The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


On the 40-man: Ramon Flores

Ramon Flores

Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next examine an outfield prospect who could be ready for a big league role almost immediately if the right doors begin to open for him.

FloresRAMON FLORES

Age on Opening Day: 23
Acquired: International free agent in 2008
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in 2012

In the past: Long overshadowed in the Yankees’ minor league system, Flores was long thought of as a second-tier prospect without the upside of Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams, but he’s put up steady numbers throughout the minor leagues. Primarily a left fielder, he can play center field, right field and has some time at first base. Last year he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A, but his year was cut short by an ankle injury. He rebounded to put up terrific numbers in Venezuela this winter.

Role in 2015: For now, Flores looks like the everyday left fielder — perhaps getting a lot of time in center — for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he could also be considered the top outfielder in line for a call-up or an Opening Day job if someone gets injured. If Flores weren’t a left-handed hitter, he might be a better fit on the current Yankees roster, but with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Garrett Jones already hitting from the left side, the Yankees have more bench need for a right-handed hitter like Chris Young. That’s why Flores looks more like a Triple-A outfielder at this point.

Best case scenario: Although he’s still not necessarily getting hype as a future everyday player, Flores is beginning to get more credit among Yankees prospects as a dependable young player whose ceiling might not be the highest, but whose floor is certainly not the lowest. Best-case scenario would have Flores hitting too well — against both lefties and righties — to avoid giving him a shot in New York. It’s certainly not the best-case scenario for the team as a whole, but if Gardner, Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran is hurt, there would have to be some realistic hope that Flores could at least be a regular platoon player against righties.

Worst case scenario: If there’s a downside to Flores it’s the fact he doesn’t do any one thing especially well. He hits for good average, but not a great average. He has some speed, but he’s only once had more than 13 steals in a season. He has some power, but probably not double-digit home run power. He can play center field, but he’s better in left. On-base ability might be his best high-end tool, but is that enough for a corner outfielder who doesn’t run a lot? Worst-case scenario is that Flores has enough across-the-board skill to thrive in Triple-A, but not enough to stick in the big leagues. A low-end comparison might be, I don’t know, maybe Colin Curtis (and that’s coming from a guy who still believes Curtis could have stuck on a big league roster if he hadn’t been hurt; so I mean that as a good thing).

What the future holds: This should be the last year Flores can be optioned to Triple-A (burned one option in 2013, one in 2014 and now 2015). That could limit his future within the Yankees organization. The signing of Ellsbury and the extension for Gardner limited his ability to fit nicely on the big league roster, but considering none of the lefties involved — including Flores — has overwhelming career splits, there could still be room for all three in the right situation.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 6:04 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Manfred on A-Rod: “He’s a player entitled to attempt to resume his career”

Rob Manfred

This is link reading all the way through, but I’ll post some highlights here on the blog.

Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal interviewed new commissioner Rob Manfred. The topics ranged from defensive shifts to international free agents to Alex Rodriguez’s return to pace of play to the Mets’ payroll. It’s a pretty wide-reaching conversation, and one that hits on some of the biggest issues in the game today. I really think the whole thing is worth reading.

Three points of interest:

On his relationship with Alex Rodriguez
“It’s not uncommon for players to want to see me about something if they have an issue. I think of the conversations (earlier this month) with Alex as part of that ongoing activity and I’ve made it a practice not to get into the substance of those conversations. I don’t think Alex would, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to. … I come from a part of the business where you have back-and-forth exchanges that can become heated. People talk about the relationship that I had with Michael (Weiner). Michael and I had some pretty good goes over time. So when you come out of that environment you learn to put harsh words to one side and go forward with the relationship that you’re still going to have. That’s how I think about this issue. I think that when you have penalties that are like the penalties we have now negotiated, and the player does something wrong and serves out his penalty, the other side of that coin is baseball has to be willing to accept the player back and give him a chance to finish his career. I don’t think I’m doing anything more than that.”

On his previous comment about possibly eliminating defensive shifts
“Let me go back and put the comment I made in context. I was asked about long term, radical thoughts and what I said was that I was I prepared to have a conversation about shifts. Look, we have a lot of conversations in this building about a lot of things, so I don’t think it would be a good idea to read too much into that comment. Having said that, we watch what goes on in the game very, very carefully. On the field, what the trends are, we’re always doing that. There was a lot of talk about the lack of offense, particularly late last year and coming into the offseason. We’re watching those trends. But one of the reasons we don’t act too quickly is you never know when people are going to adjust. Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it will self-correct and we’re not going to need to make a change. We look at these things, we think it’s smart to pay attention, we think it’s important to think about possible solutions even if it turns out that we don’t have a problem.”

On the desire to shorten games and improve the pace of play
“I think there is substance and symbolism to this issue. On the substance, there’s no doubt that our games have crept longer, and I think that it is important on the substance to shorten them because it’s more consonant with the way that people live. Everybody’s pressed for time, and I think that to the extent we could save 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the average game, that would be a huge change in terms of the length of the game. Symbolically, because there’s so much talk about it and it is reflective of the way people live and of our society, I think it’s important to say to our fans, yes, we hear you and we’re taking steps to do something about this. … I think pace of game is one of those issues where you’re going to see us work on it over a period of years. If we could cut seven to 10 minutes off that would be a huge, a huge improvement I think this year.”

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 3:07 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Could there be a happy-enough ending to A-Rod’s career?

Alex Rodriguez

This morning’s Pinch Hitter post shouldn’t be asking for too much, but it might be the least likely scenario in this whole Alex Rodriguez mess.

A sincere and believable apology? True and total forgiveness? Any sort of happy ending for Rodriguez, the Yankees, and the game of baseball? It’s a nice wish, and perhaps a worthwhile prayer, but aren’t we past that already?

If you’re looking for sincerity and hope, I would point to the words Dennis wrote: “I speak of something very real. This ‘real’ needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.”

There’s sincere hope there, but I wonder if it’s misplaced. Rodriguez is probably sorry, and I’m sure he’s filled with regret. I bet it even goes beyond the surface level, that he’s not simply sorry he got caught. Surely Rodriguez can look back on his teenaged talent, recognize his potential to be truly great, and realize that his own lies and shortcuts have ruined his legacy. Blame Sports Illustrated or Bud Selig or baseball culture all you want — Rodriguez’s fall from grace started with his own decisions.

And I honestly think baseball wants to forgive. Andy Pettitte’s steroid admission is barely a footnote in his career. Jason Giambi is beloved and even respected in the game. Mark McGwire is a hitting coach. Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Melky Cabrera have each landed lucrative contracts after PED suspensions.

But is there any hope of Rodriguez following that path? At this point, he’s drifted so far off course so many times, I’m not sure he could find the path. Instead of sincerity and forgiveness, perhaps this is a more realistic hope for these next three years of A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez1. An open discussion
Of course Rodriguez needs to apologize. Of course he needs to promise he’ll never do it again. Those statements are a a given, even if they’re ultimately meaningless and easy to ignore after all the times we’ve heard it before. What’s more important is that Rodriguez really talks about what happened. Perhaps there are legal reasons he can’t give all the details, but he can’t hide behind the law completely. Whatever questions he doesn’t answer in that inevitable spring training press conference will only be asked again and again throughout the season. Make this whole thing a little less scandalous by making it all a part of the public record.

2. A financial compromise
A contract is a contract, and the Yankees signed a bad one. They know it, we know it, and even Rodriguez must know it. The fact the Yankees haven’t gotten out of that contract already is proof enough that they’re locked in for the next three years. They might release him, but they’re still going to pay him. Where there might be middle ground is in those home run bonuses. The players’ union should back A-Rod if the Yankees refuse to pay them — it’s in the best interest of the union that contracts pay at the highest level — but the Yankees would have full public support if they were to find a way out of it. What if Rodriguez announces that every home run bonus will go to charity? What if Major League Baseball decides that a marketing clause isn’t part of a standard contract anyway, and these particular bonuses won’t count toward the luxury tax (probably a reach, but maybe not)? If there’s a way to avoid another fight, that’s a positive for everyone involved.

3. A willing No. 8 hitter
Give Rodriguez credit for this much: When Joe Girardi benched him and pinch hit for him back in 2012, Rodriguez handled it the best way possible. He didn’t complain. Didn’t duck questions. Didn’t throw Girardi under the bus or whisper negative comments about Raul Ibanez. If Girardi decides Rodriguez is little more than a platoon designated hitter, Rodriguez needs to do the same this season. He can — and should — make it clear that he’s working to be an everyday third baseman again, but he has to be nothing but supportive if and when he’s less than that. If he’s on the bench on Opening Day and batting eighth in his first start, he has to explain that he’s had a year off and is still working hard to get up to speed. If he’s better than that, great. If not, Rodriguez can’t make it even more of a story that it will be anyway.

4. A model employee (with quiet bosses)
It was in January of 2013 that news of Biogenesis first broke, and in the months that followed, Rodriguez seemed to do whatever he could to make the situation worse. He sued baseball, sued the Yankees’ doctor, claimed mistreatment, gave brutal public comments, and separated himself so significantly that Brian Cashman once admitted he wasn’t comfortable talking to his most highly paid player. It’s remarkable that Rodriguez didn’t burn every bridge in baseball that year, but here he is, still moving forward, so some bridges must still be intact. If he starts burning bridges again in 2015, he’ll truly end up on an island with no way home. But that has to go both ways. If Rodriguez is playing nice, the Yankees and Major League Baseball have to do the same. They don’t have to like one another, but if they’re going to be stuck together with some desire to make this work, they have to at least nod politely and say hello in the hallway.

5. A good enough player
This isn’t really a decision, but it might be crucial to keeping this whole thing from falling apart. Rodriguez needs to be a major-league-caliber player. He doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t have to hit cleanup. Doesn’t have to play third base. But Rodriguez needs to play some sort of role for at least a couple of years. If not, he’s heading for a new sort of tension. It just seems too much to ask that the Yankees and Rodriguez continue to play nice while the team clearly has no reason to keep him on its roster, and we’ve seen the way Rodriguez reacts when things get desperate. Baseball’s best hope for a peaceful resolution is that Rodriguez plays well enough, provide some productive at-bats, makes no fuss about his role, and finally walks away without another fight or another scandal.

Forgiveness? Sincerity? Maybe not. Rodriguez’s career should have ended with an epic celebration throughout baseball, but at this point, the best hope might be that it ends with a peaceful handshake and a quiet walk into retirement.

Associated Press photos

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 11:33 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Dennis Cole

Alex Rodriguez

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Dennis Cole, the creative director for Dramatic Christian Ministries and Narrow Gate Theater. He lives in Albuquerque but travels extensively doing one-man and small-cast live theater events. He produces, directs and writes plays, including a December adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” which he called, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dennis was the sports editor for the Woodstock Townsman in Ulster County, N.Y. from 1982 to 1985 and regularly covered the Yankees.

Dennis was one of many who suggested a Pinch Hitter post about Alex Rodriguez. I chose only a few, including this one, which is a plea for forgiveness on one end and a plea for true remorse on the other end. Dennis calls his post: Alex Rodriguez, Please Come Home.

Alex RodriguezAlex Rodriguez is coming back to major league baseball. In my view there is a kind of pragmatic “let’s all get back to normal as best we can” with regard to Alex’s return. Justice was fulfilled? He paid with the 162 game suspension. He works out with Barry Bonds now.

All is forgiven! Is it?

My issue with Rodriguez is not that “we” should harp upon his crimes, but that he should be forgiven! I mean, really forgiven. The question I propose is, how?

When he was the only one implicated in the 2003 not-to-be-made-known-to-the-public PED testing, I thought that so unjust. He was one of several users, but the only one implicated. His return and ensuing play that season 2009 was admirable and victorious. It was great for Yankee fans like me.

His apology in 2009, however, was not sincere. His implication in Biogenesis showed he was still a PED user. Unfortunately, what happened after Biogenesis was worse than his use of PED’s. A-Rod, as is publicly known, initiated law suits, lied over and again by claiming his innocence, and he insinuated others’ wrongdoings in his attempt to lie his way out of trouble. He did not seem to care who it hurt, either, certainly not his team or baseball.

As in the Shakespearian tragedy “Macbeth,” we saw in A-Rod an artistic/athletic fall of majesty, a moral fall that shatters common complacency that a fall from good character does not matter anymore. Shakespeare’s tragedies always show a moral fall of character.

There is something of the boy in this boy’s game of baseball. I speak of something greater than an ideal. I speak of something very real. This “real” needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.

If A-Rod’s moral crime is not dealt with directly — i.e. he gives a public relations apology — then A-Rod will get a public relations forgiveness. There will be an unspoken cover-up by teammates, media, the public in general, all insinuating that lies do not matter. There will be a new cover-up, to cover up the lack of guilt and remorse by A- Rod.

The chance for real remorse will have come and gone, and A-Rod’s most important at bat will be a no show. The non-spoken will be the elephant in the room. Cynicism will have its way reminding us that the boy’s game is business… bad business too. It’s not good for the team to be compromised, not good for baseball, and not good for Alex Rodriguez.

Forgiveness has a standard that says there is a right way and a wrong way. If there is no right and wrong, why forgive or be forgiven? Forgiveness brings a perfect finish to an imperfect person and people. Right now, pre-season spring training, is A-Rod’s time and place for his biggest game.

In the “Lord of the Rings,” Mount Doom is the place of victory. I would love to see A-Rod’s moment of shame become his greatest win, a forever humility. I want for all to truly forgive, but for this to happen, he needs to be truly sorrowful. Real forgiveness is unconditional. What we normally give in forgiveness is conditional and partial at best. Victory for A-Rod depends on his sincere sorrow. If not one person forgave him, his victory would remain. The sign of his victory would be his heart’s desire. The joy of playing a boys game will return to him.

My prayer is this…

Take us home Alex. Be victorious by admitting “I was wrong and am so sorry.” That’s the way to win. The only way to win. If you win this one, you will see your greatest victory ever. To be truly free is better than the Hall of Fame.

Baseball is all about coming home. The team that does this most always wins. Come home, Alex. It would be your greatest home run. I for one am rooting for you. Do it for the team and for the game of life. You have lots of teammates here.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Yankees minor leaguer Tyler Palmer suspended

Palmer, TylerEarlier today, Major League Baseball announced that four minor league players have been suspended for violations of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. One was a free agent, one was with a Diamondbacks, one was with the Pirates … and one was with the Yankees. Here’s the paragraph of interest:

New York Yankees Minor League shortstop Tyler Palmer has received a 50-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Amphetamine, a stimulant in violation of the Program, and after a second positive test for a drug of abuse in violation of the Program. The suspension of Palmer, who is currently on the roster of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees 2, will be effective at the start of the 2015 GCL season.

I did not recognize Palmer’s name when the press release hit my inbox. The Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent back in June. He went to the Gulf Coast League, played all over the field — shortstop, second base, third base, one turn in right field — and hit .262/.354/.443 with 17 stolen bases (he was never caught stealing). Those are awfully good numbers, even for a guy who was a little old for the league at 21.

Turns out, Palmer actually has a crazy background. He was a highly touted high school player in Georgia who was a fourth-round draft pick back in 2011, but just before he signed, Palmer cut his throwing arm, severing two nerves and thoroughly derailing his career. He wound up at a Community College and was playing in the Florida Collegiate Summer League when the Yankees gave him a contract last summer.

Wild story, which makes Palmer an easy guy to root for as long as this is little more than a mistake along the way.

 
 
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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 9:44 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Andrew Miller

Miller

Up next in our look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster is the team’s newest big-money reliever, a guy who looked like a bust as a rotation prospect before moving to the bullpen and becoming a dominant force. He is, in a lot of ways, a left-handed Dellin Betances.

Miller1ANDREW MILLER

Age on Opening Day: 29
Acquired: Signed as a free agent this winter
Added to the 40-man: The signing became official December 5

In the past: Sixth overall pick in 2006, Miller was traded from Detroit to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal, then he went to the Red Sox after his stock had plummeted. Moved full-time to the bullpen in 2012, Miller’s strikeout rate soared and his WHIP fell. He became a strong reliever very quickly, and last season he became a truly great one. With the Red Sox and Orioles he finished with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings — more than Betances — and a 0.802 WHIP. He was more setup man than left-on-left specialist.

Role in 2015: Key piece of the Yankees bullpen, whatever the exact title might be. In Betances and Miller, the Yankees basically have a two-headed monster for the late inning. One throws from the left side, one throws from the right side, and both are fully capable of pitching multiple innings and getting a ton of strikeouts (though Miller really didn’t throw multiple innings all that often last season). Miller could be the closer, or he could simply put out fires and build a strong bridge to the ninth inning. He’s going to come into key situations, whatever the inning.

Best case scenario: It’s hard to ask for much more than Miller’s 2014 performance with a ton of strikeouts, an acceptable number of walks — down considerably from the year before — and an absurdly small number of base runners. But if the Yankees want a true best-case scenario, it would involve that level of performance with much more than 62.1 innings. Either a dominant closer or a dominant setup man, either one would live up to Miller’s contract.

Worst case scenario: At this point, Miller’s been good enough for long enough that it’s hard to imagine him taking a massive step back toward the numbers he put up in his mid-20s. I suppose you could look at his career 1.56 WHIP — a combination of rotation struggles and bullpen success — and consider that a worst-case scenario. Maybe that’s fair. What’s more realistic might be a worst-case scenario of 2013′s control issues, leading to a 1.37 WHIP.

What the future holds: Miller turns 30 in May and he’s signed through 2018. That means the Yankees basically have him for his age-30, 31, 32 and 33 seasons. Those numbers shouldn’t be too troubling. All pitchers carry some risk of injury, but that’s unavoidable. Ideally, being in the bullpen will help keep Miller healthy through his early 30s, and it won’t be until the final two years of his deal that the Yankees will be paying Betances any more than (essentially) the league minimum. That’s two high-end relievers for a, combined, reasonable price.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 7:15 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Looking ahead to the Yankees spring roster battles

The Yankees picked Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop. They chose Chase Headley to play third base. Chris Capuano was signed to be the stopgap fifth starter, David Carpenter was added to pitch some key innings of relief, and Garrett Jones was added to back up at three key spots. We know these things because the Yankees roster seems more or less set at this point.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some position battles to watch for in spring training.

This morning’s Pinch Hitter post was all about the final out, which led to a post about who should be the Yankees closer. But choosing which reliever should handle the ninth inning isn’t the only roster decision the Yankees have to make this spring. Here are a few roster competitions to keep in mind:

Alex RodriguezThe lineup

1. Who starts at second base?
Right now it looks like Stephen Drew, but that doesn’t seem set in stone. Far from it, actually. A one-year deal worth $5 million doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player’s spot in the starting lineup. There a ways to get creative with the roster, and if either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is too good to ignore, the Yankees might have to make some adjustments. Second base has a favorite heading into camp, but it doesn’t have a sure thing.

2. Is Alex Rodriguez really the designated hitter?
No one knows what to expect from this guy, which means this question goes two ways. Is it possible he could play so well that he’s more of a third baseman who gets quite a bit of time at DH? Also, is it possible that he’s so bad he can’t be trusted with regular at-bats in any role? At the very least, with Garrett Jones offering a left-handed alternative, a DH platoon seems possible. There seems to be at least some chance Rodriguez can’t stick on the roster, much less play every day.

3. What’s the shortstop situation?
Clearly the Yankees want Didi Gregorius to be their regular shortstop. Ideally, he’ll hit well enough to play against both lefties and righties, but at the very least he should be the starter against right-handed pitching. That said, the Yankees do have Drew in camp. If Gregorius falls flat on his face, could Drew take the job? It’s not remotely ideal, but there are two veteran shortstops who will provide alternatives at the position.

Yankees Blue Jays BaseballThe rotation

1. Who starts on Opening Day?
It’s not really a roster battle, so maybe this is a weak argument. But it’s certainly going to be a discussion at some point. Whether you like him on the mound or not, CC Sabathia is definitely a leader in the clubhouse, and his role as leader of the pitching staff might win him another turn on Opening Day. Masahiro Tanaka, though, is the clear ace. Frankly, the answer to this question might have more to do with health than anything else.

2. Is Chris Capuano really the No. 5 starter?
Brian Cashman has made it clear that Capuano was signed to be a starting pitcher. He’s coming to camp with a rotation spot. But logic seems to dictate that someone could force the Yankees to change their plans. What if Adam Warren works as a starter in spring training and looks fantastic? Same for Bryan Mitchell or Esmil Rogers. What about Luis Severino? Is it possible the Yankees top pitching prospect — or anyone else — could force the Yankees to change their minds at the back of the rotation?

3. What’s the sixth starter situation?
This could have an impact on another roster spot. Let’s say a guy like Chase Whitley pitches extremely well in spring training and could make the team as a long reliever, but he also looks like their best bet to make a spot start should someone get hurt early in the season. Would the Yankee carry Whitley in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A to stay stretch out? Same question for a guy like Mitchell or Jose De Paula.

John Ryan MurphyThe bench

1. Who’s the backup catcher?
Perhaps the second most obvious position battle in camp. The Yankees traded away Francisco Cervelli specifically to open a big league job for one of their young catching prospects. Logic says that John Ryan Murphy is the heavy favorite after he won the backup role last year while Cervelli was hurt, but Austin Romine has big league experience, some prospect potential of his own, and he’s out of options. Can he beat the odds and win the job?

2. Is Brendan Ryan really the backup infielder?
The Yankees signed Ryan to give themselves some much-needed shortstop depth for the immediate future. He backed up Derek Jeter last year, and right now he’s positioned to back up Gregorius. But with Drew also in the mix, the Yankees could cut ties with Ryan, carry Gregorius and Drew as their shortstops, and make room for either Pirela or Refsnyder or anyone else who plays too well to leave behind. Ryan seems to be going into spring training with a roster spot, but does that have to mean he’ll leave with one?

3. What’s the outfield situation?
We know the five names: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young and Garrett Jones. Those seem to be the big league outfielders — a group that bring flexibility and balance and leaves a couple of decent pinch hitters on the bench. But given all of the outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, is it possible for someone else to sneak into the picture? Ramon Flores, maybe? Tyler Austin? Injury could obviously open a door, but that’s always the case. The question is whether a Triple-A outfielder could play his way to New York without an injury.

Esmil RogersThe bullpen

1. Who’s the seventh reliever?
I wrote that backup catcher is the second most obvious position battle. That’s because this is the most obvious. If the Yankees stick with their projected rotation, that will leave six obvious favorites for the bullpen, meaning there’s one spot that’s completely up for grabs. And it really does seem to be a wide open competition. Maybe a lefty like Chasen Shreve, a long man like Chase Whitley, a hard-thrower like Chris Martin, a prospect like Jacob Lindgren, or a total wild card like Andrew Bailey. This is the one roster spot that’s completely up the air (unless the Yankees sign a veteran closer between now and Opening Day).

2. Is Esmil Rogers really guaranteed a spot?
He has some guaranteed money tied to his new contract, but does that mean the Yankees have to stick with a guy who’s never really had sustained success in the big leagues? Clearly the Yankees think Rogers can help them — either as a spot starter or a long reliever or in short stints — but there are so many bullpen options coming to camp, it’s Rogers whose spot seems most uncertain. He’s penciled in for now. By mid March, he might not be.

3. What’s the closer situation?
This was addressed earlier today, but it’s too obvious to leave off of this list. For the first time in a long, long time, the Yankees are heading into spring training without a clear closer (even last year, Dave Robertson was the obvious choice even before he took the job). Could the Yankees choice of a closer — if it’s not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller — impact the way they build the rest of their bullpen? Could they make a late decision to add an experienced closer to the mix?

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 5:02 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

How should the Yankees handle the final out in 2015?

Adam Warren, John Ryan Murphy

Given a restructured bullpen full of late-inning experience but light on ninth-inning experience, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked last month whether it’s important that the bullpen have defined roles heading into 2015. In other words, is it important to pick out a closer, or could the Yankees simply mix and match at the end of games.

“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said at the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out (last) season, Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh (or eighth) inning. So that takes time to get ironed out. Especially when you think about it, we know we have at least three new pieces in there. And could you have more? Possibly.”

Three new pieces locked into bullpen roles: Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson

Three returning to bullpen jobs: Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers

Three young arms on the radar: Jacob Lindgren, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve

Three free agents still available: Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Burke Badenhop

This morning, Jeff wrote about the importance of the final out. He wrote about the oh-so-close nature of one-run game in the bottom of the ninth when that 27th out makes all the difference. The Yankees have been awfully good at getting that final out. They had Mariano Rivera for basically two decades. When he was hurt, Soriano stepped in. When Rivera retired, Dave Robertson emerged. Now, the ninth inning is a mystery. Even more of a mystery than it was last spring when the only question was whether Robertson could step into the closer role.

This spring, the question isn’t only whether a new guy can handle that role, but who might get the first crack at it.

Brian McCann, Dellin BetancesFive possibilities to consider:

1. The obvious choice
In his rookie year, Betances pitched so well that he generated Rivera comparisons. In almost every way — except total innings and October success — Betances was actually better in 2014 than Rivera was in 1996. Of course, we all know that Rivera transitioned in 1997 from setup man to closer, so it makes obvious sense to do the same with Betances. Brian Cashman has said before that no one knows how a pitcher will perform under that pressure until they’re put in that situation — is it possible Betances would try to over-do it and lose his mechanics? — but if Betances hasn’t earned an opportunity, who has?

2. The hired gun
Although he’s never been a regular closer, Miller does have a longer track record than Betances. He’s also older and just signed a four-year, $36-million deal that certainly looks like a closer’s contract. The Yankees eased Betances into last year’s late-inning role, and it might make sense to avoid pushing him suddenly into the ninth inning. The Yankees know Betances can thrive as a overpowering, multi-inning setup guy. Maybe they shouldn’t mess with that and instead give Miller the ninth-inning job. He actually had a higher strikeout rate than Betances last season, so he could be just as dominant at the end.

3. The other guys
This would be a bit of unconventional thinking: Having seen the impact of a multi-inning middle reliever, the Yankees could keep both Betances and Miller in essentially setup roles, putting out fires anywhere from the fifth to the eighth inning. To provide that flexibility, the Yankees could hand the ninth inning — a one-inning only role — to either Carpenter, Wilson or Warren. Carpenter got three saves last year with Atlanta, and Warren actually had three saves last year with the Yankees. If you assume the ninth inning doesn’t necessarily have to be filled by a team’s best reliever, it might make sense to let Miller and Betances pitch the most inning, while trusting someone else with the final three outs.

4. The free agents
Here were are on January 28, and three veteran closers are still on the free agent market looking for jobs. How expensive could they be at this point? Clearly the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth on the way, so a significant investment wouldn’t make a ton of sense, but would it make sense to get either Soriano or Rodriguez  on a one-year deal? They could come into camp as the projected closer — adding depth and keeping Betances and Miller flexible in the middle innings — knowing that someone else could easily step in if the new guy either faltered or got hurt. The market might actually have played out in such a way that a one-year closer comes fairly cheap. The bullpen is a strength, but could it be even stronger?

5. The draft pick
While the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth, most of the upper-level guys profile more as setup guys than future closers (that includes hard-throwers like Martin, Shreve, Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder). It’s probably a stretch to think of any of them as a ninth-inning option — especially out of spring training — but the top relief prospect in the system is last year’s top pick, Lindgren. Is it possible for him to show enough this spring that the Yankees throw him into the fire? If not, what would it take to make him a ninth-inning option sooner rather than later?

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 2:11 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Janssen lands in Washington: Should Yankees add another reliever?

Rafael Soriano

This morning, Jeff wrote about the importance of the final out. It was pretty good timing considering just a couple of hours after his post went live, a former closer came off the market.

JanssenAccording to Ken Rosenthal, former Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen has signed a one-year, $5-million deal with the Nationals. The contract comes with a mutual option with a buyout if the option isn’t picked up. Janssen handled the ninth inning for most of the past three years in Toronto, but his numbers fell sharply in the second half of last season, perhaps because of food poisoning at the All-Star break.

Before the second half of last year, Janssen had been very, very good for three straight seasons, and he’d been pretty good the year before that, so there’s a pretty good track record in place.

For the Yankees, Janssen seemed to represent an opportunity to add a proven closer to an already deep bullpen. One thing the Yankees lack is experience in the ninth inning, and Janssen has that (along with a familiarity with the American League East). The Yankees don’t necessarily need a guy like that — chances are, Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances or even one of the smaller-name relievers can handle the ninth — but late-inning experience is one thing the free agent market can still provide.

Longtime closers Rafael Soriano and Francisco Rodriguez are still out there, as are one-time closers John Axford, Chris Perez, Jose Veras, Kevin Gregg and Brian Wilson. Solid middle reliever Burke Badenhop is still out there (so is Joba Chamberlain if the Yankees wanted to try that again), and there are a few lefties — Phil Coke, Joe Thatcher, Franklin Morales, Joe Beimel, Neal Cotts — if the Yankees wanted to add a more typical left-on-left specialist, leaving Justin Wilson to pitch more like a middle reliever and leaving Chasen Shreve to serve as depth in Triple-A.

The Yankees really don’t seem to need additional bullpen help, but there are a lot of options out there, and there’s one relief job wide open. At the right price for the right piece, another reliever might make sense.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 11:44 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Jeff Baxter

David Robertson, Brian McCann

After two days of debating the good and bad of the Yankees front office, let’s move on to something completely different for today’s Pinch Hitter. Jeff Baxter is a middle school special education teacher near Rochester, N.Y. “Being a Yankee fan is in my blood,” he wrote, “but I truly joined the fan base when Aaron Boone sent the Yankees to the World Series in 2003.” Jeff said his bucket list includes a wish to visit all 30 MLB stadiums (personally, I still need Pittsburgh to complete the set).

For his post, Jeff researched every final out from the Yankees 2014 season to find out what it took – for better or for worse – to finally finish off a game last season.

Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, Joe GirardiThere are many reasons baseball is different from the other “Big Four” sports, but the best reason? The final out.

The NBA has the buzzer-beater, which is reliant on a clock. The NFL, NHL — and MLS if we’re going to a Big Five – often involve radically different strategies at the end of regulation (Hail Mary, pull the goalie, etc.) and have specific overtime rules (sudden death, shootouts, penalty kicks).

Baseball has the same rule regardless of whether it is the first out, the 27th out or the 45th out in extra innings, and teams have to get that last out to seal a win. The 27th out accounts for only 3.7 percent of the outs needed to complete a nine-inning game, but that final out can make all the difference.

The question at hand is, how is your favorite team doing when out No. 27 rolls around? If your team is winning, you anticipate it with joy. It may come following minutes of distress and concern, but when the final out is made, you can relax. It’s a win. If your team is losing, you dread No. 27. You hope it never comes until your club ties the game or takes the lead.

Walk-off wins in the bottom of the ninth? They only happen because one team couldn’t get that final 3.7 percent.

On July 29 of last year I watched the Yankees very nearly blow leads of 10-4 and 12-8 against the Rangers. With the Yankees’ lead down to only one run in the bottom of the ninth, Adrian Beltre came up with two outs and the bases loaded. He had to be No. 27 or the game would either end in a walk-off or drift into extra innings. Beltre hit a deep fly ball to left, and I thought it was a game-winning grand slam … until it settled into Brett Gardner’s glove for the final 3.7 percent.

That close call brought a question to my mind: how often did the Yankees just barely escape with a win like that? On the flip side, how often did the Yankees stage a rally with their 27th out and fall just short of a comeback?

Think of all the times the Yankees have the winning run at the plate when the batter hit a high, majestic fly ball, only for the ball’s trajectory to lead to an outfielder’s glove. How often did that happen last season?

By categorizing the final outs of all 162 games of 2014, I have some semblance of an answer.

Here are the “final out” statistics across the 84 Yankee wins in 2014:

1-28 Graphic 2

Considering the K/9 rates David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Shawn Kelley put up in 2014 (all over 10) it’s no surprise more final outs came via strikeout than anything else. Add up the rates of Yankee opponents bringing either the tying or winning run to the plate at the time of their final out and in 42.8 percent of the Yankees’ 84 wins — just under three out of every seven games — they could have lost the lead instead of getting the final out. The bases were empty for the final out 38.1% of the time. The final out came with the bases loaded just once: the aforementioned July 28 in Texas.

Now for final outs in the 78 Yankee losses:

1-28 Graphic 1

Like their opponents, the Yankees’ final out was made most often via strikeout. The team made the final out with no runners on base an alarming 53.6 percent of the time across their 69 non walk-off losses (37 of 69). Combined percentages of games in which the Yankees had the tying or winning run to the plate at the time of the final out equaled 29.5 percent. When you take into account that the Yankees offense ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored, it’s not too surprising that their final outs so often went so smoothly for the opposing team. As for the last man standing, Brett Gardner was responsible for the final out 17.4 percent of the time, followed by Brian McCann at 14.5 percent and Yangervis Solarte at 11.6 percent.

The 27th out is the final step to victory in a nine-inning game. It may only account for 3.7 percent of the outs a team needs, but when you consider the need for timeliness when getting that out — before the tying or winning run scores — it serves much greater significance than just symbolism. Appropriately enough for the final two teams standing in 2014, the Royals and Giants, after 162 regular-season games and four rounds of the playoffs, Game 7 of the World Series came down to the 27th out with the tying run at third base and the winning run at the plate.

It was 3.7 percent of the game. It made all the difference.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post


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