Archive for Nick Swisher
8:38pm: The Yankees announced that Swisher left the game with tightness in his right groin. Last week it was his left groin that was bothering him. Swisher told Erik Boland that there are no tests plans and he will rest for “a couple of days.”
8:05pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after reaching base on an error in the third inning. This was a first game back after dealing with a groin issue, and he walked off the field gingerly. Justin Maxwell took his spot on base. We’ll update this post with more info once it’s available.
The Yankees seem to be losing the Spring Training injury war at the moment, but thankfully they haven’t run into anything too serious yet. Here’s the latest news on the walking wounded…
- Derek Jeter has a “tender” right calf and will be shut down until Tuesday. This is not the same calf that caused him to miss a month last season. [Mark Feinsand]
- David Robertson still feels “a little” soreness in his bone bruised right foot. He’s been running on a treadmill but has yet to get outside and really test it out. Robertson did play catch yesterday though, and that’s good news. [Jack Curry & George King]
- Russell Martin has some tightness in his left groin, so he’s going to be held out of action for a few days. It’s unclear if it happened when he nearly collided with Chien-Ming Wang at first base yesterday. [Bryan Hoch]
- Nick Swisher‘s sore groin is feeling better, but the team is giving him an extra day off just as a precaution. [Feinsand]
- Eduardo Nunez is going to swing a bat tomorrow after doing nothing the last three days. He hasn’t played since getting hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday, and was scratched from a game earlier this week after testing it out in batting practice. [Curry]
- Russell Branyan is getting an epidural for his sore back. He hasn’t played at all this spring and was barely able to take batting practice before it flared up. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll get released before he ever gets into a game. [Chad Jennings]
- Manny Delcarmen (remember him?) has started throwing off a half mound as he works his way back from a lat strain. [Jennings]
Just as a quick recap, here’s a list of the walking wounded: Jeter (calf), Robertson (foot), Martin (groin), Swisher (groin), Nunez (hand), Branyan (back), Delcarmen (lat), Joba Chamberlain (elbow), George Kontos (oblique), Ramiro Pena (ankle), Freddy Garcia (hand), Austin Romine (back), and Dan Burawa (oblique). Given all the injured shortstops, we’re going to be seeing a lot of Doug Bernier over the next few days.
When we talk about the core of a team, we can mean many things. From 2007 through 2010 the Yankees had the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. As the remaining relics from the late-90s dynasty, they led the team in spirit. We can also refer to the core producers on the team. Last year Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano were the core run producers. Still, there is one core area of a team that often gets overlooked.
With the grind of a 162-game season, teams need guys who take the field day after day. A few fragile players can fit into a team’s blueprint, but as those injury risks increase so does the need for durability. Part of a team’s core, then, centers on these guys who somehow remain healthy. After all, as friend of RAB Tommy Bennett likes to say, health is a skill.
While anyone can get injured at any time, these guys have proven their durability. That’s a big plus for any team, especially one that expects to contend from wire-to-wire. We’ll limit this to position players.
Since debuting in 2003, Teixeira has played fewer than 145 games in just one season. That came in 2007, when he missed 27 games with a quadriceps strain. Prior to that he’d been on the DL just once. Since then he hasn’t spent a single day on the DL, unless you count his hamstring injury in Game Four of the 2010 ALCS. (Apparently Baseball Prospectus lists that as a zero-day DL stint.) In the last four seasons Teixeira has played in at least 156 games. He has become one of the game’s iron men.
Should Teixeira fall victim to injury, the Yankees do have some backup plans. Eric Chavez has been taking reps at first base this spring, as he did last year. There’s also Nick Swisher, who has played there occasionally as a Yankee. That would seemingly open up a hole in the outfield, but if Andruw Jones proves he’s viable in a regular role the Yankees could opt to use Swisher at first if a long-term need arises.
Swisher is the type of player that, as the cliche goes, bends but does not break. His injury history, per Baseball Prospectus, is actually quite long. Yet it consists mostly of day-to-day items that have kept him out one, two, maybe three days at a time. Just once in his career has he spent time on the disabled list, and that came all the way back in 2005 when he separated his shoulder running into an outfield fence. That caused him to miss 19 games. He wouldn’t miss 19 games combined in the next four years, and has missed only 30 games since returning from the DL.
In each of his three years with the Yankees Swisher has played in exactly 150 games. He has racked up at least 607 PA in those years, and has come to the plate 635 times in each of the last two. He’s lost 20 games to various injuries, including his knee and biceps, but he’s never been out of position for any significant stretch. With a greater focus on conditioning — Swisher was noticeably thinner in 2010 and 2011 than he was in 2009 — he could remain one of the Yankees’ most dependable players.
Remember back in 2006 when Cano missed 35 games — 43 days — with a hamstring injury he suffered running the bases? That felt like a long time for him to be out. The injury didn’t seem that severe, and the Yankees did downplay it to a degree. But he came back with a fury, hitting .365/.380/.635 to finish the season and contending with Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter for the batting title. Since then Cano has missed two games — two games! — due to injury. This includes the time in 2010 when Josh Beckett hit him right in the friggin’ knee with a pitch; he was back as the DH the very next game.
In the last five years Cano has averaged 159.8 games played per season. He’s dipped below 160 just twice: in 2008, because he got benched in September, and last year, when he got a couple of days off in the season’s final weeks. Considering his on-field production at a premium position, Cano’s durability has been a great boon to the Yankees.
It might seem odd to count Granderson among the more durable Yankee players. He did, after all, suffer a groin injury early in his pinstriped tenure, and that sticks in our craws. But that was just Granderson’s second career trip to the DL. He opened the 2008 season on the DL with a broken finger, suffered as the result of a spring training hit by pitch. He also missed time last spring training with an oblique injury, but that cost him just 10 days. And, as we saw, it had little bearing on his regular season performance.
What’s odd about Granderson’s injury rap sheet is that it contains zero day-to-day injuries. It’s just the fractured finger, the groin injury suffered while running the bases, and the oblique injury. That’s uncommon, especially for someone who plays a physically demanding position.
If Jeter’s injury history is long, it’s only because he’s been in the league for 16 years. He’s had his minor dings and dents over the years, many times after being struck in the hand with a pitched baseball. But last year was the first time since 2003 that he hit the disabled list. Between those DL stints he missed just 42 games, which covers seven full seasons and parts of two others. In those seven years he never dipped below 150 games and has averaged just under 155 per season.
The Yankees, then, have a great advantage, in that five of the nine hitters in their lineup have proven their durability. What of the other four? As it turns out, with one exception, they’ve been durable in the past as well.
Gardner did miss time in 2009 after fracturing his thumb while sliding into second. He also underwent wrist surgery after the 2010 season. He’s had a few other nagging injuries here and there, but nothing serious. He might not seem durable, due to his size, but he’s managed to stay on the field for most of his time with the Yankees.
Time was, Martin played almost every day. That’s usually a commendable trait, but since Martin squats behind the plate for nine innings that workload can take its toll. The injury problem started in 2010, when he hurt his hip while crossing home plate. Before that the worst he’d suffered was an abdominal strain in spring training — though it came the same year as his hip injury. He also underwent knee surgery that off-season, and then missed time last year with a sore lower back.
Still, Martin has remained on the field for an incredible portion of his career, especially for a catcher. Even last year he managed to miss the DL, sitting out just seven games with the back injury. He started 118 games behind the plate, which is good for a catcher. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him around 125 this year.
Since 2004 Ibanez has been on the DL just twice. The first came in 2004, and the other came in 2009. The pair of injuries caused him to miss 52 games total. Other than that, he has a few day-to-day stints. They have added up to 20 games since 2004. That’s a pretty impressive track record. The biggest knock on Ibanez’s health right now is that he missed four games in 2011 with a groin injury, which is the same one he suffered in 2009. He also underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia after the 2009 season. But for the most part he’s stayed on the field.
That just leaves just two regulars. Andruw Jones has been mostly healthy since 2009, but he’s also played limited roles. It’s tough to say how he’d hold up given more playing time. Then again, prior to 2008 he had never hit the DL. There’s also Alex Rodriguez, who has been on the DL every year since 2008. It’s tough to expect him to remain healthy at this point in his career, but he is working with the same trainer that has kept Grant Hill on the basketball court for the last few seasons.
One of the Yankees’ biggest advantages on offense comes in the form of durability. Injuries can hamper a team’s production. It’s not just that they’re missing the one player’s production. The entire lineup changes, and suffers, when one of its main cogs goes on the DL. The Yankees, with the exception of Rodriguez, have been thankful to avoid that in the last few years. Again, injury can happen to anyone, but if the Yankees maintain their injury record, the offense will be all the more powerful.
Yesterday we took at look some Yankees who are candidates to see their performances take a step back in 2012, and now it’s time to flip the coin and look at some players with the potential to improve. That’s the neat thing about the term “regress,” it can work both ways even though it’s somehow developed this negative connotation. The Yankees had a few players under-perform last year, some with good reason and others just because.
On the surface, Logan had some killer stats last season. He struck out 9.94 batters per nine (24.9 K%) while walking 2.81 per nine (7.0 BB%) with a decent 42.4 GB%. Of course lefty specialists usually aren’t judged by their overall numbers, they’re on the roster to get left-handed batters out. That was a problem for Logan last year, who allowed same-side hitters to tag him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 118 plate appearances. He gave up three times as many extra-base hits to lefties as David Robertson despite facing 24 fewer hitters.
Logan’s strikeout (11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and walk (2.30 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) rates against southpaws were insanely good, but his problem was the long ball. His 40.6 GB% resulted in a 13.3% HR/FB ratio, though Hit Tracker says that three of the four homers he surrendered to lefties were Just Enoughs. That means they cleared the fence by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Two of the four homers would have remained in play in the other 29 parks according to their data. Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer given their definition, as they’re very prone to the weather and wind and ballpark. The homer issue may not be much of one, so if Boone can maintain those strikeout and walk rates, he should do just fine against left-handed batters going forward.
We all know the story by now. Martin started last season ridiculously hot — .270/.367/.511 in his first 158 PA — before dragging himself across the finish line — .221/.303/.357 in his final 318 PA. The end result was a .237/.324/.408 batting line in 476 PA, or a .325 wOBA and a perfectly league average 100 wRC+. The average catcher produced a .309 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ last season, so Martin was an above average hitter relative to his position.
Like most players, Russ was a more productive hitter at Yankee Stadium (.345 wOBA and 114 wRC+) than on the road (.307 and 88). The easy answer is the short porch and more homers, but that’s not the case. Martin went deep eight times with a .175 ISO and a 15.4% HR/FB ratio at home last year, but clubbed ten homers with a .166 ISO and a 16.4% HR/FB ratio away from the Bronx. His walk and strikeout rates were essentially identical both home and away as was his batted ball profile, but his road batting average (.217 with a .220 BABIP) paled in comparison to his home rate (.260 and .288).
Martin is likely to see his home performance suffer a bit next year and his road performance improve a bit. In terms of process stats — the strikeouts, walks, batted ball types — he was the same hitter regardless of venue in 2011, he just got different results. Given the advantages of Yankee Stadium, the short porch and the fact that pretty much every hitter performs better at home, his home performance may not decline as much as his road performance improves. Martin will never be the guy he was in 2007 again, but a little more love on the road will boost his overall numbers and value to the team. Some more rest will only help further.
Swisher was basically the anti-Martin last year. He was dreadful to start the season — .206/.321/.288 in his first 193 PA — but a monster thereafter — .284/.397/.519 in his final 442 PA. Overall, Swisher finished with a .260/.374/.449 batting line (.358 wOBA and 122 wRC+), his worst performance as a Yankee and the second worst season full season of his career. His 23 homers were his fewest in five years thanks to the early-season slump.
Although he’ll never be a high-contact guy, Swisher has slightly improved his strikeout rate as his career has progressed while maintaining his high walk rate. He’ll never hit for a high average but that’s fine, he’s asked to provide power and patience. That power was missing early in the season, though his 14.3% HR/FB ratio in 2011 was right in line with his career average (14.9%). He just didn’t hit as many fly balls has he had in the past…
Swisher’s performance against right-handed pitchers last year was by far his worst as a Yankee, going from .375+ wOBAs to just .335. Again, it had to do with the lack of fly balls, a 41.4 GB% compared to 35.9% from 2004-2010. He’s still relatively young (turned 31 in November) and healthy, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t expect the fly balls to return in 2012. It’s not like we’re asking an injury-prone guy in his late-30′s to perform miracles here. More fly balls will lead to more homers, hopefully getting Swish back around 28-30 and making him more dangerous against northpaws.
It’s easy to forget just how stellar A-Rod was before his knee started giving him problems. He carried a .301/.377/.509 batting line (in 318 PA) into July before getting hurt, which is still excellent even if it’s not on par with his lofty standards. Alex was never the same after that (.191/.345/.353 in his final 84 PA), and the story is the same heading into 2012. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I think everyone knows the deal. If healthy, A-Rod will produce big numbers even if they aren’t quite as big as they used to be. Whether or not he can actually stay on the field for 140 games or so is a total mystery, experimental knee procedures and new training methods be damned.
Baseball’s highest paid setup man didn’t have a great first year in pinstripes, particularly early on. Most realized that his fly ball ways (just 35.2 GB% in 2011 and 31.4% career) were a bad fit for Yankee Stadium, so the big jump in homer rate (0.92 HR/9 and 8.3% HR/FB were nearly double his 2010 totals) wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was his walk rate, which jumped from 2.69 BB/9 and 7.5 BB% coming into the season to 4.12 and 10.0 in 2011, respectively.
Most of the walk damage came before Soriano hit the DL with an elbow problem. That makes sense, since elbow injuries have historically resulted in a loss of control while shoulder injuries have resulted in loss of velocity. Soriano walked 11 of 69 batters (15.9%) before hitting the DL but only seven of 95 batters (7.4%) after getting healthy. His strikeout (14.5 K% per-injury but 27.4 K% after) rate improved as well. Unfortunately, health is a going to remain a question going forward given his career-long battle with his elbow, but a healthy Soriano should be a very good reliever for the Yankees.
Teixeira’s performance problems are all self-inflicted. He readily admits that he’s changed his left-handed swing over the last three years in an effort to take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium, and says he’s working hard to correct the problem. He’s even talked about laying down bunts to beat the shift, which might be going a little too far. That’s another argument for another time.
With his massive power (.246 ISO and 17.1% HR/FB in 2011 vs. .250 ISO and 18.2% career), strong walk rate (11.1 BB% in 2011 vs. 11.5% career), relatively low strikeout rate (16.1 K% in 2011 vs. 17.2% career), and right-handed production (.410 wOBA vs. LHP in 2011 vs. .400 career) still intact, it’s all about Teixeira getting that batting average as a left-handed hitter (.224 in 2011) back up to his career norm (.277 coming into 2011). If he does that, his overall batting average (.248 in 2011) and OBP (.341) will also return to their previous levels (.286 and .377 coming into 2011, respectively).
Fixing the problem is much easier said than done. The uppercut Teixeira has added to his swing has resulted in a ton of fly balls (48.3% in each of the last two years) against righties, and fly balls will do a number on the ol’ BABIP (just .222 last year) since they’re generally easy to field. Eliminating the uppercut and returning to the level, all-fields approach that made him one of the game’s very best hitters will be tough because that’s a lot of muscle memory to undo. It won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. It will cost Teixeira some homers, but he’s a good enough hitter that he’ll be able to provide average, on-base skills, and 30+ homers at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one of the other.
With Spring Training fully underway, it’s time to begin our season preview. We’re going to change things up a bit this year, focusing on various aspects of the team rather than individual players. You’ll see most players in multiple posts, but the concepts will all be different.
The Yankees are known for their free-spending ways, and while that may be scaled back in the near future, the team still has plenty of roster and financial decisions to make. Eight players on the club’s projected 25-man Opening Day roster are scheduled to become free agents after the season, assuming the no-brainer 2013 options for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are exercised. No less than four of those eight impending free agents can be considered critical pieces of the roster.
Things have a way of changing over the course of a 162-game season (plus playoffs), but the Yankees are going to have some tough choices to make in about eight months. In some cases, the may not have a choice at all.
The Yankees quickly re-signed Garcia to a one-year, $4M contract early this offseason, but now he’s an extra piece. It’s easy to say they jumped the gun and should have waited to re-sign him, but they got him on such ridiculously favorable terms compared to what similar pitchers — Bruce Chen (2/9), Chris Capuano (2/10), and Aaron Harang (2/12) — received this winter that the Yankees will have no trouble trading him later this summer if they decided to go that route. Pitching depth is never a bad thing, and even if the fifth starter competition is rigged, I’m sure we’ll see Sweaty Freddy make some starts this year. Right now, it seems all but certain that Garcia will move on to another team as a free agent next offseason.
Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez & Eric Chavez
Three spare parts on cheap one-year contracts, Ibanez ($1.1M) will be the left-handed half of the DH platoon while Chavez ($900k) backs up both corner infield spots. Jones ($2M) will get playing time against southpaws, either in the field or at DH. None of the three players are all that crucial to the team’s short- or long-term success, with Andruw representing the most indispensable part. That said, he’s on the short end of a platoon. Injuries have a way of forcing guys like these into larger roles than expected. Jones will be the priority re-sign after the season if all goes well, but the other two will have to wait like they did this winter.
The 37-year-old Kuroda was non-committal about his future when he arrived at camp a few weeks ago, instead saying he’s ready “to give 100% and contribute to the Yankees as much as possible.” Hal Steinbrenner agreed to expand the budget to sign the veteran right-hander for $10M, a signing of tremendous importance that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves because of the Michael Pineda trade.
With youngsters Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes in the rotation, Kuroda and CC Sabathia will be counted on to provide stability and innings every five days. He’s being reunited with former Dodgers battery-mate Russell Martin, which will hopefully get his ground ball rate back into the 50% range after a one-year hiatus. There’s no secret regarding Kuroda’s status with the team; he’s a one-year stopgap brought in to solidify the rotation while the younger pitchers take their lumps. If he performs well and is willing to return in 2013, I’m sure the Yankees would welcome him. If not, then no big deal. Both parties will move on.
The Yankees have already touched base with Martin’s camp about a three-year contract extension, but talks are now on hold until after the season. Yadier Molina’s hilariously huge contract (five years, $75M with an option and a no-trade clause) is a total game-changer, raising the salary bar for above average catchers in their prime years substantially. Martin will benefit, the Yankees will not if they choose to re-sign him.
While Austin Romine and Frankie Cervelli represent viable and payroll friendly alternatives, there is definite value in having a guy like Martin around for the next few seasons. He can ease the transition of the youngsters and provide some certainty at a position where so many teams have none at all. By no means is Martin a star, but he fits the Yankees well and there are several reasons for the team to re-sign him after the season. Molina’s contract will make that extraordinarily difficult, as the Rangers and Diamondbacks learned when impending free agents Mike Napoli and Miguel Montero abruptly ended extension talks this week.
Unlike Martin, the Yankees have not approached their right fielder about any kind of contract extension. Also unlike Martin, the Yankees don’t have an obvious, in-house replacement for Swisher. Things could change during the course of the summer, but as of today there’s no player in the system who you could point to as a viable corner outfielder for 2013.
Swisher has made it obvious that he loves playing for the Yankees, but he also said he won’t force the issue and is willing to test the free agent waters next winter. Concerns about a down walk year because of his playoff failures (and thus his “inability to handle pressure”) are misguided because Swisher was playing for a contract last season too. If he performed poorly, he was faced with the same fate as today: heading out onto the open market coming off a bad season on the wrong side of 30. The Yankees seem more content to play this one by ear, mostly because finding a replacement corner outfielder won’t be as difficult as say, finding a replacement catcher. That said, Swisher is a pretty important piece of the offense and losing his production would hurt.
Based on his comments from a few weeks ago, the Yankees may not have a choice when it comes to retaining Rivera after the season. The greatest relief pitcher in the history of the universe hinted at retirement his first day at Spring Training, saying he’s made a decision about his future and won’t change his mind even if he saves a zillion games or if they offer him a zillion dollars. That seems like a weird thing to say if he was planning on giving it another go in 2013.
Mo is the only player in this post the Yankees would absolutely, no doubt about it retain after the season if given the chance. Other roster decisions would be based on him and around his new contract, which is something that applies to very few players in today’s game. The Yankees have plenty of potential replacements should Rivera hang ‘em up after 2012, but a pitching staff is a unique thing. They could carry Rivera and his potential replacements at the same time, unlike say Martin, Romine, and Cervelli. This is pretty much out of the Yankees’ hands. If Mo is willing to come back next year, they’ll bring him back. If not, well then we’ll see him in Cooperstown in six years.
Earlier this week we discussed the contract situations of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, both of whom are important players to the Yankees and scheduled to become free agents after the season. The Yankees don’t have an obvious internal replacement for the former while the latter saw his free agent stock jump thanks to Yadier Molina’s massive contract extension. Multi-year contracts for both players are reasonable given their age and production, but will cut into the team’s 2014 austerity plan. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement may actually help the Yankees in this situation, however.
Under the terms of the new CBA, Type-A and B free agents have been eliminated. If a club wants to receive draft pick compensation for a player, they now have to make a qualifying offer rather than offer arbitration. The qualifying offer is a guaranteed one-year contract with a salary equal to the average of the top 125 salaries in 2011, and this coming offseason it will be approximately $12.4M. If you’re the Yankees and you’re eyeing that $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, wouldn’t you love the idea of bringing both Swisher and Martin back for 2013 on one-year, $12.4M contracts? I know I would.
Obviously it takes two to tango. Making a qualifying offer to both Swisher and Martin doesn’t guarantee either guy will accept. I’m sure every player appreciates the security of a multi-year contract, and those two would have to at least explore the free agent market before agreeing to come back to the Yankees for just one guaranteed year. The qualifying offers are a win-win as far as the team is concerned. They would buy them an extra year for Austin Romine‘s development (and transition to the show) and allow them to see if a potential Swisher replacement emerges within the farm system while having zero impact on the 2014 budget. If Swisher and Martin sign elsewhere, they Yankees would get draft picks as compensation (assuming they qualify under the new system).
It’s easy for me to say this as a fan, but I’d rather see the Yankees overpay in money on a one-year deal than overpay in years on a multi-year deal. The guys writing the checks may feel differently. The $12.4M is probably more than either Swisher or Martin will get on an annual basis as a free agent, and if the market break rights both guys could wind up back in pinstripes by accepting the qualifying offer. I have to think this would be the best case (realistic) scenario for the team, getting both their starting right fielder and catcher back on terms that don’t impact future payroll.
It’s been more than three years since Brian Cashman pulled off one of his greatest heists, stealing Nick Swisher from the White Sox for a package of Wilson Betemit and nothing else in particular. Swisher had the worst season of his career with the ChiSox in 2008 (91 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR), plus Ozzie Guillen didn’t like him one bit. Cashman bought low and has been rewarded handsomely, getting three years of well above average production (126 wRC+ and 11.0 fWAR) for a well below market rate ($21.05M total).
The Yankees picked up Swisher’s no-brainer $10.25M option for 2012 early in the offseason, ensuring that the marriage would last at least one more year. The 31-year-old outfielder will become a free agent for the first time after this season, and he started preparing for the open market by switching agents last February and showing up to camp with a noticeably stronger upper body this week (“This is the strongest I’ve ever been,” he said). Swisher has no intention of talking to the club about contract extension during Spring Training or regular season, however.
“That’s not my style, man. I don’t force the issue,” he said yesterday. “I just go and play the game and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. That’s kind of one of those things that I’m really going to keep in that back corner and not really worry about that until I have to.”
Swisher has made no secret of how much he enjoys playing in New York, which is something I’m sure the Yankees will use as leverage if and when they discuss a new contract. The Michael Cuddyer deal (three years, $31.5M) gives us an idea of what it’ll take to sign Swisher beyond 2012, a deal that would be a bit of a bargain given his production. The problem is that the Yankees seem intent on getting below the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, which will require them to shed approximately $40M in payroll over the next 24 months.
Right field is one obvious spot where the team could save money, replacing Swisher and his $10M+ salary with a low-cost player or two-man platoon. It’s much easier said than done given the production they’d be losing, especially since the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement coming up through the farm system. Maybe Zoilo Almonte is that guy, but there are reasons to be skeptical. If Swisher is allowed to move on, the team will likely to get a little creative to replace him. The Yankees have won World Championships with guys like Chad Curtis and Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer in a corner outfield spot, so it can be done.
I need to preface this post by saying that I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m a huge Nick Swisher fan, and assuming he turns in a fourth straight 120-plus wRC+ offensive campaign in pinstripes this coming season, I’d expect the Yankees to look to retain the pending free agent’s services on a multi-year deal. So long as his contract requirements remain within reason, anyway.
By “within reason,” I’d say anywhere from the three-year, $21 million ($7M average annual value) deal personal favorite Josh Willingham signed with the Twins this winter (which still seems like the steal of the offseason) to Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5 million deal ($10.5 million AAV) with the Rockies. However, since breaking into the league in 2004, Swish has been the superior all-around player by a not insignificant margin, and being that he’ll be two years younger than Cuddyer was this past offseason he definitely has a case for a bigger deal than Cuddyer’s, and a strong case for a bigger contract than Willingham’s sweetheart deal. Between his apparent superiority to these similar players and the fact that this will be his first foray into free agency, I’d expect him to start out at the very least looking for something that will pay him $13 million a year.
Given the incredible value the Yankees have gotten out of Swisher thus far — since 2009, Swish has been paid $21.2 million for his services by the Yankees, and according to FanGraphs’ $/WAR calculation, has been worth $47.6 million — $13 million seems like an eminently reasonable ask; however, at the end of the day I’d expect length to be a bigger sticking point than AAV. As an outfielder coming off his age 31 season next winter, one has to think Swish will be looking for enough financial security to take him as close to the end of his career as possible. I could see his initial ask starting at five years, but I don’t see the Yankees being interested in committing any more than three years to their switch-hitting right fielder. Maybe they’d go to four, but I’m not sure I’d expect the Yankees to hand out a four-plus-year contract to an outfielder on the wrong side of 30 that isn’t named Curtis Granderson, who — barring an unforeseen precipitous decline in production — the team will be looking to re-sign after 2013.
So, in the event that the Yankees and Nick Swisher can’t arrive at a happy medium next winter, the Bombers may in fact be finding themselves in the market for a right fielder. Enter B.J. Upton, slated to be a free agent for the first time in his career next offseason. As an outside observer, it seems as though the Rays have been waiting for Upton — the second overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft — to become the superstar many predicted he’d blossom into forever.
BJ will always leave a portion of this fanbase wanting. There’s a portion of this fanbase that finds Upton to be an unmotivated and lazy waste of talent that the Rays need to move. There’s a portion that is disappointed with him but are holding out hope that 2012 is a lot like 2007. There’s a portion that appreciates him for what he is rather than what he is not. I think he could go 30/30 in Yankee Stadium given his best swings are when he goes the other way, but he is never hitting .300 again without some serious BABIP help. He goes through hot streaks that are really hot and then slumps for long periods at a time while tinkering with his swing. He made some changes with his legkick late in the season over the final 6 weeks that yielded positive results, so it bears watching. There is a level of A.J. Burnett hate with him with a portion of this fanbase that sees nothing wrong with booing him after a strikeout or when he’s thrown out on the basepaths. However, there is a larger portion that will miss him when he leaves and hopes that he does not hang around the American League to blossom as it is tough enough to watch Carl Crawford do the same for Boston. In the end, he always leaves fans wanting something; the degree of that want comes from each fans attitude toward Upton.
Upton was drafted as a shortstop back in ’02, but was an unmitigated disaster at the position, and despite posting a respectable .323 wOBA as a 19-year-old in 177 plate appearances in 2004, his defensive woes helped demote him to AAA Durham for the entirety of the 2005 season. Upton didn’t make it back to the bigs until August 1, 2006, but he struggled mightily (.275 wOBA in 189 PAs) while playing third base, a position he’d never played professionally prior to that season.
At the outset of the 2007 season, Upton was shifted to second base to start the season, with the idea that he could play anywhere from second to short to third to the outfield on any given day. Upton responded to his first camp-breaking with the Rays by exploding out of the gate, posting a .471 wOBA in April 2007, and ultimately finishing the year with a career-high .387 wOBA (138 wRC+), shifting into center field full-time and seemingly finally establishing himself as the offensive force everyone had been waiting for. Only it didn’t last.
Upton followed his monster 2007 with a good (.354 wOBA, 118 wRC+), but disappointing 2008, given the new baseline he’d established the year prior. Upton’s OBP was still monstrous (.383, after .386 in 2007), but his power mysteriously vanished, and his slugging dropped over 100 points to .401. Upton continued his slide in 2009, falling to a below-average .310 wOBA (88 wRC+), which was easily his worst full season in the bigs. Upton has since recovered a decent amount of his value, posting near-identical 2010 (.337 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and 2011 (.337 wOBA, 115 wRC+) campaigns while providing above-average defense in center, though his erratic performances these last several seasons have rendered Upton’s true talent level something of an enigma.
One aspect of Upton’s game that would undoubtedly be very appealing to the Yankees is his ability to draw walks. Upton has a career 11.2% walk rate, well above league average. His career OBP is a respectable .342; however, the reason it’s not higher is because Upton also has a propensity to strike out. A lot. Upton’s career K% is 24.8%, and his 25.2% K% was the fifth-worst in the AL last season. His strikeouts have dramatically suppressed a batting average (career .258) that one would expect to be a good bit higher for someone with a carer BABIP of .327. Upton also has a career 11.3% HR/FB%, also an above-average rate, and the high BABIP and HR/FB% show that when Upton does put a bat on the ball, good things tend to happen. Unfortunately this isn’t as common as an occurrence as one would hope. Perhaps there’s something in Upton’s swing that Kevin Long can fix?
Upton would also probably be the best defensive right fielder the Yankees would hypothetically have fielded since perhaps Raul Mondesi, and an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Upton seems like it would be hands-down the finest defensive outfield in the game. The dropoff in offensive production from Swisher to Upton would be fairly substantial, but not massive (Swish is a 117 career wRC+ hitter; Upton 110), while Upton would make a lot of the difference up in fielding.
Upton’s patient/hacker dichotomy — his 3.86 pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) ranked 31st in the AL last season, ahead of the likes of Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, while his swinging strike percentage of 20% that was the 4th-highest in the league, and well above the 15% league average — is somewhat reminiscent of Curtis Granderson’s, although Grandy led the league in P/PA in 2011 and recorded a 16% swinging strike percentage.
Given his abilities I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the 27-year-old Upton’s (turning 28 in August) best-case-scenario is blossoming into modern-day Curtis Granderson — if you compare the first five years of each player’s career, the results are remarkably similar, with one elite season early on followed by some good — though not great — subsequent campaigns. Upton’s got the edge in OBP, though Granderson certainly has the edge in power. Some may argue that Upton’s running out of time to get there, but his 2007 shows that it’s not crazy to envision him finally putting it all together on a consistent basis as he enters the prime of his career, similar to the way Granderson turned in a career year in his age 30 season.
The parallels between Granderson and Upton become even more apparent when you look at their WAR graphs:
And cumulative by age:
Also, for those curious about the righty Upton’s splits, while he unsurprisingly hits lefties better (career 118 wRC+), he’s playable against righties (101 wRC+).
So after all of this analysis, we haven’t even answered perhaps the most important question — how much will Upton be looking for, and what can he reasonably expect to be offered? Unfortunately for B.J., as a career .339 wOBA hitter, it seems unlikely he’d see anything close to the mega-deal his former teammate Carl Crawford signed prior to the 2011 season, as Carl has been the superior player (not to mention a massive disappointment one year into his monster Boston contract); although to play devil’s advocate, Carl’s career wOBA was only .008 points higher than Upton’s at the time of his free agency, so perhaps I’m selling Upton a bit short. Upton is making $7 million in his final year as a Ray, and will obviously look to exceed that on an annual basis.
With teams seemingly increasingly shy to commit mega dollars and years to anyone outside of elite talent, it seems like a stretch to see anyone signing Upton for longer than five years, and given his erratic offensive play, I’m not sure he’s worth more than $10-$12 million a year (although FanGraphs’ $/WAR valuation has him worth an average of $17.3 million over the last five years).
Upton will probably start out asking for something like seven years and $105 million ($15M AAV), but I’d ultimately expect him to end up signing for something closer to five years, $60 million — which, if the Yanks can’t agree to terms with Swish, should very seriously consider Upton if his price does fall to this range — unless he has another year like 2007 in him in 2012. In that case, all bets are off.
One of the commenters in my post about Nick Swisher last month suggested that Swish’s struggles in the postseason were due in part to the fact that hitters are facing their opponents’ best pitchers, or something to that effect. While it’s probably true that an offensive bludgeoning is less likely to occur during a postseason game than, say, in August, I also think it’s a convenient excuse for teams that aren’t hitting. We’ve frequently seen the Yankee bats run the gamut from laser-hot to ice-cold during the postseason, though we tend to remember the games in which the bats didn’t show up more often than not, given how accustomed we’ve become to fielding a powerhouse offense.
Unfortunately one of the primary issues when judging both a player’s and team’s postseason performances is that the samples are almost always too small, and the very nature of baseball dictates that any player, no matter how good, is going to suffer through a slump at one point or another. That’s not to minimize the impact of facing elite pitching in the postseason; but on the flipside not even pitchers are infallible and even the best ones have less-than-great days. CC Sabathia had a 6.23 ERA in 8.2 innings in the 2011 ALDS; Justin Verlander a 5.00 in 9.0 IP.
The point of all this is that, based on what we know of Nick Swisher’s offensive abilities over the course of a 162-game season, it’s crazy to to assert that he “can’t hit in the postseason.” Unless Swisher has actually demonstrated a distinct inability to hit so-called “good” pitching, the only explanation that really makes sense as far as his struggles have gone is the recurrence of several ill-timed slumps.
Prior to embarking on this post I’d initially hoped to be able to segment batches of “good” (which I would have defined as being 10% better than league average) and “bad” pitchers, and then tally Swisher’s stats against them in an effort to see how exactly he performed against these pitcher types, but B-Ref won’t allow me to export Play Index results to Excel, and there was no way I was going to manually re-enter all of the data.
Instead, below is a table showing all of the starting pitchers Swisher has faced during his three-year Yankee career (including the postseason), minimum 10 PAs. While 10-plus PAs isn’t anywhere near a large-enough sample, if we’re going to castigate Swish for small-sample failure in the playoffs, we also have to accord him respect for small-sample success.
David Price and Jon Lester are two of the best pitchers in the American League. Swisher has killed ‘em both. Cliff Lee? .852 OPS against. Matt Garza doesn’t stand a chance against Swisher. Gio Gonzalez, arguably the most-sought-after pitcher on the trade market, may as well be throwing Swish batting practice. Same with Trevor Cahill and Ervin Santana. RAB favorite John Danks? Swish has hit him to the tune of a .930 OPS in 13 PAs.
The naysayers in the audience will undoubtedly point out Swish’s struggles against Josh Beckett and James Shields (though among the Yankees that’s far from a Swisher-only issue), but on the whole, I’m not sure one could reasonably conclude that Nick Swisher routinely struggles against good pitching.
(Ed. Note: Keep in mind that while .641 OPS against Felix over the last three seasons looks bad, Hernandez has held all hitters to a .616 OPS during that time. We’re referencing a very different baseline when talking about top pitchers. Context is everything.)
For the folks who want to pin his postseason struggles on something tangible, there really is no better explanation than Swish happening to slump on three separate occasions, with each unfortunately coming at one of the worst possible times for the Yankees. This doesn’t make his regular season contributions — which have helped the team get to the playoffs in each of his three pinstriped years — any less valuable, nor does it mean that he is forever doomed to postseason failure (see Rodriguez, Alex).
One of Larry’s objections to the Pineda/Montero swap is the future availability of Cole Hamels on the free agent market. If the Yankees can pick up Hamels to slide in behind Sabathia, the argument goes, then perhaps they should have kept Montero to provide cheap production out of the designated hitter slot over the next few seasons. I wrote about Hamels last week, speculating that the Yankees might be preparing to make a run at him next winter.
Last Friday’s trade radically altered the landscape of the Yankees roster. In acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees acquired a potential number one or two starter with five years of cheap team control. According to well-sourced reporter Joel Sherman, the price was particularly important because the team is serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. With the new roster in place, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the team will be able to afford Hamels, or their own Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and/or Nick Swisher, all of whom hit free agency in the next few years.
In projecting precisely whom the Yankees will be able to afford, it helps to have a handle on a reasonable estimate of future prices. Towards that end, I asked Joe, Mike, Ben, Moshe and Larry to all provide me their best estimates for what they expect Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Hamels to pull in in their new contracts. These were the results of our inputs:
Robinson Cano: AAV of $22.0M, high of $23M, low of $20M.
Nick Swisher: AAV of $12.67M, high of $15M, low of $12M.
Curtis Granderson: AAV of $17.0M, high of $18M, low of $15M.
Cole Hamels: AAV of $21.67, high of $23M, low of $20M.
I’ll be using these figures going forward, and also making a few assumptions about the future Yankees payroll. The first one is that the Yankees won’t allow Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. He’s a homegrown star at a difficult position to fill, and he’ll only be 31 when he hits the free agent market after the 2013 season. It’ll hurt, but I expect the Yankees to resign Cano at $22M per year, the average listed above. The second assumption is that Alex Rodriguez will hit his 660th home run this season, and will hit his 714th home run in 2014, thus triggering his second $6M bonus. The third assumption is that Russell Martin does not sign an extension with the Yankees, and that they’ll use Austin Romine by 2014. With this in mind, this is what the roster would look like heading into the 2012-2013 offseasons:
The specific names attached to the $500k salaries aren’t all that important, but the idea that a cheap player will occupy the fifth starter’s spot and most of the bullpen. Banuelos, Betances, and Warren are interchangeable with whatever young player your heart desires. The cost is important.
The Yankees will have roughly $40M to spend on their rotation, bullpen, center field, right field and designated hitter positions. If they pay Granderson $17M and Swisher $12M, they’ll have around $10M to fill out the final rotation spot and the bullpen. They could go with a cheap arm in the fifth starter position, fill out the back end of the bullpen with minimum salary guys, and sign a decent set up reliever. If they choose to let Granderson walk and sign Hamels and Swisher, they’d have about $7M left over for the center field position (or left field, if they shift Gardner to center), bullpen and DH. This would be difficult to pull off. If they chose to forgo both Granderson and Swisher and sign Hamels, then they’d have around $18M left for two outfielders, the DH and the bullpen.
There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Yankees can get under $189M with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Cole Hamels all under contract at market rates. From a financial perspective, the “easiest” solution would be for the Yankees to acquire a cheap, cost-controlled outfielder (like a Domonic Brown) who could step in and fill Swisher’s role for cheap. This would allow the Yankees to move Gardner to center and allow Granderson to walk, replacing Gardner with a relatively cheap left fielder and spending big on Hamels and the bullpen.
Personally, I’d very much like for them to spend on Hamels, probably even at the expense of Curtis Granderson. The offense would take a bit of a hit, but the idea of a Sabathia-Hamels-Pineda-Nova rotation is enticing. That’s just me, though, so I’m providing the link to my Google Doc with all the relevant numbers. If you save your own version, you can edit and mess around with various roster scenarios and post your version in the comments. Any way you cut it, though, there are some very hard decisions ahead for the Yankees front office.