Winter Meetings Day Two Open Thread

(Elsa/Getty)

The Winter Meetings are only a day old, but they have yet to bring anything resembling good news to the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery to repair some serious damage in his left hip next month, which will cause him to miss the start of the season. Now the club has to add a stopgap third baseman to a shopping list that already includes a starting right fielder, a starting catcher, a DH, a bench, and various depth players. Thankfully Spring Training is still more than two months away.

Joe Girardi will meet with the media at 5:30 ET today, but those things usually lack major news. Either way, I’ll have a recap. We’ll keep track of all the Yankees-related rumors and rumblings throughout the day right here, so make sure you check back in. Here are Monday’s rumors and here are today’s, with the latest up top (all times are ET):

  • 8:56pm: The Yankees have asked to see Youkilis’ medicals, though the two sides remain far apart on the dollars. I do not like where this is going. [Barbarisi]
  • 8:19pm: The Yankees remain in the mix for Scott Hairston. [Rosenthal]
  • 7:25pm: Brian Cashman confirmed that they’ve had conversations with both Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • 7:06pm: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in Mark Reynolds. [Heyman]
  • 7:05pm: Updated demands! Keppinger is reportedly seeking $12M across three years now. [Heyman]
  • 6:02pm: The Yankees don’t want to break the bank on a third baseman even on a one-year deal. They’re nowhere close on money with Youkilis. [Curry]
  • 4:15pm: The Yankees have met with Chavez’s agent at some point during the Winter Meetings and expressed an interest in re-signing him for next season. This was inevitable following A-Rod‘s injury. [Ken Davidoff]
  • 3:33pm: Scutaro is seeking $24M across three years (!) while Keppinger is seeking $8M across two years. They’re basically the same player except Keppinger is five years younger. [Olney & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 2:01pm: The Yankees have “very strong” interest in Jeff Keppinger and met with his representatives yesterday. The A-Rod injury accelerated their timetable. [Jeff Passan]
  • 1:15pm: Kevin Youkilis is the top third baseman on the free agent market and the Yankees have spoken to his agent. The long-time Red Sox player is apparently open to a one-year contract if the money is good enough. [Jack Curry]
  • 12:55pm: The Yankees have checked in on Shane Victorino, who figures to get multiple years. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • 12:44pm: The Yankees have “likely interest” in Marco Scutaro, which means no one really knows if they have interest and are just guessing in the wake of A-Rod’s injury. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 9:43am: The Yankees are talking to multiple nameless third base candidates. Speculate at your own risk. [Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees are open to discussing Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes in trades. I wrote about what they could expect in return for their center fielder in a mailbag a few months ago, and I have a hard time seeing a realistic deal that would be worthwhile. [Buster Olney & Joel Sherman]
  • Although he intends to play in 2013, the Yankees have yet to talk to Eric Chavez about a new contract for next season. That figures to change pretty quickly in the wake of A-Rod’s injury. [Sherman]
  • Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either are or are not in on Yunel Escobar. I suppose they could have checked in before backing off. Considering their emphasis on strong makeup and character, I can’t imagine they would push hard to acquire him unless he came dirt cheap. [Jon Heyman, Jayson Stark & Olney]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

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McCarron: Eric Chavez plans to play next season

Via Anthony McCarron: Despite his annual flirtation with retirement, Eric Chavez is planning to play next season according to agent Scott Leventhal. “Chavy has no intention of retiring,” said Leventhal. “We have spoken to and met with multiple clubs regarding his future in baseball.”

Chavez, who turns 35 later this week, was a monster off the bench for the Yankees this season, hitting .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances. They were very lucky he stayed relatively healthy all season, and although Chavez is a fine bench player, I’m not sure the Yankees should gamble on his body holding up again. McCarron says Leventhal declined comment when asked about which clubs they’ve met with.

What Went Right: Eric Chavez

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Part of the reason why the Yankees won World Series after World Series in the late-1990s was the quality of their reserves. They had guys like Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry and Chili Davis on the bench, established star-caliber players who accepted lesser roles later in their careers for the sake of winning. The club has gotten back to that model in recent years, which led them to Eric Chavez in 2011.

Last season, Chavez’s first year in New York, went well but it wasn’t great. He missed nearly three months with a foot injury and hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) in 175 plate appearances overall, including .255/.322/.365 (83 wRC+) against righties. His offense was propped up by a number of big hits (.415/.468/.537, 165 wRC+ with runners in scoring position) and his defense at the hot corner was pretty strong. He wasn’t Raines or Strawberry or even Davis, but he was a solid bench piece.

The Yankees brought the 34-year-old Chavez back on another one-year deal in 2012, likely expecting more of the same. Instead, they got a whole lot more. He singled in his first plate appearance of the season and was used pretty sparingly for the first 15 games or so, but he made his second start of the year on April 20th and responded with two solo homers in Fenway Park. He homered again on April 30th, matching his long ball output from 2011 in his first month and 30 plate appearances of 2012. Chavez had a torrid 12-for-37 (.324) stretch with four doubles and two homers in mid-June and carried a .282/.336/.504 batting line into the All-Star break. He then went 3-for-3 with a homer in the third game after the break.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

When Felix Hernandez broke Alex Rodriguez‘s hand with a pitch on July 24th, Chavez took over as the regular third baseman against right-handers. He hit .333/.392/.543 in 89 plate appearances during A-Rod‘s absence, including an insane 16-for-34 (.471) stretch with five homers from late-July to mid-August. During a four-game series against the Tigers in early-August, he went 9-for-16 (.563) with two homers, including the game-winning dinger in the eighth inning of the series finale.

A-Rod returned in early-September and Chavez went back to his usual role off the bench, but he didn’t stop hitting. He went 8-for-30 (.267) with four homers and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six) in the club’s final 22 games of the season. Chavez didn’t hit all in the playoffs, literally zero hits in 17 plate appearances, but that’s not enough to take the shine away from his .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) effort in 313 regular season plate appearances. He hit 16 (!) homers, his most since 2006 and more than three times as many as he hit from 2008-2011 combined (five), and he also tagged right-handed pitchers for a .299/.366/.545 (144 wRC+) batting line in 244 plate appearances. The guy was a monster off the bench.

At the same time, the Yankees also got lucky that Chavez didn’t get hurt and miss a significant chunk of time. He did spend seven days on the concussion DL in early-May and was unavailable for a handful of games through the season for general maintenance, but otherwise Chavez stayed on the field all season despite needing a rigorous daily routine to get ready to play. He was arguably the team’s best bench player since those veteran laden late-1990s team, providing solid defense and excellent offense while subbing in during A-Rod’s injury and allowing the team to never miss a beat.

Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

What Went Wrong: Postseason Offense

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.

All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.

Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.

Robinson Cano
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.

Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).

A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.

The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention,  but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.

Nick Swisher
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.

Russell Martin
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.

Chavez hopes to manage after playing days are over

Last night we learned that Derek Jeter has no interest in returning to the dugout as a manager once his playing career is over, but the feeling is not shared by his teammates. Dan Barbarisi wrote today about Eric Chavez, who admits to wanting to stay in baseball as a coach and eventually manager once he retires as a player. “One way or the other, I want to stay in the game,” he said. “In the last four years I’ve had to learn so much, that I feel there’s a lot I want to pass on.”

Chavez, 34, first got the itch to coach back with the Athletics in 2010, when he was injured and spent most of his time helping the club’s younger players. He’s begun was Barbarisi calls an “active study” this year, observing the coaching staff and studying the game from the dugout more intently than most players. Chavez has stayed healthy this summer and is having a monster season (132 wRC+) as a part-time player, but he admitted to considering retirement in each of the last two offseasons. Barbarisi’s one of the best and I think it’s safe to say Chavez is a fan favorite, so make sure you check it out.

Jeter, Chavez, Swisher leading offensive surge

When Derek Jeter took Fransisco Liriano’s first pitch over the wall in left field, it was not only his fourth leadoff homer of the year, but also his fourth home run since the All-Star break. That’s no small accomplishment, considering the 162 PA sample. In fact, Jeter’s second half as a whole had led the way for the Yankees offense.

Even though they’ve slowed the pace a bit since coming back from the break, going 20-18 against a 52-33 first-half record, little blame lies with the offense. They’ve improved a bit in terms of sheer numbers, a 120 sOPS+ vs. a 118 sOPS+ in the first half, and they’ve scored a few more runs, too: 5.16 vs. 4.85 per game. Much of that production comes from Jeter.

His .366 batting average leads the team by almost 50 points; the next closest is Alex Rodriguez, who got just 50 PA before Felix Hernandez hit him in the hand. He’s five OBP points behind Nick Swisher and 54 SLG points behind Eric Chavez, both of whom lead the team in those categories. But at 162 PA he has nearly double the number of Chavez, and has 33 more than Swisher (while having better numbers overall).

That isn’t to knock on either Chavez or Swisher. They’ve worked alongside Jeter to create a significant portion of the second half offense. Swisher in particular has been an enormous help. He got off to an awfully slow start, hitting .262/.336/.477 in the first half. Since the four-day vacation he’s hit .294/.403/.495, good for the third-highest OPS on the team. That turn around, and his placement behind Jeter in the order, has given the middle of the order plenty of opportunities to score runs.

Chavez has done his part to drive in those runners, producing a .949 second-half OPS, including six homers, after producing a totally respectable .839 OPS in the first half. The wrinkle is that he’s started only 21 games, so his impact has been limited. Despite those six homers and generally torrid production, along with his ascension in the batting order, he has driven in just 13 runs in the second half. For comparison, that’s as many runs as Ichiro has driven in for the Yankees during that very same span.

(While it’s not remarkable compared to expectations, Mark Teixeira has hit .282/.348/.530 in the second half. He’s not back to where the Yankees need him to be, but it does seem that he’s been rounding into form even with the wrist issue. Since his breather weekend against the Reds he’s hitting .277/.366/.546.)

If Robinson Cano weren’t mired in such a slump perhaps the Yankees would have scored even more runs in the past few weeks. He’s at just .285/.355/.438 since the break — not bad, but his recent 5 for 32 stretch, with no extra base hits, has hurt a bit. (Or has it? The Yankees are 6-4 in that span.) With Jeter and Swisher getting on base frequently, a streaking Cano can make a huge difference. With those top four hitting, and with Chavez often hitting fifth, that’s a pretty potent top of the order.

As it did at points in the first half, it seems the Yankees are playing well but having trouble firing on all cylinders. Once they get that going, the offense should continue rolling along. Now, if they can only find some consistence in the pitching.