Cruel Summer

Bananarama couldn’t have know that their 1983 hit would be the anthem for the 2015 Red Sox.

It is time to be sellers, not that there is much to sell.  Hanley Ramirez is a train-wreck of a left-fielder but can still hit a bit.  Pablo Sandoval has performed about how you’d expect from a player who cares so little for his fitness.  The rotation has been a nightmare (Porcello at $20m a year for the next 4 seasons, oh boy!).  The only real marketable pieces are Koji Uehara and perhaps a contending team in need of some power in Mike Napoli or leadership in Shane Victorino but the Red Sox would assume most of the salary hit.

It is hard to pinpoint just what went wrong with this team, aside from the fact that both the Ramirez and Sandoval signings felt like the signing of Carl Crawford a few years back.

John Henry needs to look at the approach the Red Sox have taken as they are heading for their 3rd last place finish in 4 seasons.  Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino and everyone else needs to be evaluated and some tough choices are needed.  Doesn’t it feel like winning, while important, is getting tangled up with other things like ratings and marketing deals?  I have no direct proof, but signing two flawed players in Ramirez and Sandoval wreaks of some bean counter/entertainment person asking to buy a reason for fans to tune in.  Except that, winning is what causes fans to tune in, not gimmicks or overpriced hacks.

Despite the sinking ship, there are a few glimmers of hope, not for this season, but for beyond.  Xander Bogaerts has become what we all expected, Mookie Betts has been solid, Blake Swihart has started to hit a bit and Eduardo Rodriguez has surprised.  Now if you look at the above mentioned individual stats, none will overwhelm you or even impress you, but they are all very young (23 or younger) and could develop into the future cornerstones of this franchise.  Ugh.

Makes Sense

I am not alone in feeling that the roster move of Beltran being activated at the expense of Refsnyder was odd. Jack Curry pointed it out on the pregame. Numerous bloggers are furious over it. I agree with all of the criticism that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it is important to keep some perspective about it.

This doesn’t mean that Drew is the second baseman for the rest of the year. It doesn’t mean that Refsnyder is gone to the minors for the rest of the season. In fact, Brian Cashman offered a very sensible explanation for the move basically saying that it was about keeping inventory. If the Yankees cut Ryan or Drew, the two most likely moves, they would have one less asset for the upcoming trade deadline. (We can argue the value of those assets at a separate time.) Furthermore, what happens if they get an offer they can’t refuse for Refsnyder himself?

In the context of the 2015 season, this is a smart play. Send Refsnyder down for ten days and see what happens on the trade market. If you don’t find a deal you like, simply promote Refsnyder and cut Ryan (not Drew, Drew is amuch better option with the bat and close to Ryan defensively.) One way or the other, I would bet that Drew is not starting at second when August rolls around.

154 Games?

Reports are that Tony Clark and the MLBPA would like to look at a 154-game schedule the next time the CBA comes up for negotiation. Like the author of the article I linked to, I am very skeptical that this has a chance of being approved by the owners. He points out the three biggest obstacles:

1- Reduced game revenue

2- Reduced product for TV partners.

3- Reduced product for municipalities.

Even if the players agreed to roll back their salaries by 5% (roughly the reduction in the number of games) The loss of gate revenue and TV revenue would make the owners very unlikely to do it. I suggested a number of years ago that MLB should incorporate the WBC into the middle of a 154-game season, but I still don’t think that will happen.

I also question the comment by Tony Clark about the hardships the players face today schedule-wise. Yes, there are some grueling trips, and short turnarounds, but let’s not pretend that these players are not given every amenity possible when traveling. They travel almost exclusively on chartered planes, usually something like a 757 that has been modified with fewer seats. They are put in first-class hotels and they are driven to and from the ballpark in buses when on the road. It’s a pretty comfortable way to travel and certainly beats the trains of yesteryear.

So, I don’t see the need, and I certainly don’t expect to see the schedule roll back to 154 games. What are your thoughts?

Why Not Net It?

A season ticket holder for the A’s sued MLB Monday to get them to install nets from foul pole to foul pole in all ballparks. The suit is not seeking any monetary damages, just the installation of the nets. My question is, why wouldn’t MLB do this?

I have been racking my brain on this issue, and I am having a hard time coming up with a reason. I think every park in the league has put screens in front of the dugouts. That was a sensible move. There is already a net behind home plate, which means in front of the most-expensive seats. I really don’t think it would cost that much to install. Maybe player safety from crashing into the net? But wouldn’t that be preferable to crashing into the stands?

Most importantly, it would protect people from getting hurt. MLB has insulated itself from lawsuits because the back of every ticket tells you “The bearer of the Ticket assumes all risk and danger incidental to the sport of baseball … including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown bats, fragments thereof, and thrown or batted balls.” But MLB can’t possibly be that callous about fan safety can they?

I think the lawsuit language also highlights a hugely important fact- people are more distracted than ever at ballgames. Smartphones are everywhere and people are not paying as much attention as they used to. Beyond that though, plenty of fans simply can’t get out of the way. A screaming line drive into the stands, over the dugout, is a potentially deadly missile- no matter how much attention is being paid to the game. So why not add a net and protect the fans?

 

Break Time

The Yankees took the series from Boston with a somewhat messy victory on Sunday. They head into the All-Star Break with a 3.5-game lead in the AL East.

The story of today is Rob Refsnyder. We saw the good and the bad of him in the span of an inning. In the Top of the 9th, Refsnyder parked one over the Monster. It was a very interesting moment because Girardi easily could have pinch-hit for him with Drew since there was a righty on the mound. (More on that in a minute) In the bottom of the inning, Refsnyder made a bad play covering second on a ball hit back to the pitcher. The official scorer did a good job charging him with the error.

Those two plays reflected the scouting reports about Refsnyder, good hitter, but a so-so fielder. The question is, what will the Yankees do with him now? Girardi’s faith was rewarded with that home run, but the fact that he was willing to let him hit there tells me the Yankees are going to let Refsnyder sink or swim at second and  therefore Steven Drew is no longer a starter.

That makes a lot of sense. Clearly, the Yankees needed to upgrade at second. With a little over two weeks until the trade deadline they get a chance to see if Refsnyder is the answer at second and could make a trade if he isn’t. Drew still has value. He provides good defense at three positions, and he has shown the ability to take advantage of RHP at Yankee Stadium. As far as backup infielders go, the Yankees could do a lot worse.

The only question is will Drew be able to handle it? It’s certainly a blow for a guy to lose his starting spot. One would hope that Drew would recognize that the Yankees have given him 124 games to show them his value and he has hit .171 with 15 homers. That deserves a trip to the bench and the Yankees are smart to do it now and try an internal option first.

Finally, as a fan, this is an exciting time. I was looking at the combination of Didi and Refsnyder today and trying to figure out the last time the Yankees regularly had two guys in the middle of the infield who were under 26. I think it might be Dent and Randolph, but I am not sure. Whatever the answer, the youth movement appears to be gaining steam in the Bronx.

 

Round 1- New York-UPDATED

My only quibble tonight has to do with the bullpen management by Joe Girardi. A 5-1 victory seems like an odd place to use your three-best relievers.

I’m ok with using Wilson in the 7th, you want to get through that and the score is only 4-1. I am also ok with using Betances in the 8th. Why not shut them down then and head to the 9th up 4? But, I don’t get Miller in the 9th. The only explanation I can think of is that Girardi is ok using Miller for an inning both Saturday and Sunday. If he isn’t, he mis-managed this tonight.

As a Yankees’ fan, this was a great, great game to watch. Pineda showed why he is the ace of this team and the offense took advantage of some sloppy Red Sox defense.

For the Red Sox, this loss may be more troubling because of Bucholz’s injury. Hopefully, he isn’t gone for long- you never want to see a player hurt.

Finally, the big news on the Yankee end is that Rob Refsnyder is getting called up tomorrow. Boston is starting two lefties the next two days, so it makes sense in the short term, but I can’t figure out the long-term plan. Refsnyder is not the savior some fans think he is, but he is too good to sit on the bench regularly. I suspect another shoe is going to drop soon.

10:39PM- Girardi told the press two interesting things in his postgame press conference. 1- Miller wasn’t going to pitch back-to-back until after the break, so that’s why they used him tonight. 2- Refsnyder is coming up and he is going to play tomorrow and Sunday.

I expect the move is Refsnyder for Figueroa, but the interesting to see will be what happens after the break. Girardi hinted that Refsnyder isn’t a temporary move.

 

Hello Boston

Fear not Red Sox fans. Andy may have abandoned you to live out his dream as a carney, but I am still here. And since the Yankees are coming to town this weekend, I will provide you some analysis of your season so far.

At this point you really have to look deep into your soul and wonder if this is worth it. Why do you keep following this team? This “relationship” is destroying you. Give it up, and come join the good guys.

Not convinced? Ok, I’ll analyze the Red Sox then.

The popular notion is that the rotation is sinking the team. While I can’t completely refute it, I will say it is not as bad as it looks. Every Boston starter looks significantly better when looked at though the lens of FIP and not ERA. Buchholz’s FIP is 2.56. Miley’s is 3.90. Porcello 4.46. Masterson 4.64. Significantly better than their ERA’s and a suggestion that they can show improvement in their overall numbers in the second half.

The bullpen trends the opposite way. Ogando has a 4.92. Breslow has a 5.58. The other main guys in the pen, with the exception of Uehara, have FIP’s slightly higher than their ERA’s. Still overall, the pitching should be better and if the offense can do its end, the Red Sox should be better. And in a division where the separation from worst to first is only five games, that could be significant.

That’s part of what makes this weekend so compelling. This is a chance for both teams to send a message heading into the break. Boston can show that their recent play is for real and they will be a force in the second half. The Yankees can show that they are not going to surrender first without a fight.

Back after the game.

Trade For…A Bench Player!

The Yankees’ bench is a fluid place. They sometimes only have three guys on it because they decide to carry 13 pitchers. That puts a premium on the flexibility of the guys on the bench, and the Yankees could definitely upgrade that.

As of right now, the Yankees’ bench is made up of John Ryan Murphy, Gregorio Petit, Cole Figueroa, and Garrett Jones. Chris Young is filling in for Beltran in right, otherwise he would be on the bench, so I will include him in the discussion.

Murphy is a 24-year old catcher who has shown flashes of offensive ability while playing good defense. The Yankees don’t need to make a change here.

Young has feasted on LHP and served as a good defensive outfielder in all three spots when needed. He isn’t going anywhere.

Garret Jones has been disappointing, hitting only .238/.285/.410 in limited playing time. He hasn’t hit RHP, usually his calling card, anywhere near enough. He isn’t particularly good at defense, so he could clearly be replaced.

Petit is a guy they got when Brendan Ryan was hurt at the end of camp and isn’t more than a fill-in. Figueroa is on the club because Headley may be hurt, neither has a lock on a roster spot.

What the Yankees could use, what would be an almost-perfect fit for this club, is a guy like Ben Zobrist. The Yankees keep trying to create a Ben Zobrist in the minors, but with Oakland seemingly ready to sell this is their chance to get him. Oakland has used him mostly in left and at second this year, but in the past two years he has played every position except for first and third. He is a switch-hitter, who generally hits LHP better than RHP, though he is strong against both. He is only signed through the end of the year, so his cost should not be prohibitive.

Getting Zobrist would give the Yankees a number of options. They could simply dump Steven Drew and use him as the regular guy at second. (unlikely) They could add Zobrist to the bench and use him all over the place (much more likely). That’s the kind of flexibility the Yankees have been looking for since they traded Prado. The Yankees should figure out a way to make that happen.

Trade For…A Hitter!

On the surface, the Yankees’ offense is very good. They have scored the third-most runs in the AL. But a deeper look reveals a very uneven lineup. The Yankees have five guys who are providing almost all of the offense, three guys who are severely hurting the offense and one guy right in the middle.

Based on OPS+, the best Yankee hitters are: Rodriguez, Teixeira, Gardner, Ellsbury, and McCann. All five have an OPS+ at of at least 120, meaning they are 20% above the league average. On the flip side, Headley is at 86, Gregrorius at 73, and Drew at 67. Right at the average is Beltran at 102.

So the obvious place to look for improvement is the quartet of Beltran, Headley, Gregorius, and Drew. And Drew would be the most likely candidate to be replaced as he is only signed through the end of this year, and only costs about $2.5-million the rest of the way. He had a strong June, and his defense is good, but he is still only hitting .176/.251/.360. His OPS is almost 200 points higher at home than on the road, so you have to wonder how much Yankee Stadium adds to the meager performance he has put up so far. Finally, his lefty/righty splits show little drop off, so you couldn’t just platoon him and expect a better result. In short, this is an easy place for the Yankees to upgrade as almost anyone would be better at this point.

What about the other three? Let’s start with Didi who isn’t hitting-overall. That’s a key caveat because you need to look at his monthly numbers to get a true sense of what Didi has done and what he is capable of doing.

(One day soon you will be able to do so)

So far, the average AL Shortstop is hitting .256/.296/.356, so Didi was right at average in June and close in May. Advanced metrics tell us his defense has been good and he is under team control until 2020. This will not be a place the Yankees look to upgrade. An average offensive shortstop who plays above-average defense and is inexpensive is something the Yankees will be more than happy to plug into the lineup regularly. Didi looks like he can at least be that.

Beltran is hurt, so a trade might make sense on that level, but the Yankees don’t want to lock up right field for very long because their best prospect is beating his way to the Bronx in a hurry. Judge tore up AA and has now reached AAA. He is a decent shot for a September call up and could be in the mix for a starting spot in right next season. The Yankees will not block him, so any trade for a right fielder has to be a rental at most. If Beltran is going to be out for a long time, I could see it, but Beltran put up an .816 OPS in May and an .856 in June. His overall numbers are average because of a terrible April. Barring a lengthy DL stay, they won’t make a trade for right.

And that brings us to Headley who is a mystery at this point. Last season he came over, played solid defense, hit well at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees signed him to a four-year deal. This season his defense has been bad and he hasn’t hit at all at Yankee Stadium. His numbers against RHP have been ok, but against lefties he is hitting only .208/.240/.365. He has always been a stronger hitter against RHP in his career, so maybe he is just losing it versus lefties. But he is young to do so, only 31, and the huge drop defensively makes me think something else must be going on with him. (He’s got 16 errors so far after previously only committing a high of 13 in a season). Perhaps there is, perhaps there isn’t, but with three years left on his deal the only way the Yankees make a trade for a third baseman is if Headley is part of what they give up.

So, besides the obvious hole at second, I don’t see much happening trade-wise in the lineup. However, the bench is another story and I will tackle that tomorrow.

 

Trade For…A Reliever!

The case for upgrading: Greed? Something too good to pass up just falling in their laps? Ok, a real reason would be injury.

The case against upgrading: How many premium arms can you fit into a bullpen? Of all the areas that the Yankees could upgrade why waste assets to acquire help here?

I just don’t see a need here. Yes, if Andrew Miller can’t return, or isn’t effective, you could make a case for a trade, but even then you are overlooking bigger areas of need. The Yankees have Betances, they have Wilson, they have added Warren to the pen. Miller is due back tomorrow. Brian Mitchell has looked good in limited work, there are plenty of potential solutions for almost any contingency the second half throws at them.

Tomorrow we will look at the lineup.