Eight Yankees file for free agency as offseason begins

The 2011-2012 free agency period officially started at 12:01am ET this morning, and eight Yankees have filed for free agency: Luis Ayala, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, and Jorge Posada. Free agents can talk to other teams right now, but they can not receive any offers until 12:01am ET this coming Thursday. Adam Rubin has the full and official list of free agents as supplied by the players’ union.

The 40-man roster is now at 35, but Colin Curtis still needs to be activated off the 60-day DL.

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What Went Wrong: Jorge Posada

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

After more than a decade behind the plate, the Yankees decided that Jorge Posada‘s days as a catcher were done last offseason. They signed Russell Martin in December, making Posada’s transition to DH official. The Yankees had concerns not just about his defense, which had deteriorated to unacceptable levels, but also his long-term health. Jorge scored poorly in two of the three ImPACT tests he took in 2010, the result of countless foul tips to the head over the years.

Everyone knew the statistics, or at least it seemed that way. Posada was just a .223/.336/.358 career hitter in 350 career plate appearances as a DH coming into the season, a performance that foretold certain doom for 2011. Maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but it wasn’t promising even if 350 plate appearances spread across 14 years isn’t much of a sample. However, it stood to reason that fewer time spent behind the plate would help keep Jorge fresh and therefore make him more productive at the plate. There were two sides to narrative.

Posada did not get a hit in the first game of the season, but he did reach base three times (a single and two walks) in the second. All was right in the world when Jorge hit two homers in the third game of the season, then another in the fourth game. After a four-game, 15-at-bat hitless streak (eight strikeouts), Posada went deep in each game of a two-game set against the Orioles in mid-April. He homered again nine days later, but that was basically the end of Posada as an effective hitter.

An 0-for-17 stretch followed the two homers against Baltimore, and it took 18 games for Jorge to record his next ten hits. With his batting line sitting at .165/.272/.349 on the morning of May 14th, Joe Girardi penciled Posada in as the number nine hitter against the Red Sox. Insulted by the move, Jorge pulled himself from the lineup and originally covered by saying his back was stiff. He told the Yankees he wanted out out of frustration, but later apologized for the incident. The team never discussed releasing him even though he was in breach of contract.

(AP Photo)

Posada returned to the starting lineup three days later, and promptly went 2-for-3 with a double against the Rays. Another double followed the next day, and Jorge went on a little mini-tear that saw him hit .330/.392/.426 with three homers in 102 plate appearances immediately following the benching. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. He reached base just ten times in his next 56 plate appearances, and with Eric Chavez coming off the DL, Posada lost playing time. From August 1st through the end of the season, a span of 55 team games, he batted just 88 times.

Jorge finished the season with a .235/.315/.398 batting line and 14 homers, easily the worst full season of his career. His .309 wOBA ranked 14th out of the 16 DH’s that came to the plate at least 300 times. Posada did not go down without a fight though, he was the Yankees best hitter in the ALDS (6-for-14 with four walks in five games against the Tigers), the last hurrah for a great Yankee. He threw a base stealer out while catching six emergency innings in a September game against the Angels, and he even played an inning at his original position, second base. Ironically enough, defense was the highlight of his season.

Despite the awful overall performance, Posada did hit right-handed pitchers well, to the tune of .269/.348/.466 in 316 plate appearances. He was completely unusable against southpaws though, hitting .092/.169/.108 in 71 plate appearances. That’s the only reason why he was in the lineup against the Tigers in the ALDS, they started four righties. The Yankees managed to get an almost exactly league average performance out of their DH’s in 2011 (.249/.329/.427), but that’s because Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Jesus Montero helped pick up the slack. Posada, an all-time great Yankee, was part of the problem this past season, almost assuredly his last in pinstripes. The end is almost always painful, and Jorge will be no exception.

Press Conference Roundup: CC, Hughes, A-Rod, Teixeira, Posada, More

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference at Yankee Stadium this afternoon, and unlike last year, there wasn’t any significant news to be broken. No coaches were fired, no secret injuries were unveiled, no talk about contracts for legacy players. The overwhelming theme was the idea of “clutch” and “clutch players,” just every other question was about that (seriously). I thought Girardi handled that well, saying that a lot of times it’s a function of luck, especially in a short series when things don’t have a chance to even out.

Anyway, the press conference was broadcast on YES, and had I know sooner, I probably would have live-blogged it. That’s my bad. Here’s a recap of the important stuff…

Starting Rotation

  • “He’s extremely important to our rotation, we rely on him heavily,” said Girardi when asked about CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause. “I can’t imagine what it would be like without him. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like without him.” Girardi did acknowledge that Sabathia gained a few pounds during the course of the season, but he didn’t think it affected his performance.
  • On A.J. Burnett: “He’s a work in progress … lost a mile or two [off his fastball] … the adjust he made from August to September really helped him. I think we can count on him, and we’re going to need him.”
  • On Phil Hughes: “We consider him a starter, we do, but he’s got to get back to the form he had in 2010 to continue to stay in our rotation. He’s gotta stay healthy, that’s the other thing.” When asked about Hughes’ conditioning, Girardi said the right-hander is “in shape to do the job” and is happy with everyone’s work ethic.
  • “I would assume that they would both be part of our rotation,” said Girardi, referring to Hughes and Ivan Nova. “Nothing in life is every given to you, you have to earn it.”
  • On rotation depth: “[Hector Noesi]’s a guy that can start to challenge [for a starting spot].” Girardi mentioned D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances by name as players that could push for a rotation spot at some point next year, but Noesi was the first one out of his mouth.
  • “The one need we’re going to have to address again is our rotation,” added the skipper. “It starts with CC, go from there.” When asked about adding a high-end starter even if Sabathia returns, Girardi replied: “That’s something that I’m sure we’ll look at doing.”

The Lineup

  • Girardi said all possibilities will be considered with the lineup, including Brett Gardner at leadoff. “Are you going to add? If we add someone, how do they fit in the lineup?” The batting order is something they’ll address in Spring Training.
  • “[Alex Rodriguez] is someone we need to keep healthy, first and foremost,” said the skipper. “If he plays 145-150 games, I think he’ll be much more productive.” The meniscus tear and sprained thumb were freak injuries more than anything, and Girardi said A-Rod was not more hurt than he led on down the stretch. “My expectation is he’ll be our third baseman, he might DH a little bit.”
  • On Mark Teixeira: “Some of it is luck. I think he made more contact this year than he did in the past.  Using the whole field will become important … so they can’t shift. He made a small adjustment on his openness to cut down on [balls hit into the shift] … I think he can give us more than that … I believe all of our guys can give us more. Tex, I don’t believe he’s a .240 hitter, no I don’t believe that.”
  • “Our guys will try to make adjustments to get their numbers back to where they’re used to having them,” added Girardi when asked about players who had down years.
  • On Jesus Montero: “It’s something that we will look at in Spring Training, heavily. I can’t tell you exactly what the makeup of our team will be behind the plate. Montero’s a guy that can probably do a lot of different things, DH some, catch some, gotta see the makeup of our team. I was very pleased with his at-bats in the month of September. Lot of upside there.”
  • “We expect him to have another good year and be productive for us,” said Girardi when asked about Derek Jeter. “When you’re an older player, people are always going to wonder.”
  • When asked about being too dependent on homers: “I think our offense became a little more diversified this year with the speed we had. [The homers are] part of who were are, part of the age we live in … from a speed standpoint, we can do a lot more things, we can do a lot more things this year than in years previous.”

Miscellaneous

  • “I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen with [Jorge Posada], but whenever you do say goodbye to someone, it’s difficult,” said Girardi. “When a player leaves a new player comes in, and I’m not saying that’s going to happen … if this is it, we’re going to miss him. There’s no doubt about it, we’re going to miss the intensity he brings.”
  • On the coaching staff: “The first guy that has to get done is Brian Cashman. I’m happy with my coaches, but that’s something I’ll talk about with Brian when the time comes.” Doesn’t seem like there will be any changes here.
  • On players pressing, in general: “I think you can do things to try and help players, but part of it has to come from within, part of it has to come from experience. It’s something we continually work on from a physical and mental standpoint.”
  • “Add a corner [infield] guy? Possibly. I’m sure we’ll look at that,” said Girardi, who expressed confidence in Eduardo Nunez being able to fill in all around the infield. “[Nunez] might even play more positions next year.”
  • Girardi joked that he could have “batted Gardy fourth and stacked my lefties” because Gardner was hitting so well in the postseason. The primary reason they used the same lineup in each game of the ALDS was that they faced four right-handed starters. If they faced a lefty, Girardi said the lineup would have looked very different.
  • “We didn’t reach out goal, that’s the bottom line,” said Girardi when asked if the season was a failure. “Bottom line is we didn’t get it done, and it starts with me.”

Jorge has done his part

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Jorge Posada was a weight around the 2011 Yankees’ neck. Assigned the role of full-time DH, Jorge found himself in uncharted territory. While he’d DHed plenty in the past, and did it frequently in the 2010 season, it was nonetheless a huge change for him. Many players talk about how tough it is to play only half the game. Imagine how a catcher must feel in that situation. He goes from being involved in every play on the defensive side to being involved in none. Whether it was his role or his age, he produced below average numbers this season.

Once the Yankees figured out that holding him out against left-handed pitching would help mitigate the damage, things got better. On the season he produced 9.2 runs above average while batting lefty. Problem is, that’s not exactly a quality number for a DH. Worse, he produced -10.4 runs above average against lefties. Hence, net negative. His season ended on a sour note, too, as he went 0 for his last 11, lowering his average to .235 and his SLG below the .400 mark.

And yet Joe Girardi still declared him the DH against right-handed pitchers for the postseason. Against Detroit in the ALDS that meant every game, since Detroit brought along four right-handed starters. It felt like an odd decision, since it reduced Jesus Montero‘s role. Just before his debut, a Yankees exec proclaimed that Montero would be the team’s best DH option for the postseason. He seemed to prove that throughout September, producing a .421 wOBA in his 69 PA. That apparently was not enough to convince the Yankees’ brass.

Throughout the first four games of the postseason, Jorge has done nothing but vindicate the Yankees’ decision to stick with him. He has reached base in nine of his 15 PA, rapping a triple and scoring four runs along the way. He has accumulated .256 WPA in those games, and hasn’t been in the negatives for any game. In Game 2 he was central in a comeback attempt, producing a team-leading .143 WPA and following up Nick Swisher‘s ninth-inning homer with the aforementioned triple. If the Yankees had pulled out that game and closed out the series on Tuesday, there’s a chance that Posada could have been named MVP.

That’s still a possibility, of course. With a big Game 5 Jorge could finish off his mastery of the Tigers and drive the Yankees to the ALCS. But the Yankees shouldn’t have to lean on Posada once again. He has already done far more than was expected of him. It’s time for the big guns to step up and finish this one off. That means Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Nick Swisher. Jorge has carried all three on his back for the past four games, and that kind of heavy lifting will tire out even a peak athlete, never mind a 40-year-old.

To close this on a high note, there’s nothing to do but praise Jorge. He has come up big at a time when confidence in him has faded. Maybe he’ll continue that into tonight and beyond, but no one should expect it. Instead, it’s time to repay Jorge’s deeds. He set them up for a Game 5 showdown. His teammates can finish the job.

ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson

The Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium was rained out this afternoon, or rather the workouts on the field were cut short. I’m sure they got their work  in under the stands indoors. They have not yet released their ALDS roster, but bits and pieces have trickled out this afternoon. Let’s recap…

  • Joe Girardi said that Jorge Posada, who has had a total of 38 plate appearances over the last 31 days, will be the DH against the Tigers right-handed starters. That’s all four of them. Posada has hit a respectable .269/.348/.466 against righties this year, but I really have a hard time seeing him catching up to the heat Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will bring. (Mark Hale)
  • Despite rumors that he could earn a postseason job, Raul Valdes will not be on the  roster. There’s really no need for a second lefty because Detroit’s only significant lefty bat is Alex Avila, who has more than held his own against southpaws this season. Valdes will go to Tampa to stay sharp for a potential ALCS role. (David Waldstein)
  • Alex Rodriguez missed last night’s game because of some soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but Girardi said that his third baseman is healthy enough to play tomorrow and remain at third base throughout the postseason. (Chad Jennings)
  • Chris Dickerson will be on the playoff roster, presumably in that fifth outfielder/defensive specialist/pinch-runner role. (Jennings)
  • In case you missed it amidst the craziness last night, Girardi announced that Freddy Garcia will start Game Three behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Sabathia will start a potential Game Four on three days rest, Nova a potential Game Five on normal rest. A.J. Burnett will work out of the  bullpen.

And finally, MLB announced umpire assignments for the four LDS matchups. Gerry Davis will be the crew chief for the Yankees-Tigers  series, and will be joined by Tony Randazzo, Eric Cooper, Dan Iassogna, Ted Barrett, and Bill Welke.

Mailbag: Montero, Posada, Affeldt, Robertson

We’ve got four straight forward questions in this week’s mailbag, so no nonsense answers today. Remember to use the always handy Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send in any questions during the week.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Will asks: What do you think of Jesus Montero‘s debut so far on the big league team? It seems like he’s been striking out way too much. Do you think Montero has a good chance at making the playoff roster? And how much can we expect him to actually contribute?

I think Montero’s been fine overall, neither great nor terrible. He obviously started out very well and has cooled off a bit (still at .313/.389/.542 overall), but that’s a function of having just 54 plate appearances more than anything else. Yeah, the strikeout rate is high (27.8%), especially of late (11 whiffs in his last 28 PA), but it’s not terribly surprising for a 21-year-old kid making his debut. Montero’s shown that Yankee Stadium-friendly opposite field stroke and we’ve seen the power on display, so we know the tools are there. Regardless of what happens this month, good or bad, we weren’t going to learn too much about the kid anyway.

As for the playoffs, yeah I think he makes the roster as the primary DH against lefties. We’ll talk more about Jorge Posada in just a second, but I hope the team decides to leave the traditional backup catcher at home and rely on those two as emergency fill-ins should anything happen to Russell Martin.

Cliff asks: Not sure when you do these but I was curious if you think Posada is going to make the postseason roster. If not, do you think they will announce it before Sunday so we can give him a proper send off in the last home game?

I was pretty sure that Posada was going to make the playoff roster all along, but I think that AL East-winning hit on Wednesday cemented it. He can still hit righties (.270/.346/.464), so he’s probably the best choice to platoon with Montero at DH. Plus Jorge can also be useful off the bench as a pinch-hitter and super emergency catcher. I don’t put much stock in intangibles but they definitely do exist, so if nothing else, we know that Posada won’t be overwhelmed by the moment in the postseason. He’s been through all that already, and it’s just one less thing the Yankees would have to worry about.

I would be very surprised if the Yankees announce that Jorge will not be on the playoff roster in time for the final home game,but like I said, I expect them to carry him on the roster. So that last point is basically moot.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America)

Scout asks: If the SF Giants decline his 2012 option, Jeremy Affeldt will become a free agent, and evidently without compensation. Does the lefthander make sense for the Yankees, assuming he will require a two-year deal?

Damaso Marte‘s contract expires after the season, so the Yankees have one of those $4M a year LOOGY spots to fill. We’ll go more in depth with potential free agent targets and what not during the offseason (so I don’t want to spoil it too much), but yeah, Affeldt would be a fine target. He held lefties to a .144/.206/.200 batting line with 24 strikeouts and just five walks in 97 PA this year, which is quite a bit better than the .245/.369/.365 batting line they posted against him from 2009-2010 (43 K, 29 BB in 195 PA). I think that has more to do with health than anything.

Affeldt, 32, still has pretty good stuff (low-to-mid-90’s two and four-seamers with a curveball) and he has been really dominant against same -side batters when it comes to getting ground balls over the last few seasons. The Giants have a $5M club option for his services next year, but apparently it will be tough for them to bring both Affeldt and Javy Lopez back next season. I’m very much against multi-year deals for less than elite relievers, but the Yankees obviously aren’t. Affeldt would definitely be an intriguing target after the season, assuming he hits the open market.

Daniel asks: With the success that Robertson has had this year and should he have a similar year next year, should he be made the closer after Rivera? If Rivera retires at the end of his current contract, the Yankees will still likely have Soriano for another year, and he has experience closing, but Robertson appears to be the better pitcher.

The one thing we have to remember is: how often do relievers have back-to-back elite years? The answer is not very often, so we shouldn’t plan out the rest of David Robertson‘s career just yet. That said, he’s obviously the best in-house replacement for Mariano Rivera, just like Phil Hughes was in 2009 and Joba Chamberlain was in 2007. I’d almost prefer that if Robertson does take over as closer, he does it as the guy that replaces Rivera’s replacement. It’s going to be impossible to fill Mo’s shoes, and I suspect the natives will be restless if the new guy struggles out of the gate. We saw it when Tino Martinez took over for Don Mattingly, fans booed him like he kicked their dog or something.

Assuming Rivera retires after next year, the last season on his current contract, I’m not sure the worst move in the world would be to let Rafael Soriano (a.k.a. the Proven Closer™) close at first, then have Robertson replace him if he fails. And if he doesn’t fail, then he’ll be a free agent after the year and Robertson could step after that. The closer’s job is overrated in general, and I think you can make a really strong argument that Robertson would be more valuable to the team pitching the seventh and/or eighth inning while a lesser reliever starts the ninth with a clean slate.

Baseball Prospectus on the 1996 Yankees

Going back to a time when this happened a bit more frequently. (Photo via SI.com)

The fine folks at Baseball Prospect put their entire 1996 Annual online over the weekend, and it’s free for all to see. You don’t need a subscription to see the 28 team sections (no Devil Rays or Diamondbacks yet!), complete with overviews, player comments, and projections for the 1996 season. I think it goes without saying that it’s amazing to look back and see what was being written about some of these guys, even moreso when you consider everything we know now. Hindsight can be an amazing thing.

Given his recent historical accomplishments, I think it’s only fair that we start with Mariano Rivera, who was just a 26-year-old kid with a 5.51 ERA in 67 career innings at the time …

Skinny swingman who has good control of the corners of the strike zone. His K rate seemed to jump up a little as of late, and if that’s development rather than a fluke, this kid could really be something special. Looks way too skinny to be durable, but you never know.

Unfortunately the annual did not provide a projection for Rivera, but I highly doubt it would have come close to what he actually did that year, a 2.09 ERA with 130 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 107.2 relief innings. He’s still way too skinny, but the durability thing proved to be a complete non-issue.

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