Archive for January, 2014
As a way to stay on track and keep things from slipping through the cracks, throughout each winter I tend to make occasional lists of all the baseball stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Anything from award announcements to arbitration filings to roster holes that need to be filled. Occasionally I’ll post some version of those lists on the blog — I figure it’s useful information — but usually it’s for my own sort of scheduling. I want to make sure I have a handle on the things we’re waiting for and the things that are worth a few phone calls.
Because today’s the last day of January, I tried to make one of those lists. I looked back to blog posts from early February 2013 to see if there’s anything I’m forgetting about that’s inevitably going to happen in these last two weeks before spring training opens?
I wrote down absolutely nothing.
Last year, it was February 1 when the Yankees made their Travis Hafner signing official, but that was the only remotely interesting player move that happened between the end of January and the start of spring training. Pitchers and catchers were already working out by the time the Yankees made that early spring trade for Shawn Kelley, and it was several weeks into spring training before the Yankees realized they needed injury replacements in the outfield and at first base.
So on this last day of January, what are we waiting for? There’s nothing really specific, but here are three things worth keeping an eye on.
1. Risk-reward additions. The Yankees are aware of their bullpen situation, but the bulk of the winter’s go-to free agent relievers came off the board pretty early. Now the Yankees are left to sort through some scraps if they want to find a potential upgrade. So of course it’s worth keeping an eye out for those sort of moves, maybe a late invitation for a potentially useful reliever. A significant move seems unlikely, but I guess you never know.
2. The remaining high-end free agents. February is just a few hours away, and the free agent market still has a handful of pretty good starting pitchers, a couple of impact bats, and a left-handed hitting shortstop. Even if the Yankees are unlikely to sign any of these guys, raw curiosity makes the free agent market worth monitoring. There are some impact players out there who could make a real difference for someone.
3. Speaking of which… We’re also waiting for the Orioles to make a move. Baltimore hasn’t been completely quiet this winter, but Ken Rosenthal reported today that the O’s still have money to spend. A team in the division has a need for both pitching and hitting, and until we know what exactly the Orioles have in mind, we won’t have a complete picture of the American League East.
Choosing a fifth starter, getting a sense of Derek Jeter’s range at shortstop, and finding out whether Mark Teixeira can still drive the ball will have to wait until camp is several weeks old. For now, there’s no real milestone approaching. There are just these two weeks of possibility — Will the Yankees make a significant addition? Will they make a move at all? — before the one thing we’ve spent four months truly anticipating.
Pitchers and catchers, folks. It’s almost time.
Associated Press photo
As you might suspect, I initially thought the idea of a 7-year-old blog Pinch Hitter was kind of adorable. Something cute and quirky if nothing else, a nice little sideshow during these final cold days of January. But here’s what struck me when I read Carter’s piece: I agreed with every bit of it.
· Right now, Shawn Kelley looks like the favorite for the eighth inning? Yep.
· Matt Thornton was learly brought on board as the new Boone Logan? Yep.
· Preston Claiborne has a leg up on the competition for the middle innings? Yep.
· David Phelps and Adam Warren will factor in if they’re not needed as starters? Yep.
Not that it’s all going to play out that way — plenty of things can and will change in spring training — but as the roster is currently constructed, with what we know of it today, Carter’s bullpen analysis makes perfect sense.
The Yankees have done nothing to push Robertson out of the ninth inning, and there’s no free agent out there who seems likely to change that between now and Opening Day. Last year’s strikeout rate makes Kelley a late-inning standout among the current relievers, and Thornton is clearly a reaction to the team’s need for an experienced lefty. If nothing else, Claiborne’s familiarity leaves him well-placed on Joe Girardi’s radar (he could certainly be overshadowed in the next two months, but right now he’s the guy Girardi knows and trusts the most). And both Phelps and Warren could have a real chance to play a role significantly more important than that of a mopup man.
So, yes, I agree with Carter. But here are five reasons both he and I could be totally wrong.
1. As Derek pointed out this morning, Robertson is no sure thing in the ninth. I happen to feel pretty confident that he’ll be fine in that role — I’ve known the guy for a long time, we’ve all seen him pitch out of unreal jams, and his personality just doesn’t strike me as one to be particularly rattled if/when he knows that ninth-inning job is his — but at the same time, we just don’t know. He’s earned the shot, and Robertson would be the first to say it’s now on him to do the job.
2. Kelley might the be late-inning standout at the moment, but one big year isn’t much of a track record. I keep thinking of guys like Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson who have been very good late-inning relievers but need to get healthy. Madson is basically throwing a tryout bullpen in about a week. Might the Yankees get positive reports and give him an incentive-heavy deal? If not, there are still a handful of other guys out there — Derek mentioned Fernando Rodney and Francisco Rodriguez — and I still wonder if their asking prices might reach a point that gets the Yankees involved.
3. The Yankees didn’t give Matt Thronton two years and $7 million without having the full expectation of using him in the big league bullpen. He’s clearly the go-to left-hander, and I suppose he could pitch his way into that eighth-inning mix (though he seems to be primarily a left-on-left guy at this point). That said, Cesar Cabral has a big arm, and Thornton is 37 years old with declining velocity. Could a guy like Francisco Rondon impress in big league camp? And what about Vidal Nuno as a kind of unusual choice from the left side?
4. Yes, Girardi is familiar with Claiborne. That means he’s familiar with the early part of Claiborne’s big league debut — when he literally wasn’t walking anyone and did a nice job of pitching his way into the mix — but it also means Girardi is familiar everything that came next, when Claiborne was legitimately knocked around in the second half of last season. Claiborne might have the early advantage of familiarity, but guys like Dellin Betances (who Carter mentioned), Mark Montgomery and Chase Whitley surely see some opportunity there. Same for that long list of veterans like David Herndon, Jim Miller and Matt Daley. Could one of them become this year’s Shawn Kelley and emerge out of relative obscurity? In this bullpen, the opportunity is certainly there.
5. Because they have big league bullpen experience — and because there seems to be a believe that Michael Pineda is the favorite for that fifth-starter job — Phelps and Warren are the easy choices for starter-turned-reliever options, and those guys don’t necessarily have to be limited to long relief. At various times, those two have looked like pretty good big league pitchers. But Jose Ramirez is also a long-time minor league with a nice arm that might profile well in the bullpen, and the Yankees loved what Shane Greene showed last year with his improved command.
With a bullpen this wide open, there might be some obvious names that stand out, but there’s also a lot of work to be done and a lot of decisions to be made. This bullpen remains a work in progress, and it might stay that way beyond spring training.
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Carter LaCorte • 01.31.14
Never done this before, but in this case, I couldn’t help myself. We’re going with two Pinch Hitters today, both writing about the same topic. Building on Derek’s morning post, we now have further bullpen analysis from Carter LaCorte.
Carter’s 7 years old. He’s a second grader in Northport, N.Y. He collects baseball cards, plays Little League, and he wants to be a baseball player when he grows up. He’s been to spring training, Opening Day, the playoffs, and an All-Star game. Seems plenty qualified to me.
For his post, Carter wanted to give his breakdown of how he sees the Yankees bullpen shaking out during spring training. His father passed along a picture of some of the notes Carter was taking while working on his analysis. I have a notebooks full of paper that looks pretty similar.
With Mo retired, the former setup man, David Robertson will have to close. With no returning setup man, either Matt Thornton or Shawn Kelley will set up. Probably Kelley will pitch the eighth more because in 2013 he pitched 53.1 IP with 71 K’s. Thornton was setup/closer for the White Sox, but Kelley had more K’s and was great last year.
Preston Claiborne will probably pitch the seventh. Last year Claiborne didn’t walk a lot of guys and righties only hit .204 off him.
With our former best lefty, Boone Logan, gone, our lefties will have to be either Thornton or rookie Cesar Cabral. Thornton was good vs. lefties and righties with the Sox. Cabral’s minor league stats in 2013 vs. lefties included 25 strikeouts and eight walks in 59 at-bats.
David Phelps and Adam Warren can help a little if all of the starters are not hurt. Dellin Betances can also help in the bullpen if it needs help.
Pinch hitting: Derek Levandowski • 01.31.14
I can relate to today’s Pinch Hitter. It turns out, Derek Levandowski used to cover the Durham Bulls, and there’s really nothing like that random connection of having each covered the International League at some point. Derek grew up in upstate New York, but he now lives in North Carolina, works as the marketing coordinator for World Tavern Poker, and tweets under the handle @DereksCurveball.
Derek wrote that he’s been a Yankees fan since the days of Spike Owen and Mel Hall, and for his post, Derek’s looking ahead to the task facing Dave Robertson: Replacing Mariano Rivera.
Right now the Yankees appear to have David Robertson penciled in as their closer for the 2014 season. This has a lot of baseball people torn, as Robertson is one of the better setup men in all of baseball, and it takes a special mentality to pitch in the ninth inning rather than the eighth.
Can Robertson do the job?
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you have heard that sort of question before — in the winter 1996-97. John Wetteland, fresh off of a 43-save season and a World Series MVP, was a free agent and it was his desire to come back to the Yankees for 1997 and beyond. The Yankees, however, had other plans, believing their 27-year-old setup man, Mariano Rivera, might actually make a pretty good closer.
There was a lot of concern among the Yankees brass and the Yankees fans that the ‘formula’ (Rivera for the seventh and eighth innings, Wetteland for the ninth) was too good to break up. Early on, it appeared those concerns may be legitimate as Rivera struggled in early 1997, surrendering two home runs in April after allowing only one in all of 1996. Fans might also remember that 1997 was the season that Rivera blew a crucial save to the Indians in the ALDS, lighting the fire for a trio of Yankees championships in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
Mo ended up being pretty good, though, when all was said and done.
Flash forward to 2014. Having stood atop the mound for four championships, Rivera is now a part of Yankee lore, and it’s time for someone to fill his unfillable shoes. For the time being, that man appears to be Robertson, a 28-year old from Birmingham, Alabama who has all of eight career saves (a mere 644 less than Mariano Rivera).
Robertson has been superb as a set-up man, posting a 1.91 ERA over the last three seasons. But is he ready to close?
Let’s assume that this time the Yankees won’t be as lucky as they were with Rivera, and that Robertson is, for whatever reason, unable to handle the closer’s role with the Yankees. Or, let’s assume the Yankees decide at some point over the next few weeks that Robertson would be better suited for the eighth inning. What are their potential fallback options?
Obviously free agency is still in progress and there are several free agent arms still out there: Fernando Rodney is 36 years old and coming off of solid 37-save seasons. Rodney had a 3.38 ERA, which is about 1.5 runs higher than Yankee fans are used to, which could lead to a tough adjustment.
Jonathan Papelbon is 33 and coming off of a decent season with the Phillies, and may be available via trade – but at what cost? Francisco Rodriguez has been around forever, but he’s just 32 and spent most of last season as a setup man, posting a 2.70 ERA.
Shawn Kelley : Kelley was lights-out against right-handed batters for most of 2013, and posted a very closer-esque 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. However, he also posted a very shaky 4.39 ERA and allowed eight home runs.
Preston Claiborne: Claiborne arrived on the scene without much fanfare in 2013 but still put forth a solid rookie campaign, posting a 4.11 ERA in just over 50 innings. His strikeout rate was somewhat less than you would like to see for a late-inning reliever, at 7.5 per nine, but that could improve with experience. He also has very solid command, walking just 14 hitters along the way. Claiborne has also shown great poise for his age, as he will play at just 26 years old in 2014.
Dellin Betances: Despite a lack of Major League success, Betances seems the most ‘built’ for the closer role. A dominant minor league season after being transitioned from the starting rotation (108 strike outs in 84 innings, and a 2.68 ERA) could mean that Betances is ready to step into a major league bullpen, but he would likely need some seasoning before he could step into a closer’s role. There is no question about his stuff though, merely his command and intestinal fortitude.
Matt Thornton: The 6’6, 235 lb lefty features a very good fastball and was part of the 2013 Red Sox World Championship team, however the Yankees signed him to be their lefty out of the pen, not their closer, and it’s unlikely they would transition him from that role.
Outside Of The Box
Michael Pineda: Pineda was part of the now infamous Jesus Montero trade. Pineda suffered a torn labrum during the spring of 2012 and required surgery that kept him out until mid-way through the 2013 season. He has still yet to appear in a Major League game for the Yankees. However, now that the Yankees have signed Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, if Pineda does not win the fifth spot in the rotation, he could be a great option for the closer’s role. His numbers at AAA were very respectable, a 3.86 ERA in 6 games (albeit as a starter), with 26 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.
Reports were that Pineda was hitting 93-94 on the gun, and that should theoretically get even better as he is another year removed from shoulder surgery. At 6’7, 260 pounds, he would also bring an imposing presence to the mound.
At this time last year, who would have predicted that Edward Mujica and Koji Uehara would be closing for two teams headed to the World Series? Maybe the answer for the Yankees is Johan Santana or, if possible, someone even less likely. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, it will not be Mariano Rivera.
Associated Press photos
Pretty quiet day today, which means just a few notes and links for you tonight.
· Speaking at a Roc Nation Super Bowl event last night, CC Sabathia acknowledged — for the first time that I can remember — that last year’s weight loss might have affected his strength on the mound. That theory’s been floated quite a bit, but it seems like Sabathia’s generally dismissed it in the past. “Last year, I lost a lot of weight, so I kind of lost a little bit of power,” Sabathia said. “This year it’s all been strength building and worrying about getting better and stronger, so I feel pretty good.” Can’t overstate the importance of Sabathia for 2014.
· Michael Young was looking like a Yankees long shot anyway, but now it seems he’s officially off the market. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Young had three “good offers” but has instead decided to retire. He’s not a Hall of Famer or anything, but that guy had a really nice career.
· The Yankees have announced the hiring of five new pro scouts: Kendall Carter, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Espada, Dan Giese and Dennis Twombley. All five have significant experience either as a player, coach or scout. The name you might most remember is Giese, who’s 36 now and had a really nice — and largely unexpected run — with the Yankees in 2008. Honestly, Dan might be at the very top of my list of good guys I’ve met in the game of baseball. Congrats to him.
· Turns out, I should have brought my mandolin into the office this week. Some of my colleagues at The Journal News did a really nice acoustic session as a tribute to the late Pete Seeger. When I heard about it, I was skeptical, but the whole thing is really well done. Legitimately impressive performance, and perfectly in the Seeger spirit. Nicely done, fellas. Call me next time!
Associated Press photo
This is kind of a strange exercise, but I started thinking about this as soon as I wrote the last sentence in the previous post: It really is possible that each of the Yankees current Top 10 prospects could be eligible for the list next season. With that in mind, what’s the best-case scenario for a Yankees Top 10 Prospects list a year from now? Obviously the team doesn’t want anyone in the current Top 10 to have a bad year and fall out of the rankings, but there’s also some real motivation to have other names emerge as can’t-keep-them-out elite prospects.
Here’s an attempt at a Top 10 Yankees prospects heading into 2015 — actually, I went Top 15 just to make it easier on myself — assuming things go really, really well this season.
1. LHP Manny Banuelos
Here’s the way I’m thinking about it: Two years ago, Banuelos was generally ranked No. 2 behind Jesus Montero. He was considered one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the game, and then he had Tommy John surgery. In this best-case-scenario world, Banuelos has a dominant return to Triple-A (but the Yankees rotation is solidified by Michael Pineda, meaning the Yankees don’t have to push Banuelos to New York). A true high-end pitching prospect, with a cup of coffee in September, ready to slide into the big league rotation in 2015? That would be huge for the Yankees, and impossible to overlook for anyone creating this sort of ranking.
2. C Gary Sanchez
The key is, Banuelos can’t move to the top just because Sanchez has struggled. A few more strides behind the plate, and some overall production to go with that raw hitting ability, might bump Sanchez among the Top 30 prospects in all of baseball. Even in a best-case scenario, it’s hard to imagine him suddenly erasing all defensive concerns, but if he remains an elite bat, that would be big.
3. CF Mason Williams
In the upper levels of their system, the Yankees have two high-end center field prospects who are fairly similar. In the best-case world, I’m saying Slade Heathcott stays healthy and is so productive in Triple-A that he burns through 150 at-bats in the big leagues. Maybe he’s a second-half replacement for Ichiro Suzuki, getting his feet wet and gradually earning more and more playing time in the outfield. So, if Heathcott isn’t eligible for this ranking — and is instead penciled into the big league lineup for 2015 — that leaves No. 3 for Williams, who was No. 1 on Baseball America’s Yankees list just one year ago. Needs a bounce back year.
4. RHP Rafael De Paula
Combination of two things makes De Paula an ideal Top Five prospect for the Yankees: High-end potential and a relatively high-level of competition. Guys like Ian Clarkin, Ty Hensley and Luis Severino are unlikely to get beyond Class-A even with a good season. De Paula, though, turns 23 in March and already has a half-season in High-A. If he’s able to bring last year’s Low-A results to High-A — which will require an obvious adjustment, and probably better secondary pitchers — he could then jump to Double-A for the second, and continued success at that level would go a long way toward solidifying him as a potential impact starter. A lot of questions right now. He has a chance to answer them, and do so against fairly advanced hitters.
5. RF Tyler Austin
It’s all about the bat and the need. In 2013, Austin looked like a world beater when he crushed Low-A and High-A in his first taste of full-season ball. If last year’s underwhelming results really were the product of a wrist injury that’s healed this offseason, Austin could erase some of that uneasiness that he created by hitting just six homers this year. If he can show something in a return to third base, even better. Mostly, though, it’s all about the bat.
6. CF Aaron Judge
He wasn’t the Yankees highest draft pick last year — that went to the relatively safe choice that we’ll find lower on this list — but he did come with perhaps the most tantalizing potential. He’s a monster at 6-foot-7, and you can imagine the daydreams of that sort of size turning on a fastball. He’s a good athlete, with some reason to wonder if he might even be able to play center field. Even if he’s destined for an outfield corner, the Yankees have already said they’re considering an aggressive High-A assignment for Judge. If he hits a bunch of bombs there, the only thing keeping him out of the top five would be his relative lack of experience.
7. 3B Eric Jagielo
Here’s the Yankees top pick in last year’s draft. He’s a proven college hitter at a position of need and he hits left-handed. What’s not to like? Jagielo was the Yankees top third base prospect the moment his name was announced on draft day, and he was a departure from the Yankees recent trend of using their first picks on high-risk high schoolers who’ve shown a tendency to flame out in the lower levels. Fair or not, Jagielo is not seen as having an extreme, superstar ceiling. But he certainly has the upside of a productive everyday player, and given the Yankees uncertainty at third base, the team certainly wants him to remain a consensus top t0 prospect.
8. RHP Ty Hensley
There are a lot of younger, high-upside starting pitchers who the Yankees would like to have forcing their way into the Top 10 at this time next year. You could put Ian Clarkin here, or Jose Campos, or Luis Severino. I’m going to go with Hensley as my best-case-scenario option, largely because he was a first-rounder back in 2012. He’s a big guy, he’s still just 20 years old, and for reasons of both production and perception, the Yankees would certainly love to have another recent first-round draft pick making everyone’s organizational prospect rankings next year. It would really be nice, though, if the Yankees had a bunch of similar options for this spot.
9. 1B Greg Bird
I thought about leaving Bird off this best-case-scenario list because, let’s face it, the development of a first baseman usually isn’t the highest priority. But then you re-read Dan Barbarisi’s story about Mark Teixeira’s wrist — and you look remember that those spring training invitations didn’t include a single minor league first baseman — and you realize that Bird really could be a huge part of the Yankees future. For such a young guy, Bird seems to have an advanced approach at the plate. If more power comes as Bird ages, he could fit the typical profile of a slugging first baseman (which the Yankees might need pretty soon). If the power shows up big time this year, then No. 9 will be far too low for Bird.
10. SS Abiatal Avelino
Here’s the problem with doing something like this: In a best-case scenario, there too many Top 10 prospects to actually fit in a Top 10 list! You could certainly make a case for the Yankees desperately wanting J.R. Murphy or Mark Montgomery or Jose Ramirez to be Top 10 guys next year (assuming they don’t burn through their rookie status this year). And there’s a lot to be said for a guy like Bryan Mitchell having a huge year in Double-A, or Peter O’Brien continuing to hit for massive power, or Gosuke Katoh proving this year’s numbers were no fluke. All of those are viable, but just for fun, what about the emergence — at last — of a shortstop who just might be able to take over the position at some point? It would take some kind of year for a teenager to win a spot on this list (assuming we’re in a best-case world where a bunch of guys have great seasons), which might be all the most reason to think including Avelino would be a really good sign.
Associated Press photo
What did I write this morning? That this seems to be the time of year for prospect rankings? Well, we now have another one, and it seems to be building a general consensus among national outlets that do this sort of thing. Today it was Keith Law at ESPN.com who released his Yankees Top 10 list. The list should look fairly familiar.
1. Gary Sanchez, C
2. Tyler Austin, RF
3. Mason Williams, CF
4. J.R. Murphy, C
5. Slade Heathcott, CF
6. Aaron Judge, CF
7. Ian Clarkin, LHP
8. Eric Jagielo, 3B
9. Luis Severino, RHP
10. Greg Bird, 1B
The exactly numbers are shuffled at little bit, but ESPN, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America each has Sanchez, Williams, Murphy, Heathcott, Judge, Clarkin, Jagielo and Bird somewhere in its Yankees top 10. MLB.com — which has rankings that seem to always stray from the norm; not that it’s a bad thing — has five of those players in its own Yankees top 10. Baseball America is the only one that doesn’t have Austin (BA doesn’t have him in its Top 10; the others still have him Top Five). Baseball Prospectus is high on Jose Ramirez. MLB.com is high on Rafael DePaula.
For the most part, though, Law’s group of 10 — aside from the exact order — has something close to universal approval.
We’re all well aware that the Yankees farm system as a whole is not very highly touted. It comes with a lot of risk-reward (a lot of young guys who have upside but also a long way to go; also a lot of high-end talent coming back from injury problems). There’s a chance none of Law’s top 10 will burn through his rookie status in 2014 — really, Murphy’s the only one with a truly strong chance of playing any sort of big league role this year — meaning all 10 of these guys could be eligible for the list again next year.
It was right around this time two years ago when the Yankees finally got rid of A.J. Burnett. They dumped him on the Pirates so that he could play out the remaining two years of his contract at a safe distance. And wouldn’t you know it? Burnett pitched really well. He’d pitched to an ERA over 5.00 the previous two years with the Yankees, and he promptly pitched to a 3.41 in Pittsburgh.
The league surely had something to do with it, and a change of scenery couldn’t have been a bad thing, but two years after the Yankees got rid of him, Burnett now looms as a potential problem. Not that he’s going to cause a massive power shift within the American League East, but ever since it became known that Burnett plans to pitch this year, the Orioles have emerged as an early favorite.
And Burnett’s really a perfect fit for Baltimore.
Burnett’s from that area, the Orioles have a hole in their rotation, and a short-term commitment — a one-year deal makes sense — would leave the future wide open for Baltimore’s elite pitching prospects that could be ready sooner rather than later.
The Orioles and Yankees finished tied in the American League East last season. Baltimore hasn’t added nearly as much as the Yankees, but it also hasn’t lost nearly as much as the Yankees. Burnett’s a good fit for them. It would be fascinating to see Burnett coming into Yankee Stadium with a chip on his shoulder. A situation like that could be really bad for the Yankees, or really good.
Building a new core, one way or another • 01.30.14
This seems to be the time of year for prospect rankings, and in a way, that’s why Nick’s guest post was a pretty good fit this morning.
Prospect evaluation and player development are all about trying to find core players who bring both impact and longevity to an organization. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada set individual standards that might be impossible to replicate — two no-doubt Hall of Famers and two borderline Hall candidates in a single farm system at the same time? — but the theory behind their significance remains universal: A young shortstop doesn’t have to become the next Jeter to play a significant role organizational success, and a young reliever doesn’t have to live up to Rivera’s standards to have done his part.
This morning, Nick write a lot about his emotional attachment to the Core Four, and there’s no doubt that’s an important part of their legacy, but most of that emotion is beside the point when trying to improve a farm system. Certainly teams want their young players to be good guys — and they love it when those young players are also well-spoken and easy to root for — but mostly a franchise is focused on finding good hitters and good pitchers.
Even the Core Four would not have been nearly as popular had those players not been elite performers.
Now that three of the four have retired, and as Jeter moves ever closer to his 40th birthday, the Yankees are trying to build a new core. Not necessarily a Hall of Fame core, but a core that will stick around for a while and have some real success. That’s what this winter’s long-term deals with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka were all about. The Yankees spent nearly a half billion dollars this winter trying to build a new core of players.
Which is exactly the reason player development is so important.
As we saw these past three months or so, free agency is a tough way to build. It’s expensive, and it’s risky, and it’s hard to repeat year after year. Free agency is best used for patching holes, not setting a foundation. Prospects bring their own sort of risk, but that’s why it’s important to have so many of them. Once a prospect breaks through to the big leagues, he comes with a six-year trial period before any sort of long-term commitment is really necessary, and during those six years, a good young player is an unmistakeable bargain. The ability to spend is hugely helpful, but player development is a more sustainable approach.
Any emotional attachment that comes along the way, that’s icing on the cake.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Nick Kirby • 01.30.14
Today’s Pinch Hitter has been here before. Nick Kirby is a 21-year-old junior at the University of Delaware (as an aside, that’s where my brother-in-law got his undergraduate degree). Nick’s studying health sciences and advertising, and I assume that’s because he’s involved some sort of contest to determine who can pick the set of majors that have the least in common. Nick’s the vice president of his fraternity, and he’s involved with the student radio station as a sports talk show host and occasional play-by-play man for the Blue Hens.
For his post, Nick focused on his generation of Yankees fans, who are truly entering a new era of fandom. Nicks’ favorite player is Derek Jeter, and Jeter might not be around much longer.
For the past few years, we’ve heard commentators discuss the impact of the Core Four: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettite. We’ve heard about how much those four have meant to the Yankees franchise, the championships they brought to the city, and how difficult it’s going to be for Brian Cashman to replace some of these icons.
Pro sports affect every fan differently, but over time, the Core Four developed an unparalleled connection with Yankees fans born between the late eighties and early nineties.
As Millennial Yankees fans, we got to witness an unbelievable run that, due to free agency and the collective bargaining agreement, probably won’t be seen for a while. In a remarkable 18-year period from 1995 to 2012, the Yankees made the playoffs 17 times, won 13 AL East Crowns, seven pennants and five world championships. It’s easy to measure the success that this group of Yankees had on the baseball field. They were flat out dominant.
But more than the tangible success, this group formed an emotional connection with fans growing up in the 90’s that cannot be measured with statistics.
Growing up, we saw glimpses of dynasties that couldn’t sustain because egos or money got in the way. We saw the Shaq/Kobe Lakers disintegrate because they couldn’t get along. We saw A-Rod and Ken Griffey Jr. bolt from Seattle because of money and power problems. We even saw LeBron James organize a national TV special to tell everyone that he was leaving his hometown team. Players just seemed to jump around constantly, and as free agency allowed athletes to put money and ego above all, the Core Four represented everything that pro sports were not.
They didn’t hold out for new contracts. They didn’t complain to the press about playing time. They didn’t bolt for more money, or fight over the spotlight. They didn’t sexually assault any women, rip their teammates to the press, or go on rants and blame people. In the process, they were able to accomplish what nobody else could: continued, sustainable success as a group.
Despite public perception, the latest Yankees dynasty was built on homegrown talent and selflessness. These guys simply showed up every day, played hard, and went home. Were they perfect people? No. Did they make mistakes? Absolutely. But they made sure to stay out of the public eye and not let any differences come in the way of the ultimate goal: competing for championships.
I used to think that these guys would play forever, that they were timeless. Throughout our childhood, they played every day and competed. No matter what was going in our lives, we always believed that Rivera was going to nail down the save or that Jeter was going to come through with a walk-off hit. As we grew up, changed schools, and hit puberty, these players represented stability and comfort. They were our role models, and they always seemed to be there for us. But Father Time catches up with all of us. These players aged and neared retirement at an almost identical rate that we aged out of childhood. Every time I’d hear a commentator talking about Jeter’s decreased range or how many years Rivera had left, I would realize just how little childhood I had left. Their departure from the game was a dark reminder that we were growing up, as these players were the last form of childhood activity that I still enjoyed.
With three of the four players gone — and Jeter hanging onto his career by a thread — it is written on the wall that the end is here. In my opinion, this will be Jeter’s last year, and it is only fitting that he will retire sometime around when I graduate college in May of 2015. I will always look back at my childhood and associate it with these players, as they represented a time in my life when everything was so simple, before technology and maturity.
This past September, when Pettitte and Jeter went to get Rivera from the mound in his last game ever, we saw them break down in tears because they knew this wonderful run was over. Looking on, I couldn’t help but to cry with them. As they walked back to the dugout, they took my childhood with them.
Associated Press photo