Mark Teixeira would like to play until he’s 40, remain with the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Hands down, one of the most memorable moments of the RAB era was the Yankees swooping in to sign Mark Teixeira at the very last minute back in December 2008. It was a foregone conclusion he would end up with the Red Sox. The two sides had been connected for weeks and they were progressing towards a deal, then BAM, he was a Yankee. It was incredible.

That was more than seven years ago now. Teixeira is entering the final season of his eight-year, $180M contract, and by and large that contract has been a success. Yeah, there have been some injuries, but he’s hit .253/.349/.493 (125 wRC+) with 191 homers and 19.3 fWAR in seven seasons, plus he helped the Yankees win a World Series title. Teixeira’s time in pinstripes should be looked upon fondly.

Earlier today Teixeira reported to what might be his final Spring Training with the Yankees. He told reporters he not only hopes to play until he’s 40, but he’d also like to remain with the Yankees beyond this season. From George King:

“I would love to play until I am 40,’’ said Teixeira, who will turn 36 early next month. “If you asked me that when I was coming off wrist surgery, I was pretty honest with you guys, I felt like crap the entire year, 2014. I didn’t know what the future held for me. I have completely turned that around. My body feels good. Why not play until I am 40? Being the kind of hitter I am, I could be a DH the last few years of my career. I would love to play that long.’’

“Absolutely. That’s the easiest question you can ask me,’’ Teixeira said when asked about remaining a Yankee. “I would love to stay here, but we will see what happens. It’s a little weird: The seven years have gone by in an instant. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone by. For me to be in a productive position and help our team win maybe in my last year is all you can ask for.’’

Up until about three weeks ago, it was safe to assume the Yankees would let Teixeira leave as a free agent after the season, even if he had a monster walk year. Greg Bird was ready to step in at first base and the team has been skewing young whenever possible. It was an obvious move. Teixeira will turn 36 in April. Replacing the guy in his late-30s with the guy in his early-20s is a no-brainer.

Bird’s shoulder surgery has thrown a big wrench into that plan. Even if the doctors say he’s fully healthy come next offseason, it could take Bird some time to shake off the rust and get back into baseball mashing shape. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Yankees to have Bird open the 2017 season in Triple-A so he can focus on getting back to normal in an environment where results don’t matter. (Also, 65 days in the minors would delay Bird’s free agency and “buy back” the year of team control they’re losing to injury.)

It’s way to early to say whether bringing Teixeira back in 2017 would be a smart move. There’s an entire season to play out first. When times comes to make a decision about Teixeira’s future — not only whether the Yankees should re-sign him, but whether he is worth a qualifying offer — the Yankees will have a ton more information, particularly about Bird’s rehab.

Teixeira was a monster before that fluke shin injury ended his season in 2015. He hit .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) with 31 homers in only 111 games. If Teixeira comes anywhere close to repeating that kind of performance in 2016, it’s hard to see how the Yankees don’t make him the qualifying offer.

Kuty: Yankees working on adjusting Aaron Hicks’ swing

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

According to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, new assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames has been working with OF Aaron Hicks on “correcting his bat path.”  Hicks has been in the minor league complex for around a month, lifting and working on hitting with Thames.

Hicks, whom the Yankees acquired in the offseason for John Ryan Murphy, was touted as one of the top ML prospects (topping at #19 in 2010 BA list) before being called up to the Minnesota Twins in 2013. Since then, he’s shown flashes of athletic brilliance but has not hit to his potential. The good news is he’s steadily improved hitting in ML: his 97 wRC+ in 390 PA in 2015 is career high (62, 83 wRC+ in previous two seasons) and many believe his tools will take him even further (for instance, check out this Carlos Gomez comparison from FanGraphs). I wouldn’t count on Hicks actually becoming as good as Gomez, but hitting improvements will do wonders for him as a player.

Kuty’s article mentioned that most of the work focused on Hicks’ left-side swing. That’s a plausible idea. His career LHP/RHP splits are quite stark in difference. He’s hit to a nice .808 OPS versus lefties with his righty swing, but only .596 OPS versus righties. Switch hitting is not easy – you have to work on two different swings at once. It is hard to maintain consistency and polish on one swing alone. There have been guys like Shane Victorino, a former switch-hitter who ditched one side and focused on another, but there are undeniable benefits if you can succeed with two swings.

What are they focusing on? Consistent bat path.”Being able to stay long through the zone and line drives, hitting line drives all over the place and constant hand positioning, being able to constantly get that slot long and through the zone,” Hicks said. Those are some phrasings that one may hear at local batting cage but they still ring true in the bigs.

Let’s also talk about Marcus Thames. There’s not a lot of history with his work as a hitting coach but from what I can tell, he seems to be very well-respected and liked. To have a rapid climb from being a High-A hitting coach (2013) to ML assistant coach means that he’s doing something right. In terms of hitting philosophy, it sounds like he’s far from being a cookie-cutter:

“I don’t have one philosophy,” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and make up something because it depends on the hitter. And it depends on the guy on the mound. I really don’t have one and it just depends on the guys. One major thing that I do, I want my guys to be aggressive in the strike zone. Other than that, philosophy-wise, it just depends on the hitter.

There’s definitely not one foolproof way to make every hitters succeed. If there were, imagine the terror pitchers would endure on plate appearance-basis. There were guys like Walt Hriniak, who was a hitting coach for Red Sox and White Sox in the 80’s and 90’s, who saw success (HOF’er Frank Thomas being the main disciple) teaching hitters pretty much the one way, but I personally think every hitter is different. I assume we will hear more about Thames’ reign as a ML assistant hitting coach throughout the season.

Back to Aaron Hicks – he certainly has some pop in his bat. In 2015, Hicks hit for a .142 ISO, which is right around league average. You can expect that figure to go up slightly in the Yankee Stadium. A more exciting number would be 20 HR’s and 20 steals. He hit 11 home runs in 390 PA’s. If he were to get full season’s worth of plate appearances, hypothetically he could get it near 20. I’m not necessarily calling it but it’s plausible and fun to think about. If what he works on with Thames pays off on the field, I think Yankees may have themselves a player that the Twins envisioned years ago. Don’t get too excited yet – if it happens, it’ll be a process.

Mateo tops MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list

(Main St. Rock)
Mateo. (Main St. Rock)

Yesterday afternoon the crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 30 Yankees prospects, which is topped by SS Jorge Mateo. That’s not surprising based on their annual top 100 list. OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP James Kaprielian round out the top four, because duh. Who else would it be?

Jim Callis wrote a real quick system overview that’s worth checking out. As always, MLB.com’s prospect information is completely free. You can see the list, read the scouting reports, and watch all the videos for zero American dollars. It’s pretty awesome. Click the link for the complete top 30. Here’s the top ten real quick:

  1. Mateo
  2. Judge
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Looks good to me. I’m not the biggest Acevedo fan in the world — I ranked him 19th in my top 30 list — but I am in the minority. Sticking him in the top ten is not unreasonable. A few things stuck out to me while reading through the list and scouting reports, so here are my thoughts.

1. There are seven 2015 draftees in the top 30: Kaprielian, RHP Drew Finely (No. 16), RHP Chance Adams (No. 21), SS Kyle Holder (No. 23), LHP Jeff Degano (No. 24), 3B Donny Sands (No. 29), and OF Trey Amburgey (No. 30). Seven! That’s an awful lot for a team that had a pretty good farm system to begin with. Usually when so many recent draftees populate your top 30 it’s because your system stunk and you had few prospects to being with. Either that or you had a killer draft. I’m always wary of small sample performances when ranking recent draftees — Sands and Amburgey in particularly were great after signing — but the reports indicate the rankings are more scouting based than performance based, which is the way it should be. The Yankees tend to do a very good job in the middle rounds of the draft and MLB.com’s top 30 indicates they found some nice talent last year.

2. Speaking of Amburgey, the scouting report notes he “generates some of the best exit velocities among New York farmhands,” which is fun to read. I remember reading something similar about Judge a year or two ago. Following last year’s draft we heard Finley ranked among the best in the draft class in fastball spin rate, fastball extension, and curveball spin rate as measured by Trackman (i.e. PitchFX) at the 2014 Area Code Games. As fans and analysts we’re just now starting to use information like this and we don’t even fully understand it yet. Teams are already tracking this stuff for their minor leaguers and potential draft targets. You’ll never be able to scout prospects with just numbers, but all of this information can help you confirm reports, raise some questions, identify a sleeper, stuff like that. The more information the better, and that definitely extends into the minors too.

3. OF Leonardo Molina fascinates me more than maybe any other prospect in the system. He hasn’t hit much in his two years in pro ball (75 wRC+ in 410 plate appearances) but MLB.com’s scouting report says “scouts remain dazzled by his potential.” Here’s a little more of the scouting report:

Molina’s quick right-handed bat and his projectable strength give him the potential for plus power. While he has yet to enjoy much success at the plate, he shows signs of pitch recognition and doesn’t swing and miss excessively. Add in his plus speed, and he could be a 20-20 player once he matures physically and as a hitter … Molina’s speed and well-above-average arm allow him to play any of the outfield positions. He’s still learning how to make proper reads and routes but should be able to stay in center field.

That’s the scouting report of a future star, but because he hasn’t hit yet and is still so far from MLB — Molina is still only 18 and he’s yet to play outside rookie ball — he’s not a top prospect. A year or two ago I read something that described Molina as the kind of prospect who could take small steps forward each year and develop incrementally, though in my non-expert opinion I feel the opposite may be true. He strikes me as the kind of prospect where it might just click all of a sudden and bam, he’s a top 100 caliber guy overnight. Either way, folks who glance at stat lines are missing what Molina (and 3B Miguel Andujar, for that matter) has the potential to be.

If you’re interested, Callis held a Twitter chat yesterday and took a bunch of Yankees prospects questions, so scroll through his feed for some more info. He mentioned OF Jhalan Jackson and 1B Chris Gittens as sleepers. Jackson seems a little too well known to be considered a sleeper at this point.

Thoughts as position players report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Position players are scheduled to report to Tampa today for Spring Training, and tomorrow the Yankees will hold their first full squad workout. Many of the position players reported to camp early, but today it’s all official. And one week from today, the Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game. Hooray for that. I have thoughts.

1. I’m not the only one sick of all this Aroldis Chapman stuff, right? Commissioner Rob Manfred is taking a very long time to hand out the suspension and I understand why. This is a sensitive subject and he has to toe the line between setting a harsh precedent and not going overboard so the league loses an appeal. I’m just a baseball fan who just wants to watch baseball and be a fan. Every day we get a non-update about the suspension or learn some mundane detail about how the domestic violence policy works. This is Biogenesis all over again, except with a much more serious offense. A suspension is inevitable — MLB is not going to let a player go unpunished after police were called to his home because of an argument in which he fired a gun in anger, this is exactly the sort of incident the domestic violence policy is intended to cover — and I really hope it is announced soon, however long it may be. This is distraction not only for the Yankees and Chapman, but the entire league.

2. Yesterday Cliff Lee’s agent told Ken Rosenthal his client is unlikely to pitch again after being unable to find a suitable offer this winter. Lee, now 37, has not pitched since the middle of the 2014 season due to a flexor injury, but he was open to pitching in 2016 if he could find a good situation. Apparently one never presented itself. The Yankees didn’t have any interest in the southpaw this offseason as far as we know. Anyway, over the last six or seven seasons Lee probably had the most impact on the Yankees among players who didn’t actually play for the Yankees. The Yankees beat Lee and the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Then of course there was the failed trade in 2010. And then Lee and the Rangers beat the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. And then the Yankees tried and failed to sign him during the 2010-11 offseason, which changed the team’s short and long-term outlook considerably. It’s impossible to say how different everything would be right now had the trade gone through in 2010, or if Lee ends up with a team other than Texas, or if he does agree to sign with the Yankees that offseason. He was an artist on the mound and a bonafide ace, and for the first time, Lee made many Yankees fans experience the team not getting a player they coveted.

3. Today is Starlin Castro‘s first day on the field as a Yankee and he’s an important part of the organization going forward as they try this rebuild on the fly thing. The team made a pretty significant investment in Castro and took on quite a bit of risk. They gave up a valuable player in Adam Warren and assumed roughly $40M in future salary. None of the other retooling trades required that kind of commitment. Starlin is still incredibly young — he’s a month younger than Didi Gregorius — and his potential is so very obvious. He’s had some really productive seasons in his career. That’s why the Yankees went out and got him. Two of his last three seasons have been bad though (legitimately bad), and that’s the risk. What if Castro is just a guy who peaked early? It’s possible. If this rebuild on the fly thing is going to work, the Yankees will need Starlin to get back to where he was a few years ago, because the 2013-15 version was thoroughly mediocre.

4. I’m curious to see how the Yankees dole out innings during exhibition games. Traditionally the relievers with the best chance to make the team pitch early in the game, mostly because the coaching staff and front office want to see them against big league players. All the regulars are out of the game by the fifth or sixth inning most days. The Yankees have a few open bullpen spots and a ton of bullpen candidates, yet there are only so many innings to go around. Early in camp, before the starters are really stretched out, it’ll be interesting to see which relievers are brought into the game first. That could be an indication of which way the Yankees are leaning with those open bullpen spots.

Olson. (Presswire)
Olson. (Presswire)

5. Random reliever who will have a big camp: Tyler Olson. Don’t ask me why. It’s just a hunch. Olson had a big camp with the Mariners last season — 15 strikeouts, no walks, no earned runs allowed in 12.2 innings — and made the team, then got hammered (5.40 ERA and 6.36 FIP in 13.1 innings) during the regular season and was demoted to Triple-A. So it goes. I could see him having a weirdly great Grapefruit League season and getting consideration for a bullpen spot. Olson is a pure lefty specialist with an upper-80s fastball, a sweepy breaking ball, and a funky low arm slot. The Yankees don’t really have a need for a lefty specialist — Andrew Miller figures to face the toughest lefties in the late-innings — but who knows. They like Olson enough to keep him on the 40-man roster, so he’ll get a chance to show he can contribute in camp. He fits the “I have no idea why he’s on the 40-man but wow is he having a great spring” mold perfectly.

6. These things are always tough to pin down, but based on his transaction history, it does appear Carlos Corporan has a minor league option remaining. If true, his late-March opt-out may not be that big of a deal. The Yankees would be able to add him to the 40-man roster and option him down to Triple-A — they can slide Greg Bird to the 60-day DL, so they wouldn’t have to cut ties with anyone to clear a 40-man spot — allowing them to carry Gary Sanchez as the backup catcher and keep Corporan in the organization as depth. It’s a different story if he’s out of options. I still think the Yankees should send Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks to delay his free agency, and if that allows them to keep Corporan for a few extra weeks, great. Holding on to catcher depth is never a bad move.

7. You may have seen it by now, but if not, David Ortiz told Kevin Kernan he “would love it if the fans at Yankee Stadium gave me a standing ovation” this season. Ortiz is retiring after the season and the Red Sox will be in the Bronx in late-September, for the second-to-last series of the season. I do expect the Yankees to do something to honor Ortiz — the Red Sox did something for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, after all — but man, could you imagine Jeter or Mo saying they would love an ovation at Fenway Park? Not a chance. Like it not, Ortiz is a historically great player, and he’s earned whatever accolades he gets this season. Saying he’d love a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium is kinda small time though. Chances are he’s going to end up with the exact opposite now.

Open Thread: February 23rd Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Here’s a pretty fun story from Jared Diamond. The Yankees are starting their Spring Training workouts much later than usual this year, with players not getting on the field until 11:30am ET most days. Other clubs are close to wrapping up their workouts at that time. The goal is simply more sleep. The Yankees want their players to rest as much as possible and prepare for a season in which most games are played at night. Pretty cool stuff. Make sure you check it out. Here are today’s photos and here are today’s notes from camp:

  • Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. The big three relievers and CC Sabathia all threw bullpen sessions while non-roster guys Tyler Cloyd and Richard Bleier threw live batting practice. That’s about it. Seems like a light day in Tampa.
  • Aroldis Chapman returned to camp today after yesterday’s excused absence. He said he was “home taking care of personal things” in Miami and not meeting with MLB about his domestic violence incident. “I never hurt anybody. Never in my life. That’s not my character,” he said while reiterating he plans to appeal any punishment. [Marly Rivera, Diamond]
  • Greg Bird was in camp today and he recently got the okay to shed his sling following right shoulder surgery. He still has to shake hands left-handed though. [Billy Witz]
  • If you’re interested, David Dorsey has an update on former Yankee John Ryan Murphy, who is beginning his first camp with the Twins. “Initially, I was shocked. I didn’t know it was going to happen,” said Murphy when asked about the trade. Based on the video, JRM has not yet grown the traditional post-Yankees beard, though I’m not sure he’d able to if he tried.

Here is tonight’s open thread. Every local hockey and basketball team is in action except the Knicks, and there’s also some college hoops on the schedule as well. You know what to do.

Sherman: Yankees extensively renovating and upgrading minor league complex

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are currently in the middle of extensive renovations to the Himes minor league complex in Tampa. It’s literally only a block or two away from George M. Steinbrenner Field. The Yankees moved into the Tampa complex in the early-1990s and these are by far the largest upgrades they’ve made, says Sherman.

Here are the details of the renovations and upgrades:

There are four indoor, air-conditioned batting cages already under construction at the complex – across the street from Steinbrenner Field. And groundbreaking begins Tuesday on an additional six indoor cages.

In addition, a weight room is scheduled to be built that will mirror the state-of-the-art qualities of the ones the major leaguers use at Steinbrenner Field. The main office structure is scheduled to have a second floor added to house offices, meeting rooms and a classroom for Latin players. The Yankees are among teams trying to better care for the young Latin players in the areas of education and life skills. The team hired a full-time teacher for its Dominican academy and has hired an education coordinator that will oversee the entire system.

Two years ago the Yankees made other renovations to the Tampa complex, including refurbishing all fields and adding a building to house offices and a cafeteria for players. This might all be one huge renovation plan that is being constructed in stages. Doesn’t really matter.

The Yankees have not added much Major League payroll in recent years and they are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold in the near future, but give them credit, they’ve spent a ton of money behind the scenes the last few years. They’re upgrading the minor league complex big time, they added two new minor league affiliates (GCL2 and Pulaski), and there was the massive international spending spree in 2014.

You’d be surprised how many teams keep things status quo in the minors. Improving player development conditions are a way to gain a competitive advantage. The Yankees treat their players well and give them access to state-of-the-art facilities. It helps their current prospects and it could even help them lure players in the future, particularly international free agents. This is good stuff. It’s a great way for the Yankees to use their financial might.

Healthy Ivan Nova could help the Yankees as a depth arm in his contract year

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By any objective measure, the last two seasons have been a disaster for Ivan Nova. He was limited to 21 starts and 114.2 innings from 2014-15, his age 27-28 seasons, because of Tommy John surgery, and during those 114.2 innings he had a 5.65 ERA (5.24 FIP). Obviously the surgery and performance are related to some degree. Nova wasn’t healthy in 2014 and he was shaking off the rust in 2015.

Nova, now 29, reported to Spring Training last week as the sixth starter on the depth chart. Brian Cashman all but confirmed whoever doesn’t win a rotation job in camp will be the long man to start the season, and right now Nova is that guy. Being the sixth starter stinks, but it’s not all bad. Inevitably the Yankees are going to need a sixth starter. Last season 25 of the 30 teams had six starters make at least ten starts.

Regardless of role, the 2016 season is huge for Nova on a personal level because it’s his contract year, and I’m sure he wants that Ian Kennedy money next winter. Baseball pays very well, but, relatively speaking, Nova has not yet cashed in big. He received an $80,000 bonus as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, made next to nothing in minors, and will earn a total of $8.2M or so during his six years of team control.

“He’s getting ready for his free-agent walk year. If there’s going to be a time for him to put his best foot forward, if he’s on a salary drive, this would be the year for it. Hopefully we’ll benefit from it,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty earlier this month. Money is a great motivator and baseball players are human. Of course they put forth their very best effort in their contract years. There’s no reason to think Nova will be any different.

Nova does not have a rotation spot at the moment, though I figure that opportunity will come in time. What he does have going for him is health, at least to the extent any pitcher can have health in their favor. Nova will open the season roughly 23 months out from Tommy John surgery, and typically it takes pitchers a few months to get all the way back from elbow reconstruction. Everyone is different of course, but many need a little time to get back to normal.

“We felt that we would see a different guy this year. I was impressed with his bullpen today. I saw an arm that was very quick, probably better than any point we saw last year. I think the time off really helped him and you will see a different guy,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday. The other day Nova himself told Chad Jennings his arm feels “lighter” this spring than it did last season.

Even before the Tommy John surgery, Nova was unpredictable and his career had a lot of ups and downs. He had a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 165.1 innings in 2011. Then he had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 170.1 innings in 2012. And then he had a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2013. It was impossible to know which Nova would show up start to start, nevermind year to year. Like lots of other young pitchers, Nova’s performance was volatile.

The Yankees spent much of the offseason exploring trades for Nova despite their questionable rotation depth, and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to count on him to be reliable and it’s possible the team will lose him to free agency for nothing next offseason. That said, I do think keeping Nova was a smart move. No one blew the Yankees away with an offer and Ivan figures to be more valuable to the team as a depth arm than any middling prospect he’d return in a deal.

Given his history, it’s easy to be skeptical of Nova’s ability to help the Yankees in 2016. I’d be lying if I said I was confident he’ll be a valuable member of the staff. I do know the Yankees are almost certainly going to need him to step in to make some starts at some point, and that alone makes him pretty important. That he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery and presumably motivated by his upcoming free agency at least gives us some reason to think Nova will be able to perform much better this season than he did last.