Here’s an open thread for the night. The Rangers and Islanders are playing, and that’s pretty much it. Talk about those games, the early days of Spring Training, or anything else here that isn’t religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
At long last, the Yankees announced their new coaching staff earlier today. There were no surprises. Names leaked out throughout the offseason — Aaron Boone also confirmed a bunch of coaching hires at the Winter Meetings — but now they are official. Officially official.
Boone’s coaching staff includes three holdovers from the Joe Girardi years. Larry Rothschild is back as pitching coach and Mike Harkey is back as bullpen coach, and Marcus Thames has been promoted from assistant hitting coach to hitting coach. Rothschild has been with the Yankees since 2011 and Harkey is in his second stint with the team (2008-13, 2016-present).
Thames has been coaching with the Yankees since he retired as a player in 2013. He was hitting coach for High-A Tampa in 2013, Double-A Trenton in 2014, and Triple-A Scranton in 2015 before joining the big league staff as assistant hitting coach in 2016. We’re all familiar with Rothschild, Thames, and Harkey, right? Right. Here’s what you need to know about the new guys.
Bench Coach: Josh Bard
Background: Bard, who turns 40 at the end of Spring Training, was Boone’s teammate with the 2005 Indians. He played ten years in the big leagues as a journeyman catcher from 2002-11. Bard played in Triple-A with the Dodgers in 2012, and after the season he joined the club as a special assistant. He was in the front office from 2013-15 before joining the field staff as bullpen coach in 2016.
Boone says (video link): “I think he’s a superstar in our business. I just hope we can bring him in and keep him for a while. He’s going to impact people. He has a great relationship with the front office, he really has a grasp of the analytics. I think he’s going to make my job a lot easier by being able to translate certain things, whittle things down for me. Along with being really smart — and only 39 years old, he’ll be 40 I believe in Spring Training — he’s got a presence. There’s a confidence about him. And I think he’ll be able to walk out in that room, connect with a lot of different people, and give them the information.”
Why Bard? Bard’s existing relationship with Boone probably helped him get the job, though I don’t think this is a case of hiring the manager’s buddy. Not at all. I’m guessing Bard’s front office experience with the Dodgers, a big market team heavy into analytics like the Yankees, was very appealing to Boone and Brian Cashman. Communication is a big part of the job, and obviously the team feels good about Bard’s ability to take information, boil it down, and disseminate it.
First Base Coach/Outfield Instructor: Reggie Willits
Background: Willits made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in person. He scaled the side wall in left field at the old Yankee Stadium to rob a foul ball. Full sprint — Willits was fast as hell — leap at the wall, reach over for the catch. It was amazing. Anyway, Willits played his entire big league career with the Angels (2006-11), and after his playing career ended, he coached high school ball for two years back home in Oklahoma before joining the Yankees as a minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator in 2015. He held that role until being added to Boone’s staff.
Boone says: Can’t find anything. Boone confirmed Willits would be the first base coach at the Winter Meetings, so he talked about him, but it seems no one bothered to publish any quotes. Womp womp.
Why Willits? The 36-year-old Willits — he’s ten months younger than CC Sabathia! — has been mentioned as a potential coaching candidate for a few years now, so he’s impressed the right people in the organization during his time as a minor league coordinator. Former farm system head Gary Denbo was a big fan. Keep in mind Willits worked with a lot of Yankees players in the minors (Aaron Judge, most notably), so he’s a familiar face to some.
Third Base Coach: Phil Nevin
Background: If nothing else, Nevin had the best big league career of anyone on the coaching staff, including Boone. He played 12 years in the show (1995-2006) and retired as a career .270/.343/.472 hitter with 208 homers. Once his playing career ended, Nevin spent some time broadcasting before getting into coaching. He managed an independent league team in 2009, the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate in 2010, the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate from 2011-13, and the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate from 2014-16. Nevin served as the Giants third base coach last year. He’s interviewed for at least one big league managerial job over the years (Astros in 2014).
Boone says (video link): “Phil is more of an old school guy. A guy that’s actually gained a lot of experience after having an excellent career. He’s coached third base a lot, (he has experience) as a manager in Triple-A and Double-A, also last year with the San Francisco Giants. (Bard and Nevin) are two guys that bring two different things to the table, but I think it’s important to have different kinds of people on your staff.”
Why Nevin? Nevin and Boone grew up together and know each other well — “Aaron and I go back a little bit. I kind of grew up in the Boone house,” said Nevin during an MLB Network appearance a few weeks ago — which undoubtedly played a role in the hire. That said, Nevin has a ton of minor league managerial experience, so he’s worked with a lot of young players over the years, and the Yankees have a increasingly young roster. Also, having third base coaching experience helps, even if it is only one year’s worth.
Assistant Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Background: Pilittere has taken a long road to the big leagues. The Yankees drafted him in the 13rd round in 2004 and he played in the system from 2004-11. After retiring as a player, Pilittere remained with the Yankees as a hitting coach. He spent 2012 in the rookie Gulf Coast League, 2013 with Low-A Charleston, 2014 with High-A Tampa, 2015-16 with Double-A Trenton, and 2017 with Triple-A Scranton.
Boone says: Nothing yet.
Why Pilittere? Pilittere has worked with many young Yankees, including Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Wade, and they all love him. He’s an all-around great dude and is extremely popular within the organization. To me, this seems very much like a young coach doing a great job and rising up the ranks.
Quality Control Coach/Infield Instructor: Carlos Mendoza
Background: The 43-year-old Mendoza had two big league cups of coffee with the 1997 Mets and 2000 Rockies, and he also played in Mexico, Italy, and independent leagues before joining the Yankees as a minor league instructor in 2009. He’s held a variety of roles over the years, including managing the rookie Gulf Coast League squad and Low-A Charleston. Most recently, Mendoza was the team’s minor league infield coordinator. Mendoza will be in uniform and in the dugout during games.
Boone says (via Erik Boland): “A rising star in our industry.”
Why Mendoza? Like Willits, Mendoza has been mentioned as a big league coaching candidate for a few years now. He has experience working with the club’s young infielders, most notably Torres and Andujar, but also Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Greg Bird. Also, Mendoza is the only Spanish speaker on the coaching staff, so he’ll help communicate and relay information to guys like Sanchez, Torres, Andujar, and Aroldis Chapman in their first language.
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In other field staff news, both Jason Brown and Radley Haddad will return as bullpen catchers and Brett Weber returns as the video replay guru. Their official titles: catching coach (Brown), coaching assistant/bullpen catcher (Haddad), and coaching assistant/instant replay coordinator (Weber). All holdovers from last season.
Late last week the Yankees announced their list of non-roster invitees to Spring Training, a list that runs 20 players deep and includes top prospects like Estevan Florial and Justus Sheffield. It also includes journeymen like Danny Espinosa and Dave Hale. Non-roster players are always a mix of exciting youngsters and veteran retreads. Same story every year.
Given the sheer volume of players invited to big league camp each year — 20 is actually on the low side, there’s usually 24-26 invitees to Spring Training — there are bound to be some surprises. Players who weren’t necessarily expected to be in camp as non-roster players, but will in fact be there, even if only for a few weeks. Based on the last few years, these surprise players are players the Yankees like more than I realized.
So, with that in mind, here are the three biggest surprise invitees to Spring Training, at least in my opinion. I previewed potential non-roster invitees a few weeks ago and nailed 17 of the 20 players coming to camp. These were the three I missed.
RHP Cale Coshow
Coshow, 25, was the team’s 13th round pick in 2013, and a few weeks ago Baseball America ranked him as one of the five best players available in the Rule 5 Draft. When I saw that, I did the blinking guy GIF. Not because I don’t think he has a chance to pitch in the big leagues. It’s just that there are sooo many power righty relievers in the Rule 5 Draft each year. I didn’t think Coshow, who went unpicked, would be among the best. Here is Baseball America’s blurb:
The Yankees have an enviable stable of hard-throwing righthanders, and Coshow has touched 100 mph with his fastball. He couples the pitch with a slider that will flash 55-grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He’s big, strong guy at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, but his delivery is pretty clean too.
Last season, at mostly Double-A Trenton, Coshow had a 3.75 ERA (2.97 FIP) with 27.6% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 60 innings. It was his third straight season spending time at the level, though he did make four late-season appearances with Triple-A Scranton. Coshow is fairly far down the righty reliever depth chart, or at least I thought so until he got a Spring Training invite. The Yankees aren’t bringing him to camp out of the kindness of their hearts. They think he has a chance to help as soon as this year, and they want the coaching staff to get to know him.
RHP Raynel Espinal
The biggest non-roster surprise of them all. The 26-year-old Espinal has been in the farm system since 2013 and it wasn’t until 2016 that he got out of the Dominican Summer League. He moved to the bullpen full-time last year and took off, throwing 74.1 relief innings with a 1.09 ERA (2.23 FIP) and great strikeout (33.5%) and walk (5.4%) rates at three levels, including Double-A Trenton. Here’s some video:
Clearly, the Yankees like Espinal enough to bring him to camp as a non-roster player, even if he’s only there for a few weeks and is among the first players sent down. They like something about him and want to see more. Espinal isn’t young in prospect years and he’s only had one good year in his career. Still, that was enough to get him an invite to Spring Training. The Yankees won’t care how old he is if he can get big leaguers out.
RHP Taylor Widener
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised Widener is getting an invite to camp. He is one of the better pitching prospects in the organization — Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 15th best prospect in the system last week, for what it’s worth — and that alone usually equals a Spring Training invite. I thought two things would hold him back. One, Widener has only been a full-time starter for one season. And two, he has basically zero experience above Single-A.
Given the overall pitching depth in the farm system (especially at the upper levels) as well as Widener’s own developmental needs, it is extremely unlikely he will pitch in the big leagues this season. The same was true of Justus Sheffield last season, but he got a Spring Training invite anyway, mostly because the Yankees wanted to challenge him against quality hitters and give him a chance to work with the big league coaching staff. It’s a development opportunity more than a reward for being a top prospect.
It goes without saying Widener is not the same caliber of prospect as Sheffield last season, but the same principles apply. The Yankees will challenge him with some outings against big league hitters — big league hitters in the middle of their spring routine, but still big league hitters — and also have him work with Larry Rothschild and the other big league coaches. They see him as a potential big league option down the road, and an invite now is part of the journey.
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Usually when I put this post together each spring, I include three notable players who are not coming to big league camp, but there aren’t any this season. Pretty much everyone I expected to be there will be there. The most notable omission is probably lefty Stephen Tarpley, who had a great minor season last year (0.88 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 26.9 K%, 11.5 BB% in 41 innings), but he was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft and it’s unclear if he has the control or breaking ball to succeed at the next level. I thought he’d get invited to camp. He wasn’t. Not a huge deal.
For the most part, the most exciting young players who will be in Spring Training this year are already on the 40-man roster. That group includes Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, and Jonathan Loaisiga. It’s really unlikely Abreu and Loaisiga will pitch in the big leagues this season, but Acevedo might, and of course Torres and Andujar will compete for starting infield jobs in camp. Coshow, Espinal, and Widener will be fun to watch in their on way. The 40-man roster prospects are where it’ll really be at.
Pitchers and catchers report next week and still so many free agents remain unsigned. There are over a hundred of them, but as far as legitimate big leaguers go, there’s maybe 50 free agents out there looking for a job. That’s a lot! They should all be signed and preparing for the start of camp by now. Instead, they’re still unemployed. Crazy.
The Yankees have about $22M to spend under the $197M luxury tax threshold, though when you remove the $10M they’re planning to set aside for midseason additions, it’s more like $12M. That’s a lot! And with the free agent market moving so slowly, the Yankees still have an opportunity to spend that money on a quality player. Usually by now all the best free agents would be signed. Not this year.
We know the Yankees want another starting pitcher. They went after Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, and Patrick Corbin at various points this winter. The Yankees don’t just want another starter, they want a really good starter. Even in this free agent market, I’m not sure that $12M is enough to land a quality starter though. Would Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn really be available at that price? If so, why haven’t they signed already?
Aside from a starter, the Yankees could also add an infielder given their second and third base openings. In fact, Jon Heyman recently reported the Yankees are considering free agent infielders Todd Frazier, Neil Walker, and Eduardo Nunez, and at some point last week they checked in on Mike Moustakas as well. On the trade front, the Yankees have shown “on-and-off” interest in Jason Kipnis according to Ken Rosenthal, “but for now it seems mostly off.”
On one hand, “considering” a free agent is meaningless. Every team considers every free agent at some point. On the other hand, these reports indicate the Yankees are monitoring the market in case something comes together at what they consider a bargain price. That’s usually how Brian Cashman & Co. operate. If something is available on their terms (see: Stanton, Giancarlo), they’ll pounce. If not, they’ll stay the course. A few things about the infielder search.
1. Kipnis might come surprisingly cheap. Even as successful as they’ve been the last few years, the Indians are notoriously cash-strapped, and Kipnis’ contract is standing in the way of other moves. He’ll make $13.5M in 2018 and $14.5M in 2019 before a $16.5M club option ($2.5M buyout) comes into play for 2020. That’s a minimum of $30.5M from 2018-19. He’s not cheap, especially for the Indians.
The Yankees are seemingly more concerned about the luxury tax payroll than their actual payroll. Kipnis has $30.5M in real money coming to him the next two years, but his luxury tax hit is a much more palatable $8.75M based on his six-year, $52.5M extension. That fits nicely under the luxury tax threshold and still leaves the Yankees about $13M total to spend on whatever. A pitcher, the trade deadline, whatever.
Kipnis will turn 31 in April and he hit .232/.291/.414 (82 wRC+) with 12 homers in 90 games around a series of hamstring problems last season, so you can understand why the Indians might be worried his best years are behind him. If they can unload Kipnis and his salary, they can put Jose Ramirez at second and Giovanny Urshela at third, and spend the savings on whatever else they need. Given his salary, the Indians might be willing to part with Kipnis for something less than a big return. Based on the Dee Gordon salary dump, three low-to-mid-range prospects might do it.
What would the Yankees do with Kipnis? Well, use him as a stopgap at second base, for starters. He’d make it easier to send Gleyber Torres to Triple-A to
shake off the rust after elbow surgery buy an extra year of control. And I guess the Yankees would also hope Kipnis can play some first and third? He’s never played either position, but he does have a little outfield experience. Teaching a player a new position(s) on the fly is never easy, but it’s not impossible. Kipnis’ lefty bat would balance the lineup and allow him to take aim at the short porch. There’s a fit. Not a perfect fit, but it could work.
2. Am I wrong in not wanting Moustakas? I feel like the reality of Mike Moustakas isn’t as good as the perception of Mike Moustakas. He’s a good player, no doubt. But I don’t consider him a top ten third baseman in baseball (Steamer agrees) because he’s never gotten on base (career .305 OBP) and his mobility in the field was compromised last year after tearing his ACL in 2016. Now, that said, Moustakas is a left-handed hitter who pulls a lot of balls in the air …
… and that makes him a wonderful fit for Yankee Stadium. Is that enough to a) block Miguel Andujar, and b) give up two draft picks (second and fifth rounder) and $1M in international bonus money to sign him? Maybe it is. The Yankees are trying to win the World Series and Moustakas’ certainty might be better than Andujar’s upside. I dunno. Anyway, if Moustakas ends up taking a one-year contract, other teams figure to outbid the Yankees given the luxury tax plan. If the Yankees are going to sign a veteran, I’d prefer Frazier, who’s a better defender than Moustakas, going to post similar OBP and power numbers, and won’t cost draft picks and international bonus money.
3. Get an infielder, but don’t block the kids. The Yankees have been going young pretty much wherever possible, which is the main reason we kinda have to believe them when they say they are willing to start the season with Torres at second and Andujar at third (or Tyler Wade, or Thairo Estrada, etc.). That doesn’t mean they won’t add a veteran, but it stands to reason they’ll want to add a veteran without blocking the kids. That’s not easy.
How do you do that, exactly? If they trade for Kipnis, what happens when Torres (or Wade or Estrada) is deemed ready? If they re-sign Frazier, how do they made room for Andujar when the time comes? I’m a “just get the talent and it’ll work itself” guy, so I don’t consider this a huge deal. For the Yankees though, they have to keep this stuff in mind. Where does Kipnis fit after Torres gets called up? How do Frazier and Andujar co-exist? They don’t have to have an answer right now. It’s just something to keep in mind.
4. Versatility is important. This ties back to the last point. If Kipnis can handle first and/or third base, then he could become something of a super utility guy when Gleyber and Andujar arrive. He provides protection behind the kids and backs up Greg Bird. Frazier can’t play second. (He says he can, but I’m not buying it.) It’s first or third only for him. Moustakas is third base only. Walker played first, second, and third last year, and he switch hits!
Another reason versatility is important: The pitching staff. The Yankees went with an eight-man bullpen for long stretches of time last season, which means a three-man bench, and one of the three is the backup catcher. You need players who can play multiple positions. The Yankees might also go with a six-man rotation at times this year, even if they only call up a sixth starter for one day to make a start before sending him right back down. They’ve played with a short bench quite often the last two or three years, and I have no reason to believe that will end this season. The more versatile the veteran infielder, the better.
* * *
The Yankees have $12M or so to spend under the luxury tax threshold before we even get to their $10M buffer for midseason additions, and that $12M is going to get spent. I’m sure of it. The Yankees will do what they always seem to do this time of year. They’ll see which free agents (or trade candidates) slip through the cracks and become “value buys.” Last year it was Chris Carter and hey, that didn’t work out. Doesn’t mean you stop trying though.
You could make a case any of the available infielders makes sense for the Yankees. Kipnis is a lefty bat with a luxury tax friendly contract and some versatility. Moustakas will cost nothing but cash and he’ll abuse the short porch. Frazier is available for nothing but cash and he brings energy and production. Walker is a switch-hitter and versatile. Nunez makes gobs of contact and is versatile. Josh Harrison brings energy and versatility. They all make some degree of sense in their own way.
Torres and Andujar are the future though, and any move the Yankees make will be made with those guys in mind. I would be stunned if the Yankees signed, say, Moustakas to a three-year contract that leaves Andujar with no place to play. Same with Walker at second base. I expect a short-term deal only. Balancing winning now with breaking in Torres and Andujar won’t be easy! But this is a good problem to have. The Yankees are in position to get a good deal on an infielder, and if it doesn’t happen, well they’ll just go with their top 100 caliber prospects.
2017 Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
2017 Postseason Record: 7-6 (51 RS, 42 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, lost ALCS
Top stories from last week:
- Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial, and Chance Adams are among the 20 players the Yankees will bring to camp as non-roster invitees this spring. As a reminder, all players on the 40-man roster will be in big league camp automatically.
- The Yankees landed six prospects on MLB.com’s top 100 list, including Gleyber Torres at No. 5. They also have baseball’s second best farm system according to Baseball America.
- Infielder Danny Espinosa and right-hander David Hale signed minor league contracts with the Yankees. Hale’s a depth arm, but Espinosa could wind up on the Opening Day roster.
- The Yankees hired veteran executive Marc DelPiano for a role in their pro scouting department. DelPiano was one of several executives the Marlins cut loose earlier this winter.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Friday: Here is an open thread for the night. The Nets are playing and there is a college basketball game on as well. Talk about those games or anything else here, just not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
Saturday: This is the open thread again. The three local hockey teams are playing and there’s a whole bunch of college hoops on as well. Have at it.
Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. The Super Bowl is on today (6pm on NBC) and I really don’t care who wins. Hopefully it’s an exciting game. That’s all I ask. The Knicks and Nets are both playing right now and there’s some college basketball on prior to the Super Bowl. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.
2008 was a year of transition in many ways. The latter portion was the beginning of my senior year of college. It was an election year. It was also the first year since 1995 that someone other than Joe Torre was the Yankee manager, as well as the first year since 1993–strike in 1994 notwithstanding–that the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs. It was the last year in Yankee Stadium II. It was their “worst” year in a long time, and they still won 89 games.
As he usually was around this time, Alex Rodriguez–coming off one of the best Yankee seasons in history–was the team’s offensive leader. He was second in average, first in OBP, slugging (also led the entire AL at .573), RBI, etc. Hefinished eighth in AL MVP voting. Dustin Pedroia was that year’s winner at 6.8 bWAR; A-Rod clocked in at 6.8, beating all MVP placers (tied with Cliff Lee). He only played in 138 games that year and had 143 PA fewer than Pedroia.
Ironically–we’ll get to why later–this team had two pitching standouts, Mike Mussina (in his final year) and Mariano Rivera. Both finished in the top for the Cy Young voting–Mo fifth and Moose tied for sixth with Ervin Santana. Rivera’s ERA (1.40) was the second lowest of his career. His ERA+ (316!) was the best of his career, as was his 0.665 (!!) WHIP and his 12.83 (!!!) K/BB. He was 38 years old. And still had years left in the tank. These numbers, in retrospect, perfectly capture Mariano Rivera’s career. Sure, relievers put up gaudy numbers all the time, but these ones just stand out so much, just like Rivera does among relief pitchers. He wasn’t always the best reliever in a given year, but he did it over almost 20 seasons, something no one else is likely to replicate any time soon.
Mike Mussina’s 2008, his final year, was a perfect exit. It was a bounceback from a miserable 2007 and was his best year as a Yankee since his first year back in 2001. He finished in the top ten in bWAR (7); wins (2); WHIP (10); BB/9 (2); K/BB (4); ERA+ (5); ERA (6); and FIP (5). A great year by a great pitcher who’ll hopefully be a Hall of Famer this time next year.
Those three examples are typical–great players doing great things. But that’s not really the story of the 2008 Yankees. The story of the 2008 Yankees is one of frustration, just as much as it was one about transition. Robinson Cano had a terrible first half. Derek Jeter refused to take time off after Daniel Cabrera broke his hand with a pitch. Richie Sexson, Morgan Ensberg, Chad Moeller, and Justin Christian were guys on this team. They traded for Xavier Nady. Jose Molina and the corpse of Ivan Rodriguez did most of the catching. Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner started 35 (!) games between the two of them. Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes were putrid. Joba Chamberlain got hurt. And Chein Ming Wang’s career essentially ended on June 15, 2008—my 21st birthday. And despite all that, the Yankees won 89 games. Were they in the AL Central, they would’ve tied for the lead in the division. Had the current playoff system existed, they would’ve played the Red Sox (95 wins) in the one game playoff.
Think about that for a moment. A team that had Sir Sidney and Darrell Rasner start 35 games won almost 90 games. Missing the playoffs was frustrating, sure, but this was a sure sign that Joe Girardi was going to be a solid manager who could get the most–or close to it–out of his teams. This is what makes looking back on this team just as fond as it is frustrating. While they didn’t really get anywhere or accomplish anything, they made the best of a whole lot of bad situations and managed to be respectable when they could have easily not been at all. Aside from Mike Mussina’s swan song, not much will stand out about 2008 ten years from now. It’s not likely to be a season I tell my son all about. But it was an important year that marked the end of an era for a team and ushered in something new that we all love today.