Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

Cashman talks Martin, Ibanez

Via Kristie Ackert: Brian Cashman chimed in on the status of both Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, two of the team’s impending free agents, during a recent radio interview. The Yankees and Cashman love what Martin brings to the table but “me liking him doesn’t guarantee us keeping him.” The backstop turned down a three-year, $20M-something extension offer last year and honestly I would not be surprised if he winds up with something like three years and $27M on the open market. There will be competition for him, specifically from the deep-pocketed Red Sox and Rangers.

Meanwhile, Cashman also seemed to indicate that a second tour of duty for Ibanez was unlikely. He said he was a great one-year signing who hit some massively huge homers, but his price went up and he won’t be as cost effective. The Yankees landed him at a discount last winter because of his poor 2011 season with the Phillies. Raul won’t ever have to buy himself dinner in New York again, but I would have no problem with the team bringing in someone else to DH. Ibanez is the kind of guy you want to get rid of a year too early rather than a year too late.

Notes from Girardi’s end-of-season press conference

(Seth Wenig / AP Photo)

The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…

On Alex Rodriguez

  • “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
  • Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
  • Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
  • “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
  • Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.

On the playoffs…

  • “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
  • Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
  • “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
  • Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”

On injuries…

  • “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
  • “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
  • Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
  • There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
  • Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.

On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…

  • “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
  • He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
  • Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
  • “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
  • “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
  • He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
  • Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.

On the status of him and his coaches…

  • “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
  • Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.


  • Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
  • When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”

The five biggest hits of the 2012 season

(Al Bello/Getty)

For a team whose season will be defined by failures with runners in scoring position, the Yankees sure did seem to have a lot of enormous hits along the way. Especially late in the season too — September and October featured all sorts of memorable hits that injected new life into a team that was fighting tooth and nail for the division title down the stretch.

With some help from win probability added, or WPA, we’re going to take a look at New York’s five biggest hits of this season. If you’re not familiar with WPA, I highly recommend Joe’s primer. Long story short, it tells you how much an event — a hit, strikeout, walk, error, anything in baseball — increases or decreases a team’s chances of winning using historical data. For example, if the Yankees have a 50% chance of winning when I step to the plate and hit a walk-off homer (thus giving them a 100% chance of winning), I get credit for the +50% (0r +0.50 WPA) while the pitcher gets charged with +50% (-0.50 WPA). Simple enough, right?

Anyway, WPA isn’t a predictive stat and it doesn’t have a ton of analytical value. It lacks context like the quality of the pitcher and hitter, the impact of the game in the standings, stuff like that. It is useful for this kind of exercise though, a fun look back at some of the biggest hits of the season. You won’t be surprised to see that one player is featured prominently in this post.

April 11th: Nick Swisher vs. Kevin Gregg (WPA graph & box score) (video)
You wouldn’t know it from his playoff performance, but Swisher had a monster season with runners in scoring position. He hit .301/.406/.589 (164 wRC+) with eleven homers in 181 plate appearances in those situations, including a game-winning homer against the Orioles just six games into the season. The Yankees had tied the game at four on a Curtis Granderson single in the seventh, and score didn’t change until Swisher took Gregg’s full count hanging slider out to right-center. Eduardo Nunez had singled earlier in the inning but was picked off first, so his teammates — Mark Teixeira doubled ahead of the homer — picked him up. That was the last extra innings game Baltimore would lose in the regular season. WPA: +0.45

(Al Bello/Getty)

October 2nd: Raul Ibanez vs. Andrew Bailey (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a tight division race down the stretch, and a loss by New York in Game 161 would have had the two clubs tied atop the AL East heading into the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox took a two-run lead in the first inning off David Phelps and tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer in the ninth, so the Yankees had three outs to score two runs in the bottom of the inning. Andrew Bailey was on the mound to face Granderson, who only batted in the ninth inning because Brett Gardner got caught stealing to end the eighth. Curtis singled to right to lead things off, then Ibanez came off the bench to pinch-hit for Nunez. Bailey caught way too much of the plate with a 1-2 fastball, a pitch Raul hooked into the right field seats for a game-tying two-run homer. He went on to win the game with a walk-off ground ball single in the 12th inning — a hit that preserved the team’s one-game lead in the standings — but only the dinger cracks our list. WPA: +0.45

September 22nd: Ibanez vs. Pat Neshek (WPA graph & box score) (video)
A little less than two weeks prior to his heroics against the Red Sox, Ibanez came up huge in a big extra innings comeback against the Athletics. The two clubs were deadlocked at five after seven innings and stayed that way until the 13th, when Oakland unloaded on Freddy Garcia and Justin Thomas for three homers and four total runs. The Yankees were not going down without a fight though, as the first three hitters in the bottom of the inning singled to load the bases with no outs. The first run scored on a wild pitch and the second on a Nunez sacrifice fly, but it was Ibanez who did the honors of tying things up. Neshek, a right-handed submariner, left a 3-1 sinker right out over the plate, which Ibanez clubbed halfway up the second deck in right for another game-tying two-run homer, his second dinger of the game. The Yankees won the game on a walk-off error an inning later, which was all made possible by what was essentially the start of Raul turning into Mr. Big Hit down the stretch. It was the team’s biggest hit during the regular season. WPA: +0.46

October 10th: Ibanez vs. Jim Johnson (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Now we’re venturing into the postseason. The Yankees and Orioles couldn’t settle their differences during the regular season, so their season-long battle for AL East supremacy spilled over into the ALDS. The series was knotted at one and New York was on the verge of falling into a 2-1 hole in the ninth inning of Game Three. Baltimore had been nursing a 2-1 lead since the fifth inning and they had their All-Star closer on the mound with two outs to go, but Joe Girardi elected to remove Alex Rodriguez from the game to get the platoon matchup with Ibanez. Johnson left a 1-0 sinker up in the zone, right in Raul’s swing path, and he hammered it out to right-center for a game-tying solo blast. The pinch-hit worked to perfection, and a few innings later Ibanez won the game with a walk-solo homer into the second deck off lefty Brian Matusz. The first homer was the biggest though, bringing the Yankees from the brink of a loss to a tied ballgame. WPA: +0.47

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

October 13th: Ibanez vs. Jose Valverde (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Yeah, that’s right, Ibanez again. He really turned into Mr. Big Hit in the final few weeks of the season, and his most impactful hit of the year also happened to be one of his last. The Yankees had been stymied by the Tigers’ pitching staff in Game One of the ALCS, and they were down four runs heading into the ninth. Valverde had been very hittable in recent weeks, and he let New York get on the board with an Ichiro Suzuki two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano followed with a strikeout for the second out, but Teixeira worked a tough eight-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Ibanez wasted no time against Valverde, sabotaging a hanging 0-1 splitter for yet another game-tying two-run homer to right. There was nothing to be said at this point, Raul had rendered everyone speechless. He had been giving the Yankees new life time after time down the stretch, and he did so again in the ALCS opener. Just amazing. WPA: +0.49

* * *

The Yankees had four other hits register at +.40 WPA or higher this season (links go to video): Derek Jeter‘s solo homer off Casey Janssen in late-August (+0.44), Ibanez’s three-run homer off Felix Hernandez in early-May (+0.43), Jayson Nix’s three-run double off Shawn Kelley in late-July (+0.42), and Teixeira’s two-run homer off Vicente Padilla in late-July (+0.41). As you’ve probably noticed, the biggest WPA swings occur when a hit turns a deficit into a tie game (or a lead), which is why homers that break a tie — Russell Martin vs. Johnson in ALDS Game One or Ibanez vs. Matusz in ALDS Game Three — usually only register in the +.35-ish range. Swisher’s homer off Gregg scored higher because it gave the team a two-run lead, not just one like Martin’s off Johnson.

Subjectively speaking, I think the Ibanez homer off Johnson in Game Three of the ALDS was the biggest hit of the season. The homer off Valverde was crazy clutch, but the Yankees went on to lose the game and that took some of the shine off it. All Raul did was delay the inevitable. That game-tying homer against the Orioles was something to behold though, and it stands out even more because Ibanez ended the game with another homer a few innings later. That’s just my opinion though, you’re welcome to feel that another hit was the biggest of the season.

An Ode to Raul

The night was getting late,
The base paths hardly trod,
Girardi pondered fate
And pinch hit for poor Arod.

The 40-year old bald guy
Sauntered to the plate
And with a timely mighty swing
Sent Arod down the grate.

Oh, Arod tried to smile
But he knew that he had died
A washed up veteran showed him
How to give the ball a ride.

Old Raul brought joy to thousands
Who were mired in a pout
His stellar blast consigned thirteen
To his new home–the dugout.

(via Wayne Kabak, Ben’s father)

Thoughts following the doubleheader sweep

(Al Bello/Getty)

After going nearly a month without consecutive wins, the Yankees won two games in the span of about nine hours yesterday. They’ve also won four straight, six of seven, and nine of 13. If the Mariners had been something other than pitiful these last two nights, the division lead would be two or three games instead of just one. But hey, I’ll take the one-game lead. Better than being one back.

1. I don’t want to make too much of one game (one day, really), but man it would be such a huge lift if Ichiro Suzuki got hot and became a more consistent offensive threat these next few weeks. No one is asking him to go 4-for-4 with four steals every game — he’s more than welcome to do that, if he wants — but something more than the three or four hits a week he was providing would be nice. Prior to yesterday Ichiro had only been 6-for-9 in stolen base attempts with New York, so adding some more speed to the offense would be appreciated as well. He was awesome on Wednesday and I hope he builds on it going forward.

2. Ichiro started against the left-handed Ricky Romero last night because it appears that Joe Girardi has finally run out of patience with Andruw Jones. He’s been dreadful in the second half (.137/.250/.225 in 120 plate appearances), and that sure looked like his last pinch-hitting hurrah in Game One. When Girardi needed a right-hander off the bench with the go-ahead run on third and the left-handed Aaron Loup on the mound in Game Two, he went to Steve Pearce. If he’s not hitting, especially against lefties, there won’t be any reason to carry Andruw on the postseason roster should the Yankees qualify.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

3. Speaking of not making the potential postseason roster, what about Raul Ibanez? He’s only been slightly less useless than Jones since the All-Star break, putting up a .190/.287/.356 line in 143 plate appearances. Remember when Hideki Matsui fell into a slump and every single at-bat was a weak ground ball to second? That’s Ibanez now, everything is weakly hit to the right side. He could just be worn down from playing the field so much earlier in the year or he could just be completely done, but at some point soon the Yankees will have to pull the plug on the other half of their preseason DH platoon. There isn’t much season left and neither guy is getting it done.

4. It goes without saying that the biggest positive development from yesterday was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t sharp, but he still managed to throw five shutout innings against a bad offense after spending the last twelve weeks or so recovering from a leg fracture. Pettitte will need every bit of his final two regular season starts to a) build his pitch count back up over 100, and b) shake the rust off, but it was definitely encouraging to see him come out and pitch well in his first start off the DL. With all due respect to David Phelps, who pitched well in the spot start last night as well as last time out against the Red Sox, getting Andy back in the rotation is huge. Tack on Ivan Nova replacing Freddy Garcia, and suddenly the starting staff looks a lot more formidable.

5. Thanks to Rafael Soriano‘s two-save effort yesterday, the Yankees are up to 50 total saves as a team this year. Soriano has 42, Mariano Rivera had five before he got hurt, and the trio of David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Derek Lowe have one each. It’s only the second time since 2005 that the Yankees have had more than 50 team saves in a single season, joining the 2009 squad (51). Obviously that means they’ll go on to win the World Series this year. Okay … in all seriousness, it’s a function of all the close games they’ve been playing. One hundred and fifteen of their 148 games have been decided by fewer than five runs, a whopping 77.7%. Last year it was 71%, the year before 68%, and the year before that 69%. Soriano has saved each of the team’s last six wins and ten of their last 12. He’s been absolutely huge for the Yankees this year, and yesterday’s performance was probably the highlight of his season to date.

Yankees got it right with Raul

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Jesus Montero was going to be the Yankees’ regular, or at least part-time DH in 2012. We were pretty sure of it all offseason long … until the Yankees traded him to the Mariners for Michael Pineda. With just a month left until Spring Training opened, the Yankees were without a DH and the search was on. Names like Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Russell Branyan, Bobby Abreu, Garrett Jones, and Travis Hafner were all connected to New York at some point, either through legitimate reporting or speculation. Instead, the Yankees went in another direction.

Just days before camp opened and month after the Montero-Pineda trade, the Yankees agreed to sign then-39-year-old Raul Ibanez to be the left-handed half of the DH platoon. His performance had been in clear decline in recent years and he didn’t offer the True Yankee™-ness or name value as some of the other DH options, but it’s clear at this point the Yankees picked the right guy for the job. Ibanez has hit a respectable .243/.304/.461 (100 wRC+) in 293 plate appearances this year, seeing far more time in the field than anyone could have expected. He’s also come up with several big hits.

Meanwhile, the other free agent DH alternatives have pretty much flopped. Pena is hitting .198/.321/.364 (96 wRC+) with a 30.6% strikeout rate in 445 plate appearances for the division rival Rays. Damon signed with the Indians a month into the season and owns a .222/.281/.329 line (70 wRC+) in 224 plate appearances. The media in Cleveland is calling for him to be released so the kids can play. Matsui was released after signing with the Rays at midseason and produced a .147/.214/.221 line (18 wRC+) in 103 plate appearances. Branyan signed a minor league deal with the Yankees but has missed most of the season with back problems. Abreu has been designated for assignment twice and trade talks for Jones and Hafner were never really serious.

Ironically enough, part of the reason why the Yankees preferred Ibanez to Damon and Matsui was his ability to play the outfield. All three are terrible defenders, but Ibanez was the only one to spend significant time in the field in recent years. When Brett Gardner went down, Raul stepped right into left field and the Yankees nary missed a beat. He’s out-hit the other DH options and despite his general defensive shakiness, he’s been reliable in the field as well. The Bombers could have gone in any number of directions to fill Montero’s roster spot before the season, but they made the right call by bringing in the guy who few fans felt was the best candidate for the job.