Saturday Links: Randolph, Strength of Schedule, Yankees for Sale

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

The Yankees continue their Grapefruit League season this afternoon with a road game against the Rays. We’ll have a regular game thread up a little closer to first pitch. Until then, here are some random links to help you pass the time.

Randolph still looking for a coaching job

It has now been five years since former Yankee Willie Randolph held a big league coaching job, but as he told Brendan Kuty, he’s still trying to find one. Randolph, who interviewed for the Yankees third base coach job prior to last season, last coached with the Orioles in 2011. He was their bench coach for half the season and their third base coach for the other half. Here’s what Willie told Kuty:

“I let everybody know I’m doing my due diligence,” he told NJ Advance Media in the Yankees’ clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. “Let everybody know I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.”

“What makes it hard to keep it out there is that there’s so much of a change of the guard,” Randolph said. “So many new kids out there, that even if you keep it out there — they know who you are. There are baseball people who are going to know who I am.

“My resume speaks for itself. It wasn’t that long ago when I managed. But there seems to be a comfort zone with some of these cats. I get it. That’s part of the game. It’s who you knows, who might sponsor you, who you’re comfortable with.”

Randolph, now 61, managed the Mets from 2005-08. He was on the Yankees coaching staff from 1994-2004, spending most of his time as the third base coach but also some as Joe Torre’s bench coach. Randolph managed Team USA in the inaugural Premium 12 tournament last fall and he’s currently in Yankees camp as a guest instructor.

Teams are skewing younger with their managers and coaching staffs these days (the Yankees are no exception), so I understand Randolph’s frustration. There’s no way this won’t sound like a knock on Willie, so I’ll just say it: I’m of the belief that if you haven’t coached in five years or managed in eight years, there’s probably a reason why. If a team felt Randolph could be an asset on their field staff, he would have been hired. Teams know him. He’s not flying under the radar or anything.

2016 Strength of Schedule

Each year, Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs calculates each team’s strength of schedule using projections. It’s not perfect — projections themselves are far from perfect, plus rosters change throughout the season — but it’s a nice ballpark number. The Yankees have the second toughest schedule in the AL this year, about a win more difficult than average. That means the Yankees are expected to win one fewer game against their schedule than they would the average schedule. Make sense?

The Orioles have by far the toughest schedule in the league at two wins below average while the Indians have the easiest at a win above average. Most teams are within a half-win of average. The Mets and Nationals have the two easiest schedules in baseball by a huge margin. They’re both at two wins better than average. That’s what happens when you get to play 54 games — exactly one-third of the 162-game schedule — against the Braves, Phillies, and Marlins.

MLB submits proposal for new Cuban player signing system

According to Ben Strauss, MLB has submitted a proposal to the Treasury Department outlining a new system that will allow Cuban players to sign directly with big league teams. This would provide a safer path to the big leagues for players since they’d no longer have to defect, and the plan includes a way to raise money to improve youth baseball in Cuba. From Strauss:

Under the proposed plan, according to M.L.B.’s top lawyer, Dan Halem, an entity made up of Cuban entrepreneurs and officials from baseball and its players’ union would be created. A percentage of salaries paid to Cuban players would go to the new body, which would function like a nonprofit organization and support youth baseball, education and the improvement of sports facilities in Cuba.

Because no money would go directly to the Cuban government, the plan could satisfy the embargo. A few months ago President Obama said he intends to normalize relations with Cuba and this could be an important step in that direction. MLB has been working with both the U.S. and Cuban governments behind the scenes to find a way to allow Cuban players to come stateside safely and legally.

The Rays are scheduled to play an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana on March 22nd. They’ll be the first MLB team to play in Cuba since the Orioles in 1999. Derek Jeter and Joe Torre are among the dignitaries who will be on the trip. Luis Tiant and Jose Cardenal will be there as well.

The Yankees are for sale (kinda)

An unnamed minority owner is selling a 1% share of the Yankees, reports Scott Soshnick. The price? A mere $24M. Documents associated with the sale indicate the team is worth somewhere in the $2.75 billion to $3.25 billion range. That’s the team only. It doesn’t include the YES Network or Legends Hospitality. The Yankees and MLB would have to approve any sale, because duh.

Minority owners sell some or all of their shares all the time, so there’s nothing unusual about this. Hal Steinbrenner recently said the family has no plans to sell the team — they’re actually working on a long-term plan to hand over control to the next generation of Steinbrenners — and this won’t change anything. I have to say, 1% of the Yankees for $24M seems like a pretty good investment given how healthy the game is financially. We should start a Go Fund Me.

Yankees to retire Nos. 20, 46, 51 this season, honor Willie Randolph with plaque in Monument Park

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Gosh. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

After about 24 hours of rumors, the Yankees have made it official this afternoon. Nos. 20, 46, and 51 will be retired this season in honor of Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams, the team announced. Willie Randolph will also be honored with a plaque in Monument Park. The Yankees didn’t say anything about Derek Jeter in the press release. His day is probably coming in 2016.

Here are the dates for the individual ceremonies this summer:

  • Williams: Sunday, May 24th
  • Randolph: Saturday, June 20th (Old Timers’ Day)
  • Posada: Saturday, August 22nd
  • Pettitte: Sunday, August 23rd

We heard Pettitte’s number was being retired yesterday, when his son Josh spilled the beans. Earlier today we heard Posada and Williams were “likely” to have their numbers retired as well. The Yankees retired Joe Torre’s No. 6 last year, and when they made the official announcement, they said Bernie would be honored in some way this season. Now we know the details.

It goes without saying Posada, Bernie, and Pettitte are all deserving of having their numbers retired. All three are borderline Hall of Famers — Williams has already fallen off the ballot, however, and I think Posada has a better chance of getting in than Pettitte, personally — and were linchpins during the most recent Yankees dynasty. They’re all homegrown, they were all star-caliber performers … what’s not to love about that?

(Getty)
(Getty)

As for Randolph, it’s about damn time he is being honored. He was a catalyst atop New York’s lineup from 1976-88 and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games (1,694) and WAR (53.6) by a second baseman. As I wrote during Retro Week two weeks ago, Randolph’s path to greatness was unique for his era — he was an on-base guy and a defense-first player — but he was he was great nonetheless. The team isn’t retiring his old No. 30 but a plaque is a fine honor.

Once Jeter’s No. 2 is inevitably retired in a year or two, the Yankees will have officially closed the book on the most recent dynasty and honored all the deserving members in some way. Mariano Rivera and Torre had their numbers retired the last two years and both Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill received plaques in Monument Park last year. Once No. 2 is taken out of circulation, it figures to be a while until another number is retired or another plaque is added to Monument Park.

Nos. 51, 20, and 46 will be the 18th, 19th, and 20th retired numbers in team history, respectively. Nos. 1 (Billy Martin), 3 (Babe Ruth), 4 (Lou Gehrig), 5 (Joe DiMaggio), 6 (Torre), 7 (Mickey Mantle), 8 (Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey), 9 (Roger Maris), 10 (Phil Rizzuto), 15 (Thurman Munson), 16 (Whitey Ford), 23 (Don Mattingly), 32 (Elston Howard), 37 (Casey Stengel), 42 (Rivera and Jackie Robinson), 44 (Reggie Jackson), 49 (Ron Guidry) are all retired.

Willie Randolph and a different path to greatness

(Getty)
(Getty)

Last offseason the Yankees let go of the best hitting second baseman in franchise history. Among second basemen who batted at least 1,000 times in pinstripes, Robinson Cano is the franchise leader in doubles (375), home runs (204), batting average (.309), slugging percentage (.504), OPS (.860), and OPS+ (126). It’s not particularly close in most of those categories either.

A strong case can be made that Cano is not the best second baseman in Yankees history, however. According to both the Baseball Reference and FanGraphs versions of WAR, Cano is no better than the third best second baseman in franchise history. Robbie lags behind some others in on-base percentage and games played — he and the team mutually agreed to part ways, for sure, but tenure counts, no? — and, well, in rings too.

You needn’t take WAR at face value to argue Willie Randolph, not Cano or Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Tony Lazzeri, is the best second baseman in franchise history. Randolph is just behind Lazzeri on the all-time hits (1,784 to 1,731) and on-base percentage (.379 to .374) leaderboards at the position while ranking first in walks (1,005) and steals (251). The gap between Willie and second place is 175 walks and 100 steals, so it’s not close either.

The Yankees originally acquired Randolph in one of the least talked about best trades in franchise history. On December 11th, 1975, New York sent workhorse righty Doc Medich to the Pirates for righty Dock Ellis, lefty Ken Brett, and the Brooklyn-born Randolph. Medich was okay after the trade (95 ERA+ in 1,209.1 IP) but never did repeat the success he had in pinstripes (107 ERA+ in 787 IP). Ellis had a 114 ERA+ in 231.1 IP for the Yankees and Brett was flipped for outfielder Carlos May a few weeks later.

Randolph was obviously the real prize though. As a 21-year-old in 1976, he put up a .356 OBP with 37 steals and was an All-Star. He went to four All-Star Games in his first six years with the Yankees and was a catalyst atop the order for the Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Chris Chambliss led teams that were winning pennants and World Series titles in the late-1970s. In 1986, Randolph was named the team’s co-captain with Ron Guidry. He and the Yankees eventually parted ways after the 1988 season, when Willie put up a career worst 77 OPS+ at age 33.

Although he was never the biggest name or the biggest star on the team, Randolph was consistently one of the best players on the Yankees during his 13 seasons in pinstripes. He just went about it in a way that was underappreciated at the time. Randolph was a classic number one or two hitter who controlled the bat well but he never really bunted — averaged six sac bunts per year with the Yankees — and had zero power. He had a career .075 ISO and averaged only 20 doubles and four homers per season in New York.

What Randolph did do, however, were two things that didn’t really become highly sought after skills until this century: he drew a ton of walks and played some crazy good defense. Willie averaged 77 walks per year with New York and led the league with 119 free passes in 1980. Not only did he never once strike out more than he walked, he averaged 38 more walks than strikeouts per season while in pinstripes. The closest his strikeout total ever came to his walk total was in 1977, when he walked 64 times and struck out 53 times.

Because he excelled at drawing walks and putting the bat on the ball while having zero power, Randolph managed to post a higher OBP (.374) than SLG (.357) during his 13 seasons in New York. His career numbers are a .373 OBP and a .351 SLG. Only 108 players in history have batted at least 3,000 times and finished their careers with a higher OBP than SLG, and, of those 108, Willie ranks 21st in OBP and fifth in plate appearances (9,461). Of the 20 players with a higher OBP, only two (Dave Magadan and Brett Butler) started their careers after 1975.

Measuring defensive skill is a bit tougher than measuring offense, especially since we’re talking about the late-1970s and 1980s. Among second basemen, Randolph is seventh all-time in games at the position (2,152), ninth in putouts (4,859), tenth in assists (6,336), third in double plays turned (1,547), and sixth in defensive WAR (19.4). Following the 1977 season, Rangers scout Joe Branzell filed this scouting report on Randolph and praised his defense (via Diamond Minds):

Willie Randolph scouting report

On the 2-8 scouting scale (some use 20-80, some use 2-8, same thing), a 6 is above-average and 7 is well-above-average. Branzell gave Randolph a 7 for his range and 6s for his arm strength, arm accuracy, and fielding ability. Clearly, at least one scout considered Willie an above-average defender, which matches his reputation. Randolph never did win a Gold Glove, however, mostly because Gold Gloves are stupid and historically have been a popularity contest more than a “who’s actually the best fielder?” award.

Players like Randolph — powerless bat control specialists on the middle infield — were not uncommon back in the day, but very few were as great in that role as Willie. He drew a ton of walks, never struck out, never hit for power, and played a mean second base for 13 years in pinstripes and 18 years overall. Randolph was a great Yankee, arguably the best second baseman in franchise history, and he did it with a unique skill set that is more highly valued in today’s game than it was three decades ago.

Update: Yankees have not named Marcus Thames assistant hitting coach

Thames. (Times of Trenton)
Thames. (Times of Trenton)

Tuesday: While speaking with reporters at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, Brian Cashman said the Yankees have not decided to hire Thames as the assistant hitting coach and called the report “false.” He said they need to hire a hitting coach first, which the team is still not close to doing. Same with the first base coach position.

Saturday: According to Anthony McCarron and Bill Madden, the Yankees are planning to hire Marcus Thames as their assistant MLB hitting coach. There’s still no word on who they will hire as the actual hitting coach, but the Daily News scribes says long-time minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson is the favorite right now.

Thames, 37, last played with the Dodgers back in 2011. He spent 2013 as the hitting coach at High-A Tampa and 2014 as the hitting coach at Double-A Trenton. Thames was reportedly considered for the hitting coach job, though it’s unclear if he ever actually interviewed. Seems kinda weird that they’ve already picked an assistant hitting coach before an actual hitting coach. Of course they could already have a hitting coach lined up and we just don’t know about it.

As for the first base coaching job, McCarron and Madden say minor league field coordinator Jody Reed is the current favorite for the job. He was a coach and coordinator in the farm system from 2007-10 and also in 2014. Reed was with the Dodgers from 2011-13. McCarron and Madden also say the Yankees have interviewed Willie Randolph for the first base coaching job. Randolph was the team’s third base coach from 1994-2003 and their bench coach in 2004.

I’m glad the Yankees are embracing the hitting coach/assistant hitting coach system and it’ll be cool to see Thames on the staff. He’s awesome. It’ll be ready cool if Randolph comes back as well. Everyone loves Willie. There’s no word on when the Yankees will officially hire a hitting coach and a first base coach, and at this point I think I’m more interested to see how long they can go without naming coaches than I am to see who they actually hire.

Willie and the bench

The Brewers have tabbed Willie Randolph to be Ken Macha’s bench coach. This isn’t a bad gig for Randolph, who hoped to land a managerial spot somewhere this winter. One day, hopefully, Willie can come back to the Yanks. I know he didn’t leave the Mets with the kindest of reviews, but I think he’d make a good manager in the Bronx.

Willie’s options

While the Yankees and Larry Bowa won’t be reunited this fall, I wouldn’t expect to see Willie Randolph back in the Bronx either. The former Mets manager turned down a job in DC so that he could keep his name in the running for the Milwaukee managerial opening. Considering that Willie would have become the heir-apparent in Washington, at this point, it sounds like Willie will hold out for another top slot and isn’t too keen on joining someone else’s staff.

Randolph headed to D.C.?

While just this morning we were debating whether or not Willie Randolph should assume one of the vacancies on the Yankees’ coaching staff, Ken Davidoff says fuggedaboudit. The Nationals, Newsday reports, are interested in bringing Willie aboard, and neither Brian Cashman nor Joe Girardi seem to keen on the idea of bring the former Mets manager and one-time Yankee coach back into the fold.