The 2002 Yankees: A forgotten 103-win season

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s been 15 years since the 2002 Yankees fell short of a fifth straight American League title and fourth World Series win in five years. Because that was a time of World Series or bust fervor, it’s easy to forget that the ’02 squad won 103 games and arguably had the Yankees’ best rotation of the decade. So let’s take a look back at that team as well as what could have been.

New Faces

Right now, Yankee fans are forced to adjust to a series of bright-eyed young kids coming up to the majors and a few solid veterans. The 2002 Yankees didn’t have a transition anything like the current squad, but they did see a few shifts after the 2001 World Series. They had holes in all four corners as Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius retired while Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch became free agents.

The Yankees being the Yankees, they filled all four holes within eight days. The first move was to trade David Justice to the Mets, one of the rare times the crosstown rivals would hook up for a trade, for Robin Ventura. Four days later, they’d deal reliever Jay Witasick to the Giants for John Vander Wal, who’d man right field.

That move would get overshadowed because it was on the same day they announced the signing of the reigning American League MVP Jason Giambi as their new first baseman. Rondell White would sign for an ill-fated stint in left field four days after that.

The front office appeared done with all five main starters from ’01 returning and Steve Karsay signed to be the new set-up man. However, this was George Steinbrenner‘s team, so anything can happen. By anything, I mean that a 38-year-old David Wells called up Steinbrenner and unilaterally talked him into a two-year deal … even though he had a verbal agreement to sign with the Diamondbacks already. Seriously. 

A dominant regular season

2002 was the first year of the YES Network and those tuning into YES in the inaugural season saw a juggernaut of a team. They lost their first game before reeling off seven straight wins. They won 13 of 14 in mid-May, a stretch that included two three-game sweeps of a perennial Yankees punching bag, the Minnesota Twins.

The offense is what carried the team. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, all those guys were their normal selves for the most part. However, Giambi and a 26-year-old Alfonso Soriano combined for 80 home runs (41 and 39, respectively) and were a force near the top of the lineup. Soriano led the AL with 41 stolen bases and 209 hits., had more home runs than walks (23) and set Yankees records for at-bats (696) and strikeouts (157) in a season. He also had 51 doubles. Ventura was a surprise All-Star with 19 home runs at the All-Star break, so the Yankees literally had an All-Star at every infield position.

The Yankees were certainly based around hitting (they led baseball in runs scored, OBP and SLG and were second in home runs, third in hits), but their pitching staff wasn’t half bad. They had seven pitchers make at least eight starts and all had an above-average ERA+. Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte each had strong years while David Wells rebounded from a bad ’02 to justify his contract.

The bullpen had four key pitchers: Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Karsay and, of course, Mariano Rivera. Rivera went on the DL twice in ’02 (was still dominant when he was healthy), leading in part to Stanton and Karsay each pitching at least 78 games. All four relievers had ERAs below 3.44.

2002 was also the first year the Yankees faced the NL West in interleague play, which led to two memorable moments. One was Barry Bonds hitting an absolute bomb to the back of the upper deck at old Yankee Stadium that Giants PBP man Jon Miller would say was “heading for New Jersey”.  The other was Marcus Thames’ MLB debut. He had to face the best pitcher going in Randy Johnson yet found a way to come through with a homer on the first pitch he saw.

Trade Deadline

The Yankees made two big trades in early July. The first was trading non-prospect Scott Wiggins to the Blue Jays to acquire slugger Raul Mondesi to man right field with Vander Wal, Shane Spencer and others not quite cutting it. Mondesi was a Steinbrenner move through and through as George wanted the past-his-prime outfielder and paid most of his remaining money.

(Mike’s Note: George traded for Mondesi after Tim McCarver said the Yankees needed a right fielder like Raul Mondesi during a nationally broadcast game against the Mets. Enrique Wilson started in right field on June 29th, made a few misplays in the loss, McCarver said they should trade for Mondesi, and a day later the trade was made. Yup.)

They also traded Ted Lilly, who was set to start the following Sunday, and two prospects in a three-team deal with the Athletics and Tigers to acquire 25-year-old righty Jeff Weaver, who they saw as injecting youth into a very old rotation. Weaver would pitch dreadfully in 2003 but was fine as a swingman in ’02 before two bad postseason appearances.

The Loss to the Angels

The Yankees led baseball with 103 wins. They didn’t get possession of first place for good until late June, but eventually won the division by 10.5 games. Ideally, that’d mean they’d face the AL’s worst playoff team (the 94-win Twins) in the ALDS, but instead they got the wild card winners, the 99-win Anaheim Angels. In their four-game set with the Angels, the Yankees led in the 5th inning or later of every single game. Yup. The pitching staff melted down in every game.

Game 1 would be a Yankees classic if it wasn’t for the rest of the series. Roger Clemens, arguably the team’s worst full-time starter, got the ball in Game 1 and was meh. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings and left with the game tied. Ramiro Mendoza gave up a go-ahead home run to Troy Glaus to begin the 8th, but the Yankees rallied. With two outs in the 8th, Soriano and Jeter walked before Giambi tied the game with a single. That set the stage for Williams, who blasted the winning three-run homer.

Pettitte was pulled early in Game 2 and the Yankees came back again, this time with Soriano hitting a two-run homer in the 6th (off rookie Francisco Rodriguez) and the Yanks led, 5-4, until the 8th. Then, El Duque gave up back-to-back homers before Karsay and Weaver gave up two more runs in the 8th and 9th. A late Yankees rally fell short, 8-6, with a Mondesi pop out as the winning run.

The Yankees led 6-1 top 2nd of Game 3, but Mike Mussina was pulled after four innings after giving up four runs. Weaver, Stanton and Karsay combined to give up five runs over the next four innings as the Yankees lost, 9-6. David Wells and Ramiro Mendoza combined to give up eight runs in the 5th inning of Game 4 and the season was over like that.

What may have been the best pitching staff of the decade gave up 31 runs in four games and Mo only pitched one scoreless inning. You can chalk that up to bullpen mismanagement, but Rivera’s injuries that season may have been a reason not to go to him earlier (particularly in Game 2). However, Torre’s regular season bullpen load for Karsay and Stanton may have led to their hiccups in the postseason.

Legacy

There is an alternate universe where the Yankees held off the hot-hitting Angels, beat up on the Twins in the next round like they seemed to do every postseason and then met the Giants in Fall Classic for the first time since a great 1962 series.

The season marked the end of a 31-year-old Giambi’s peak as ’02 was his best year in pinstripes. Williams, then 33, also declined significantly after that year. Mussina and Clemens would rebound in ’03 and Rivera would too with a 1.66 ERA.

Spencer, Stanton and Mendoza moved on from the Yankees (besides one more stint for Mendoza two years later). The Yankees would splurge for Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras the next offseason and win another 101 games. With the postseason success a year later, it just leaves you wondering what might have been in 2002.

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.

Spring Notes: Captain’s Camp, Tanaka, Pineda, Pettitte

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

We are now a day and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training. Of course, a bunch of players are already working out at the minor league complex, so a bunch of spring notes have been trickling in the last few days. Here’s a quick roundup, via Bryan Hoch, Anthony McCarron, and Erik Boland.

2016 Captain’s Camp underway

The second annual Captain’s Camp is underway and the Yankees have been shuttling in former players, executives, and media folks to talk to their top young prospects. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, and Darryl Strawberry have all stopped by the Tampa complex to spend time with the kids. Derek Jeter took them all out to dinner last night.

“What’s encouraging to me is that we don’t pay anybody to come. We have a lot of really good people that are coming in to talk to our guys, just to voluntarily share what they’ve learned over the years,” said farm system head Gary Denbo, who came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp last year. Denbo confirmed more prospects were invited this year as the Yankees look to groom their next young core.

Interestingly, the Yankees selected two Captain’s Camp “leaders” this year: outfielder Aaron Judge and right-hander Brady Lail. “We picked a pitcher and we picked a position player that we thought could lead by example and through their actions. They’ve done a tremendous job,” said Denbo. I think the whole Captain’s Camp idea is pretty cool. Being a big leaguer is hard and it’s great the Yankees are doing whatever they can to help their prospects get to the next level.

All goes well as Tanaka throws off a mound

Over the weekend Masahiro Tanaka threw off a mound for the first time in Tampa — he threw off a mound at Yankee Stadium last week — and everything is going well with his surgically repaired elbow so far. “(Tanaka) didn’t try to push it too much, but it was good. He wasn’t midseason form, but he was where he should be,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild of the 20-pitch throwing session. Tanaka played long toss yesterday as well.

Tanaka had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October and depending who you ask, he is either right on schedule or the Yankees are handling him carefully. I suppose both can be true. Tanaka says he’s unsure if he’ll ready for Opening Day, Rothschild says he’s right on schedule, and Brian Cashman says they’ll take it easy with him in camp. Either way, so far, so good. “We’ll keep throwing. We’ll probably do a mound (session) within the next couple days, and then just keep progressing from there,” said Rothschild.

Pineda wants to throw 200 innings in 2016

Standard Spring Training story alert: [Pitcher] who has never thrown 200 innings in a season wants to throw 200 innings this year. In this case [Pitcher] is Michael Pineda. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. That’s my goal,” he said. “You always want to do better. Sometimes we have good games, sometimes we have bad games … Now it’s a new year and a new season is coming and I want to be ready and prepared to have a great year.”

Pineda built a gym in his home this offseason and he is “looking slimmed down,” according to Boland. Of course, the biggest issue with Big Mike is health. He was on track to throw roughly 200 innings last season before missing most of August with a forearm issue. Pineda seems like the biggest wildcard on the staff. His upside is so obvious and yet, as we saw last year, the results don’t always match the stuff. He’s frustrating and also way too talented to give up on.

Pettitte throws batting practice, may be back later in spring

While in town for Captain’s Camp, Pettitte threw batting practice to several of the team’s top prospects for about 30 minutes yesterday. “If I’m going to be here, y’all ought to use me. The wind was blowing out. Judge, I think, hit a couple on Dale Mabry (Boulevard),” he joked.

Pettitte may return to Spring Training in a few weeks — he was asked about coming back as a player and answered with a straight “No,” in case you’re wondering — depending on his schedule. “I’m going to try to, but I have to see the kids’ games, the way it works out” he said. “I love being down here, love being around these young guys. It’s extremely important to me, also, because of what the Yankees have been to me.”

Wednesday Night Open Thread

As you may have heard, two-time former Yankee Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement from baseball yesterday. He retires as a .270/.319/.500 (111 wRC+) career hitter with 481 doubles, 412 homers, and 289 steals in parts of 16 big league seasons. Soriano never learned to lay off the down-and-away slider but became one of the best power-speed players in baseball anyway. His go-ahead solo homer off Curt Schilling in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series is one of the most forgotten clutch homers in history because of what happened in the ninth. Soriano was awfully fun to watch when he was at his best. Hell of a career, he had.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are all playing tonight. Talk about those games, Soriano’s retirement, or anything else right here. Have at it.

2014 Season Review: The Fall of Alfonso Soriano

The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new preview format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into the season, there were many reasons to think the Yankees would have a better offense in 2014 than 2013. For starters, they committed more than $280M to the free agent trio of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom brought a different dynamic to the lineup. The Yankees were also getting Mark Teixeira back from wrist surgery, and although Lyle Overbay filled in admirably last year, Teixeira at this phase of his career was still an upgrade.

On top of all of that, the Yankees would also have a full season of Alfonso Soriano. The club re-acquired Soriano at least year’s trade deadline and he was a force in the second half, hitting .256/.325/.525 (130 wRC+) with 17 homeruns in 58 games after the trade. He hit exactly as many homers and drove in nearly the same number of runs (51 to 50) in 58 games with the Yankees as he did in 93 games with the Cubs. Returning to New York seemed to reinvigorate the 38-year-old Soriano.

Because of the Ellsbury and Beltran additions, the Yankees forced Soriano into an unfamiliar role. He was either going to have to play right field or serve as the DH to stay in the lineup — and, coming into the year, there was every reason to want him in the lineup everyday — but he didn’t have much experience at either spot. In fact, Soriano had never played right field in his career until this year, and he had only 38 games of DH experience spread across the first 15 years of his career. He played DH only 14 times with the Cubs from 2007-13.

But, the Yankees painted themselves into a roster corner, so Soriano worked out in right field during Spring Training and also took some reps at DH to get familiar with sitting on the bench between at-bats. He opened the regular season as the regular DH while occasionally seeing time in left (whenever Ellsbury or Brett Gardner sat) and right (whenever Beltran sat). It wasn’t until Beltran’s elbow began to act up that Soriano moved into the field full-time — he took over as the regular right fielder in mid-May and was routinely taken out for defense in the late innings.

We can’t trust such a small sample of defensive stats but I thought Soriano actually looked decent in right field, especially considering he had never played the position before. I mean, he wasn’t great, but he made all the routine plays and occasionally surprised with a no-so-routine play. Opponents did run on his weak arm at will — runners attempted to take the extra base 12 times in 15 opportunities, a 20.0% hold rate that was well below the 46.4% league average — but that wasn’t surprising. You knew other teams were going to test him at a new position.

Adjusting to life as a part-time outfielder and part-time DH was not going to be easy, but the Yankees were expecting Soriano to be their top right-handed power source and a consistent threat near the middle of the lineup. Instead, they got one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Soriano hit .242/.275/.414 (88 wRC+) with five homers in 138 plate appearances as he regular DH before hitting .194/.200/.306 (29 wRC+) with one homerun in exactly 100 plate appearances after taking over in right field following Beltran’s injury. From May 5th through June 12th he went 16-for-83 (.193) with 37 strikeouts (43.5%).

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The end result was a .221/.244/.367 (64 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 238 plate appearances. Among the 349 players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2014, Soriano ranked 298th in AVG, 343rd in OBP, 228th in SLG, 316th in OPS+, 332nd in wRC+, 327th in strikeout rate, and 346th in walk rate. He struck out 71 times (29.5%) and walked six times (2.5%), including once intentionally. The Yankees were counting on Soriano to be a major weapon against lefties and he hit .249/.269/.416 (84 wRC+) against southpaws, which is both terrible and way better than the .204/.228/.336 (51 wRC+) line he put up against righties.

The Yankees finally pulled the plug on July 6th, designating Soriano for assignment to clear both a 25-man and 40-man roster spot for career minor league journeyman Bruce Billings. Joe Girardi had relegated Soriano to the bench for spot start study a few weeks before that, opting to use Ichiro Suzuki in right field full-time once Beltran returning and took over the DH spot. Soriano told reporters he would spend some time with his family before deciding whether to retire or continue playing, but we haven’t heard anything since. No team showed interest in him even at the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Soriano was one of the most exciting players in recent Yankees history when he first came up all those years ago because of his speed and big power despite a rail thin frame. He returned to New York a decade later and had an excellent half-season in pinstripes in 2013 before things came crashing down in 2014. Maybe changing positions hurt his offense — to his credit, Soriano never complained about being asked to change positions — or maybe it was just old age. He is 38 after all, and he had already switched to a lighter bat with the Cubs to compensate for lost bat speed. Add in his plate indiscipline and it’s not really a surprise he fell off the cliff so quickly.

The Yankees did improve their offense from 2013 to 2014 but not as much as expected for many reasons, including Soriano’s sudden fall from grace. He wasn’t even able to be a bench bat who played against lefties by the end. The fall of was that drastic. Maybe Soriano will decide to play again, but players his age usually don’t get job offers after seasons like this, which included spending the last three months at home. In all likelihood, his excellent but not quite Hall of Fame worthy career is over, and that makes me sad.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Outfielders

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. We’ve already covered the catchers and infielders, so now let’s move on to the outfielders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Brett Gardner — Grade A

Through the first 94 games of the 2014 season, Gardner has been the Yankees’ best position player. The team got out ahead of his impending free agency by signing him to a four-year extension worth $52M in Spring Training, a deal that looked sensible at the time and looks like a bargain now given his production and the lack of quality outfielders in the upcoming free agent classes.

Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Gardner leads the team in one-base percentage (.353) and total bases (146), ranks second in batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.424), stolen bases (15), OPS+ (116), and wRC+ (116), and first in both bWAR (2.9) and fWAR (2.7). He’s already set a career-high with nine homers. Gardner actually started the season in a funk, going 15-for-62 (.242) in the team’s first 18 games, but he’s hit .286/.366/.447 (126 wRC+) in the 76 games since. That’ll do just fine.

Gardner’s defense continues to be excellent as well. He slid back into left field seamlessly and has performed up to his usually defensive standards, which are rather high. Inside Edge data rates his glovework very well. The Yankees tried shuffling things around and actually started Gardner in right field during a game at Fenway Park in April, but that was a disaster. It looked like he had never played the outfield before. Left field is where he remains and whenever the need has arisen for whatever reason, he’s slid over and filled in at center without missing a beat.

The only negatives in Gardner’s game are his career-high 21.7% strikeout rate and career-low 11.6% stolen base attempt rate. The strikeout issue seems to have to do with him being a little more aggressive in certain counts and swinging for a fences, hence the homers. The stolen base this is weird — he ran in 14.3% of his opportunities last year and in 25.0% of his opportunities from 2010-12. Gardner is still on pace for 26 steals (in 33 attempts), but it appears his days of 45+ stolen bases are over. That’s a shame. Either way, he’s having an unreal season.

Jacoby Ellsbury – Grade B

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As the story goes, it became clear to the Yankees they were going to lose Robinson Cano on a Friday, so they acted quickly to sign Ellsbury before a bidding way broke out. The two sides were in agreement the following Tuesday, and the Friday after that, Cano hooked on with the Mariners. The Yankees replaced Cano with the second best free agent in Ellsbury even though he wasn’t a great fit for the roster — they already had a perfectly capable speedy leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in Gardner.

Ellsbury has been very good through his first season in pinstripes, hitting .282/.346/.400 (105 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 29 chances. That’s right in line with the .289/.341/.407 (103 wRC+) batting line he put up from 2012-13 following his outlier 2011 campaign. Ellsbury’s power has not ticked up despite the move into lefty friendly Yankee Stadium and that makes total sense — almost all of his hits are line drives to left and center field. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to taking advantage of the short porch.

As expected, Ellsbury has had an impact both on the bases and in the field. He’s on pace for 41 steals with an 82.8% success rate, which would make him the team’s first 40-steal guy since Gardner in 2011. The defensive stats hate Ellsbury this year and I don’t get it — it’s a Gardner thing, it happened with Curtis Granderson too, he must be stealing outs and hurting the center fielder’s defensive numbers — but based on the eye test he’s been phenomenal in center. Better than Gardner last season and Gardner was awesome.

Because of injuries and underperformance and all that, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have had to improvise with their lineup. That means Ellsbury has been miscast as a three-hole hitter for most of the year while Gardner bats leadoff. They really don’t have an alternative at this point. Ellsbury lacks the traditional three-hole hitter skills in that he can’t create a run with one swing, but that’s not his fault. He’s a leadoff hitter the team is asking to hit third. Either way, Ellsbury was pretty awesome in the first half.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Carlos Beltran — Grade F

Worst case scenario? Possibly. The Yankees signed the 37-year-old Beltran (for three years!) to be the middle of the order hitter they lost in Cano, but so far all they’ve gotten is a broken down former star who has struggled to both be productive and stay on the field. This is the position player version of Randy Johnson — the right player, only nine years too late.

Beltran has hit .216/.271/.401 (78 wRC+) with nine homers in 228 plate appearances this year while missing time with elbow, knee, and concussion problems. He has a bone spur in his elbow that cost him a month and will require offseason surgery. It has relegated him to full-time DH duty because he can’t throw. (He tried a throwing program but had to shut it down due to discomfort.) The concussion was a fluke injury that occurred when he lined a ball off the cage and back into his face during batting practice. It’s that kinda year.

It’s easy to forget Beltran actually mashed at the start of the season. He was hitting .298/.339/.614 (151 wRC+) with four homers through the team’s first 16 games, then he flipped over the short wall in Tropicana Field while trying to catch a foul pop-up, and has hit .189/.249/.331 (56 wRC+) in 193 plate appearances since. I don’t know it it’s just a coincidence or if he hurt himself flipping over the wall, but he hasn’t hit for nearly 200 plate appearances now. Clutch hits? Beltran hit that walk-off homer against Zach Britton but otherwise has a .156/.216/.297 (25 wRC+) batting line with men in scoring position and a .130/.241/.391 (55 wRC+) batting line in high-leverage situations.

Because he’s not hitting and can’t play the field — not that his defense was a positive, he hurts the team less as the DH, to be honest — Beltran has very little value to the Yankees right now. He could start hitting at any moment and it would be a huge help if he did, but the combination of injuries and age are working against him. Beltran’s first three and a half months in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much worse.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Alfonso Soriano — Grade F

Man, this sucks. Soriano was one of the most fun to watch players when he on a roll and having a full season of him was supposed to give the Yankees a big offensive shot in the arm. Instead, he put up a .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) line with six homers and an unsightly 71/6 K/BB in 238 plate appearances before being dropped from the roster roughly two weeks ago. He wasn’t even hitting lefties anymore (80 wRC+). That’s it. Without warning he went from 34 homers and a 121 wRC+ in 2013 to being done in 2014. Like done done.

Soriano started the year as the full-time DH in deference to Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran in the outfield. He eventually moved to right — he had never played the position before (other than Spring Training) and I thought he did about as well as he could have realistically been expected to perform defensively — once Beltran got hurt, but eventually he lost playing time to Ichiro and was pushed into the light half of a platoon. The Yankees released Soriano earlier this week and he told Marly Rivera he might simply retire rather than continue playing. It was not a pretty end.

Ichiro Suzuki — Grade C

The Yankees relegated Ichiro to fifth outfielder status with their offseason spending spree, and even that was only after they were unable to trade him. And yet, through the traditional first half, he has batted 220 times and appeared in 81 games, the sixth most on the team. He took over as the most of the time right fielder a few weeks ago thanks to both his strong performance and the underwhelming performance of others.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ichiro is hitting .297/.347/.337 (90 wRC+) with six stolen bases on the season, though his bat predictably cooled once pressed into everyday duty. He went 25-for-37 (.373) with a 142 wRC+ as a reserve player during the first 47 team games of the season but has managed only a .259/.308/.289 (63 wRC+) line as a regular in the 47 team games since. Ichiro’s defense has been fine and he’ll still steal the occasional base, but that’s pretty much it. He’s a very good extra outfielder and a pretty terrible regular outfielder at this point of his career.

Zoilo Almonte — incomplete

I get the feeling the Yankees are not going to give Almonte an opportunity to show whether he can be of some use at the MLB level, even as a nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He’s been up and down a few times this year thanks mostly to Beltran’s injuries, getting into ten games and going 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer. Even with Soriano gone, the Yankees have opted to play Ichiro everyday and sub in Zelous Wheeler on occasion. Meh

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Coming into the season, the outfield was expected to be the strength of the team, and it has been. It just hasn’t been as strong as expected due to Beltran’s struggles and Soriano’s brutal ineffectiveness. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best players all season and have lived up to expectations in my opinion. Everyone else in the outfield has kinda stunk. Getting Beltran back and producing at an above-average rate will be imperative in the second half. The Yankees will only be able to acquire so much offense in trades.

Yankees release Alfonso Soriano

As expected, the Yankees have officially released outfielder Alfonso Soriano. He was designated for assignment a little more than a week ago and the team was apparently unable to work out a trade. No club bothered to claim him and his salary off waivers either. No surprise there.

Soriano, 38, hit .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) with six homers in 238 plate appearances this year, including a weak .247/.269/.416 (80 wRC+) against lefties. He is free to sign with any team for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum now, but there is a chance his career is over all together. Soriano said he would consider retiring if he had a poor year in 2014, and this certainly qualifies. Sucks.