Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

My second favorite holiday is upon us. Thanksgiving can’t beat Christmas — I don’t know about you, but with my family Christmas is basically a Thanksgiving-caliber feast with the added bonus of presents — though it’s still pretty great. Can’t wait.

I’m going to spend the next few days with family and stuff and I hope to forget all about baseball for a little while. I’ll post any breaking news or whatever, otherwise this open thread will carry you through the holiday weekend. Here are some links worth checking out:

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. I hope you have a great weekend wherever you are.

Greg Bird’s Lost Year [2016 Season Review]

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

This past season the Yankees started their youth movement in earnest. It kinda sorta began with the Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups last year, but it wasn’t until the team started trading veterans for prospects at the deadline that their direction was clear. The Yankees are going young, so much so that they’re moving productive veterans for kids in Single-A. It’s a whole new world.

Once again, the Yankees called up a bunch of young players in the second half this year, most notably Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Others like Tyler Austin and Luis Cessa were around too. So was Severino. The young guy who wasn’t around was Bird. The presumed first baseman of the future spent the entire 2016 season rehabbing from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The 2016 season was a lost season for Bird. He didn’t get to advance his career in any way, which stinks for a guy who would have played the entire season at age 23. That’s a crucial development year, especially after his successful MLB cameo last year. Let’s review Bird’s lost year and its big picture impact on the Yankees.

How Did He Get Hurt?

Bird hurt himself during an offseason workout, though the shoulder trouble was not new. He spent a month on the Double-A disabled list with a shoulder problem in the middle of the 2015 season. Apparently the shoulder was never really healthy the rest of the season. Bird admitted to not necessarily playing through pain, but playing through occasional discomfort. He hit those eleven homers in 46 games with the Yankees with a less than 100% shoulder.

The offseason workouts exacerbated the problem and led to the surgery. It was not one awkward movement or one exercise that caused it. This was a wear and tear injury. It started in Double-A and gradually got worse and worse. In February, the shoulder finally gave out and Bird needed surgery. Maybe the Yankees could have done something differently to keep Bird healthy. I have no idea. I’m no doctor. Won’t change anything now.

The Rehab

By all accounts Bird’s rehab went according to plan. His surgery came with an 8-9 month recovery timetable, which meant there was a chance he could return late the season, but the Yankees were never going to push it. Bird spent the summer rehabbing in Tampa and the rehab went well enough for him to get at-bats in Instructional League in September. That was our first indication Bird was getting better.

Following the stint in Instructs, the Yankees sent Bird to the Arizona Fall League for more playing time, where he hit .215/.346/.354 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 17 games and 78 plate appearances. I’m not worried too much about the statistical performance given the long layoff. Bird had to get his swing back. The most important thing is he made it through the AzFL healthy and didn’t miss a game. He was limited to DH because he hasn’t been cleared to throw at 100% effort yet, but everything else is going well. The rehab is right on track.

The Service Time Situation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bird spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list following the injury. I know he started last season in Double-A, but he was a big league ballplayer at the time of the injury. He played in the 2015 Wildcard Game, remember. Bird was a big leaguer when he got hurt and that means he spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list collecting big league salary and service time. Good for him.

For the Yankees, it’s not so good. They lost one of Bird’s dirt cheap pre-arbitration years to injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and eligible for free agency following the 2021 season, which is the same as it would have been had Bird been healthy and spent the entire year at first base and DH. Injuries are part of the game. They happen. It stinks when they happen to good young players when they are in the most cost effective years of their careers.

The Yankees Really Could Have Used Him

Geez, did the Yankees miss Bird this season or what? He hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games during his 2015 cameo, and last winter ZiPS pegged Bird for a .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) batting line with 26 homers in 2016. That would have been really useful! The Yankees got nothing from the first base and DH positions this past season. Bird would have been a huge, huge help. Enough to get them into the postseason? Doubtful. But enough to make them more competitive and fun to watch.

Outlook for 2017

Hitters who have surgery to repair a torn labrum in their front shoulder are known to lose pop for some length of time. Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp both had the same surgery as Bird and needed a year or so to get back to normal. On the other hand, Brian McCann had the same surgery while with the Braves in 2012, and he bounced back just fine in 2013. There was no short-term power loss.

The Yankees are hoping Bird follows the McCann path and not the Kemp/Gonzalez path. The good news is the timing of the injury is on their side. Bird is going to be a full year out from surgery by time Spring Training rolls around. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had surgery after the season and were racing against the clock to get ready for Opening Day. There are no such issues with Bird. He’ll have a nice long rehab.

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Bird to grab the first base job in Spring Training and run with it. That would be ideal. I also think they’re prepared to send Bird to Triple-A should he need time to get back on track following surgery. There’s little doubt Bird is the first baseman of the future. That’s the plan. Is the first baseman of the present? The first few weeks back from shoulder surgery will determine that.

Thoughts three weeks into the 2016-17 offseason

The closest McCann can get to airborne these days. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
The closest McCann can get to airborne these days. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Three weeks ago today, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years. It still doesn’t seem real, does it? I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where the Cubbies are no longer the Lovable Losers. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The Yankees have made one major move in the early going this offseason (the Brian McCann trade) but they’ve been involved in an awful lot of rumors. They’re checking in on every free agent and they’ve popped up in some trade rumors too. That’s unusual. Over the last few years the Yankees managed to keep things very quiet. Moves came out of nowhere. The Jacoby Ellsbury signing, Didi Gregorius trade, the Nathan Eovaldi trade, the Aaron Hicks trade … one day a press release showed up and that was it. There was no indication the Yankees were in talks at the time. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the Yankees keep things close to the vest. The opposite is true this offseason. They’re in on everyone and we all know it. I wonder what’s changed?

2. The McCann trade shows the Yankees have a lot of confidence in not only Gary Sanchez as the starter, but also Austin Romine as the backup and Kyle Higashioka as the backup backup. We’ll see what happens, maybe the team will sign a veteran backup or something, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I think it’ll be Sanchez and Romine to start the season with Higashioka waiting in the minors. Catcher is usually not a position where teams like to throw a young guy to the wolves without a veteran safety net. Managers like to have that experienced backup around to lean on in the tough times. The Yankees had Joe Girardi behind Jorge Posada for a few years, for example. A Sanchez/Romine catching tandem is definitely not a thing I thought would happen, yet here we are.

3. Is it weird I like the James Pazos trade more than the McCann trade? It is weird. I know it is. The Yankees traded McCann for two big Single-A arms and that’s exciting. You can’t teach triple digit heat and both Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman have it. The Pazos trade, on the other hand, was a clear organizational upgrade. The Yankees turned an erratic lefty reliever into a starting pitching prospect in Zack Littell who figures to reach Double-A at some point next year. The Yankees took a sure thing and turned it into two lottery tickets (and some cash savings) with the McCann trade. The Pazos trade was one lottery ticket for another with a higher payout. I thought Pazos was a potential 40-man roster casualty — as in someone who might get designated for assignment — not someone who could fetch a solid prospect in a trade. Well done, Yankees.

4. I’m curious to see how this 26th roster spot will work, assuming it is indeed put in place with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just about every team will use it to carry an extra reliever because starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before, which ostensibly means more pitching changes and a slower pace of play. At the same time, the last guy in the bullpen usually doesn’t pitch a whole lot anyway. Richard Bleier was on the active roster for 66 straight team games from May 26th to August 9th this past season, and in those 66 games he made only 13 appearances. At one point Ronald Torreyes appeared in seven of 37 games from May 21st to July 1st. The last bench guy and the last bullpen guy don’t play a whole lot as it is with 25-man rosters. How much action will that 26th man actually see? Managers will love to have the extra arm for blowouts and extra innings, and that’s about it. Good for the MLBPA getting those 30 extra full-time jobs though.

Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)

5. MLB still hasn’t announced the Comeback Players of the Year and basically no one has noticed or cared. The Sporting News and the MLBPA Players Choice announced their Comeback Players of the Year — both gave it to Mark Trumbo and Jose Fernandez — but those are different than MLB’s official award. They get confused often. MLB’s official Comeback Players of the Year are still a mystery. Conspiracy theory: One of the winners was popped for performance-enhancing drugs and the appeal process is still pending, and MLB doesn’t want to make the announcement. Another conspiracy theory: MLB doesn’t feel comfortable giving it to Fernandez posthumously. I dunno, just seems weird a pretty notable award has gone missing this year. I guess everyone is just going to pretend this didn’t happen if it comes back next year?

6. Did we see the anti-Yankee awards bias in action in the Rookie of the Year voting? Michael Fulmer winning the award was not egregious in any way, but he received 26 of the 30 first place votes, so it was a relative landslide. For a Yankee to win a major award, he usually needs to have a season that is so far better than anything anyone else did so the choice is obvious, like Alex Rodriguez and the 2007 AL MVP. If it’s close, like it was with Fulmer and Sanchez, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee. Fulmer had a remarkable season that was slightly worse than Collin McHugh’s rookie season in 2014. Sanchez did things we’ve never seen done by a rookie before, and he did them as a full-time catcher. It was unprecedented.

7. I was pleasantly surprised Mike Trout was named AL MVP. He means far more to the Angels than Mookie Betts means to the Red Sox or Jose Altuve means to the Astros or Zach Britton means to the Orioles. He’s more important to his franchise than any other player. I do not think this means a sea change is coming to the voting though. A bunch of guys on non-postseason teams aren’t going to start winning MVP the same way pitchers with 13 wins didn’t start winning the Cy Young after Felix Hernandez in 2010. This was basically randomness at work. The 30 voters this year just so happened to vote Trout over Betts, and it was a close vote. Trout won by a mere 45 points (356-311). Pick some other random combination of 30 voters from the 600+ BBWAA members and Betts probably wins. Heck, give all 600+ a vote and Betts probably wins. By at least one measure, Trout is the greatest player in history through age 24. Having just one MVP after these five seasons would have been ridiculous. Two is much better.

8. The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot was announced earlier this week, and it includes some notable first-timers. Among them is Manny Ramirez, who is going to give us a decent preview of A-Rod‘s Hall of Fame chances. Manny is the litmus test. Both Manny and A-Rod have first ballot Hall of Fame credentials, and they also both served suspensions stemming from PEDs. Manny served two, in fact. I don’t think either player will get into Cooperstown for that reason. If Ramirez gets, say, 10% of the vote in his first year on the ballot, he (and A-Rod) have basically zero shot at induction. If he gets something like 40% or 50% of the vote, there’s at least a small ray of hope. Assuming Rodriguez’s playing career is over, he’ll be Hall of Fame eligible for the first time in 2022. Will enough change between now and 2031, the final year of A-Rod’s ten years on the ballot, to get Alex in? Possibly, sure. I think he (and Manny) are facing long odds though.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

The offseason is two weeks and six days old, and we’re still waiting for the first blockbuster free agent signing. Usually there’s one or two by now. Yeah, the free agent market stinks, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement is gumming up the works too. Seems like no one wants to commit big money to a free agent without knowing the landscape. Lame.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on as well. Discuss those games or whatever else right here.

Tuesday Notes: Chapman, 26th Roster Spot, Rodriguez

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

There are only nine days remaining until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. MLB and the MLBPA insist they are optimistic a new deal will be reached and I continue to believe them because both sides have too much to lose with a work stoppage. Besides, they could agree to continue negotiating after December 1st while operating under the current rules. We’ll see what happens. Here are some bits of news and notes.

Chapman would “love” to be a Yankee again

Apparently Aroldis Chapman‘s brief stint with the Yankees has left him wanting more. He would welcome the opportunity to wear pinstripes again. “I would love to be a Yankee again,” said Chapman to Ray Negron. “This is business and the Yankees know that … They took a chance on me (during the legal trouble last year) and I will always be grateful.”

The Yankees are reportedly in on all the big free agent relievers and I feel like a reunion with Chapman is inevitable. They know him and he won’t cost a draft pick. Plus he’s still pretty young (29 in February) and should have plenty of prime years left. I do wonder how Chapman will perform when he inevitably loses some velocity, but that’s a question for another time. The Yankees want another elite reliever and Chapman is their top target.

Yankees to play first game of 2017

The Yankees are going to play the very first game of the 2017 season. ESPN released their Opening Day(s) broadcast schedule, and the Yankees and Rays are slated to open the season at 1pm ET on Sunday, April 2nd. The Giants and Diamondbacks will play the second game of the year at 4pm ET the same day. Here’s the full ESPN broadcast schedule for the Opening Day festivities.

Two years ago the Yankees played the last first game of the season, if that makes sense. They were in Houston to open the season and didn’t play until Tuesday night. The other 28 teams had all played at least one game by then. This year the opposite will be true. The Yankees and Rays will have all eyes on them that afternoon. There will be no other games at the same time.

Roster limit changes “likely” coming in 2017

According to Tyler Kepner and Ken Rosenthal, the upcoming CBA is “likely” to increase the roster size to 26 players. Also, there will be some sort of roster limit after September 1st. Teams would still be able to call up their 40-man roster, though they’d only be allowed to have 28 active players per game. The 28 players wouldn’t change every day. Perhaps every series or something like that.

The 26-man roster essentially means every team will carry an extra reliever — the Yankees almost certainly will — which means more pitching changes and even slower pace of play. Sigh. As for the September roster limit, I hate it. I’ve long been a fan of September call-ups. Reward the kids and reward the teams with depth. Call them up, let them play. Give teams access to all those extra pitchers late in the season so they don’t have to push fatigued arms any harder than they have to.

Roman Rodriguez leaves Yankees

Longtime bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez has left the Yankees for a scouting position with the Angels, reports Mark Feinsand. He’s the latest member of the organization to leave New York for Billy Eppler’s Angels. Scout Eric Chavez (yes, that Eric Chavez) and manager of pro scouting Steve Martone were also hired away from the Yankees by Eppler. Probably some others too.

Rodriguez, 47, had been New York’s bullpen catcher since 2003, which means he was the longest tenured member of the field staff. In addition to his bullpen catcher duties, Rodriguez also helped chart pitches and things like that. He also used to serve as an interpreter for Spanish speaking players when they spoke to reporters before the Yankees hired a full-time translator. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees need a new bullpen catcher.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Review]

Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)
Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)

It’s time to do the impossible with our season review series: evaluate coaches. It can’t be done from where we sit. We can try, but ultimately we never do anything more than project player performance onto the coaching staff, and that’s sorta dumb. The offense isn’t clicking? Time to get a new hitting coach. The pitchers stink? New pitching coach. Same old story, year after year, all around the league.

These guys are coaches, not miracle workers. Almost all of their work takes place behind the scenes, and for every little mechanical adjustment that generates headlines, there are dozens that go unreported. Teams have far more insight into what their coaches do or do not do well. As fans, all we can do is speculate. Evaluating coaches from here is basically impossible. That won’t stop us though. Let’s review the year that was with the coaching staff.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Gosh, Thomson has been with the Yankees a long time. He originally joined the organization back in 1990 as a minor league coach. Since then he’s held all sorts of roles, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development before joining the Major League coaching staff. Thomson spent the 2008 season as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach and the 2009-14 seasons as the third base coach before resuming his role as bench coach last year.

As the bench coach, Thomson is Girardi’s right hand man, who from what I understand has a lot of responsibility communicating with players before and after games. I know a lot of folks think the bench coach is supposed to whisper sweet nothings into the manager’s ear and help him make strategic decisions, but that’s only part of the job. I have no real opinion of Thomson as the bench coach. He’s been at it a very long time and I have no doubt he has an awful lot to offer the team. Boring review is boring.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)
Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)

This was somehow Rothschild’s sixth season as the Yankees’ pitching coach. Geez, does time fly or what? Rothschild came under more criticism this year than any other season with the Yankees, mostly because Michael Pineda continued to be frustrating as hell and Luis Severino went backwards. “Who has he improved?” was a popular refrain, as if that could ever be answered with some level of certainty.

In 2016, CC Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher and had his best season in four years. Masahiro Tanaka transitioned from four-seam fastball pitcher to sinker pitcher (and back to four-seam fastball pitcher) to combat his home run woes. Severino took a massive step back, first with his command and then with the disappearance of his changeup. Chad Green learned a cutter and that was cool. Bryan Mitchell (walks) and Luis Cessa (homers) had good superficial stats but worrisome trends under the hood.

Overall, New York’s pitching staff was ninth in baseball with +18.2 fWAR this year despite being 15th in ERA (4.16) and 27th in innings (1428.1). That’s because their team strikeout and walk rates were, once again, excellent. They were fifth in baseball with a 23.1% strikeout rate and fourth with a 7.4% walk rate. During Rothschild’s six years as pitching coach, the Yankees are third in strikeout rate (21.5%), third in walk rate (7.3%), and third in fWAR (+115.2).

How much of the credit or blame goes to Rothschild? Beats me. All I know he’s highly regarded around baseball — “Larry is a master of psychology with big arm guys. He gets them to believe in their secondary pitches,” said a scout to Andrew Marchand and Wally Matthews last year — and he will be back next season, like it or not. The Yankees gave Rothschild a new one-year contract after the season.

Hitting Coaches: Alan Cockrell & Marcus Thames

For the third straight year, the Yankees had a new hitting coaching coach in 2016. In 2014 it was still Kevin Long. Last year it was Jeff Pentland with Cockrell as his assistant. This year it was Cockrell with Thames as his assistant. It appears the revolving door of hitting coaches will stop with Cockrell and Thames. If one or both was going to be replaced, they’d be gone already.

Cockrell. (Presswire)
Cockrell. (Presswire)

In 2016 the Yankees ranked 22nd in runs (680), 19th in home runs (183), 20th in AVG (.252), 25th in OBP (.314), 21st in SLG (.405), and 21st in wRC+ (92). (wRC+ is park adjusted, so it accounts for hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.) Below-average by any measure. That is partly due to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez giving the Yankees 681 plate appearances of nothing, which I have a hard time blaming on the hitting coaches. Old players got old. News at 11.

“Good and bad. I’ll leave it at that,” said Cockrell to Brendan Kuty when asked to evaluate his season. “You always reflected on what you did or didn’t do or would do differently. In all honesty, I’ve done some of those things already. I’ve looked at some of those things and when it comes to our three, four, and five hole guys … We’ve been looking for offense in a lot of different ways. It’s a tough league, man. It’s been a grind.”

Going forward, the Yankees are going to give Cockrell and Thames much more young talent to work with, players whose best years are still ahead of them (hopefully). There’s Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. Don’t forget about Clint Frazier either. Thames, who has a history with many of these guys from his days as a minor league hitting coach, and Cockrell will be in charge of helping these players become impact big leaguers.

First & Third Base Coaches: Tony Pena & Joe Espada

The Yankees had a 77% success rate stealing bases this season, fifth highest in baseball, which I guess means Pena did his job as first base coach? He’s out there with the stopwatch timing the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time, determining whether his runners can steal second. There’s more to it, of course, and besides, Pena’s primary focus is working with the catchers. He’s going to put Sanchez through a full year of catching boot camp in 2017.

Espada is … well … not very popular as third base coach. Are any third base coaches popular? I don’t think so. At best, they’re overlooked because they’re not making mistakes. The Yankees had only 12 runners thrown out at the plate this year, tied for the second fewest in baseball, but gosh, more than a few of those 12 were egregious. Remember this?

Lordy. Rob Refsnyder tells you everything you need to know there. He slowed up rounding third because he did not expect to be sent home on a hard-hit single to Kevin Kiermaier, but Espada sent him, and Refsnyder had to pick up the pace. We’ve seen a few of those “why did he send him, geez?” sends the last two seasons.

Espada is generally conservative when it comes to sending runners home — he waved 55% of runners home from second on a single and first from a double, below the 68% league average — which is out of necessity more than anything. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only above-average runners on the roster. Espada’s not going to send guys like Sanchez and Bird home too often. They’re just not fast. Even with the conservative approach, there are still too many obviously bad sends for my liking. It’s bad. Bad bad bad.

Bullpen Coach: Mike Harkey

Harkey rejoined the Yankees this season after the team parted ways with Gary Tuck, who reportedly had some run-ins with the front office about their use of analytics. Harvey was New York’s bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving to join the Diamondbacks as their pitching coach. Arizona let him go after last season, so back to the Yankees he came.

The bullpen coach is effectively a second pitching coach, though during games, he stands out in the bullpen and answers the phone. The most memorable part of Harkey’s season came on September 26th, when Girardi and Rothschild were ejected following Severino’s hit-by-pitch war with the Blue Jays. Harkey had to go to the dugout to take over as pitching coach.

With no coach in the bullpen, Tyler Clippard took over as the bullpen coach for the remainder of the game because he is the team’s most veteran reliever. It was Clippard’s job to answer the phone and wave his hat at the dugout to let them know the reliever was ready:

tyler-clippard-bullpen-coach

Out of all the GIFs I’ve made for this stupid site, that might be my favorite. How ridiculous. This has been, rather easily, the most exciting bullpen coach season review in RAB history.