Here We Go

We are about an hour away from first pitch and the start of the 2014 Yankees season. If you want to see how big the changes are that the Yankees have made this offseason, consider the fact that Brett Gardner is the only guy who was in the 2013 Opening Day lineup and will be starting tonight. In fact, only three of the guys who were in that lineup are still on the Yankees. You can see the 2013 lineup here, but it is not for the squeamish.

The Yankees also made an interesting roster move today. They have DFA’ed Eduardo Nunez. They needed to open a 40-man spot for Solarte and Nunez was clearly the fourth-best reserve infielder at this point (Anna, Ryan and Solarte were obviously ahead of him)  It’s a bit of a shock as Nunez was once hailed as the future shortstop and the Yankees coddled him immensely. But he simply couldn’t handle the defensive side of the game and the Yankees went with safer choices. The question this raises is what happens in 2015? Nunez won’t be the shortstop and I would bet that Anna, Solarte and Ryan won’t be either. The minors don’t offer any obvious candidates, so I would assume an external candidate is the ultimate answer. So, how about Stephen Drew? He’s still out there and would still be a great addition to this team. Now, with no obvious future candidate, he would be a great addition to the 2015 team as well.

Just a thought, on to the 2014 season!

The Crystal Ball

I know the season has technically started, but today is Opening Day in my mind. Here’s how I see the 162-game season and beyond unfolding.

AL East

1- Tampa

2- Boston

3- New York

4- Toronto

5- Baltimore

I think Tampa is the best team in the AL East and I expect they will be the only team that cracks the 90-win level in the division. Boston comes in second with the Yankees repeating last year’s 85-77 record. Toronto and Baltimore bring up the rear.

AL Central

1- Detroit

2- Cleveland

3- Kansas City

4- Chicago

5- Minnesota

I didn’t like the Cabrera extension, but he will earn whatever he gets paid this season. The Tigers are the class of the division and I see no reason not to pick them to repeat. Cleveland showed us something last year and while KC is a trendy pick, I am not buying it yet. Minnesota will be lousy, but I bet Phil Hughes has a nice year away from the Bronx.

AL West

1- Anaheim

2- Oakland

3- Texas

4- Seattle

5- Houston

A lot of things went wrong for the Angels last year and I think they rectify those this year with a division crown. Oakland is right behind them, but Texas drops off because of injuries. I wonder how Robinson Cano will enjoy playing meaningless games as early as August 1st? The only thing keeping Seattle out of the basement is the train wreck that is the Houston roster.

NL East

1- Washington

2- Atlanta

3- Miami

4- New York

5- Philadelphia

This is really a two-tier division. Washington and Atlanta are much, much better than everyone else. I think the Nats take the crown this year. I expect it will be a long summer in Philadelphia.

NL Central

1- St. Louis

2- Cincinnati

3- Pittsburgh

4- Milwaukee

5- Chicago

The Cards are consistently excellent and I suspect they win the NL Central again. Pittsburgh snuck up on people last year, they won’t do that again this one and I expect them to drop back a bit and miss the playoffs.

NL West

1- Dodgers

2- San Francisco

3- San Diego

4- Colorado

5- Arizona

A classic rivalry will fight for the crown in the NL West until the end. I say LA gets it.

Playoffs

Wild Card Round

Oakland over Boston

San Francisco over Cincinnati

(Yup, no playoffs in the Bronx this year)

Divisional Round

Detroit over Oakland

Tampa over Anaheim

Washington over St. Louis

LA over San Francisco

Pennant

Tampa over Detroit

LA over Washington

World Series

LA over Tampa

That’s how I see 2014 unfolding, how about you?

 

Are They Better?- Part 2

We took a look at the hitting the other day. Now let’s examine the pitching starting with the rotation. I am going to list the pitchers in the order they will pitch in 2014 and to make the comparisons easier list Nova as the #3 starter in 2013.

Starter #1

2013- CC Sabathia 14-13 4.78 ERA 2.7 WAR

2014- CC Sabathia 13-11 4.03 ERA 3.6 WAR

Difference +0.9 WAR

I think it is reasonable to assume Sabathia rebounds from last year, but also doesn’t resume his role as an ace.

Starter #2

2013- Hiroki Kuroda 11-13 3.31 ERA 3.8 WAR

2014- Hiroki Kuroda 13-9 3.74 ERA 2.8 WAR

Difference -1.0 WAR/-0.1 cumulative

I also think it is reasonable for Kuroda to fall back from last year.

Starter #3

2013- Ivan Nova 9-6 3.10 ERA 2.5 WAR

2014- Ivan Nova 11-9 3.96 ERA 2.1 WAR

Difference -0.4/-0.5 cumulative

Which Nova will we see in 2014? The guy who looked great in 2013 or the guy we saw in 2012?

Starter #4

2013- Andy Pettitte 11-11 3.74 ERA 3.2 WAR

2014- Masahiro Tanaka 12-8 3.61 ERA 5.1 WAR

Difference +1.9/+1.4 cumulative

If this can truly come to pass the Yankees will be in very good shape.

Starter #5

2013- Phil Hughes 4-14 5.19 ERA 1.3 WAR

2014- I know it is Pineda, but ZIPS only projects him for 81 innings, so I am using Phelps and Pineda which gives us a WAR of 1.5 combined

Difference +0.2/+1.6 cumulative

Tough for me to see how Hughes was 1.3 WAR last year, but so be it.

Bullpen

The problem with using WAR and the bullpen is that relievers don’t generally pitch enough to generate much on the WAR scale. However, the 2013 Yankees had two guys with WAR’s of 1.5 or better (Rivera and Robertson) Obviously, we know Rivera won’t be pitching this year and Robertson is predicted to lose 0.4 WAR from 2013. So, I am going to say the bullpen will be worse. And I will simply subtract the 1.6 WAR improvement in the rotation from the bullpen and say that the pitching will break-even compared to 2013. Not overly elegant, but I think it is on the right track.

Summary

Combining the pitching and hitting projections says the Yankees should roughly improve by 7 wins over last year. The problem again is that their 85-77 record from 2013 probably doesn’t accurately reflect their true performance. I am going to use their 2013 pythagorean number and say that the 2013 Yankees should have been 79-83, so seven more wins brings them to 86-76 in 2014. Is that enough to grab a wild card? I will examine that tomorrow when I make my annual predictions.

Sizemore Wins

John Farrell announced today that Grady Sizemore has won the centerfield spot over Jackie Bradley Jr. Sizemore is slated to hit 5th or 6th in the line-up while Bradley Jr. will be taking buses to and from games in Pawtucket.

Sizemore was signed to a major league dealing meaning they had to either keep him or cut him (or trade him).

I said early in Spring Training that my preference was for Bradley Jr. to win the job and given today’s news I’m disappointed that Bradley Jr. (To be abbreviated as Bjr from here on out) won’t be with the club and that he’s had such a dreadful spring.

Trying to see a silver lining here, I hope Bjr gets his hacks in at Pawtucket and that perhaps later in the season he gets the call-up.

Sizemore’s accomplishments are amazing so far. His injury record is lousy and he’s really has been out of baseball for 2 years so his playing well and winning the job is a great story. That said, I think it a long shot that he stays healthy all year meaning Bjr could be in Boston before you know it.

Bjr is the future and it’d have been nice to have him in there with Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, 3 young and promising players.

Blame Detroit!

The Yankees have gotten plenty of blame, most of it deserved, for the salary inflation in MLB. But tonight’s news out of Detroit should change that focus. The Tigers are apparently giving Miguel Cabrera an eight-year extension for $248-million with two additional options on it that could take the deal to $308-million.

Let me be clear, I think Cabrera is either the top, or second-best player in the game. He deserves a massive pay check. But, he is also two years way from free agency and about to turn 31. He is already earning a boatload. This deal makes no sense. When the Yankees handed a huge deal to A-Rod, he was a free agent. Ditto the Mariners with Cano and the Angels with Pujols. Kershaw was only one year away from free agency. So was David Ortiz with the Red Sox. I just don’t get the reasoning for this deal from Detroit’s side. Why give a guy this deal now?

This is just another indication of how much cash is flowing through MLB. Young talent is going to command a higher and higher valuation. Clubs would be wise to lock it up when they can.

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.