Mailbag: Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia, Pirela, Ex-Yanks

Got six questions for you this week, the first week of the offseason. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime, mailbag comments or otherwise.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Terri asks: What do you think the chances are for Derek Jeter to go into the Hall of Fame as a unanimous choice?

Very small, but better than they would be in 2015 because there will be some turnover in the voting body before Jeter is eligible for induction in five years. Greg Maddux, whose Hall of Fame case was unimpeachable, did not appear on 20 (!) of the 575 ballots this year. Jeter may get a higher percentage of the vote — Tom Seaver still holds the record after appearing on 98.8% of the ballots — than Maddux because he won more titles and was simply more popular, but I’ll continue to bet against a player getting in unanimously until it actually happens. Too many older voters still send in blank ballots in an attempt to make some kind of statement. It’s silly, but that’s life. Don’t worry, Jeter will still get in on the first ballot.

Dan asks: Would it hurt the Yankees brand if Alex Rodriguez, given what we know about his connections with PEDs, broke Babe Ruth’s home run record? Also, is it financially responsible to allow A-Rod to reach the $6 million bonuses from the incentive clauses in his contract that was signed under the pretenses of marketing these achievements from a then “clean” athlete?

On the contrary, I think it will help the team’s #brand. They’re going to make a ton of money if Alex Rodriguez manages to get close to Babe Ruth’s Barry Bonds’ homerun record. People are still going to pay oodles of money to see history and boo the everloving crap out of him. Yeah, the bonuses were signed under the pretense that A-Rod was clean, but CC Sabathia‘s contract was signed under the pretense he would be a 200+ inning workhorse. It didn’t work out, that’s the risk you take when entering into a contract with a player. If the Yankees try to get out of those bonuses, A-Rod and the union will file a grievance and probably win given the contract language. They’re not going to let the team weasel out of that money. It’s a precedent the MLBPA won’t allow to be set.

Daniel asks: Given the new regime entering the MLB offices, how important is it for the Yankees’ financial freedom that this year’s playoff picture includes lower budget teams like Royals, Pirates, and Athletics? Obviously spending money doesn’t win you championships per se but more often than not it puts you in contention and the Wild Card has proven that’s all you need. Will these lower budget teams getting a chance have an impact on the CBA? Will it prevent MLB from considering a salary cap?

A salary cap won’t happen because the union won’t allow it to happen. The luxury tax system is a compromise. Baseball is way too strong financially right now to start putting limits on payroll. The owners would love one, sure, but the MLBPA will fight this tooth and nail. I think they would strike before accepting a salary cap and no one wants a work stoppage. The game is too healthy. Maybe seeing those smaller payroll teams get into the postseason both this year and the last few years (Rays!) will help keep the salary cap conversation at bay, but I don’t think it will have a big impact. The biggest argument against a salary cap is the league’s revenue.

Jack asks: CC’s days of going 200+ innings per year are over. The knee can’t take the pounding, especially over the course of a season. On the other hand, if he is only needed for say 100 innings a year he might be able to play out his contract. What do you think of putting him in the bullpen? It’ll be less strain on the arm (and knee) and will allow him to air it out for each of the one or two innings he pitches, so instead of maxing at say 90 mph he can get back to say maybe 93/94?

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I think it’s worth it to find if Sabathia can still start first. He’ll almost certainly never be an ace again, but maybe he can be what Hiroki Kuroda was this year following knee surgery, even if it’s only for one year. If Sabathia can’t start, either physically or because his performance is terrible, then stick him in the bullpen and see what happens. I don’t think they’re at that point yet. Give him a chance to start following surgery and see where he’s at. We all just might be pleasantly surprised.

Dustin asks: How playable do you think Jose Pirela is at SS? Could the Yanks save a little cash and maybe even slightly upgrade offensively and in terms of defensive flexibility by bringing Pirela off the bench as a super utility guy? That’s assuming they have a rock-solid everyday SS like Hardy.

The Yankees moved Pirela off shortstop permanently following the 2011 season — he’s played only eight games at the position since, all this year with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been a second baseman and left fielder more than anything these last few years, though he’s seen time pretty much everywhere other than pitcher or catcher. Pirela could probably play shortstop the way Yangervis Solarte did earlier this year, a spot start here or there but not everyday. If the Yankees signed J.J. Hardy or whoever and he got hurt, they’d have to play Brendan Ryan at short everyday, not Pirela. He can hit though, and there’s a decent chance he’ll force the team’s hand in Spring Training the way Solarte did this year. His versatility and right-handed bat would be nice to have on the bench.

JPK asks: Using just players that came through the Yankee system, who are no longer Yankees, and were active in MLB this past season, make your best starting lineup…. Mine is Jackson CF, Melky RF, Cano 2B, Soriano DH, Montero 1B, Navarro C, Nunez 3B, R Pena SS, A. Almonte LF… Did I miss anyone?

I’ll do you one better. Here’s an entire roster of former Yankees’ farmhands who played in MLB this season.

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Dioner Navarro 1B Jesus Montero LF Melky Cabrera RH Phil Hughes RH John Axford
2B Robinson Cano CF Austin Jackson RH Ian Kennedy RH J. Chamberlain
DH SS Ramiro Pena RF Jose Tabata RH Zach McAllister RH Tyler Clippard
Alfonso Soriano 3B E. Nunez LH Vidal Nuno LH Mike Dunn
LH Jose Quintana RH D. Farquhar
Bench RH George Kontos
C Eric Fryer IF Dean Anna RH Mark Melancon
UTIL J. Paredes OF Abe Almonte

The roster would look quite a bit better if I could include players the Yankees drafted but did not sign, specifically Gerrit Cole, Doug Fister, Drew Storen, and Chris Davis. The notable omissions are all pitchers: Hector Noesi, Tommy Kahnle, Phil Coke, and Randy Choate. The Yankees have produced a bunch of decent arms recently but not many bats — Fryer and Anna are really stretching the definition of “coming up through the system.” My lineup one through nine would be similar to JPK’s:

  1. Jackson
  2. Melky
  3. Cano
  4. Soriano
  5. Navarro
  6. Montero
  7. Tabata
  8. Nunez
  9. Rakin’ Ramiro

The pitchers are listed alphabetically but my rotation would be Quintana followed in order by Hughes and Kennedy, with Nuno and McAllister in whatever order in the fourth and fifth spots. Pick ‘em out of a hat. Melancon would close with Clippard and Farquhar setting him up. I don’t really have a long man but whatever. Just spit-balling it, that roster would win what, maybe 70-75 games? It would rely (heavily) on the pitching and Cano driving in Jackson and Melky. That’s pretty much it. Maybe some trademark Yankees Magic™ would get them to 81 wins.

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Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: Coaching Staff, A-Rod, Offseason, Prospects, Leadership, More

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees wasted no time jumping into the offseason this year. Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference on Monday afternoon, the day after the team closed out its regular season. Usually they wait two or three days. Not this year though.

There was no major news announced during Monday’s televised press conference — no coaching staff changes or surprise injuries, etc. — though Girardi did talk at length about all sorts of stuff. Especially Alex Rodriguez. People love talking about A-Rod. Here’s a recap of Girardi’s state of the team address.

On A-Rod

  • “We’ve gotta see where he’s at. That’s the thing we have to do,” said the skipper when asked what he expects from Alex next year. “We have to see where he’s physically at. If he can play the field, how many days will he DH, play the field … I don’t think any of us know about him until we get him in games in Spring Training.”
  • “I thought our guys handled it pretty well (when A-Rod returned in 2013),” added Girardi while acknowledging the first few days of Spring Training will be hectic. “Will there be a number of new guys in there? I’m sure … We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s not a distraction, but until we get into it we don’t really know. My personal opinion is it won’t be.”
  • “I have a good relationship with Alex. Our team enjoys Alex (in the clubhouse),” said Girardi. “I don’t think that will be an issue. Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah, but we’ll help him get through that.” (Girardi also joked that fans have been hating on A-Rod for years and he’s used to it by now.)
  • Girardi said the Yankees “absolutely” expect Rodriguez to be on the team next year. “He hasn’t played in a year. That’s not easy to do, to sit out a year … Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely.”
  • Girardi also confirmed they have not discussed having A-Rod work out at first base. “We expect him to be our third baseman,” he said. They’ve stayed in touch via text message over the summer.

[Read more…]

A-Rod declared healthy and preparing to play in 2015

Prior to yesterday’s game, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters that Alex Rodriguez has been declared healthy by the team’s insurance company and he is preparing to play in 2015. “He’s doing two-a-days right now. Last I remember, he said he was out at UCLA. Between that and his workouts in Miami, he’s (also) going to plan on working with our staff in Tampa at some point this winter. He looks forward to reintroducing himself in a positive way for us going forward,” said the GM to Chad Jennings.

A-Rod, now 39, has opted not to play winter ball as a tune-up heading into next season. Cashman said the team ran the idea by him just so they could begin the process of getting him on a roster, but he declined. Rodriguez missed most of last season following left hip surgery after having right hip surgery in 2009. He played only 265 of 486 possible games from 2011-13. What will the Yankees get out of A-Rod next year? Who in the world knows. Cashman made it pretty clear they aren’t going to release him — they could still recoup some of the $63M they owe him through 2017 if he gets suspended or hurt again (insurance!) — so they’ll need him to contribute something more than nothing.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Protected Pick, Pineda, Homers

I’ve got seven questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or comments or links or whatever, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.

Many asked: What about playing Alex Rodriguez at shortstop next season?

We get asked this question a shocking number of times each week and I guess we can’t ignore them any longer. Alex can not play shortstop anymore. He hasn’t had the mobility for the position for about five years now based on his play at third. His arm is fine and his baseball instincts are literally the best I’ve ever seen, so I’m sure he knows what to do and all that, but physically he doesn’t move like he once did. Remember, we’re talking about a 39-year-old with two bad hips who has played 44 games total from 2013-14. By time Opening Day rolls around, it will have been 12 years since Alex played short. I’m am confident saying there is zero chance of this happening.

Assuming the Yankees don’t release A-Rod once his suspension is over — earlier this year I thought they would for sure, I think I wrote that somewhere, but now I don’t think that’s likely because he’s such a rating and ticket sale powerhouse — I’m sure they’ll try him at third base next year but wind up playing him at DH most of the time. I guess that would mean Martin Prado at third? Maybe they can teach Rodriguez to play some first base as well. But anything that requires actual mobility? I can’t see it. He’ll have to overcome a lot of physical obstacles to play the field regularly next season. Part-time third base, part-time first base, part-time DH seems like the best we could hope for going forward.

Justin asks: How does Jon Lester compare in age, innings pitched and injury history to CC Sabathia prior to his signing with the Yanks? Am I wrong to think off the top of my head that he would be well under CC’s innings total?

Sabathia was only 28 years old when he signed with the Yankees, remember. At the time of his free agency he had thrown 1,684.1 big league innings between the regular season and postseason, and his only notable injury was a torn meniscus following the 2006 season. Lester will turn 31 this offseason and he’s at 1,623.2 big league innings, so he’ll finish the year in the 1,650-1,700 range. He missed two weeks with a lat strain in 2011 and went through the cancer stuff back in the day. When Sabathia was Lester’s age, he had thrown 2,450.1 total innings. He started breaking down the next season (2012). (I’m not saying Lester will break down at the same age.) Lester’s arm is much fresher than Sabathia’s at the same point of his career, theoretically.

Paul asks: Approximately how bad would the Yankees have to be the rest of the way to get a protected draft pick? Where do you think they’ll end up picking (or which pick will they be losing to sign a qualified free agent if that’s what you think will happen)?

Because the Astros did not sign first overall pick Brady Aiken, they will receive the second overall pick as compensation next year. That pick as well as the first ten “natural” first round picks are protected from draft pick compensation. The Yankees currently have the 13th best record in baseball at 64-61, putting them in line for the 18th overall pick. The Mets have the tenth worst record at 60-68, a .469 winning percentage. Let’s say the Yankees would need to finish with a .460 winning percentage to secure a protected first round pick. That would mean a 74-88 overall record, or 10-27 in the final 37 games. The Yankees stink, but I can’t imagine they’ll play the .270-ish ball they would need to play the rest of the season to get a protected first rounder. In all likelihood they’ll end up picking in the 15-20 range.

Charlie asks: Just curious, how much longer is Big Mike under team control for? Does all of his injury time delay his arbitration? Thanks.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees did delay Michael Pineda‘s free agency and arbitration one year by activating him off the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A last July. He should have been in his first arbitration year right now and scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. Instead, Pineda will be arbitration eligible for the first time next year and hit free agency after the 2017 season, when he’ll still only be 28. Time spent on the DL is the same as the active roster for service time purposes.

Mark asks: It seems to me that as bad as the Yankees power output has been this year, a larger percentage of the few HRs that they hit have been solo HRs. Is that true?

The Yankees have hit 112 homers this season, which are broken down into 75 solo homers (67%), 27 two-run homers (24%), eight three-run homers (7%), and two grand slams (2%). Two grand slams! Remember when they hit three grand slams in one game a few years ago (video)? Good times. Good times. Anyway, the AL averages this year are 57% solo homers, 29% two-run homers, 11% three-run homers, and 2% ground slams. So yes, the Yankees have hit far more solo homers than a) any other type of homer, and b) the league average this year.

Drew asks: I know no prospect is perfect but which Yankee hitting prospect has the most complete tool set? My first initial thought was Aaron Judge, or am I missing someone? Does most complete tools equal best prospect? I’m not too sure, and it depends on how high you value a particular skill set and ceiling.

I would say Judge has the most complete set of tools in the system right now. In fact, I think he does easily. I’m not even sure who’s close at this point. Tyler Austin lacks speed and a strong arm, Greg Bird has all the hitting tools but not much else, and Jake Cave lacks power. Slade Heathcott probably has the second most complete set of tools in the system but he’s never healthy. I wouldn’t say the most complete tools automatically equals the best prospect, the quality of the tools matter as well. I would rather have a guy with 80 power, 20 speed, and 40 everything else (to use the 20-80 scouting scale for a second) than someone with 50s across the board, for example. Having a well-rounded game is good! It’s not everything though.

Drew asks: Is Mark Montgomery really having that bad of a season? Yes the walks have been an issue but overall it looks like his numbers have been pretty good. I don’t think he is a realistic option for the pen in September but more like the middle of next year after starting the year in AAA. Yes we thought it was going to happen this year but, hey things happen.

It’s about more than just the numbers, remember. Here’s what Brian Cashman told Nick Peruffo just the other day:

He used to have much bigger velocity, and now its settling at a lower level. He still has the performance behind it, its just not the power stuff it was before. He’s still someone that’s on our radar.

Montgomery has a 2.30 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 47 innings with a 24.1% strikeout rate and a 12.8% walk rate between Double-A and Triple-A this year. During this sicko 2012 season at High-A and Double-A, he had a 1.54 ERA (1.62 FIP) with a 39.4% strikeout rate and an 8.8% walk rate in 64.1 innings. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder last year and it shows in the numbers. He’s still a good relief prospect, just not the potential shutdown late-inning force we all thought he would be two years ago.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Phelps, A-Rod

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Got some injury updates to pass along on the off-day. Well, two injury updates and one suspension update, technically. They all come courtesy of Chad Jennings, George King, and Mark Feinsand.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) will throw some breaking balls (but not splitters) during his next bullpen session this week. He’s already thrown some curveballs and sliders on flat ground. “He played catch [Sunday] and he will be scheduled for another bullpen next week,” said Joe Girardi. “I am not sure what day it is. His next bullpen he will start to spin some stuff. He will throw some fastballs and some breaking balls … I am not sure he will throw a split. They talked about him spinning some curveballs. I am not sure he will throw a slider or what else he is going to throw.”
  • David Phelps (elbow) will be re-evaluated today. If all goes well, he could start throwing later this week. The original plan when he was placed on the disabled list called for Phelps to be shut down completely for at least two weeks, and today marks two weeks. Hopefully Phelps’ elbow checks out fine and he doesn’t need much more than a rehab game or two before rejoining the team.
  • This technically isn’t an injury update, but I guess it fits here. Alex Rodriguez has been working out in Miami and Los Angeles in preparation for a return next season. He’s hitting and performing fielding drills. You know, just in case you thought he was sitting on the couch these last few months.

A-Rod drops lawsuit against team doc, reiterates intent to play in ’15

Alex Rodriguez has dropped his malpractice suit against Yankees team doctor Dr. Christopher Ahmad, according to Ken Davidoff. The suit had been pending since October, when he sued pretty much everyone as part of the appeal of his record 211-game suspension. “All legal matters have been resolved. Alex looks forward to taking the field in 2015,” said spokesman Ron Berkowitz.

A-Rod dropped his lawsuits against MLB, MLBPA, and Bud Selig back in February. It seems like he’s trying to un-burn some bridges at this point. Alex is still under contract through 2017 and he continues to say he wants to play once his suspension is over, so it’ll be very interesting to see what happens next year. The Yankees pretty clearly don’t want him around, but they’re stuck with him and may try to bleed whatever attendance and ratings boost they can out of him. Whether he can be an effective player is another matter.

Remembering when the Yankees had the best infield in baseball

Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:

Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.

1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR

Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.

2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR

Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.

SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR

Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.

3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR

When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.

* * *

Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.