Even though the Yankees have been eliminated from postseason contention, these last few days have been pretty damn awesome. Congrats, Andy. And thanks.
I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.
The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.
The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:
- A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
- A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
- An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
- A workhorse left-handed starter.
- A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.
Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:
- A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
- A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
- A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.
That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.
The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.
As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.
Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.
For the second time in three years, Andy Pettitte is retiring from baseball. The veteran left-hander announced his intention to retire following the season on Friday afternoon, prior to the start of the team’s final homestand of 2013. Both Joel Sherman and Ken Rosenthal reported the news earlier in the day. Here is Pettitte’s full statement:
“I’m announcing my retirement prior to the conclusion of our season because I want all of our fans to know now—while I’m still wearing this uniform—how grateful I am for their support throughout my career. I want to have the opportunity to tip my cap to them during these remaining days and thank them for making my time here with the Yankees so special.
“I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field. The time is right. I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.
“One of the things I struggled with in making this announcement now was doing anything to take away from Mariano’s day on Sunday. It is his day. He means so much to me, and has meant so much to my career that I would just hate to somehow take the attention away from him.”
Pettitte, 41, first announced his retirement following the 2010 season. He sat out the entire 2011 season before making a comeback in 2012, citing the itch to compete. The comeback was a successful one — 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 12 starts — aside from the fluke broken leg he suffered on a hard-hit comeback ground ball. That cost him close to three months.
The injury drove Andy to continue pitching in 2013. The Yankees re-signed him to a one-year contract worth $12M last November and he was in their rotation right from Opening Day. Pettitte has pitched to a 3.93 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 28 starts while missing time with back and lat problems this year. He had a real rough patch in the middle of the summer that made him look very much like the oldest starting pitcher in baseball, but Andy rebounded and has been the team’s best starter for a good month now.
Pettitte owns a career 255-152 record with a 3.86 ERA (3.74 FIP) in parts of 18 big league seasons, all but three with the Yankees. He has gone 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 44 career postseason starts and was an integral part of five World Championships. Andy is the Yankees all-time leader in strikeouts (2,009) while ranking second in starts (436), third in wins (218), innings (2780.1), and WAR (50.9), and fifth in games pitched (445). He’s a borderline Hall of Famer andsimply the greatest Yankees starter many of us have ever seen pitch.
Andy is scheduled to start two more games this season — in Yankee Stadium this Sunday and one in Houston next weekend. It’s fitting his final two games will come in the two cities he called home during his career. Mariano Rivera is retiring after the season as well, and it’s kinda neat that he and Pettitte are going out together. The two have teamed up for 72 win-save combinations over the years, by far the most in baseball history. It’s bittersweet to see Andy retire (again), and no, I definitely don’t expect another comeback attempt down the line.
1. As Mike noted in the recap, Andy Pettitte has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees for several weeks now, and it hasn’t even really been close. On the off chance the Yankees somehow find their way into the play-in game, you’d have to give Andy the nod at this point. Right? It’s pretty nuts how the oldest pitcher in the game is basically the stalwart of the rotation once again, but baseball is weird like that. Plus, as we all know, Andy is a True Yankee™ and knows how to get it done. (Now if only the rest of the damn team were capable.) Unfortunately, even if the Yankees manage to squeak into the playoffs, they aren’t exactly geared for a run. Even in a crapshoot environment, having one capable starting pitcher and Robinson Cano is generally not enough to win a series.
2. I typically don’t put too much stock into a manager’s influence on a team other than the in-game decisions that he makes. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that some of the managers are able to deflect the media off the players or deploy a shift appropriately, but ultimately, I’ve always kind of put the burden on the players at the end of the day. I have to give Joe Girardi some major credit this season though. He’s had to cope with far more challenges than most of his peers I think. The team had a disappointing offseason heading into the year, and has been saddled with injuries ever since. Despite a (-17 run differential, 74-77 Pythag. record), the Yankees have miraculously managed to retain hope of playoff contention (though that’s rapidly fading) late into the season. Many of us (including me) didn’t see that happening when they were having that awful stretch in August. It’d be pretty cool if he won the Manager of the Year Award this go around. Well done, Joe.
3. Last night on Twitter, I somewhat sarcastically stated that the team had more non-hitters in its lineup at this point then hitters. The more I thought about it though, the more my sentiments kind of rang true. Here was last night’s lineup along with their respective wRC+.
- CF Curtis Granderson (109 wRC+)
- DH Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+)
- 2B Robinson Cano (140 wRC+)
- LF Alfonso Soriano (108 wRC+, 122 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- 1B Lyle Overbay (90 wRC+)
- 3B Mark Reynolds (98 wRC+, 121 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- RF Ichiro Suzuki (72 wRC+)
- SS Brendan Ryan (45 wRC+, 75 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- C Chris Stewart (56 wRC+)
Having Overbay batting fifth hurts a lot, though probably not as much as the offensive void that is Suzuki, Ryan, and Stewart. It’s tough to score runs when five of your players are below-average hitters overall. I suppose, if there is silver lining to be seen here, it’s that some of these castoffs have been offensively revived a bit since joining the Yankees. So, kudos to you New York for maximizing talent from sub-par or aging players. Also, please stop putting the team in the position of having to depend on so many sub-par or aging players at once.
4. This has definitely been the season of “what ifs,” at least for me anyway. What if the Yankees had a capable catcher all year? What if CC Sabathia didn’t fall off a cliff? What if Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira were around all season? Could the Yankees have that elusive Wild Card spot locked up already if they caught a break, anywhere really? Possibly. Probably. I don’t know. Unfortunately “what ifs” are just that. Useless hypotheticals. That said, it’s incredibly frustrating that in spite of the circumstances, the Yankees have had more than a fair opportunity to make the playoffs.
The Rays and Rangers have gone out of their way to play miserable baseball for weeks now. Meanwhile, the Orioles and Indians seem to be more than willing to concede their playoff berth as well as they’ve both had plenty of timely losses. I don’t know where I’m going with this last point other than if the team winds up missing the playoffs – and they probably will – they have no one to blame but themselves. Unfortunately, as Mike noted in his rant the other day, if they do make the playoffs, it’ll probably further mask some of the more serious underlying concerns surrounding the team heading forward.
Thanks to yesterday’s off-day, the Yankees have pushed Phil Hughes‘ next start back from Sunday to Monday. That allows him to start against the last place White Sox rather than the wildcard rival Orioles. Andy Pettitte, who was scheduled to start Monday, will instead start against Baltimore on Sunday on normal rest. Not surprising at all. The Yankees can’t run Hughes out there against a
good team and expect to win.
Baseball America published their annual best tools survey today (no subs. req’d), and four Yankees placed among the various AL categories. Mariano Rivera was voted best reliever, Brett Gardner the best bunter (!), Robinson Cano the second best defensive second baseman (behind Dustin Pedroia), and Andy Pettitte as having the best pickoff move. I’m pretty sure Gardner isn’t even if the best bunter in the team’s outfield, let alone the entire AL. That gives you an idea of the validity of the survey, I suppose.
The minor league best tools surveys are here: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A. The Yankees did not place a single prospect in any category at any level. Completely shutout. That hasn’t happened as long as I’ve been following prospects. Josh Norris did the legwork and found the Yankees were the only team to be completely unrepresented at all four minor league levels. I’m … uh … sure they had a lot of guys who ranked fourth and fifth in the various categories. Yeah, that’s it.
No, it’s not the literal midway point of the season, but we’re going to use the four-day All-Star break to review the Yankees’ performance to date. We’re handing out letter grades, A through F. We’ve already tackled the A’s and the B’s, now it’s time for the C’s.
I guess that, by definition, a grade C is average, right? It is right in the middle of the A through F scale, but I’m not sure that really applies to baseball though. For every A there are a hundred F’s and for every B there are a couple dozen D’s. Grade C is closer to the top than the bottom, I think, slightly better than average.
Anyway, the Yankees sit in fourth place and three games out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break because they’ve gotten a lot of mediocre performances and very few really good ones. Some guys have wound up C’s because they’re disappointments, but others are here because they’re doing pretty much exactly what’s expected. Heck, some are even here because they’ve been surprisingly good. I’m trying to keep this objective and not look at performance vs. expectations, however. Easier said than done, obviously.
Enough rambling, onto the grade C’s.
It happens almost every year. A known but not necessarily highly-touted young arm comes up from the farm system and impresses in relief for the Yankees. Claiborne has followed in the footsteps of David Phelps (2012) and Hector Noesi (2011) by posting a 2.43 ERA and 3.03 FIP in 29.2 innings. He was excellent early on but has faltered a bit of late, which is not atypical of young relievers. Claiborne stepped in when Joba Chamberlain hit the DL and didn’t just temporarily fill the hole, he upgraded the bullpen.
This has been a tale of two seasons for Nova, who owns a very good 3.63 ERA and an excellent 3.00 FIP in 52 overall innings. He was awful before going down with a triceps issue (6.48 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 16.2 innings), good in two brief relief appearances after getting healthy (one run in six innings), and outstanding since coming back up from the minors (2.45 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 29.1 innings). Which Nova will the Yankees get going forward? Who knows. He’s gone from excellent to awful and back again so many times in the last two years. Right now he has a rotation spot thanks to the Phelps’ injury and will get an opportunity to show this latest version is the real Ivan Nova.
Emotions are a tricky thing. They make you say things that aren’t true just because they once were and you want to believe they still are. “Andy Pettitte is still a reliable mid-rotation starter” is one of those things. Pettitte, who has a 4.39 ERA and 3.75 FIP in 16 starts, has had a season very appropriate for baseball’s oldest starting pitcher. The 41-year-old battled nagging back and lat problems early in the year and has been pretty hittable of late, pitching to a 4.96 ERA and 3.28 FIP in eight starts since coming off the DL. Older finesse pitchers are exactly the kind of guys who underperform their peripherals. Andy has been a dandy number four or five starter, but he hasn’t been particularly reliable or durable this year.
Supposedly team ownership — or at least someone above the baseball operations level — brought Ichiro back on a two-year deal this past winter, a definite head-scratcher of a move. A recent hot streak has raised his season line to .283/.320/.393 (92 wRC+), which is almost identical to the .283/.307/.390 (91 wRC+) line he put up last season. He’s no longer a true burner (on pace for 22 steals) or an elite defender (especially considering how he wastes his arm strength by taking forever to get rid of the ball), but he’s an above-average contributor both on the bases and in the field. A below-average offensive player and above-average defender in right field is a serviceable player, but not exactly a world-burner. Ichiro didn’t completely fall off a cliff this year, and that’s about the best thing you can say about his 2013.
Warren was in a weird place coming into this season, mostly because he appeared to be ticketed for a third trip to Triple-A Scranton since there was no big league opening for him. That’s how careers stall. Phil Hughes started the year on the DL with a back problem though, opening the long-man role for Warren. When Nova went down, that spot stayed open. Warren took advantage of that opportunity and has pitched to a 3.09 ERA and 3.84 FIP while averaging more than 2.2 innings per appearance. He’s had some real bullpen savers this year, including 5.1 innings on April 3rd (one run), four scoreless innings on both May 13th and May 22th, and six scoreless innings in the 18-inning marathon against the Athletics on June 13th. Long reliever is a mostly thankless job, but Warren has excelled in that role and put himself in position to be considered for a starting job next season, or maybe even in the second half of this year.