Tuesday, 9:15am: Peter Gammons says the two sides had the contract worked out weeks ago, but Ryan had minor surgery after the season and they had to wait for the pre-signing physical. Sounds like it’s a done deal.
Wednesday, 6:11pm: The Yankees are “close” to re-signing Ryan, reports Joel Sherman. The contract is said to be “small” and would not deter the team from bringing in other players to improve the left side of the infield.
12:20pm: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees and Brendan Ryan have mutual interest in a reunion and a deal could happen quickly. The no-hit, slick-fielding infielder indicated a willingness to return to New York after the season. The Yankees clearly need help on the left side of the infield, though I’m hoping for someone who can contribute (much) more at the plate. · (57) ·
Via Jon Heyman: Hal Steinbrenner has spoken to Derek Jeter and explained to him the Yankees will look for a starting shortstop this winter in the wake of his injury-riddled season. The Cap’n has not spoken publicly since signing his new one-year, $12M contract, but Heyman says he understands what the team is doing and is okay with it. I’ve always assumed Derek Jeter will play shortstop for the Yankees until Derek Jeter says it’s time for Derek Jeter to stop playing shortstop for the Yankees, but it sounds like he may wind up spending most of his time at DH in 2014. The Yankees are said to be “close” to a new deal with Brendan Ryan and have been connected to several other infielders. · (54) ·
Via Andy McCullough: Brian Cashman confirmed the agent for Brian Wilson has told the Yankees his client is unwilling to shave his beard, meaning he can’t sign with New York thanks to the whole facial hair policy. “Cross him off the list,” said the GM.
Wilson, 31, allowed one run in 19.1 total innings for the Dodgers this year after coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. He showed his usual mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider, which was encouraging. I thought Wilson was a prime bullpen target for the Yankees had he been willing to shave off that beard, but I guess not. He misses bats with power stuff and has huge game/World Series experience. What more could you want? · (55) ·
As expected, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer was named the AL Cy Young Award winner on Wednesday night. He was a nearly unanimous winner, taking home 28 of 30 first place votes. Scherzer deserved the award even when you look beyond his gaudy 21-3 record. Hiroki Kuroda did not receive a single Cy Young vote and neither did any of his teammates. That last part isn’t so surprising, but I figured Kuroda would still grab a fourth or fifth place vote or two despite his brutal finish. Oh well. The full voting results are right here. Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw deservingly took him the NL hardware. · (8) ·
If the GM Meetings are anything like the Winter Meetings, then they effectively ended today. The final day of the Winter Meetings (Thursday) are always a bore, the hotel is usually a ghost town after mid-morning. The Yankees didn’t make any moves today but Jon Heyman says a Hal Steinbrenner-led contingent (yay!) met with various agents throughout the day, including bigwigs Scott Boras and Dan Lozano. As I’ve been saying, the GM Meetings are all about laying ground work. The details are hammered out in the coming weeks.
Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing and I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here. Enjoy.
6:28pm: The Yankees and Cardinals don’t match up well and are unlikely to work out a trade involving Freese, reports Ken Rosenthal. He says New York simply doesn’t have much to offer.
5:00pm: Via Mark Feinsand: The Yankees and Cardinals are discussing a trade involving David Freese. No word on what other players would be involved or heading to St. Louis or anything like that. Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M next year and he won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2015.
Freese, 30, hit .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) with nine homers in 521 plate appearances this season. Obviously any team that acquires him would be banking on a return to 2012 (133 wRC+) or 2011 (123 wRC+) form. Freese is a limited defender with poor range and a lengthy injury history, so his value is tied up entirely in his bat. His reputation far exceeds his production at this point, but Freese makes some sense for the Yankees as long as the cost is reasonable. I’m just not sure that’s the case. · (63) ·
Early in the 2013 season, it appeared that Ivan Nova would fall into the What Went Wrong category. Through his first three starts he allowed 10 runs in 14.2 IP and hadn’t recorded as much as a single out in the sixth inning. In the third inning of his fourth start, he exited with what appeared to be an elbow injury about fifteen seconds after trainer Steve Donohue came to check on him. His season had disaster written all over it.
Given how many young pitchers undergo the procedure every year, it would have surprised few if Nova required Tommy John surgery. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case. The Yankees quickly assured us it was a triceps injury, abating some of the fear. About a month later he was back on the roster, pitching out of the bullpen. Apparently, something clicked for him between the injury and the return.
Able to air it out in shorter appearances, Nova let loose with fastballs that, for the only time in his career, consistently exceeded 95 mph. Even more impressive was how he kept the velocity up for a five-inning relief appearance against the Mets, allowing just one run while striking out six. Unfortunately, due to the returns of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees had to option Nova. It seemed like poor timing for the move, given his resurgence.
Nova didn’t let the demotion get him down, and his persistence paid off. After about two weeks in the minors he got the call again to make a spot start against the Rays. It went well enough, as did his follow-up appearance, a 5.2-inning mop-up job against the Orioles. That earned him a spot in the rotation, wherein he produced one of the best second halves in the majors.
In 87.1 post-ASB innings Nova produced a 2.78 ERA, seventh best in the American League and good enough to bring his season-long ERA down to 3.10. His velocity had dipped back to normal levels, and actually took a further hit in his final four starts. And his peripherals looked a lot like his career numbers. So we must ask the question, was Nova actually good or did he merely get lucky?
Part of the answer is that Nova’s second half peripherals are a bit deceiving, in that they’re arbitrary end points. If you look at his peripherals from the time of his return from the DL, a bit less arbitrary in nature, his peripherals look a bit better. Then there’s the issue of peripherals not being a true measure of a pitcher’s ability. Some pitchers are better at inducing poor contact, meaning they’ll out-perform their peripherals. Other issues play roles, including focus and recovery.
All of that is a long way of saying that it’s incredibly difficult to judge whether a pitcher is lucky or good based on a single season, never mind a portion of a season. Add in Nova’s inconsistent performances for the last few years, and he becomes even more of a mystery. We’ve seen him pitch like one of the best in the league, and we’ve seen him pitch like a guy who will scramble for minor league deals in his late 20s. How could we possibly know which Nova pitches for the Yankees in 2014?
We can leave that speculation for another time, when we’re bored in January and February. For now we can reflect on Nova’s 2013 and how his resurgence helped make the season enjoyable for that much longer. The pitching staff, considered a strength before the season, broke down as CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes got knocked around start after start. Nova stepped up mid-season and gave the Yankees quality innings every fifth day. Without him, they wouldn’t have remained in contention for as long as they had, and they could have been staring down their first losing season since 1992.
Instead Nova did answer the challenge, not only salvaging some respectability in 2013, but giving the team hope for 2014 and beyond. In a season when so many things went wrong, Nova was one of the bright spots.
For the first time in a long time, there is serious uncertainty on the left side of the Yankees’ infield. At this time last year we were all being told Derek Jeter‘s rehab from ankle surgery would have him ready for Spring Training, plus Alex Rodriguez‘s left hip injury wasn’t even a thing yet. Some concern about Jeter, yeah, but overall the left side of the infield was not a full-fledged problem. Obviously, circumstances have changed.
“I think the left side of the infield, for various reasons, has question marks. Whether it’s recovering from a broken ankle in Derek or the controversy that’s yet to be resolved with Alex,” said Brian Cashman to Andy McCullough yesterday. New York has already been in contact with Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Brandon Phillips just in case Robinson Cano signs elsewhere, but there is no “just in case” at shortstop and third base. They need help. Everyone knows it.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would add a player capable of playing both shortstop and third base since their left side of the infield needs may change throughout the summer. (I’m sure they will.) It just so happens that type of player is available via free agency this winter in Jhonny Peralta, who’s spent the last three-plus years with the Tigers after opening his career with the Indians. Let’s break down the 31-year-old’s game to see if he’s a fit for the Bombers.
- First and foremost, Peralta can hit. Especially by left side of the infield standards. He put up a .303/.358/.457 (123 wRC+) batting line this past season and a .278/.334/.438 (109 wRC+) line over the last three years, doing most of his damage against lefties (114 wRC+ since 2011) as a right-handed batter. Peralta’s strikeout (18.5% since 2011) and walk (7.7%) rates are pretty much exactly league average, so he doesn’t have any serious problems controlling the strike zone.
- His defense is better than he gets credit for. Peralta has played shortstop almost exclusively with Detroit, posting good to great defensive stats across the board since 2011: +1 DRS, +25.3 UZR, +16.2 FRAA, and +11 Total Zone. He dabbled in left field last this season and spent a couple thousand innings at third base earlier in his career.
- Peralta has been to the postseason a bunch of times in his career and has performed very well, hitting .283/.326/.506 (122 wRC+) with eight homers in 178 plate appearances spread across 45 career October games. I don’t know how you value past postseason performance, but either way, this isn’t a negative.
- Peralta is a very durable player, appearing in at least 140 games every year from 2005-2012. He has never once been on the DL as a big leaguer.
- The Tigers did not make Peralta (or anyone else) a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to surrender a high draft pick to sign him.
- Peralta’s offensive performance has been very up-and-down throughout his career. Here are his wRC+’s since breaking into the league full-time in 2005: 136, 85, 105, 112, 83, 91, 122, 86, 123. Are you getting the guy who was 20% better than league average twice in the last three years, or the guy who was 10-15% below-average three times in the last five years?
- He won’t give you anything on the bases. Peralta has attempted only 34 steals in 1,383 career games (38% success rate) and he’s been consistently below-average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.). Speed is not part of his game.
- Peralta was one of 12 players suspended 50 games for their ties to Biogenesis this August. He said he made a “terrible mistake” in “spring of 2012″ in a statement without elaborating further. Obviously performance-enhancing drug stuff creates some uncertainty.
The Yankees have been connected to a ton of middle infielders already this offseason, but Peralta is not (yet) one of them. I have been wondering if the team would try to steer clear of players with PED ties in an effort to “clean up their image,” so to speak, but Cashman told McCullough they “certainly have to be open-minded” about such players this winter. The fact that they’ll tender Frankie Cervelli a contract is an indication they won’t close the door on those guys, which is a good thing in my opinion. There’s a system in place and Peralta served his time.
Not too many comparable infielders have hit the free agent market in recent years, and certainly none with a super-recent PED suspension in their history. That complicates things a bit. Jeff Keppinger’s contract (three years, $12M) with the White Sox strikes me as way too light for Peralta, so maybe the deals signed by Marco Scutaro (three years, $20M) and Aramis Ramirez (three years, $36M) are more appropriate. Splitting the middle and calling it $28M across three years ($9.3M luxury tax hit) sounds good to me, but I’m terrible at estimating this stuff. Remember, power pays and Peralta has it (18 homers in 162 games for his career), especially relative to his position. Three years and $30M might be more accurate.
It’s important to remember that Peralta has, you know, a say in where he signs. The idea of splitting time between short and third depending on the day might not be all that appealing to him, especially if other clubs (the Cardinals?) offer him a full-time job at shortstop. Stephen Drew turned the Yankees down last winter because of uncertainty about playing time (and position). This stuff matters to these guys. Peralta’s year-to-year inconsistency worries me a bit but not enough to scare me away completely. He makes plenty of sense for New York if the price is right. Do the Yankees make sense for Peralta though? He could opt for a steadier job elsewhere.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees have contacted free agent utility man Kelly Johnson. They’ve been connected to guys like Omar Infante, Stephen Drew, and Brandon Phillips in recent weeks given the uncertainty surrounding Alex Rodriguez and, to a lesser extent, Robinson Cano. This is just more of the same.
Johnson, 31, hit .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven stolen bases in 407 plate appearances for the Rays this past season, splitting time between second, third, and left field. He is who he is offensively, and that’s a low average (.226 since 2011), medium walk (9.8%), high strikeout (26.3%), okay power (.169 ISO), good speed (37-for-49 in stolen base attempts) guy from the left side of the plate. Of the available infield options, I prefer Johnson to Infante and Phillips because he figures to take a one-year deal and I’m not sold on the other two as long-term replacements. Even if Cano returns, Johnson makes sense as that lefty bat off the bench I always talk about. · (16) ·
Late last night, word came down from Hal Steinbrenner that the Yankees will not be making any changes to their player development system this winter. No major personnel changes, anyway. Damon Oppenheimer will remain amateur scouting director, Mark Newman will remain VP of Baseball Ops, and Pat Roessler will remain director of player development. This comes after nearly three months of auditing the farm system and trying to figure out why it was so unproductive this past season and has been over the last several years.
“Yeah, we have. We’ve made some changes,” said Hal to Andy McCullough yesterday when asked about the development staff. “The vast majority of the changes will be procedural. We’ve changed a few coaches, and we’ve brought in a few people. But [Brian Cashman] spent a lot of time, a good two months, looking at process: How we do things, how people communicate with each other. And we found some things that we were not happy with. So we changed them.”
“Procedural” changes. They’re going to change the way they communicate. They’re going to rearrange some furniture, slap some lipstick on the organizational pig, and go about business as usual. The problems were big enough to swap out some coaches and improve communication but not make wholesale changes. The guys in charge are on the right path, they just need to tweak some things and everything will be good. Change some procedures and ¯\_(:-/)_/¯. That’s one way to take that quote.
Now, let’s be serious for a second. Over the last few years, the Yankees have seen many prospects either stall out or go down with a major injury, especially pitchers. The last top pitching prospect, a “hey this guy could be really special” guy, to not blow out his arm in the minors was Joba Chamberlain in 2007. Andrew Brackman blew out his arm, Dellin Betances blew out his arm, Manny Banuelos blew out his arm, Alan Horne blew out his arm, Jose Campos blew out his arm, and Christian Garcia blew out his arm twice. Ty Hensley blew out his hip, so I guess he’s the exception right now.
There are always going to injuries (especially to pitchers) and there will always be some level of attrition. It’s completely unavoidable. But I think we’re beyond the point of blaming it on attrition or bad luck. The Yankees admitted to feeling the same way when Hal launched his investigation into the team’s farm system a few months ago. That was an admission on his part that something is going wrong somewhere, that things are not turning out the way they should be. Simply put, New York has not been able to turn their prospects into productive big leaguers. They fart out some relievers every so often but so does every other club, they aren’t anything special in that regard.
Now here’s the thing: I think the Yankees actually do a pretty good job of acquiring high-end talent, both internationally (before the spending restrictions were put into place, anyway) and in the draft. Yes, it could be better (it could always be better), they have made some questionable high picks in recent years (Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr., most notably), but they still walked away with top shelf guys like Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Greg Bird in the later rounds, for example. Williams has underperformed, Bird has dealt with injury, and Austin has battled both. The talent is there, they just can’t get these guys over the developmental hump.
As an outsider, evaluating a farm system and a development system is close to impossible because so much of it happens away from cameras and reporters. All we see is the results and, let’s be real here, the results stink. They’ve stunk for a few years now. The Yankees are in the middle of this weird transitional period where payroll is coming down and the last remnants of the dynasty years are fading away, so support from homegrown young players is vital. They haven’t been getting it though, the results are obvious. In the five years since Brett Gardner and David Robertson came up, the team’s best homegrown player has been Ivan Nova (104 ERA+ in 504 innings), and that’s just not good enough.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘Get rid of this guy. Get rid of this guy. And get rid of that guy,’” said Steinbrenner. “But that doesn’t always solve the problem. Sometimes it’s procedural or process, the way scouts influence each other because they’re talking too much to each other — somebody has a preconception about a player they haven’t even seen yet because they’ve talked to two scouts about them and they go in to go see the player with those preconceptions. So those are the kind of things we’re working on, communication. We’re teaching the scouts. We’re going to teach them to look for different things, maybe things they haven’t looked at before.”
I was being a jerk and downplaying the value of procedural changes before but they are important. Something had to change and something did. We don’t know the scope or extent of those changes but something is being done behind the scenes unless Hal is lying. It’s possible these adjustments will fix everything, get the position players on track and stop the top pitchers from visiting Dr. Andrews once a year. But I think the track record of developmental failure is too long to only make procedural changes. New sets of eyes and new voices could help the club crack the player development riddle no one in the organization seems to be able to solve. The Yankees had a chance to make meaningful changes to their farm system these last few weeks, but they opted for the half-measure instead.