Archive for Carlos Beltran
Over the last few years, as sabermetrics and all that stuff has become more popular, batting average has become underrated. It used to be overrated — not making outs and having a high on-base percentage is still the single most important aspect of hitting — but the art of getting a base hit is definitely underappreciated these days. There is more to life than that of course, but getting a hit is a big piece of the offensive pie.
Last season, the Yankees hit a collective .242 with a team .285 BABIP, rates that ranked 24th and 26th among the 30 teams, respectively. Injuries have a little something to do with the team’s low average, but remember, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira aren’t exactly high-average hitters. Derek Jeter and the out of sight, out of mind Alex Rodriguez are, however. Well, kinda. A perfectly healthy Yankees squad might have hit a few points higher as a team, but not much. The team’s .307 OBP (23rd overall) would have quite a bit higher with good health, I’m sure of that.
The Yankees rebuilt their offense over the winter and back in January I explained how the new-look lineup will bring more a patient approach and, theoretically, a higher team OBP. That’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t just make too many outs last season, they made too many quick outs. It’s not much of a coincidence that two pitchers (Derek Holland and Chris Archer) threw sub-100 pitch nine-inning complete games against New York last season after only one pitcher (Roy Halladay, surprise surprise) did in the previous ten seasons. The makeshift offense was an impatient lot last summer.
Along with a more patient and disciplined offense should come a group that hits for a higher average. How much higher? I don’t think we could say with any degree of certainty. As underrated as batting average has become, it is still tough to predict because it fluctuates so much from year to year. Robinson Cano is my go-to example: he’s a career .309 hitter who hit .342 in 2006 and .271 in 2008. Did his talent level change in those years? No, it’s just baseball. Weird stuff happens in a game built around hitting a round ball with a cylindrical bat onto a 2+ acre swath of grass. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ lineup and its batting average potential.
Likely to hit .290+
With Cano gone, I don’t think the Yankees have a single player you can comfortably expect to hit .300 or better in 2014. I mean, how many players around the entire league would you safely expect to hit .300+ this year? Cano, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto … that’s probably it. Hitting .300 is hard and few guys can do it year after year, especially in age of declining offense. That’s not to say others won’t hit .300, we all know those guys won’t be alone. Like I said before, weird stuff happens.
The Yankees have two players who are safe bets for a .290+ average this summer and both were acquired in the offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .298 last season (.341 BABIP) and is a career .297 hitter (.326 BABIP) , so he seems to be the team’s best hope for a .300+ hitter. I do think Yankee Stadium will work against him though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to hit, but Yankee Stadium is a homerun park. Fenway Park is more conducive to a high batting average with the Green Monster and weird angles. The park factors at FanGraphs bear that out.
Carlos Beltran hit .296 (.314 BABIP) last season and .288 (.313 BABIP) over the last three years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hit .300 or better this summer. Derek Jeter hit .316 (.347 BABIP) in his last healthy season and the guy used to fall out of bed and hit .300, but he’s coming off a series of leg injuries and a lost season at age 40. He hasn’t looked particularly good in camp either, though I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt after missing almost all of last season. So much rust to shake off. Tough to know what to expect from him, but I don’t think many would be surprised if the Cap’n had a big going away year.
As for an out of nowhere .290+ hitter, I’d put my money on Eduardo Nunez, who seems like a lock to make the roster and play more than expected at this point. Nunez makes a ton of contact (career 92.8% contact rate) and he’s fast, two skills that lend themselves to hitting for average, especially in small-ish (~300 plate appearances) samples. I’m not saying he’ll do it, but if you’re looking for a Yankee to come out of nowhere to hit for a high average, Nunez is a good guess. For now, I’ll take Ellsbury and Beltran as the team’s best chances for a .290+ hitter with Jeter an honorable mention.
Likely to hit sub-.250
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few Yankees we can count on for a low-ish batting average. Kelly Johnson hit .235 (.276 BABIP) last season and .226 (.284 BABIP) over the last three seasons. He’s the safe bet to finish with the lowest average among the regulars. Johnson’s offensive game is built around hitting for power, stealing bases, and drawing walks. I have no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.
Alfonso Soriano hit .255 (.289 BABIP) last season, including .256 (.286 BABIP) with the Yankees. Over the last three seasons it’s a .254 average (.289 BABIP). He’s right on that .250 bubble at age 38. Brian McCann (.256 AVG/.251 BABIP in 2013 and .252/.263 from 2011-12) and Mark Teixeira (.251/.250 in 2012 and .252/.258 from 2010-12) are right there with Soriano. Brian Roberts managed to hit .249 (.267 BABIP) in 296 plate appearances last season and has a .246 average (.275 BABIP) while batting injuries over the last four years. He’s probably the second safest bet for a sub-.250 average this season behind Johnson.
Likely to hit somewhere in the middle
This is a bit of a cop-out, because the vast majority of players hit somewhere in that .251-.289 range. Or at least most regulars do. Bench players and pitchers are another matter entirely. Soriano, McCann, and Teixeira will probably be on the low-end of this range, Ellsbury and Beltran will probably be at the high-end (if not over), and Brett Gardner (.273/.342 in 2013 and .268/.325 career) will be right smack in the middle somewhere. There’s really nothing sexy about hitting somewhere in the .251-.289 neighborhood. The extremes are far more interesting.
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Last season, American League non-pitchers hit .256 with a .298 BABIP as the league average continues to drop. It was as high as .275 (.305 BABIP) as recently as 2006 and .267 (.300 BABIP) as recently as 2009, but down it goes. Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner give the team three regulars who you can pencil in for a better than average batting average with Jeter a possibility for a fourth. Others like McCann, Teixeira, and Soriano will be right around the average. Batting average is tough to predict, but based on their current talent levels and the last few seasons, the Yankees have six and possibly seven regulars likely to match or exceed the league average. Compared to last year, that’s pretty darn good.
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.
Exhibition games start tomorrow and the regular season is five weeks away. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2014 Yankees not individually, but by grouping players (and personnel) together into different categories. Today we’re going to look at the guys who will put the Bombers in Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees made history last season and not in a good way. They hit 101 (!) fewer homeruns last year than they did the year before, the largest year-to-year drop in baseball history. New York went from leading baseball in dingers (245) and ISO (.188) in 2012 to ranking 21st out of the 30 teams in both categories (144 and .133) in 2013, and their runs-per-game average dropped from 4.96 (second) to 4.01 (17th). The lack of power is a big reason why they missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Blame injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) and blame roster construction (Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart replacing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, etc.) for the decline in power. All of that and more was a factor. The Yankees set out to fix that problem starting at the trade deadline last summer and they continued to add some power-hitting pieces over the winter. I doubt they will be able to hit 240+ long balls this coming season, but they should improve on last year’s power production overall. Here are the team’s primary power sources.
To the surprise of no one, Robinson Cano led the Yankees with 27 homers last season. Soriano managed to finish second on the team with 17 despite not returning to the Bronx until the deadline. The Yankees were that power starved. Cano left for the Mariners over the winter but the club will now have a full year of Soriano, which will help compensate a bit.
Despite turning 38 last month, Soriano has put together back-to-back 30+ homers seasons these last two years and he’s hovered in the .225-.238 ISO range over the last four seasons. He’s no longer the 40+ doubles threat he was earlier in the career, but he has managed between 27-33 two-baggers the last three years. Soriano is a steady 60+ extra-base hit bat and, most importantly, the average direction and distance of his batted balls has not changed at all since 2007. From Baseball Heat Maps:
You can click the image for a larger view. The chart on the left is the horizontal angle of the ball off the bat — so +45° is the left field line and -45° is the right field line — and the chart on the right is the distance. Each red dot is an individual batted ball (grounders excluded, so this is everything he hit in the air) and the vertical clusters are individual seasons, so 2007-13 from left to right.
At Soriano’s age, any change in his batted ball angle or distance would have been a red flag and possibly an indication his bat has started to slow beyond the point of no return. Instead, Soriano continues to hit the ball to all fields (slightly more towards right field) and just as far as he did seven years ago. Sure, he’s had to make adjustments over the years, most notably switching to a lighter bat in 2012, but the end results are the same. He’s hitting the ball the same way he has for much of the last decade.
Now, that isn’t to say this will continue in 2014. Things can go south in a hurry when you’re talking about a player closer to 40 than 35, but there have been no obvious red flags in Soriano’s game to date. Outside of 2009, when he missed a month with a knee problem, Soriano has been a consistent 25+ homer, 25+ double, .220+ ISO hitter for a decade now, and aside from sudden age-related decline or injury, there is no reason to expect anything different in 2014. He is the Yankees’ best full-time right-handed power source by frickin’ far.
New York’s catchers hit eight total homeruns last season, three of which came from Frankie Cervelli before he got hurt in mid-April. The catcher position was an offensive blackhole in 2013 and the Yankees rectified that problem by giving McCann a five-year contract worth $85M. The just-turned-30-year-old is one of only two catchers with 20+ homers in each of the last three seasons (Matt Wieters) and one of only eleven players (all positions) with 20+ homers in each of the last six seasons.
Of course, McCann hit all those dingers while with the Braves in Atlanta, playing his home games in a park that has been perfectly neutral in terms of left-handed homers over the last five seasons according to the park factors at FanGraphs. His lefty power was extra desirable to the Yankees because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, which is tailor made for McCann’s pull happy swing:
Don’t trick yourself into thinking McCann is something he isn’t. This guy is a pure grip it and rip it hitter who is going to try to yank everything over the right field wall. He’s going to hit .250-ish and walk enough (9.9% walk rate since 2011) to post decent but not great OBPs, but his real offensive value comes from his power. Homers too, forget about doubles.
I think the whole “sign a left-handed hitter and he’ll automatically hit a bunch more homers in Yankee Stadium” idea is generally overstated — not everyone’s swing fits the ballpark (see: Overbay, Lyle) — but McCann is exactly the kind of hitter who can really exploit that short porch. His career-high is 24 homeruns (2006 and 2011) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes this year with 30-35 homers, especially if he spends some of his catching off-days at DH.
Over the last three years, only ten outfielders have racked up at least 50 extra-base hits in each season. Soriano is one of them and another is Beltran, his new teammate. Heck, if you want to bump up the arbitrary criteria, Beltran is one of only four outfielders with at least 55 extra-base hits these last three years. Soriano is not one of the other three.
The Yankees finally snagged their white whale (well, I think he was the fans’ white whale more than the team’s) this winter by signing Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45M, nine years after declining to sign him at a discounted rate before he joined the Mets. Beltran has aged remarkably well as a hitter, dipping below a 120 wRC+ only once in the last eight years, and that was his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. He’s also managed 20+ homers and 25+ doubles in each of the last three years and six of the last eight years, with 2009-10 being the only exceptions. Injuries limited him to 145 total games those two seasons.
Unlike Soriano and McCann, Beltran is a switch-hitter. He maintained a .200+ ISO against both righties and lefties these last two years (.214 vs. LHP and .202 vs. RHP) but he is a different type of hitter from each side of the plate. Beltran is pretty much a dead pull hitter as a righty and an all-fields guy as a lefty, though he does the most damage from the left side when he pulls the ball to right field at this point of his career (spray charts). That’s perfectly fine and plays right into Yankee Stadium. The concern is the declining distance of his batted balls:
Given his age (37 in April), that little downtick last year (really the last two years) is a concern. It’s not much, but pretty much anything is a red flag with a player this age. On average, Beltran did not hit the ball as far last year as he did the year before. Could be a one-year fluke, could be a sign of age-related decline. We’re going to find out in the coming months.
I am pretty confident Beltran will be a 20+ homer, 25+ double guy for the Yankees this coming season and right now that is the most important thing. He could fall completely off a cliff in 2014 but it would be a surprise to me. (The 2015-16 seasons are another matter for another time.) Even if he is starting to slip due to age, some of Beltran’s would-be homers should still go for doubles in 2014. The guy is such a good pure hitter and it’s not like he was bad in 2013. The somewhat early signs of decline are there though. No doubt about it.
Teixeira is a total unknown heading into this season. He missed almost all of last summer with a wrist injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after a brief and failed return to the lineup. Teixeira is currently taking batting practice and is slated to start playing in Spring Training games in early-March, but wrist injuries are known to sap power even after the player has been cleared by doctors.
Even as his overall production has declined, the 33-year-old Teixeira has always remained a source of homers, hitting at least 33 dingers from 2008-11 and then 24 in 123 games in 2012. He has never once had a sub-.220 ISO during a full season in his entire career. Teixeira has admitted to changing his hitting style to take advantage of the short porch as a left-handed hitter and there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything differently going forward.
Guys like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz had similar wrist tendon sheath problems in recent years and it took them a few months before returning to their previous form. It’s easy to say Teixeira will hit for power because he’s always hit for power, but there’s just no way of knowing what he can do following the injury. He’s included in this post because hitting the ball over the fence is his thing, but there is a chance he might not do that in 2014, at least not early in the season. It might take him a while to get back in the swing of things.
The Yankees gave Johnson a nice little one-year, $3M contract back in December and he is now their everyday third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. The 32-year-old isn’t much of a doubles guy but he has hit at least 16 homeruns in each of the last four seasons, and he has power to all fields:
Johnson can hit the ball of the park in any direction, which is a good thing. He’ll get some help from the short porch but he’s also shown he’s strong enough to drive those outside pitches the other way. Is he ever going to hit 26 homers with a .212 ISO like he did in 2010 again? Probably not, but the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 and 2013 might become 18-22 in the Bronx. Considering the Yankees only had one guy mash 18+ taters last summer, getting a similar number from a player like Johnson, who is slated to bat seventh, will be a welcome addition.
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On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees do not figure to get much power from second base (Brian Roberts), shortstop (Derek Jeter), left field (Brett Gardner), or center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) this year. From that group, only Jeter (15 HR in 2012) and Ellsbury (outlier 32 HR in 2011) have managed to hit double-digit homers at some point in the last three years and neither is a lock to do it in 2014. Sure, Ellsbury might pop a few extra dingers with the move into Yankee Stadium, but for the most part his ground ball/opposite field approach won’t boost his homer total all that much. Those four guys will pick up some extra-base hits with their speed, but over-the-fence power isn’t happening. Soriano, McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, and Johnson will be leaned on for homers and extra-base hits.
For all the talk about their shaky infield, the Yankees figure to boast one of the strongest outfield units in baseball this season. They have two legitimate starting caliber center fielders in Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as two veteran, middle of the order corner outfield bats in Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran. Fitting all four guys into one lineup will take some creativity on Joe Girardi‘s part but nothing crazy.
Girardi confirmed earlier this week that Ellsbury will be his everyday center fielder because duh. They didn’t give the guy $153M not to play center field. Since the Ellsbury and Beltran signings, I think the general assumption has been that Gardner will move back to left field everyday while Soriano and Beltran split time between right and DH. Obviously you want Gardner in the field for his defense, and considering their ages, giving Soriano and Beltran regular turns at DH makes sense.
It’s a wonderful plan in theory, but it is a little more complicated than that. Soriano has never played right field in his entire professional career and neither he nor Beltran have spent much time at DH. In fact, they’ve combined to start only 36 games at DH since 2005. Aside from Soriano’s return to New York in the second half last year, both guys spent the entirety of that 2005-13 period in the National League, so when they were in the lineup, they played the field.
“I don’t know,’’ said Soriano to George King earlier this week when asked about his spot in the lineup. “They said something about DH and left field. I want to be in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where … If I am the DH I will have to make adjustments. When the team is playing defense I will have to find a way to keep my body warm and ready.’’
Being the DH is tough, especially for a veteran player used to playing the field everyday. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and when the routine they’ve spent years crafting has to change, it can be a tough adjustment to make. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is something to consider. For all we know, both guys could make that adjustment immediately and make this a non-issue.
The right field thing is a little different, particularly for Soriano. Like I said, he’s never played right field before, so if the Yankees do plan to use him and Beltran in what amounts to a right field/DH platoon, he’ll have to learn the position in Spring Training after spending most of his career in left. Again, it’s not impossible, but it is an adjustment that will have to be made by a veteran player with a routine already in place.
It’s possible that Soriano will not have to make that adjustment, however. The Yankees could instead keep him in left field, where he’s comfortable, and put Gardner in right field. Gardner has never played right field in his career either, but his athleticism and relative youth should make the transition easier for him than it would be for Soriano. His speed would also allow him to simply outrun his mistakes. Gardner has a better arm than Soriano and that should be considered as well — runners are going to go first-to-third on singles all day, everyday against Soriano.
“I played [left field] for a couple of years a few years ago. I feel comfortable over there,” said Brett Gardner to Chad Jennings the other day when asked about moving out of center. “I told Joe I can play right too if he needs me to. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do to help the team win. Wherever I’m playing out there, wherever I’m hitting in the lineup, whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be ready.”
Gardner has already broached the idea of playing right field, so I assume he is on board with the idea. Aside from learning the position, the issue here is that right field in Yankee Stadium is tiny and it would be a waste to stick such a good defender there. There’s more real estate to cover in left and that’s where you want the rangier outfielder. That’s not a deal-breaker but it is something to keep in mind.
If the Yankees want to keep Soriano comfortable and play him in left, the best solution might be a rotation based on whether the team is home or away. At home, Gardner could play left with Beltran in right. On the road, Soriano could play left while Gardner is in right. That way Gardner’s range is used in Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field and Soriano gets to play his usual position.
That arrangement does sound great in theory, but it is a little more complicated than it seems. How will Gardner handle shifting back and forth between positions? Most guys like to have one set position and know where they’re playing everyday. Long homestands and road trips will also throw a wrench into things, especially if the team wants make sure Soriano and Beltran get regular turns at DH to stay fresh.
The Yankees are all but guaranteed to have an excellent outfield defense because of Gardner and Ellsbury, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the right field/DH rotation with Soriano and Beltran. Someone is going to wind up playing out of position most days, it’s just a question of who.
Three offseasons ago, just weeks after winning the World Series, the Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk as a free agent. They made a substantial offer but reportedly held the line at five years, so it was no surprise that he left when another club blew that offer out of the water. The Cardinals wanted Pujols back but on their terms and their terms only.
This past offseason, just weeks after missing the postseason for only the second time in the last 19 years, the Yankees let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent. Like St. Louis with Pujols, the Yankees made Cano a substantial offer but held firm, topping out at seven years and $175 million. When another team blew that offer out of the water, Robbie was gone. New York wanted him back, but again, only on their terms.
The Cardinals’ situation with Pujols and the Yankees’ situation with Cano were very similar and in more ways than the ones I just laid out. Not only did the two teams hold a hard line during talks with their homegrown star, but when that homegrown star left, both clubs turned to the same player to replace the lost offense: Carlos Beltran. St. Louis signed Beltran soon after Pujols left and plopped him in the middle of their order. The Yankees signed Beltran hours after Cano left and are counting on him to anchor their rebuilt lineup.
Beltran, who will turn 37 in April, is certainly no stranger to New York. He spent parts of seven seasons across town with the Mets and he has flirted with the Yankees on numerous occasions. Beltran famously offered to sign with the Bombers at a discount during the 2004-05 offseason, and he also gave them a chance to match the Cardinals’ offer three winters ago. The Yankees passed both times but decided now, with his best years almost certainly in the past, was the time to bring him. Cano’s departure was a big reason why.
With Brian McCann, the Yankees addressed a very specific short and long-term need behind the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury was signed mostly because he was the best non-Cano free agent on the market, but he gives the team a dynamic leadoff hitter who has been through the AL East wars and knows all about playing in a huge market. Beltran is sorta like a combination of the two. He’s a middle of the order bat like McCann but he’s also familiar with playing in an intense market with big expectations.
At the same time, Beltran is nearing the end of his career, so it’s tough to know exactly what to expect at this point. His defense has already declined to the point where he needs a late-inning replacement and his production against lefties has slipped as well, so these next three years will be interesting. I’ve said before that the signing gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, that the Yankees acquired the right player only nine years too late. I really hope that isn’t the case and considering how much money they sunk into him, the team is confident Beltran will remain a very good hitter for another few seasons.
“I look at the team, I look at our situation, the players we have and we have a pretty good chance,” said Beltran to Dan Martin yesterday. “Last year, I experienced being in the World Series with the Cardinals and it was a great feeling. Once you play there, you want to go there every year … Hopefully we can help this team win a championship. I know [Derek Jeter] has a lot of championships, but I don’t have [any]. Hopefully, I can win one.”
During his two years with the Cardinals, Beltran essentially matched Pujols’ offensive output with the Halos (128 vs. 130 OPS+) while doing a better job of staying on the field (296 vs. 252 games). I would be very surprised if Beltran hits anything like Cano these next few years, nevermind play a similar number of games. The Yankees don’t need him to do that though. They improved several lineup spots this winter and should have a deeper lineup overall. Beltran doesn’t have to be The Man for New York the way Cano was, but he does replace him as the team’s best all-around hitter and likely number three hitter. That’s a role Beltran is very familiar with.
I’ve been milking the mailbag teet during the holidays, but posting will be back to normal next week. This week’s (final) mailbag is eight friggin’ questions long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything.
Shane asks: Recently, a report came out saying that the Yankees can dip under $189M midseason. It only matters where you finish. Would this method work in 2013? I know the luxury tax was in the $175M range but who could they have traded to dip below the $175M in 2013? Would this be at all possible by trading Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda and not trading for Alfonso Soriano? How close could they have gotten to that number?
Joel Sherman wrote an article earlier this week suggesting the Yankees could conduct a sell-off this summer if they’re not contending in an effort to get under $189M, but that would really surprise me. They didn’t spend $300M+ this winter (and counting) to hold a midseason fire sale. Sherman seems really hell-bent on the whole $189M idea.
Anyway, the Yankees finished last season with a $234,227,890 payroll for luxury tax purposes, so getting under the $178M threshold would have meant selling off at least $56,227,890 (!) worth of players in season. That seems damn near impossible, but let’s look anyway. To make the math easy, let’s assume the firesale happened at the exact midpoint of the season. Here’s what they would have had to do to get under the luxury tax threshold:
- Not trade for Soriano: $6.7M saved
- Trade Granderson: $7.5M saved
- Trade Kuroda: $7.5M saved
- Trade Robinson Cano: $7.5M saved
- Trade Phil Hughes: $3.575M saved
- Trade Ichiro Suzuki: $3.125M saved
- Trade Boone Logan: $1.575M saved
- Trade David Robertson: $1.55M saved
- Trade Joba Chamberlain: $0.9375M saved
- Trade Shawn Kelley: $0.4675M saved
- Trade Jayson Nix: $0.450
Add all of that up and they would have saved … $40.88M. Still another $16M or so to go, not counting the salaries they would have had to pay to replace all the players they traded, which would add up to a few million even if the replacements were earning the minimum. I guess they could have traded Andy Pettitte ($6M saved) and Mariano Rivera ($5M saved), but even that would have left them short. Same deal with trading CC Sabathia ($12.2M saved) or Mark Teixeira ($11.25M saved), but moving those two would have been very hard because they stunk and were hurt, respectively. Plus they have no-trade clauses. I don’t see any way the Yankees could have realistically gotten under the $178M luxury tax threshold in 2013 through a midseason firesale.
Cameron asks: Managers and coaches sign contracts like players, but when a coach underperforms we always see them get fired in the middle of a contract. However, when a player underperforms or becomes an issue (obviously the extreme example being Alex Rodriguez), they never get “fired” or let go. The team just has to deal with it or try to trade them. Is there a difference in the contracts that doesn’t allow that? Do teams still have to pay the remainder of a manager’s salary when they get fired?
Well, I suppose releasing or designating a player for assignment is like firing them, and that happens all the time. Obviously cutting ties with a lower salary player is easier to swallow, and the same is true of managers or coaches. And yes, teams absolutely still have to pay managers and coaches if they’re fired in the middle of the contract. The only real exception is if the guy leaves for a pormotion — the Yankees don’t have to pay ex-bullpen coach Mike Harkey after he left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach, for example. That’s a mutually agreed upon thing.
Travis asks: Just thinking outside the box, I’m sure he has never played there before, but could Carlos Beltran be cross-trained at first base to help alleviate some position issues and create more roster flexibility?
Sure, it’s possible, but I think first base is tougher than most people realize. Whenever I think about moving a player to first late in their career, I always remember Gary Sheffield looking like he had never played baseball in his life when the Yankees stuck him there in late 2006. Teixeira still has three years on his contract and I assume Brian McCann will put in some side work at first base, but if he’s up for it, there’s no reason not to have Beltran take ground balls and learn the position. I would be surprised if he was still an outfielder in the final year of his three year contract, so having first base as a possibility would unclog that seemingly inevitable DH logjam.
Jeff asks: Looking back on Cano’s time with the Yankees made me remember that he kind of came out of nowhere without a lot of hype. Do you see anyone in the Yankees system flying under the radar right now or could have a breakout year? Will we ever see anyone emerge and have success like Cano and Chien-Ming Wang did or do we know too much about the team’s system?
Nova fits into this category as well. Heck, I don’t think I ever ranked him on one of my Preseason Top 30 lists. As long as Major League Baseball is being played, there will be guys who come out of nowhere to be big contributors*. Some of them will even be Yankees. Baseball is weird like that.
* To be fair, Cano and Wang were well regarded prospects. The Yankees didn’t give Wang a $1.9M signing bonus back in the day out of the kindness of their hearts. Both guys simply became better big leaguers than expected, Cano especially.
Among the guys in the system now, I think Peter O’Brien and Rob Refnsyder have a good chance of exceeding expectations. O’Brien’s power is legit and Refsnyder is one of those major college program “he just knows how to hit” players. Guys with power and guys who consistently put up strong offensive numbers tends to get plenty of chances. Among the arms … maybe Daniel Camarena? I’ve always liked him and command lefties with a good changeup seem to stick around forever as long as they’re healthy.
Dave asks: There’s been a lot of talk of the Yankees’ lack of a third baseman. I feel like people seem to have forgotten that J.R. Murphy was once a catcher/third baseman a few years back. Do you think there’s a chance the Yanks move him back there now that McCann is the catcher going forward and hope that he (Murphy) can become an offensive-minded infielder?
There was talk about moving Tyler Austin from right field and back to third base at this time last year, but unlike Murphy, that was a move up a defensive spectrum that would have improved Austin’s value. Moving Murphy out from behind the plate fills a more pressing need but makes him less valuable overall. Murphy has reportedly made a lot of progress defensively and he’s now seen as a lock to remain at the position long-term. His bat really came around last year as well. There is always a need for quality catchers and I’d keep Murphy behind the plate. If nothing else, he’s more valuable in a trade that way.
Anthony asks: Even though he was offered less total money, Shin-Soo Choo will earn more in Texas than he would in New York because of the income tax. For the Yankees to guarantee him equivalent earnings, they would have had to raise the value of their initial offer, thus incurring a larger hit against the luxury tax/payroll cap if the contract was agreed upon. Doesn’t this seem a bit unfair for teams living in states with an income tax? Will MLB do anything about it?
Well, the team makes a conscious decision to be over the threshold and pay the luxury tax, so that’s not MLB’s problem. I don’t know if they still do it (I assume they do), but I know at one point MLB cut checks to the Blue Jays each year to make up for the difference in exchange rate. That’s a unique situation though.
I don’t think MLB will or should do anything about the income tax situation. It’s just one of those things that comes with having teams all around the country. Should MLB step in because the weather in San Diego has helped the Padres sign some players over the years? What about all the guys who come to New York because they think they can get better endorsement deals? The income tax situation is unfortunate for the Yankees but they have their own market advantages as well. MLB should stay the hell out of government matters, it’s not their place (cough cough).
This is weird, because I think Huff is both more in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot but also more likely to be on the Opening Day roster than Cabral. He’s out of minor league options and if he’s still around in camp, his September work last year could give him a leg up on the second lefty/swingman role. Cabral can go to Triple-A without a problem and sometimes that work against a guy. Make sense? Either way, I’m certain we’ll see Cabral on the team at some point in 2014.
Jamie asks: Asked a question about the differences in WAR on various sites two weeks ago. With that being said, if you had to pick two numbers for a position player (offense and defense — OPS+, WAR, UZR, etc.) and one for a pitcher (ERA+, WAR, etc) that best rated their value, which would it be and why?
WAR, particularly bWAR, is the easy answer for pitchers. It is based on actual runs allowed (not theoretical runs allowed/FIP like fWAR) with adjustments for ballpark, league, team defense, etc. If I can only pick one stat for hurlers, that would be it.
On the position player side, I’d go with wRC+ and DRS. I don’t love UZR and Total Zone, which basically eliminates fWAR and bWAR. I’d want an adjusted-for-pretty-much-everything offensive stat, hence wRC+, and I prefer DRS to the other defensive stats. In a perfect world, I’d have access to all of them. But since I’m limited to one, DRS it is. Ultimately, the best way to evaluate a player is to look at everything, every stat plus scouting reports plus the eye test. The more information, the better.
Mason asks: Watching the press conference I couldn’t help but wonder what the Yankees’ postseason history would look like had they signed Carlos Beltran back when he was a free agent coming from the Astros. It just seems inconceivable looking back that they wouldn’t have brought him on. What changes if he is brought on in that offseason?
I’ve said this more than once and I still think it’s true: passing on Beltran during the 2004-2005 offseason was the team’s biggest mistake during the Brian Cashman era. I thought it was a no-brainer. Beltran was only 27 at the time and he was a 30/30-ish switch-hitter who got on base a ton and played very good defense in center. Bernie Williams was pretty much done and the team had no obvious long-term center field solution. He was perfect. The Yankees didn’t sign Beltran that winter and instead spent their money on Randy Johnson, which was justifiable. Starting pitching was a huge need as well.
Anyway, it’s impossible to say how things would have played out had they acquired Beltran instead of Johnson that winter, so this is nothing more than guesswork. The Yankees went to the postseason six times and won a World Series during the span of Beltran’s seven-year contract with the Mets and it’s not a guarantee he would have made things better. Remember, they were bounced from the postseason in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010 largely because the pitching stunk. The hitting was a problem in 2011 and maybe having him would have helped them beat the Tigers in the ALDS. Otherwise the pitching was never good enough for one big bat to make a real difference.
Had the Yankees signed Beltran back in the day, I’m pretty sure they would not have signed Johnny Damon the following the winter. Damon was very good in New York but Beltran greatly outproduced him from 2006-2009 (135 wRC+ and 22.9 fWAR vs. 116 wRC+ and 12.7 fWAR). I do think they would have still re-signed Hideki Matsui that winter since he was a True Yankee™ and the difference in annual salary between Damon and Beltran was only $4M. Not enough to throw a wrench into future deals.
Is the Bobby Abreu trade still made with Beltran? Probably, since both Matsui and Gary Sheffield were hurt. Damon was both healthy and productive in 2006. I don’t think having Beltran would have changed Melky Cabrera‘s career path all that much aside from not getting the ill-advised call-up in 2005. There still would have been plenty of opportunity for him in 2006, which is when he played his way into a regular job (98 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR, which he never repeated in New York). I don’t think the outfield picture would have looked radically different from 2005-2008, it just would have been Beltran in center and Melky in left instead of Melky in center and Damon in left.
The 2009 season is where this hypothetical gets interesting. Beltran’s knees started to give out that year and he missed close to three months in the middle of the season. He was healthy when September rolled around though, so the Yankees would have had him for their playoff push. That team was so good that I don’t think losing Beltran for three months would have derailed them. They won the division by eight games, though they were four back on the day he got hurt (June 21st). Maybe that leads to Cashman making a deal at the deadline. Matt Holliday was the big name outfielder traded that summer, but lesser guys like Nate McLouth, Mark DeRosa, and Scott Hairston were also dealt. A trade for one of those guys would have changed things quite a bit both that year and in future years depending on the trade package.
Beltran missed most of 2010 with knee problems but was healthy for the second half and a potential playoff drive. The Yankees made the postseason by seven games that year, so losing him wouldn’t have been a season-killer. Beltran was no longer a superstar at that time anyway. Going from him to say, McLouth for three months would have been a two or three win drop. That assumes McLouth would have been as terrible in New York as he was in Atlanta. The Rangers outscored the Yankees 38-19 in the ALCS that year and I doubt Beltran makes much of a difference. He was healthy in 2011 and could have made a difference in the ALDS, when New York lost three games to the Tigers by a total of four runs. Would that 2011 squad have beaten the Rangers in the ALCS or the Cardinals in the World Series? I don’t think so. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia were the number two and three starters, remember.
Like I said earlier, this is all just guesswork. Beltran’s career path would have changed completely had he signed with the Yankees back in the day — maybe he would have avoided the knee problems all together or maybe he would have been hurt even more. Maybe the team signs Damon and lets Matsui walk instead. Maybe they can’t afford to trade for Abreu in 2006. Who knows? I thought the Yankees should have signed Beltran back in the day (especially after he offered to take a discount, geez) but I don’t think we can simply assume the club would have been better off from 2005-2011 just because he was on the team. Way too many variables in play.
Three weeks after agreeing to terms, the Yankees have finally announced the signing of Carlos Beltran to a three-year contract. He already revealed on Twitter he will wear #36. The press conference is scheduled for tomorrow at 11am and you’ll be able to watch on YES.
To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated right-hander Brett Marshall for assignment. The 23-year-old had a disappointing 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings for Triple-A Scranton this past season. He made his big league debut and allowed six runs in 12 innings across three appearances. I’m thinking he’ll slip through waivers. We’ll see.