Open Thread: 2/12 Camp Notes

Michael Pineda threw off a full mound today. (John Munson/Star-Ledger)
Michael Pineda threw off a full mound today. (Star-Ledger)

The first day of Spring Training, when pitchers and catchers report, isn’t exactly the busiest day as far as news go. I’ve already recapped Joe Girardi‘s press conference, but here are some other random notes from Tampa…

  • Yogi Berra won’t be in camp as a guest instructor this year. He is in good health and plans to be at the Stadium this summer, but traveling down to Florida is a bit of a chore at 87 years old. Jorge Posada, however, is in camp as a guest instructor. [Dan Martin & Bryan Hoch]
  • CC Sabathia said having elbow surgery to clean out a bone spur in October was “a relief.” He said he has better range of motion and doesn’t feel an “ache” when he extends to finish pitches. Sabathia is down to 290 lbs. and called it his ideal weight. He’ll throw his first bullpen on Thursday. [Jack Curry & Hoch]
  • Austin Romine dropped 13 pounds this winter and his back feels “absolutely fantastic.” He, obviously, has a golden opportunity to make the team this spring. [Chad Jennings & Hoch]
  • If you care about uniform numbers, then you’ll be happy to know Frankie Cervelli reclaimed his old #29 now that Rafael Soriano is gone. David Phelps switched to #35, which Michael Pineda wore last spring. Pineda switched to #43. [all Mark Feinsand]
  • Kenji Nimura, who served as Hiroki Kuroda‘s interpreter with the Dodgers and last year with the Yankees, is now doing the same job with the Rangers for Yu Darvish. I’m sure the Yankees dug up a capable replacement. [David Lennon]
  • And finally, Mariano Rivera has received permission to report to camp late. He’ll be in Tampa tomorrow. Nothing new here, this has been going on for years. [Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers and Devils are both playing, but talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.

Notes from Joe Girardi’s start-of-camp press conference

(Photo via Mark Feinsand)
(Photo via Mark Feinsand)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and Joe Girardi held his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning. The biggest news concerned (who else?) Alex Rodriguez, who will not join the team in camp and will instead rehab his hip in New York. Other than that, the press conference was pretty standard stuff. Here’s a recap of the session, which was partially streamed on ESPN and covered by the usual suspects: Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi, Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry, and others.

On position players and the offense

  • If the season started today, Brett Gardner would be in left field and Curtis Granderson would be in center. The team will discuss flipping the two, but Girardi said “right now there’s no plans to do anything.” If they do decide to make the switch, they’ll try it out early in camp first.
  • Girardi said one of his biggest concerns in camp is finding a right-handed bat to complement their all-lefty outfield as well as the DH spot. Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz appear to be the two leading candidates for the job and will compete in camp.
  • It sounds like Austin Romine is on the outside looking in as far as the catching competition goes, at least right now. “He still has an opportunity here,” said Girardi.
  • “Our offense is going to be different, but I believe we’re going to score runs … We’re going to have to find different ways to score runs,” said the skipper when asked how the team would replace the power lost when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and others signed elsewhere.
  • Girardi doesn’t have a set lineup in mind at the moment. I think we all have a general idea of who will bat towards the top of the order, who will bat in the middle, and who will fill out the bottom anyway.

On players coming off injury

  • Girardi said there is some concern about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they come off ankle and knee surgery, respectively. He expects both to be ready for Opening Day, however. The Cap’n ran for the first time yesterday.
  • As for Michael Pineda — who did throw off a full mound today — Girardi said he’s “still in the early stages (of rehab) … we’re happy with the way he’s progressing.” Don’t expect to see the right-hander in a Spring Training game.


  • “I don’t worry about where I’m going to be next year,” said Girardi about his contract, which expires after the season. “I’m worried about the next 162 games and getting to the playoffs and getting to the World Series. That’s my concern. That’s what I worry about.”
  • Girardi, always the optimist, said “this team could win 95 games and get to the World Series (because) there’s a lot of talent in this room … If we play up to our capabilities, I believe we’re a very good team.” He is right, you know.

A-Rod will rehab in New York, won’t be in camp with Yankees

Joe Girardi just told reporters that Alex Rodriguez will not be in camp with the Yankees this spring. He just got off crutches and will continue rehabbing from his left hip surgery in New York. The skipper did not say whether plans could change later in camp. “This club is used to having what people might call distractions,” said Girardi. “There really isn’t a lot to talk about … My concern is to get him healthy.”

It does seem pretty obvious that keeping A-Rod in New York is as much about avoiding a potential distraction following the latest round of performance-enhancing drug allegations as it is continuing his rehab. The hip injury gives them an easy cover. Either way, no A-Rod in camp means that much time will be spent discussing baseball. Hooray for that.

Requiem for an Offseason

The prize of the offseason. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
The prize of the offseason. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The 2012-2013 offseason is officially over. Pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa today, then have their first workout tomorrow. More than a few players have been working out at the complex in recent weeks, mostly guys coming off injury like Derek Jeter and Michael Pineda. Position players will report on Sunday and the first Grapefruit League game is next Saturday.

This offseason was very, very different for the Yankees. The plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 dominated the winter, as the future financials of every possible move had to be considered. Outside of a two-year pact for Ichiro Suzuki — a deal that appears to be motivated by off-the-field factors rather than expected on-field production — the team held firm on one-year offers. They lost out on more than a few players because of that, including Jeff Keppinger, Scott Hairston, and Torii Hunter.

Most of the heavy lifted was done back in November, when Hiroki Kuroda ($15M), Andy Pettitte ($12M), and Mariano Rivera ($10M) agreed to new one-year contracts within the span of nine days. Kuroda had plenty of suitors and more lucrative offers, but it was pretty much Yankees or retirement for Pettitte and Rivera. Both opted for another year after injury-shortened 2012 campaigns. Just like that, the pitching staff was pretty well set.

Things didn’t go so smoothly on the position player side. Hours after Rivera rejoined the team, catcher Russell Martin took a two-year deal with the Pirates without ever receiving an offer from New York. With few alternatives available — either in free agency or through trades — the club never really pursued a new starting backstop and will go into camp with Chris Stewart, Frankie Cervelli, and Austin Romine fighting for the two catching spots. I think that was the first time the 2014 payroll plan really hit home and we got to see it impact a roster decision.

About two weeks later the news of Alex Rodriguez‘s left hip injury broke, forcing the team to look for a full-time third baseman rather unexpectedly. That search led them to Kevin Youkilis ($12M), whose name value outweighs his on-field production at this point of his career. I suppose they could have looked at him as a primary DH/backup corner infielder, but it’s very unlikely the Yankees would have pursued Youkilis without A-Rod‘s injury. We’ll never know if the team was willing to invest that $12M elsewhere before needing a new body at the hot corner.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)
(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Ichiro returned less than a week later, taking the place of the departed Nick Swisher. Despite what was ultimately a reasonable cost (four years, $56M), the Yankees never showed any interest in bringing their right fielder of the last four seasons back for more. Since catcher was weirdly a non-priority, most of the offseason work was complete once Ichiro was re-signed. The club had rebuilt the pitching staff, replaced A-Rod, and found a new right fielder. The DH spot and miscellaneous bench/depth pieces were the only items left on the agenda.

From mid-December through today, the Yankees did an awful lot of window shopping. They dipped their toe in the Raul Ibanez, Javy Vazquez, Grady Sizemore, Ben Francisco, Lance Berkman, and Nate Schierholtz pools before coming up empty. Guys like Jim Thome and Delmon Young didn’t catch their eye. What the Yankees did do during that time was sign Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, and Dan Johnson to minor league contracts. The first two will compete for the right-handed hitting outfield bat role while Johnson had a shot to make the team as the DH before they inked Travis Hafner ($2M).

Beyond the free agent market, the Yankees did not make a notable trade this winter. It’s the first time that’s happened — defining “notable” as involving a player who was projected to be on the 25-man roster — since the 2007-2008 offseason. They had interest in both Mike Morse and Justin Upton, but they ended up in Seattle and Atlanta, respectively. As far as we know, they didn’t have interest in guys like Michael Young, John Jaso, Shin-Soo Choo, Jamie Shields, or Jose Reyes. Some are unnecessary, others were potential fits.

Despite Hal Steinbrenner’s silly little statements about not understanding why fans were upset, I know I’m not alone in saying this was an underwhelming offseason. A very underwhelming offseason. The Yankees brought back the same pitching staff (good!) while downgrading behind the plate, in right field, and possibly at third base (bad!). They will improve in left thanks to Brett Gardner‘s return, and a healthy Hafner should be far more productive than Ibanez. Then again, a healthy Hafner doesn’t happen very often. On paper, the Yankees are worse right now than they were five or six months ago.

More than anything though, I’m just glad the offseason is over. Pitchers and catchers are reporting today, and even though it’s the biggest non-news day of the year, it symbolizes the start of the new season and that makes me happy. Pretty soon some bats will be cracking and gloves will be popping, and before you know it the regular season will be underway. It’s a wonderful time of year.

Monday Night Open Thread

It’s the last open thread of the offseason, so some Robinson Cano highlights are in order. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Tampa tomorrow, and Joe Girardi will hold his annual start-of-camp press conference in the morning. I wouldn’t expect much news, though maybe someone will ask him about the team’s plans for Eduardo Nunez or the starting catcher’s spot. One thing we do know is that because the Yankees will have 84 (!) players in camp, the numbers 87-99 will be worn by two players. That should be a blast.

Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Islanders and Nets are playing, but feel free to talk about whatever you want here. Go nuts. Oh, and the spam filter is still being a pain. Thanks for your patience.

Granderson hopes to remain a Yankee beyond 2013, open to extension

Via Erik Boland & Anthony McCarron: Curtis Granderson told reporters today that he hopes to remain with the Yankees beyond next season and is open to a contract extension. “I’d be a fool not to … I’m so excited about this fourth season (with the team) and hopefully this isn’t the last one,” he said. Granderson, 32 next month, is due to become a free agent next offseason, but team policy says no contract talks until the current deal is up.

In other news, Curtis told Bryan Hoch that he is open to playing left field in deference to Brett Gardner. The team has yet to approach him about such a move, however. Granderson also said he changed up his offseason routine after talking to Ichiro Suzuki, specifically by starting to hit earlier than usual. If that gets him back to 2011/first half 2012 form, it’ll probably be Ichiro‘s biggest contribution to the Yankees.

Going long-term with Robinson Cano

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Robinson Cano‘s impending free agency is going to be the rain cloud hovering over the Yankees’ heads this season. Sorta like CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause two seasons ago, how it was always looming in the back of everyone’s mind. The club’s situation is much less dire two years ago though. We all knew the Yankees were going to go all-out to re-sign their ace when he did use — or in reality, threatened to use — the opt-out. If Sabathia signed elsewhere, it would not have been due to a lack of effort on the team’s part.

The calculus has changed quite a bit in those two years. The Collective Bargaining Agreement put in place last winter offers (substantial) rewards for staying under the luxury tax and the Yankees are doing all they can to take advantage, even though it harms their ability to contend. Hal Steinbrenner has a knack for saying they will continue to field a championship-caliber team, but actions speak louder than words. The current catching situation is not championship-caliber. The bench is not championship-caliber. Wilfully slashing payroll for the sake of maximizing profit is not something someone committed to fielding a championship-caliber team does.

Anyway, that desire to spend less on the team will impact the Yankees’ ability to retain Cano next offseason. Robbie hired Scott Boras two years ago and players do not hire Boras that close to free agency unless they’re looking for a huge payday. Cano is a star and he will want to be paid like one. It’s only fair. With the free-spending Dodgers looming and other contenders like the Tigers and Cardinals potentially in need of second base help, Boras shouldn’t have much trouble finding suitors for his client.

The Yankees know as well as anyone that long-term contracts to players on the wrong side of 30 have a tendency to go sour in a hurry. All they have to do is look at Alex Rodriguez for the worst case scenario, but Jason Giambi — who was more productive in pinstripes than he gets credit for — is a cautionary tale as well. Just look around the league and you’ll see scary long-term commitments to 30-somethings either going wrong or on the verge of going wrong. Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Alfonso Soriano … those clubs would like a do-over on every one of those contracts.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Cano, who turned 30 in October, is theoretically at even greater risk of sharp decline because of his position. Second baseman take a pounding at the bag due to the blind double play pivot, something that “is even reflected in the number of uniforms their clubs have to buy for them” according to former Dodgers GM Dan Evans. To Cano’s credit, he has been extremely durable, playing in no fewer than 159 games in each of the last six seasons. We have to remember that A-Rod was once just as durable, playing in 154+ games in seven straight years before starting to break down in 2008.

According to bWAR, Robbie has been not only the most valuable position player in baseball over the last three years, but also the most valuable player period, including pitchers. His career 34.8 bWAR is the tenth highest in history among second basemen through their age 29 season. He’s been brilliant these last few years, no doubt about it, but his next contract won’t be paying him for past performance. It’ll be paying him for expected future performance, and that’s where it gets tricky.

There have been a total of 20 non-first base infielders to post between 30-40 bWAR through their age 29 season. There are 13 40+ bWAR guys and they’re all all-time greats (A-Rod, Cal Ripken Jr., Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, etc.), but I want to look at players similar to Cano. Two of those 30-40 bWAR guys (Dustin Pedroia and David Wright) are too young to tell us anything, but here are how the others performed before their age 30 season, during their age 30 season, and then after their age 30s season.

<30 WAR Age 30 WAR 31+ WAR
Rod Carew 39.8 6.5 30.3
Nomar Garciaparra 39.7 1.1 1.2
Chuck Knoblauch 38.9 3.3 -0.2
Bobby Grich 38.8 5.7 22.8
Derek Jeter 38.7 4.1 26.5
Adrian Beltre 38.4 3.0 19.7
Lou Whitaker 37.3 3.5 30.6
Willie Randolph 37.2 3.8 22.0
Chipper Jones 36.9 5.5 39.1
Ryne Sandberg 36.0 6.9 22.0
Sal Brado 35.6 4.5 17.0
Barry Larkin 33.5 3.8 29.8
Chase Utley 33.0 8.0 12.3
Eric Chavez 32.9 0.1 1.0
Rico Petrocelli 32.6 2.3 0.8
Jimmy Rollins 32.0 1.6 6.7
Robin Ventura 31.4 5.5 15.4

The majority of those guys actually held their value well beyond their age 30 season. There will always been some decline, that’s inevitable, but for the most part they’ve been solid. There are some complete collapses — Nomar, Knoblauch, Chavez, and Petrocelli — in there to serve as the harsh reminder of what could happen as well.

Looking specifically at the second baseman, Carew had begun the transition to first base during his age 29 season and was playing there full-time by 30. Knoblauch was done as a second baseman at 31. Grich, Whitaker, Randolph, and Sandberg all stayed at the position full-time until the end of their careers. Utley, 33, is breaking down but still a full-time second baseman. Roberto Alomar, who was slightly above my arbitrary 40 bWAR cutoff point, was a star up until age 33 before completely cratering. He was a full-time second baseman the entire time.

There is nothing we can to do to predict how Cano will age. We can look at aging curves and compare him to similar players and all sorts of stuff, but there’s just no way to know. He could prosper (Whitaker), he could turn into a pumpkin (Knoblauch), he could do something in the middle (Randolph), or he could do something else entirely. Cano’s durability is reassuring … until you consider all the wear-and-tear could manifest itself in an instant. The uncertainty is what makes a potential long-term deal so scary.

Back in August 2011, I spit-balled the idea of a six-year, $120M-ish contract extension that covered the 2012-2017 seasons, or Robbie’s age 29-34 seasons. I have a hard time seeing Cano and Boras accepting those terms right now. The new CBA changed the marketplace, specifically by limiting spending on amateur players and therefore pumping more money in the big league marketplace. Add in the Dodgers factor and Robbie could be looking at Prince Fielder money (nine years, $214M) with a 2013 season that resembles his 2010-2012 efforts. That is a scary thought.

Cano is an elite player and he will be paid accordingly next winter. That’s not much of a question. The real question is how long will he remain an elite player? How long will he stay at second? One more season? Two? Four? No one knows. The Yankees already have two big albatross contracts on their hands in A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, and it’s likely only a matter of time before Sabathia joins them. Adding a fourth albatross could be crippling, especially if ownership won’t budge from their plan to stay under the luxury tax threshold. I have no reason to believe they will.

As great as Cano is right now, the Yankees need to avoid repeating history and shooting themselves in the foot with another big contract for a declining player on the wrong side of 30. The Cardinals are doing just fine without Pujols, just like the Rays are doing just fine without Carl Crawford. Texas doesn’t miss Teixeira at all. There is a price at which the Yankees should be willing to keep Cano — four years, $100M? five years, $130M? — but in this new age of “fiscal responsibility,” the Yankees can’t act like they used too. Hard and potentially unpopular decisions will have to be made.