Archive for Brian Roberts
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 started yesterday with the catchers, now let’s move on to the infielders.
There were a lot of questions about the infield coming into the season in general, but especially Teixeira. The Yankees’ first baseman missed almost all of last season due to a tendon sheath injury in his wrist that eventually required surgery, and wrist surgery can be very problematic even after the player has been cleared to play. Remember, Teixeira started Spring Training late and has still felt soreness during the season. It has caused him to miss a game or two here and there. (His only DL stint was hamstring related.)
Despite that, Teixeira has been the team’s most consistent and productive power hitter this summer, coming into the All-Star break with a .241/.341/.464 (120 wRC+) batting line with a team-leading 17 homers. His power output (.222 ISO) is right in line with his last full healthy season (.224 ISO in 2012), which is definitely encouraging after the wrist surgery. Most importantly, he’s done most of his damage against right-handed pitchers (130 wRC+), who used to give him the most trouble. Is he Teixeira of old? No, of course not. That guy isn’t coming back. But he’s returned to his pre-surgery ways and been a much-needed force in the middle of the lineup.
Weirdly enough, the biggest issue for Teixeira this season has been his defense. He’s already committed six errors this season, his most since 2004, and while errors are not the best way to evaluate defense, most of them were plays we’re used to seeing Teixeira make. I think his scooping at first has been fine. It’s the hard-hit balls he used to turn into outs that are now eating him up. I think it’s a combination of rust from the lost 2013 season and a decline in his skills. Either way, Teixeira has definitely been a positive for the Yankees this year, especially when you consider he’s coming off major surgery.
Brian Roberts — Grade C
There was no way the Yankees were not going to have a massive drop off in production at second base this year. Robinson Cano was the best player at the position last year and has been for several years running, so by definition he is irreplaceable. Roberts was not exactly a popular choice as Cano’s replacement given his long injury history and the fact that he wasn’t all that productive even when healthy ways. The Yankees love veterans though, especially AL East proven guys.
Roberts has remained remarkably healthy so far this year — he missed a handful of games with a back issue in April, but that’s it — while being more than a total zero at the plate. His .241/.306/.376 (87 wRC+) batting line comes with the occasional homer (five), the occasional stolen bases (seven), the occasional walk (8.4%), and always a very long at-bat (4.04 pitches per plate appearance). Roberts has been fine defensively at second if not an asset. He’s a perfectly capable stopgap and No. 9 hitter who has been asked to bear more responsibility. Will Roberts hit a wall later in the year after not playing a full season since 2009? I have a hard time thinking his second half will be better than his first, honestly.
Derek Jeter — Grade C
Like Teixeira, Jeter was coming off a major injury. He missed just about all of last season with a series of leg problems, including a twice-fractured ankle. Add in the fact that he is a 39-year-old shortstop — a demographic that is not well-represented throughout history — and things were definitely stacked against the Cap’n coming into 2014.
Jeter’s season has been underwhelming statistically but I don’t it’s worst case scenario stuff. Like I said, a 39-year-old shortstop coming off a major leg injury could have been really, really ugly. Jeter is hitting .272/.324/.322 (80 wRC+) overall, so his power is non-existent, but he does rank third among qualified AL shortstops in OBP and is only five points away from leading. Is it vintage Jeter? Absolutely not. But relative to the league average shortstop (.308 OBP and 87 wRC+), he’s been passable.
Defensive is another matter. Jeter’s glovework has never been good and at this point he’s barely mobile. The old “he makes the plays on the balls he gets to” rhetoric doesn’t even apply anymore. He’s booted more grounders and made more offline throws this season than I can ever remember. Inside Edge data says he has converted only 46.2% of “likely” plays into outs, which are defined as plays that would be make 60-90% of the time on average. He hasn’t make anything tougher than an “even” play (40-60%) either. It’s been ugly.
The total package, offense plus defense, has not been good for the Yankees this year. At the same time, I’m generously giving Jeter a C instead of a D or F because he has played better than I expected coming off the ankle injury at his age. Maybe I’m just a giant homer. The Cap’n has not been good this season though, certainly not by his standards, but it could have been much worse given everything that happened last year.
Kelly Johnson — Grade D
The Yankees have put Johnson in a tough spot for most of the year — playing once or twice a week, usually at an unfamiliar position like first or third base — but, at the same time, he knew what he was walking into when he signed as a free agent over the winter. He has hit .214/.299/.380 (87 wRC+) with six homers in 211 plate appearances, including a disappointing 83 wRC+ against righties and an even more disappointing 87 wRC+ at Yankee Stadium. Five of his six long balls have come in the Bronx.
Johnson’s defense has been a problem, though again, he has mostly played out of position — he came into the season with only 18 innings at first base and 118 innings at third base. He has spent 199.2 innings at first and 255.1 innings at third this year, committing nine total errors and not looking particularly graceful either. Johnson was a shrewd signing and a wonderful fit for the roster on paper — left-handed hitter with power who can play the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as left field — but it just hasn’t worked out halfway through the season.
Yangervis Solarte — Grade B
Man those first eight or so weeks were fun, weren’t they? I like to think I’m well-versed in the minor leagues but even I had not heard of Solarte before the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent over the winter. It goes without saying that no one expected to take over as the starting third baseman for the first eight weeks of the season, during which he hit .299/.368/.458 (128 wRC+) in 229 plate appearances. Solarte was a godsend for a beleaguered offense.
The Solarte Partay came to crashing halt after that, unfortunately. He has hit .111/.238/.130 (10 wRC+!) in 63 plate appearances since, earning him a demotion to Triple-A Scranton. Yangervis has owns a .255/.338/.382 (101 wRC+) line in 288 trips to the plate overall and holy crap, no one expected that. Even if he never hits again, those first eight weeks made the signing more than worth it. That’s even considering Solarte’s occasionally shaky defense. He was a great story and a tremendously productive player into early-June. His days as a useful MLB player may have already come to an end, but boy did Solarte contribute in a big way when given an opportunity early this season.
Brendan Ryan — Grade C
Giving Ryan two years plus a player option this past offseason definitely flies under the radar as a lolwtf offseason move. I mean, yeah, I get it. Jeter was a major question mark, but geez. Ryan spent the first five weeks of the season on the disabled list with a back injury, and he’s nothing more than a no-bat (.235/.273/.255, 43 wRC+ in 55 PA), good but no longer elite glove infielder who plays maybe once a week. It’s far from the best use of the roster spot, but the Yankees are stuck with him. It’s just a weird fit. Even weirder are all those times Ryan played first base while Jeter manned short. He’s fine as the 24th man on the roster. Just a pricey and not at all versatile (in terms of bringing different things to the table) insurance policy for Jeter in his final season.
These three guys have combined for 61 total plate appearances — Anna has the most at 25 — and have hit a combined .232/.246/.438. Most of the power production comes from Wheeler, who has hit two homers in his 20 plate appearances. He is currently with the team in that revolving door 25th man spot while Sizemore is stashed in Triple-A awaiting an injury. Anna has already been designated for assignment (to make room on the roster for Zelous) and claimed off waivers from the Pirates. I wonder how many more guys will cycle through this role in the second half.
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There were some serious concerns about the infield coming into the season. Teixeira and Jeter were huge question marks following their injuries and the same was true of Roberts given his history. Johnson was the sure thing on the infield at the start of camp. The defense has been hideous — Yankees’ pitchers have a .258 BABIP on ground balls, the seventh highest in baseball (league average is .244), and even more grounders would sneak through for hits if not for the club’s aggressive shifting — and that was fairly predictable.
The infield has, by and large, been more productive than I expected, mostly because Solarte was awesome for a while and Teixeira has shown no lingering issues with the wrist when it comes to raw production. Roberts is the new Lyle Overbay — the best of all the bad players and therefore giving off the appearance of being good — and Jeter’s Jeter. He’s untouchable. The Yankees have some internal options who may improve the infield, namely Triple-A Scranton second baseman Rob Refsnyder, but either way it’s clear they could use some help in the second half. Beefing up third base is an obvious upgrade area.
X-rays came back negative on Brian Roberts‘ right knee following tonight’s game, according to various reporters with the team. Roberts fouled a pitch off the knee — it was a direct hit and he was in a lot of pain — but he stayed in the game and hobbled around for another few innings before being lifted in the ninth. I’m sure Roberts will be sore tomorrow and I’m guessing he’ll get a day or three off. Given his injury history, every little bump and bruise is a concern.
The Yankees came into 2014 with some very real infield concerns, both in terms of production and durability, and sure enough those concerns manifested themselves within the first week of the season. Just not necessarily in the way I expected — Mark Teixeira caught a spike in the turf in Toronto and landed on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury. Just like that, the team without a backup first baseman lost their starting first baseman.
Teixeira returned after the minimum 15 days and the Yankees managed to win seven of 12 games during his absence because the replacement infielders played well. Kelly Johnson was adequate (not great, not awful) at first base and Yangervis Solarte did a mean Bernie Williams impression for a few weeks, which made life a lot easier. Derek Jeter has been getting on base a bunch early on as well, and while Brian Roberts has been better of late, he’s been not so good overall. Three out of four ain’t bad, I guess.
Now that the Teixeira has returned, the Yankees have five infielders for four spots. Jeter and Teixeira are going to play no matter what because of who they are. That’s not something worth debating. That leaves Solarte, Johnson, and Roberts for second base and third base. Solarte has hit the skids lately and has seen more time at the bench, but Johnson has seen his playing time take the biggest hit. He’s started only three of seven games since Teixeira came off the DL. Roberts has started every game since Teixeira returned, though he was supposed to sit last night before Solarte’s shoulder acted up.
Because it has been only seven games, it’s unclear how the Yankees are going to squeeze all these guys into the lineup on a regular basis. I mean, yes, Roberts should probably sit because he is the worst player of the bunch, but that seems unlikely to happen right now. The Yankees appear to be determined to give him a chance to show he can have an impact from the bottom of the order. I don’t agree with that — is there even anything left to reclaim at this point? he hasn’t been good in a while now — but that seems to be the plan. Whatever.
Because Solarte and Roberts and switch-hitters, platoon problems don’t really exist and the Yankees have more flexibility. Johnson has been sitting against lefties given since Teixeira returned and I would bank on that continuing going forward. All three of these guys are part-time players to me. Guys who likely get exposed playing everyday but can be productive in say, 400 plate appearance roles. Except Roberts. I’m still not very optimistic about him. But, like I said, he’s going to play so they might as well make the best of it.
Juggling these three will be a difficult situation for Girardi. Maybe difficult isn’t the right word. It’ll be a juggling act though, that’s for sure. Solarte has swung the bat well overall, Johnson has legitimate left-handed power, and Roberts is the proven veteran. There is a reason to keep all three in the lineup. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Three players for two spots is better than being short a player or two, but keeping everyone happy and productive is not easy. This isn’t a video game; sitting on the bench a few days a week and being productive right away when pressed into duty is pretty tough.
In all likelihood, this will be one of those “it’ll sort itself out” situations. Someone will play themselves out of regular at-bats or someone will get hurt. Heck, Roberts’ back and Solarte’s shoulder have already acted up. That’s usually how this stuff goes. Until that happens, Girardi will have to juggle Solarte, Johnson, and Roberts between second and third base. The two switch-hitters and the versatility of Solarte and Johnson give the manager lots of options. No one is married to position and Johnson is the only one who will see the platoon disadvantage. That we’re even having his conversation is good news. Three useful pieces for two infield spots was not something I expected to see this early in the season.
10:22pm: An MRI can back negative, the Yankees announced. Roberts will be re-evaluated in a few days.
8:44pm: Via George King: Brian Roberts is not playing tonight because of a back problem. “Not sure if it’s serious,” said Brian Cashman. Roberts has a very long injury history, so anything that causes him to miss time is a big red flag. With Derek Jeter‘s quad acting up and Robertson banged up, the Yankees are woefully short on infielders at the moment.
I suppose the silver lining of last season’s terrible offense was a strong team defense. The Yankees employed guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Reid Brignac, and Brendan Ryan as regulars at various points of the year, guys who can’t hit but can play some solid defense. The club sported a collective +12.5 UZR and +21 DRS in 2013, rates that are only slightly above-average (13th and 10th in MLB, respectively) on a team-wide scale.
The roster has turned over substantially this past offseason, especially on the position player side. That should greatly improve the lineup, but it will also impact the team defense. Some of the players the Yankees acquired over the winter are very good defenders but others simply are not. Not every player the team added is a two-way threat. Far from it. Let’s look at where the Yankees are vulnerable in the field thanks to subpar defenders.
Last month I detailed how the team’s ground ball heavy pitching staff is not a good mix for their generally shaky infield defense, particularly at the non-first base spots. Mark Teixeira is a stud in the field and I have no reason to think a wrist injury will severely compromise his glovework. Maybe he’ll lose a step or two or some hand-eye coordination with age, but I don’t think the injury will have a huge factor on his defense.
Derek Jeter has moved around well in the field and on the bases this spring following all the leg injuries, but he’s still a negative on defense. We all know that. Brian Roberts has looked surprisingly agile during Grapefruit League play, so maybe he’ll be a positive in the field, at least while he’s healthy. Kelly Johnson comes into the season with only 118 career innings at third base and only 18 innings at first base, where he’s expected to be the starter and backup, respectively. He’s muffed a few hard-hit balls in camp so far, the kind that earned the position the nickname the “hot corner.”
The backup plans aren’t much better. Eduardo Nunez is inconsistent at best and an unmitigated disaster at worst defensively, and Scott Sizemore is coming off back-to-back left ACL surgeries. He hasn’t played enough in camp for us to get an idea of how he’s moving in the field. The various scouting reports indicate Dean Anna is an adequate to solid defender. Teixeira should be fine at first but all of the other infield spots come with defensive questions. I think the Yankees would be pretty happy if the infield graded out as a league average unit come the end of the season.
As of right now, it seems like the plan is to have Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran split right field and DH duties most of the time in 2014. There have been some rumblings Brett Gardner could wind up in right with Soriano in left, but that seems unlikely to happen. The Soriano/Beltran timeshare in right field appears to be the way things are heading.
Aside from one defensive inning in right field during Game Five of the 2003 World Series, Soriano has never played the position. Moving over there at 38 years old may not be an easy transition, and that doesn’t even consider his weak throwing arm. Runners will be going first-to-third on him all day. Beltran was once a top flight defender but he has slowed down considerably with age and injury, to the point where he’s graded out as a below-average defender over the last few years by the various defensive stats. Regardless of whether Soriano or Beltran starts, the Yankees will have a subpar gloveman in right.
It’s not all bad though. First and foremost, right field in Yankee Stadium is pretty small, so there’s isn’t much ground to cover in the first place. Two, with Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Ellsbury figures to shade towards right to help cover the gaps. Three, Ichiro will almost certainly come off the bench as a defensive replacement for right field whenever the game is close. Even if Ichiro is traded or released or whatever, Zoilo Almonte can do the same job. Whenever they’re in right though, both Soriano and Beltran will be liabilities.
I mentioned this with Soriano in right, but it’s worth pointing out the Yankees have some weak outfield arms in general. Beltran’s is by far the best and might be the team’s best right field arm since Raul Mondesi way back in the day. Ellsbury’s arm is laughably weak and downright Damon-esque while Gardner’s is solid at best. Not particularly strong but accurate. Soriano’s arm is both weak and not accurate while Ichiro’s strong arm plays down because he takes forever to get rid of the ball. Gardner and Ellsbury more than make up for their arms with their range, but don’t expect to see many plays at the plate this summer. Beltran’s the only regular with a quality arm.
Brian McCann‘s Arm
McCann does a lot of things well, specifically hit and frame pitches. He is also said to be very good at blocking balls in the dirt and working with pitchers. The one thing McCann does not do well is throw. Last season he threw out only 24 of 100 attempted base-stealers, below the 27% league average. The year before it was 22%, and in case you’re thinking this might be related to his October 2012 labrum surgery, McCann threw out only 24% of base-stealers from 2006-11. He’s simply not good at shutting down the running game.
In order to compensate for McCann’s arm, the pitcher will have to make sure to pay attention to runners on first base. CC Sabathia should have it the easiest as a left-hander, but runners have been successful in 70% of their stolen base attempts the last three years. Hiroki Kuroda has held runners to a 62% success rate since coming to New York and Ivan Nova has held them to a 63% success rate in his relatively short big league career. Masahiro Tanaka … who in the world knows. Frankie Cervelli has an excellent arm (after some mechanical tinkering last spring) but McCann is going to be the starter because he does so many things well. One of those things is not throwing and it’s something the Yankees will have to deal with this summer. It’s the essence of taking the bad with the good.
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The Yankees have premium defenders at first base and in both left and center fields. The rest of the team will probably be net negative in the field, which is not ideal in an offensive ballpark in a tough division with a sketchy middle relief crew. This club is going to have to out-hit and out-pitch their defensive shortcomings in 2014.
As Joe explained last week, the Yankees have several important players coming back from injury this season. They also have several players who, due to their age and/or recent history, are at risk of getting hurt in 2014. Injuries are part of the game and many times they’re completely unpredictable or unavoidable, but there are certainly players who are more likely to get hurt than others. The Yankees haven’t exactly been good at keeping their guys healthy these last few years either. Here are New York’s biggest injury risks for the coming season and their respective backup plans.
Injury Risk: Derek Jeter
Backup Plan: Brendan Ryan
Aside from the dislocated shoulder back in 2003, last season was the only time Derek Jeter spent an extended period of time on the DL in his career. A twice-fractured left ankle and various leg muscle problems limited him to only 17 games, and even though he’s been healthy this spring and working out for weeks, his age (39) and the series of leg problems will make him an injury risk pretty much all year. The Cap’n is very much day-to-day at this point of his career.
The Yankees acquired Ryan last September when Jeter went to the DL for the fourth and final time, then they re-signed him to a two-year contract (with a player option!) over the winter to serve as shortstop insurance. If Jeter does go down with injury this summer, regardless of whether it’s two days or two weeks or two months, Ryan will step right in and play shortstop everyday. He can’t hit a lick but his defense is among the best in the game.
Injury Risk: Brian Roberts
Backup Plan: Ryan, Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.
There is no greater injury risk on the roster than Roberts. He has appeared in only 192 of 648 possible regular season games since 2011 due to a variety of injuries, including back spasms (2010), concussions (2010-11), hip labrum surgery (2012), and hamstring surgery (2013). Second base is a dangerous position because of the blind double play pivot and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Roberts hits the DL, kinda like it did with Travis Hafner last summer.
Infield depth is something the Yankees spent most of the offseason accumulating, though none of it really stands out. They don’t have a 2005 Robinson Cano waiting in the wings, for example. Ryan, Anna, Nunez, Yangervis Solarte, and Corban Joseph are the various backup plans at second base, though only Ryan and Nunez have any kind of substantial MLB time. The player who gets the job when Roberts goes down with injury may simply be the guy who’s playing the best at that time.
Injury Risk: Frankie Cervelli
Backup Plan: Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy
Cervelli seems to have a knack for the fluke injury. His wrist was broken by a home plate collision in Spring Training 2008 and he’s also had foul balls break his foot (2011, again in Spring Training) and hand (2013) in recent years. The broken hand last year turned into a stress reaction in his elbow. More seriously, Cervelli has had four concussions in his pro career, including three from December 2009 through September 2011. Romine and Murphy will both be stashed in Triple-A as insurance, and I suspect Romine would get the call as a short-term replacement while Murphy would be the guy if Cervelli misses most of the season again.
Injury Risk: Michael Pineda
Backup Plan: Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren
When a player misses two full years due to a major surgery, it’s really hard to count on him staying healthy going forward. Pineda is an unknown and unreliable until he proves otherwise, which might never happen. His surgery was serious stuff and that’s why he hasn’t been handed a rotation spot as of yet. Pineda has to earn it by showing he can be effective post-surgery in camp. Phelps, Warren, and Nuno are all competing for the same fifth starter spot and will be ready to jump into the rotation at a moment’s notice if Pineda makes the team and goes down for any reason.
Injury Risk: Jacoby Ellsbury & Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Ichiro Suzuki, Zoilo Almonte
Over the last three seasons, Ellsbury and Gardner have combined to play in 686 of 972 possible regular season games, or 71%. Go back four seasons and it’s only 66%. Both guys have had injury problems over the years but the major ones can mostly be classified as flukes. Here are Ellsbury’s notable injuries …
- Fractured Ribs, 2010: Crashed into a teammate chasing a pop-up then suffered a setback after returning too soon.
- Shoulder Subluxation, 2012: Fielder fell on top of him following a break up slide at second base.
- Foot Fracture, 2013: Fouled a ball off his foot.
… and here are Gardner’s:
- Fractured Thumb, 2009: Slid into second base on a stolen base attempt.
- Wrist Debridement, 2010: Hit by a pitch, needed offseason surgery after playing hurt in second half.
- Inflamed Elbow, 2012: Made a sliding catch and suffered three setbacks (!) before having season-ending surgery.
- Oblique Strain, 2013: Swung a bat. Nothing more.
There has been other day-to-day stuff over the years but those are the big injuries. Gardner’s oblique strain last September is the only one that isn’t a fluke to me, though I think it’s also important to understand both guys have a playing style that puts them at greater risk of injury. When you steal a ton of bases, you risk hurting your fingers and having an infielder fall on top of you. When you run around the outfield making sliding and diving catches, you can jam something pretty easily.
Is it fair to consider Ellsbury and Gardner injury risks for 2014? Maybe not, but they have been hurt a bunch in recent years and I felt they were worth discussing. If Ellsbury were to get hurt, Gardner would slide right into center field. If Gardner got hurt, Alfonso Soriano would probably take over as the everyday left fielder, as he would if Gardner moved to center. Ichiro would see more playing time — I think Soriano and Carlos Beltran would still get regular turns at DH even if Ellsbury or Gardner gets hurt — and Zoilo is the early favorite to be the first guy called up from Triple-A. If both Gardner and Ellsbury got hurt at the same time … well that’s a mess I don’t want to think about. A trade for a center fielder would seem likely.
Injury Risk: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: ???
A tendon sheath problem in Teixeira’s right wrist that eventually required surgery limited him to only 15 games last year and still has him on the mend in camp. He’s been brought back slowly — he faced live pitching in batting practice for the first time just today — and is slated to get into a game later this week, but wrists are very tricky. Even if the doctors say they’re healed, they tend to sap power for another few weeks and months. David Ortiz (2008-09) and Jose Bautista (2012-13) have had similar tendon sheath problems and they didn’t regain their previous form until well after returning to the lineup.
Given the nature of the injury, it might be more accurate to say Teixeira is a risk for reduced production than he is a risk for injury. He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Durable the last few years though, most notably missing more than a month with a calf strain in late 2012 and blowing out his hamstring during the 2010 postseason (forgot about that, huh?). That doesn’t include the infamous cough/vocal cord damage that hampered him two years ago. The Yankees don’t have an obvious backup first baseman — Kelly Johnson and his 18 career innings at the position is currently the backup at first — so a trade would be in order if Teixeira goes down. It’s either digging up another Lyle Overbay or playing Russ Canzler everyday.
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I think it goes without saying that pitchers are inherently risky. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka have been very durable throughout their career (Kuroda less so, but he’s been healthy with the Yankees) but it would surprise no one if they got hurt this year. Same with all the relievers. Pitchers get hurt. It’s what they do.
Carlos Beltran’s knees were a big problem from 2009-10, but he has played at least 140 games in each of the last three seasons. Brian McCann had shoulder problems in 2012 that required offseason surgery, which kept him out for the first month of 2013, but he has been healthy and productive since. Scott Sizemore has played a total of two games the last two seasons because of back-to-back torn left ACLs, but he is far from a lock to make the roster, nevermind play regularly. Same goes for Nunez, who missed a bunch of time with a ribcage problem last year. Just about every player has been hurt somewhere along the line.
The Yankees are well-equipped to deal with an injured outfielder, catcher, or back-of-the-rotation starter. The infield is were it gets dicey and unfortunately that is where we find the most at risk players (Jeter, Roberts, Teixeira). The backup plans on the infield are interesting of nothing else, but they’re all wildcards. I don’t think we can reasonably estimate what any of them would do if pressed into regular duty. The Yankees have a lot of important players at risk of injury this year and their ability to stay on the field will play a huge role in whether they return to the postseason.
Last year, the Yankees were faced with the impending free agency of Robinson Cano, the best second baseman in the game and a player who was always going to require a massive contract commitment. The Yankees don’t have a player of that caliber set to hit the open market after this season, but they do have a number of guys entering their walk years. Some, obviously, are more important than others.
After spending the last three years as one of the top two or three setup men in the game, the 28-year-old Robertson is about the begin the most important season of his career. He will be tasked with replacing Mariano Rivera at closer and he’s also pitching for a new contract, two things that are very much tied together. If he steps in and pitches well in the ninth inning, his next contract will be much larger than if he had remained a setup man. That’s the way the economics of the game work.
There is little reason to think Robertson won’t be able to close games out in 2014. He misses a ton of bats (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K% in 2013) and gets a ton of ground balls (50.9%), plus he’s managed to cut his walk rate in half these last two years (2.62 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). When Robertson stopped walking guys in the second half of 2012, it was easy to wonder if it was a half-season fluke given his track record. When he continued to not walk hitters last year, we knew it was legitimate improvement. Robertson does everything you could possibly want a prospective closer to do.
Brian Cashman recently confirmed the Yankees have not had extension talks with their new closer and it seems unlikely they will sign him long-term at any point during the season. Obviously the club would love to have Robertson back in the future, especially if he steps right in and replaces Rivera without a hiccup. Closers make good money though, and it could wind up costing the team upwards of $10-12M annually on a four-year term after the season. Maybe more, the market has been pretty unpredictable.
Aside from Rivera and the ownership mandated Rafael Soriano, the Yankees have not signed a reliever to a multi-year deal worth more than $4M annually since Kyle Farnsworth almost a decade ago. Will they buck that trend for Robertson next winter? I suspect they will. Another question is whether the team is willing to risk the qualifying offer so they recoup a draft pick if leaves. My guess right now is they would — Robertson is unlikely to top ~$15M annually but he would get more total money across multiple years.
Man, how good have the Yankees had it with Kuroda these last few years? Not only has he been their best starter and one of the best in all of baseball (ninth by bWAR from 2012-13), but he’s also been willing to work on a series of one-year contracts. How great is that? The Yankees have had a very productive pitcher on a bunch of low risk, short-term deals. It’s awesome.
Kuroda, 39, is on yet another one-year contract, meaning in a few months we’ll do the “will he play or retire?” dance once again. He has been quick to make his decisions the last two winters — re-signed in late-November last offseason and early-December this past offseason — and that has made the whole process even better. If he had been dragging things out until after the holidays and into mid-to-late-January, it would be quite annoying. Thankfully that has not been the case.
As with Robertson, I’m sure the Yankees would love to have Kuroda back in 2015 if he has another strong, productive season in 2014. That strong season is not a guarantee given his age but the one-year deal means the team can simply walk away if he does hit that final wall. The Yankees spent a boatload of money on Masahiro Tanaka and they have some young arm knocking on the door, but there is no such thing as too much pitching. They can always make room for Kuroda on another one-year deal and they should if he continues pitching well.
Up until now, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of re-signing Soriano after the season all that much. That massive eight-year, $136M contract he signed with the Cubs way back when finally expires this year, though the Yankees are only paying him $5M in 2014. Soriano just turned 38 last month and he continues to hit dingers with very little signs of slowing down.
The Yankees have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran locked up to big money deals for the foreseeable future, but Soriano is someone who would have a role on almost any team if he is willing to sign a one-year deal after the season. The Bombers could use him basically like they will this year, as a regular who splits time between the outfield and DH. If his game starts to slip and he becomes a platoon guy, that’s still a useful player.
The question with Soriano will be his willingness to sign a one-year contract. He could push for a two-year deal with another strong, typical Soriano season in 2014, at which point it makes sense to walk away. A one-year deal is much a different story. The Yankees could retain him as a power bat and if some prospect comes up from the minors and forces his way into the lineup, the team will have the flexibility to make it work.
It is very hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees re-sign Ichiro following the season. They tried to trade him over the winter and he’s already been pushed into a fifth outfielder’s role by the team’s free agent signings, so bringing him back for another year seems very unlikely. Younger guys like Zoilo Almonte and maybe even Slade Heathcott don’t have the same name value but they could do the same job next year and maybe even do it better considering how much Suzuki’s game has slipped in recent years. If they don’t trade him at some point this year, the smart money is on the Yankees parting ways with Ichiro when his contract expires after the season.
Kelly Johnson & Brian Roberts
Simply put, Johnson and Roberts are hired guns. They were signed to low cost one-year deals to plug short-term holes and if they play well this year, the team could re-sign them for 2015. It should go without saying that Johnson is more likely to be brought back after the season than Roberts, just given their age and recent history. Because of his versatility and left-handed bat, Johnson is someone the team would have little trouble squeezing onto the roster even if they make some big moves for infield help next winter.
* * *
Technically, there is one other player due to become a free agent next winter, but Derek Jeter‘s final season and impending retirement is another post for another time. He’s not in a contract year in the traditional sense. Someone like Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, or Shawn Kelley could play themselves into a non-tender candidate and thus free agency, but the Yankees control them as arbitration-eligible players beyond 2014.
The six guys above are the team’s only notable free agents to be, with Robertson and Kuroda standing out as the most serious cases. Soriano and Johnson are a little further down the priority list. Keep in mind that so few impending free agents means there isn’t much money coming off the books, which could affect how the team approaches trades and free agency in another few months.
Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.
What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.
How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.
The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.
Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.
Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?
The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:
1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.
2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.
There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.
Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.
Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.
Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.
Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.
A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.
As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.
Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.
The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.
Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.
The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)
In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.
Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.
Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.
Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.
What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.
Huge mailbag this week. Twelve questions and not a single one about Alex Rodriguez, thankfully. I tried to keep the answers short since there are so many of ‘em. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything.
Jeff asks: What happened to Brian Roberts besides his problems with concussions and post-concussion sickness? I distinctly remember him being one of the best offensive second basemen in the mid-2000s. Is there even a minuscule chance he repeats anything close to it?
Roberts was awesome from 2005-09, hitting .294/.369/.451 (116 wRC+) while averaging 68 extra-base hits, 39 steals and 4.9 fWAR per 162 games. He missed more than three months with an abdominal strain in 2010 then suffered his first concussion later that year after whacking his helmet with his bat out of frustration. True story. He suffered his second concussion in May 2011 after hitting his head sliding into first base, and he dealt with post-concussion symptoms for several months after that. Roberts had surgery to repair his hip labrum in July 2012 and then missed three months last year after tearing his hamstring. That’s a lot of serious injuries, especially the two concussions. Roberts was decent after returning from the hammy in late June (93 wRC+ in the second half) and that’s probably the best we could reasonably expect out of him at age 36 and with all those recent injuries.
Manny asks: Suk-Min Yoon is planning on signing somewhere soon. Is Boras putting the cart before the Masahiro Tanaka-horse going to screw him here, or are they different markets for a guy like Yoon? Also, should the Yankees take note? From the little we’ve heard, he can start, he can close, he’s useful and sounds like he could project something similar to a non-criminal Ace Aceves.
Everything you need to know about Yoon is in this post. The Yankees have had interest in the 27-year-old and he’s a true free agent — there are no posting process hoops to jump through. Yoon is no Tanaka and he might not even be another Wei-Yin Chen — even Boras admitted he is “not an overpowering arm” — and the consensus is that he’s more of a swingman/reliever than a big league starter. In fact, shoulder problems limited him to the bullpen for most of last year. Yoon will have no impact on the Tanaka sweepstakes whatsoever. I don’t really have a grasp on what it would take to sign him and I’m not sure if he’s an upgrade over in-house options like David Phelps and Adam Warren. The Yankees need relievers though, and if he’s affordable, he might be an outside the box option to shore up the bullpen.
Ethan asks: The Giants would never do it because they don’t have any other options at third, but would you do Brett Gardner for Pablo Sandoval in a vacuum?
Yes, I would. In fact, I wrote about Sandoval as a possible trade target earlier this offseason. He’s a switch-hitter with power and surprisingly good defense, but weight and conditioning issues have hampered him his entire career. Both guys are due to become free agents next winter and given the team’s needs, a Gardner for Sandoval trade would make a lot of sense for the Yankees. It would be risky — the one they call Kung Fu Panda has shed 42 points this winter (photo!) — but I think the potential reward is mighty big. It just doesn’t make sense for San Francisco. Their outfield is full and they need Sandoval at the hot corner.
Dylan asks: Could we please have an update on Michael Pineda? I don’t see too much about him recently in the news.
There is no real update on Pineda. At his annual end-of-season press conference, Brian Cashman said they shut him down late last year because he needed to rest after pitching and rehabbing for 15 months straight. “He is on a throwing program and healthy,” said the GM to George King last month. “He is coming to Spring Training to win a spot in the rotation. He is a viable option.” That’s the update, I guess. No news is good news.
Mike asks: Given this story from MLB Trade Rumors: “Minor League Free Agents Finding Major League Deals” which highlights Jose Quintana, David Adams and others, could not “hating their own minor leaguers” be a new market inefficiency that the Yankees could exploit?
Heh. Letting Quintana walk was a massive blunder in hindsight. He could blow out his arm tomorrow and it still would have been a huge mistake. I would be surprised if the Yankees regret letting Adams go, especially since they’ve already replaced him with almost exactly the same player in Scott Sizemore. Those guys are a dime a dozen. Just about every team has given away an Adams or a Tyler Clippard or a Zach McAllister at some point, so the Bombers aren’t all that different in that regard. None of their non-Warren minor leaguers impressed when called upon last year, so maybe they’re right not to trust their own kids right now. The farm system isn’t in great shape, especially when talking about MLB ready talent. Quintana was a huge mistake but I don’t that’s enough of a reason to give absolutely everyone a chance. He’s an extreme outlier.
I don’t think there is an answer to this. It varies team by team and depends on a number of things, like the strength of their farm system and whether or not they are legitimate contenders. Every club is going to need to use a few spots on extra players, like extra bullpen arms and bench players. Guys you can send up and down without worrying about their long-term development. Is there a point where having a bunch of guys like Campos, who isn’t expected to contribute to MLB at all in 2014, counterproductive? Sure. But that point is different for say, the Dodgers than it is the Astros.
Jeff asks: In the event that the Yankees don’t sign Tanaka, would they be interested in Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley if they’re healthy and made available by the Dodgers?
I think the answer is no on Beckett but yes on Billingsley. Beckett was showing serious signs of decline — fading fastball and inability to put away lefties, mostly — before getting hurt and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is no joke. It ended Chris Carpenter’s career. Billingsley is still only 29, he’s been rock solid for years (3.79 ERA and 3.42 FIP from 2010-12), and his contract includes an affordable ($14M) club option for 2014. He “only” had Tommy John surgery and is due back sometime around May. Billingsley is someone I think the Yankees should pursue with or without Tanaka. He makes sense for them both this year and next.
Dustin asks: Would you trade for Aramis Ramirez if he were available?
I said no back before the trade deadline but at this point, after seeing how the offseason has played out, I think I’d say yes. Ramirez would have to come cheap though, either in a pure salary dump trade (he’s owed $20M in 2014 between his salary and the buyout of his 2015 option) or a deal involving one or two Grade-C prospects with the Brewers eating some salary. Grade-C prospects coming from the 21-30 range of a top 30 list, for example. Aramis is 35 with bad knees but he can still hit (12 HR and 132 wRC+ in 351 plate appearances in 2013) and his right-handed thump would fit the lineup well. It would be risky but even a half-season of Ramirez would be a big upgrade at the hot corner.
Ben asks: What do you think about the Yankees possibly trading for Jonathan Papelbon? Personality aside, I think he’d be a great addition to the bullpen, which is one of the last areas NY can throw money at to improve. What would it take to get him, a couple non- prospects (assuming NYY takes on the whole contract)?
I am anti-Papelbon and it has nothing to do with his personality or anything like that. He comes with a lot of red flags — I highly recommend this post by Jason Collette detailing those red flags — and he’s owed $13M in each of the next two seasons with a vesting option for another $13M in 2017. I have no problem with paying big dollars for elite relievers, but I’m not very confident in Papelbon being elite or even comfortably above-average these next two years. The Yankees definitely need bullpen help, but I’d be careful about getting caught up in the name here. He’s not the Red Sox version of Papelbon anymore. Read the linked Collette post, he breaks it down very well.
There has been close to zero interest in Hanson this winter and I think that’s very telling. We’re talking about a 27-year-old who was one of the best prospects in baseball and an above-average starter as recently as 2010-11, yet no one wants him. Hanson has had a bunch of injury problems (with his shoulder, specifically) and it shows in the velocity in each of his pitches (via Brooks Baseball):
Don’t get too excited about that uptick in velocity at the end of last year. Hanson made exactly two appearances in July, August, and September, and he was working out of the bullpen by the end of the year. It’s not like he was making a start every five days and showing that velocity. Hanson was not been the same guy since his shoulder started acting up (4.76 ERA and 4.59 FIP from 2012-13) and I’m not sure throwing to his old batterymate McCann can help. I’d give him a minor league contract, sure. But I wouldn’t count on him for anything. You’d have to treat him almost like you’d treat Johan Santana. Anything he gives you is a bonus.
John asks: What would it take for a team (not necessarily the Yankees) to land Jhoulys Chacin?
A lot. Chacin very quietly broke out last season, pitching to a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings while allowing only 11 homers despite pitching half his games in Coors Field. His bowling ball sinker explains that. Chacin turned 26 earlier this month and he’s under team control through 2015. He’s on the cusp of becoming the next dominant sinkerballer, a Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe type. Given the price of pitching, it’ll take a boatload to get him. Two or three very good prospects/young minor leaguers at least. If I were the Rockies and the Yankees offered me Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, and someone like Phelps, I’d say no. Easily. Chacin’s very young and very good.
Joe asks: I watched the 2013 World Baseball Classic, is there any chance that Kenta Maeda a right-hander will be posted?
Maeda, 25, has been the second best pitcher in Japan these last two years behind Tanaka. It’s a big gap though — Ben Badler (no subs. req’d) says scouts view Maeda as a back-end starter while one international scouting director said “he could be a fourth starter at the big league level … he’ll keep you in games.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It’s unclear if Maeda will be posted this winter but it is more and more unlikely with each week that passes. (The latest a player can be posted under the new system is February 1st.) More than anything, the takeaway from Maeda is that there won’t be another Tanaka or Yu Darvish for at least a few years.
The Yankees have officially signed Brian Roberts to a one-year contract, the team announced. He gets a $2M base salary plus another $2.6M in plate appearance-based incentives. Joel Sherman has a breakdown of the incentives, which don’t kick in until 250 plate appearances but escalate rapidly thereafter. Roberts gets the 40-man roster spot that was vacated by Alex Rodriguez when he was placed on the restricted list following the announcement of his 162-game suspension.