Are They Better?- Part 1

I think last season was Joe Girardi’s best as manager. He guided a team devastated by injuries to 85 wins. If you look at the raw numbers last season, the Yankees probably should not have finished above .500. So, I would contend that the Yankees need to improve a lot more than their 2013 record would indicate if they hope to make the playoffs. Can they? Let’s take a look at the 2013 and 2014 squads through the lens of ZIPS projections and WAR.  (all 2014 #’s projections from Fangraphs)

Catcher

2013- Chris Stewart .211/.293/.272 0.5 WAR

2014- Brian McCann .258/.340/.451 3.1 WAR

Right off the bat a big upgrade. +2.6

Firstbase

2013- Lyle Overbay .240/.295/.393 0.0 WAR

2014- Mark Teixeira .248/.340/.464 1.8 WAR

Another upgrade +1.8/4.4 cumulative

Secondbase

2013- Robinson Cano .314/.383/.516 6.0 WAR

2014 Brian Roberts and Eduardo Nunez 0.7 WAR combined

A huge loss. -5.3/-0.9 cumulative

ZIPS thinks Roberts plays only 53 games, so I used Nunez’s projection to get closer to 162. Anyway you slice it, this is a big, big hole.

Shortstop

2013- Nix, Nunez, Jeter and Others about a -1.0 WAR

2014- Jeter/Ryan 1.4 WAR

A gain +2.4/+1.5 cumulative

ZIPS doesn’t like Jeter’s chances to play a lot, so it holds him to 69 games. I added in Ryan’s numbers.

Thirdbase

2013- A cast of thousands 0.0 WAR

2014- Kelly Johnson .232/.315/.405 1.5 WAR

A gain +1.5 WAR/+3.0 cumulative

When you look at the 2014 Yankees infield it is easy to be pessimistic, but look at what they are replacing! The saddest part about the 0.0 WAR for 2013 is that it took A-Rod’s Other than Cano, the 2013 infield was a disaster.

Leftfield

2013- Vernon Wells .233/.289/.349 -0.8 WAR

2014- Brett Gardner .259/.339/.388 2.4 WAR

A big gain +3.2/+6.2 cumulative

I wish I could forget the Vernon Wells experiment. I wish I could.

Centerfield

2013- Brett Gardner .273/.344/.416 3.2 WAR

2014- Jacoby Ellsbury .286/.341/.448 4.1 WAR

Not as much of a gain as you thought +0.9 WAR/+7.1 cumulative

Rightfield

2013- Ichiro Suzuki .262./.297/.342 1.1 WAR

2014 Carlos Beltran .267/.327/.479 1.8 WAR

A gain, but once again not as much as you would have thought. +0.7 WAR/+7.8 cumulative

DH

2013- Hafner, Soriano, Granderson and others +2.8 WAR

2014- Soriano .247/.297/.484 2.2 WAR

A small loss -0.6 WAR/+7.1 WAR cumulative

Yes, I had to get a bit creative to make the comparisons, but I think they work well enough. 7 wins of improvement is a good start, but the pitching is going to be just as important. We will look at that more tomorrow.

 

A Bluff?

The Yankees have made Francisco Cervelli their backup catcher. It’s not a surprise, he was out of options and they certainly weren’t going to release him. But I am not buying it.

For one thing, the Yankees have five catchers on their 40-man roster. That is about two too many and while depth at a position is a good thing, none of those five will be a free agent until 2017. Clearly, the Yankees can’t carry five catchers on the 40-man for the next three seasons.

The reason they need to clear this logjam is that they will start to hurt the development of these guys if they don’t. Austin Romine and John Ryan (Not J.R. anymore) Murphy will now split the catching duties at AAA. That’s not good for either one of them and right behind them is Gary Sanchez in AA. It’s no secret the the Yankees have some infield issues and some bullpen question marks. Turning Cervelli into a solution for one of those issues is a great idea and I suspect the Yankees ultimately will.

It Has To Be Pineda

I know the 5th starter job was a “competition” this spring, but the Yankees should cut to the chase and admit the obvious. Pineda has won the job.

That’s not a crack on David Phelps, he has pitched well this Spring, but the Yankees never wanted him to “win” this thing. They wanted Pineda to take the spot because he has the biggest upside. Maybe Phelps can turn into a solid #4 starter in the bigs, but Pineda could be a top of the rotation guy. And for that reason the Yankees should stop pretending and talking about watching everyone pitch again. Pineda has been brilliant so far and based on that and his potential, the job has to be his.

Now people are getting all worried about the fact that the Yankees don’t want him to pitch 200 innings this year. They shouldn’t be. By making him the fifth starter, they should be able to skip him enough to avoid that from happening. (Though it is interesting to note that the Yankees open the season with 13-straight games. I can’t remember them ever doing something like that.)

So let’s say the rotation is Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tanaka and Pineda. What is the bullpen? Well Robertson, Kelley, Thonton and Phelps should be obvious choices. I like the idea of a second lefty and I think Cabral deserves a shot. After that it gets interesting.

Betances has been great this spring and Claiborne hasn’t. Would the Yankees take Betances based on his potential? I think so. Even if they don’t both have options and can be changed as needed. And that leaves one spot. (Well one spot if you assume the Yankees take too many pitchers-12- than they should) Warren deserves the final spot, but are the Yankees better served long-term with him in the AAA rotation? I would say yes, but I can understand why they wouldn’t want to force Warren to head to Scranton. The thing is, you could make the same argument about Vidal Nuno, so maybe the Yankees go back to Claiborne and stash Warren and Nuno in Scranton for depth?

I’m not sure when the choices will be made, but we are counting down to the end of camp. Only nine games left for players to make an impression.

Good Move, But….

Let me join the chorus of people who approve of the Yankees signing Brett Gardner to a contract extension. Gardner plays incredible defense, gets on base and can run like the wind. $13-million a year probably causes some people to blink but look at Michael Bourn’s current contract and you can see where this market is. The Yankees now have Gardner locked up through 2018 (2019 with a team option) the season where he turns 35. That’s a solid risk and absolutely the kind the Yankees should take.

But the thing everyone is ignoring in this move is what it says about the farm system. Going into 2013, a picture was being painted of a future outfield cosseting of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott. Austin and Heathcott got hurt and Williams forgot how to hit. None of them have made it to AAA, which means the Yankees really did need to bring Gardner back in 2015.

Now things are getting crowded in the outfield of the future. We know Ellsbury and Gardner will make up 2/3′s of it for the foreseeable future. There won’t be room for all of those guys who were supposed to be the future. Unfortunately, that’s ok because each of them has serious question marks hanging over them. The Yankees didn’t make a mistake signing Gardner, but it is another indication of the problems in their minor league system.

Center Field in Boston

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a question mark in center field.  How did that happen?  Didn’t they have a really good center fielder last year?  Oh, that’s right…I remember what happened.

Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr, Shane Victorino and Grady Sizemore are vying for the starting nod.  Victorino will most likely start the season in right which really means Sizemore and Bradley are the candidates.

Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011 and hasn’t put in a full season, if you consider 106 games a full season, since 2009.  2 microfracture surgeries later and he is back in baseball.  When Sizemore was healthy, he was a high-impact player, a great combination of power and speed and could even draw a walk.  But, that was a long time ago.  At age 29 (turning 30 on July 21) I think he is a longshot to be a contributor of consequence this year.

Bradley, on the other hand, is 23 (turning 24 on April 19) and is just starting his major league career.  So far in the minors he has shown the ability to play excellent defense, get on base and be a 1-2 and maybe even a 3 hitter in a line-up.  His .404 minor league OBP and .876 OPS suggest he has much to offer in the majors, but until he does, it is just speculation.

My hope is that Bradley wins the job.  He is young, healthy and has significant upside.  While I hold no ill will towards Sizemore and I hope his career flourishes, he hasn’t provided anything in basically 4 seasons.  If Bradley can establish himself, the Red Sox have a fantastic defender playing center who is under team control for many seasons to come.  Obviously I hope Sizemore can contribute and heck, ideally has a boffo year.  But if he does, he is free to walk and will have proved to be just a one year help.  Bradley having a boffo year will give them an option in center for a least 6 years.  I’ll take the long-term success vs the short-term one.

Either way, the Sizemore signing was an intriguing one.  I like it and hope he can help.  Victorino will inevitably get hurt and the Red Sox will need help in right at some point.

Shut Up Guys

Brian Cashman once had a great quote along the lines of “nobody cares when millionaires fight”. Listening to Larry Lucchnio and Randy Levine go at it today reminded me of it.

Larry “I named them the Evil Empire” Lucchino got things started with this gem:

“We’re very different animals. I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together. Other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankees style of high-priced, long-term free agents. And, uh, I can’t say that I wish them well, but I think that we’ve taken a different approach. … If you compare what we did last year in the offseason to what they did this year, there’s quite a contrast there.”

Two things come to mind when I read that.

1- Yes, there is a huge difference between the Red Sox 2012-13 offseason and the Yankees current one. BUT, take a look at the Red Sox 2010-11 offseason.

2- Where does he expect to find a receptive audience for these comments? Can you imagine being a Pirates’ fan and reading that?

Not to be outdone, Randy “I serve no purpose” Levine jumped into battle:

“I feel bad for Larry; he constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees. But I can understand why, because under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan two years ago, the Red Sox were in last place. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did a great job last year winning the World Series, but I’m confident Cash and Joe and our players will compete with a great Red Sox team to win a world championship this year.”

Way to take the high road Randy.

These are too men with too much money and too much ego. Just shut it fellas.

*****

Here’s an interesting/sad story about Jesus Montero showing up to Seattle camp 40 pounds overweight. Maybe Montero was a creation of PED’s and this is his way of surrendering, but the quote from the Seattle GM is damning-  ”I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.” Ouch.

Excellent Point

I have tried on the rose-colored glasses when it comes to the Yankees’ infield and they aren’t working for me. They aren’t working for Joel Sherman as he writes in this piece. I totally agree with it.

I don’t see how anyone can count on Brian Roberts to play even 100 games. Teixeira and Jeter are coming back from major injuries and Kelly Johnson has started 12 games in his career at third. Sherman writes about seeing the tidal wave approaching the city and I think he is spot on. This is a prescription for trouble.

I said the following before the Yankees signed Tanaka:

Now if the Yankees want to stay out of the Tanaka bidding, I am fine with it. I am skeptical at best about his prospects. I’ve heard too much hype followed by mediocre (or worse) results from similar pitchers to proclaim him the savior some people think he is. But if the Yankees do sign Tanaka, they can’t stop there.

The Yankees created a plan to make the $189 payroll goal. They have hemmed and hawed about actually going through with it, but now that they have signed all of their arbitration players, it could be a reality for 2014. If they decide to blow it up, they have to go all in. Tanaka probably gets anywhere from $12 to $18 million a year, so let’s say he puts the payroll at $187 million. Last year the Yankees spent $237 million (that includes benefits) so they could spend $30 million on top of Tanaka and still spend less than in 2013.

Well I was obviously off by a lot on the contract Tanaka was going to get, but  even with the contract he got, the Yankees are still well below last year’s payroll. Stephen Drew isn’t a savior but he makes tremendous sense as an insurance policy for the Yankees. There are other players who can fortify this squad, but standing pat definitely should not be the choice made.

Pick One

Let’s pretend it is the 1995-96 MLB offseason and you are George Steinbrenner. History will show that icons are about to emerge on the stage for the Yankees, but you are going to prevent one of them from becoming a full-time Yankee. Which of these moves do you make?

1- Hire a manager other than Joe Torre to lead the club.

2- Trade Mariano Rivera.

3- Trade Derek Jeter.

The rules are you have to make one of these choices.  I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but I will refrain from posting my decision until later.

No Dempster

Ryan Dempster has announced he will not pitch in 2014 sighting a physical ailment and wanting to spend more time with family.

First the impact on the Red Sox. This greatly erodes the team’s pitching depth. Dempster wasn’t going to be counted on for 200 quality innings but as a spot starter and long relief option, he will be missed.

By putting him on the restricted list, the Sox needn’t pay his $14m salary. I don’t know of this frees up salary space under the cap or not but if is does it provides space to add pitching help.

As for his reasoning, it really seems he wants to spend more family time which is great. But if prefer he say that without adding the physical ailment part as, and I’m probably looking too much into this, but the physical part is minor, minor part of his rational.

Good luck to Dempster, from all accounts he is a good guy, unless you are Alex Rodriguez.

Derek’s Retiring-UPDATE

Derek Jeter has just announced that the 2014 season will be his last. So, just like Rivera, he will go out with a goodbye tour. We can debate Derek’s place in Yankees’ history and MLB’s history another day. For now, I will say that I have never seen Derek Jeter do the wrong thing on a baseball diamond. And off the field he has never done a thing to embarrass himself or the Yankees. That’s a pretty rare combination to achieve in the 21st Century.

And while Yankee fans are hoping to see Derek leave the field a champion again, it is worth mentioning that the Yankees regular season ends September 28th- in Fenway.

UPDATE- Ken Rosenthal just tweeted (in jest I think) “Former player says Alex is taking ground balls at short RIGHT now.”  That’s a great line.