Or not, as the case may be for the Yanks. They are a conservative organization now but one never knows…
Regardless, the Winter Meetings are upon us.
We’re used to rooting against David Price round these parts though he’s always seemed like an agreeable enough fellow. Now, we’ll absolutely be rooting against him since he’s set to play for the Red Sox who signed him to a whooper of a deal (7 years with an opt-out after 3). Our chum Pete Abe broke the story.
Photo Credit: USATS
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.