Time to discuss the potential on-field impact of A-Rod’s return

Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The circus has arrived. Alex Rodriguez is set to rejoin the Yankees this season after serving his 162-game suspension last year, and he’s already made the rounds. He apologized to new commish Rob Manfred. He apologized to the Yankees. He apologized to everyone — including the fans! — in a handwritten statement. That was all necessary in my opinion and it’s done now. Good. Let’s move on.

For the purposes of this post, moving on means talking about actual baseball, not discussing how the Yankees can get out of A-Rod‘s contract or anything like that. Like it or not, Alex is back and the Yankees seem committed to seeing if he has anything left. Considering there are three years and over $60M left on his contract, they have to at least see what he can do, right? He was a pretty good player once upon a time, remember. Maybe the year away did his body good.

Let’s start by laying out some facts:

  • A-Rod is 39 and will turn 40 in late-July.
  • A-Rod has played zero MLB games in the last 16 months and only 44 games in the last 28 months.
  • A-Rod has had surgery on both hips as well as his right knee within the last six years.

That’s all pretty bad as far as on-field production goes. Old players usually don’t perform well. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries perform even worse. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries who haven’t played at all in a year and not that much in two years perform even worse than that. A-Rod hits the trifecta.

Since the turn of the century, there have been 104 instances of a position player age 39 or older appearing in at least 54 games (one-third of a season), and 78 of the 104 finished the year with 1.0 WAR or less. Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones, and Edgar Martinez account for seven of the 26 1.0+ WAR seasons. Sixty-two of the 104 were at 0.5 WAR or less. Forty-two of the 104, or 40.4%, were replacement level or worse. That’s really bad.

Normally, this is where I’d point out A-Rod is much more like Bonds or Chipper or Edgar than he is, say, Omar Vizquel or Todd Pratt or Jeff Conine. Rodriguez was a friggin’ star, man. He put up huge numbers and is simply one of the best right-handed hitters ever. Great players age differently than everyone else, but Bonds, Chipper, and Edger were not coming back from any major lower body injuries nor had they missed close to two full seasons before their age 39 season.

Forget about WAR for guys in their age 39 season. This is more important: over the last 25 years, 50 players had fewer than 200 plate appearances during their age 37-38 seasons combined, including A-Rod. Of the 49 non-Alex players, only four managed to play even one game in their age 39 season: outfielder Trent Hubbard (ten games) and backup catchers Lance Parrish (70 games), Pat Borders (93 games through age 42), and Mike Difelice (seven games). That’s it. Players who are damn near out of the league at 37-38 usually don’t come back to play at age 39, nevermind 39-41, the ages covered by the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract. He’s trying to do something no has done in the last quarter-century.

Want to look at some projections? Fine. PECOTA pegs A-Rod as a .247/.324/.409 true talent hitter going into 2015 and holy crap that would be amazing. ZiPS has him at .229/.312/.399, which is basically 2014 Mark Teixeira (.216/.313/.398). Steamer has him at .233/.310/.372 and is the least optimistic. But the computers don’t know about A-Rod’s injury history and they don’t know how to account for all his time away from the game the last two years, so they basically ignore them. Projections are mostly useless in general and they’re even more useless for A-Rod.

This is all a roundabout way of saying we have no idea what to expect from Alex this coming season. His injures and time away complicate things way too much. Old players are tough to figure out because they could fall off a cliff at any moment. A-Rod’s an old guy with an injury history who hasn’t played a whole lot. The smart money is on him contributing very little — like, very very like — in 2015 and that’s why the Yankees flat out replaced him at third base (Chase Headley) and brought in protection for the DH spot (Garrett Jones). They’re expecting nothing and prepared for it.

No matter what, A-Rod is going to be a distraction in Spring Training and early in the regular season. (Actually, probably all season.) Cameras are going to be all over him, the media’s going to write all about him, and the broadcasters won’t shut up about him. That’s inevitable and it’ll all be much more tolerable if he contributes in some way on the field. Even league average production would be welcome. There’s no way to realistically expect that though. We know the off-the-field stuff will be ridiculous. The on-field stuff is a total mystery.

email

A-Rod issues apology to MLB, MLBPA, Yankees, and fans

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

After meeting with new commissioner Rob Manfred and the Yankees in recent weeks to clear the air following last year’s suspension, Alex Rodriguez issued a statement today apologizing to MLB, the MLBPA, the Yankees, and, of course, the fans. Here’s the full statement, courtesy of MLB.com:

To the Fans,

I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.

I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology, but I decided that next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.

I served the longest suspension in the history of the league for PED use. The Commissioner has said the matter is over. The Players Association has said the same. The Yankees have said the next step is to play baseball.

I’m ready to put this chapter behind me and play some ball.

This game has been my single biggest passion since I was a teenager. When I go to Spring Training, I will do everything I can to be the best player and teammate possible, earn a spot on the Yankees and help us win.

Sincerely,
Alex

The statement was actually handwritten note sent to various media outlets (PDF link).

Alex issued the statement in lieu of a formal press conference sometime before the start of Spring Training later this week and I think this was the way to go. He gets the apology out there and now when he’s asked the inevitable questions about the suspension, he can refer everyone to the statement and say he wants to focus on baseball. It somewhat defuses a situation that can’t ever really be defused.

The Plan B’s: Sorting through the Yankees’ backup options at each position

A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

We’ve spent, well, just about the entire offseason discussing rotation options should Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), or whoever else get hurt during the 2015 season, but the pitching staff is only one piece of the team. The Yankees suffered several position player injuries last summer and didn’t always have an appropriate backup. Remember Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson at first? Zelous Wheeler at third? Martin Prado in right? It wasn’t pretty.

Thanks to their offseason machinations and improved farm system, the Yankees appear to be better prepared to handle the inevitable position player injury(ies) this coming season. And they are inevitable. Someone’s going to pull a hamstring, take a pitch to the hand, something like that. It takes way more than 25 players to win, remember. Teams put the entire 40-man roster to work each season and the Yankees have more position appropriate backup plans in place for 2015. Let’s run them down.

Catcher
Starter: Brian McCann
Backup Plan: John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine?, Eddy Rodriguez?

You’re not going to find a bigger SKJRM (Serial Killer John Ryan Murphy because his name sounds like a serial killer, for you newbies) fan than me, but even I am a little nervous about the idea of Murphy taking over as the everyday catcher if McCann gets hurt at some point this year. McCann’s a pretty damn important player to the Yankees* and losing him to injury would be a big blow. Romine is out of options and will probably be in a different organization come Opening Day, either via waivers or a minor trade, leaving Rodriguez as the likely third string catcher. He has two MLB games to his credit. In the worst case scenario, I think the Yankees would make a trade for a veteran stopgap backstop rather than call up Gary Sanchez for an extended period of time.

* The starting catcher is an important player for every team, this isn’t unique to New York.

First Base
Starter: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: Garrett Jones

Finally, a real live backup first baseman. Nine players played at least one game at first base for the Yankees last summer, including McCann, Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, and Francisco Cervelli. The team’s approach to backing up Teixeira last year was basically “we’ll put anyone there,” but now they have Jones, a true first baseman with over 400 games of experience at the position in MLB and another 800 or so in the minors. He played 129 games at first for the Marlins just last year. Phew. When Teixeira needs a day off or gets hurt this coming season, the Yankees can stick Jones there and we all won’t have to hope for the best on ground balls to first or slightly off-line throws from other infielders. If both Teixeira and Jones get hurt at some point, I guess McCann would see time at first, or Kyle Roller could get the call from Triple-A if he mashes again.

Second Base
Starter: Stephen Drew
Backup Plan: Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan

Shortstop
Starter: Didi Gregorius
Backup Plan: Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

I’m going to lump the two middle infield spots together because I think if either Drew or Gregorius misses time this year, Refsnyder is going to step into the lineup as the replacement. He’ll take over second if Drew gets hurt, and if Gregorius gets hurt, Drew will slide over to short and Refsnyder will take over at second. Ryan is there for the day-to-day stuff. Gregorius sitting against a tough lefty or Drew needing a day off after starting 15 straight, something like that. If there’s an extended absence though, I believe Refsnyder’s the guy. Ahead of Ryan and ahead of Jose Pirela.

Third Base
Starter: Chase Headley
Backup Plan: Alex Rodriguez?, Brendan Ryan?

Third base is a potential problem area should injury strike. There is no obvious fill-in candidate until A-Rod shows he can handle the position at least somewhat regularly, say two or three times a week, and that might not ever happen. Ryan’s played a handful of games at the hot corner in his career, Gregorius has ten career innings at third, and Drew has never played there as a pro. Even Pirela just has a handful of games at third in his career.

The Yankees did add some minor league infield depth in Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and Cole Figueroa, none of whom we want to see in the Bronx playing regularly next year. They’re emergency options, and if A-Rod can’t play third, it might be an emergency the instant Headley gets hurt. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

This all depends on Alex. If he can play third base some, they’ll have an okay backup plan. If he can’t, the Yankees will probably have to go outside the organization should Headley go down for an extended period of time.

Left Field
Starter: Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Chris Young, Jones?

Center Field
Starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
Backup Plan: Gardner, Young

Right Field
Starter: Carlos Beltran
Backup Plan: Young and Jones

The outfield is pretty straight forward so I’m going to lump the three positions together. The backup plan should any of the starters go down is a Young/Jones platoon. (Jones has some left field experience but not much, though I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to throw him out there if necessary.) If either Gardner or Beltran gets hurt, the Young/Jones platoon takes over in either left or right. If Ellsbury gets hurt, Gardner takes over in center and the Young/Jones platoon steps into left. Simple, right?

Young has been a center fielder his entire career and is still a quality defender, so he’s the third option there. Pirela logged a decent amount of time in left in the minors and is probably the sixth outfielder — behind the starting three, Young, and Jones — by default. Ramon Flores had a nice run in Triple-A last summer (116 wRC+) before hurting his ankle and is next in line behind Pirela. As of this very moment, I think Flores would get the call over Tyler Austin, who is also on the 40-man roster and slated to open the year with the RailRiders. That could change if Austin straight up mashes.

* * *

Aside from third base and the always vulnerable catcher position, the Yankee have clearly defined backup plans all over the field. Young and Jones have the outfield covered, Refsnyder is backing up the middle infield in case of a long-term absence, and Jones is a true backup first baseman behind Teixeira. The Yankees had to scramble for help whenever a position player got hurt the last few years, particularly on the infield, but they have more protection now. Hopefully they won’t need to use these backup plans, but you know as well as I do that it’s inevitable. The 162-game schedule is cruel like that.

A-Rod apologized to Yankees’ brass during meeting at Yankee Stadium today

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of his photo. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Last week we heard Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees were planning to meet at some point to clear the air following his 162-game suspension and legal weirdness last year. That meeting happened today, both the Yankees and A-Rod have announced. Here’s their joint statement:

“Today we held a meeting at Yankee Stadium between Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Jean Afterman, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Sharp. Alex initiated the meeting and apologized to the organization for his actions over the past several years.

“There was an honest and frank discussion on all of the issues.¬†As far as the Yankees are concerned, the next step is to play baseball in spring training.”

Sharp is A-Rod’s lawyer, according to release. Alex has now met the team’s brass as well as new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air. I’m glad this is out of the way, but something tells me there will plenty more A-Rod related distractions in the coming weeks. They’re inevitable.

#RABRetroWeek Mailbag: The Decades Yankees Team

A Daily Digest reader sent in such a phenomenal question that I had to answer it for everyone. It’s the perfect end to Retro Week.

(P.S.: Sign up for the Daily Digest now, so you can get Monday’s edition. We’re nearing 2,000 subscribers, so don’t be left out.)

Jimmy asks: If you had to build a team choosing one player from each decade (e.g. one from the 1920’s, one from the 1930’s, etc.) to fill out all 9 fielding positions plus a DH, who would you pick?

The problem is that there are 10 decades (including the current one, which I’m using) and only 9 starting positions. So I’m going to throw in one starter here.

Let’s start out with the obvious ones, shall we?

1920s

Right Field – Babe Ruth

I don’t have to spend time justifying this one, do I? This and the next one were the slam dunkiest of picks.

1930s

First Base – Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was actually better in the 30s (181 OPS+) than he was in the 20s (174 OPS+). His 1934 through 1937 seasons are one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history (187 OPS+), during which he led the league in OBP all four years, led in OPS three out of the four, led the league in homers twice, and won a batting title. In 1934 he led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS (naturally), HR, and RBI, yet finished fifth in the MVP voting because…no, seriously, someone find the 1934 voters. We need an explanation. Even teammate Lefty Gomez got more first place votes, which is just bizarre.

Anyway, Gehrig was probably the most dominant player of the 1930s. He led the way in Offensive WAR (because there is no way you’re getting me to factor defense into analyzing the 30s), trailed closely by Jimmie Foxx. I suppose you could make an argument that Foxx was the most dominant player, but it’s really him or Gehrig.

1940s

Center Field – Joe DiMaggio

At this point I had to start making a graph of who I was picking where. Do I go with DiMaggio as the CF in the 40s, or Mantle as the CF in the 50s? As it turns out, the 50s was a crowded time. If I wanted to use Mantle in CF, I’d pretty much have to use Charlie Keller as my 40s guy in LF. After mapping it out, I stuck with DiMaggio.

1950s

Pitcher – Whitey Ford

Originally I had Yogi here, and there wasn’t much thought in my mind to change it. Then I realized that pitcher would be the toughest position to fill. Sorry to say, but it was easier to flip out Yogi for Whitey than it was to flip out Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio for Ruffing, Gomez, or Hoyt. I still think it all works out for the better.

1960s

Left Field – Tom Tresh

Probably my weakest pick, but for good reason. For a while I had Roy White as LF in the 70s and Elston Howard as C in the 60s, but the difference in production is just too great. I love Howard, but Thurman Munson just dominated in the 70s. Tresh held his own in the 60s though, so he’s a fine pick, if not the flashiest.

1970s

Catcher – Thurman Munson

I did not know this: White has the most Offensive WAR of any Yankee who has played at least 50 percent of his time in left field. It was tempting to go with him here, but Munson was just a powerhouse in the 70s. He led the team in WAR, and is right with Posada, behind Berra and Dickey, as the one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history.

1980s

DH – Dave Winfield

We now reach the most fudged selection of the group. My initial inclination was to go with Giambi in the 2000s as DH, but then I realized that was stupid. A-Rod is the best-hitting 3B in Yankee history by no small margin. Again, could have gone Nettles in the 70s, but then I have to go with a lesser LF from the 80s. And, well, there were no Yankees with 1,500 PA who got half their time at LF in the 80s. Seriously, zero. Winfield qualified for DH in that he got more than 25 percent of his at-bats there in the 80s. I’m not particularly proud of this pick, but it’s what works.

1990s

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

By this point you can see what positions and decades remain and guess my three picks. So I’ll just list them.

2000s

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

Hate him? Fine. But he won two MVPs and led the team to its first World Series in nearly a decade. Wah wah Graig Nettles wah wah.

2010s

Second Base – Robinson Cano

Cano took a huge step forward in 2010, which is convenient for this list. He is 10 Offensive WAR against the next-best Yankee hitter from the decade (Curtis Granderson), which makes me really depressed about the 2010s Yankees.

Offensive WAR Ranks

How did I do? Let’s look at the Yankees Offensive WAR leaders by decade to see how many wins they produced. Before looking I’m pretty sure I got near the top guy in each decade.

Note, this is the WAR produced with the Yankees in that decade only.

Decade Player WAR Rank
1920s Ruth 95.7 1
1930s Gehrig 75.0 1
1940s DiMaggio 42.2 1
1950s Ford 26.6 1
1960s Tresh 22.4 3
1970s Munson 42.6 1
1980s Winfield 33.6 1
1990s Jeter 25.9 3
2000s Rodriguez 41.8 2
2010 Cano 25.8 1

Note: Jeter actually produced more WAR, almost double, in the 00s (the most on the Yankees), but that creates a problem in the 90s. Only Bernie and O’Neill ranked ahead of him in Offensive WAR. O’Neill is right out, and to swap out Bernie would be to pick Keller in the 40s. That leaves 3B to the 60s, which means Clete Boyer, which is just not happening. This is a balancing act. Going Bernie-Jeter in 90s-00s makes the team weaker elsewhere.

If you think you can produce more than the 431.6 cumulative Offensive WAR of this squad, be my guest. But I’m pretty sure this is the best team, under the given circumstances, that you could create.

Cashman confirms Yankees will meet with A-Rod to clear the air

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

A few weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air as he prepares to return from his 162-game suspension. At the time it was reported the Yankees had declined a meeting with A-Rod, but Brian Cashman shot that down today. The GM told Nick Cafardo the team will meet with Alex in the near future. “We’re more than happy to meet with him,” said Cashman.

So no one is surprised by this, right? Like it or not, the Yankees seem committed to giving A-Rod a chance to show he has something left this season, and there’s no sense in holding any kind of grudge or making a bad situation worse. The two sides will meet, shake hands, force some smiles, and move on. There’s really not much else they can do at this point. Feuding with Alex accomplishes nothing.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Rodriguez to hit .229/.312/.399 (96 OPS+) with 15 dingers in a little over 400 plate appearances this coming season, which stinks but isn’t a total disaster. Then again, ZiPS doesn’t know Alex has two bad hips and it doesn’t know how to treat his missing an entire year. Point is, no one knows what he can do next season. I hope he mashes and creates total MSM chaos.

Report: A-Rod clears the air with commissioner Rob Manfred, no meeting with Yankees expected

My go-to photo for such matters. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
My go-to photo for such matters. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Ken Davidoff, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred early last week to clear the air and attempt to create some goodwill. Manfred officially took over as commissioner on Saturday and spearheaded the league’s investigation into Biogenesis two years ago.

A-Rod initiated the one-on-one meeting, which took place at the league’s offices on Park Avenue. The logical next step would be for Alex to initiate a similar meeting with the Yankees, though Andrew Marchand says the Yankees have declined. Here’s more from Marchand:

The Yankees have no plans to make owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine or general manager Brian Cashman available for any similar Rodriguez make-up sessions, a source said. An official with knowledge of the team’s thinking said that Rodriguez will not receive any special treatment during spring training and will be dealt with like any other member of the 40-man roster.

For what it’s worth, Dan Martin makes it sound as though a meeting between A-Rod and the team’s brass could happen once Spring Training begins. The Daily News — which, aside from Mark Feinsand, has been aggressively anti-A-Rod throughout this whole mess — says the Yankees will try to void the home run milestone bonuses in Rodriguez’s contract, but good luck with that.

Davidoff says that as far as the league is concerned, Alex is a player in good standing who served his time. The only way he could face more trouble stemming from Biogenesis is if evidence is discovered showing he helped distribute banned substances. The only reason the Yankees haven’t released A-Rod yet is money — they owe him over $60M these next three years and could recoup some via insurance (if he gets hurt) or if he gets suspended again.

I want to say it is a bit petty of the Yankees to not meet with A-Rod so they could clear the air, but I’m not sure how much it would actually help. Their relationship is clearly (very) contentious and a hug and a handshake won’t change that. These two are stuck with each other though. A-Rod ain’t going anywhere, so if there’s something the Yankees could do to make the best out of an awful situation, they should do it. Publicly feuding with Alex is only going to add fuel to the fire.