MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner has passed away following a battle with inoperable brain cancer. He was 51. Weiner, who grew up in Paterson, N.J., replaced Donald Fehr in 2009 and had been with the union since 1988. He was incredibly bright and an extraordinary leader, and he continued to work hard for the players even after being diagnosed last August. Condolences to his family and friends. · (12) ·
The thing that stuck with me the most from All-Star Media Day this year was how deceptively big Mike Trout is. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs. on the Angels’ official site and while that doesn’t sound all that big, it’s pretty staggering when you stand next to him. That makes his athleticism and quickness so mind-boggling. It’s amazing a dude that size can move like that. I know this isn’t Yankees related or anything, but who doesn’t like watching the best player in baseball doing best player in baseball things? Enjoy the video.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Thursday NFL Game is the Saints and Falcons, plus the Rangers and Devils are playing as well. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.
7:26pm: According to T.J. Quinn, the two sides have until December 11th to put together summary briefs and respond by the 21st. Only then will Horowitz get busy with his ruling. So yeah, throw that whole 25 days thing right out the window.
6:40pm: Via Ken Davidoff: The appeal hearing for Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension concluded today. Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz now has 25 days to hand down a ruling, meaning the latest it can arrive is Monday, December 16th. That said, this whole thing hasn’t gone according to the schedule outlined in the Join Drug Agreement. The ruling could come down later. Either way, Horowitz can uphold, overturn, or reduce the suspension. · (26) ·
Thursday: The Yankees do indeed have legitimate interest in Nathan, according to Mark Feinsand. They are going to focus on more pressing needs (rotation, offense in general) first before circling back around for big money bullpen help, however.
Sunday: Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees have “had contact” with free agent right-hander Joe Nathan. They are seeking a late-inning reliever to pair with David Robertson in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement, and they’ve already shown interest in free agent Grant Balfour as well. It figures they would at least touch base with the market’s top available closer at some point.
Nathan, who turns 39 on Friday, pitched to a 1.39 ERA and 2.26 FIP in 64.2 innings for the Rangers this season while going 43-for-46 in save chances. Following a slight hiccup in 2011, he’s rebounded to be his usual self following Tommy John surgery in 2010. Nathan is probably going to get a pricey two of three-year contract this winter (Tigers?) and that doesn’t really fit into New York’s budget. As with Javier Lopez, it’s good they did their due diligence, but money might be an obstacle. · (33) ·
Coming into this past season, it was obvious the Yankees needed to add some young, impact talent to the organization. They had none at the big league level and very little in the minors following a down year in the farm system. When Baseball America published their list of the team’s top ten prospects over the winter, it was hard to ignore that six of the ten missed at least a month due to injury in 2012 while two others were still way down in Rookie Ball.
The Yankees had a chance to add talent this summer during the annual amateur draft in June, which is true of every year. This draft was different though — New York had two extra picks after Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher declined qualifying offers and signed with other teams as free agents. Add in their own first rounder and New York owned three of the first 33 selections. It was the first time they held even two of the first 33 picks since 1978. The opportunity to give the farm system a real shot in the arm was there, and, at this point, it appears the Yankees nailed it.
Three First Round Talents
Having three first round picks — it was really one first rounder and two supplemental first round picks, but whatever — doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get three first round talents. Let’s not kid ourselves here; the Yankees have made some questionable high picks in recent years and grabbing the best available talent was not a given. Rather than go off the board for a player they liked more than the consensus, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer & Co. went big and grabbed arguably the three best players on the board with each pick.
The first of the three was Notre Dame 3B Eric Jagielo, who was the club’s natural first rounder at #26 overall. He signed quickly for a straight slot $1.84M bonus and hit .264/.376/.451 (~152 wRC+) during his 221 plate appearance pro debut. Jagielo is a polished hitter and a good defender at a hard-to-fill position who should climb the ladder very quickly. The second pick was Fresno State OF Aaron Judge (#32), a monstrous (listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 lbs.) slugger with as much raw power as anyone in the draft. He took an above slot $1.8M bonus the day before the signing deadline. California HS LHP Ian Clarkin (#33), a power southpaw with an out-pitch curveball, was the third of the three first rounders.
In a normal year, landing one of those guys with a first round pick would have been a coup for the Yankees. Being able to draft all three — and being willing to exceed the draft pool to sign them, as they did by signing Judge to an over-slot bonus at the last minute — is a major win for a farm system in need of impact talent. All three of these guys are not going to work out, the odds are strongly against it because prospects are made to break hearts, but the more high-end talent they have, they better. These three first rounders were incredibly important given the state of the organization and the Yankees nailed ‘em.
Middle Infield Depth
The Yankees have been blessed with Robinson Cano and (especially) Derek Jeter for a long time, making it pretty easy to overlook just rare quality middle infielders are these days. I’m not even talking about stars, above-average guys are very hard and rather expensive to acquire. New York drafted two true middle infielders in the top four rounds in 2B Gosuke Katoh (2nd round) and SS Tyler Wade (4), both out of California high schools. Both play above-average defense at their positions and Katoh is just a strong arm away from being a shortstop. They both performed well in their pro debuts: Katoh managed 171 wRC+ (12.6 BB%) in 215 plate appearances while Wade had a 137 wRC+ (16.0 BB%) in 213 plate appearances. The performance is nice but the most important this is that both guys have the defensive chops to stay up the middle while also projecting to be something more than zeroes at the plate. These were two very strong picks after the first round.
Under Oppenheimer, the Yankees have used the middle and late rounds to draft power arms who could someday help out of the bullpen. With the new spending restrictions and Collective Bargaining Agreement all but eliminating the ability to give big money to players who fall due to bonus concerns, there’s not much more you can do late in the draft. Dig up some hard-throwers for the bullpen and focus on positions players with that one high-end tool. Not much more is available.
This summer’s crop of hard-throwers includes Texas JuCo RHP David Palladino (5), LSU RHP Nick Rumbelow (7), San Diego State RHP Phil Walby (12), and Oklahoma Christian RHP Cale Coshow (13). All four guys offer mid-90s heat while Palladino has good enough secondary pitches to start. Sam Houston State LHP Caleb Smith (14) has shown 94-95 in short outings. The Yankees have had trouble developing players overall the last few years, but they generally go a great job of unearthing these power arms and getting them far enough up the ladder that they at least serve as trade bait, if nothing else. These five guys are the newest members of the pipeline.
Late Round Gambles
The big money late-round picks don’t really exist anymore, but there is always going to be talent that slips into the late rounds. Not every “signability” guy will cost seven figures. New York paid over-slot for Georgia HS OF Dustin Fowler (18) and Missouri HS 3B Drew Bridges (20) after saving pool money by taking cheap college seniors in rounds six through ten. Fowler is the better prospect as an athletic outfielder with speed and a sweet lefty swing, but Bridges has some power potential and a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball from the left side.
I think the Yankees had their best draft in several years this summer and that’s not only because of the extra first round picks, though those certainly helped. I’m talking about the quality of the players they landed with their picks. The added impact guys at the top of the draft, some important middle infield depth after that, and a lot of interesting late-round guys who could play roles down the road. This was a super important draft for New York and they did a bang-up job in my opinion.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees went through a small army of infielders this past season. They went internal with Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, David Adams, and Corban Joseph before going outside the organization for guys like Alberto Gonzalez, Chris Nelson, Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge, and Reid Brignac. Seven different players started a game at shortstop for New York in 2013 while ten (ten!) started a game at third. Eventually Brendan Ryan and Mark Reynolds helped stabilize things.
All four infield spots are a question mark right now for various reasons. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are returning from major injury, Robinson Cano is a free agent, and Alex Rodriguez may or may not be suspended. Nunez, Nix, and (to a lesser extent) Adams played fairly regularly last season and failed to impress, at least impress enough to solidify their standing as viable infield options should the need arise in 2014. Adding infield depth will be a priority this offseason and so far it’s the only area the team has addressed.
Since re-signing Derek Jeter to a new one-year contract, the Yankees have reportedly agreed to re-sign Ryan and acquired Dean Anna in a minor trade. Ryan won’t hit at all but his defense is among the best in the game and allows him to be a net positive if playing everyday. He’s not great, mind you, but you can run him out there on a regular basis and get some return. The 26-year-old Anna is a lefty bat with little power but quite a bit of on-base ability, plus he’s capable at the two middle infield positions. With all due respect to Ben Paullus, the Single-A reliever who went to the Padres in the deal, Anna cost basically nothing.
To me, bringing back Ryan and adding Anna for depth is an indication the Yankees have either grown tired of Nunez or will non-tender Jayson Nix prior to next month’s deadline. Maybe both. Nix is projected to earn $1.4M through arbitration next year and although I think he’s perfectly fine as a rarely used backup infielder, that is a bit pricey for what he brings to the table. Maybe he’d be worth keeping at that price in a luxury tax-free world. Nunez has been in the big leagues for parts of four seasons now and he hasn’t hit (86 wRC+) or shown any real improvement defensively. There’s only so much patience you have have with someone who projects to be an okay player but not a star if things go right.
Nunez appears to have a minor league option remaining and can go to Triple-A Scranton next season, so the Yankees won’t have to worry about finding a spot for him. I doubt he would fetch much in a trade anyway. The club has him, Ryan, and Anna to serve as depth behind Jeter at the moment, though the obvious caveat is that the offseason is still very young. Nix could return on a minor league deal (I would like that very much, actually) but you couldn’t blame him if he sought out another team that offers more of an opportunity if he is non-tendered. As a veteran guy who’s been in the show a while, Ryan sits atop the utility infielder depth chart and will open the year on the bench if the Cap’n is healthy enough to play shortstop. Anna and Nunez are behind him.
Regardless of what happens to A-Rod, the Yankees have to bring in a capable third baseman because he’s going to miss time one way or another next season, either through suspension or injury. That still has to be done. Middle infield depth was another priority this winter given the uncertainty surrounding Jeter following his self-proclaimed nightmare season, and early on they’ve addressed that with the Ryan and Anna moves. Nix became expandable and so did Nunez, but there’s no sense in dumping him until absolutely necessary since he’ll earn something close to the minimum and can go to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of business to take of this winter, but they’ve already made a series of moves to upgrade the utility infielder spot and add middle infield depth.
Via George King: The Yankees still have interest in re-signing Curtis Granderson after he declined the $14.1M qualifying offer last week. “He is a serious part [of our offseason plan],” said the GM. “We remain interested. He is not a [fall-back] option.”
Granderson, 32, hit .229/.317/.407 (97 wRC+) with seven homers and eight steals in 245 plate appearances around his injuries this past season. Both the Mets and White Sox have expressed interest in him this winter and a multi-year contract seems likely. The Yankees know Curtis as well as anyone and could pencil him into right field on an everyday basis, so there’s an obvious fit. Assuming they won’t offer a huge contract to Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, Granderson and Carlos Beltran are the best available outfielders. · (31) ·
Last offseason, the Yankees reportedly took the rather unique path of creating a list of needs and going down the list in order, one by one. First was pitching, second was adding an outfielder, then third was filling out the margins of the roster. They didn’t waver from that strategy at all. It was weird because usually you’d expect a team to multi-task, not miss out on a player because he was further down on the list than something else.
This winter, it does not appear the Yankees are working that way. They aren’t handcuffing themselves like that. Instead, they’re being handcuffed by other factors around the game and in free agency, things outside of their control. That is much worse than sticking to list and going one by one, obviously. New York could have always changed that approach whenever they wanted. Their offseason plans are being held hostage at the moment. Other stuff is getting in the way of allowing them to set a hard budget number and proceed.
Alex Rodriguez‘s Appeal Hearing
Things got a little juicy yesterday when A-Rod stormed out of his appeal hearing claiming it was a “farce,” but as far as we know that doesn’t change anything about the timetable. The hearing will continue today without a day off either until it is completed or next Wednesday, whichever comes first. I assume they would reconvene the Monday following Thanksgiving, if need be. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Once the hearing is over, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz is expected to take three or four weeks to hand down his ruling.
Assuming things get wrapped up before Thanksgiving and Horowitz takes his four weeks, we’re looking at a ruling sometime right before Christmas, two weeks after the Winter Meetings. The Yankees have a lot of needs and not much money to spend, at least until A-Rod’s suspension is upheld and all or part of his 2014 salary (and luxury tax hit) is wiped off the books. They can’t count on that happening though. Nothing is final until Horowitz says so. As much as $33.5M is 2014 payroll space hangs in the balance here, enough to sign two premium free agents, but New York won’t know if that money is available to them until after the Winter Meetings, when most major dealings take place.
Masahiro Tanaka‘s Posting
According to Jon Morosi, MLB and NPB have resumed talking about a revising posting system this week after a proposal fell through last week. Apparently MLB felt NPB was taking too long to wrap things up, so the league decided to go after a sweeter deal. Can’t say I blame them, but that doesn’t exactly help the Yankees. It’s no secret they will go hard after Tanaka and why not? He’s supposed to be awesome and because the posting fee doesn’t count against the luxury tax, he’d fit well in their budget.
Brian Cashman has said he needs to add two starting pitchers this winter and Tanaka is presumably Plan A. If they can’t land him, the Yankees could to turn to Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Garza, or Ubaldo Jimenez. Capable pitchers who aren’t as luxury tax friendly. Needless to say, the longer the haggling between MLB and NPB drags on, the more it hurts the Yankees. Kuroda and Garza and whoever else won’t wait around forever and New York needs to take care of its pitching. There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that Tanaka won’t be posted at all this winter. Cashman & Co. want to know if that will be the case soon, not in late-December or January after the other top arms sign.
Robinson Cano‘s Contract
Unlike the A-Rod and Tanaka stuff, the Yankees actually have some control over Cano’s contract situation because they’re the high-bidder until another club steps to the plate. That fact that his representatives crawled to the Mets earlier this week is a pretty good indication his market isn’t all that robust at the moment. That could change in a heartbeat, however. I do think it’s only a matter of time before another big market team (Nationals?) gets involved.
“We’re not waiting around,” said team president Randy Levine to Andy McCullough earlier this week when asked about a timetable for a new contract with Cano. “We have about five or six free agents that we’re aggressively looking at. Some of our own, some outside guys. We’re not waiting for Robbie or anyone. As these guys come off the board, if we’re lucky enough to get some of them, that obviously limits the money we have for Cano.”
Saying you’re not going to wait around is one thing, but actually doing it is another. The Yankees aren’t stupid, they know their most likely (only?) chance at contention next season involves having Cano at second base and in the middle of the lineup. They also know attendance and ratings took a big hit in 2013 and losing a star caliber player like Robbie could lead to an even greater decline. On the other hand, you could argue this past season showed he isn’t the kind of player who drives fan interest and attendance and ratings and all that. He was the only big name, everyday player on the team, after all.
Cashman & Co. have a lot on their plate this winter. They’ve gotta rebuild half a rotation, half a bullpen, and a decent chunk of the lineup to get back to contention in 2014. They have to do all that while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold, meaning bang for the buck is important. It was always important, don’t get me wrong, but in the past they could bid the extra million bucks and not think too much of it. The A-Rod and Tanaka situations are really tying their hands because so much money is at stake. Unless they’re willing to risk going over the luxury tax threshold, there’s nothing the team can do but sit and wait until that stuff is resolved, hoping the offseason doesn’t pass them by.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with two big signs fans are losing interest in the Yankees.
For the first time in five years and only the second time in 19 years, the Yankees missed the postseason in 2013. They didn’t just miss the postseason, they missed the postseason because so many of their best players either got hurt or underperformed. I’m not talking about minor injuries either — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira combined for 76 games (44 by A-Rod) while Curtis Granderson missed over 100 himself. CC Sabathia had the worst season of his career and Andy Pettitte battled injury and ineffectiveness for a long stretch of time. The only star-caliber constants were Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera.
As a result, fan interest was the lowest it’s been in years. Certainly the lowest since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. I don’t think the Yankees do a very good job of cultivating fans with caravan events and stuff like that — get to the Stadium early and Chris Stewart might shake your hand at the gate! — and their in-game entertainment at the ballpark is older than half the roster. The Subway Race is still pretty cool but the YMCA and the Match Game and Cotton-Eyed Joey are all outdated. Dammit do I hate Cotton-Eyed Joey. The giveaways* are pretty lame as well.
* Special shout out to the Yankees for the awful Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Day experience as well. Yes I’m still bitter.
When the Yankees aren’t winning, it’s not all that fun to go to Yankee Stadium. It’s too expensive and the non-baseball stuff isn’t worth it. When the Yankees aren’t winning and half their star players are hurt or playing poorly, they’re barely worth your time. That lack of fan interest showed this season in more ways than one.
Attendance across baseball was down slightly this season, an average of 333 fans per game*. That’s 1.08%. The Yankees, on the other hand, saw their average attendance drop 3,245 fans per game from 2012 to 2013, or 7.4%. It would have dropped even more if not for the Mariano Rivera retirement tour boost in September — three of their four highest attended non-Opening Day games were in late September. Attendance has dropped 5,429 fans per game since the first season of the new Stadium back in 2009, or 11.8%. Obviously the team’s attendance has trended downward quite a bit the last three years, especially relative to the league average. I don’t think you needed the above graph to see that.
* Attendance data courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Unfortunately, information on network ratings is hard to find, or at least I don’t know where to look. According to Joel Sherman, the YES Network saw ratings fall a whopping 33% this past season. Neil Best said it was roughly 39% back in late-May, so Sherman’s number passes the sniff test. The network’s highest rated game of the season was Alex Rodriguez’s return and I’m sure there was a boost for the Rivera/Pettitte retirement tour in September as well. The exact percentage of the decline really isn’t important. We know there was a significant decline in ratings in 2013 and that’s all that matters. If the numbers reported by Sherman and Best are true, that’s staggering.
* * *
So, clearly attendance and ratings were a problem this year, and they are one representation of fan interest. If people aren’t interested in the team, they won’t watch and they sure as hell won’t spend a boatload of money to attend a game. Thankfully I’m not the one who has the figure out the solution to this problem, that’s on the Yankees. The declining attendance and ratings is the result of many, many things I’m sure. Ticket prices and the economy, fan apathy, lack of star players in 2013, ownership talking about slashing payroll at every opportunity, a team that isn’t all that exciting on the field … all of that and more is playing a part here. It’s a problem and, based on all the talk this winter, the club seems to think adding several big name players will be the way to fix it. Maybe it’ll work. They have to hope it will.
The Yankees have announced a series of roster moves. First, they have acquired IF Dean Anna from the Padres for Single-A reliever RHP Ben Paullus. Second, IF Corban Joseph has been outrighted off the 40-man roster. Third, they have added Anna, C Gary Sanchez, OF Slade Heathcott, RHP Jose Campos, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and RHP Shane Greene to the 40-man roster. Midnight tonight was the deadline to set the roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft and all six players were eligible. There is still one open spot on the 40-man roster.
Anna, 26, hit .331/.410/.482 (140 wRC+) with nine homers and three stolen bases in 582 plate appearances for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate this past season. He’s a left-handed batter with little power (.138 ISO in 1,339 plate appearances between Double and Triple-A) but a good idea of the strike zone (12.5% walks) and good bat control (11.9% strikeouts). Anna has a ton of experience at the two middle infield positions while also dabbling at third and in the outfield corners. I’m guessing the Padres didn’t have a 40-man roster spot for him and wanted to turn him into something rather than lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. Nifty little pickup for the Yankees, nice extra guy to have.
We heard Greene and Mitchell would be protected from the 40-man roster a few days ago. Sanchez and Heathcott were no-brainers but Campos was on the bubble as a 21-year-old who has never pitched above Low Class-A. He now has three years before running out of minor league options and having to stick in the big leagues for good. Joseph missed most of this season due to shoulder surgery and is really just a spare part for New York. He can hit a little but he doesn’t really have a position — he doesn’t have the range for second base or the arm for third. Not a surprise he cleared waivers.
The three most notable players the Yankees left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Chase Whitley. The first two are hard-throwing relievers with questionable control (especially Kahnle) who spent last season with Double-A Trenton while Whitley is more of a command and control guy who spent the year at Triple-A Scranton. The Bombers tried to trade Kahnle for Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano at the trade deadline a few months ago, but no dice. Both he and Kahnle are very likely to be selected — hard-throwing relievers are the backbone of the Rule 5 Draft — and there’s even a chance both will stick in the big leagues next season. Most Rule 5 picks don’t, however.