Archive for Brett Gardner
Via Andrew Marchand: Brian Cashman reiterated the team will indeed bring Curtis Granderson back as the center fielder once his fractured right forearm heals up. “I don’t think so,” said the GM when asked if there was a chance of keeping Brett Gardner in center.
I don’t the switch is as cut-and-dry as it seems, especially since there’s at least a small chance it could impact Granderson’s offense. This isn’t as simple as sticking Ichiro Suzuki in left last year because they weren’t putting anything at stake offensively. I definitely think they should reconsider though, because it will be a defensive upgrade (how much exactly? not sure) and the Yankees will need to squeeze every ounce of production from their roster if they plan to contend for a playoff spot.
Via George King & Andy McCullough: Brett Gardner is wearing a new fiberglass device to protect his left thumb when running the bases. “I don’t want to hurt it again … I am trying to wear something to protect it,” said the outfielder, who wore a similar device with less protection in the past.
Gardner, 29, broke the thumb in 2009 and missed a few games with soreness in 2010. Here’s a screen cap from yesterday’s game of the new protective gear, which isn’t the most high-tech thing in the world. Keeping Gardner healthy this summer will be one of the team’s top priorities given the current list of injured players, but his head-first slides — especially those into first base — make it tough. Hopefully this new thumb guard helps.
Had things gone according to plan, Brett Gardner would have been manning center field all year rather than during the first four of five weeks of the season. Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm put an end to the position switch experiment before it really even had a chance to start, as Joe Girardi confirmed Granderson will return to his usual center field spot when healthy. Given how much offense the Yankees have lost to free agent defections and injury, getting their top homer hitter back in the lineup as soon as possible will be the priority, not the position switch.
It will be Gardner for the first few weeks of the season, but he’ll slide back to use usual spot in left as soon as Granderson is healthy. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is coming off a .232/.319/.492 (116 wRC+) line with a team-best 43 homers in 2012, though his season can be split into two halves: .248/.352/.502 (130 wRC+) with 23 homers and a 25.9% strikeout rate in the first half, then .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with 20 homers and a 31.8% strikeout rate in the second half. His miserable postseason showing — 3-for-30 with 16 strikeouts — was the icing on the cake.
The root cause of Granderson’s second half slide is so unclear the Yankees sent him to an eye doctor after the season. Tests came back showing unusual. His first/second half BABIP split (.282/.233) was propped up by an increase in fly balls (38.3%/51.1%), though pitchers did throw him fewer fastballs (57.2%/53.7%). Not a ridiculous amount though. Whatever happened in the second half, I can’t really explain it. Could be something obvious I’m not seeing or it could be something completely under-the-radar. I’m guessing the latter. Whether it’s correctable is something we won’t know until he actually gets back on the field.
Regardless of why the second half slump happened, the Yankees need Granderson’s power and that’s something he provided even when struggling. He hits homers at home (56 since revamping his swing in August 2010), on the road (41), against righties (64), against lefties (33), with men on-base (42), with the bases empty (55) … pretty much all the time. Granderson is one of the few batters who bats with a man in scoring position all the time — even when the bases are empty — because his ability to go deep at any moment is a game-changer. The Yankees have been known for that kind of offense basically forever, but this season will be different and that makes the Grandyman that much more important.
In addition to all of that, this is Granderson’s walk year. He’ll become a free agent after the season for the first the in his career, and his power production will get him paid regardless. Whether he has a big year like 2011 (145 wRC+) or just a merely above-average year like 2012 (116 wRC+) will determine if he gets Michael Cuddyer money (three years, $31M) or Nick Swisher money (four years, $56M). The Bombers could sure use a nice big contract push from their center fielder, but more importantly, they just need to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible.
Technically it is Gardner even though he’ll open the year playing center everyday. The Yankees showed last season they’re willing to play Ichiro Suzuki in center on occasion, so he’s a backup option as well. There’s also Melky Mesa, who could open the season with the big league club and is another legitimate center field candidate. Despite losing Granderson, the Bombers have no shortage of capable center fielders at the Major League level.
Knocking on the Door
Before Granderson’s injury, it was likely Mesa was going to open the season as the everyday center fielder with Triple-A Scranton. He is third on the center field depth chart — I do the Yankees would play Melky2.0 out there everyday before Ichiro Suzuki if both Granderson and Gardner got hurt — and is sorta like a poor man’s version of a right-handed Granderson offensively. Mesa has power and speed and contact issues, but he’s a much better defender with a very strong arm. If he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training as Granderson’s replacement, Melky will wait in Triple-A and assuredly resurface in the Bronx at some point this simmer.
The Top Prospect
You can make a very strong case that New York’s two best prospects are both center fielders. Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott ranked second and fourth on my preseason top 30 prospects list, respectively, but not many would argue if I had them one-two in either order. Williams, 21, hit .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) in 397 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last season before needing season-ending left shoulder surgery — he hurt himself while diving for a ball in the outfield — in late-July. He’s a ballhawk in center with big-time speed and range, though his arm is just okay and his routines need to be refined. Williams signed for $1.45M as the Yankees’ fourth rounder in 2010, but he needs to work on a number of things. The raw tools are as impressive as they come though. He’ll open the season back at High-A Tampa and will hopefully stay healthy and get a ton of at-bats as the leadoff man.
Heathcott, meanwhile, returned from his second left shoulder surgery at midseason to hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa in 2012 before catching some extra at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old has the best all-around package of tools in the organization, with power and patience from the left side of the plate to go with high-end speed and defense in center. Heathcott can over-swing at times and struggle to make contact, but that should work itself out with more experience. Health is an issue though, in part because he plays all-out all the time and hurts himself by diving for balls and running into walls. Slade has yet to play in more than 76 regular season games since signing for $2.2M as the team’s first round pick in 2009, so staying on the field all year will be priority number one this season. He’ll open the year at Double-A Trenton and since he’s due to be added to the 40-man roster following the season (to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft), there’s a chance we’ll see him as a September call-up.
The Deep Sleeper
Could it be Ravel Santana at this point? The 20-year-old had a miserable season with Short Season Staten Island last summer — .216/.304/.289 (84 wRC+) with three homers and 27.5% strikeouts in 247 plate appearances — after coming back from the devastating ankle injury that ended his 2011 campaign prematurely. Two years ago he was a budding star after dominating the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, but the injury sapped some athleticism and cost him balance at the plate. If he regains his previous form as he matures and gets further away from surgery, Santana is likely to join the ranks of Williams and Heathcott. If not, he’ll be a non-prospect. I ranked him 28th on my preseason top 30 list and he’ll join Low-A Charleston this year. It’s a weird situation, but there is some breakout potential here.
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Even though Granderson is going to miss the start of the season, the Yankees are in good shape regarding the center field position. Gardner is a more than capable replacement — both short- and long-term — and Ichiro can fill-in no problem if needed. New York will also have legitimate prospects playing center in Triple-A (Mesa), Double-A (Heathcott), High-A (Williams), and Low-A (Santana). That’s exciting. Once Curtis is healthy, center field will join second base as the deepest positions in the organization.
As recently as 15 days ago, the Yankees were planning to improve their defense by moving Curtis Granderson to left field with Brett Gardner taking over in center. Then J.A. Happ broke Granderson’s forearm with an errant pitch and the experiment was over. The team’s incumbent center fielder will be out until early-May, and the Yankees decided he wasn’t going to have enough time to learn the new position while on his rehab assignment. The priority will be getting Granderson’s bat back in the lineup as soon as possible, understandably.
With the outfield plan abandoned, Gardner will return to left field after filling in at center for the first few weeks of the campaign. A collection of cast-offs and kinda sorta prospects are battling it out for reserve roles with no candidate standing out from the pack, either on paper or on the field in Spring Training.
The 29-year-old Gardner is returning from a lost season, as an elbow injury and numerous setbacks (and eventually surgery) kept him on the shelf from early-April through late-September. The Yankees lacked speed without him and it was painfully obvious at times. Their outfield defense also took a major hit, although Raul Ibanez‘s effort was admirable. Admirable, but often ugly.
Replacing Ibanez and miscellaneous other fill-in left fielders with Gardner figures to be the biggest upgrade the club made in the offseason. Last year’s left fielders gave the team a power-heavy 92 OPS+ with no speed and poor defense, but that has been traded for Gardner’s on-base heavy career 93 OPS+ with high-end speed and defense. The Yankees will get fewer homers but much better all-around production. It’s a big upgrade even though he doesn’t fit the typical profile for the position.
The most important thing will be actually keeping Gardner on the field this year. He’s battled numerous injuries in recent years and nearly all of them can be considered flukes — fractured thumb on a stolen base (2009), wrist surgery following a hit-by-pitch (2010), elbow surgery following a sliding catch (2012) — but injuries are injuries and they’ve added up. Gardner will be an upgrade over Ibanez & Co. only if he stays healthy, which has been a challenge. Given the injuries to Granderson and Teixeira, it’s not a stretch to call him the team’s second most important player for the early-season.
This was an unanswered question even before Granderson got hurt — the Yankees were going to sort through the likes of Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa and others for the right-handed hitting outfielder’s role. Now those guys are competing for a starting job and as of today, there is no obvious favorite. Mesa has been solid in camp and so has Zoilo Almonte, but they are hardly guaranteed the job. Diaz and Rivera have been fine at the plate (considering it’s early-March) but less so in the field (particularly Rivera). Two of these guys — we shouldn’t forget Thomas Neal and Ronnie Mustelier either — are going to make the team and play regularly while Granderson is shelved. Ichiro Suzuki is always an option to fill-in at left as well.
Knocking on the Door
This ties in with the previous section, but the Yankees are expected to have an all-prospect outfield at Triple-A Scranton this summer. Mesa, Almonte, and Mustelier are the obvious candidates, but one or more could wind up making the big league team. It’s a very fluid situation at the moment. Regardless of what happens, a few of these outfield candidates will inevitably wind up in Northeast Pennsylvania and wait their turn in the Bronx.
The Top Prospect
Left field isn’t a true prospect position, it’s a last report position. Guys wind up there if they can’t cut it in center or right, or even third or first bases at times. With Tyler Austin projected as right fielder and both Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott looking like no-doubt center fielders, the team’s most obvious future left fielder is Ramon Flores. I aggressively ranked him fifth in my preseason top 30 prospects list. The soon-to-be 21-year-old hit .302/.370/.420 (126 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 583 plate appearances for High-A Tampa this season, and he owns arguably the best plate discipline and approach in the organization. The Yankees added Flores to the 40-man roster after the season to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft and will start him at Double-A Trenton, but he’s not going to be a big league factor in 2013. The 2014 season could be another matter entirely.
The Deep Sleeper
We have to reach a little because there aren’t many prospects in the lower minors who project as long-term left fielders — kids that far down usually haven’t grown out of center field yet — but Nathan Mikolas makes sense year. Last summer’s third rounder didn’t hit a lick after signing for $400k, producing a .149/.295/.184 (62 wRC+) line with 35 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances (33.3 K%) for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He didn’t make my preseason top 30 list. The 19-year-old has a “balanced left-handed swing and quality bat speed that give him the potential to become a plus hitter with average power” according to Baseball America (subs. req’d), who also notes “his athleticism, speed, arm and defensive ability are all below-average.” That’s where the whole left field thing comes into play. Mikolas will be held back in Extended Spring Training to open the season before re-joining one of the two GCL squads at midseason. If he shakes off the rough pro debut and starts showing off some of those hitting skills, he’ll quickly become an interesting prospect to follow.
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The Yankees dominated the late-1990s despite a revolving door in left field, but that position is much more important to the current team. New York’s best player at something — speed and defense (Gardner) or power (Granderson) — was going to hold down the position one way or the other, whether they went through with the position switch or not. Someone like Mesa or Rivera or Diaz will have to hold down the left field fort for at least 4-5 weeks while Granderson is on the shelf, which is not exactly ideal.
12:00pm: Via Jack Curry: Curtis Granderson is taking fly balls in left field during today’s workout in Tampa. This is obviously a precursor to the long-rumored position switch with Brett Gardner, which would put the better defender in the more premium position. Just to be clear, this isn’t a guarantee the switch will happen, but it does show the Yankees are seriously considering it. Expect them to try out the new alignment in numerous Grapefruit League games before making anything final.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and Joe Girardi held his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning. The biggest news concerned (who else?) Alex Rodriguez, who will not join the team in camp and will instead rehab his hip in New York. Other than that, the press conference was pretty standard stuff. Here’s a recap of the session, which was partially streamed on ESPN and covered by the usual suspects: Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi, Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry, and others.
On position players and the offense
- If the season started today, Brett Gardner would be in left field and Curtis Granderson would be in center. The team will discuss flipping the two, but Girardi said “right now there’s no plans to do anything.” If they do decide to make the switch, they’ll try it out early in camp first.
- Girardi said one of his biggest concerns in camp is finding a right-handed bat to complement their all-lefty outfield as well as the DH spot. Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz appear to be the two leading candidates for the job and will compete in camp.
- It sounds like Austin Romine is on the outside looking in as far as the catching competition goes, at least right now. “He still has an opportunity here,” said Girardi.
- “Our offense is going to be different, but I believe we’re going to score runs … We’re going to have to find different ways to score runs,” said the skipper when asked how the team would replace the power lost when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and others signed elsewhere.
- Girardi doesn’t have a set lineup in mind at the moment. I think we all have a general idea of who will bat towards the top of the order, who will bat in the middle, and who will fill out the bottom anyway.
On players coming off injury
- Girardi said there is some concern about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they come off ankle and knee surgery, respectively. He expects both to be ready for Opening Day, however. The Cap’n ran for the first time yesterday.
- As for Michael Pineda — who did throw off a full mound today — Girardi said he’s “still in the early stages (of rehab) … we’re happy with the way he’s progressing.” Don’t expect to see the right-hander in a Spring Training game.
- “I don’t worry about where I’m going to be next year,” said Girardi about his contract, which expires after the season. “I’m worried about the next 162 games and getting to the playoffs and getting to the World Series. That’s my concern. That’s what I worry about.”
- Girardi, always the optimist, said “this team could win 95 games and get to the World Series (because) there’s a lot of talent in this room … If we play up to our capabilities, I believe we’re a very good team.” He is right, you know.
Via Bryan Hoch: The Yankees are still considering moving Brett Gardner to center field with Curtis Granderson sliding over into left. “We haven’t made any changes,” said Joe Girardi. “When you start talking about moving one guy, you’re really moving two guys … Gardy has become pretty good at playing left field, so those are the things that you have to look at.”
We first heard the team was considering a switch back in November, so it’s good to see they’re still considering it. Granderson is a below-average defender in center — I don’t believe he’s a -18 (!) defender as UZR suggests, his -10 DRS seems much more reasonable to me — while Gardner is elite in left and presumably above-average in center. The net gain is probably along the lines of a win or so, maybe less, but the Yankees are right smack in the part of the win curve where every additional win greatly improves their chances of making the playoffs.
The Yankees have spent roughly $62M this offseason, but the vast majority was spent on players who were with the team last season. Outside of various waiver claims and minor league contracts, Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has acquired this offseason. They downgraded in right field, downgraded behind the plate, and probably downgraded at third base as well. One spot where they did make an upgrade was left field, and they accomplished that without even making a roster move.
Last season, New York’s left fielders managed a .253/.315/.444 (103 wRC+) batting line that was highly dependent on the power of Raul Ibanez and (first half) Andruw Jones. Depending on your fielding metric of choice, the club’s left fielders were either very good (+12.2 UZR), average (+0 Total Zone), or a bit below-average (-2 DRS) defensively. I tend to agree with Total Zone and DRS on this one, especially since Ichiro Suzuki only started 26 games in left following the trade. Between the offense and defense, the Yankees basically had a league average (or slightly worse) left field unit last season.
Of course, the only reason the team had to rely on guys like Ibanez and Ichiro last season was because Brett Gardner hurt his elbow barely a week into the season. He missed almost the entire year, save for a handful of at-bats down the stretch. Gardner, 29, is no star, but the lack of outfield defense and overall team speed was painfully obvious while he was out of action. His ability to work the count — we’re talking high-end walk (11.0%) and pitches per plate appearance (4.29) rates for his career — was noticeably absent as well. The Yankees lost a lot when he got hurt, no doubt about it.
Super early ZiPS projections pegged Gardner as a true talent .259/.355/.362 hitter heading into next season, which is right in line with nearly league average career performance (.266/.355/.368, 98 wRC+). I don’t think we’re ever going to see a repeat of the .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) line he put up back in 2010, but he’s also not at an age where a performance drop-off would be expected. Heck, at age 29 Gardner is more likely to outperform his projection than fall short. The left field offense was about league average and power heavy last season, with Gardner it will be about league average and on-base heavy. If I had to pick between the two, I’d take the latter.
The upgrades on defense and on the bases will be drastic. Not only does Gardner average 47 steals per 162 games, he’s also taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a whopping 51% of the time in his career. That’s far better than the league average (~40%). In the field he’s a defensive monster, a true ballhawk who should (and hopefully will) play center field and push Curtis Granderson to left this coming season. The various metrics have rated Gardner at roughly 20 runs better than the average left fielder in recent years, and even with the shift the center he should still be good for +10 runs or so. The overall shape of that left field production will be so much different, going from all-power and no speed or defense to no-power, OBP, speed and defense.
As I said before, Youkilis is the only notable new player the Yankees have brought in this offseason, and the only reason they signed him was because Alex Rodriguez got hurt. Maybe they would have pumped that $12M into someone else had A-Rod not blown out his left hip, but we’ll never know. Any shot at overall team improvement in 2013 will come from the guys who were here in 2012 improving their performance. It doesn’t stand out as a “move” because no one was acquired via trade or signed as a free agent, but swapping Ibanez & Co.’s one dimensional game for Gardner’s speed, defense, and willingness to work the count stands to be New York’s biggest upgrade of the winter.
At some point in the next few weeks, the Yankees will get around to acquiring a regular DH and a right-handed platoon bat to pair with their all-left-handed hitting outfield. They might even acquire a real starting catcher, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The third base and right field holes have been addressed with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki, respectively, so the heavy lifting on the position player side of things is already complete.
Youkilis and Suzuki could not be any more different offensively, yet they both bring valuable skills. Youkilis doesn’t have the power he once did, but he’s still crazy patient and will provide tough at-bats each time up. Ichiro is a powerless speed-and- contact machine who puts the ball in play and dares the defense to convert it into an out before he reaches first base. Both guys are offensively valuable in their own way, and they both possess skills that allow them to hit in different batting order spots without looking out of place.
If the season started today, it’s fair to say that Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson would occupy the three-four-five spots in the lineup in whatever order. The catcher presumably bats ninth. Assuming Derek Jeter‘s fractured ankle heals up in time for Opening Day, he’ll bat either first or second no questions asked. That leaves the Yankees with this basic lineup structure…
- Jeter or ?
- Jeter or ?
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Not Russell Martin
One of those ?s will go to Brett Gardner, two others to Youkilis and Ichiro. The other goes to the DH, whoever that ends up being. Ichiro initially batted towards the bottom of the order after coming to New York at midseason, but he eventually hit his way into the two-spot behind Jeter. Youkilis, on the other hand, also hit second with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Red Sox. They both have number two hitter profiles, it just depends on whether your a traditionalist (Ichiro) or saber-slanted (Youkilis).
Before we move any further, let’s quickly look at some platoon data…
|wRC+ vs. LHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. LHP (2010-2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2010-2012)|
First off, ignore Gardner’s splits for this season because he barely played (only 37 plate appearances). Other than that, there are some rather drastic platoon splits here, particularly with Jeter and Youkilis. Those two destroy southpaws but aren’t nearly as productive against righties. Ichiro is worse off against lefties (especially of late) while Gardner shows almost no split. That info should be a consideration when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card.
Given their mammoth production against southpaws, it seems pretty obvious that Jeter and Youkilis should bat one-two whenever there’s a left-hander on the mound. Assuming the Yankees sign a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with their left-handed outfield bats, that guy could hit sixth while either Gardner or (preferably) Ichiro sits. The DH goes seventh (that could be another platoon situation as well), the not-sitting outfielder eighth. That part is simple, but the lineup against righties isn’t as straight forward.
For one, Jeter’s platoon split is irrelevant. He’s going to bat first or second no matter what because he’s Derek frickin’ Jeter. Given Youkilis’ decline against same-side pitchers in recent years, he’s not the ideal two-hole hitter even though his production against righties is the best of the quartet’s over the last three seasons. Ichiro has the veteran clout over Gardner even though he may be a lesser hitter at the moment. Girardi could go with Jeter at leadoff and either Ichiro or Gardner at two against righties, or he could go Gardner or Ichiro at leadoff with Jeter at two to break up the lefties near the middle of the order.
Although Gardner is not the hitter for average that Ichiro is, he’s far better at getting on-base. He hasn’t had a sub-.345 OBP since his partial rookie season in 2008 while Ichiro hasn’t been above .310 (!) since 2010. The on-base split is even more drastic when we look at just right-handed pitchers, and you want men on-base for Cano & Co. It’s also worth noting that Gardner’s contact rate (90.6%) is actually better than Ichiro’s (90.1%) during the PitchFX era (2007-present). His strikeouts tend to be looking, as you know. Considering that Cano is likely to hit third and Girardi loves to split up his lefties, Gardner is the better choice to hit leadoff against righties even if he’s not the future Hall of Famer on a pricey two-year contract.
Everything kinda falls into place after that. Youkilis can hit sixth, the DH seventh, Ichiro eighth, and then the catcher ninth. Flipping Youkilis with DH is possible as well, though I’m working under the assumption that Granderson will bat fifth and the DH against righties will be a left-handed hitter. Gotta split dem lefties. You get speed and contact at the top and bottom of the batting order with the thunder in the middle against right-handers, but against lefties the thunder starts right at the top with this arrangement. Lineup things would change quite a bit if the ankle prevents Jeter from being ready for Opening Day, but that’s a not a problem worth worrying about yet.
Saturday: The deal is worth $2.85MM with another $150k in plate appearance-based bonuses according to the AP. Gardner will receive $25k each for 375, 400, 425, 450, 475, and 500 plate appearances next year.
Gardner, 29, earned $2.8M this season and isn’t expected to get a raise after appearing in only 16 games due to a left elbow injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible again in 2014 before qualifying for free agency after the season. This was a lost year for Gardner, though I suppose the fringe benefit for the club is that it will help keep his salary down these next two years.