Archive for Rants
A quick thought on the whole Derek Jeter retirement media blitz and the criticism associated with it by pundits who simply want their voice heard. Maybe all of this just isn’t meant for you. Maybe the fans are the target audience (as well as people who consume products)? Maybe there’s a time and a place for your negative voice, but for the love of baseball let some of us just enjoy it. Take your rants about selfishness and put them aside for a few days and just let people who want to celebrate the man’s career do so.
A patch, a t-shirt, a commercial … is it really all that damning? Consider that at some point blind love for the game might have been part of your life, but you’ve changed your focus on drawing attention to yourself. I understand many people want to push their agendas to increase page views, TV or radio ratings but the general negative sentiment seems so opposite to what we’ve seen of people in the past regarding Jeter.
Bloggers, loudmouth TV chat show hosts, you name it have spent the last few weeks jumping and stomping all over the thing some of us are simply trying to enjoy, saying goodbye. Derek represents a lot to some of us and stomping on other’s enjoyment seems just as selfish as anything these pundits complain about. What’s the point? To have a voice louder than the fans? You already have that, people probably pay you to have it. But there’s really no need to keep making others feel like they are lesser people because you don’t gather the same joy from saying goodbye as we do.
Some of these thoughts are disorganized because by trade I am not a writer/blogger. I am also not stating that one shouldn’t speak negatively of Derek Jeter. But to be honest I think I share many people’s opinion when I say, “Shut up and let us enjoy.” This isn’t for you, because you’re not a fan anymore.
Barring some kind of Derek Jeter farewell tour miracle, the Yankees aren’t going to the postseason this year. They’ve dug themselves too big a hole without enough games remaining to climb out of it. That’s life. They’re not going to play in October because their play from April through early-September says they don’t belong there. If you’ve watched them at all this year, you know how hard it is to envision them stringing together enough wins to jump three teams and make up five games in the second wildcard race.
Now, even if the Yankees do somehow manage to sneak into the postseason, this year needs to be something of a wake-up call for the team’s decision makers. I mean, last year should have been the wake-up call, but instead the Yankees doubled down on the only thing they know how to do: spend money. They tried to spend their way back into the postseason — spend their way back in while letting their best player and one of the five best in the world walk away, remember — and it failed. Miserably. They’re probably going to lose more games this season than they did last year despite their offseason spending spree.
The season is close enough to being over that we can say, with certainty, the first year of the Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran contracts were disasters. There aren’t enough games left on the schedule to change that now. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka deals have worked out more than fine, at least until Tanaka’s elbow started barking, but McCann and Beltran have not. When you sign a 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract, you’re doing it under the assumption Year One will be the best. Year One is over now and the Yankees aren’t getting it back. It’s gone. Beltran’s deal is less damaging because it is shorter term but it still hurts. A lot.
For decades the Yankees conducted business the same way they do right now. They bought the best free agents available (or tried to, anyway) and by and large it worked. Free agency started in 1975, they won titles in 1977-78, had more wins than any other team in the 1980s, and dominated baseball in the late-1990s and 2000s. When you’ve got more money than every other team and you can simply buy the best players, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s the advantage of being based in New York.
That financial advantage is shrinking, however, and it has been since the luxury tax was implemented back in 2003. Aside from last year’s $228M outlier, the Yankees have had an Opening Day payroll in the $180M to $210M range since 2004. The average Opening Day payroll of the other 13 AL clubs (not counting the new-to-the-AL Astros) has steadily risen from roughly $60M to just over $100M during the time. Keep in the mind that MLB’s biggest payroll increases over the last few years belong to NL teams — the Dodgers, Giants, and Nationals, specifically. The payroll gap between the Yankees and everyone else isn’t what it once was.
Furthermore, free agency itself has fundamentally changed as teams lock up their best players to long-term extensions years before they’re eligible to hit the open market. The days of landing an in-his-prime star every winter are gone. It was only six years ago that the Yankees were able to pluck a 28-year-old CC Sabathia off the market to satisfy their pitching needs. Nowadays? Forget it. There’s a reason Masahiro Tanaka landed the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history without ever playing an MLB game. His age. Impact players in their prime are no longer available for just money.
For years we’ve justified huge money long-term contracts by saying you’ll live with the ugly part at the end for the immediate return now. Well, the Yankees have hit the ugly part. They’re at the ugly part of their long-term deals with Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. McCann and Beltran didn’t provide the immediate return either. That has left the team not just with unproductive players eating up a big chunk of the payroll, but little flexibility to replace them. Realistically, what are the Yankees going to do with Teixeira? Nothing. They’re going to grit their teeth and run him out there until his contract ends. That’s the only option.
The Yankees are caught in a cycle of relying on free agency to remain in contention. When the 2008-09 Sabathia/Teixeira free agent class started to fade, there was the 2013-14 Ellsbury/Tanaka class. The Bombers missed the postseason last year and responded the only way they know how, by spending money. The players they invested in did not provide the desired impact — back to the playoffs! — and that means the Yankees are going to do what now? Agree to another $400M worth of contracts this winter? That only continues the cycle with no guarantee of a return to contention, as we’ve learned this year.
Free agency is no longer a one stop shop that can turn a team around in a winter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, it obviously is, but it can’t be everything for the Yankees going forward. Not anymore. The game of baseball has changed these last few years but the Yankees have stayed the same and they’re being left behind. The standings don’t lie. The farm system needs to be more productive, the free agent signings they do make have to be better, and the trades have to be smarter. Remember when they added Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, both smack in the primes of their careers? Those moves were awesome. Taking on a bunch of money to get Vernon Wells? Not so much.
Personally, I believe the Yankees need to do a better job of focusing on depth, from the top of the roster to the very bottom. No more bad players. No more Brian Robertses and Ichiro Suzukis, who we all know aren’t going to work out the day the contract is signed. Those types of moves have to stop. I know it’s much easier said than done. Believe me. Also, the Yankees should absolutely bury the competition whenever another Tanaka or Jose Abreu comes along. That’s where you flex your financial muscle in free agency. Not tacking on a third year so you can outbid the Diamondbacks for 37-year-old Beltran.
I don’t believe any team with a huge payroll should ever have to endure a prolonged rebuild and, frankly, even if the Yankees wanted to tear it all down, they have little to move anyway. They’ve painted themselves into a corner and getting out won’t be easy or particularly pretty. There is a very strong likelihood things will get worse before they get better. Is Brian Cashman the man to turn things around and get the Yankees back on track? I don’t know but I really have a hard time believing he is at this point. He’s been running the show for an eternity and a different voice may be in order. That doesn’t guarantee improvement, mind you. A new GM could make things even worse, especially if ownership brings in a figurehead GM they can walk all over.
Look up and down the roster and there are five, maybe six players I can buy as being part of the solution and the next great Yankees team: Tanaka, Ellsbury, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, and maybe Martin Prado. I’d add David Robertson to that group if he wasn’t due to become a free agent in a few weeks and I can’t bring myself to include McCann in that group after the season he’s had. The Yankees’ entire team-building philosophy is going to have to change if they want to get back to being a perennial contender because the game is telling them it has to change. Their old way of doing business is painfully outdated and this winter is the time to start getting back up to speed, postseason or no postseason.
I know it doesn’t come across on RAB and especially on my Twitter feed, but I try to be optimistic when it comes to the Yankees’ postseason chances each year. Go ahead and laugh, but as long as they’re still mathematically in it, then they have something to play for and I have a reason to remain invested in the season. We’ve been very lucky as a fanbase because we haven’t seen a whole lot of truly meaningless baseball over the years.
The Yankees lost a heartbreaker to the Orioles last night, again failing to protect a small lead and losing ground in both the AL East and wildcard races. They are essentially out of the division race now — eight games back with 43 to play isn’t insurmountable but it might as well be, and last night several Yankees even conceded it was time to focus on the wildcard — and will instead have to hope they can sneak into the second wildcard spot for the right to play a winner-take-all game with a trip to the ALDS on the line. That’s better than not making the postseason in my book.
These Yankees though … man. They have given me very little reason to believe they are capable of making the type of run they need to make to get into that second wildcard spot. If the Tigers and Mariners go only 22-22 the rest of the way, the Yankees need to go 25-18 just to tie. That isn’t taking the Royals and Blue Jays (and Indians) into consideration either. Their best 43-game stretch this year was 24-19 done twice, from Games 3-45 and then again from Games 60-102. That’s when they had Masahiro Tanaka taking the ball every fifth day and an effective Adam Warren alongside Dellin Betances and David Robertson in the bullpen.
Now though, the Yankees don’t have Tanaka and don’t have an effective Warren. The offense’s performance has also been flat out unacceptable — “We put a lot of money into the offense, and they have been, as a whole, inconsistent. It’s been a problem. And it needs to change,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Dan Barbarisi yesterday — but outside of Brian McCann, I’m not sure you can say anyone in the lineup is having a shockingly bad season. Carlos Beltran putting up a 99 wRC+ a year after having a 131 wRC+ may be unexpected, but it’s not totally surprising at age 37. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 108 wRC+ in 2014 and a 109 wRC+ for his career. Mark Teixeira? Derek Jeter? Disappointing but not outside of what we could have guessed before the season.
Warren looks like he’s out of gas, Shawn Kelley looked good for a few weeks but has been roughed up big time in two of his last three outings, and others like Chase Whitley and David Huff are not guys anyone wants to see in a big spot. The bullpen ran into a similar wall at the same time last year and it’s probably because the Yankees played so many close games earlier in the season and forced these guys to throw a lot of intense innings. Betances seems to have avoided burn out (last night’s solo homer notwithstanding) but others aren’t so lucky. Playing catch-up in a postseason race with only two reliable relievers and a patchwork rotation is a bad, bad combination.
The Yankees aren’t hitting and they aren’t pitching well either right now, plus they don’t even control their own destiny anymore. They’ll need help from some other teams these next few weeks to sneak into that second wildcard spot. To quote Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want. They dug this hole for themselves by letting too many winnable games slip away, mostly because of the offense and the utter lack of an impact hitter, and with each game that passes, they look less and less like a contender.
I really want the Yankees to get to postseason in Derek Jeter’s final season, especially since they didn’t get there in Mariano Rivera‘s final season dammit, but this team doesn’t look like they have what it takes to make that run at all. They’re technically still in it, yeah, but they’ve given me little reason to believe. It really, really sucks.
The Yankees are bad right now. They weren’t bad the whole season. They might not be bad in a week or so. But for the past few weeks they’ve been pretty bad.
When the going gets rough, people want a shakeup.
“If George were alive [insert desired shakeup here].”
…because George presided over nothing but winning teams, and they definitely didn’t build the 90s dynasty while he was out of the picture.
A shakeup sounds great. It means that ownership is taking action to correct a problem. Mistakes were made, and someone is to blame. Someone has to pay.
Where would such a shakeup start with the Yankees?
Brian Cashman? He’s the one who built this roster. Why should he get a free pass for its poor performance?
Perhaps Cashman has worn out his welcome with the Yankees. I’ve always been a fan, but there could certainly be some Stockholm Syndrome aspect to that opinion. But is the time now to fire him?
Absolutely not. What would that accomplish? The draft is tomorrow. The Yankees have spent months preparing. It’s not as though you can just let them draft guys and then fire everyone. (Because if you fire Cashman, you fire the entire front office essentially.) They still have to sign those guys.
Hell, when the Cubs finally fired Jim Hendry, they kept him on for nearly a month after making the decision. Why? Because a new general manager — or worse, and interim GM — would probably fare worse than the guy they were firing in dealing with the roster at the trade deadline.
A new GM is rarely, if ever, a savior. He or she might bring a change of philosophy, but it can take years for that philosophy to make a difference on the field. A new GM will not turn around a team that is underperforming.
Cashman’s contract is up after this year. If they want to get rid of him, they have the opportunity to do so soon enough. (Although as Buster Olney said on the podcast, there is every indication that the Steinbrenners will opt to bring back Cashman even if the Yankees miss the postseason.)
There is one thing the Yankees can do to shake things up, at least a little bit.
They can DFA Alfonso Soriano.
Getting Soriano at last year’s trade deadline worked wonders. He went on an immediate tear, and kept the Yankees relevant for a month longer than they had any business being relevant. But his role diminished early in the off-season, when they signed Jacoby Ellsbury. Unless they traded Brett Gardner, Soriano would have to DH or play out of position. Signing Carlos Beltran meant DH, a non-position Soriano had vocally opposed in the past.
The Yankees have four outfielders once Carlos Beltran is healthy. Both Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte have some experience playing out there, so they can act as emergency options. Zoilo Almonte can come back up at some point and be the fifth outfielder if the Yankees feel they need one.
We know Soriano can go on ridiculous hot streaks. Mike and I discussed that on the latest podcast. But can you really count on that happening this year, given how absolutely terrible he’s looked? His lone hot streak this year lasted 12 games, during which he hit four doubles and three homers. In the other 41 games? Nine doubles and three homers.
The Yankees can’t exactly afford to wait on Soriano at this point. They need to turn around a stagnant offense. Getting improved production from Brian McCann, Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury would help. Keeping Mark Teixeira healthy would help as well.
You know what else would help? Replacing the least productive starter with someone who is potentially very productive*. Replacing Soriano at DH with Kendrys Morales, a process they can start as early as Friday, could jolt an offense that has struggles going on a month at this point.
*Sorry, they’re not replacing Jeter. Cry about it if you want, blame everyone for letting it happen. Just understand that you’re arguing with reality.
There isn’t much the Yankees can do with the current roster. Is there anyone who should be getting less playing time — other than Jeter, who I mentioned, and McCann, who is in a similar position? Brian Roberts? With whom would you replace him, and would it be enough of an upgrade to the offense?
The Yankees lose little by replacing Soriano with Morales. It costs them some money, but there will be a return on that investment.
Like Morales or not, he’s the most efficient and potentially effective upgrade at this point.
The whole “Robinson Cano is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls” thing has been beaten into the ground and I really hoped we would never hear about it again once he signed with the Mariners, but apparently that is not the case. Over the weekend, hitting coach Kevin Long declined to take the high road when asked about Robbie’s tendency to jog to first. From John Harper:
“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’
“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure [Derek Jeter] talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.”
“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’
Joe Girardi was asked about Long’s comments yesterday and the interview was ended abruptly by the team’s public relations people according to Brendan Kuty, so this is a thing now. Everyone is talking about the hitting coach trashing the former star player when they should be talking about bullpen sessions and batting practice and how great everyone looks. It’s an unnecessary distraction.
Regardless of how true any of this is — we all know Robbie doesn’t run hard to first — Long was wrong to talk about it publicly. Doesn’t matter that Cano is no longer on the team and frankly that only makes it worse in my opinion. This is like the Red Sox talking about Terry Francona’s use of pain medication after he was let go*. Criticizing a former player after he leaves town is the ultimate low blow.
* Joe thinks Dan Duquette’s comments about Roger Clemens entering the “twilight of his career” are a more appropriate comparison. I agree.
On Tuesday, new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon defended his new star and fired back at Long. From Jerry Crasnick:
“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.
“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book (“Cage Rat”) proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”
The Yankees spent all winter talking about their “family” and the importance of having strong character guys in the clubhouse whenever they signed a new free agent. That shouldn’t stop at the players. Long is a high-profile member of the organization and he threw a former player — a former member of the “family” — under the bus on his way out of town. It was a classless move and everything the Yankees claim not to be. Dan Martin says Long has already reached out to Cano to offer an apology, but at this point the damage has been done. This became something when it should have stayed nothing.
“I believe we need another starter.”
Yankees fans know this, but it still felt good to hear it from ownership. Had the Yankees planned to pick from scrapheap options, Hal Steinbrenner might have said something else. I think our young guys are up to the task, he might have said. Instead he came right out and acknowledged the need for another starter.
By “another starter,” Steinbrenner does not necessarily refer to Tanaka. He could refer to Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders, or even Johan Santana: low-cost guys who could provide the team a few alternatives to in-house candidates.
But after hearing such a proclamation from the owner himself, are fans really going to accept one of those retreads? Chances are fans wouldn’t accept one of those retreads even absent Steinbrenner’s statement. We’ll be even less accepting given his overt praise of Tanaka. “This is a great, young pitcher. I’m sure he’ll come here and do great things with someone.”
So do whatever it takes to sign him.
It is absolutely clear to everyone, from the casual fan who tuned out after the Beltran signing to ownership itself, that the current crop of starters won’t get the Yankees through the 2014 season. Supplementing that crew with a few back-end, at best, pitchers and minor league signings will not change the scenario much. They need Tanaka, Jimenez, Garza, or (shudders) Santana.
Perhaps Steinbrenner is just trying to keep expectations low with his “we’ll see what happens.” It certainly seems as though at least one Yankees official is trying to tamp expectations: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.”
There is a certain necessity in keeping expectations low. Many teams remain interested in Tanaka, so the Yankees are anything but guaranteed to sign him. They’d clearly like to, and if forced to interpret Steinbrenner’s remarks I’d say that they’ll go pretty far in their efforts to obtain his services. But if a team like the Cubs blows them out of the water, they need to cover themselves. And so we get Steinbrenner hedging a bit, and we get anonymous officials trying to lower the bar.
Don’t let this game of expectations confuse the reality, though. The Yankees absolutely need Tanaka. If they don’t land him, they’re almost forced to try for one of the remaining trio. Anything else would, put a serious damper on an otherwise solid off-season, as a rival official said.
“If you don’t get Tanaka, it kind of nullifies some of what you’ve added to the offense.”
No. That is the only appropriate reaction to any suggestion that the Yankees should trade for Brandon Phillips in the event that Robinson Cano signs elsewhere. It might make sense in a superficial way. Phillips plays second base! He’s viewed as a very good player! He’d instantly fit into the Yankees lineup!
Please, take a moment to review the pertinent information. The case for Phillips isn’t nearly as compelling as his reputation might suggest.
He’s not a very good hitter
Despite his reputation, Phillips has been decidedly average during his career, a 96 OPS+ in his 12-year career. Granted, the first four years came in Cleveland, where he performed poorly, to be kind. Even if you lop off those years, he has a career 100 OPS+ — exactly average.
It seems Phillips’s reputation stems from the power he generated early in his career, and the outstanding season he produced in 2011. His 30-homer season in 2007 certainly stands out, as do his 88 homers from 2006 through 2009. Unfortunately, his power has taken a bit of a dip, as he’s hit 72 homers in the four years that followed (the most recent four years).
In 2011 Phillips enjoy by far and wide the best season of his career, a 118 OPS+. Yet it appears that almost the entire difference between his 2011 and the rest of his career rests entirely in batting average. His walk rate and power were nearly identical to his 2010 campaign. The difference was that he hit .300 (.322 BABIP). For his career he is a .271 hitter (.291 BABIP).
Signs of decline
It’s easy to forget, but Phillips turned 32 last season. Granted, he’s right on the edge of the cutoff — had he been born three days later, 2013 would have been his age-31 season. The fact remains that he’ll turn 33 in 2014, and his contract (more on that later) runs through his age-36 season. As you might imagine, decline is a serious concern.
In making points against re-signing Robinson Cano, many commentators have noted the poor aging curve for second basemen. The thing with aging curves is that they take the aggregate of a very large sample. While that has use when evaluating average players — average, as in Brandon Phillips — it’s not so good at projecting outliers. Given his production and durability to date, Cano certainly appears more an outlier than an average 2B.
Phillips, on the other hand, saw his power take a dip after his 20-homer season in 2009, hitting 18 in each of the last four years. That might not seem so bad, until you compound that with a decline in the number of doubles he’s hit*. His walk rate did rise from 2012 to 2013, but it’s still lower than the 6.5 percent rate he produced from 2008 through 2011. What was once a pretty good bat might not be a good one any longer.
*He hit 38, a career high, in 2011, after hitting 33 in 2010. Going from a career high 38 to 30, and then to 24 in 2013 isn’t necessarily decline. But it looks more that way when you eliminate the outlier and see that he’s gone from 33 to 30 to 24 from 2010 to 2013, minus 2011.
Despite his pretty average bat, Phillips managed to cash in on his career year, signing a six-year, $72.5 million contract with the Reds. That contract runs through 2017 and still has $50 million remaining on it. That’s a huge chunk of change for a 33-year-old average player. People already love talking about how much the Ellsbury contract will hurt in 2020. I imagine the Phillips contract will hurt just as bad, if not worse, in 2017, and the Yankees aren’t even the ones who signed him to that deal.
Speaking of him signing that deal, he came to terms with the Reds just five days after teammate Joey Votto secured a 10-year, $225 million extension (which goes into effect starting this year). A little more than a year later he complained about how the Reds handled the situation — that is, he complained that they gave Votto, a superstar, his money before they gave Phillips, an average hitter coming off a career year, his. Yet he signed the deal anyway, probably because he knew that if he produced another average year in 2012, which he did, he wouldn’t get nearly that kind of money.
Given the current state of free agent contracts, perhaps Phillips’s isn’t among the worst in the game. But he’s still being paid like a very good player, when in fact he is average.
In the wake of the Ellsbury signing, I’ve seen more than one person suggest that trading Brett Gardner for Phillips makes sense. As I outline above, that’s not a great deal for the Yankees based on Phillips alone. But did you know that Gardner and Phillips share similar career numbers? Did you know that they have nearly identical OPS+s in the last four years (Gardner is a single point ahead, actually)?
Gardner will likely make half of what Phillips earns this year. I’m willing to bet that the Yankees can sign Gardner to a four-year deal worth less than the $39 million Phillips is owed in the final three years of his deal. True, there is something to be said about positional need. There is also something to be said about value. In the next four years I’m willing to wager that Gardner is worth every bit as much as Phillips, both at the plate and in the field. Add in a substantially lower contract, and it’s a no-brainer.
To give up anything of value for Phillips, without getting back about half of his contract, is sheer lunacy. The Yankees might, in the near future, have a need at second base. They’d be better off handing the position to Kelly Johnson. Hell, they’d be infinitely better off signing Omar Infante, who will be far cheaper than Phillips, to fill the role. Infante is also an average hitter.
Phillips has name value, no doubt. But the Yankees have added plenty of that this off-season. Do they really need to give up real, live baseball players for Brandon Phillips, an average hitter who is paid like a very good one? Paying for their own free agents is one thing. Paying for the mistakes of other teams? Only if it comes with a pot sweetener. Something tells me that’s not the mindset the Reds have in a potential Phillips deal.
Yesterday sucked SUCKED! An 18 inning loss is grueling enough in its own right, never mind the not-so-insignificant matter of the offense seemingly going on long term hiatus. I think Mike’s rant yesterday was a very candid reflection of how a lot of us (including myself) feel after watching some of these excruciating losses too – and frankly, there was a lot of truth in what he wrote. With that being said, and maybe this is just me optimistically rationalizing, I think a few points have to considered in addition to what was said. So…here goes.
The offseason was awful. I didn’t feel particularly confident with any of the moves that they made other than the re-signing of Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. Downgrading Nick Swisher for Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki (each for two years no less) also hurt quite a bit. However, I think it’s important to remember that while those two have been big contributors to the outfield’s woes, they are not the complete cause for this situation. While Mike interpreted the offseason as NY hubris, I see it as more of the culmination of frugality and unfortunate circumstance.
Curtis Granderson’s injuries were both fluky and that put the team in a difficult spot. It’s tough to stomach both OF corner spots being offensive voids; realistically, it probably should have only been one spot that made us cringe. The offense would be more tolerable as a whole, if some of these guys were used as they were intended to be – in other words, as situational hitters coming off the bench…not starters. Eventually, Grandy will return and his presence in the lineup can’t be overstated. He hits for power and offers a middle of the lineup bat that the team sorely needs. We’re seeing some of these guys become exposed. I give Brian Cashman the benefit of the doubt when I say they were never intended to be used as they are now.
The same argument can be made for Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay. Youkilis was a super expensive health liability from day one designed to replace another super expensive health liability – he was also a sheer desperation move. And while Overbay has been performing admirably, he’s not Mark Teixeira nor will he ever be. Teixeira’s injury was unexpected, as was the timing of Alex Rodriguez’s second hip surgery. Even if the team had wanted to find an adequate replacement for both, it would have been difficult due to the timing of the injuries themselves. The point here is that while the offseason was awful in hindsight, that outcome was partially unavoidable I think. Frankly, a team cannot survive long-term when so many starters are on the DL. High impact players are just not in great supply on the free agent market, and trading for them is a bear. Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way as these guys recover and one can only hope they’ll be effective upon return.
I don’t really want to spend too much time discussing the farm system because I think that’s a pretty complicated topic – one that most certainly deserves its own post. I will say this though. The team hasn’t had an opportunity to acquire a ton of super high-end talent in the draft because they win a ton and those picks really don’t fall that far down the food chain. One can make the argument that the team hasn’t maximized the draft picks it has had, or that it hasn’t developed those players as well as they could. I won’t argue either of those points. What I can say though, is that prospects fail way more often than they succeed, and on some level, it makes sense to me that team hasn’t reaped the benefits of internal replacements as much as one would hope. Having a “Core Four” come up through the system is insanely difficult and insanely rare. I’d assume fans of most other teams are probably saying the same thing about their organization’s prospect failure rate too.
While the Yankees haven’t had too many game-changing prospects (we’re talking first round top ten talent, they have found a lot of guys who have tangibly helped the team. You’re seeing it right now on the pitching side of things. Warren was magnificent last night. Phelps has been great. I think Claiborne has been really fun to watch. And guys like Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero (who was a headliner in the Minors mind you) have helped the team in a big way via the trade (I’m assuming Michael Pineda eventually contributes – go ahead, and call me an optimist). Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are topics of perpetual disagreement, but it’s inarguable that they are big league talent. Hughes can probably slot into the rotation right now for A LOT of teams and Chamberlain is a very good reliever. Not every pitcher can or will be Felix Hernandez or Mariano Rivera. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable in their own right though.
Do we have the best farm system? Absolutely not. Do we have one that is able to help the Big League squad overall? I contend that we do. It just may not be as much as we would like. But who knows, maybe some of these young players coming up through the system will become the next great name to wear pinstripes. I for one am really excited about Rafael DePaula and Gary Sanchez. Despite some drab numbers, I am also a huge fan of Mason Williams. These guys have the potential to be really helpful.
I do believe Mike’s post was spot on when he said the team lacks direction. It is hazy, at least to us. We don’t know the Steinbrenner’s agenda with certainty, nor do we know Cashman’s master plan to keep the team in contention assuming he has one. And this team may not be a championship caliber team. Frankly, I’m not sure any of that matters though, at least for the time being.
The idea shouldn’t necessarily be to win the championship every year because that’s an absolutely unattainable objective and a ludicrous measuring stick. The goal should be for the team to put its self in the position to win a championship every year. And the first step of giving the team a chance to win it all is to contend in their division and ultimately reach the playoffs. They are currently in contention — and I don’t expect that to change — and they can reach the playoffs (especially now with two wild card spots). It sucks watching the team lose, but perspective helps mitigate the nausea.
Are the Yankees the best team in the American League East? Right now, no. Are they the second? Quite possibly. Look around at their competition. They’re all flawed too; Ken Singleton did a nice job summarizing those weaknesses the other day. Are they better than the Tigers or the A’s? Probably not at this point. Are they better than the teams vying for a Wild Card spot in those divisions. I think so. We’ve seen what happens in the playoffs. Games are not played out as planned on paper and the damn San Francisco Giants end up winning it all. Get to the playoffs, and worry about the rest when the time comes. For what it’s worth, at least the Yankees have the pitching to give them a chance when it counts.
I was in the camp that was hoping the team could simply stay afloat while it weathered the injury-bug storm. They have done this, mostly admirably. They aren’t bludgeoning teams and they aren’t the dominant force that they have been in years past. But they are still around and better then much of their competition in the league. Ultimately, the team will need to decide how it’s planning on handling the austerity budget topic. It will have to carefully trapeze through the challenge of staying competitive perennially while simultaneously retooling. Given some of the terrible contracts already in the books, maybe they ultimately turn into the Phillies or the Angels as Mike cautions. Right now, though, I think this team still has plenty of opportunity to have a successful season and we shouldn’t write the future off quite yet either.
This is the boiling point.
The Yankees didn’t just lose Thursday afternoon/night’s 18-inning marathon with the Athletics because they couldn’t buy a hit after the first inning. They also lost because they half-assed their way through an offseason in which they deemed it acceptable to downgrade all over the field despite a) winning the division by the skin of their teeth last year, and b) knowing it was very likely going to be Mariano Rivera‘s final season. Real nice going away present. That surfboard the A’s gave him today was more respectful.
New York has done a real good job of finding veteran complementary pieces on low-risk, short-term deals in recent years, but this winter it became their primary team-building strategy. It’s all they did. Best of all, they started giving some of those retreads multi-year contracts and assuming a whole bunch of risk. Vernon Wells has
sucked SUCKED for the last two years and five of the last seven, but apparently the magic of the pinstripes was supposed to bring his bat back from the dead. He and Ichiro were expected to form some kind of Frankenstein corner outfield monster that defied age and hit like it was 2005. That was their strategy. A real Major League team did this.
Best of all, they’re paying those two wastes of a roster spot — not to mention Kevin Youkilis, what a gem of a signing that has been — a combined $26M through next year, when they’re trying to cut payroll below the luxury tax threshold for no other reason than to save the Steinbrenners some money. Want to slash payroll and line your pockets? Fine. But don’t talk to me like I’m idiot and say you’re committed to building a “championship-caliber” team and you signed “three of the best free agents” over the winter. Get bent. At least speak the truth, then maybe your five-year old Stadium won’t be half-empty and the YES Network’s ratings won’t be in the toilet.
Of course, the team’s reliance on over-the-hill has-beens could have been mitigated if the farm system Brian Cashman has been talking about since getting his “autonomy” in 2005 actually produced a competent everyday player once in a while. Eduardo Nunez? Frankie Cervelli? lol. I’m sure Zoilo Almonte will come ride in on a white horse to save the day. The Yankees have done a fine job talking the talk when it comes to building from within and developing their own players, but they’ve fallen flat on their face when it comes to walking the walk. Outside of the Mariners, I’m not sure any team has gotten less from more out of their farm system than New York in recent years.
The Yankees lost on Thursday because they’re desperate. Desperate to hold onto the last glimmer of success from the dynasty years and afraid (unable?) to adapt and move forward with a new chapter in franchise history. Now they’re left with this laughable relic of a roster that is caught between being not truly good enough to contend and not bad enough to completely tear down and rebuild. It’s a very dangerous place to be, just ask the Phillies.
The Athletics swept the Yankees this series because they are the much better team, from top to bottom. Now the Bombers will go to Anaheim to face an Angels team that should serve as a scary warning should they not wise up and improve the way they go about building the club. The decision to willfully downgrade the roster this winter was a disgusting display of arrogance and cockiness from a team that claims it wants to give its fans a contender every year. Actions speak louder than words, and the actions say the club lacks direction.
In 2007, Vernon Wells became something of a punchline. In his first season after signing a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Blue Jays, he hit just .245/.304/.402. That 85 OPS+ was a far cry from the performances that earned him the extension: a 118 OPS+ in the previous four years. The mockery came to us all too easily.
(Also in 2007: the first time I can remember the “your name’s Vernon” chants in the bleachers. Then again, that was my first year sitting in the bleachers with any frequency.)
After that stumbling block of a 2007 season, Wells came back to produce a 123 OPS+ in 2008, and then a 125 OPS+ in 2010, with an 86 OPS+ in 2009 causing further mockery. Normally it’s not necessary to run down a player’s performance like this, since we can all load up Baseball Reference. But it seems that people have completely forgotten about Wells’s positive contributions and mock only the mediocre and poor ones.
Why shouldn’t we hate the Vernon Wells trade and the $13 million it will cost the Yankees? There are quite a few reasons.
The Yanks are paying $13 million for good reason. The most common reaction I saw to the Yankees picking up $13 million of Wells’s contract: “He wouldn’t get that on the free agent market.” Of course he wouldn’t. He’s also not a free agent. But given his performances the last two years, how did the Angels get the Yankees to pay even $13 million? The answer lies in the distribution.
According to NYDN’s Mark Feinsand, the payments break down in the Yankees’ favor. The Angels will cover $9 million this year, leaving the Yankees on the hook for $12 million. That means the Angels will cover $20 million in 2014, leaving the Yankees to cover just $1 million. It gets better, though: because Wells’s average annual value is $18 million, the Yankees will actually get a $2 million luxury tax credit next year. So yes, taking on $13 million is too much, but it’s what the Yankees had to take in order to get the Angels to cover $20 million next year. It seems like a positive on the whole.
Platoon potential. The Yankees have a weakness against left-handed pitching, especially from the get-go. The addition of Youkilis could help, but he alone will not replace the production of Russell Martin and Nick Swisher against lefties. With Teixeira and Jeter out to start the year, they’re even more vulnerable. For his part, Wells did crush lefties in 2011, to the tune of a .851 OPS — and he was generally terrible that year. For his career he shows much stronger numbers against LHP, so he could help fortify that all-lefty outfield.
He’s healthy for now. After his abysmal 2007, Wells underwent surgery on his shoulder. Who knows how long that was bothering him during the season — he actually produced a .910 OPS in April and had dropped all the way to .735 by the end of May. After his poor 2009 he underwent wrist surgery and came back to produce a quality 2010 season. In 2011 and 2012 he missed 84 combined games with various injuries. Perhaps he can still produce league average numbers in a full, healthy season.
Whenever a team takes a risk on a player, the big qualifier is always whether he will prevent the teams from making other moves in the future. If the $12 million hit the Yankees take this year prevents them from making an upgrade at the deadline, then it’s easy to pan the deal. But in 2014 the deal will actually improve their budget situation. Combined with his platoon potential and his production when healthy, this could turn into a positive for the Yankees.
Seeing those positives is difficult at this point, given Wells’s recent history. On the whole, the trade isn’t likely to work out. There’s just too much working against the 34-year-old Wells at this point in his career. But there are some things to like about this trade. If they can squeeze a few quality months out of him, then it should work out just fine. It’s not like he’s replacing world beaters in Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco.