Yankees

A Slight Upgrade At Third

The Yankees have acquired Chase Headley from the Padres for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael DePaula. Let’s dig into this.

What happened to Chase Headley? He hit 31 homers in 2012 and was fifth in the NL MVP race. Since that season he has hit a total of 20 homers. For his career, playing home games in San Diego has hurt him, his slugging percentage on the road is 72-points higher on the road than home, but interestingly, he has had a lower road slugging percentage in 2013 and 2014. A switch-hitter, in 2012 he destroyed RHP with a .906 OPS. That has declined to .740 in 2013 and .654 in 2014.

So why do I consider this an upgrade? Two things stick out about Headley. First, he is a very good defender and the Yankees could really use that on the infield. Secondly, he did have that year in 2012. Now he may not be that player anymore, but the Yankees have gotten overall production of .246/.312/.382 from third this year. Headley has the talent to achieve that, which would be an upgrade when you factor in his defense.

And consider what they gave up. Solarte is a fun player, but I think he got overexposed. There are very few six-year minor league free agents who become regulars. DePaula is the type of arm who could come back and haunt you, but he is stuck in A-ball at the age of 23. He was also originally signed in 2010, which should make him eligible for the Rule 5 draft after this season. Since the Yankees weren’t going to put him on the 40-man anytime soon, this makes sense. This is not surrendering the future in any way.

And it makes sense for the Padres. They were never going to offer Headley a qualifying offer, so at least they get something for him instead of seeing him leave as a free agent after the season. The interesting thing will be to see what happens if he plays well for the Yankees. Would they sign him to a deal and if they did, what would that mean for A-Rod? (Remember him?)

We shall see, but one thing worth remembering as we close in on the trade deadline- nobody reported anything about this deal being in the works. I don’t know how he does it, but remember that Brian Cashman, aka the Silent Assassin, moves in the shadows. Listen to trade rumors at your own risk!

The 2015 Rotation

When 2014 started, I had moderate expectations about this team. What I was really hoping for was three pitchers to take big steps forward- Tanaka, Nova and Pineda. I was hoping the three of them would step forward as the rotation of the future. I was hoping the 2015 Yankees would open with a rotation fronted by those three with CC as the 4th guy. I was hoping Manny Banuelos would join them in a strong rotation next season. Now it is very, very hard to see how any of that happens.

We know Nova won’t be ready by Opening Day 2015. It sounds like Sabathia’s career hangs in the balance, so he is probably out. Banuelos is not close to being ready to pitch in the bigs as he continues his rehab from TJ surgery. Tanaka may very well need TJ surgery. Pineda is probably the best bet at this point to open the 2015 season on the big league roster, but he is still rehabbing from an injury suffered in late April and he has a total of 19 innings to his name this year.

So, we now have a rotation of Kuroda, McCarthy, Phelps, Greene and probably Whitley. Kuroda won’t be back next year and McCarthy is a free agent. Phelps looks like a decent back of the rotation guy at most. Whitley might not even be that. Greene is a complete unknown. While I do not want the Yankees to mortgage their future to try and compete this year, it is worth pursuing a trade if it can help the 2015 rotation because that is shaping up to be an absolute mess. Something to keep in mind over the next few weeks.

Six Weeks is a Loooong Time

Most of the Yankee beat guys are tweeting variations of this on Tanaka- “small” tear in his UCL. Three doctors have reviewed it and none of them recommend surgery. Rest, rehab and a PRP injection. Six weeks is the optimistic return date, but Tj surgery possible.

Six weeks is August 21st and it would leave the Yankees with about 37 games left in their season. In 2014 the Yankees are 13-5 in games Tanaka has started and 33-39 in games everyone else has started. Does anyone expect this team to stay afloat until his return unless the AL East completely falls apart? And remember, he may not return at all or return in six weeks. (I would bet anything he doesn’t come back to September at the earliest)

The Yankees should be smart here and start planning for 2015. They have the luxury of Derek Jeter’s farewell tour to sell tickets and distract fans. They cannot, I repeat cannot, surrender future assets for a foolish run at the 2014 playoffs. Let’s hope they realize that.

Now What?

This much we know, the Yankees have placed Tanaka on the DL. What we don’t know is what is wrong with him beyond elbow “discomfort”. He is heading back to NY for tests, which makes the DL move even more curious as wouldn’t the normal way to handle this be to  run the tests and then decide on the DL? But the Yankees didn’t go that route and now we are left to wonder how bad this injury is?

Let’s take a step back and assess the current state of the Yankees. The good news is that they are 3-1/2 games out of a playoff spot. The bad news is they are one game over .500 and have given up 32 more runs than they have scored and 4/5′s of their Opening Day rotation is on the DL. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 25% chance of making the playoffs.

Now back to Tanaka. I think we can all agree that without Tanaka, the Yankees’ odds of making the playoffs grow much, much smaller. Clearly, if he is out for a lengthy period of time, the Yankees need to think strongly about next year. Even if he isn’t, when does a pitcher ever make it back in his expected recovery time?

So I would say that barring incredibly good news, this is the sign that the Yankees need to get them to start building for 2015. The question is, will they?

An Upgrade UPDATED

On the surface, the McCarthy for Nuno swap between Arizona and the Yankees looks like little more than a shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic. But, beneath the surface, the Yankees have made themselves a bit better.

You our have to look beyond ERA to evaluate this deal and become comfortable with the notion that pitchers have no control over what happens to balls hit in the field of play. They could have a good defense behind them that gets to everything, or they could have a terrible defense behind them that let’s everything drop in. In either instance, their ERA would be greatly impacted.  That’s where FIP comes in. It attempts to neutralize the affects do defense and give you an ERA for a pitcher based on things they can control- strikeouts, walks, home runs.

Vidal Nuno has been awful this year, but the Yankee defense hasn’t helped him. Nuno’s FIP is 5.15, but his ERA is 5.42. Basically, he should be a bit better than his numbers suggest, but a FIP over 5 is still bad.

McCarthy has been bad, but the Arizona defense is to blame for a bunch of that. His ERA is 5.02, but his FIP is 3.79. If you look at his raw numbers compared to Nuno this makes sense,  he records more strikeouts, walks batters at about half the rate as Nuno, and gives up fewer home runs. Using WAR, he is about one win better than Nuno so far.

But there are two problems with this analysis. The Yankee defense will not help him and he is switching to the AL. He should still be better than Nuno, but this is not a huge upgrade. It is more like adding a fifth starter in exchange for someone who should not be starting. Value is created, but that is more a factor of how big some of holes the Yankees have to fill are than the talent of the player they acquired.

UPDATE. Yankees have DFAed Soriano. Not a shock, but it does make you wonder who is coming up and what their role will be. Maybe this means Jose Pirella’s time has arrived?  We probably won’t find out until after the game today or tomorrow as the Yankees have recalled Brian Billings for now.

International Love

The Daily News gave the best explanation of what the Yankees are doing today, and it sounds like the Yankees are cornering the international market today. Buster Olney says they have either signed 10 of the top-15 or 11 of the top-18 prospects out there. Let’s delve into this a bit deeper.

The Yankees are blowing past their pool allotment. Probably by $15-million or so. That will bring them a huge penalty of around $10-million and they will not be able to sign anyone next year for a bonus of more than $250,000. Despite the warnings in the Daily News, this is exactly what the Yankees should do because of five clear facts.

Fact 1- The Yankees need young talent right now.

Fact 2- Most teams are signing their potential free agents before they reach free agency.

Fact 3- You can’t pay over slot like you once could in the MLB draft.

Fact 4- Big payrolls incur big tax penalties and revenue sharing.

Fact 5- The system could change in the next CBA which expires December 2016.

So what the Yankees have done is flexed their substantial financial muscles in the one area they still can. They will not be able to do this again in 2015, but they will in 2016. It’s sort of like a NBA team that has the ball with 40 seconds left in the quarter. They are going 2-for-1. They will overload in 2014 and 2016, while being basically shut out of the 2015 international market.

The problem is that projecting players who are 16 is tougher than projecting players who are 18 or 20, so expect a lot of misses out of this approach. But, if the Yankees develop one All-Star out of this class, it will be well worth it.

A-Rod Part 40

Sports Illustrated released a new A-Rod story today. Before you shrug your shoulders and return to your day, consider the title- “How MLB let A-Rod use PED’s during the ’07 Season”  That probably got your attention.

Now one of the things that has mystified me during this process is how the Yankees could let those home run clauses in A-Rod’s contract stand uncontested. Why would the Yankees pay A-Rod for home runs that were hit with the help of PED’s? I think we might have an answer.

A-Rod applied for and was given an exemption to use testosterone before the 2007 season by MLB. Personally, I find that amazing, but shock is probably something I should stop feeling when it comes to MLB and PED’s.  You can make the argument that MLB wouldn’t necessarily have told the Yankees about that exemption, but I can’t really believe that. And if the Yankees knew about that and then signed him to that massive deal, they lose any credibility they would have had in a courtroom.

So my first question as a member of the press to the Yankees’ brass today would be, “Did the organization know that Alex had a testosterone exemption for the 2007 season?” My second one would be, assuming the answer to the first one is yes, “How did that affect your contract negotiations with him after the season?”

Stay tuned.

Hey Brian!

The Yankees just brought the infield in a scoreless game with one out in the top of the second. I think your manager is trying to tell you that he doesn’t trust his lineup.

Can you blame him? Currently, six Yankees have sub-.700 OPS’s. That’s the most in baseball. Some are surprising, like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, some are not- Brian Roberts and Ichiro. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Here’s my suggestion- nothing. Don’t make a trade for a bat that can carry this lineup. Don’t make a trade for a pitcher who can fix this rotation. Admit that after half a season this team is fundamentally flawed. Try to do better in 2015. I have some ideas about how that might be possible.

1- Soriano and Ichiro have some value to teams in contention with particular holes. Trade them to those teams and eat all of the money. You will get better prospects.

2- Let Brian Roberts go, or trade him for a bag of balls, and promote Refsnyder or Pirela. Clearly, the Yankees will need both a new shortstop and second baseman next year, one of these guys could be that answer. It’s time to find out.

3- David Robertson has tremendous value right now- trade him for future pieces. I don’t know if Betances can be the future closer, but I wouldn’t bet on anyone as a future closer unless their name was Mariano Rivera. the truth is closers mostly flame out quickly. Why not capitalize on the one you have and turn him into something for the future?

It’s weird to wave the flag of surrender when you are only two games back, but the Yankees have to face up to their flaws at some point. Tanaka is under contract for two three more years after this season, I would recommend you make the most of those and give up on 2014 right now.

Not Feeling It

Usually a Yankees-Red Sox series brings fires me up. After all, I created a website around it! But, its a bit harder to get fired up about this series. We have the third and fourth-place teams in the AL East meeting about halfway through the season. What happened to these two teams?

Well, I don’t think the Yankees are a big surprise right now. Before the season I predicted 85 wins and they are on pace for 84. I think the biggest worry you have to have as a Yankee fan right now is that the run differential, -34, indicates they should be much worse than they are. They’ve lost 3/5′s of their rotation and the offense has been mediocre. And, they may burn the bullpen out by August at this rate. Unless some big reinforcements are coming, I don’t think this team finishes above .500.

Boston is a bit more interesting. Dustin Pedroia is having a terrible year, I wouldn’t expect that to last. Xander Bogarts hasn’t lived up to the hype and Jackie Bradley has been awful. But, they have two very good starting pitchers in Lackey and Lester and a nice bullpen, so they could easily make a run.

But for now we have two mediocre teams facing off in late June. If the names on the front of the uniforms read something other than “Boston” or “New York” would we pay any attention?

Time For Changes

The Yankees can’t hit. Well, some of the Yankees can’t hit. Looking at the team, your eye is drawn to five players- Beltran, Roberts, McCann, Soriano, and Jeter.  None of these guys are hitting at this point, but I think it is fair to expect McCann to turn things around, so let’s forget about him for now. Even if you don’t, he has a huge contract and isn’t going anywhere.

Soriano has been demoted to a platoon player with Ichiro. That’s a very smart move as he can’t hit righties anymore, so let’s forget about him for a minute as the Yankees may have solved that problem.

Beltran has been hurt and probably will hit, so let’s forget about him for a minute. Again, big rule contract applies here.

That leaves Roberts and Jeter, and here we have huge problems. Roberts is a switch-hitter who has always been better against RHP than LHP. That hasn’t changed this year, but his numbers against LHP (.231/.310/.288) are beyond bad. The Yankees need to at minimum bench him against lefties and put Ryan in there. At least he will provide some defense (more on this in a minute)  and his numbers against lefties in his career  (.247/.312/.323 ) are an improvement over Roberts’. But this isn’t much of a solution and the Yankees are going to need to address the middle infield soon.

That is because of Jeter. The fact that a 40-year old Jeter isn’t hitting is not a shock. But, his BABIP is over .300 and his line drive rate is 19%. That means he isn’t being hurt by bad luck, he simply isn’t hitting. Now Jeter is a guy you are loathe to count out, but the Yankees need to be realistic about him. Putting Jeter 2nd in the lineup isn’t doing anyone any favors. If he was hitting against LHP, you might be able to argue that he should stay there, but he isn’t  (.619 OPS vs. LHP and .609 OPS against RHP)  How much longer can the Yankees pretend he is going to hit?

Now if he could play defense, the Yankees would probably look beyond his hitting, but we know that isn’t the case. The Yankee announcers haven’t figured out that the reason for all the shifts this year is the defensive problems the Yankees have. We know Jeter has never been a very good shortstop and this year isn’t any different. What is different is that he doesn’t have Robinson Cano playing to his left and a fair number of grounders are getting through the middle.

Now defensive stats are tricky, but consider these numbers for Jeter and Roberts. Both of them are near the bottom of the AL in range factor for their positions.  Now range factor’s two flaws are the fact that teams that give up more flyballs will have lower range factors and having a great defensive player next to you will lower your range factor as he gets to more balls. Both are fair, so let’s look at a more general number- DER.

DER- or defensive efficiency rating measure how often defenses covert outs on balls in play. In 2013, the Yankees were 24th in the league at 69.7%. In 2014 they are 29th at 69.2%. Why have they dropped off? I would suggest it has something to do with Roberts and Jeter. If you don’t trust your eyes, or don’t buy range factor, just think about it. Defensively, the outfield is probably better than last year, or at least as good. Where do the most balls in play go to in a game? Exactly, short and second.

So what do the Yankees do with two guys who aren’t hitting and not playing great defense? Well, I think Roberts’ days are numbered. The Yankees just moved their AA second baseman to AAA. Their AAA second baseman, Jose Pirela is hitting .326/.365/.458 in 246 PA’s. He’s not that good, but I suspect he gets a chance soon. As for Jeter, I wouldn’t expect that situation to change for awhile.