Has nothing to do with anything important — certainly doesn’t help determine what to do about the Yankees first base depth — but when Mark Teixeira was on The Mike & Mike Show this week, he did a little bit of his Foul Territory shtick, and it was once again pretty funny. It’s a weird thing, and maybe the least expected development of the year, but Teixiera’s really good at it. Pretty funny. Here’s the clip. Totally unimportant, but it’s a good time. And let’s face it, it’s a Friday with newspaper headlines about Ebola in New York, so let’s go with something a bit goofy for a while.
For the Yankees, there’s no question what to do about choosing an everyday first baseman. Or, if there is a question, it’s not one with many answers. The team made its choice six years ago when it committed to Mark Teixeira. He has full no-trade protection, and there’s too much invested these next two years to simply cut ties.
Barring something unforeseen, Teixeira will be at first base on Opening Day. And he’ll probably be hitting in the middle of the order. And the Yankees will simply have to trust – or, perhaps simply hope – that the power he showed in this season’s first three months will return and maintain through a full season.
Question is, what to do about his backup.
Last year, the Yankees really had no concrete backup plan at first base. They had the vague idea that Kelly Johnson should be able to play first base occasionally, but Johnson didn’t meet expectations in any way, and so the Yankees were left with Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli getting a combined 16 starts at first base.
Neither had previously played the position, and together they started nearly 10 percent of the time.
1. Let the catchers do it again
Actually, McCann didn’t look too bad at first base last season. Cervelli’s had some scattered infield experience through the years and generally looks surprisingly passable. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have seen some infield time in the minor leagues. The Yankees could simply go into the season thinking of their catchers as their backup first basemen. Would be a solid way to give either Cervelli or Murphy a few more at-bats, which might be a plus considering the offensive potential they’ve shown.
2. Teach someone to play first
We already know the Yankees have talked to Alex Rodriguez about getting a little bit of time at first base next season, presumably in a backup role. I suppose a case could be made for asking Carlos Beltran to do the same (though a similar plan with Alfonso Soriano was quickly discarded last spring). A guy like Jose Pirela, who will be coming to camp with a little bit of first base experience, could be another relatively inexperienced option. In theory, this “make A-Rod do it” plan seems to make sense, but Johnson showed at times that learning first base on the fly isn’t always smooth or easy. This is the plan that didn’t work too well this year.
3. Carry a second first baseman
This would be a pure first baseman. Might even be a guy like Kyle Roller, this year’s Triple-A first baseman who has a pretty bad glove but has shown a pretty good left-handed swing. Although he’s never generated much prospect attention, Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A this season, and he was able to hit both lefties and righties. Any pure backup first baseman would surely have to show enough bat to occasionally start at designated hitter.
4. Make first base a utility-man priority
Problem with carrying another pure first baseman on the bench is that it limits the team’s flexibility. The Yankees have a DH spot and four bench roles, and given the team’s age and injury concerns, flexibility is a real plus. In their search for a Rodriguez alternative at third base, the Yankees could certainly prioritize finding someone who has also played first base (a guy like Casey McGehee has played quite a bit of first; Chase Headley has played a very little bit; Pablo Sandoval used to do it several years ago, Aramis Ramirez has never done it). Another version of this solution would be an outfielder/DH with first base experience. Maybe Michael Cuddyer? Michael Morse? Buy really low on Corey Hart? All of these option come with cost issues. How often would they play, and how much is that worth?
Associated Press photos
Obviously there’s not much attention on the Yankees these days. Most of the baseball world is focused on the World Series, but I actually thought this Associated Press story had some universal appeal. It’s all about tipping a cap in baseball. Although it’s written with a focus on the Royals, the act itself is pretty common throughout the game, including with the Yankees. I think we all remember Casey Kotchman tipping his cap at first base when Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit. So here’s the story from Dave Skretta as we wrap up this day with no real big league action.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Nobody seems to know when the tradition of doffing a hat began, though most historians date the practice to the days when bowlers and boaters were in vogue.
Nobody seems to know when the Royals picked up the tradition, either.
At some point this season, though, Kansas City players started tipping their caps whenever an outfielder made a spectacular catch, or shortstop Alcides Escobar and second baseman Omar Infante turned a difficult double play, or third baseman Mike Moustakas snagged a hard line drive.
It was a modest acknowledgment, almost a throwback to another era. But it quickly caught on, becoming one of the iconic images of the Royals’ run to the World Series.
“I think it started about halfway through the year,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, whose jarring catch at the wall in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series not only left him bruised and battered, but also got him a stadium full of hat tips.
While Gordon can’t recall for certain, he thinks that starting pitcher James Shields was the first to do it. It makes sense, too, given how the staff ace has been so instrumental the past two years in turning a losing clubhouse culture into a winning one.
Shields has paid tribute from the mound, and teammates have followed his lead.
“The whole dugout does it now. It’s pretty cool,” Gordon said. “I know it means a lot to the pitchers every time we make a good play, so it’s kind of their way of showing it.”
While the Royals were sweeping their way to the World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants, the hat tips became one of those memes that pops up everywhere, from hat-tip hashtags on social media to compilations of spectacular catches on YouTube.
The Angels may have their Rally Monkey, the Cardinals may have their Rally Squirrel, but the Royals have gone decidedly genteel when it comes to their October signature.
“Someone just started that in the dugout and we took it and ran,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “This group likes to have fun. It’s just a sign of us enjoying ourselves.”
Like helmet stickers in football, hat tips can be awarded to anyone on the field, even the pitcher. But the majority of the salutes are sent to the outfield, where three-time Gold Glove winner Gordon has teamed with center fielder Lorenzo Cain, right fielder Nori Aoki and speedy super-sub Jarrod Dyson to form a black hole for just about every fly ball.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest they might be the best in baseball.
From the world of advanced statistics comes DRS and UZR, which stand for defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating. Essentially, both stats try to place a value on a defense’s prowess, and the Royals happened to lead the majors in both categories in the regular season.
Gordon, Cain and Dyson each ranked in the top 10 in DRS individually.
Then there’s the evidence fans can see with their own eyes, the kind that doesn’t require a calculator. The Royals have provided plenty of that this postseason.
In Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Angels, Cain made a pair of spectacular catches, one climbing about 10 feet up the wall and the other to snag a diving liner. A few innings later, Aoki deftly tracked down a drive to the wall as Cain seemed to leap right over him.
“It seems like there’s five of them out there,” said Royals starter Jason Vargas, who was on the mound that night. “Unbelievable is the best way to describe it.”
Cain made another memorable catch in Game 4 of the ALCS against Baltimore, running impossibly far to track down a fly ball early in the game. Dyson made an impressive catch at the wall later, helping the Royals clinch the series.
Of course, the most memorable catch — heck, the most memorable play — of the series wasn’t made by a Royals outfielder. It happened in Game 3, when Moustakas toppled over a railing and into a dugout suite, only to emerge unscathed and with the ball in his glove — the great defense extending to the Royals crowd.
“Hats off to the fans in the dugout suite, pick him up and put him back on the field,” Hosmer gushed afterward.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” Moustakas said. “There’s still some plays that I’m sitting back like, Wow, I don’t know how Cain got there or how Gordo got there. But it’s almost like you expect them to make those plays.”
When they do, they’ve come to expect a hat tip in return.
Here’s the announcement from the Mets with a quote from Long:
FLUSHING, N.Y., October 23, 2014 – The New York Mets today announced the club has named Kevin Long the team’s new hitting coach. The club also tabbed Dustin Clarke, their new Major League Strength and Conditioning Coach.
“Kevin’s experience, success and wealth of knowledge make him the perfect fit as our hitting instructor,” said Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson. “This is a very positive step for the Mets. We welcome Kevin, and his wife, Marcey, to the Mets family.”
“I’m excited to get the opportunity to work with a team that I think is on the rise,” said Long. “I had a great meeting with Sandy and Terry yesterday and I can’t wait to get started and help in any way I can.”
Long, 47, had spent the previous eight seasons (2007-2014) as the Yankees hitting coach. Under his guidance, the Yankees led the majors in runs scored three times and finished second twice. Before he joined the major league team, Long served as the Yankees’ Triple-A hitting coach with Columbus of the International League for three years (2004-2006).
Prior to joining the Yankees, Long was the hitting coach for the Triple-A Omaha Royals from 2002-2003 and the Double-A Wichita Wranglers’ from 2000-2001. Long was named the Northwest League Manager of the Year after leading Spokane to the title in 1998. He began his coaching career with Wilmington in the Carolina League in 1997.
Long was a second-team All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 in 1989 at the University of Arizona. The outfielder was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 31st round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft and played eight years (1989-1996) in Kansas City’s minor league system reaching, Triple-A.
Associated Press photo
Earlier this week, Jim Callis wrote quite a bit about the Yankees currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He understandably focused on breakout right field prospect Aaron Judge, noting that Judge is wrapping up the longest stretch of baseball he’s ever experienced.
Pro ball often forces a young player into a longer and more rigorous schedule than he’s used to, but Judge’s adjustment was delayed because of last year’s quadriceps injury.
“After you get drafted, you just want to show people who you are,” Judge told Callis. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise, though. I met a lot of great big leaguers while I was down in Tampa rehabbing. It kind of helped me with the mental side of baseball. Everyone’s going to have ups and downs, and just trying to stay even keel through that whole process is a huge part of it.”
Check out the Callis story. It has some basic scouting details on all of the Yankees players down in the Fall League.
A few other notes from winter leagues:
• The Yankees top first base prospect, Greg Bird, has played in 12 games in the Fall League, and he has a hit in every one of them. Four of those hits have been home runs. It’s an offense-heavy league, but a .333/.382/.627 is awfully good. The guy can hit. It’s not reflected in the numbers here, but Bird doubled in his first at-bat today, so make that a 13-game hitting streak.
• After getting time at right field, first base and third base in the minor leagues, Tyler Austin is getting some time in left field while on assignment in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he’s playing left field again tonight (while Judge plays right). It will be his fourth turn in left field, which can’t be a bad thing for a guy who could earn some sort of big league role next season, possibly as a corner bench player. Austin’s had two hits and and two RBI in two of his past four games. Hasn’t shown much power so far, but after 36 at-bats his slash line is a not-bad .278/.366/.361.
• Interesting for Yankees fans that the Scottsdale team has often gone with Yankees prospects in the 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup — Austin, Judge, then Bird as the cleanup hitter. Judge has been in the No. 3 spot for each of his starts down in Arizona. He’s hitting .276/.313/.448 with eight RBI in seven games.
• Off to a slow start in Arizona, Dante Bichette Jr. has now reached base seven times in his past four games, which has helped his slash line. He’s still hitting just .226/.306/.226. Only 31 at-bats, though. In his MLB.com piece, Callis notes that Bichette might eventually end up as a DH. The bat is his ticket to the big leagues. Needs the power that he showed his first season of pro ball.
• As expected, catcher Kyle Higashioka is only getting occasional playing time down in Arizona (he’s part of the roster that’s only occasionally active) but he’s making the most of it so far. Through two games, Higashioka has five hits, a home run and a stolen base. The Yankees have long liked his defensive ability, but he’s never shown much offense at all in the lower minors.
• The group picked by the Yankees for the Fall League is heavy on position players, and the pitchers sent to Arizona remain somewhat underwhelming statistically. Alex Smith has allowed at least one earned run in each of his five outings and currently has an 11.81 ERA with more walks (6) than strikeouts (4). … Caleb Cotham has 10 strikeouts and just two walks through seven innings. He also has a 7.71 ERA. Last time he pitched was Monday when Cotham allowed six hits and three earned runs through two innings. … Kyle Haynes hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Through 5.2 innings, he has yet to be charged with an earned run, but he’s allowed three unearned. Has a solid 1.24 WHIP. Tiny sample size, of course.
• Looking for more encouraging pitching numbers? Reliever Diego Moreno, who had some solid moments with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, has pitched well as a closer in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and he’s allowed just two hits through 5.1 innings. He recently re-signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees system.
• Also down in Venezuela, Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia continues to be the regular left fielder and usual No. 3 or 4 hitter for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hit for a strong average and stolen a couple of bases, but Garcia’s still waiting for the winter power to show up. He’s hitting .283/.313/.304. Last winter he hit .325/.347/.502 in Venezuela.
• After getting just six winter at-bats last year, and 13 at-bats the year before, young outfielder Ramon Flores continues to get fairly regular playing time this winter. Two weeks into the Venezuelan season, Flores has played in seven games and hit .333/.429/.500 through 18 at-bats. If he weren’t left-handed, Flores might be an even stronger candidate for the Yankees bench next season. As it is, some winter playing time couldn’t hurt after missing so much time this season with an ankle injury.
• Notable at least partially because of the Yankees total lack of standout shortstop prospects in the upper levels, utility type Ali Castillo continues to hit in Venezuela. He’s playing shortstop everyday — he was the regular shortstop for Trenton this year — and he’s hitting .395/.429/.447 through 38 at-bats in 10 games. He’s also stolen five bases in seven attempts. He’s been hitting leadoff. The same winter ball team used Castillo all over the infield and hit him ninth last year.
Not that this should come as a surprise, but there were no Yankees mentioned in today’s announcement of the Gold Glove finalists. Rawlings made the announcements one-by-one on Twitter. Winners will be announced next month. Former Yankees Robinson Cano and Russell Martin are finalists. Here’s the list:
Pitcher: Mark Buehrle (Blue Jays), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Dallas Keuchel (Astros)
Catcher: Alex Avila (Tigers), Yan Gomes (Indians), Salvador Perez (Royals)
First base: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), Eric Hosmer (Royals), Albert Pujols (Angels)
Second base: Robinson Cano (Mariners), Ian Kinsler (Tigers), Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)
Third base: Josh Donaldson (A’s), Adrian Beltre (Rangers), Kyle Seager (Mariners)
Shortstop: Alcides Escobar (Royals), J.J. Hardy (Orioles), Alexei Ramirez (White Sox)
Left field: Michael Brantley (Indians), Yoenis Cespedes (Red Sox), Alex Gordon (Royals)
Center field: Jackie Bradley Jr. (Red Sox), Adam Eaton (White Sox), Adam Jones (Orioles)
Right field: Kole Calhoun (Angels), Kevin Kiermaier (Rays), Nick Markakis (Orioles)
Pitcher: Zack Greinke (Dodgers), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers), Russell Martin (Pirates), Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
First base: Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers), Adam LaRoche (Nationals), Justin Morneau (Rockies)
Second base: DJ LeMahieu (Rockies), Brandon Phillips (Reds), Chase Utley (Phillies)
Third base: Nolan Arenado (Rockies), Pablo Sandoval (Giants), Juan Uribe (Dodgers)
Shortstop: Zack Cozart (Reds), Adeiny Hechavarria (Marlins), Andrelton Simmons (Braves)
Left field: Starling Marte (Pirates), Justin Upton (Braves), Christian Yelich (Marlins)
Center field: Billy Hamilton (Reds), Juan Lagares (Mets), Denard Span (Nationals)
Right field: Jason Heyward (Braves), Gerardo Parra (Brewers), Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Associated Press photos
Thinking about the Yankees defense this season, it seems worthwhile to look back at who exactly was getting the playing time at each position. It’s easy to find many of the Yankees flaws simply by looking back at which players got a significant number of starts at certain spots (23 games at first base for Kelly Johnson?).
Here are the number of starts, position by position, for the Yankees this season:
Brian McCann regularly caught more than 100 games in a season with Atlanta. Add in his time at first base and designated hitter and McCann had more plate appearances than in any of his previous three seasons.
First base – Teixeira-116, Johnson-23, McCann-11, Headley-6, Cervelli-5, Sizemore-1
Used to be a given that Mark Teixeira would start some 140-plus games at first base. Now it’s been three years since he reached that number. And as you can tell from the list of other first-base starters, the Yankees didn’t have an experienced backup at the position. Just a bunch of guys plugging the hole and learning on the fly.
Second base – Roberts-85, Drew-31, Prado-16, Solarte-13, Ryan-12, Pirela-3, Anna-2
When the Yankees traded for Stephen Drew, it was with plans of making him their regular second baseman for two months. He instead got basically a month’s worth of playing time at the position. The Yankees gave Brian Roberts every opportunity to prove he had something left.
Third base – Solarte-56, Headley-49, Johnson-33, Wheeler-10, Prado-8, Sizemore-4, Ryan-2
Yangervis Solarte came into spring training as a largely unknown minor league free agent. It seemed that he might be able to play a utility role at some point, but he wound up with the most starts at third base. Kelly Johnson was the third baseman on Opening Day, and he wound up with fewer starts at the position than Chase Headley, who wasn’t acquired until just before the trade deadline.
Shortstop – Jeter-129, Ryan-19, Drew-8, Anna-5, Solarte-1
It really is kind of amazing how little Brendan Ryan played this season. Given Derek Jeter’s especially rough second half, I wonder if Jeter might have gotten more DH time down the stretch had Carlos Beltran been able to stay in right field. Although he broke camp with the team, Dean Anna really didn’t stick around very long or get many chances.
This position more or less went as planned with Gardner cementing himself as a quality everyday player. Add in his 20 starts as the backup in center field, plus that one start in right, and Gardner started 141 games in the field. His previous high was 134.
Center field – Ellsbury-138, Gardner-20, Perez-2, Suzuki-2
Hey look, it’s Eury Perez! Ultimately, Jacoby Ellsbury stayed healthy most of the year and started more games at a single position than anyone else on the roster. The combination of Ellsbury and Gardner is the reason the Yankees don’t necessarily need a fourth outfielder who’s capable of playing more than a passable center field.
Right field – Suzuki-86, Beltran-31, Soriano-23, Prado-7, Richardson-5, Wheeler-5, Almonte-2, Gardner-1,
Don’t forget that the Yankees opened the season with both Beltran and Alfonso Soriano. It seemed Ichiro Suzuki was going to be a fifth outfielder without a clear role, but he instead wound up getting the bulk of the time in right field. Kind of amazing that Beltran played so few games in the field. Easy to realize he didn’t play a ton of games out there, but I would have guessed more than 31.
Designated hitter – Beltran-76, Soriano-25, Jeter-15, McCann-13, Ellsbury-5, Teixeira-4, Pirela-3, Johnson-2, Young-2,
Almonte-1, Drew-1, Gardner-1, Headley-1, Romine-1, Suzuki-1, Wheeler-1 (None: NL Park-10)
Those first two names are a pretty good place to start when looking for things that went wrong this season. Soriano simply didn’t earn at-bats, Beltran simply couldn’t play the field, and that was a problem on many levels.
Associated Press photos
Gold Glove finalists are being announced later today, which reminds me: Shouldn’t the Yankees be able improve their infield defense this offseason almost without even trying? It wasn’t pretty last year, especially in the first half of the season.
Turns out, an aging shortstop, an aging second baseman, and a couple of out-of-position third basemen aren’t a great combination in the infield.
How did the Yankees get into that spot in the first place?
“Alex suspended, waiting for that decision to come down,” Brian Cashman explained late in the season. “Derek coming back from ankle surgery at his age. Robbie goes to free agency, so you wait for that to declare itself, and then you have to deal with the alternatives — what’s available — and you plug the holes the best you can. The initial personnel were placeholders until something better came along.
“Obviously we definitely upgraded with Chase Headley. We tried to upgrade with Stephen Drew. Tried to mix and match and work it, then Prado came into play. All of it at the end of the day wasn’t good enough. A lot of our in-season acquisitions were improvements. Just not enough.”
“I think the defense in the first half especially had to do with personnel,” Cashman said. “… When we lost players like Cano, for instance, who was an exceptional defender, to free agency, or when we lost Alex to a suspension, for instance. We had Derek Jeter coming back, as well as Mark Teixeira, from injury. Those players possessed a certain amount of ability, and I think Mick addressed that to the best of his abilities. As we were able to acquire better defenders as the season wet on and they presented themselves, we obviously improved our team defense. I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies. That was personnel related.”
So now the personnel has to get better.
The Yankees took one step toward that goal by acquiring Martin Prado, who looked pretty good at second base (though the FanGraphs metrics suggest he’s a better third baseman). The Yankees could add another strong defensive infielder if they re-sign Chase Headley (and for what it’s worth, advanced metrics don’t hate Pablo Sandoval’s defense; hard to know what to expect from Alex Rodriguez’s glove). The Yankees could make shortstop defense a real strength by re-signing Stephen Drew to play alongside Brendan Ryan (but defense wouldn’t be nearly as good if the Yankees went with either Hanley Ramirez or Asdrubal Cabrera at short).
Otherwise, the Yankees defense isn’t awful. Brian McCann has a pretty good pitch framing reputation, and the outfield defense is a plus with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner handling two of the three positions (that’s a good start, even if Carlos Beltran defense has faded significantly in right field). Mark Teixeira has been an elite defender in the past, even if he didn’t always look that way this season.
The Yankees likely didn’t have any Gold Glove winners this season, but they could — and should — have a better shot next year with some improved pieces at three key spots.
Associated Press photos
Last night, the Royals took their first loss of the postseason, and that was mildly significant because it kept intact the Yankees’ record for consecutive playoff wins. In just a few minutes, the Royals are going to try to start winning again to pull even with the Giants in the World Series. Here are the longest postseason winning streaks. The Giants’ streak came to an end earlier this postseason.
12 — New York Yankees, 1998-99
12 — New York Yankees, 1927-32
11 — Kansas City Royals, 1985-2014
10 — San Francisco Giants, 2012-2014
10 — Oakland Athletics, 1989-90
10 — New York Yankees, 1937-41
9 — Boston Red Sox, 2007-08
Associated Press photo
A few mid-day notes and links:
• The Mets are reportedly set to interview Kevin Long today. If Long were to move across town to become the hitting coach at Citi Field, it would setup an interesting reunion for Curtis Granderson, who had success with a mechanical change under Long’s guidance years ago.
• Good stuff from old friend Evan Drellich, who wrote about new Astros bench coach Trey Hillman. At 51 years old, Hillman decided to return to the field after working in the Yankees scouting department. According to Drellich: “Hillman said that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman asked if he wanted to take over control of the Yankees farm system from Mark Newman, who retired after staying with the club for 26 years. It’s a great job, but Hillman was steadfast: he wanted to be on a major league coaching staff if at all possible.”
• The crew over at Baseball America evaluated the Yankees 2014 draft class. The full report is behind a pay wall. No overwhelming surprises. Top two picks Jacob Lindgren and Austin DeCarr get quite a bit of praise. Ninth-rounder Vince Conde apparently has a glove that could be good enough to stick at shortstop (though, frankly, the lowest levels of the Yankees system are so crowded at shortstop that he might have to fall into a utility role).
• Remember power-hitting prospect Peter O’Brien? The Yankees shipped him to Arizona in the Martin Prado trade, and Nick Piecoro writes that O’Brien is facing familiar questions about whether he can stay behind the plate or might eventually move full time to a corner position. “He just needs to catch more,” Diamondbacks farm director Mike Bell said. “He needs more consistent reps behind the plate. With his bat, that would be a nice weapon to have (playing catcher).”
• On a personal note, an old friend and editor John Murphy — who laughed and told me I’d be alright in New York when I told him I’d accepted this job — passed away on Tuesday. He was an incredible man to work alongside. Having his approval on a story always made me feel like an overwhelming success. He was a powerful presence in that Scranton newsroom. I’m better for having known him.
Associated Press photo