Archive for Ivan Nova
Via George King & Chad Jennings: Joe Girardi confirmed Ivan Nova is a candidate to start one game of Monday’s doubleheader against the Indians if he comes through today’s Extended Spring Training game well. “As long as he feels good and throws the ball well (it’s possible),” said the skipper. “We are allowed to add that 26th man [for doubleheaders].”
Nova, 26, is on the DL with a triceps issue and is eligible to be activated on Sunday. I’m probably reading too much into this, but I thought it was interesting Girardi mentioned the 26th man. The rules say the 26th player has to go back to the minors immediately following the doubleheader, so either they’ll have to rearrange the bullpen — technically send down Vidal Nuno or Preston Claiborne, called them back up as the 26th man — or Nova’s going to minors to work on things following that game. My money’s on the former.
The Yankees have placed Ivan Nova on the 15-day DL with right triceps inflammation according to Dan Barbarisi. That’s pretty much the best case scenario. He left last night’s start with what was originally called elbow pain, but after the game he and Joe Girardi confirmed it was stiffness in the triceps and not the elbow.
Vidal Nuno has been called up to fill Nova’s vacated roster spot, and. Derek Jeter was moved over to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot. David Phelps will replace Nova in the rotation and Nuno will work out of the bullpen.
Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers reasonably short. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever.
Brad asks: With the Dodgers recent injury bug to their rotation and the news of Derek Jeter being out until late July at the earliest, would it make sense to swap Ivan Nova to LA for perhaps Mark Ellis and a reliever?
Yes and no. The Dodgers started the year with eight legitimate starters for five spots, but they’ve since traded Aaron Harang and lost Zack Greinke (collarbone), Chris Capuano (calf), and Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) to injury. Behind Clayton Kershaw they have Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ted Lilly, and rookie Stephen Fife. I’m sure they’re in the market for a fill-in starter.
I’ve always been open to trading Nova, but Ellis wouldn’t work because he can’t play any position other than second base. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a better fit, maybe even Luis Cruz if you think he’s better than his -52 wRC+ suggests. Los Angeles has a ton of relievers, good ones too, so there would be a fit there. I don’t like the idea of trading Nova for a utility man and a reliever though, even if it would fill two fringe roster needs. I’d rather use him as the second or third piece in a package for an impact player and instead trade prospects for infield and bullpen help.
Isaac asks: Would the Yanks ever consider extending Brett Gardner before he hits free agency? If so, what kind of deal makes sense? Does Carlos Gomez’s extension with the Brewers work as a baseline?
I think there’s a small possibility they would, but Gardner strikes me as a year-to-year guy because of his injury history. The thing that worries me most is that he’s going to be 30 this summer, and he’s the type of player who will lose his value very quickly once his speed starts to slip. I don’t really want to be on the hook for that decline.
The framework of Gomez’s deal actually works very well. His new four-year pact covers his final arbitration year and three free agent years for $28.3M total, and his $4.3M salary in 2013 should be similar to Gardner’s salary next season. An $8M average value for the following three years is reasonable. Gomez is several years younger with more power (and more raw tools in general), but he hasn’t had the same kind of success as Gardner. The Brewers bought potential. Eight million bucks a year for Brett’s age 31-33 seasons seems fine, I just worry about a quick descent into uselessness if the speed slips.
Tarik asks: Do you think Al Aceves‘ release was motivated by behavioral issues that just weren’t made public, or did Brian Cashman just not think he’d recover well from his injury? (Had to shorten the question, sorry Tarik.)
After seeing how things have played out the last 2+ years, I definitely think Aceves’ nutcase ways played a role in the team’s decision to release him. The back and collarbone problems likely contributed as well, but someone with the Yankees screwed up there. He healed just fine in time for Opening Day after the club’s doctors said he would miss the first few weeks.
I’m guessing the Yankees did a better job of keeping any behavioral incidents under wraps than the Red Sox have, or maybe the veteran clubhouse just did a better job of keeping him in line. Hell, maybe Aceves was on his best behavior with New York because he was a rookie back then. We don’t really know. It’s easier to understand why they released him nowadays, but I still can’t help but wonder if they could have found a trade partner.
I think that’s possible but unlikely. The Yankees love athletes first and foremost, and Flores is a bat first player. A bat first player who has yet to show much power at that. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams both provide a ton of value in the field, more than they do at the plate really, while Tyler Austin is simply a better hitter. I like Flores a lot — I didn’t rank him fifth on my preseason top 30 prospects list out of boredom — but he’s clearly behind the other guys for me. He’s underrated, but I would hope the team doesn’t value him more than their other outfield prospects.
Mark asks: Are you in favor of bringing up Zoilo Almonte? If we’re going to get zero production from Ben Francisco as an extra outfielder – why not bring someone up who can at least provide defensive and base running value. Shame that Thomas Neal got hurt.
Not particularly, no. Almonte’s off to a really great start this year (125 wRC+) and he’s drawing a ton of walks (20.5%), but the book on him is that his left-handed swing is ahead of his right-handed swing. That’s typical and it’s just a repetition thing because there are way more righty pitchers than lefties. His splits since the start of 2010 — .267/.324/.433 against lefties, .282/.349/.487 against righties — bear that out.
The Yankees should absolutely be looking for a Francisco replacement, though. Neal was probably the best internal candidate, but he just went down with a hamstring injury. Melky Mesa is back to his super high strikeout ways, so he’s not really a big league candidate at the moment. I guess that makes Zoilo the top option by default, especially since Ronnie Mustelier is still sidelined. Mustelier would immediately become the top choice once healthy.
Celebrate! I don’t think the Yankees would dump Chris Stewart in favor of Romine, but I expect them to promote both Sanchez and Murphy at midseason. Romine and Murphy would just have to share catching and DH duties — Murphy can also squeeze in a few games at third base — at the Triple-A level for a few weeks. It’s not ideal but hardly the end of the world.
We all knew the Yankees were going to rely on their pitching staff this year, especially early in the season. That’s why it was bummer to watch the starters allow a combined 15 runs in 23 innings during the first five games of the year (5.87 R/9). They’ve rebounded to allow just 11 runs in 39.1 innings in the last six games (2.52 R/9), but none of those last six starts were made by Ivan Nova.
Nova, 26, nibbled his way to four runs in 4.2 innings against the Tigers last week, putting himself in hitter’s counts and long at-bats all afternoon. The Yankees used last week’s rainouts to skip his turn, a move that wasn’t unjustified given not only his first start of the season, but also his second half a year ago. Nova was pretty dreadful down the stretch, remember. He will get the ball tonight in the series opener against the Diamondbacks on nine days rest.
“I always worry about starters the first time through to begin a season,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand following Nova’s first start. “I think they can get a little excited, they can get a little hyped up. Position players go through it for one day; for a pitcher, if you’re the second starter, it builds up a couple days. Third starter, it’s more, fourth starter it’s even more. I don’t judge them too quickly on their first starts, because that’s a concern. For him, it’s consistency down in the zone.”
Regardless of whether it’s consistency down in the zone or strike-throwing in general or something else entirely, Nova might be starting to run out of rope. He allowed 55 runs in his final 72 innings last summer (6.88 R/9) and by the time late September rolled around, Girardi went from not giving him a chance to work out jams (2.1 and 4.2 innings in his final two starts) to not giving him the ball entirely, skipping Ivan in favor of David Phelps in Game 161 with the division title on the line. Add it all together and it doesn’t seem like the team has a ton of faith in him at the moment.
“I have to look at it like a regular start … If I start doing anything differently, I’ll be in trouble,” said Nova to Dan Martin. “It’s tough when you’re not pitching good and you don’t get a chance to go out there for a lot of days. It’s a little bit frustrating … But I have to fight. I don’t think they’re worried about me and I don’t think they should be worried about me.”
Nova threw an extended bullpen session on Friday in an effort to stay sharp, but his issues extend beyond just staying sharp. His stuff is plenty good, but adjustments have to be made and his command needs to be refined. Perhaps working backwards and using the breaking ball earlier in counts would help, who knows? Given how CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have rebounded while Phil Hughes struggles and Andy Pettitte is sidelined with old man back, Nova is suddenly an important part of the rotation. Getting things straight and soon, as in tonight, is very important for the Yankees going forward.
The Yankees will skip Ivan Nova‘s turn through the rotation following last night’s rain out, Joe Girardi confirmed. Phil Hughes will start tonight as scheduled — stomach bug and weather permitting — and Nova will instead get the ball in five days.
I hope the Yankees will take this opportunity to split up Hughes and Nova in the rotation, just for the sake of easing the load on the bullpen down the road. Those two back-to-back could create some headaches. Even if they don’t do that, skipping Nova completely sure seems to indicate the team doesn’t have much faith in him in the moment. Perhaps he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are working on something on the side, but this doesn’t look like vote of confidence in the young right-hander. Hard to say it’s undeserved.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.
The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.
With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.
The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.
Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.
The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip – and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).
All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.
Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.
The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.
Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.
Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.
The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.
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The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Fifth starters are usually among the most discussed members of pitching staff because they tend to stink and we’re always talking about replacing them. A lot of Backup Quarterback Syndrome goes around as well — the guy in Triple-A can’t possible be any worse, right? Well, yeah. He can. Given how much the Yankees will rely on their pitching staff to keep them in the race this summer, they’ll need their fifth starter(s) to pitch like someone far better than typical back-end cannon fodder.
For the first time in a while, the Yankees have two legitimate fifth starter candidates. I’m not talking about guys who we think could be fifth starters, I mean guys who have actually pitched in the big leagues and have some kind of track record. Pretty much every team has some mid-20s college draftee in Triple-A who fans think could step right into the rotation and the Yankees are no different. Big league experience is a separator for New York this summer.
The more senior of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old Ivan Nova, who followed up his strong rookie season (3.70 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) with a nightmare sophomore campaign (5.02 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 170.1 innings) last summer. He led baseball in extra-base hits allowed (87) and was second among qualified starters in opponent’s ISO (.223) and OPS+ (130). Despite very promising improvements in the strikeout (8.08 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.96 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) rate departments, Nova’s performance suffered because every one of his mistakes were punished. His lack of deception led to pretty much every hittable pitch being hit and hit hard.
In an effort to correct that problem, Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have worked on a new, shorter arm action this spring. Mariano Rivera has also been in Nova’s ear and making sure he knows he has work hard to remain in the show. The right-hander has pitched well in camp — five runs with nine strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings across four starts — but we all know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It is certainly better than getting pounded of course, especially since Ivan’s rough spring last year (8.06 ERA in 22.1 innings) was a sign of things to come.
The less experience of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old David Phelps, who put up a solid 3.34 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 99.2 innings as a swingman last summer. He pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 22 relief appearances and a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts, but it’s worth noting he always seemed to be on a pitch count as a starter because he’d just been yanked out of the bullpen. Phelps posted strong strikeout (8.67 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and walk (3.43 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) rates, but was a little fly ball (42.9% grounders) and homer (1.26 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB). Given the constant back-and-forth between the bullpen and rotation and the fact that he was a rookie pitcher in a small park in the AL East, there’s no doubt Phelps impressed last year.
The right-hander showed up to camp early and has been ahead of his fellow pitchers — and opposing hitters — pretty much all spring. Prior to last night’s shellacking he’d allowed five runs with a dozen strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings this spring, a performance that was basically right in line with Nova’s. If the Yankees are truly deciding their fifth starter based on Grapefruit League performance, there’s no clear-cut favorite right now. Of course, the Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions and there’s a good chance all of this fifth starter stuff is a farce.
Based on nothing in particular, I believe the job is Nova’s to lose. The Yankees know he can handle starting every five days physically and have already seen what he can do when he’s commanding the ball. They should figure out whey Nova was unable to carry his success from the second half of 2011 over into 2012, and that’s probably not something he could do in the bullpen. Phelps was never in the rotation for more than one continuous months last year, so who knows what he’ll do over the a full season starting every five days. The Yankees need certainty from their rotation this year and Phelps is more of a question mark.
That said, both of these guys are going to get an opportunity — probably many, really — to start this year. Phil Hughes‘ back is already acting up and there’s a chance he’ll start the season on the DL. CC Sabathia is coming off offseason elbow surgery and Andy Pettitte hasn’t thrown more than 130 innings in four years. Almost no team ever makes it through the season with just five starters, so the smart money is on both Nova and Phelps making a whole bunch of starts this year. If Nova wins the job in camp but doesn’t pitch well during the regular season, I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate much to replace him. This fifth starter competition might be a year-long thing.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees have a few back-end types slated for the Triple-A Scranton rotation, specifically righties Brett Marshall and Adam Warren and lefty Vidal Nuno. Marshall and Warren were discussed in earlier season preview posts, but the 25-year-old Nuno has opened eyes in camp by allowing one run in 17.1 total innings. The Yankees plucked him out an independent league two years ago and the left-hander told Chad Jennings the team’s minor league coaching staff with helping him develop a cutter and changeup, which he now considers his two best pitchers. Nuno is a soft-tosser without much margin for error, which can be a scary thing in a small ballpark, but he’s made a name for himself this spring and that’s pretty much the best thing he could have done. He never had any chance to make the team.
The Top Prospect
We’ve talked about most of them these past few days — Marshall, Warren, Nuno, Matt Tracy, Nik Turley, etc. — so there’s not much to add here. Most fifth starters tend to be prospects who fell short of a higher ceiling, so there is not such thing as a true “top” fifth starter prospects. It’s almost like being a DH. It’s a fallback spot more than anything. The Yankees have some nice rotation inventory in the upper level of the minors but few (none?) of those project to be real impact starters in the show. I guess that makes they fifth starter prospects by default.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m going to take this opportunity to highlight 20-year-old left-hander Chaz Hebert, who signed for $148k as the team’s 27th round pick in 2011. He didn’t crack my preseason top 30 prospects list, but he took step forward in his development last summer and posted a 2.52 ERA (2.44 FIP) with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 25 innings for the rookie level Gulf Coast league affiliate. He’s a low-90s fastball guy with a hilariously slow A.J. Griffin-esque mid-60s curveball, something he’ll have to firm up to succeed at the higher levels. Hebert is more sleeper than legit prospect, but command of the fastball and a novelty breaking ball can get you pretty far in life.
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The Yankees are fortunate to have two legitimate fifth starter candidates at the big league level and plenty of back-of-the-rotation depth in the Triple-A. You’d rather have projected aces obviously, but New York is in a much *much) better place pitching-wise now that it was six or seven years ago. They haven’t had to scramble for a Shawn Chacon or Aaron Small type for a few seasons now and that doesn’t figure to change now. Phelps and Nova give the team some options and competition is generally a good thing — those two will hopefully push each other all season long.
Via George King: Ivan Nova has been working on a new, shorter arm action early in camp as he hopes to move beyond his struggles from last summer. “It was something we worked on before Spring Training,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “He actually had done it with his curveball a lot. That made it a little bit easier to introduce.”
Nova, 26, looked very sharp in his Grapefruit League debut over the week, specifically because he was pounding the bottom of the zone (22 of 27 pitches were strikes). His improved strikeout and walk rates were very encouraging last year, but it seemed like every mistake pitch he made was clobbered for extra bases. That needs to be fixed. “New pitching mechanics” stories are on par with “best shape of his life” stories this time of year, so we’re going to need to see a lot more before we can declare Nova cured of whatever ailed him in the second half. This weekend’s performance was encouraging and it’s good to know there’s some work going on behind the scenes.
February 24th: Cashman misspoke and confirmed to Jack Curry that Cervelli does not have an option remaining. He also indicated the guys who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers (Cervelli and Stewart) have a leg up in the catching competition. That’s not terribly surprising.
February 9th: Via Chad Jennings: Brian Cashman confirmed that Frankie Cervelli has a minor league option remaining. I was under the assumption that he burned his final option last season, but that wasn’t the case. The Yankees will be able to send Cervelli to Triple-A this year without having to pass him through waivers, which is kinda big considering the wide open catching race. The internal options all stink, but it would be nice to keep everyone around just in case.
Cashman also confirmed that Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Ivan Nova have an option left as well. Chris Stewart and Clay Rapada do not, but both are expected to make the team anyway. Both Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz can opt out of their minor league contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training while Dan Johnson’s opt-out date is later in the summer. Unlike the Ivan Nova-David Phelps competition for the fifth starter’s spot, the Yankees will only be able to keep the winner of the Rivera-Diaz competition for the right-handed bench bat role. The loser figures to look for a big league job elsewhere.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.