Friday Links: A-Rod, YES, Judge, Frazier, Gagne, Littell

Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Presswire)
Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Newsday)

The Yankees are, at this very moment, playing their first Grapefruit League game of the season. Turn on YES or MLB.tv to watch. Here’s our game thread. Don’t miss it. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

A-Rod to meet with YES

At some point this spring Alex Rodriguez will meet with executives from the YES Network, report George King and Bryan Hoch. The exact reason for the meeting is unclear. It could be something, it could be nothing. Maybe just a meet-and-great or some promo work. Or maybe the two sides will discuss a broadcasting role. YES has a small army of ex-Yankees on their rotating panel of analysts.

Rodriguez has done analyst work with FOX the last two postseasons and he’s been really good. Critics have praised him and diehard fans seem to like him too. A-Rod certainly knows the game and he seems comfortable talking about it in depth on camera. Again, I have no idea why exactly Alex and YES are meeting. It really could be nothing. I selfishly hope it’s about potential broadcasting work though. That would be awesome.

Judge among Law’s top impact prospects for 2017

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently ranked his top 19 prospects based on potential 2017 impact. Not surprisingly, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson sit in the top two spots. They’re the two best prospects in baseball in my opinion, and both are locked into big league starting jobs this year. Aaron Judge is seventh on Law’s list and Clint Frazier is among the honorable mentions.

I expect (Judge) to take some time to bring (his strikeouts) down this year, but that’s been his history with each promotion in pro ball. Judge is a giant, at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, so his strike zone is just as big, but he has enormous raw power and is an above-average right fielder. As long as the contact he makes continues to be hard contact, he’ll have value even if he’s among the league leaders in Ks.

I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to send Judge to Triple-A to start the season if they feel it’s best for him. I also think they understand he’s going to come with growing pains. We saw them late last year and they’re not necessarily over. At some point they’re just going to have to stick it out with Judge and let him work through the problems, and perhaps that means a .205 average with 185 strikeouts in 2017. Perhaps moreso than any other young player in the system, Judge is going to require a lot of patience, both from the Yankees and fans.

Gagne considering comeback attempt

Eric Gagne, who turned 41 last month, is considering a comeback attempt, according to Ken Gurnick. Gagne hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008 — he was one-and-done on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot — but he has thrown in various independent leagues the last few years, and he’ll pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne’s agent told Gurnick he sat 93-95 mph in indy ball last year (eh) while Jon Heyman hears he’s throwing 92-93 mph in bullpen sessions right now.

Gagne at his peak was one of the most dominant forces in baseball history. From 2002-04 he had a 1.79 ERA (1.57 FIP) with 38.6% strikeouts and 6.1% walks in 247 innings. During his 2003 Cy Young season he struck out 137 and walked 18 unintentionally in 82.1 innings. Insane. This is the time of year for comeback attempt stories, and hey, if Gagne looks good during the WBC, I’m sure some team will offer him a minor league deal. Maybe even the Yankees.

Littell among top “control” prospects

A few weeks ago Matt Eddy put together a list of the best “control” prospects in the minors. In this case control is not referring to the ability to throw strikes. FIP is based on three things the pitcher controls: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Eddy removed strikeouts and examined the best prospects at limiting walks and homers, and he also threw in the ability to hold runners for good measure. Zack Littell ranked third on his list.

Of the dozen prospects traded by the Mariners this offseason, Littell looks like one of the more promising. The Yankees acquired the 21-year-old North Carolina prep in a straight-up trade for lefty reliever James Pazos. Littell brings a cerebral approach to the mound, which helps his high-spin fastball and above-average breaking ball play up.

I’m still amazed the Yankees were able to get a solid starting pitcher prospect for Pazos, who throws hard and doesn’t do much else. Littell did not make my top 30 prospects list but Baseball America ranked him 24th in the system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook. The Yankees managed to use the industry’s obsession with lefties and velocity to turn Pazos and Justin Wilson into three pretty nice young arms at a time when reliable starters are hard to find and not cheap to acquire. Neat.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

Open Thread: February 21st Camp Notes

This completely slipped my mind, but yesterday was RAB’s tenth birthday. That is pretty crazy. Ben, Joe, and I started the site as a hobby and it’s grown into … this. RAB has been around for a World Series championship and more historic moments than I care to count. But best of all, RAB has led to some great friendships, and that’s what I value most. The site has been a life changer. Thanks to all of you for reading. It’s been a hell of a ride these last ten years.

Okay, so now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, let’s get to today’s notes from Tampa, shall we?

  • Alex Rodriguez arrived today for his first stint as a guest instructor. He’ll be in Tampa for 4-5 days, and is expected to return for another stint next month. A-Rod also confirmed he’s retired. He doesn’t want to play anymore. A few teams called him last year after he was released, but Alex says the tank is empty. [Jack Curry, Ken Davidoff]
  • Bryan Hoch has the day’s pitching assignments, hitting groups, and fielding groups. Adam Warren and Luis Severino threw simulated games while Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman all threw bullpen sessions. Still no word on a starter for the Grapefruit League opener Friday.
  • Two relatively minor injuries: righty Ronald Herrera with miss two weeks with shoulder inflammation and lefty James Reeves will miss up to four weeks with an elbow sprain. Herrera is on the 40-man roster and could be part of the shuttle this season. [Hoch]
  • The Yankees are emphasizing pitchers’ fielding practice this spring. The drills are shorter and more intense, which better simulates game action. “It has been a focus of ours because we were not good, and that’s something we are focusing on in Spring Training,” said Joe Girardi. [Billy Witz]
  • Greg Bird feels great and not just hitting, but throwing as well. “It feels like I have something behind the ball. Not that I didn’t, but it’s nice to go out and throw the ball again,” he said. Bird was limited to DH duty in the Arizona Fall League as he returned from shoulder surgery. [George King]
  • Jorge Mateo said he expects to play several games in center field this spring. I kinda figured that was coming. “I like it. It’s not too hard,” he said. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Mateo is a full-time center fielder by the end of the season. [Brendan Kuty]
  • And finally, Jacoby Ellsbury was in camp for the first time today. He reported late because his wife gave birth to their second child over the weekend. [Mike Mazzeo]

This is tonight’s open thread. The NBA is still in the middle of their All-Star break, though all three local hockey teams are in action tonight, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball games on as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Saturday Links: Otani, Spring Training Caps, A-Rod, Fowler

For the first time I can remember, a Steinbrenner has backed off the “World Series or bust” mantra. While speaking to David Lennon earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have the potential to be a postseason team in 2017. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but hey, give Hal points for honesty. Here’s some stuff to check out as we wait for Spring Training to begin.

Otani won’t play in Arizona, WBC

Shohei Otani, the best non-MLB player in the world, will not play in Arizona with the Nippon Ham Fighters this month or the World Baseball Classic next month, reports the Kyodo News. Otani is nursing a nagging ankle injury. There was some hope he would be able to DH in the WBC, but nope. He’s being removed from Japan’s 28-man roster entirely. They don’t want to push it.

The (Ham) Fighters are scheduled to hold Spring Training in Arizona at the Padres’ complex for the second straight year. It was going to be a great chance for MLB clubs to get their eyes on Otani, even the Spring Training version of him, right in their own backyards. Now they’ll have to wait for the regular season, and, to be fair, they were going to scout him during the regular season anyway. They just won’t get an early start in camp or the WBC.

The biggest question remains whether Otani will actually come over to MLB next season. Reports indicate he will, but the new international hard cap means his earning potential will be severely limited. He could wait three years until he turns 25, make good money in Japan in the meantime, then come over when he’s no longer subject to the hard cap. We’ll see.

MLB unveils new Spring Training caps

Last week we got a sneak peak at the Yankees’ new Spring Training caps, and yesterday morning, MLB made it official. The pinstriped brim is part of this year’s Grapefruit League ensemble. Thankfully the team’s road cap is much more … normal.

2017-spring-training-hats

Well, I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy either one of those. Whatever. The jerseys, thankfully, look like normal Spring Training jerseys. You win some and you lose some.

A-Rod‘s coming to camp … twice

Earlier this week Steinbrenner confirmed Alex Rodriguez will serve not one, but two stints this spring as a guest instructor, according to Lennon. They haven’t yet mapped out a plan for the regular season, however. A-Rod’s official title is special advisor, though he’s really more like a special instructor, going around and working with various prospects. What are the chances Gleyber Torres will be Rodriguez’s pet project this year, 90%? I’ll take the over.

Fowler is Law’s sleeper prospect

Yesterday Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrapped up his annual prospect rankings package by naming one sleeper prospect for each team. He defines a sleeper as a prospect “not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.” Outfielder Dustin Fowler is his pick for the Yankees.

Fowler has the right mix of ability, some performance and youth to end up squarely in the top 100 next winter. Teenage prospects such outfielder Estevan Florial or shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are probably a year from that kind of status.

Pretty much the only thing Fowler doesn’t do is walk, and while minor league walk rates aren’t very predictive, the scouting report says he is a bit of a free swinger. With a little more patience, Fowler could develop into a 20-20 center fielder with solid on-base percentages. And it’s not even clear he is one of the ten best prospects in the organization right now. Wild.

Saturday Links: Lefty Reliever, Top 100, Captain’s Camp

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

Only three more weekends without baseball after this one. Spring Training games aren’t that far away! Thank goodness. I am so ready for this offseason to be over. Here are some links to check out today:

Yankees still looking for a cheap lefty reliever

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees remain in the hunt for a left-handed reliever, but only want a player who will take a low base salary or minor league deal. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, the two best free agent southpaws, are seeking two-year deals worth at least $12M, says Rosenthal. If they stick to that demand, the Yankees won’t get either. I assume Travis Wood is a non-option too given the low base salary thing.

The Yankees have Tommy Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier as their top middle innings lefty reliever candidates at the moment, and Brian Cashman talked up Joe Mantiply at the town hall last week. “He’s a soft-tossing situational lefty that I know that people were coming up to me saying, you snookered us when you claimed him off waivers,” he said. Would Charlie Furbush take a minor league deal after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of 2016? He might be the best available cheap southpaw.

Five Yankees on ZiPS top 100 prospects

In a companion piece to Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list, Dan Szymborski put together a list of the top 100 prospects according to his ZiPS projection system (sub. req’d). ZiPS is entirely data-driven, so you’ve got to take the projections with a big grain of salt, though I still always like seeing where the scouting reports and stats disagree.

The best prospect in baseball per ZiPS is Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who Law ranked second. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is first on Law’s list and seventh on the ZiPS list. The Yankees had five ZiPS top 100 prospects:

8. SS Gleyber Torres (Law’s rank: 4th)
9. OF Clint Frazier (Law’s rank: 27th)
34. OF Aaron Judge (Law’s rank: 44th)
44. OF Blake Rutherford (Law’s rank: 22nd)
65. 3B Miguel Andujar (Law’s rank: DNR)

RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield made Law’s list but not the ZiPS list, though ZiPS tends to skew towards position players because they don’t carry as much injury risk. The top nine and 21 of the top 25 prospects in baseball are position players according to ZiPS, so yeah. Interesting to see Andujar a middle of the top 100 guy according to ZiPS. The system likes his low strikeout rate and developing power, it seems.

New Spring Training hats leaked

For the umpteenth straight spring, teams will wear different hats for Spring Training this season. A photo of the new Yankees hat was leaked over at SportsLogos.net and my goodness, it’s hideous:

spring-training-hat

It should be noted MLB and the Yankees have not officially revealed their new Spring Training hats, so it’s entirely possible that hat is a rejected design or something like that. I can’t. I just can’t anymore. Stop messing with the classic interlocking NY, yo.

Captain’s Camp now underway

Remember yesterday’s mailbag question about Captain’s Camp? Well now we have an update, courtesy of Brendan Kuty. Farm system head Gary Denbo said Captain’s Camp is currently underway and will run from January 18th to February 24th this year. Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez are among the scheduled guest instructors. Several current Yankees will help out as well once Spring Training beings. Derek Jeter has taken the prospects out to a surprise dinner the last two years and Denbo hopes he does the same this year.

Denbo came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp a few years ago and says the goal is to “develop championship-type complete players for our Major League club.” The Yankees bring in a bunch of prospects for Captain’s Camp and basically teach them how to be professionals, how to be accountable, and help them become the best player they can be. Workouts and drills are part of Captain’s Camp, no doubt, but most of it is geared towards the off-the-field aspects of being a Yankee. They’re the most recognizable brand in sports, which creates unique demands.

Cashman: A-Rod invited to Spring Training as instructor

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

According to Christian Red, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees have invited Alex Rodriguez to Spring Training as an instructor. His special advisor role runs through the end of this year. “He’s certainly invited to participate in Spring Training, but Alex is also free to do as he pleases, if he wants to try and keep playing,” said Cashman.

There has been no indication A-Rod wants to continue playing — he’s living the dad life on social media — and even if he wanted to, who’s going to sign him? Rodriguez hasn’t been an effective hitter since August 2015 and free agency is loaded with righty sluggers. Teams would sign Mike Napoli or Chris Carter before A-Rod. Heck, the Yankees chose Billy Butler over A-Rod late last year.

“Alex is enjoying his time off and looking forward to heading to Spring Training to work with the young guys as he has said all along,” said Ron Berkowitz, A-Rod’s spokesman, to Red. That sure seems to indicate Rodriguez is done playing and plans to report to Spring Training to help out as an instructor in a few weeks.

Although A-Rod’s official title is “special advisor,” his role is to work with young players, so he’s more like a special instructor. The Yankees had Rodriguez at Instructional League last September to work with several of their top prospects, including Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo, and Blake Rutherford.

A-Rod at Instructs. (@AROD)
A-Rod at Instructs. (@AROD)

“We welcome the opportunity for him to impact our young players at Spring Training,” added Cashman. “Alex would work directly for Hal (Steinbrenner). All the parameters have been vocalized and they remain the same from last year. He’s got a life to live too, and I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of opportunities in broadcasting, in business. People will be tugging him in a lot of different directions.”

The Yankees bring a ton of guest instructors to Spring Training each year. A ton. A-Rod’s arrangement is pretty unique though. He was released as a player and the Yankees gave him this special advisor role, essentially so they can extract some value out of the $21M they’ll pay him in 2017. Most guest instructors stick around camp for a few days before heading home. Will Rodriguez be around longer than usual? I guess we’ll find out pretty soon.

The End of the Summer of Al [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A year ago at this time, Alex Rodriguez had just wrapped up a memorable comeback season, one that earned him an MVP vote (!) and an unquestioned place in the middle of the 2016 lineup. Thirty-three homers and a 130 wRC+ will do that. No, he couldn’t play the field anymore, but A-Rod could still hit, and that was awfully cool. At least for those of us who remain unabashed fans of dingers and fun.

Fast forward to today, and the Alex Rodriguez era in New York is over. He didn’t even make it through the 2016 season. Skills can erode quickly in this game, even with all-time greats like A-Rod. I still remember the day the Yankees acquired Rodriguez in that trade with the Rangers. It’s one of my most vivid memories as a baseball fan. Hard to believe it’s all over now, isn’t it?

An April to Forget

For a veteran player like A-Rod, Spring Training performance is pretty meaningless. Guys like him know exactly what they have to do to prepare for the regular season. They use their spring at-bats to work on things — track the ball, go the other way, whatever — because they know their spot in the lineup is secure. Alex hit .245/.302/.306 with one home run in 18 Grapefruit League games and I don’t think anyone blinked an eye.

Once the regular season started, it took A-Rod more than a month to get off the interstate. He went 12-for-65 (.185) with 19 strikeouts in his first 18 games, though the four home runs were nice. Rodriguez did start to show some signs of life three weeks into the regular season, when he went 6-for-14 (.429) with three home runs in a four-game span at the end of April. See? Everything was fine. Just a slow start for the veteran.

That little hot streak came to an abrupt end on May 3rd, when Alex pulled his hamstring running out a ground ball. That sent him to the disabled list for a little more than three weeks and opened up the DH spot for Carlos Beltran.

At the time of the injury, A-Rod as hitting .194/.275/.444 (90 wRC+) with five home runs in 80 plate appearances. The Yankees were 8-16 at the time because they were completely unable to generate any consistent offense. Rodriguez, who had spent most of the season hitting in the middle of the order up to that point, was a big part of the problem.

The Beginning of the End

Alex returned from his hamstring injury on May 26th and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. There were a lot of hitless games after that. In fact, Rodriguez went 1-for-16 (.063) with nine strikeouts in his first four games back from the injury. It was bad. Bad bad bad. Average fastballs were chewing him up, and because he had to start his bat early to handle good velocity, breaking balls were fooling him consistently. Yuck.

Joe Girardi, who has always been patient with his veterans, kept running A-Rod out there. An early-June hot streak (12-for-34, .353) didn’t last very long; Alex closed the month in a 9-for-40 (.225) rut. Come the end of June, with his batting line sitting at .219/.257/.382 (66 wRC+), Rodriguez’s lack of production became too much to bear. He sat three straight games from July 1-3 because the Yankees were in San Diego, and when they returned to AL parks, A-Rod remained on the bench.

Including that series against the Padres, A-Rod started only one of the team’s final ten games of the first half. Beltran was getting regular DH at-bats with Aaron Hicks and Rob Refsnyder splitting time in right field. They gave the Yankees a better chance to win at that point. We all came into the season hoping Alex would again be a middle of the force. Instead, he was a liability.

The End of the Road

To Girardi’s credit, he gave A-Rod one last chance to show he belonged in the lineup. Rodriguez started seven of the first eight games after the All-Star break, and in those seven games he went 2-for-23 (.087). So much for that. Those seven games were Alex’s last hurrah. His last attempt at a hurrah, really. He started only one of the next 17 games. One of the next 17! The Yankees were playing with a 24-man roster, essentially.

Beltran was traded at the deadline, and rather than put A-Rod back into the lineup at DH, the Yankees called up Gary Sanchez and gave him Beltran’s at-bats. The Yankees were pretty much out of the race at this point, and I figured they would suck it up and bench Alex until rosters expanded on September 1st, when it would be easier to carry the dead roster spot. They could then reevaluate things in the offseason.

The Yankees did not do that. Instead, they called a press conference on September 7th. That could only mean one thing: A-Rod’s career was coming to an end. Was he retiring? Did the Yankees release him? Was he getting suspended again? The mechanics were unclear. But it was over. We all knew it. That Sunday morning, A-Rod and the Yankees announced he would be released the following Friday, after one last game at home.

“I’m at peace with the organization’s decision,” said A-Rod, making it clear this was not his call. To the team’s credit, they handled this as graciously as possible. The Yankees could have simply released Alex and been done with him. Instead, they gave him that final home game and a chance to say goodbye to the fans. And vice versa. Lots of people still love A-Rod.

The farewell tour was short and not sweet. Girardi kept Rodriguez on the bench following his retirement press conference. He did play one final road game, fittingly at Fenway Park, where he played his first career game. Many fans, myself included, were pretty bummed A-Rod was not playing that final week. The Yankees weren’t going anywhere at the time and these were our last days with Alex. We wanted to see him play! Alas.

Goodbye, Al

August 12th. The date of A-Rod’s final game with the Yankees. He was in the lineup, batting third as the DH. The Yankees were playing the Rays, the same team they played in A-Rod’s first game in pinstripes. The night started with a pregame ceremony that was so perfectly awkward. It literally rained on A-Rod’s parade.

Amazing. Only A-Rod. The Bleacher Creatures gave Alex an extra long (and extra loud) Roll Call in the first inning, and several Yankees wore high socks to honor Rodriguez, including Chase Headley, the guy who replaced A-Rod at third base two years ago. Yankee Stadium was never louder this season than it was that night.

Given his recent lack of production, there was a chance Rodriguez’s final game would be ugly, especially against a strikeout pitcher like Chris Archer. Alex instead went out with a bang, lining a run-scoring double into the right-center field gap to give the Yankees their first run of the night.

The double was the final hit of A-Rod’s career. He grounded out, struck out, and grounded out in his next three at-bats to close out the game. Alex went 1-for-4 with a double against the (Devil) Rays in his first game with the Yankees and 1-for-4 with a double against the Rays in his last game with the Yankees. Baseball.

With the Yankees staked to a three-run lead, Girardi gave A-Rod one last goodbye moment by sending him out to play third base in the ninth inning. The Yankees Stadium crowd went wild.

It had been 447 days since Rodriguez last played the field. At one point he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, and early in his time with the Yankees he was one of the better fielding third basemen as well. Now, at age 41, he was playing one last inning at third base. It wasn’t even a full inning. A-Rod came out of the game after one out. It was his idea.

“I’m very grateful that Joe gave me the opportunity to play third for one out. I was actually excited,” he said after the game. “I was also stressed because once Joe made me the full-time DH, I retired my cup. So then I was very stressed. I screamed to [Dellin Betances] — the same thing Cal Ripken screamed to Roger Clemens in the All-Star Game in 2001, when we switched, he said, ‘Strike him out Roger’ — and I said exactly the same thing.”

Following the final out, A-Rod went back out onto the field to wave goodbye to the fans one last time. He walked over to third base, scooped up some dirt, stuffed it in his pocket, then descended into the clubhouse. His playing career was over, four home runs shy of becoming the fourth player in history with 700 home runs.

“It’s going to be tough to top that. That’s a memory that I will own forever,” said A-Rod after the game. “With all the things that I’ve been through, and to have an ending like tonight, I don’t know what else a man can ask for. I’m extremely thankful for everything the Steinbrenners — and especially the fans — did for me tonight.”

Outlook for 2017

As planned, A-Rod was released the following day — that opened a roster spot for Aaron Judge — and he finished the season with a .200/.247/.351 (56 wRC+) batting line and nine home runs in 243 plate appearances. The Yankees still owe him the balance of his contract, so they’re keeping him aboard as a special advisor. He’ll primarily work with prospects in the minors, and Alex has already spent time in Instructional League working with players.

Despite being a special advisor, Rodriguez is free to sign with another team, though he did seem to close the door on that following his final game. Also, teams aren’t exactly interested in a 41-year-old DH who can’t hit anymore. Maybe someone will sign him. I seriously doubt it. For now, A-Rod is going to his analyst work on FOX — he’s awesome, by the way — and continue working with the team’s prospects. Love him or hate him, the Yankees were never boring during A-Rod’s time in pinstripes. This truly is the end of an era.