Manager & Coaching Staff Notes: Espada, Hairston, Ibanez

Espada and his new shortstop. (Elsa/Getty)
Espada and his new shortstop. (Elsa/Getty)

One week ago today we learned the Yankees had parted ways with Joe Girardi. And since then, we haven’t heard a peep about potential managerial candidates or interviews. Part of me wonders if we’re in for an out of nowhere hire. Know how Brian Cashman tends to make surprise trades with little to no rumors? What if the manager search happens in secret and one day they just announce a hire? That’d be something. Anyway, here’s the latest managerial and coaching staff news.

Espada joining the Astros

Yankees third base coach Joe Espada is now former Yankees third base coach Joe Espada. Espada will join the Astros as their new bench coach, reports Marly Rivera. Alex Cora, Houston’s former bench coach, is leaving to take over as Red Sox manager. Espada, whose contract expired earlier this week, also interviewed to be Cora’s bench coach in Boston.

Espada, 42, had been New York’s third base coach the last three years, and prior to that he worked in the front office as a special assistant to Cashman. It’s unclear whether the Yankees ever seriously considered Espada for their managerial opening. He’s young, he’s into analytics, he’s bilingual, and he’s already close to the young players in the organization. Seemed like a potential fit.

Hairston a managerial candidate

A few days ago it was reportedly Jerry Hairston Jr. is a potential managerial candidate for the Yankees, and now it is confirmed. Mark Feinsand reports Hairston is indeed in the mix. It’s no longer speculation or conjecture. Hairston played 16 seasons in the big leagues, including the second half of the 2009 season with the Yankees. He’s been working as a television analyst the last few years.

Hairston, now 41, has zero coaching or managerial experience. He grew up around the game — his father, grandfather, uncle, and brother all played in the big leagues — and he certainly spent enough time in the clubhouse as a player, though we know nothing about his skills as a manager. Is he a good communicator? How well-versed is he in analytics? How’s his feel for the game? The numbers may say one thing, but your eyes may tell you another. Is he adaptable? No one really knows.

Ibanez wants to stay with Dodgers

Rauuul. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Rauuul. (Leon Halip/Getty)

According Jon Heyman, the Yankees like Raul Ibanez as a managerial candidate, though word is he wants to stay with the Dodgers in his current front office role. Also, Heyman says the Yankees have a list of about 20-25 managerial candidates. Hooray for casting a wide net. Here’s my list of candidates, which runs 24 names deep.

The 45-year-old Ibanez has long been considered a future coach or manager because he’s a smart guy, he’s hard-working, and because he was such a strong leader and clubhouse presence during his playing days. Ken Davidoff wrote a good piece explaining Ibanez’s qualifications recently. At the same time, Ibanez has no coaching or managerial experience. I’m not sure I love the idea of bringing in a rookie skipper to work with this team.

Hal will discuss future plans with A-Rod

Now that the 2017 season over, so to is Alex Rodriguez‘s monster ten-year, $275M contract. The Yankees of course released A-Rod last year, though his contract ran through this season, so the team still had to pay him his $21M salary in 2017. Rodriguez spent the year as a part-time instructor with the Yankees and worked specifically with their young players, at least when he wasn’t doing television work with FOX or hanging out with Jennifer Lopez.

Anyway, according to Dan Martin, Hal Steinbrenner plans to reach out to A-Rod to determine the next step in their relationship. “Haven’t talked to him yet about his plans for next year … I will though. He seems to really enjoy working with our young players,” said Hal. I’m not gonna lie, I assumed the only reason the Yankees kept A-Rod around as an instructor was because they were still paying him this year, and they wanted to get something back from that investment. Now that his contract his up, will they really keep this going? We’ll see.

Saturday Links: Coaching Staff, Qualifying Offer, Super Two

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It has now been two days since the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, and we’ve yet to hear anything concrete about potential replacements. Just speculation. I suspect we’ll hear some news next week, once Brian Cashman holds his annual end-of-season press conference following the World Series. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

Espada a candidate for Astros, Red Sox

According to Sweeny Murti, the Astros and Red Sox are considering Yankees third base coach Joe Espada for their bench coach openings. The Tigers also considered Espada for their managerial opening before hiring Ron Gardenhire. The ‘Stros lost bench coach Alex Cora to the Red Sox, who was named their manager. Current Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina is a John Farrell holdover, and he could be shown the door as Cora builds his staff.

Espada, 42, has been New York’s third base coach for three years now, and prior to that he spent some time in the front office as a special assistant to Cashman. As I said yesterday, Espada checks pretty much all the boxes associated with a modern manager. He’s young, he knows analytics, he’s upbeat, and he has a rapport with the front office (with the Yankees, at least). I’m not surprised two smart teams have interest in him for a coaching position.

Next manager will have say on coaching staff

Not surprisingly, the next Yankees manager will have a say on the coaching staff, according to Jack Curry. That’s usually how it goes. When Girardi was hired during the 2007-08 offseason, the only holdover coaches were hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Tony Pena. All the other coaching positions changed and it seems possible, if not likely, that will happen again.

Like Girardi, every member of the coaching staff has an expiring contract this year, so they’re all free to look for opportunities elsewhere while the Yankees sort things out. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees have already given teams permission to interview any of the coaches before their contracts officially expire (after the World Series). My hunch is Pena and bench coach Rob Thomson will stick around in some capacity — Thomson is a Yankees lifer and particularly good with the young players — though it wouldn’t surprise me to see all the other coaches head elsewhere, even assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames, who it appeared was being groomed for the main hitting coach job the last few seasons.

Naehring not interested in manager’s job

Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring is not interested in the now vacant manager’s job, he told Andrew Marchand. Naehring took over as Cashman’s right-hand man after Billy Eppler left to join the Angels. He has no coaching experience at all — Naehring has been working in various front offices since his playing career ended — so shifting down into the dugout would’ve been an interesting move. Naehring was never named as a real candidate for the managerial opening. It was just speculation given his relationship with Cashman. Now we can scratch him off the list.

Qualifying offer set at $17.4M

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Tim Dierkes, the qualify offer has been set at $17.4M for this coming offseason. That’s lower than I expected. I thought it would be up over $18M. Heck, last year the qualifying offer was $17.2M, so it didn’t go up much. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and I guess salaries didn’t go up much this season. That makes sense. Last winter’s free agent class kinda stunk. Yoenis Cespedes signed the only $100M+ contract, and it was only $110M.

Anyway, as I detailed in July, the Yankees only have one qualifying offer candidate this offseason: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out of the final three years and $67M left on contract — which most RAB readers expect to happen — then of course make him the $17.4M qualifying offer and get a draft pick, even if it is only a dinky fourth rounder. Todd Frazier is not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason, and even if the Yankees want to bring CC Sabathia back, they won’t make the qualifying offer because he’d take it and throw a wrench into the luxury tax plan. They’ll likely be able to sign him for less.

Super Two cutoff set at 2.123

The Super Two service time cutoff has been set at two years and 123 days this offseason, reports Dierkes. Players who qualify as Super Two go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three, which is their consolation prize for essentially having to wait an extra year for free agency. The Yankees do not have any players who will qualify as Super Twos this winter. Greg Bird is 70 days short of qualifying and he’s the closest. Bryan Mitchell would’ve qualified as a Super Two by six days had he spent the entire season in MLB, but he didn’t, so that’s that.

Yanks have yet to offer Cashman, Girardi, Denbo, or coaching staff contract extensions

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Not much of a surprise here, but according to George King, the Yankees have yet to make contract extension offers to their front office and coaching staffs. General manager Brian Cashman, vice president of player development Gary Denbo, vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring, manager Joe Girardi, and the entire coaching staff are unsigned beyond this season. I’m sure a bunch of others too.

The Yankees have, historically, waited until contracts expire before negotiating new deals. That used to apply to players as well, though the team came to their senses with that a few years ago and are now at least open to the idea of extending a player before free agency. The last few times Cashman and Girardi have been up for new deals, they became free agents and then worked out new contracts.

Denbo, who has helped turn the farm system into a player development machine, is reportedly under consideration for a position with the Marlins. He and Derek Jeter are very close — Denbo managed Jeter in the minors back in the day and was his big league hitting coach in 2001 — and it makes sense that Jeter would look to bring in someone he knows and trusts to run the team he’s about to purchase.

There were rumors circulating last month that the Yankees offered Denbo a big five-year contract extension — five-year contracts are pretty rare in the front office world, from what I understand — though King says that is not the case. The Yankees haven’t made him or anyone else an offer. Interestingly enough, Jeter’s purchase of the Marlins may take a while as the league reviews financial information. From Charlie Gasparino and Brian Schwartz:

“The owners told (Bruce) Sherman that the Jeter bid will get what amounts to a proctology exam,” said one baseball executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity and has direct knowledge of the owners meeting. “And they indicated that exam could take a long time.”

Front office and coaching staff contracts typically expire October 31st or at the end of the World Series. If the Marlins sale takes a while, it could give the Yankees a leg up on re-signing Denbo, who I can’t imagine will want to wait around for the Marlins sale to go final and leave his future uncertain. The Yankees could lock him up before Jeter fully controls the Marlins, which doesn’t sound imminent.

Of course, the Marlins could always approach the Yankees about Denbo after the sale goes final. Teams interview personnel under contract with other teams all the time. With permission, of course. The Yankees could deny that permission — they denied the Diamondbacks permission to interview scouting director Damon Oppenheimer back in 2010 — though most teams don’t when it involves a big upward promotion. Denbo could always push for having permission to interview elsewhere put into his contract. We’ll see.

For now, neither Denbo nor Cashman nor Girardi nor anyone on the coaching staff is under contract beyond this season. No one has a contract offer in hand either. I wonder if this will lead to some coaching staff changes? I guess it depends on Girardi. If he returns, which I think is likely, chances are his coaching staff will remain mostly intact. If Girardi leaves, all bets are off.

Joe Girardi and the coaching staff [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New year, same coaching staff. For the first time in a little while, the Yankees didn’t tinker with the staff surrounding Joe Girardi and will go into their second straight season with the same coaches.

That means Larry Rothschild is still the pitching coach, Alan Cockrell and Marcus Thames handle the hitters, Mike Harkey is the bullpen coach, Tony Pena and Joe Espada man the bases and Rob Thomson returns as the bench coach.

This doesn’t mean the job will be easy for these guys just because they remain in their roles. Each of them may have their most challenging job yet with the Yankees promoting their youth throughout the roster.

Joe Girardi

Girardi is entering his 10th season as the Yankees manager. Only two managers — Mike Scioscia with the Angels and Bruce Bochy of the Giants — have been in their current jobs longer than Girardi, who was hired in October of 2007. Stability hasn’t always been a trademark for Yankees’ coaches, but this is the second straight manager to last at least a decade. Not bad.

This is a contract year for Girardi: his four-year deal ends after the season. As in past years, the team isn’t going to extend him early, which will lead to plenty of speculation that the Yankees will move on at manager. That seems unlikely: the Steinbrenners appear to be happy with Girardi’s performance thus far and that’s for good reason. Girardi has been solid as manager. Still, that storyline will play out this season, especially if the team gets out of the gates slow.

In his 10th season, Girardi has perhaps his toughest days ahead of him. In the past, he’s been surrounded by veteran players who know the “Yankee way” and can indoctrinate the few young players moving onto the roster. But now Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are all gone in one fell swoop. The Baby Bomber movement has taken over with plenty of rookies, or at least inexperienced, players taking key spots on the roster. Girardi’s main job is making sure that all gels in the clubhouse.

He has some veteran help with Matt Holliday‘s addition or the continued presence of guys like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and co., but it’s still a challenge. For Girardi (and I guess Thomson), making sure inexperience doesn’t topple this team will be paramount to success. The one positive of having a younger roster is a lot less rest needed all around. Starlin Castro, for example, has played 151 games or more in five of the last six seasons. Fewer achy vets like A-Rod and Tex means more days with the team’s optimal lineup, whatever that may be.

Another change to the job will be instant replay. MLB has mandated that teams are quicker in requesting replays this season, so there will be less of the manager holding up play while the team’s replay people check it out. The Yankees’ guy, Brett Weber,  will have a tougher job this year (NY Times profiled him last year) and the team may need Girardi to go with his gut on challenges. The Yankees were the second-best team at getting calls overturned percentage-wise last year (Royals), but they also requested the fewest challenges (just 28). Maybe Girardi takes more chances with it and risks being quite as efficient in 2017.

Finally, Girardi’s job comes down to the bullpen. He once again has a strong back-end with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. I expect Chapman will have the 9th, Betances usually just the 8th and Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren would then be dispensed for the middle innings along with maybe Ernesto Frieri? Don’t forget Tommy Layne as a LOOGY! Girardi loves to get the platoon advantage.

And that’s not a knock on Girardi. His bullpen management is his best trait and is likely why the Yankees consistently outperform their Pythagorean record. He both has strong relievers to utilize and then actually utilizes them well. I don’t expect anything different in 2017.

Hitting, hitting and more hitting

Cockrell and Thames return, but many of their disciples do not. The two have been handed some interesting projects this season. They won’t have to worry too much about the veterans like Matt Holliday. Instead, they’ll have to work with 6-foot-7 rookie Aaron Judge to keep his strikeouts down or with Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez to make sure their rookie performances aren’t just mirages.

It’s tough to ever pinpoint exactly where a hitting coach makes his mark — best example for the Yanks in recent memory is Kevin Long working to correct Curtis Granderson‘s swing in the summer of 2010 — but any breakouts this year could come from Cockrell and Thames’ tutelage. Let’s hope they can make plenty happen.

Handling the pitching

(Getty Images)
Rothschild and Tanaka (Getty Images)

This season will be Rothschild’s seventh with the Yankees. Wow, feels like it’s been fewer but then you remember him working with big Bart in 2011 and others in the early 2010s. For the most part, Rothschild doesn’t have a new pitcher to work with this season. There are three veterans returning to the rotation, most of the bullpen was there at some point last season and even the guys fighting for the last rotation spot have big league experience (except Jordan Montgomery).

Rothschild will be judged on his ability to coax some solid seasons out of those back-end starters. Whether it’s Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino or Chad Green and Montgomery, there’s a lot of work ahead for the Yankees’ pitching guru. Rothschild has been known to get pitchers to increase strikeout totals, but getting a guy like Severino or Mitchell to improve their command will be much tougher. It isn’t even necessarily on Rothschild if they fail. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes with young pitchers.

And the rest

What can you really say about the rest of the staff? If you have a hard time accessing the performances of the hitting and pitching coaches, it’s even tougher with the bench or bullpen coach. Harkey begins the second season of his second stint with the Yankees. Seems like he never left for the desert, eh?

Meanwhile, Thomson has been with the Yankees since Girardi came aboard and has been the bench coach in two stints sandwiched around his time as the third-base coach. The bench coach seems like both another person for the manager to bounce ideas off of and another voice to work with the 25 personalities populating the Yankees’ clubhouse. Either way, Thomson has been solid enough in his role to stick around for 10 years.

Tony Pena has been here even longer. This will be his 12th season as a Yankees coach, now the first base coach after fulfilling other roles under Girardi and Joe Torre. Pena seemed to do a solid job as the Dominican Republic’s manager during the WBC and one has to wonder if he’ll be in consideration for another managerial gig (previously with the Royals) in the near future. Pena has a new full-time guy in Sanchez to work with behind the plate, which surely has him excited.

And then there’s Espada. He’s been perfectly fine as the third base coach. Like anyone in that position, he gets a ton of notice when he makes a bad send but otherwise has been left alone. He served a similar role for Puerto Rico at the WBC. If anything has changed for him, it’s that there are fewer base-clogging veterans like McCann or Teixeira and maybe a little more speed in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. Not much, but some. May be to Espada’s advantage in sending runners.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Review]

Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)
Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)

It’s time to do the impossible with our season review series: evaluate coaches. It can’t be done from where we sit. We can try, but ultimately we never do anything more than project player performance onto the coaching staff, and that’s sorta dumb. The offense isn’t clicking? Time to get a new hitting coach. The pitchers stink? New pitching coach. Same old story, year after year, all around the league.

These guys are coaches, not miracle workers. Almost all of their work takes place behind the scenes, and for every little mechanical adjustment that generates headlines, there are dozens that go unreported. Teams have far more insight into what their coaches do or do not do well. As fans, all we can do is speculate. Evaluating coaches from here is basically impossible. That won’t stop us though. Let’s review the year that was with the coaching staff.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Gosh, Thomson has been with the Yankees a long time. He originally joined the organization back in 1990 as a minor league coach. Since then he’s held all sorts of roles, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development before joining the Major League coaching staff. Thomson spent the 2008 season as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach and the 2009-14 seasons as the third base coach before resuming his role as bench coach last year.

As the bench coach, Thomson is Girardi’s right hand man, who from what I understand has a lot of responsibility communicating with players before and after games. I know a lot of folks think the bench coach is supposed to whisper sweet nothings into the manager’s ear and help him make strategic decisions, but that’s only part of the job. I have no real opinion of Thomson as the bench coach. He’s been at it a very long time and I have no doubt he has an awful lot to offer the team. Boring review is boring.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)
Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)

This was somehow Rothschild’s sixth season as the Yankees’ pitching coach. Geez, does time fly or what? Rothschild came under more criticism this year than any other season with the Yankees, mostly because Michael Pineda continued to be frustrating as hell and Luis Severino went backwards. “Who has he improved?” was a popular refrain, as if that could ever be answered with some level of certainty.

In 2016, CC Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher and had his best season in four years. Masahiro Tanaka transitioned from four-seam fastball pitcher to sinker pitcher (and back to four-seam fastball pitcher) to combat his home run woes. Severino took a massive step back, first with his command and then with the disappearance of his changeup. Chad Green learned a cutter and that was cool. Bryan Mitchell (walks) and Luis Cessa (homers) had good superficial stats but worrisome trends under the hood.

Overall, New York’s pitching staff was ninth in baseball with +18.2 fWAR this year despite being 15th in ERA (4.16) and 27th in innings (1428.1). That’s because their team strikeout and walk rates were, once again, excellent. They were fifth in baseball with a 23.1% strikeout rate and fourth with a 7.4% walk rate. During Rothschild’s six years as pitching coach, the Yankees are third in strikeout rate (21.5%), third in walk rate (7.3%), and third in fWAR (+115.2).

How much of the credit or blame goes to Rothschild? Beats me. All I know he’s highly regarded around baseball — “Larry is a master of psychology with big arm guys. He gets them to believe in their secondary pitches,” said a scout to Andrew Marchand and Wally Matthews last year — and he will be back next season, like it or not. The Yankees gave Rothschild a new one-year contract after the season.

Hitting Coaches: Alan Cockrell & Marcus Thames

For the third straight year, the Yankees had a new hitting coaching coach in 2016. In 2014 it was still Kevin Long. Last year it was Jeff Pentland with Cockrell as his assistant. This year it was Cockrell with Thames as his assistant. It appears the revolving door of hitting coaches will stop with Cockrell and Thames. If one or both was going to be replaced, they’d be gone already.

Cockrell. (Presswire)
Cockrell. (Presswire)

In 2016 the Yankees ranked 22nd in runs (680), 19th in home runs (183), 20th in AVG (.252), 25th in OBP (.314), 21st in SLG (.405), and 21st in wRC+ (92). (wRC+ is park adjusted, so it accounts for hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.) Below-average by any measure. That is partly due to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez giving the Yankees 681 plate appearances of nothing, which I have a hard time blaming on the hitting coaches. Old players got old. News at 11.

“Good and bad. I’ll leave it at that,” said Cockrell to Brendan Kuty when asked to evaluate his season. “You always reflected on what you did or didn’t do or would do differently. In all honesty, I’ve done some of those things already. I’ve looked at some of those things and when it comes to our three, four, and five hole guys … We’ve been looking for offense in a lot of different ways. It’s a tough league, man. It’s been a grind.”

Going forward, the Yankees are going to give Cockrell and Thames much more young talent to work with, players whose best years are still ahead of them (hopefully). There’s Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. Don’t forget about Clint Frazier either. Thames, who has a history with many of these guys from his days as a minor league hitting coach, and Cockrell will be in charge of helping these players become impact big leaguers.

First & Third Base Coaches: Tony Pena & Joe Espada

The Yankees had a 77% success rate stealing bases this season, fifth highest in baseball, which I guess means Pena did his job as first base coach? He’s out there with the stopwatch timing the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time, determining whether his runners can steal second. There’s more to it, of course, and besides, Pena’s primary focus is working with the catchers. He’s going to put Sanchez through a full year of catching boot camp in 2017.

Espada is … well … not very popular as third base coach. Are any third base coaches popular? I don’t think so. At best, they’re overlooked because they’re not making mistakes. The Yankees had only 12 runners thrown out at the plate this year, tied for the second fewest in baseball, but gosh, more than a few of those 12 were egregious. Remember this?

Lordy. Rob Refsnyder tells you everything you need to know there. He slowed up rounding third because he did not expect to be sent home on a hard-hit single to Kevin Kiermaier, but Espada sent him, and Refsnyder had to pick up the pace. We’ve seen a few of those “why did he send him, geez?” sends the last two seasons.

Espada is generally conservative when it comes to sending runners home — he waved 55% of runners home from second on a single and first from a double, below the 68% league average — which is out of necessity more than anything. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only above-average runners on the roster. Espada’s not going to send guys like Sanchez and Bird home too often. They’re just not fast. Even with the conservative approach, there are still too many obviously bad sends for my liking. It’s bad. Bad bad bad.

Bullpen Coach: Mike Harkey

Harkey rejoined the Yankees this season after the team parted ways with Gary Tuck, who reportedly had some run-ins with the front office about their use of analytics. Harvey was New York’s bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving to join the Diamondbacks as their pitching coach. Arizona let him go after last season, so back to the Yankees he came.

The bullpen coach is effectively a second pitching coach, though during games, he stands out in the bullpen and answers the phone. The most memorable part of Harkey’s season came on September 26th, when Girardi and Rothschild were ejected following Severino’s hit-by-pitch war with the Blue Jays. Harkey had to go to the dugout to take over as pitching coach.

With no coach in the bullpen, Tyler Clippard took over as the bullpen coach for the remainder of the game because he is the team’s most veteran reliever. It was Clippard’s job to answer the phone and wave his hat at the dugout to let them know the reliever was ready:

tyler-clippard-bullpen-coach

Out of all the GIFs I’ve made for this stupid site, that might be my favorite. How ridiculous. This has been, rather easily, the most exciting bullpen coach season review in RAB history.

The Sorta New Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Pena. (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon we reviewed Joe Girardi’s season while acknowledging how difficult it can be to evaluate a manager. We only see the on-field stuff, which is a very small part of the manager’s job. Evaluating coaches is even more difficult. Outside of the pitching coach making a mound visit or the third base coach waving someone in, all of their work happens behind the scenes.

The Yankees reshuffled their coaching staff last offseason. Hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were both let go, bench coach Tony Pena shifted to first base coach, third base coach Rob Thomson shifted to bench coach, and new hires Jeff Pentland (hitting coach), Alan Cockrell (assistant hitting coach), and Joe Espada (third base coach) were brought in. Well, Espada was working in the pro scouting department. He just shifted back on to the field in a coaching capacity. How did the new-look coaching staff perform in 2015? Let’s try to figure that out.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Thomson left a lot to be desired as the third base coach, especially in 2014, when the Yankees had the fourth most runners thrown out at the plate in baseball (21). The shift to bench coach means we have basically no way to evaluate him. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by a combined 13 wins from 2013-14. This past season they underperformed by one win. Want to blame that on Thomson taking over as Girardi’s second in command? Go ahead. Just understand we have no idea if that is actually the case. Girardi managed like Girardi, so I’m inclined to say Thomson didn’t put any crazy ideas in his head. Thomson’s been in the organization a long time and is highly respected around the game. I’ll defer to those folks. Thomson’s a-okay with me.

Hitting Coaches: Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell

Let’s call a spade a spade: Long was scapegoated for the Yankees failing to make the postseason from 2013-14. The offense was terrible those years, mostly because the roster left a lot to be desired, so the hitting coach took the fall. Stuff like this has been happening since hitting coaches became a thing. When the GM says he’s one the best hitting coaches in the game on his way out the door, you know he was scapegoated.

Anyway, the Yankees fired Long soon after the season in October, and it wasn’t until January that they hired Pentland and Cockrell, adopting the two hitting coach system that is taking over MLB. Both men brought big league hitting coach experience to the table. The result? The Yankees finished second in baseball with 764 runs scored in 2015, an improvement of 131 runs from 2014. Almost a run a game.

Of course, crediting Pentland and Cockrell for all the improvement would be like assigning all the blame to the Long. In my opinion, the biggest reason the offense improved was health. Carlos Beltran was relatively healthy all year. Mark Teixeira was healthy until the fluke foul pitch off his shin. Alex Rodriguez returned. Brian McCann was more comfortable in year two. Good players have a way of making a hitting coach look smart.

Here’s a quick side-by-side look at the 2014 and 2015 offenses, specifically their batted ball and plate discipline numbers:

2014 Yankees vs 2015 Yankees

The overarching numbers show the team’s plate discipline didn’t change much if at all, so there wasn’t any kind of significant change in approach. The 2015 Yankees did, however, hit more fly balls (slightly) and pull the ball more often. The big knock on Long was the offense turning into a bunch of pull hitters. Well, the Yankees pulled the ball even more under Pentland and they scored 131 additional runs.

One thing I think we can credit to Cockrell in particular is Didi Gregorius‘ midseason improvement. Gregorius told Brendan Kuty he used to have a long loop in his swing, but Cockrell worked with him to cut it down. “It can be mechanical. It can be thought. It can be fatigue,” said Cockrell. “There’s a lot of contributing factors. But I think once you’ve ID’ed that it is a little bit long, let’s work to shorten it. Let’s work to stay above the ball a little bit more. He’s (done) that.”

Hitting coaches are obviously important, though I also subscribe to the theory that they don’t have nearly as much on-field impact as it may seem. The offense was demonstrably better this past season than it had been from 2013-14, either because they had better players or better coaches (or both). Inevitably the coaches will get credit for that, especially after a change was made in the offseason.

However, the Yankees indicated they don’t believe Pentland was the reason for the offensive resurgence because he was let go after the season. After a relatively brief search, Cockrell was elevated to main hitting coach and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames takes over as Cockrell’s assistant. Another year, another new hitting coach to blame for every slump.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since 2011 and it’s become clear they have a lot of faith in him. For starters, he has a multi-year contract while most other coaches work on year-to-year deals. Secondly, the Yankees have acquired several young pitchers in need of refinement in recent years with the idea of turning them over to Rothschild for fine-tuning.

Rothschild. (Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

This past season’s project: Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi’s big but hittable fastball from the Marlins, then let Rothschild go to work. After a few weeks (months), Rothschild helped Eovaldi develop a legitimate out-pitch splitter that was the key to his midsummer run of dominance. Once he gained feel and really showed confidence in the split, Eovaldi was a much different pitcher. That’s something tangible we can credit to Rothschild.

The Yankees as a team had a 4.05 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 2015, ranking 16th and 13th in baseball, respectively. The rotation in particular had a 4.25 ERA (18th) and a 4.04 FIP (14th), yet I feel like it’s hard to blame Rothschild for the rotation being middle of the pack. The team gave way too many innings to CC Sabathia because of his contract and way too many innings to Ivan Nova following Tommy John surgery.

The only pitcher on the staff who I think really underperformed expectations was Michael Pineda, and I’m not sure he’s ever going to have an ERA (4.37 in 2015) that matches his FIP (3.34 FIP) because he’s around the plate so much — Pineda might throw too many strikes — and Yankee Stadium is not pitcher friendly. Rothschild’s done some really good things as pitching coach, including Eovaldi in 2015. I truly believe he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the game.

First Base Coach: Tony Pena

During games, the first base coach’s primary job involves timing the opposing battery to determine stolen base possibilities. He scouts the pitcher’s pickoff move and literally has a stopwatch to time the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time. I’m not joking. The Yankees stole only 63 bases in 2015, their lowest total in a non-strike season since stealing 39 bases (!) in 1993. They averaged 118 steals from 2003-14.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t have the personnel to steal more bases. Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his knee in May and pretty much stopped running after that. Brett Gardner‘s days of 40+ steals are over. Those two stole 21 and 20 bases, respectively. Know who was third on the Yankees in steals? Rico Noel with five. The Yankees were never going to be a big stolen base team this summer, though their 72% success rate was tenth best in the game. They had nine runners picked off, seventh fewest in MLB.

Pena’s value to the Yankees isn’t necessarily his work as a first base coach, it’s his work with the catchers. He’s been handed young guys like Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy over the years, and tasked with improving their defense. Cervelli’s defense improved tremendously over the years. Murphy’s was very good this past season. As a first base coach, who in the world knows how Pena performed. His best and most important work is with the catchers, and the Yankees continue to have strong glove guys behind the plate.

Third Base Coach: Joe Espada

Finally, a coach we can really evaluate. The Yankees had only 14 runners thrown out at the plate this summer, fifth fewest in the baseball, but that’s because Espada seems to employ an ultra-conservative approach. He waved a runner home from second on a single just 59.3% of the time, the lowest in baseball. The MLB average is 69.8%. Espada waved a runner home from first on a double just 51.1% of the time, second lowest in baseball and well below the 65.4% league average.

Of course, the Yankees are not a fast team, so the conservative approach isn’t all on Espada. Sometimes he just has to hold up slow runners because they had no chance to score. There were definitely times when Espada seemed to either misread plays or not know the outfielder’s arm though, leading to curious holds or bad sends. The most obvious example came on July 27th, when Teixeira was thrown out at home trying to score from second because Espada told him he could go “easy.”

After the game, the normal reserved Teixeira was upset because he could have gotten hurt. “There was no miscommunication. Joe just told me, ‘Easy, easy,’ which means there’s going to be no play at the plate. It’s just a mistake … That can’t happen. I’m sure it won’t ever happen again,” he said. Teixeira, Espada, and Girardi later met to talk it all out.

Espada’s conservative approach is part necessity (the Yankees lack speed in general), part sensible (no reason to risk it all the time given how the Yankees were scoring runs in the first half), and part his poor reads. Third base coach is a thankless job. They never get credit for a good job and are only noticed for mistakes. Espada’s conservative, and I also think there is room for improvement going forward.

Bullpen Coach: Gary Tuck

The bullpen coach typically acts as a second pitching coach, but Tuck’s specialty is catching. He’s regarded as a catching guru and McCann credited him for improving his throwing. McCann threw out only 23.1% of base-runners in his last three years with the Braves, but, under Tuck, that number has jumped to 36.5% with the Yankees the last two seasons. It was 35.9% in 2015.

Outside of that, we really don’t have any way to evaluate Tuck. The Yankees did deem him expendable, however. He was let go following the season, reportedly due to a disagreement with the front office over the use of statistics. A few weeks later former bullpen coach Mike Harkey returned to the team as Tuck’s replacement. McCann’s improved throwing, which he sustained in 2015, is enough for me to say Tuck did some mighty fine work in pinstripes. That level of improvement is significant.

Cashman on Girardi’s status for 2016: “Nobody should be looking for anybody different”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Any time a Yankees season ends without a World Series title, the coaching staff and management will have their job security called into question. It happens every year. The Yankees didn’t win so changes need to be made, and it’s easier to get rid of coaches than players. That’s the general line of thinking.

Don’t expect to see a new manager in 2016, however. Brian Cashman all but confirmed Joe Girardi, who just completed his eighth (!) season as manager, will return next season. Here’s what he told George King:

“It’s a fact, nobody should be looking for anybody different,” general manager Brian Cashman said when asked if Girardi, who has two years and $8 million remaining on his contract, was in trouble. “He is signed for two more years and managed the team to the playoffs. It’s not his fault we didn’t hit. He managed a perfect playoff game.”

September was not Girardi’s best month as manager, but almost every move he made backfired, even the ones that made perfect sense. The decision to bench Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of Brett Gardner in the wildcard game will be second guessed until the end of the time — or at least until people have something new to complain about — but it was the right move.

Personally, I think Girardi is an average-ish manager in terms of on-field moves. He assigns his relievers specific innings and he weighs platoon matchups heavily, which makes him like most other guys out there. Girardi seems to go his best work in the clubhouse. The Yankees are largely distraction free — even something as serious as CC Sabathia checking in to rehab more or less blew over — and they play hard for him. You can’t quantify it, but there is absolutely value in that.

As for the coaching staff, Cashman stopped short of saying everyone will be back next season, though he says that pretty much every year. Here’s what he told King:

“I will go through that with our ownership and Joe. Since you live through it for six months you have a pretty good feel about everything,” Cashman said when asked about the coaches’ status. “Now is the time to have these conversations. You live and you know it and you have a feel for what you might want to do with it as you move forward. Those conversations take place with your manager, take place with your coaches and take place with ownership.”

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has one year left on his contract and bullpen coach Gary Tuck can pick up an option in his contract for next season. Bench coach Rob Thomson, first base coach Tony Pena, hitting coach Jeff Pentland, and assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell all have contracts that expire this month. I’m not sure what third base coach Joe Espada‘s contraction situation is.

The Yankees did not hit at all from mid-August through the end of the regular season, though they jumped from 20th in runs last year to second this year. Firing the hitting coaches after that would be weird but it’s not impossible. Marcus Thames served as Triple-A Scranton’s hitting coach last year and it seems like he is being groomed for the big league job. Pentland and Cockrell took over after Kevin Long was fired last season.

Pena has been with the Yankees since 2005 and Thomson has been with the organization since 1990. He’s worn many different hats over the years — minor league coach, director of player development, big league coach, the works. Perhaps the Yankees are considering bumping Thomson back up into the front office now that assistant GM Billy Eppler is leaving for the Angels.

The one coaching staff change that wouldn’t surprise me is Espada at third base. The Yankees had 14 runners thrown out at home this season, which is actually the fifth fewest in MLB, but there were some really egregious ones in there, sometimes due to apparent communication issues. Remember the incident with Mark Teixeira in Texas? That was pretty bad. Espada worked in the front office the last few years and maybe he’s the one moving back with Eppler leaving. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m not at all surprised Girardi’s job is safe and I don’t think it should be in danger anyway. The offense disappeared, none of the Triple-A relievers impressed, no starting pitcher threw 170+ innings, and the problem was Girardi? Please. Maybe the coaching staff will be shuffled around a little bit, but I would be surprised if there were any major changes in the dugout this offseason.