Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

Teixeira, Gregorius, Gardner among Gold Glove finalists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today, Rawlings announced the finalists for the 2015 Gold Glove Awards at each position. Three Yankees are among the finalists for AL Gold Gloves: Mark Teixeira at first base, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Brett Gardner in left field. All of the finalists can be seen right here.

Teixeira is up against Eric Hosmer, who won the last two AL Gold Gloves at first base, and Mike Napoli. Last year Teixeira’s defense slipped a bit — he looked rusty after missing most of 2013 due to wrist surgery — but he rebounded this year and was stellar. Hosmer figures to win based on reputation and stuff, but Teixeira has a legitimate chance to take home the Gold Glove.

As for Gregorius, he is up against Xander Bogaerts and Alcides Escobar, so a first timer is guaranteed to win the AL Gold Glove at short this year. Gregorius had a real shaky start to the season, both at the plate and in the field, but he turned things around in May and was outstanding the last few months. His defense was really excellent at times. Here’s a totally necessary highlight reel:

Gregorius actually ranked second among full-time AL shortstops in DRS (+5) and UZR (+7.4), behind only Francisco Lindor (+10 and +10.5, respectively), who is apparently ineligible for the Gold Gloves because he didn’t play enough innings at the position this year. Didi might actually win the Gold Glove. How about that?

Yoenis Cespedes, who only played half the season in the AL, and Alex Gordon are Gardner’s competition in left field. Gardner had a strong season in left but not as good as previous years, I thought. The defensive stats say he’s closer to average these days rather than far above. Gordon has won the last four AL Gold Gloves in left and will probably win again, not that it’s undeserved. He’s outstanding in the field.

The Yankees haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since Teixeira and Robinson Cano in 2012. Teixeira has five career Gold Gloves, including three with the Yankees (2009, 2010, 2012). The Yankees haven’t had an outfielder win a Gold Glove since Bernie Williams way back in 2000. Seems unlikely Gardner will get it this year, but you never know. Teixeira and Gregorius appear to have legitimate chances to win.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced in two weeks, on November 10th. Here is the selection and voting criteria, if you’re interested. Managers and coaches vote for Gold Gloves but there is also a statistical component, which is relatively new.

No Gluten, All Dingers [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s easy to forget Mark Teixeira was pretty good last year. At least in the first half. His .216/.313/.398 (101 wRC+) batting line and 22 homers were broken into a .241/.341/.464 (126 wRC+) line with 17 homers in the first half, and an ugly .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) line with five homers in the second half. First half Teixeira was pretty good. That guy in the second half was terrible.

Coming into 2015, the question was which Teixeira would show up? The first half version of Teixeira, who wasn’t great but was good enough to help? Or the second half version, who looked like a guy ill-equipped to get through a full season one year removed from major wrist surgery? As it turns out, neither version showed up in 2015. The Yankees had a different, better version of Teixeira this year.

The No-Fun Diet

Following last season Teixeira admitted he wasn’t physically strong enough to play a 162-game season after having his wrist rebuilt in 2013. He changed, well, everything. He changed his diet, his workout routine, his entire offseason program. The goal was to add muscle and get stronger. As part of that new offseason program, Teixeira cut gluten from his diet. He called it a PED: performance-enhancing diet.

“(I was on a) no-fun diet. Then I kind of basically just went back to what I’ve always done, and that’s just hit the weights really hard because I need to be strong. I’m a power hitter, a guy that has to drive the ball from both sides of the plate, and that’s what I did this offseason,” said Teixeira to reporters after reporting to Spring Training. What sort of impact would it have? That remained to be seen.

The Spring

I remember watching Teixeira in Spring Training and being slightly concerned he wasn’t hitting for power. He wasn’t even driving the ball to the warning track, stuff like that. It was Spring Training, I knew better than to read too much into it, but I couldn’t help myself. Teixeira had a miserable second half in 2014 and wasn’t that far removed from wrist surgery. I was hoping for a strong showing in camp.

Teixeira finished Grapefruit League play with a .250/.300/.375 batting line in 21 games. He hit just one home run. I was concerned. Not panicked, but concerned. Teixeira was going to turn 35 in April, he hit only five homers in the second half in 2014, talked all spring about his new diet and offseason routine, and he wasn’t showing much power in Spring Training. It was a red flag to me. Even Alex Rodriguez was mashing taters after his year away. I should have known better. I did know better. But I didn’t listen to myself. Spring Training has a way of breaking you, man.

Singles Are For The Weak

Like a few too many of his teammates, Teixeira went hitless on Opening Day, taking an 0-for-3 with a walk. He then had exactly one hit in each of his next seven games. Six of those seven hits went for extra bases. Three doubles, three homers. Most notably, Teixeira hit a game-tying home run in the 16th inning of that 19-inning marathon loss to the Red Sox in the first weekend of the regular season.

That missing power I was worried about in Spring Training? Hah. Teixeira hit eight home runs in the first 18 games of the season. He also had four doubles. Singles? Teixeira had three of those. Through 18 games Teixeira was slugging .729 with a .475 ISO. That’s such a small sample it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just fun to write.

Teixeira didn’t sustain that home run pace — eight homers in 18 games is 72 across a full season — but he still mashed. Eight homers in 18 games. Ten in 24 games. Thirteen in 38 games. As late as June 5th, 55 games into the season, Teixeira had more home runs (17) than singles (16). June 10th was the day Teixeira finally had more singles than homers.

When it was all said and done, Teixeira finished the season with 22 doubles, 31 home runs, and 47 singles. He’s only the eighth player in Yankees history to bat at least 400 times in a season and finish with more extra-base hits than singles, joining … drum roll pleaseCurtis Granderson (2011), Nick Swisher (2009), Jason Giambi (2006), Danny Tartabull (1993), Roger Maris (1961), Lou Gehrig (1927), and Babe Ruth (1920-22, 1927-28). No gluten, no singles.

Reversing The Split

From 2010-12, the three years between his one elite season in pinstripes and his wrist injury, Teixeira hit .236/.333/.451 (112 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers and .283/.377/.550 (147 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers. He’s a switch-hitter, yes, but he still had a platoon split. That’s not that uncommon, really. Teixeira was a monster from the right side of the plate and just okay from the left.

This season Teixeira reversed that split. He crushed righties and was merely above-average against lefties, which is actually preferable. There are a lot more righty pitchers than lefties. (Teixeira had 312 plate appearances against righties and 150 against lefties, so yeah.) Anyway, here are the splits:

Mark Teixeira splits

The raw production was better against righties — Teixeira hit for way more power as well as a higher average from the left side of the plate — but golly, look at those strikeout and walk rates against lefties. Even removing the intentional walks, he still had more walks (15.8%) than strikeouts (13.0%). Teixeira saw the ball well from the right side of the plate, he just didn’t get as much BABIP love. (Even by his low BABIP standards.)

It’s tough to evaluate Teixeira’s numbers from 2013-14 due to the wrist injury, though he was still better against lefties (102 wRC+) than righties (94 wRC+) those years. Considering we’re talking about only 150 plate appearances against southpaws this past season, my guess is Teixeira has not suddenly reversed his split and become a true talent better hitter from the left side. It’s probably just sample size noise.

Still, for the Yankees this season, having Teixeira crush righties was really valuable. (His 25 homers against righties were his most since he hit 30 against righties in 2009.) They also missed him against lefties down the stretch. That was obvious. Teixeira was a force at the plate this summer, and for the first time as a Yankee, he was more productive from the heavy end of the platoon.

The Defense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember early last year when Teixeira was actually sorta shaky with the glove? He bobbled a few grounders and failed to make some scoops early in the season, plays even an average first baseman would make, and I thought it was just rust from the long layoff in 2013. Those struggles did linger most of the season. Teixeira was still good at first last year, but not as crazy good as he had been in the past.

This year though, Teixeira was back to being an outstanding gloveman at first base, one of the very best in the game. He’s not the rangiest guy in the world but he makes every scoop — how many errors did he save Chase Headley this season? — and makes every throw. He also grabs hot-shot grounders. Twenty players played at least 900 innings at first base this year. None had fewer errors than Teixeira (three).

Errors aren’t the best way to evaluate defense, but it is pretty easy for a first baseman to pick up errors because of bad throws from the other infielders and whatnot. They tend to get dinged for failing to scoop a short hop and stuff like that. Either way, Teixeira was great in the field this year. A good defensive first baseman is one of those things you don’t really appreciate until you have a bad one out there, but man, Teixeira’s defense is still world class.

The Foul Ball That Changed Everything

Injuries have been a problem for Teixeira in recent years. It’s not just the wrist either, though that’s obviously the big one. He’s had calf and hamstring problems too, and remember the weird cough that just wouldn’t go away a few years ago? Teixeira played in only 261 of 486 possible regular season games from 2012-14.

This year things appeared to be different. They were different for a little while. Joe Girardi did give Teixeira the occasional day off, and he did miss one game with nick stiffness in June, but otherwise Teixeira played in 109 of the team’s first 117 games. He started 107 of those 117 games. Then, in that 117th team game, Teixeira fouled a pitch off his shin:

The timeline from there is pretty wild. It took almost four weeks (four weeks!) for the injury to be properly diagnosed. Here’s everything that happened:

  • August 17th: Teixeira fouls a pitch off his shin. X-rays were negative.
  • August 18th: Teixeira goes for more tests, which show a bad bone bruise.
  • August 23rd: Teixeira resumes light baseball activities. He took batting practice and did some light running.
  • August 25th: Teixeira returns to the lineup. He goes 0-2 and comes out of the game in the sixth inning of a blowout loss.
  • August 26th: Teixeira doesn’t start but does pinch hit. He grounded out to end the game. Little did we know, that would be his final at-bat of the season.
  • August 30th: Teixeira goes on medication to deal with the inflammation around the bone bruise.
  • August 31st: Teixeira is sent for more tests. “We’re not happy with where he’s at. Just trying to get him healthy,” said Girardi.
  • September 1st: An MRI shows a more significant bone bruise than initially realized, but no fracture. Teixeira is put on crutches.
  • September 4th: Yankees place Teixeira on the 15-day DL. It’s a paper move so the team could call up a reliever before his ten days in the minors were up.
  • September 8th: Teixeira receives two injections to help relieve nerve inflammation.
  • September 11th: Yankees announce Teixeira is done for the season with a fracture in his shin. The latest round of tests showed the previously undetected fracture.

Those are just the major milestones in the Teixeira leg injury saga. There were daily “he’s still sore but he thinks he can pinch-hit” type of nuggets. In the end, it took three rounds of tests to find the fracture and of course it’s fair to wonder if anything (or everything) he did from the point of the foul ball to the fracture diagnosis made the injury worse. We’ll never know the answer to that though.

The fracture came with a three-month recovery period, officially ending Teixeira’s season. Prior to the wildcard game, Teixeira was with the Yankees and introduced during the baseline introductions. He came out on to the field using crutches:

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The injury comes with a three-month recovery timetable, so Teixeira is right in the middle of his rehab work right now. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training. The injury really put a damper on what was otherwise an outstanding season for Teixeira, both offensively a defensively. He hit .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) with 31 home runs and great defense in 111 games. That earned him his first All-Star Game selection since 2009.

Teixeira hit his most home runs since 2011 and had his best overall offensive season in pinstripes since 2009. His batting average isn’t what it was back then, but boy, Teixeira hit for a ton of power. Among players to bat at least 400 times this season, only Bryce Harper (.319) and Chris Davis (.300) had a higher ISO than Teixeira (.293). He was the Yankees MVP and a fringe AL MVP candidate at the time of the injury. The leg injury stunk. It really did. But Teixeira was awesome when was healthy.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Hard to believe it’s already been seven years, isn’t it? The 2016 season is the final season of Teixeira’s massive eight-year, $180M contract. Even with Greg Bird‘s strong showing down the stretch, Teixeira will be the Yankees first baseman next season. The team may scale back his workload slightly and give him more time at DH, but there’s no reason to think he won’t factor into the middle of the order. Teixeira is one of the team’s best players, if not their best all-around player. The leg injury this year was just a dumb fluke thing.

Something to Celebrate

I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

In a matter of hours, the 162 game marathon that is the Major League Baseball season will be officially over for everyone (unless we get some tiebreaker action!). The Yankees are one of ten teams both skilled enough and lucky enough to keep marching towards the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. As a team they already got to celebrate–and why shouldn’t they? This is a team that very few people thought could make the playoffs. In most best-case scenarios in February and March, this was an 85-win team that might scratch at contending for the second wildcard spot. Now, they sit assured of a spot in that wildcard game that will probably (hopefully?!) be in the Bronx. The notion that the Yankees–or any team–shouldn’t celebrate making the Wildcard Game is just silly to me. What that team is celebrating is not just the accomplishment of making it one more day, but acknowledging the impressive feat of being one of ten teams standing after 162 games. These celebrations are as much about–if not more–what has happened rather than what will happen. Anyway, now that the team has celebrated and been celebrated, let’s take a look at some individual Yankee players and what they have to celebrate about 2015.

Starting with number one, there are some pitchers we should discuss; chief among them is Masahiro Tanaka. TANAK may not have been quite-as-brilliant in 2015 as he was in 2014, but this was still a successful year for him. By the way, let’s talk for a moment about how crazy it is that I’m saying a year for a pitcher was “successful” and “not-quite-as-good” despite a K/BB of 5.71 and a WHIP of 0.994. The former is good for fifth in the AL among pitchers with at least 150 IP and the latter is good for first. Performance, though, is only part of why Tanaka’s been successful this year. While he missed some time recently, his elbow has more or less held up despite a whole lot of armchair-doctoring by media and fans alike at the beginning of the season. There’s a reason that doctors, the Yankees, and Tanaka didn’t opt for surgery and this year has proved it a wise decision. His elbow ligaments could snap tomorrow, but that goes for any pitcher at any time and one should never have surgery when it isn’t necessary. Try to imagine the Yankees’ season without Tanaka in the rotation. He’s the only one among the Yankees’ starters with at least 100 IP who has an ERA+ of over 100 (114); without him, there’s no way this team is in the postseason.

Sticking with the starters, there’s Luis Severino. Few, expected him to be on the team this year; even fewer expected him to have this much of an impact as a starter. Despite some hiccups and some general first-time-in-the-Majors-rough-around-the-edgesness, Severnio has been spectacular. He’s held his own against big lineups at times. He’s flashed plus stuff. He’s helped Tanaka carry the rotation in the second half and has definitely pitched his way into not only the playoffs, but also the 2016 rotation.

Lastly in the pitching category, appropriately enough, there’s the dynamite combo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 bullpen combination than this one anywhere in the Majors. While Betances has looked more human lately, he managed to mostly repeat an incredible 2014 and he and Miller solidified a very-shaky-at-times relief corps to give the Yankees a much-needed late-game edge. Miller, meanwhile, stepped right into the line of Yankee closers and wowed us all year with a dominant fastball/slider combination that left many batters baffled. The back end of a bullpen is important in a regular season, but is paramount the in the playoffs; the more we see these two in the coming weeks, the more likely it is that they and the team have done something special.

Moving to the lineup, we’ll start with number two–don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a position-by-position breakdown–and discuss Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy. Like most of the Yankee offense, McCann hasn’t looked great of late, but that doesn’t mean this season isn’t something to celebrate. He raised all four portions of his slash line from last year and managed to belt a career high 26 homers. He’s also already tied his career high in RBI with 94, so anything he drives in today will represent a new career high. His backup also had a great season as JRM hit more-than-admirably and seemed like a veteran behind the plate in very limited duty. As a bonus, he also provided the hands-down best quote of 2015 by anyone in the Yankee organization.

I’ve already touched on Mark Teixeira‘s great season, so I’ll be brief here. Tex had a fantastic season and his absence has definitely been felt in the last few weeks, even if Greg Bird has done incredibly well both for the team and himself, something completely unexpected in and of itself, and also worthy of celebration. The Yankees now have a very good problem regarding Bird, Tex, and the next two guys we’ll touch on–Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran–and how to get them all at bats.

Raise your hand if you thought Carlos Beltran wasn’t toast after April. Put your damn hand down, you liar. At the end of April, Carlos had an OPS of .481 (!) and had exactly zero home runs. From May on, he’s hit .292/.352/.506 with 19 homers. His bat was steady and stable throughout the summer and we’ll finally get to see his playoff prowess put to the test.

Then, finally, there’s Alex Rodriguez. Al. Al from Miami. Summer of Al. How many times did we tweet these things over the last few months? The finish hasn’t been pretty, but how delusional would you have seemed in March if you said A-Rod was going to hit 33 homers this year? I thought he MIGHT, MAYBE hit 15-20 and be average overall at the plate. He completely shattered those expectations and now a finalist for Comeback Player of the year. Considering there were a lot of people who said he might never play a game for the Yankees again, this is nothing short of an amazing year for Alex and I couldn’t be happier for him. Even though a lot of the crap he’s dealt with is of his own doing, he still deserves to celebrate this year just as much as anyone, if not more. Here’s hoping for a repeat of 2009 from Alex and his teammates.

 

The Yankees and 2015’s major awards

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We’re now into the final week of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL MVP, which should go to Bryce Harper unanimously, the other major awards in both leagues feature some very tight races. It’ll be fun to see them shake out.

The last Yankees player to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who took home 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year honors after tearing his ACL on the Kauffman Stadium warning track in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting — a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Right now the MVP race is between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout, with Donaldson seemingly in the lead. Trout, however, has equal or better offensive numbers (other than RBI, basically) and doesn’t play in a hitter-friendly home park. Also, the Angels are right in the thick of the AL wildcard race. If they sneak in, will that push some voters towards Trout? The ballot literally says standings do not matter, but we all know they do. Voters consider that stuff all the time. Donaldson is the favorite but Trout could make it very interesting with a big final week to push the Halos into the postseason.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For much of the season Mark Teixeira was a legitimate MVP candidate based on old school stats. He was mashing taters and driving in runs (and playing great defense) for a first place team, which usually equals MVP candidate. Teixeira’s injury — he only played 111 games this year — and the Yankees’ tumble into a wildcard spot ended his long shot chances for the MVP award. Teixeira was awesome, but I thought it was a stretch to lump him into a group with Donaldson, Trout, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado … guys like that.

The Yankees only have three other players remotely close to being considered MVP candidates, in my opinion: A-Rod, Brian McCann, and Dellin Betances. A-Rod has had a big year offensively but is still a DH, and DHs need huge years to win MVP. Not even peak Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz won an MVP, remember. McCann has been arguably the best offensive catcher in the league and a reliable defender. Betances? Even with his recent walk problems, he’s been the most dominant reliever in the game this summer.

The MVP ballot includes ten spots and those last two or three spots always seem to get weird. Teixeira, A-Rod, McCann, and Betances could all get down-ballot votes. Heck, maybe Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller will as well. Even Raul Ibanez got a tenth place vote on the 2012 MVP ballot after all those clutch late-season homers. (No, really.) I think a Yankee or three will get MVP votes in 2015. But they don’t have a serious candidate to win the thing.

Cy Young

The Yankees do not have a legitmate Cy Young candidate. They probably won’t even have a starter reach 170 innings — CC Sabathia leads the team with 162.1 innings with one start to go — which has never happened in a non-strike season in franchise history. Ever. Masahiro Tanaka has been the team’s best starter and he’s only thrown 149 innings with one start remaining. Betances and Miller could get votes — Dellin actually went into last night’s game eighth in the AL in bWAR — but they won’t win and shouldn’t win. Too many deserving starting pitcher candidates.

At this point I’d say the AL Cy Young is a toss-up between Dallas Keuchel and David Price. The traditional stats are damn near identical — Keuchel is 19-8 with a 2.47 ERA, Price is 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA — and Keuchel has an edge in bWAR (7.3 vs. 6.0) while Price has an edge in fWAR (6.4 vs. 6.1). So pick one. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and Chris Sale are among the other candidates. The Cy Young ballot includes five slots, not ten, and I suppose Dellin could steal a fifth place vote or two. He’s pretty much their only hope for 2015 Cy Young votes.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Rookie of the Year

The Yankees have used more rookies this season than at any point in the last 10-15 years or so — at a quick glance, I count 23 Yankees rookies, 16 of whom made their MLB debuts in 2015 — but they don’t have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. None of them have been around long enough. Chasen Shreve is the only rookie who has been on the roster more than even half the season, and he’s a middle reliever. Middle relievers don’t get Rookie of the Year votes.

Luis Severino is New York’s best chance at Rookie of the Year votes and I don’t see it happening at all. That’s not meant as a knock on Severino’s performance. He’s been great, but ten starts and 55.1 innings just isn’t enough to get love on a Rookie of the Year ballot that runs only three slots deep. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa will occupy the top two spots in whatever order, then the list of candidates for the third spot include Lance McCullers Jr., Roberto Osuna, Miguel Sano, Delino DeShields Jr., Devon Travis, and Billy Burns.

None of the baby Yankees have been around long enough to garner serious Rookie of the Year consideration this year. Maybe Severino steals a third place vote. Maaaybe. That’s about it.

Manager of the Year

At some point in the last decade or so the Manager of the Year morphed into the “manager of the team that most exceeds expectations” award. Are the Yankees exceeding expectations this year? I think so, but more than, say, the Rangers (Jeff Banister) or Astros (A.J. Hinch) or Twins (Paul Molitor) or even the Blue Jays (John Gibbons)? That’s up to the voters to decide.

The Manager of the Year ballot runs three names deep and last year seven of the 15 AL managers received a vote (Girardi got one third place vote). The year before that? Nine of 15 managers got a vote. Girardi has received at least one Manager of the Year vote every year with the Yankees except 2008, his first season. The smart money is on Girardi appearing on at least one voter’s ballot. Winning it over Banister or Hinch or whoever? That’s tough to see.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Comeback Player of the Year

Okay, now we’re talking. A-Rod is a bonafide Comeback Player of the Year candidate along with Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Kendrys Morales. (Jose Iglesias and Chris Davis are probably in the mix as well.) The Comeback Player of the Year used to be decided by fan voting, but it’s now up to a panel of beat reporters. I’m not sure how that whole process works.

Rodriguez didn’t play last season because of his suspension and there is precedent for a player being named Comeback Player of the Year following a performance-enhancing drug issues — Jason Giambi was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, a few months after getting caught up in the BALCO scandal. That doesn’t necessarily mean the voters won’t hold the PED stuff against A-Rod, but if they don’t, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Anyway, Madson is a non-closer reliever, which works against him. Usually closers are the only relievers to win major awards. That’s not to say Madson isn’t deserving — the guy missed three years after Tommy John surgery, after all — just that the history of the voting body works against him. On the other hand, A-Rod (130 wRC+), Fielder (126 wRC+), and Morales (130 wRC+) all have comparable offensive numbers and they’re all DHs too. (Fielder has played only 18 games at first base this year.) Comparing them is nice and easy. Apples to apples.

The Comeback Player of the Year will come down to a matter of nitpicking. Fielder’s batting average (.306) or Morales’ RBI total (105) or A-Rod’s homers (32)? You can slice this in any number of ways. I don’t know if A-Rod will win the Comeback Player of the Year this year, but he’s a legitimate candidate and the Yankees’ best shot at winning a major award this season.

Saturday Links: Teixeira, Forbes, Martin, 2017 WBC

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Mets continue the Subway Series a little later this afternoon. Here are some stray links to help you pass the time.

Teixeira named 2016 Roberto Clemente Award nominee

Mark Teixeira has been named the Yankees nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB announced. Each team nominates one player and the winner is determined by fan voting. Here’s the ballot. The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Derek Jeter won it back in 2009. It’s a pretty big deal. The voting ends October 9th. Here’s the ballot again. Go vote for Teixeira.

Forbes ranks Yankees as third most valuable sports franchise

According to the latest Forbes rankings, the Yankees are the third most valuable sports franchise in the world at $3.2 billion. Only the Dallas Cowboys ($4 billion) and Real Madrid ($3.26 billion) are more valuable. Well, technically the Yankees are tied with the New England Patriots at $3.2 billion, but who cares about them. Forbes valued the Yankees at $3.2 billion back in March — the Dodgers are a distant second among MLB teams at $2.4 billion — and they post their updated MLB franchise valuations during Spring Training each year.

Martin scraps slider for curveball

Earlier this season, righty Chris Martin was higher up on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen depth chart than I think most of us realized, but he struggled for a while and eventually wound up on the DL with an elbow injury. The Yankees sent Martin to Triple-A once he got healthy, and, according to Billy Witz, Martin dropped his slider in favor of a curveball while with the RailRiders.

Martin hasn’t pitched a whole lot this month, so we haven’t seen the new curveball yet. He told Witz he was better able to control his slider, but the curveball gets more swings and misses, and that’s a trade-off he’s willing to make. I’m not sure Martin will be with the Yankees beyond this year — there’s going to be a big 40-man roster crunch this offseason and Martin’s expendable — but he has a new pitch now, and maybe that will help him stick around the big leagues a few more years.

2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers coming to Brooklyn

Earlier this week, MLB announced qualifying games for the 2017 World Baseball Classic are coming to Brooklyn. The four-team pool includes Brazil, Great Britain, Israel, and Pakistan, and they’ll play their round robin tournament from September 22nd to 25th next year at MCU Park in Coney Island. The winner of the pool advances to the 2017 WBC. MCU Park is really great. One of my favorites. This isn’t Yankees-related, but baseball in Brooklyn is still cool. Anyway, here is the full WBC qualifying round information.

A Eulogy for Mark Teixeira’s Season

This guy is good at baseball. (Jeff Haynes/AP Photo)
This guy had a great season. (Jeff Haynes/AP Photo)

“A cardinal crashed into my window;

I think he might die. 

I’ll plan him a funeral; I’ll read his last rites

‘Cause I know what he saw in that reflection of light.

On the glass was a better life.”

With the announcement on Friday that he would miss the rest of the season due to his leg injury, Mark Teixeira‘s 2015 season came to a close. While this has been lingering since he fouled a ball off his leg on August 17 against the Twins, the news still carries a bit of a shock, considering the original diagnosis wasn’t this bad, not to mention just how well Tex had hit the ball all year. The timing of the announcement–on the verge of a terribly important four game series with the division-leading Blue Jays–was a harbinger for the weekend (or at least the first three games and two days thereof). Not only was the weather miserable yesterday, but so was the baseball as the Yankees have dropped all three games of the series so far, including a double-header sweep (hopefully, Masahiro Tanaka can right the ship today) leaving them 4.5 games back of the Jays with 21 games to play. Having played the last few weeks and facing the last few weeks without Teixeira, that lead seems about as bleakly large as it can be when it comes to winning the division.

Things aren’t all bad, however, as they do have a three game lead on the Rangers for the first Wild Card spot which is obviously good, but not preferable. That idea is just a microcosm of Tex’s injury situation; it’s nice that Greg Bird has filled in about as admirably as possible, but like the Wild Card spot, he’s just not your first choice.

2015 was a renaissance year for Tex as his 30 homer power (officially) returned. He clubbed 31 homers in his 111 games this year, nine more than he did all of last year in fewer games (123) and fewer plate appearances (462 this year; 508 last year). In terms of raw OPS, Tex’s .906 mark this year is the second best of his Yankee career, bested only by 2009 and its .948 mark. Using OPS+, though, 2015 has been Tex’s best season in the Bronx, beating out 2009 by a “score” of 148-141. A similar pattern holds true with wOBA/wRC+ as 2009 was better from a raw perspective–.402 to .381–while 2015 was better from an adjusted perspective–143-142.

Tex’s last three (partial) seasons have mirrored the Yankees’ last three seasons in that there were some underlying positives despite a less-than-desirable outcome. In 2013, Tex played in just 15 games. There were some signs that he was himself–a 12.7% walk rate and a .189 ISO–but there’s no way to call that a season, let alone a successful one. He took a step forward in 2014 and displayed his usual patience–11.4% walk rate–and solid power–.182 ISO. But, it still wasn’t quite enough, just like the Yankees’ season in general. With his return to prominence in 2015, so too returned the Yankees, who’ve long been in playoff position; with Tex back where he should be, the Yankees were back where they “should be.”

This isn’t to say that the loss of Tex dooms the Yankees into bird-crashing-into-unseen-window status. They have plenty of bats, a solid (if tired) bullpen, and plenty of games to make up some ground on the Blue Jays or separate themselves from the Rangers (and Twins and Angels). Those tasks are obviously a lot harder without the team’s offensive MVP, but they aren’t impossible. Thanks to Tex, the Yankees are in a good position to make the playoffs and hopefully make a deep run therein. He helped carry the this far and now it’s up to his teammates to carry his torch as far as they can. Thanks for a great season, Mark; we’ll see you in the spring.