Saturday Links: Old Timers’ Day, Mateo, Pettitte, Draft

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays will continue their three-game series a little later this afternoon. Until then, here are some links to help you pass the time.

Old Timers’ Day roster announced

Earlier this week the Yankees announced the roster of attendees for the 70th annual Old Timers’ Day this summer. Old Timers’ Day is Sunday, June 12th this year. That’s two weeks from tomorrow. Among the first time Old Timers this year are John Wetteland, Mariano Duncan, Bubba Crosby (!), and Eddie Robinson. Robinson, 95, is the oldest living Yankee. Pretty cool that he’ll be there. Here’s the full Old Timers’ Day roster. Still no Core Four members. /shrugs

Mateo among Law’s top 25 midseason prospects

Keith Law updated his list of the top 25 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d) a few days ago. Both Dodgers SS Corey Seager and Twins OF Byron Buxton have since graduated to the big leagues, so Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito now sits in the top spot. SS Jorge Mateo just barely makes the list at No. 25. Here’s a piece of Law’s write-up:

Mateo’s line this year is a little fluky — .388 BABIP and more home runs (5) than he had in all of 2015 (2) — but he certainly can hit and run, which, as long as he’s at shortstop, makes him a future above-average regular with a chance to develop into a star.

I respectfully disagree about the .388 BABIP being fluky. It is not uncommon for a top prospect to run a high BABIP in the minors, especially speedy guys like Mateo. A .380-ish BABIP across the full season wouldn’t be completely nuts. Anyway, Mateo ranked 55th on Law’s preseason list, so he made a real big jump in the span of two months. OF Aaron Judge ranked 35th before the season and is not in the updated top 25.

Pettitte, Thurman to represent Yankees at 2016 draft

Andy Pettitte and scout Mike Thurman will represent the Yankees during the 2016 draft broadcast on MLB Network this year, MLB announced. Here is the full list of team representatives. It reads like an MVP Baseball 2005 roster. Thurman is the team’s Pacific Northwest scout and Pettitte is Pettitte. Commissioner Rob Manfred announces all first round picks during the broadcast before the team representatives take over, so Pettitte figures to announce New York’s second round selection (No. 62 overall). David Cone, Jeff Nelson, Tino Martinez, and Willie Randolph are among those who have represented the Yankees in previous drafts.

Yankee Stadium security guard fired for stealing memorabilia

According to Nathaniel Vinton, a Yankee Stadium security guard — and former NYPD detective — named Joe Flannino was fired for stealing memorabilia. Flannino was on the Yankee Stadium security staff from 1997-2013 before being reassigned to the archive room, which is where he was caught lifting documents. As far as I can tell there was no arrest made. Flannino was terminated and apologized to team officials. I wonder what else is in that archive room. Probably some pretty cool (and valuable) stuff, huh?

We Play Today, We Win Today, Das It: The Out of Nowhere Greatness of Mariano Duncan

(New York Daily News)
(New York Daily News)

To win a championship in any sport, a team is going to need some players to come out of nowhere and be surprise contributors. Very few teams are truly far above everyone else in terms of talent level and very rarely does everything go right. There are injuries and poor performances, especially in baseball. Those unsung heroes are a necessity to win a title, not a luxury.

In 1996, no player made a bigger out of nowhere contribution to the Yankees than Mariano Duncan. Signed to a two-year contract before the season, the team planned to use the then 33-year-old Duncan as a bench player. He spent the first eleven seasons of his career in the NL and had experience at every position other than pitcher and catcher. Duncan was a quality reserve player.

“I’m here for one reason. I signed with the Yankees to do what’s best for the ball club,” said Duncan to Charlie Nobles in Spring Training. The Yankees wanted to break in rookie shortstop Derek Jeter with veteran Tony Fernandez sliding over to second base, but Fernandez broke his elbow diving for a ball late in camp. Duncan suddenly went from backup player to starting second baseman.

“I hate to use the word desperate, but we really need to make a deal,” said Joe Torre following Fernandez’s injury. A deal never came. Jeter started at shortstop, Duncan started at second base, and young Andy Fox made the club as the backup infielder. And it worked perfectly. Jeter was great and Duncan opened the season with an eleven-game hitting streak. He hit .333 and drove in nine runs from the bottom of the lineup during the eleven games.

On July 4th, Duncan’s batting line was sitting at .295/.318/.420, which is better than anything the Yankees could have reasonably expected from their utility player turned started second baseman. This is a guy who hit .272/.297/.407 (90 OPS+) in over 2,000 plate appearances from 1991-95. Duncan went 3-for-4 with a triple and a home run on July 5th. His batting average never dipped below .305 the rest of the season.

From that July 5th game through the end of the season, a span of 80 team games, Duncan hit .382/.383/.575 with 21 doubles in 214 plate appearances. He rarely walked as the on-base percentage suggests, but he was living the good BABIP life (.428) and hit close to .400 for half-a-season. On top of that, Duncan was a Grade-A clubhouse dude.

“He’s been a good pickup for us,” said Torre to Nobles at the end of Spring Training. “Besides being a great utility player, he’s outstanding in the clubhouse with the younger players. When you have a guy like that around, he tells the young players what they need to know before you have to.”

As Duncan tells it, he and Jeter were working out on the field before a game in the middle of the season. Duncan asked Jeter whether he was ready to play that day, but it didn’t come out as intended because English is Duncan’s second language.

“We play today?” asked Duncan.

“We win today,” Jeter replied.

“Das it,” said Duncan.

The slogan for a championship team was born. Duncan had t-shirts made and the Yankees wore them around the clubhouse. Soon fans were bringing banners to the ballpark and hanging them from the facing of the upper deck. “We play today, we win today, das it.”

And the Yankees did a lot of winning that summer. At one point from late-April through late-July they went 51-30 during an 81-game stretch. Duncan was not necessarily a catalyst, but he was one of those surprise contributors. He closed out the season with a .340/.352/.500 (112 OPS+) batting line in 417 plate appearances. It was only the second time in his career that he finished a season as a league-average or better hitter.

In the ALDS against the Rangers, Duncan went 5-for-16 (.313) and drove in three runs in four games. His two-out single in the top of the ninth in Game Three capped off the team’s come from behind rally and gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the eventual win.

Duncan didn’t hit a whole lot in the ALCS or World Series — he went 4-for-34 (.118) in the ten games — but he helped the Yankees get there during the regular season and the ALDS. He wasn’t supposed to play much at all, remember. The plan was something like 250 at-bats at all sorts of different positions.

Instead, the Fernandez injury pushed Duncan into the everyday second base job, and he ran with it. He had an out of nowhere above-average offensive season, he played solid defense on the middle infield, he was a plus in the clubhouse, and he was responsible for the slogan that stuck with the team all season. They played, they won. Das it.

Mailbag: Athletics, Ortiz, Youkilis, Lowrie, Bourn

Five questions this week and three of them involve Red Sox players, either current or former. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Travis asks: If Oakland is out of the running, which they may be now, would it be smart to look at possible moves for a NYY-OAK trade? Josh Reddick and Kurt Suzuki could be interesting for NY going forward.

Reddick, 25, is having a real big year (136 wRC+ and 17 homers) in Oakland though he has slowed down a bit in recent weeks. He’s always had power and so far he’s handled left-handers fine (136 wRC+), but it’s going to take an awful lot more than 98 plate appearances for him to prove that a career-long platoon issue is behind him. Obviously the Yankees need a young corner outfielder long-term so they should have interest in Reddick, but he’s not without his faults (he doesn’t walk, hasn’t hit lefties, and has a lengthy injury history). Billy Beane always seems to ask for way too much for his guys and I suspect this would be no different.

Suzuki, on the other hand, is just awful. The 28-year-old has hit .234/.292/.353 in nearly 1,300 plate appearances over the last three seasons and is down to .210/.249/.260 this year. The Athletics recently called up Derek Norris and he’s basically taken over as the starter even though Suzuki is owed more than $8M through the end of next season. Perhaps he’s just worn down after playing so many games behind the plate at such a young age — started 516 of 648 games from 2008-2011 (79.9%) — and his body just can’t handle it. Suzuki is owed way too much money and is just so impossibly bad at the plate that I don’t want him anywhere near the Yankees. I’d rather go with Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart next year if Russell Martin walks. Seriously.

Preston asks: What should the Yankees do at DH next season? David Ortiz seems like an obvious target, although that would clog up the DH spot. Another target might be Kevin Youkilis; he might be in line for a bounce back year and he could back up the corner infields keeping the DH a little bit more flexible.

Youkilis can do all of that and he’d be perfectly fine in that role. The only problem is that some team somewhere is going to offer him a starting job. He’s not going to come to New York to be a backup or even a half-time player when another team would pay him more money to start. Youkilis doesn’t want to stick it to the Red Sox, he doesn’t hold enough of a grudge to take a discount — both in salary and playing time — to wear pinstripes. It’s not gonna happen.

The issue with Ortiz is clogging up the DH spot that the Yankees use to rotate their regulars. With Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter getting even older, it’s that much more important to give them regular rest. Raul Ibanez is a guy you could sit for those two no problem, but Ortiz? I doubt it. He sure would look great in pinstripes and with that short porch, but I would be really surprised if the Yankees spent that much money on a player who is a true DH.

Daniel asks: This may be a bit off the wall, but what about going after Jed Lowrie? He’s hit very well since leaving Boston, and could be used as a super-sub with an eye towards taking over for Jeter in a few years.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Lowrie is actually second among all shortstops in fWAR this season thanks to his 14 homers and 132 wRC+. The Astros have used him at shortstop exclusively but he has experience at all four infield spots. As a switch-hitter with that kind of versatility, he’s an ideal bench target. The only problem is that he’s actually a starter and you’re going to have to pay a starter’s price to acquire him. Houston isn’t trading a bench player, they’re trading a legitimate starting shortstop — with two years of team control remaining — who the Yankees would choose to use as a bench player. That’s not the Astros problem.

Starting shortstops don’t come cheap, especially really good ones. Lowrie has slowed down in recent weeks and he is really injury prone — hasn’t had 500 total plate appearances in a season since 2008 — but he’s definitely a useful player, especially when batting against lefties. I have a hard time thinking that trading several prospects for a would-be bench player would be a net upgrade for the Yankees.

Mark asks: Should the Yanks consider pursuing Michael Bourn this off-season assuming they cannot come to terms with Nick Swisher?

I don’t think so. Bourn is really good, but he’s likely to command a larger contract that Swisher because he’s a better player even though they have very different styles. He does it with speed and defense while Swisher gets on-base and hits the ball over the fence. Plus playing two no-power guys in Bourn and Brett Gardner in the same outfield is really tough to do. They have to replace Swisher with someone capable of hitting the hitting for power; adding another leadoff type to a lineup that already has two of them isn’t the answer. That said, Bourn’s contract should make him a non-option for New York anyway.

Shai asks: In 1996, Mariano Duncan hit .340 and as a kid I felt that it was a weak .340, like he really wasn’t as good (in 1996) as that number. Did he have a high BABIP that year etc?

Andy Fox started nearly 40 games at second base in 1996, though Duncan was the everyday guy at that position for the most part. He hit .340/.352/.500 with eight homers that year, easily the best season of his career at the plate. This is a guy with a career 87 wRC+ suddenly posting a 113 one year. Like I always say, if you want to win a championship (in any sport), you need to get big contributions from unexpected placed. Duncan’s production that season was quite unexpected.

Anyway, that gaudy batting line was propped up by a .400 BABIP (.313 career), the fourth highest single-season BABIP of the last 25 years (min. 400 PA). Duncan didn’t walk at all (nine walks in 417 PA and one of them was intentional) and most of his power came in the form of doubles (34 two-baggers, three triples, eight homers). Does that qualify as an empty .340? Yeah I think so. I can’t imagine someone hitting for that high an average without getting on base 36% of the time, it seems impossible to do. That said, .340 is .340, and it helped the Yankees win the World Series.