James Shields head for the sunshine and there’s plenty to be enthusiastic about in San Diego.
New York has exercised atypical financial restraint this winter, yet managed to shore up trouble spots by adding younger and less expensive players. Gregorius and Headley are the two youngest in the lineup, with McCann, who turns 31 in February, the only other regular younger than Drew. Meanwhile, the influx of new pitchers over the last two years leaves Sabathia and Capuano as the only pitchers over 30. Payroll will still be well over $200 million, but Cashman has ensured the Yankees more flexibility down the road, and the farm system is much improved thanks to better drafting and a burst of international signings. Whether or not they deviate by adding Shields, it’s a coherent philosophy that better sets them up for the long haul, even if they fall short of the postseason again in 2015.
[Photo Credit: USATSI]
“You saw how quickly the (Ian) Clarkins and (Aaron) Judges have climbed the prospect list,” Cashman said. “Once we got (Andrew) Miller, it created a circumstance for us where Miller plus the draft pick weighed out for us as we move forward as a better buy than having to go all-in on (Dave) Robertson.”
It was not by random chance that Cashman used Clarkin and Judge to illustrate his point. By letting Robertson leave, the Yankees will get a sandwich pick at the end of next year’s first round. Clarkin and Judge were sandwich picks just two years ago — compensation for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano — and they have emerged as two of the top prospects in the system. Judge is the team’s No. 1 prospect according to the latest rankings from Baseball Prospectus. Clarkin is No. 4 on that list.
There seems to be a sort of turning of the page happening with the Yankees system. Aside from Brett Gardner’s extension during spring training, there has been no effort to keep the most recent homegrown core in place, but there has been a renewed focus on building a new core that might trickle onto the big league roster in the next year or so.
Francisco Cervelli has been traded away. Same for Shane Greene. Robertson was allowed to leave via free agency. So were Phil Hughes and Robinson Cano. It’s not that the Yankees are intentionally getting rid of these players — and let’s not pretend they had some new version of the Core Four in place — but the Yankees are not putting overwhelming emphasis on keeping the homegrown players who have already reached the big leagues. Being homegrown is not reason enough to commit.
“I wouldn’t say we let Cano walk,” Cashman said. “He was taken with a significant offer. I don’t really look at it as if we’ve let anyone walk. In this case, I don’t think Robertson had anything to do with Cano. Robertson we did not make an offer. We made a significant one on Robbie. Obviously Seattle stepped up and blew the field away.”
And more, here.
Oh, yeah, and: Lester.
[Photo Via: Gloss Trotter]
As expected, David Robertson will not return to the Yankees. Instead, he’s signed a 4-year deal to pitch for the Chicago White Sox.
Robertson was a fine Yankee, a damned good one. Sorry to see him go but at these prices, I get it, both from him and the Yanks.
[Photo Via: Southern Belle]
It’s been a slow start to the Hot Stove League in the Bronx. Will it be a lame winter or are the Yanks just ready to pounce on something big?
Sure did enjoy Francisco Cervelli’s time in pinstripes. He was The Wife’s favorite. Loved that smile. He was a mascot and more–had a little passion, could hit a little, piss off the opposition a little. He’ll be missed.
And if he’s got to go somewhere, hell, why not Pittsburgh? It’ll be easy to keep rooting for him. He’ll join another former Yankee, Chris Stewart.
David Robertson has been a good Yankee. Aesthetically appealing plus a good performer.
Now, do they pony-up big dollars to give him a 3 or 4 year deal?
Mark Teixeira’s bum wrist might bother him throughout the season. Couple his sore wrist with his steep decline and unless he’s developed a hell of a sense of humor over the off-season, it’s hard to see what he’s bringing to the infield in 2014.
That’s just fine though because they’ve got Hall of Famers at short and third and an MVP candidate at second… hold on, I’m catching up on some news items. Oh. Oh no.
So the 2014 Yankee infield might be bad. How bad? Let’s look at the Steamer projections for the infielders:
1B: Mark Teixeira .247/.341/.465, 26 HR in 558 PA (2.2 WAR, not factoring in lingering wrist issue)
2B: Brian Roberts .251/.314/.379, 6 HR in 335 PA (0.7 WAR)
SS: Derek Jeter .281/.339/.376, 5 HR in 409 PA (1.3 WAR)
3B: Kelly Johnson .231/.311/.393, 15 HR in 490 PA (1.4 WAR)
UTIL: Eduardo Nunez .257/.307/.363 2 HR in 162 PA (0.1 WAR)
UTIL: Brendan Ryan .216/.284/.297 3 HR in 308 PA (0.2 WAR)
(While I don’t think WAR is a perfect metric to stand in for overall performance, I’m going to use it below since it was the only way to easily compile the infield-specific data for each team in Yankee history).
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Steamer only projects 2262 plate appearances, so they’d need another 350 PAs or so from total scrubs who were not good enough to make the above list. But save your shuddering until the end please.
Last year’s infield was also bad. In place of Teixeira, we mostly saw Lyle Overbay. Jayson Nix and Nunez took turns sucking at short and third, and when they weren’t bad enough, David Adams was there to be even worse. The 2013 infield produced 4.2 WAR, one of the worst in modern Yankee history, but not the worst thanks to Robinson Cano’s all-star season. Cano was worth 6 wins above replacement all by himself, so the rest of that collection of suck was worth -1.8 WAR.
At least the 2013 infield was not designed to be bad. The Yankees hoped for Teixeira and Cano to play their customary 150 games and for Jeter and Arod to be back on the field some time in the spring. And not the springs of 2014 and 2015. Even with performance declines and ample substitutions, that’s not a recipe for one of the worst infields in franchise history. In fact, those four guys led one of the best infields in Yankee history to the 2009 World Series title.
In contrast, the Yankees stumble into 2014 with eyes wide open. This is hardly revelatory, as the infield represents approximately 50% of the lineup, but it’s hard to win with a terrible infield. It’s obvious there’s a strong correlation between infield quality and winning percentage. What we’re about to experience is rare in Yankee history.
Let’s go way back to 1925, the year Lou Gehrig replaced Wally Pipp. Gehrig at 22 was good, but the rest of his cohorts were not, and the result was one godawful infield. Like Cano in 2013, only Gehrig’s presence keeps the group in postive WAR. The Yankees won only 69 games and finished seventh. The next year they added Tony Lazzeri, won the pennant, and, seemingly, made putting together a quality infield an organizational priority.
From 1926 through 1964, the team from the Bronx became the Yankees as they are known today. Twenty six pennants in 38 years means that seeing the Yankees in the World Series was more probable than flipping a penny and seeing Lincoln’s mug. The infield was occasionally worth 20 WAR all by themselves and rarely dipped into the single digits.
The average infield during that span accounted for around 14 WAR, or almost 3.5 WAR per position. After Gehrig, the Yankees didn’t employ slugging first basemen to rack up the WAR but instead relied on depth and diverse skill sets around the horn. Casey Stengel maximized value with strategic platoons. Rolfe, Crosetti, Rizzuto, Gordon, McDougald, Skowron, Richardson, Johnson etc. Hall of Famers some, but solid and productive all.
Since 1965, the Yankees have still been the class of baseball, but the pendulum has swung back to Lincoln’s visage in the battle of probability with the Yankees only appearing in the Postseason 22 times in 48 years. The twin killings of the player draft and CBS ownership made it harder for the Yankees to stockpile the best amateur talent and increased competitve balance across the game.
The Yankees have occasionally sucked in the last 48 years, and they haven’t always put together a decent infield. And not surprisingly, there’s some overlap there. Using last year’s total as a baseline for inepitude, here are the worst infields since 1926:
1965 (77-85, 6th Place AL): 4.1 WAR
Clete Boyer flashed quality leather as always at third, and Joe Pepitone contrbuted something at first, but this was the beginning of the Horace Clark era and the rest of infield gave us a sign of the mediocrity to come. Clarke burst onto the scene with a typically forgettable performance in 51 games, but as often the case with teams of this era, he was hardly responsible for the overall suck. Phil Linz, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek combined to be truly awful as regular players.
1982 (79-83, 5th Place AL East): 1.3 WAR
Take post-1973 numbers with a grain of salt because it’s difficult to separate out the WAR of some of the DHs in here, but no amount of precision is going to improve this group to respectability. Off years from Randolph and Nettles made Roy Smalley the most productive infielder. There is so much negativity in this group it’s like my living room when Mariano Rivera blows a save. Steve Balboni blundered to -1.1 WAR in just 33 games and Bucky Dent deteriorated to -1.1 WAR in just 59 games. That’s sabotage with a quickness.
1988 (85-76, 5th Place AL East): 2.6 WAR
Mattingly’s season was just fine, but he was merely an all-star and no longer able to carry the team. Randolph was nearing the end of his usefulness as a starting second basemen. And oh my, the suck of the left side of the infield. Randy Velarde, Rafael Santana, Mike Pagliarulo and Luis Aguayo combined to produce almost -3 WAR.
1990 (67-95, Last Place, AL East): 1.2 WAR
Nobody will be surprised to see this team on the list, as they won only 67 games. This was the year Don Mattingly’s back spasmed him into oblivion. Alvaro Espinoza got 150 games to prove he was nothing close to a Major Leaguer and neither Mike Blowers nor Jim Leyritz could handle third. Steve Sax at least had a pulse, but if it wasn’t for Kevin Maas coming out of nowhere to hit a bunch of homers, the Yankees would have had negative WAR for the infield. (Also, some of Mass’s 1.3 WAR came from 25 games at DH, so really, this total should be even lower.)
2000 (87-74, 1st Place AL East, World Series Champions): 3.7 WAR
A World Champion. Maybe there is hope for 2014 after all! Derek Jeter was in superstar mode at the plate hitting .339/.416/.481. But he picked the wrong year for that slash. Since offense was so jacked up in 2000, his numbers merely tabbed him as an all-star instead of the MVP candidate he’d be in virtually any other context. UZR hates his defense so much that he racked up only 3.7 WAR. You will notice, with some non-rigorous number-crunching, that means the World Champs got exactly zero from Tino, Knobby, Brosius and their understudies.
2013 (85-77, 3rd Place AL East): 4.2 WAR
We went over this, it was all Robinson Cano. And he’s a Mariner.
2014: 6.4 WAR (Projected before Teixeira’s wrist revelation)
So 6.4 WAR is probably more like 4 or 5 WAR when you discount Teixeira and add in the scrubs who will use up the rest of those plate appearances we’re missing. If Teixeira is bad enough, it’s possible that McCann plays first base and the infield will receive a shot in the arm. Though that’s still bad news for the Yankees, because they’ll be sacrificing the catching advantage they paid handsomely to obtain this offseason. I’d be surprised if the 2014 infield is better than the 2013 infield.
The problem is that these players are too old to have much hope for upside. Kelly Johnson, I guess, could put together something special if everything breaks perfectly for him, but the other guys? Guys in their late 30s coming off career-altering injuries do NOT have career years. If we are very, very lucky, they have seasons that resemble their career averages. More likely, they play poorly and infrequently.
It’s going to be a very bad infield, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a very bad team. The Yankees will need heavy lifting from the outfield and the catcher and they paid the price for that muscle this offseason. The top of the rotation is going to have to outperform their 2000 counterparts, as the bullpen lacks 2000′s Rivera, Stanton and Nelson.
But that’s definitely possible. If Sabathia bounces back (and it’s reasonable to expect him to be a good pitcher this year), the 2014 staff could be excellent. The real problem is that the rest of the AL East is much better than it was in 2000, so the 2014 Yanks could outperform the 2000 team byseveral games and still be shut out of October baseball.
Flip things around and look at the best infields in team history (1927, 1929, 1936, 1942, 2002, 2007, 2009) and there’s much more security in booking your Postseason parties. Starting in 2015 (or this July), when second base, shortstop and probably third base are all holes to fill, it’s time to build another one.
In the winter of 2011, a plan was hatched. That plan, to get the payroll under $189 million for the 2014 season, formed the guiding principle of player acquisition for the Yankees until last week, when the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka. I love the Tanaka signing, but we have to acknowledge that it signifies two years of wasted effort.
Fans excused certain decisions because this plan loomed like a dark cloud. They can’t even think about going outside to talk to Zack Greinke because it’s going to rain! Kevin Youkilis for a one-year-deal adequately addresses 2013 without impacting 2014!
The Yankee rosters for 2012 (AL East Champions, ALCS losers) and 2013 (tied for 3rd in AL East) were forged with these constraints in place. How might things have played out had the Yankees been operating as usual?
The new CBA that inspired the 189 plan followed the 2011 season. In the off-seasons of 2011-12 and 2012-13, the following free agents signed contracts that extended into 2014 – the danger zone for the Yankees:
|PLAYER||POS||TEAM||1st YR of Deal||YRS||TOTAL|
|Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox||2013||3||$39.000MM|
|Jeff Keppinger||2B||White Sox||2013||3||$12.000MM|
|Maicer Izturis||SS||Blue Jays||2013||3||$10.000MM|
|Ryan Dempster||SP||Red Sox||2013||2||$26.500MM|
|Jake Peavy||SP||White Sox||2013||2||$29.000MM|
|Jonny Gomes||LF||Red Sox||2013||2||$10.000MM|
|David Ortiz||DH||Red Sox||2013||2||$26.000MM|
|David Ross||C||Red Sox||2013||2||$6.200MM|
|Melky Cabrera||LF||Blue Jays||2013||2||$16.000MM|
I have no idea what free agents the Yanks would have pursued, but we can predict, with some degree of certainty, that they would have signed more than just CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki.
Some of the good players are rendered moot before we start. Derek Jeter erases Jose Reyes. Mark Teixeira eliminates Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Mariano Rivera bumps off Papelbon. We can’t consider David Ortiz an actual option for DH, can we? Robinson Cano blocks second base and though Alex Rodriguez was mucking things up as usual, you’ll notice a distinct lack of free agent third basemen above. So if the Yankees were going to spend in 2011-2013, it was going to be on pitching, catching and the outfield.
Because there are five rotation spots and very rarely five starters who are both good and healthy at the same time, the starting rotation can always stand some sprucing up. Anibal Sanchez was available, affordable and miles better than anyone else the Yankees had at the back of the 2013 rotation. (Zack Greinke was also miles better than anyone the Yankees had, but he was neither as affordable nor as available, depending on what you believe about his interest in pitching half of his games in New York.) Other guys might have interesting names, but even with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t pick out obvious targets for the Yanks other than Sanchez and Greinke, two guys they didn’t even sniff around.
The bullpen, eh, I can’t find fault there. The Yankees employed Rivera, Robertson and Soriano during this time period and all of their bullpens were pretty good. It would be great if they landed a guy like Grilli or whatever, but throwing a lot of money at the bullpen is just not the best way to spend dough regardless of the overall agenda.
Catching was obviously a self-inflicted wound. The only good catcher on this list is Russell Martin and he was already a Yankee. The Yankees went with budget catching in 2013 and it contributed to them missing the Postseason.
The outfield is a pretty tough puzzle to solve because, like the rotation, there is almost always room for a new face. But the 2011 Yankees had a sweet outfield. The 2012 outfield was also going to be very good, but Gardner could not stay healthy enough to play with Granderson and Swisher and Ibanez could not replace him. Enter Ichiro, who gave them some life in 2012 but drained all that and then some in a vampiric 2013 performance. And then, of course, Vernon Wells.
The decision to re-sign Ichiro after his 2012 stint was extremely damaging as he got a 2014 contract – the only other 2014 contract the Yankees handed out was to CC Sabathia. Obviously, the outfield needed help in 2013. But who was there that the Yankees would have employed?
Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton were busts of epic proportions. Imagine a scenario where Vernon Wells was preferable! That actually happened. But I guess the Yankees would have been in play for Hamilton. Maybe his addictions would have steered them clear, but I can’t be certain. For other proven Major Leaguers, it boils down to retaining Swisher or correctly predicting Victorino’s resurgence. Either upgrade would have been huge.
But proven Major Leaguers weren’t the only available players. As we have already discussed, international free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes as well as Yu Darvish and Yaisel Puig, remain the biggest misses for the Yankees during this time period. And the Yankees didn’t even swing. I didn’t even really notice the Iwakuma signing in Seattle, but I’d love to have him on the team. It’s possible that the Yankees didn’t think these players were any good, but it’s also possible that, with the failure of Kei Igawa fresh in their minds, they did not want to allocate any of their precious 2014 budget on relative unknowns - even if the upside was that they turned out to be bargains and enabled them to contend while pinching pennies.
On top of all this are the unexplored trades. Since the Yankees needed salary cleared for 2014, they had to be very careful about trade partners. Typical salary dumps became much more complicated or non-existant. We have no idea what kinds of trades might have been possible, but look at how they handled the Soriano trade. They gave up a prospect they liked in order to get the Cubs to pay more money.
The Yankees cut off several avenues of talent acquistion: they did not sign Major League free agents to 2014 contracts; they did not sign international free agents to 2014 contracts; and they did not trade for players with large 2014 contracts. When you turn the talent spigot off with such force, it’s requires a lot effort to turn it back on. Hence the rampant spending this year doesn’t even cover all the holes.
Without the 189 plan, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees being worse in 2013 than they actually were, but it’s also no sure thing they would have had a contender. The above list shows there were many pitfalls strewn about the jewels of free agency. They could just as easily be stuck with Josh Hamilton now as they could be enanmored with Anibal Sanchez.
When you think about the depth the 2013 Red Sox acquired via free agnecy, though, you can see that talent was available for those free to spend. In fact, the absence of Yankee dollars from the market probably played a role in driving that talent to Boston. Kind of like a black hole sucking Victorino, Napoli, Drew and Uehara through the Bronx and into a frightening dimension on the other side where they would become World Champions for the Red Sox.
So yeah, add Swisher and Martin back to the 2013 team because the Yankees failed to replace them and maybe they win the Wild Card. But then subtract Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran from the 2014 Yankees. I don’t see a clear choice there.
But a Yankee team in 2013 with Darvish, Cespedes or Puig in addition to Swisher and Martin? And maybe they found the needle in the haystack with Sanchez and blocked Uehara or Victorino from signing with the Sox? Oh well, they probably would have all wound up on the DL together anyway.
When it was the Yankees’ turn, they dispatched Cashman; Manager Joe Girardi; the team president Randy Levine; the assistant general managers Billy Eppler and Jean Afterman; the pitching coach Larry Rothschild; Trey Hillman, a former manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and now a member of the Yankees’ player-development department; and George Rose, the Yankees’ Japanese liaison and the former interpreter for Hideki Irabu, who pitched for the Yankees in the late 1990s.
During the Beverly Hills meeting, Tanaka told the Yankees that some of the other clubs he had met with said they planned to ease him into their rotations without putting too much pressure on him. That did not sit well with him.
“He didn’t want to be eased into anything,” said one of the Yankee executives in the room at the time. “He said he wanted to be the man.”
The Yankees came away impressed by his confidence. They felt he resembled Matsui, whose quiet but strong personality became an enduring part of Yankee teams in the previous decade.