- Carlos Beltran (elbow) took batting practice on the field today and felt no discomfort. It seems increasingly likely he will avoid surgery. Beltran will need to play in some minor league rehab games before rejoining the team. He won’t do anything more than DH at first.
- Shawn Kelley (back) threw his first bullpen session since hitting the disabled list today and everything went fine. He’ll need a minor league rehab outing or two before rejoining the club.
- CC Sabathia (knee) will visit the doctor today and they’ll determine the next step in his rehab process. Joe Girardi said everything is going well so far.
The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.
Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:
- Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
- Then Hughes got hurt.
- Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
- Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
- Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
- The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
- Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
- Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
- Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
- Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
- Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
- They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
- Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
- Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
- All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.
What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.
Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?
It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.
Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.
The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.
Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.
Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.
Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.
Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.
Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.
They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.
In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.
Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.
Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.
They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.
At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.
The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.
The Yankees have lost another one of their starters for an extended period of time. Brian Cashman confirmed to Joel Sherman that CC Sabathia will be out until at least July due to his continued right knee problems. Just last night we heard Sabathia was going to see another doctor after receiving a cortisone injection and stem cell treatment from Dr. James Andrews a few days ago.
“It will be no sooner than six weeks from now,”said the GM to Sherman. “Our dialogue with Andrews has been good and the small sample of stem cell procedures, the results are very successful, but he has to be pain free before strengthening, so there is a way to go. Because he is a starter it will take longer. I have no idea how long it will be and if it will be successful. We are hoping it is six weeks to a Major League return.”
Sabathia, 33, has what Cashman called “degenerative change” in his right knee, referring to the cartilage. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the knee after both the 2006 and 2010 seasons. Even the slimmed down version of Sabathia is a large man and he’s been coming down on that right knee — his landing leg — for a long time now. Joe Girardi said he is unsure if surgery will be necessary if the stem cell treatment doesn’t work.
“I have not been told that (surgery is possible), but I think you have to wait and see how all of this works,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I think any time you deal with a degenerative knee issue, at some point in your life something is probably going to flare up. I’m not a doctor, and I can’t tell you when that’s going to happen. When you have degenerative back (problems), it usually gets to the point where usually you have to have something done, so we’ll have to see.”
The Yankees are also without Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, so three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation is hurt. Nova is done for the year following Tommy John surgery and Pineda recently started throwing bullpens as part of his throwing program, but he is still several weeks away from returning from his back/shoulder muscle injury. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and most recently Chase Whitley have stepped into the rotation and have been … hit or miss. Let’s put it that way. They have combined for ten starts and have completed five full innings of work only six times (combined 3.62 ERA and 4.08 FIP).
We already know the Yankees are open to trading for pitching — “Generally at this time of year, nothing materializes. We will keep an eye out to see if something does,” said Cashman to Sherman — because they’re always open to trading for pitching. Hal Steinbrenner has indicated a willingness to take on salary and increase payroll, which seems unavoidable if the team wants to lands a rotation upgrade. Expect a lot of Cliff Lee and Jeff Samardzija chatter over the next few weeks.
The Yankees have just about exhausted their internal rotation candidates, with Alfredo Aceves, Brian Gordon, and Shane Greene next in line to make starts (not necessarily in that order). Manny Banuelos might be an option in the second half, and, if worst comes to worst, they could always pull Adam Warren out of his setup role and stretch him back out into a starter. Putting Dellin Betances back in the rotation should be a non-option given his history.
Sabathia has been pretty awful both this year (5.28 ERA and 4.72 FIP) and since the start of last year (4.87 ERA and 4.21 FIP), but that doesn’t mean the Yankees are better off without him. Far from it. Phelps, Nuno, and Whitley are five and fly pitchers who drain the bullpen — Betances can throw two innings every other day for only so long — and the Yankees run of the risk of burning out their key relievers later in the season. They need to get some more length from their starters, including Hiroki Kuroda.
On the other hand, it’s possible Sabathia will come out of this ordeal as a better pitcher once he’s healthy. He’s shown he will pitch through pain in the past, most notably pitching on the torn meniscus in 2010, with the bone spur in his elbow in 2012, and after blowing out his hamstring mid-start last September. Who knows how long the knee was bothering Sabathia and how getting it taken care of will help him? If he was unable to land comfortably, it would explain some of his location issues, no doubt. We’ll find out eventually, I guess.
For now, the Yankees are stuck with the totally awesome Masahiro Tanaka, the inconsistent Kuroda, and three rolls of the dice in the rotation. Pineda will hopefully be back early next month and that will be a huge help based on the way he was pitching earlier this year. At the very least, Sabathia’s ability to take the ball every fifth day and soak up some innings will be missed, especially by the middle relievers who have to pick up the slack.
CC Sabathia will see another doctor to formulate a new treatment plan for his injured right knee tomorrow, Joe Girardi announced following today’s doubleheader. “Is it going to be a 15-day DL? No. It’s going to be more than that, I can tell you right now,” said the skipper.
Sabathia, 33, has “degenerative change” in his twice surgically repaired right knee. He recently received a cortisone shot and stem cell treatment in an effort to promote cartilage growth (or slow down cartilage decay, I’m not sure), and I guess that isn’t working. It seems more and more likely that Sabathia is going to be out a while, which makes Michael Pineda‘s return from his shoulder injury all the more important.
Got eight questions for you this week, some with long-ish answers and some with short answers. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
JoeyA asks: How much would TANAK get on the open market RIGHT NOW. My guess: more than 7/155.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure Masahiro Tanaka would fetch more than seven years and $155M right now. He’s legitimately pitching like an ace (2.17 ERA and 2.81 FIP) because he doesn’t walk anyone (1.09 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) and he misses a ton of bats (10.24 K/9 and 29.5 K%). Tanaka’s been durable throughout his career, he’s adjusted to the different ball and five-day schedule just fine, and he’s only 25 years old. Plus he’s a stone cold killer on the mound. Absolutely nothing rattles him. He would be a seriously hot commodity on the open market now that he’s shown he can handle MLB.
Tanaka’s contract (not counting the release fee) is already the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history. I don’t think he’d get Clayton Kershaw money (seven years, $215M) if he was a free agent right now, but Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175M) and Justin Verlander (seven years, $180M) money seems very doable. That said, none of those three were free agents, they all signed extensions. Tanaka would be able to create a bidding war, so maybe $200M isn’t out of the question. I think Max Scherzer’s headed for $200M this winter and he turns 30 in July. Wouldn’t you rather have Tanaka’s age 25-31 seasons over Scherzer’s age 30-36 seasons?
Stephen asks: CC Sabathia‘s xFIP is 3.14, good for 21st in the bigs. Since the purpose of xFIP is to normalize home run rates, do you see a large regression coming for the big guy? How is it possible for a guy with his peripherals to be this bad? Tanaka is actually leading the xFIP leaderboard, due to his bloated HR rate. Is it possible that he’s going to get even better as the season progresses?
I am absolutely not a fan of xFIP because it does normalize homer rates to the league average. Why are we doing that, exactly? We know pitchers give up homers at different rates so why would we expect them to regress back to the rest of the league? You’re better off comparing a pitcher’s homer rate to his recent performance.
For example, Sabathia has a 23.3% HR/FB rate this year, which is way higher than last season (13.0%) and the last three seasons (11.3% from 2011-13). At the same time, he’s given up some serious bombs this year — Hit Tracker says eight of Sabathia’s ten homers allowed were “no doubters” or had “plenty,” basically meaning they were crushed. One was “just enough” and barely got over the wall. The other was Wil Myers’ inside the park homer — and that indicates hitters are squaring him up well. The 23.3% HR/FB rate is insane (would be the highest in MLB history by a mile) and I would expect it come down some, but given the swings hitters are taking against him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a true talent 15-16% HR/FB guy now, especially in Yankee Stadium. The AL average is 9.4% this year and it feels like it would take a miracle for Sabathia to get his homer rate down that far at this point of his career. Long story short: I’m not an xFIP fan at all.
Spencer asks: I know it’s a tad premature, but how does the contract Yangervis Solarte has work? Does he become a free agent this year? Also, suppose he has the same slash line as he has now at the end of the season what would you sign him for?
This is the first time Solarte has been in the big leagues, so the Yankees still have his full six years of team control. Assuming he never goes back to the minors, he’ll earn something close to the league minimum from 2014-16, then go through arbitration from 2017-19. Solarte can not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season at the earliest, when he will be 32 years old.
As for signing him long-term … I think it might be too early for that. Solarte’s been awesome, don’t get me wrong, but given his out of nowhere emergence from mediocre minor league journeyman to impact big leaguer, I think you need to see if he does it again next season before committing real money to him. If he’d agree to something like five years and $10M after the season (say $550k, $750k, $1.5M, $2.9M, $4.3M from 2015-19), then hell yeah, do it. He might jump at the guaranteed payday after toiling in the minors so long. At worst he’d be an expensive bench player four years down the line. The Yankees have a ton of money and can roll the dice by waiting a year to see if this is the real Solarte though.
Chris asks: Any thoughts at a run at Mike Moustakas? He’s off to an awful start and they are talking of sending him back to the minors.
I think the Yankees should call and ask, sure. Moustakas is off to a dreadful start (53 wRC+ going into last night’s game) and he simply can’t hit lefties, either this year (.198 wOBA) or throughout his relatively short big league career (.267 wOBA), so he’s basically a platoon player. He does have left-handed pop and he’s made himself into a strong defender at the hot corner, plus he is only 25 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered one of the ten best prospects in baseball. Maybe hitting coach Kevin Long can help him take him to the next level like he did Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson (and Solarte?).
The Royals are not the cellar-dwellers they once were, or at least they aren’t acting like that anymore. They’re trying to win right now, this year, before James Shields leaves as a free agent. I don’t think they’ll trade their starting third baseman — they have some internal candidates to replace him, so trading Moustakas is not necessarily a crazy idea — for a handful of prospects. They’ll want help for the big league team in return. Kansas City could probably use another outfielder and another starting pitcher. There’s no way I’d give up Brett Gardner for Moose Tacos and I doubt Zoilo Almonte or Ichiro Suzuki would cut it. As for the pitching, hah. The Yankees have zero to spare. He’s worth a phone call but I’m not sure there’s a good trade fit at this moment.
Mike P. asks: Under the new replay system, let’s say the HQ in New York tells the umpires a batter is safe at first, but the umpires watch the scoreboard replay and think he’s out. Do they have to follow the call from NYC or can they make their own judgment?
It’s all done in the Midtown office, the reviews and the decision. They just relay the call through the headsets. I don’t believe the on-field umpires have the authority to make the call either once it goes to review, that would defeat the purpose.
Daniel asks: You mentioned being sort of iffy on the decision to give Tino Martinez a plaque. Are there any of the other plaques or retired numbers that you disagree with or that at least are strange to you?
Here’s the list of monuments, plaques, and retired numbers. None of them stand out to me as odd but most of those guys played or managed or whatever long before my time. I think there’s a “feel” element to this stuff. You can’t just set some arbitrary WAR threshold and say guys over this number get a plaque, guys over this number get their number retired, so on and so forth. The guy has to feel like he belongs in Monument Park. You know I mean. Tino was awesome for the Yankees for six years, but was he an all-time great Yankee? Not a chance. I think others like Willie Randolph, Bobby Murcer, and Joe Gordon (Hall of Famer!) are more deserving of plaques. That’s just my opinion though. Everyone is welcome to feel differently.
Dan asks: Do you think Peter O’Brien has reached his top level this season? He got a quick promotion. If he keeps hitting like he did in High-A could he make it to AAA this year?
O’Brien was promoted quickly because he spent the second half of last season in High-A as well, it wasn’t just a few weeks early this year. That said, yes I definitely think another promotion may come later this season. Not right away, O’Brien needs some time to catch his breath and get comfortable in Double-A, but in August or so? Sure, bump him up if he’s still raking. Guys like him — drafted as a college senior, ton of power, lots of strikeouts, never walks, still trying to find a position — are the ones teams should promote aggressively because you’re not going to know what you have until he gets to the highest levels of the minors. He’s not someone like, say, Luis Torrens, who is trying to learn to catch high-end velocity and get through the grind of a full season. Give O’Brien like two months in Double-A then see where he’s at.
Sanchez still needs to work on his catching and I mean just about everything. Footwork, receiving, throwing, the whole nine. I think they should let him focus on improving behind the plate because that is where he’s most valuable. Who’s to say McCann won’t be a full-time DH and Murphy won’t be a bust by time Sanchez is ready? We’re still a long way away from worrying how he fits onto the roster and I think the odds of him being traded are much higher than the odds of him wearing pinstripes for more than a few weeks. When he gets to Triple-A and it looks like he might be ready to help the MLB team, that’s when I’d worry about his position. For now, leave him behind the plate and let him learn.
6:38pm: According to Meredith Marakovits, Brian Cashman confirmed CC Sabathia has degenerative changes in his ailing right knee. He will receive a cortisone shot with stem cells tomorrow and there is no timetable for his return.
Just yesterday we heard Dr. Andrews confirmed Sabathia’s original knee inflammation diagnosis, but inflammation is just a symptom, not the cause of the problem. Sabathia is a big dude and he’s been coming down hard on that right knee (his landing knee) for years. It’s no surprise it’s starting to give out. Hopefully the stem cells work as well as they did for Bartolo Colon a few years ago.