Archive for Brett Gardner
This was, without question, the craziest week of hot stove action I can remember. That includes the Winter Meetings. Teams just didn’t want to wait for Orlando next week to take care of business, and one of those teams was the Yankees. With Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and Jacoby Ellsbury already on board, the team added both Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M) and Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M). yesterday. Of course, they also lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners after they offered a tenth year and $240M. Bittersweet day (mostly bitter), to say the least. Here are some thoughts.
1. As soon as the Yankees splurged for Ellsbury, I honestly did not think they would let Cano walk. Spending that much money on a very good but not elite player like Ellsbury only to let your homegrown superstar leave doesn’t make much sense. They held the line at seven years and $175M and I truly believed they would bump their offer up to (and maybe over) $200M if push came to shove. It’s a huge blow to the Yankees short-term — I’d say the next two years at the very least, probably more like four or five — but it will help in the long-term, when they aren’t saddled with a huge albatross contract. I just can’t believe Cano’s leaving. Man, who thought this would actually happen?
2. The Mariners made it very, very easy for the Yankees to walk away. They’re a desperate franchise and desperate franchises do desperate things, like offer $65M more than the next highest bidder. Of course, Seattle had to blow everyone else out of the water if they wanted to land a premium player like Cano. The city itself is great and Safeco Field is gorgeous, but it’s a tough place to hit. The team itself stinks and the travel is awful (the Mariners fly more miles than every other club each season because they’re so isolated in the Pacific Northwest). Add all that together and you get a place that doesn’t attract many free agent hitters. Not many good ones, anyway. The Mariners blew Cano away with the offer and that makes his departure easier to swallow. It sucks he’s gone, don’t get me wrong. But at that price? Had to let him go. No-brainer.
3. I’m pretty sure the Yankees will go hard after Omar Infante to replace Robbie — what’s the over/under on the contract, three years and $30M? sounds about right — and he’s probably the best realistic second base option. I’d greatly prefer a trade for Howie Kendrick, who has two years and $20M left on his deal, but the Angels are looking for pitching and the Yankees just don’t have any to give up. David Phelps and a prospect ain’t gonna get it done. I don’t want any part of Brandon Phillips for reasons Joe already outlined and if Infante’s demands are unreasonable (he and his agent could jack up the price hoping to capitalize on the team’s potential desperation), I think Mark Ellis would be a tolerable one-year stopgap. He’s a very good defender and not a total zero at the plate (92 wRC+ in 2013). Infante is no better of a player today than he was two days ago. The Yankees shouldn’t go all out to sign him just because he’s the best available option with Robbie off the board.
4. I was thinking about this last night: Cano doesn’t really have a “signature moment,” does he? Derek Jeter has the flip play (and a bunch of other moments), Jorge Posada has the double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS (and a bunch of other moments), so on and so forth. Cano doesn’t really have one. That’s not meant to be a knock against him, it’s just one of those things. Winning the 2011 Homerun Derby doesn’t really count, and, according to WPA, his best game in pinstripes came on July 1st of this past season. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double in a blowout win over the Twins. Meh. I guess his game-winning homer off George Sherrill in 2010 stands out (video) — that was the game in which the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton with a big ninth inning comeback, which I’m sure you remember — but that isn’t anything special. When I think of Cano, I don’t think of a singular moment. I think of that sweet swing more than anything. Like this one. B-e-a-utiful.
5. I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks, but I am a bit nervous about Kuroda heading into next season. He’s getting up there in age and man, he looked like toast late last season. Hitters were squaring him up constantly and he couldn’t locate anything. I guess poor location is better than his stuff falling off — Kuroda’s velocity actually ticked up a bit late in the season — but it’s still a red flag. They still need to add another starter, Brian Cashman has acknowledged that already, and hopefully it’ll be Masahiro Tanaka. I think he’s a really good fit given his age and all that stuff. If that doesn’t work out, I’d rather see a short-term Bartolo Colon reunion than a long-term marriage with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. Either way, the Yankees have some decent back-end depth with Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno. Michael Pineda is the real wildcard. He could give the rotation a big boost or not throw a single pitch for the big league team for the third straight season.
6. Beltran definitely gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, meaning the Yankees are adding the right player, just nine years too late. He can still hit, there isn’t much doubt about that, but his defense is below-average and his knees are grenades with the pins pulled. the Yankees will be able to give him time at DH and are going to have to to keep him healthy. If I had known the Yankees were going to sign two outfielders coming into the winter, I probably would have pushed for Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. The club opted for Ellsbury and Beltran, which is perfectly reasonable but definitely the riskier option health-wise. Probably more expensive too. This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward roster at the moment. It could be great but it could also be really, really ugly if Father Time comes back to wreak more havoc in 2014.
7. One thing that I do like is the diversity the Yankees have added to lineup. McCann is a brute masher and Ellsbury is a speed guy while Beltran is an all-around hitter who will hit for average and power. He also gives them a switch-hitter, something they didn’t have at last season. Almost literally not at all — Mark Teixeira and Zoilo Almonte combined for 176 plate appearances and that’s it, they were the only switch-hitters the Yankees had this summer. Crazy. Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and Johnson all work the count well and that’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t have enough guys who could put together good at-bats and wear down the starter this year. There were an awful lot of quick at-bats and quick innings. That should change next summer with those four plus Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter returning.
8. Speaking of Gardner, I’d absolutely keep him unless some team offers a starting pitcher that is just too good to pass up. (Lots of people asked about Gardner for Homer Bailey and I don’t see anyway Cincinnati entertains that as one-for-one swap. Gardner’s trade value is along the lines of Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, and look at what those two were traded for this week.) Both Ellsbury and Beltran are injury concerns for different reasons, plus Beltran and Soriano figure to get regular turns at DH. Keeping Gardner as a heavily used fourth outfielder who could step into the lineup everyday if someone gets hurt makes an awful lot of sense. If the Reds will trade Bailey for him or another team comes along with a comparable offer, then by all means, pull the trigger. Otherwise keep him around and enjoy the depth. There is no doubt in my mind there will be a time next season the team will be happy they kept him around.
For years we’ve seen comparisons drawn between new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury and entrenched Yankee Brett Gardner. Naturally, people speculated that the Yankees might trade the latter, given their $153 million commitment to the former. “Absolutely not,” according to an ESPN NY source. The source further speculated that both will bat atop the order, which might mean an ego hit for Derek Jeter (though Jeter could presumably hit second against lefties). It’s certainly an interesting approach, both atop of the order and in the outfield. Much of the success, I imagine, rests on the power that Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano, and hopefully Robinson Cano, generate behind these guys.
The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.
Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.
Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.
“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”
The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.
Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.
Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.
Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.
Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.
Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.
Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.
Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.
As we spend far too much time trying to figure out how the Yankees will rebuild themselves into a contender while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold next season, there has always been one great big unknown throwing a wrench into things: arbitration salaries. These go to players with more than three years but fewer than six years of service time; the guys who have been in the league long enough to earn a decent salary but not long enough to qualify for free agency.
Arbitration salaries are very tough to pin down (or estimate, for that matter) but can be substantial in some cases, especially as the player moves closer to free agency. Thankfully, Matt Swartz developed an insanely accurate model — it’s been within 5% or so overall — for projecting arbitration salaries, and the information has been available at MLBTR these last three years. Projections for the Yankees’ seven arbitration-eligible players were released over the weekend:
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
Update: Here are the updated projections. Only Robertson’s changed.
Nova ($2.22M raise), Robertson ($2.4M), and Gardner ($1.15M) are all projected to receive healthy raises from last season. The other four guys are projected to receive $640k salary increases or less. Nova is arbitration-eligible for the very first time, meaning he’s coming off what amounts to a league minimum salary in 2013. I have to think that’s a pretty great moment for a young-ish player — that first year of arbitration, when your annual salary goes from mid-six-figures to several million bucks.
Anyway, at the projected salaries, I think both Nix and Stewart are obvious non-tender candidates, meaning the Yankees should cut them loose and allow them to become free agents rather than pay that salary. Nix is a perfectly fine utility infielder who played way too much this past season, when he earned $900k. The projected $1.4M is a real stretch for me. If he’s willing to re-sign with the team for $1M or so, great. If not, move on. There are better ways to spend $1.4M, especially considering the team’s self-imposed budget constraints. Same goes for Stewart. No way should the Yankees pay him a seven-figure salary in 2014. That’s madness.
So, assuming the Yankees non-tender Nix and Stewart but keep everyone else, their arbitration class projects to cost $14.8M next season. They currently have six players under contract with a combined $84.9M “tax hit” for 2014 and that includes Alex Rodriguez, who may or may not be suspended. It doesn’t include Derek Jeter, who figures to pick up his player option. So, between the guys under contract and the arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees have eleven players slated to earn $99.7M in 2014, pending decisions by Jeter and the arbitrator overseeing A-Rod‘s appeal.
That leaves the team with roughly $77.3M to spend on the 29 remaining 40-man roster spots (plus leaving space for midseason additions) when you factor in ~$12M or so for player benefits, which count against the tax. If A-Rod is suspended for the entire season, it’ll be $104.8M for 30 remaining roster spots. That sounds like a lot, but remember, Jeter and the inevitable Robinson Cano contract will soak up about $35M of that leftover money all by themselves. Without A-Rod but with Cano and Jeter, it’s more like $70M for 28 roster spots plus midseason additions. Doable, certainly, but that $300M spending spree might be more myth that reality.
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees leadoff hitter.
The Yankees were pretty inactive last offseason, at least in the sense that they didn’t import any actually good players from other teams, so the biggest upgrade they made was getting one of their own back from injury. Brett Gardner missed just about the entire 2012 season with an elbow injury that, three setbacks later, eventually required surgery. All told, he appeared in just 16 of the team’s 162 games last year.
Gardner was essentially replacing Raul Ibanez in the lineup and in the outfield. Ibanez did an admirable job for the Yankees last year, though his contributions are greatly overstated because he became a clutch homer machine in the final two or three weeks of the year. For the first five and a half months, he was pretty bad at the plate and downright terrible in the field. The two-way upgrade was obvious.
Oddly enough, Gardner’s season started with a position change. The Yankees dubbed it an experiment at first, but their plan was to move Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson over to left to best use their defensive skills. Brett has way more range and is the all-around superior defender, so he should play the tougher position. The team didn’t commit to anything and only said they were trying it out in camp, but J.A. Happ made it official when he broke Granderson’s forearm with a pitch in his first Grapefruit League at-bat. Took the decision right out of the team’s hands.
Just like that, Gardner was the full-time center fielder. The full-time center fielder and full-time leadoff man thanks to Derek Jeter‘s ankle injury and Ichiro Suzuki‘s noodle bat. The Yankees had tried Gardner in the leadoff spot in the past and the results were pretty bad, bad enough that he never stuck atop the lineup. This year was different. This year he had no choice but to be the leadoff man because the team had no other alternatives. Maybe that lack of competition helped Brett feel more comfortable, who knows?
Anyway, with the understanding that every everyday player will have ups and downs throughout the 162-game season, Gardner remained remarkably consistent at the plate over the course of the year. I give you two graphs:
The left graphs shows Gardner’s day-by-day OBP (the most important thing for a leadoff man) while the right shows his day-by-day wOBA (overall offensive production). There’s not a whole lot of deviation there, especially with the OBP. Pretty much the same guy from start to finish. There was a never point where taking him out of the leadoff was considered because he wasn’t hitting.
Gardner did have two notable hot streaks over the course of the summer. He hit three homeruns in a 13-game span from May 24th through June 5th, which is notable because he isn’t a power hitter. Not even close. The last of the three homer was his sixth of the year, one short of his career-high after only 59 games. As Jeff Sullivan noted, Gardner was doing it by being more aggressive at the plate — three of those six homers came on the first pitch while another came on the second pitch. He was ambushing fastballs early in the count instead of taking them for the sake of working the count. The power surge didn’t last — he hit only two homers in the team’s final 103 games of the season — but it happened.
The second hot streak, weirdly, started when the power surge ended. Starting on June 5th, Gardner went on a 24-game tear in which he went 35-for-100 (.350) with six walks (.387 OBP) and eleven doubles (.540 SLG). He had multiple hits in half of those 24 games. Near the very end of that insane hot streak, Gardner’s batting line topped out at .290/.348/.456 and had him in the conversation as a bubble player for the All-Star Game. He didn’t get elected obviously, but it was still cool just to hear him be considered. Hooray arbitrary endpoints.
Unfortunately, Gardner’s season ended prematurely when he strained an oblique muscle on a swing in his first at-bat of the September 12th game against the Orioles in Camden Yards. The injury ended his year — there was talk he could be available as a pinch-hitter late in the season, but that never happened — and left the team with a gigantic hole atop the lineup. Granderson had returned to take over center field by then, that wasn’t an issue, but the Yankees didn’t have anyone to properly set the table from the leadoff spot. The offense really sputtered down the stretch.
Overall, Gardner hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) while setting new career-highs in doubles (33), triples (ten), homers (eight) and plate appearances (609). He held his own against lefties (.247/.317/.427, 100 wRC+) and was a monster with men on base (.311/.379/.467, 130 wRC+). Pretty much the only complaint about Gardner’s offensive game was his relative lack of steals. After swiping 47 and 49 bases in his previous two full seasons, he only went 24-for-32 (75%) in stolen base chances in 2013.
Defensively … I’m not really sure what you can say. Gardner was very good overall but not truly elite like he was in left field, at least in my opinion. The defensive stats — +6 DRS, -0.5 UZR, -7.3 FRAA, -20 TotalZone (?!?) — aren’t too kind but a one-year sample doesn’t tell us much of anything. You’d expect the numbers to come down because Gardner was being compared to other center fielders and not other left fielders like he was the last few years, but geez, they shouldn’t come down that much. The FRAA and TotalZone numbers definitely do not pass my sniff test. You’re welcome to feel differently.
From start to finish, Gardner was the team’s second best position player behind Robinson Cano this season. By far too. It was Cano (big gap) Gardner (big gap) everyone else. That’s as much a statement about Gardner’s strong season as it is the rest of the roster. He didn’t show any lingering effects from the elbow injury and, even with the (lack of) stolen base weirdness, he was an above-average player on both sides of the ball. Again, that’s based on my opinion of his defense. The Yankees didn’t have many bright spots this year, but Gardner was very obviously one of them.
Today’s MRI revealed a Grade I strain of Brett Gardner‘s left oblique, Joe Girardi announced. That is the least severe strain but “he’s going to be out a while” and it’s possible his season is over. Girardi did say the Yankees may be able to bring Gardner back as a pinch-runner sooner rather than later.
Gardner, 30, has hit .273/.344/.416 (107 wRC+) with eight homers and 24 steals (in 32 attempts) in 609 plate appearances this season. He and Robinson Cano pretty much carried the offense for the first four months of the season before reinforcements arrived after the All-Star break. Add in his stellar outfield defense and the fact that the Yankees don’t really have another suitable leadoff man, and yeah, this is a big blow.
11:50pm: Gardner will have an MRI in New York tomorrow and is out at least a few days. I wonder if they’ll be able to keep him around as a pinch-runner/defensive specialist if it’s not too severe.
9:18pm: Gardner has a left oblique strain, the Yankees announced. That’s bad, oblique injuries can last for several weeks and even months if they’re severe enough. Gardner has been very good this year and even though the lineup is deeper and more powerful, he set the tone from the leadoff spot, and then you have his defense on top of that. Big, big loss.
8:40pm: Brett Gardner left tonight’s game for an unknown reason. He struck out looking in the top of the first and was replaced in center field in the bottom half of the inning Very weird. Maybe he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes? I hope so, an injury would be bad. Stay tuned.
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Travis asks: Is there a case to be made for trading Brett Gardner in the offseason? His calling card is his speed and once that goes, I believe his production for the team will be severely limited. The Yankees will have Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Slade Heathcott (presumably) on the roster for 2014, which could make Gardner expendable. He may or may not get the Yankees a draft pick after 2014, depending on his production and if his legs hold up and he doesn’t get hurt. Add in his age (30, 31 after next season) and you have the makings for a trap contract (if an extension is given). What are your thoughts?
There’s no one on the roster I wouldn’t trade right now. The Yankees don’t have a Mike Trout or a Clayton Kershaw, that untouchable player you can build around for the next half-decade. I very much agree Gardner will be close to useless once his speed slips, which is why I wouldn’t bother trying to sign him to an extension. He’s not all that young, like you said. Based on what we know right now, I’d be completely fine with letting him walk as a free agent after next season. Let someone else pay for his decline years.
Trading Gardner has more to do with the possible return than anything. What can one year of an above-average but not elite center fielder get you on the open market? Is last winter’s Shin-Soo Choo trade comparable? He was a much better hitter but a fraction of the defender and completely unproven in center. The Indians turned him into a top 20 pitching prospect (Trevor Bauer). One year of David DeJesus — a much more comparable player to Gardner than Choo — brought back absolutely nothing (Vin Mazzaro!) a few years ago. Coco Crisp fetched a then above-average big league reliever (Ramon Ramirez) and is probably the best comparison. Teams have done a better job of valuing defense since then, however.
Trading Gardner makes sense in a vacuum, but who would the Yankees play in center in his place? Sign Jacoby Ellsbury? Re-sign Curtis Granderson? I don’t think Ichiro can do it full-time and Wells sure as hell can’t. Mesa will be out of options next year and likely cut from the roster before the end of the Spring Training. Heathcott won’t be ready either. There’s a lot of variables here, it’s not like trading Gardner would be dealing from a position of depth. If some team wants to overpay, sure, move him. If not, he’s more valuable to them next year than anything they’ll probably get back in a deal.
Andrew asks: Whatever happened to the Cuban pitcher the Phillies supposedly signed but then never agreed to a contract with? He’s still out there, any idea why and if the Yankees could get him to fill in next year?
Andrew’s talking about 26-year-old Miguel Alberto Gonzalez, who agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $50M with Philadelphia back in July. The contract fell apart a few weeks later over concerns about his elbow, specifically bone spurs. He had some removed two years ago and is said to have made a full recovery, but apparently there was enough of a concern on the Phillies’ part to call off the agreement. The two sides could always work out a new deal. I have no idea if Gonzalez could step into the rotation and help the Yankees next year, but he’s still out there if they want to sign him. Six years and $50M is a ton of money though.
Travis asks: Could the Yankees make a play for David Freese if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all or most of 2014?
Get ready for a winter full of Freese-to-New York rumors, ’cause they’re coming. Ken Rosenthal (video link) recently said the Cardinals are expected to shift Matt Carpenter to third base (his natural position) with top infield prospect Kolten Wong taking over at second (his natural position) next season, making Freese available in what figures to be a thin third base market. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? As long as Wong doesn’t expect, I suppose.
Freese, 30, is hitting .266/.342/.380 (106 wRC+) with six homers in 412 plate appearances this year, his worst season as a big leaguer. He missed a few weeks with a back strain earlier this summer and has a long injury history, including heel (2009), right ankle (2010), left ankle (2010), and hand (2011) surgeries. Freese will earn $3.15M this year and is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015, so he’ll be relatively affordable. Given his age and injury history, this isn’t someone you look to sign long-term. Ideally he’d be a two-year stopgap between A-Rod and Eric Jagielo, right? We can dream.
I’m not quite sure how to value Freese in a trade at this point. He’s not particularly young, his hot corner defense is just okay (awful this year by the various metrics), his power has vanished (.114), he’s injury prone, and he’s touted as a clutch god because of his work in the postseason two years ago. That last part is why a ton of people will overvalue him, kinda like Andre Ethier. Ethier hit some walk-off homers a few years ago and suddenly he became a star when the actual production said otherwise. Yes, the Yankees should look into acquiring Freese if he becomes available, I just don’t know what an appropriate package would be. He’s a solid regular at a hard-to-fill position, not a star or a true impact player.
Jeb asks: Austin Aune’s season has been … interesting. I’m assuming he has a decent arm because he started at SS and had a chance to play QB. Is there a chance that he could be converted to a pitcher?
Interesting is a nice way to put it. The 19-year-old Aune is hitting .177/.209/.234 (~25 wRC+) with a ridiculous 67 strikeouts (!) in 148 plate appearances. That’s a 45.3% strikeout rate (!!!). Remember, the Yankees gave this kid a double-slot $1M bonus as their second round pick (89th overall) just last summer. He was raw because he was a top quarterback recruit who split time between the two sports in high school, but raw doesn’t explain that. I hope the Yankees have Aune working on some swing adjustments because that would at least explain the extreme contact problems. I wouldn’t pull the plug on him as a hitter yet, he is still just a teenager with only 311 pro plate appearances to his credit, but yeah. This isn’t exactly encouraging.
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 this year, A through F. Yesterday we tackled the A’s, today we continue with the B’s.
The Yankees remain just three games out of a playoff spot despite their plethora of injuries, and the reason they remain so relatively close is a number of unexpectedly strong performances. Some new faces — I mean really new faces, as in guys acquired during Spring Training — have stepped up and assumed larger than expected roles, taking pressure off stalwarts like Robinson Cano in the lineup and David Robertson in the bullpen.
The Grade B’s are not the team’s elite players. They are the guys who have performed well, better than average really, and served as consistent complimentary pieces. One of these guys is actually a disappointment relative to his typical production, but his standard is so high that a disappointing year is actually pretty good. Without further ado, here are the Grade B’s.
Outside of Cano, Gardner has been the team’s only other consistently above-average offensive player. He missed basically all of last season with an elbow injury and has emerged as a legitimate leadoff hitter, putting up a .272/.338/422 (107 wRC+) line with a career-high tying seven homers. Gardner has only stolen 13 bases (in 19 attempts), which is surprising and a letdown, but he has made up for the lack of speed by hitting for power. He has also continued to play his typically elite defense while replacing Curtis Granderson in center field — Gardner was slated to play center even before Granderson’s injury. He can be streaky, but Gardner has been very good for the Yankees this year.
Acquired from the Mariners early in Spring Training, Kelley shook off a horrid April to emerge as Joe Girardi‘s trusted seventh inning guy. His 3.67 ERA and 3.12 FIP are built on a dynamite strikeout rate (13.37 K/9 and 36.2 K%), which has allowed him to strand 21 of 22 inherited runners. Kelley has essentially been a second Robertson with the way he can come out of the bullpen and snuff out rallies without the ball being put in play. What looked like a depth pickup in camp has turned into something much more. Kelley is a key part of the bullpen.
The theme of New York’s bullpen is strikeouts, and none of their relievers — not even Mariano Rivera — can match Logan’s ability to miss bats (12.60 K/9 and 34.7 K%) and limit walks (1.80 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%). His 7.00 K/BB is the eighth best in baseball among relievers who have thrown at least 20 innings. Logan has excellent strikeout (42.4%) and walk (3.4%) rates against lefties, but he’s run into a little bad luck (.429 BABIP) and they’ve put up a decent .246/.271/.404 line against him. That’s not good for a primary lefty specialist, but it has improved of late and Logan remains an effective cog in Girardi’s bullpen. He’s been the team’s best left-handed reliever since Mike Stanton way back in the day and it’s not all that close either.
The Yankees signed Overbay with just three days left in camp and he was only supposed to hang around until Mark Teixeira returned, but Teixeira’s season-ending wrist surgery has made him the everyday first baseman. Overbay has responded by hitting an ever-so-slightly above-average .252/.308/.437 (101 wRC+) with more than a few clutch, late-inning hits, plus he plays very good defense at first. He’s a platoon bat — 121 wRC+ vs. RHP but only 46 vs. LHP — but the Yankees have had to play him everyday, so the fact that his overall season line is a bit better than average is a testament to how productive he’s been against righties. Overbay has exceeded even the highest of expectations and has probably been the team’s third best everyday position player. No, really.
Sunday’s disaster start makes this seem silly, but even the diminished version of CC Sabathia is a reliable innings eating workhorse. As I’ve been saying the last five years now, even bad Sabathia is still pretty good. He’s got a 4.07 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 137 innings, the fifth most in all of baseball. His biggest problem this season has been the long ball — CC has already surrendered 21 homers, just one fewer than his career-high set last year. Learning to live with reduced fastball velocity is not an easy thing to do, but Sabathia has worked through it and typically gives the team a chance to win. Well, at least gives a team with an average offense to win. He’s not an ace right now and he may never be again, but the sheer volume of innings he provides makes him a better than average hurler despite the an ERA and FIP that are worse than his career norms.