Long was out of line with comments about Cano


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.

Yanks keeping expectations low, but they absolutely need Tanaka

Pretty sure we've used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Pretty sure we’ve used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

“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 more mentions of Brandon Phillips, please

BooneNo.jpg PhillipsNo.jpg (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
BooneNo.jpg PhillipsNo.jpg (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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.

That contract!

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.

For Gardner?

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.

An optimistic response to last night’s debacle

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.


Swept in Oakland: Yanks embarrass themselves in 18-inning marathon loss

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.