.4% 14.3% 41.0% 44.8%
MLB Avg 45.3% 20.9% 33.8% 18.6% 52.7% 28.6%

Among the 389 batters with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Bird had the lowest ground ball rate and the second highest hard contact rate. Only Giancarlo Stanton hit the ball harder, on average (49.7% … lol). Very, very few batters matched Bird’s combination of hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball in the air.

Actually, a graph probably works best here. Here are those 389 batters with 150 plate appearances, with ground ball rate on the x-axis and hard contact rate on the y-axis:

2015 Hard vs. GB

So yeah, when it came to hitting the ball hard and in the air this season, Bird was truly elite. Obviously small sample caveats apply, but I do think Bird’s batted ball tendencies are notable because they match the scouting report coming into the season. Here’s a piece of what Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote in his preseason top 100 prospects list, in which he ranked Bird the 81st best prospect in the game:

Bird’s swing is very short to the ball, and he accelerates his hands quickly for hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.

Consistently hitting the ball hard and in the air is a wonderful recipe for extra-base hits. I don’t know if Bird is a true talent sub-30% ground ball rate hitter, that seems very extreme — batted ball data has been recorded since 2002, and during that time only four of 729 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances have a sub-30% ground ball rate (Frank Thomas, Rod Barajas, Chris Carter, Jason Lane) — but the data matched the scouting report this year.

We’ll find out next season whether Bird can sustain his unique hard hit fly ball profile. What we saw out of him was pretty exciting though. He has a plan at the plate, he has power, and he seems to do a lot of damage when he makes contact. The strikeouts are the only significant red flag at this point.

(I suspect Bird will always be prone to strikeouts because he works so many deep counts. It just comes with the territory. You can’t drew a lot of walks and run 5+ pitch at-bats consistently without getting rung up a few times.)

Looking Ahead to 2016

Bird’s role next season is TBD at this point. He played more than well enough to be in the team’s future plans — he is clearly the first baseman of the future, there is little doubt about that — but Teixeira is under contract for another season, and he’ll be at first base in 2016. Teixeira had a pretty awesome year, remember. The Yankees are better with him at first than Bird.

This is a problem that isn’t a problem. Too many good players is a good thing. The Yankees could carry Bird as a bench bat again or they could send him to Triple-A for the time being. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Bird himself have not been the most durable players in recent years — Bird has had on and off back problems the last few seasons in addition to his shoulder injury this year — so my guess is there will be plenty of playing time for all three next year.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 2nd, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

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Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Kansas City Royals win 2015 World Series


For the first time 30 years, the Kansas City Royals are World Series champions. They beat the Mets 7-2 in 12 innings in Game Five Sunday night. Matt Harvey was brilliant, but the Royals scored two in the ninth to tie and then five in the top of the 12th to win. Here’s the box score and here’s the wild WPA graph.

I’m going to remember Eric Hosmer’s mad dash for home plate to score the tying run in the ninth more than anything. I was at the game for CBS and I literally stood up out of my chair and put my hands on my head when he broke for home. It was that kind of moment. What an insanely fun and memorable play:

The 2015 Royals have very few ties to the Yankees. In fact, no player on their World Series roster ever suited up for the Yankees. Joba Chamberlain did appear in six regular season games with Kansas City, however. Joba has two World Series rings now. How about that?

Pitching coach Dave Eiland played two stints with the Yankees (1988-91, 1995) and was the team’s pitching coach from 2008-10. He coached in New York’s farm system from 2003-07 as well. Bench coach Don Wakamatsu spent the 2013 season as a special assignment scout with the Yankees and hitting coach Dale Sveum played 30 games with the 1998 Yankees. No, really.

Congrats to the Royals for winning the World Series and to the Mets as well for their tremendous season. That is some rotation they have over there in Flushing.

Sunday Night Open Thread

We’ve reached the time of year when it starts getting dark out at like 4:30pm. Yuck. That means baseball is almost over. In fact, the season could end tonight. The Royals lead the Mets three games to one in the World Series, so every game from here on out is a possible clincher. I don’t care who wins, I just really want seven games, so go Mets, I guess.

Here is your open thread for the remainder of the weekend. The Royals and Mets will play Game Five tonight (Volquez vs. Harvey) and the late NFL game is the Packers and Broncos. Do the Broncos play every prime time game? It feels like it. The Islanders are in action as well, so talk about those games or anything else here. Just don’t be a jerk.