If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about the Hall of Fame, you might already know this: I love the Hall of Fame, but I don’t get too worked up about Hall of Fame debates. I think they’re interesting, and I think they’re worthwhile — they force us to re-examine some great careers, and that’s meaningful — but I ultimately don’t get too fussed about who’s in and who’s out.
Erik’s post this morning made a pretty incredible case for Mike Mussina as a Hall of Famer, but I’m still not mad that Tom Glavine is in and Mussina is not. I thought of Mussina as a Hall of Famer before, I’m more convinced now, and I find the conversation interesting. I’m just not losing sleep over the end result. I think Glavine deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think Mussina should join him. And even if he doesn’t, Mussina will still have been a really, really great pitcher.
What Erik’s post got me thinking about most was the idea of an underappreciated baseball player. Perhaps Mussina was one. Maybe Tim Raines was one. I realized a few years ago that Fred McGriff was one. Most underappreciated players, though, far fall short of the Hall of Fame standard and will never be a part of a Hall of Fame debate.
Until last year, I think you could argue that Brett Gardner was an underappreciated baseball player. He had to walk on to his college team. He spent much of his minor league career labeled as a fourth outfielder. He had a hard time winning everyday playing time in the big leagues. The past two years, though, Gardner’s emerged as a legitimate everyday left fielder. Maybe he’s not a conventional left fielder — not so much power, more speed and defense — but he’s been a good one, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a contract extension and regular at-bats.
So who from this year’s Yankees might be underappreciated at the moment? Here are a few possibilities:
1. Stephen Drew
Last year’s numbers were awful, and because of that, Drew’s easy to dismiss as an absurd investment, even on a relatively small one-year, $5-million contract. But only a year ago, plenty of Yankees fans wanted Drew on the roster. He has a career OPS of .747, and until last season he’d never finished remotely close .536. His strong 2013 with Boston was pretty close to a typical season for him. Now, Drew’s had a regular offseason and should have a normal spring training, which is surely a good sign for him. He missed much of the 2011 spring training because of an abdominal issue. He missed the start of 2012 because of an ankle injury. He missed most of the 2013 spring training with a concussion. He got a late start last year because of his contract situation. Drew’s been a pretty good middle infielder through most of his career, and could be a solid buy-low opportunity for the Yankees.
2. Mark Teixeira
Granted, he’s being paid like an MVP, and there’s little hope that he’ll actually hit like an MVP. In terms of contract status, Teixeira is far from underappreciated. But at some point, public opinion might have swung too far toward the negative. A severe wrist injury forced Teixeira to miss nearly all of 2013 and forced him into an unusual winter heading into 2014. If that’s the reason his bat declined in the second half of last season — because he wasn’t in his usual shape — then Teixeira might not be the lost cause he’s often made out to be. Through the first three months of last season, before fatigue might have set in, Teixeira slugged .474, which is a really good slugging percentage these days. He doesn’t have the all-around production that the Yankees expected in 2008, but if he can maintain his power numbers this year, he could still be a viable run producer.
3. Adam Warren
He’s only seven months older than Dellin Betances. His fastball has gotten sneaky fast out of the bullpen, averaging 95 mph last season. His 2014 WHIP, FIP and strikeout rate were each better than Hiroki Kuroda’s or Brandon McCarthy’s (after McCarthy came to New York). And while it’s not really fair to compare a reliever to a starter, all of Warren’s numbers except his strikeout rate were better than Shawn Kelley’s last season. He’s not a flashy guy — and he had an unmistakably bad month — but Warren had a really nice year. And while he was never a huge prospect, he was always a good one. The guy can pitch, and given his background as a starter, he’s probably worth considering as solid rotation insurance in spring training. If we thought of David Phelps that way, why not Warren?
4. Nathan Eovaldi
Just an observation, but there seems to have been a lot of regret about losing Shane Greene without much excited about the addition of Eovaldi. Last season, Eovaldi had a lower FIP, a lower WHIP, and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Greene. Eovaldi is also younger than Greene by more than a year. And if this is a comparison of upside, it’s worth noting that Eovaldi was considered a Top 100 prospect, which is far higher than Greene ever ranked on lists like that. Greene took a giant step forward the past two years, and that made him an organizational success story, but there’s certainly a chance — maybe even a good chance — that Eovaldi will be better than Greene this season. For a 25-year-old fourth starter, Eovaldi could be a better addition than he gets credit for being.
5. Chris Young
As an everyday player, no thank you. Young used to bring a fairly reliable .750 OPS with about 20 homers and 20 steals while playing center field. That’s not superstar quality, but he was a 5 WAR player twice (Jacoby Ellsbury was only 3 WAR last year, according to Baseball Reference). These days, though, Young’s numbers have slipped, and advanced metrics show he’s not nearly the center fielder he used to be. He’s more of a fourth outfielder at this point … and that’s exactly what the Yankees are asking him to be. His splits against lefties were unusually low last season — even in his disappointing 2013 season, he hit lefties much better than last year — and as long as those drift back toward the norm, he should be a nice fit as a right-handed bench player. If someone gets hurt, those splits should help him fit nicely in a replacement platoon. Teams can’t get much for $2.5 million, but Young might actually be a better fit than he gets credit for being.
Associated Press photos
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.
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
Has anything changed for the Yankees in the wake of Max Scherzer’s new deal with the Nationals?
Since the fall, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner created the public perception of fiscal restraint. With a bunch of big contracts (and big mistakes) already filling the payroll, the Yankees never positioned themselves as a favorite for Scherzer. Any thought to the contrary was based on past examples of the Yankees spending unexpected money for Scherzer-type players, but there was never any evidence that they were going to get involved this time.
In that way, nothing has changed. The Yankees weren’t supposed to get Scherzer, and they didn’t.
But with Scherzer off the market, the winter’s most popular “what if” scenario is off the board, leaving the Yankees with a rotation that is what it is.
Top five starters
These five have been in place since late December when the Yankees completed the trade for Eovaldi. Three of these players are in their mid-20s, and one exception is on a one-year, stop-gap contract. Even so, there’s such injury concern at the top that this rotation seems unreliable at best.
Major League depth
According to plan, Warren and Rogers should be relievers this season, but each has been a starter in the past — Rogers worked as a starter this winter — and so they could provide immediate rotation depth in spring training. Nova is expected back from Tommy John surgery around June or so.
Minor league depth
Jose De Paula
Whitley made 12 big league starts last season, but unless he wins a spot as a long man in the big league bullpen, he seems likely to land in the Triple-A rotation with Mitchell and De Paula (each of whom is currently on the 40-man). Severino is not on the 40-man and has just 25 innings above A ball, but he’s talented enough to potentially pitch his way into the mix. Can’t completely rule out guys like Matt Tracy and Zach Nuding, who could round out the Triple-A rotation, or a guy like Jaron Long, who’s likely heading for Double-A but made a huge impression last season.
Question is: Is this enough? The top five looks perfectly good, but that’s only if its healthy. There are plenty of alternatives in the mix, but each one seems to come with significant uncertainty (about upside, about health, about ability to consistently start at the big league level). So if the Yankees want to upgrade their rotation — either adding talent up top or adding depth at the bottom — what are their options?
1. Spend big – There’s still one high-end starter on the market, and he has a history of success in the American League East. But if the Yankees weren’t interested in Scherzer, what are the chances they’ll become interested in James Shields? He’s already 33, so his next contract is likely to carry him into his late 30s, which seems awfully risky at this point.
2. Take a chance – Beyond Shields, the free agent market really doesn’t have a reliable starter still available. Instead, the Yankees could roll the dice on a small contract — perhaps even a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation — with a veteran starting pitcher who comes with serious warts. Johan Santana recently got some attention, but guys like Chad Billingsley, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Young are also still out there.
3. Sacrifice the farm – The Yankees clearly prefer to keep their top prospects at this point, but they don’t have to. Cole Hamels is clearly available and signed to a contract that seems perfectly reasonable compared to Scherzer, but it would likely take a massive package to get him. The Nationals are reportedly not pushing to trade Jordan Zimmermann, but he might be available. Is it worth giving up some of the future to add a pitcher for the present?
4. Wait and see – Nothing says the Yankees have to make a change right now. Last season, they managed to rebuild a rotation on the fly, and they could try to do the same this year if necessary. They could go into spring training with this group and adjust only if/when one of those top five starters goes down. If that doesn’t happen until May, they might have Nova ready to step in. If it happens in August, Severino might be ready.
Associated Press photos
So the Yankees had their catching depth in place before the offseason started, they filled one outfield weakness with the early Chris Young signing, and they’ve built infield depth throughout the winter. They’ve also added a surprising amount of bullpen depth considering they’ve lost two key relievers along the way.
What’s left — assuming they really aren’t going to splurge at any point — is to possibly add some rotation depth between now and the start of spring training, but the free agent market hasn’t helped the Yankees in that regard. Injury prone Brandon McCarthy got a whopping four years, total wild card Brett Anderson got a whopping $10 million, and the decisions that led to Kenta Maeda and Hiroki Kuroda pitching in Japan this season robbed the market of two solid, mid-rotation possibilities.
Now the best non-Scherzer, non-Shields starter left on the market is who? Ryan Vogelsong? Chad Billingsley? Maybe the Yankees will break form and make a surprising run at Max Scherzer or James Shields, or maybe they’ll blow up the youth movement and trade for Cole Hamels, but right now neither of those seems overwhelmingly likely. Could happen, but it would require a change of course. At this point, the Yankees seem more likely to make a major splash with a young international player rather than an established big league veteran.
So where could the rotation depth come from? First, here’s what the rotation depth looks like right now:
Jose De Paula
Something like this, anyway. Losing Manny Banuelos took away arguably the biggest name who seemed ticketed for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Can’t rule out the possibility of Luis Severino making a push for this group (but we’ll get to that in a bit).
So where else can the Yankees find internal rotation depth. Here are three basic ideas that involve three specific players:
Adam Warren — The “prioritize the rotation” approach
Basically, rob from the bullpen to give to the rotation. By going into camp with Warren getting stretched out and pitching on the same schedule as the five projected starting pitchers, the Yankees would give themselves an in-place sixth starter throughout the spring. Warren would be the immediate insurance should someone get hurt before Opening Day (which isn’t, you know, a crazy notion). Keeping him stretched out all spring would basically mean trusting that he could easily fall back into his bullpen role without really practicing it during the exhibitions. Could do something similar with Esmil Rogers.
Ivan Nova – The “trust the kids for a while” approach
There’s been no indication this offseason that Nova’s rehab from Tommy John surgery has fallen off the tracks. He could be ready in May or June, and if he’s still progressing toward a relatively early return, the Yankees could bank on Nova as the big boost while trusting guys like Mitchell, De Paula and Whitley to hold down the fort should a starting pitcher go down in April. Of course, putting much faith in Nova requires not only trusting the young guys, it also means trusting Nova’s elbow to be big league ready one year after surgery. Some pitchers say it takes more like two years to feel back to 100 percent.
Luis Severino – The “get really greedy” approach
Last season, the Yankees top pitching prospect started the season in Low-A and finished in Double-A, where he had a 2.52 ERA and 1.04 WHIP to go with 29 strikeouts in six starts. Severino was awesome, and even though he’s still really young — turns 21 in February — he just might be the kind of guy who could grab everyone’s attention in big league camp, push to open the year in Triple-A, dazzle at that level and be in the big leagues within a few months. The Yankees could bank on Severino’s talent, believing that their system is ready to provide more than a fill-in rotation stopgap here and there. In Severino, the Yankees could see a legitimate 2015 big leaguer, and maybe a really good one.
Associated Press photos
The good news is, the Yankees added some rotation depth yesterday. The bad news is, it wasn’t by acquiring a front-end starter to make everyone feel better about the health concerns at the top of the rotation.
By re-signing Chris Capuano, the Yankees brought in an experienced lefty who pitched well in a fifth starter role last year. The good news is that he’s probably a little better than you’re thinking (his career numbers are nearly identical to the rock-solid results he put up with the Yankees last season), but the bad news is that the Yankees rotation still has an opening and is still crowded with uncertainty heading into next season.
Here’s a look at the Yankees starters in place — and the ones set to compete for a spot — as we move ever closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. As you might expect, with each one there’s some good news and some bad news.
Good news: Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidate through his first three months in the big leagues.
Bad news: Slightly torn elbow ligament suggests Tommy John surgery is a real threat as early as spring training.
Good news: Finally joined the Yankees staff with a 1.89 ERA last season.
Bad news: That stellar ERA came in just 13 starts because of another shoulder issue.
Good news: Says he feels strong this winter; more than 200 innings in 2013 and a 3.38 ERA as recently as 2012.
Bad news: Coming back from knee surgery with a not-so-encouraging 4.87 ERA the past two seasons.
Good news: Farm system success story had a 3.10 ERA (and an especially good second half) in his last healthy season.
Bad news: Had Tommy John surgery after just four starts last season; not expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Good news: Solid No. 5 starter with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees last season.
Bad news: Had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees got him in July.
Good news: Was on a roll before a upper elbow injury (believed to be minor) pushed him to the DL last season.
Bad news: In three seasons has never quite established himself as a go-to member of the rotation.
Good news: Coming off a terrific, breakout season with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
Bad news: Truly emerged as a one-inning setup man; has just three major-league starts on his resume.
Good news: Showed flashes of promise late last year including a five-inning, one-run spot start in August.
Bad news: That promise has not consistently translated, leaving Rogers a 5.54 career ERA with four different teams before the age of 30.
Good news: Long-time minor league reliever emerged with a 2.56 ERA through his first seven major league starts last season.
Bad news: Had a 9.00 ERA through his next five starts, falling out of the rotation and back into the bullpen.
Good news: Long touted for talent that exceeded his stats, Mitchell’s results were actually pretty impressive in his brief big league cameo.
Bad news: He’s still a 24 year old with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP through five minor league seasons; never with as many as 150 innings.
Good news: One of the top pitching prospects in the system and one of the best in baseball before Tommy John surgery.
Bad news: Inconsistent with a 4.11 ERA and just 76.2 innings in his return from surgery last season.
JOSE DE PAULA
Good news: Hard-throwing lefty impressed the Yankees enough to land a major-league contract this winter.
Bad news: Has never actually pitched in the major leagues and has just 51.1 innings of so-so Triple-A experience.
Associated Press photos
Election day in the Yankees clubhouse • 11.04.14
It’s election day, so let’s have some fun with that!
I’m not going to say that I hope you all voted today. I’ll say instead that I hope you got yourself educated on the issues, really looked into the candidates and the possibilities, and then voted. That’s the way to take the responsibility seriously.
This blog post is one way to not take it seriously.
Remember being a senior in high school and voting on class personalities? If not, I’m sure you at least understand the reference. It’s not like voting for a senator or voting for an amendment. It’s done with a sense of having a good time, and that’s what this blog post is about. Here are a few suggestions for the leading candidates for various class superlatives on the current Yankees roster.
Most Likely to Succeed – Jacoby Ellsbury
With good reason, we focus a lot on the uncertainty of the Yankees current roster (and we’re going to focus on it again in a few sentences), but it’s interesting to do the opposite. What’s the most reliable piece heading into next season? I’d argue it’s Ellsbury, who more or less lived up to expectation in his first season with the Yankees. Factoring in track record, injury concerns, age, and everything else, I’d say Ellsbury is as reliable as it gets for next season.
Least Certain to Succeed – Masahiro Tanaka
Not least likely to succeed, just least certain. There can be no doubt about Tanaka’s talent – the first half of his rookie year proved his stuff can be plenty effective against major league hitters – but we also know that his elbow ligament was slightly torn last season. We know he can succeed, just can’t be certain he’ll have a successful 2015.
Class President – CC Sabathia
It will probably be several years before we see another Yankees captain, and the current roster really has no one quite like Derek Jeter in terms of clear clubhouse leadership. Recognizing that reality — acknowledging there’s no natural fit for team captain — who carries all those qualities you think of in a Class President? I think Sabathia fits best. He’s most certainly respected, he’s incredibly well liked, and he’s been around almost as long as anyone in the room.
Class Clown – Brendan Ryan
This is not intended as a joke about Ryan’s talent or impact. This is intended literally to point out that he’s a bit of a goofball. In a clubhouse full of veterans, where the word stoic is far more applicable than silly, Ryan is a breath of fresh air. He was in good spirits despite rarely playing last season, and there were days he literally went bounding through the locker room laughing like a little kid. As long as it doesn’t cross the line from amusing to annoying, I tend to think a clubhouse needs a guy like that.
Teacher’s Pet – Martin Prado
Honestly, I’m kind of guessing here, but doesn’t Prado seem like exactly the kind of guy a manager could fall in love with? Willing and able to play anywhere in the field. Willing and able to hit basically anywhere in the lineup. Willing (and sometimes able) to play hurt. Does all of that with a real sense of professionalism. With good reason, I could see Prado becoming a Joe Girardi favorite.
Greatest Overachiever – Brett Gardner
Walk-on in college. Labeled a fourth outfielder throughout the minor leagues. Relegated to platoon playing time when he got to the big leagues. Even Gardner’s believers seemed to always acknowledge that he might not actually become an everyday guy, yet this season he landed a multi-year deal and led the Yankees in WAR (according to Baseball Reference; FanGraphs had him second). That’s defying expectation in a big way.
Greatest Underachiever – Brian McCann
At this point, I’m just piling on against a player who I still believe could be a really nice hitter next season (he was awfully good in September). But, the thing with McCann’s disappointing season is that it can’t be blamed on injury or age. Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts and Alfonso Soriano had some excuses in place. McCann never really had one — and to his credit, he never made one — for his disappointing year.
Most Anticipated – Michael Pineda
If we’re looking ahead to next year, then Rob Refsnyder might fit in this spot. If we’re looking beyond next year, then maybe Luis Severino or Aaron Judge. If we’re looking back to last year, then it’s surely Tanaka. But as a combination — last season, next season, and beyond — the anticipation of Pineda is difficult to overlook. The Yankees waited years to finally get him on the field, and they still haven’t seen what he can do in a full season.
Mr. Nice Guy – Adam Warren
Here’s the thing: If Adam reads this and sees a “Mr. Nice Guy” category, he’ll know that he’s going to win it. So will every one of his teammates. It’s not that there are a bunch of jerks in that room — Francisco Cervelli? Incredibly nice guy. Zelous Wheeler? Impossible to dislike. CC Sabathia? Ivan Nova? Brett Gardner? All invited to any dinner I’m attending. — but Warren’s a really, genuinely, nice guy. I don’t know how else to describe him. By the way, Chase Whitley might have been the choice here, but he’s made fun of Missouri football too many times. Total jerk, that guy.
Least Popular – Alex Rodriguez
I know, I know, this one is too easy. But who else fits this description, and what other distinction best fits this player? Rodriguez has gone beyond a lightning rod. At this point, he’s simply a cautionary tale about bad contracts, and performance enhancing drugs, and poor public relations decisions. Rodriguez will probably be booed a lot next year, but if he hits, I bet he’ll be cheered again.
Life of the Party – Dellin Betances
Not in the usual sense. Betances isn’t the life of the party because he’s an over-the-top personality (he’s actually pretty subdued for the most part). He’s the life of the party because he was surely the best thing about last season, and he’s one of the absolute bright spots heading into next season. If you want to look at the roster and find an undeniably good thing, a young success story like Betances — who’s not tied to a bad contract, who’s still in his 20s, who came up through the minor league system, who still has an exciting future — is about as good as it gets for the Yankees right now. The life of the party brings excitement when things get dull, and that’s certainly what Betances is doing.
Associated Press photos
Yesterday the Associated Press reported that this year’s qualifying offer will be set at $15.3 million, a raise of nearly $1 million from last season. For the Yankees, that number is most interesting for free agent closer Dave Robertson, who’s ready to test the market for the first time and might have to seriously consider becoming the first player to ever accept such an offer.
First things first, the Yankees have not definitively said they’re going to extend a qualifying offer to Robertson, it just seems to be a strong possibility if only because it would be a chance to retain their closer on a short-term deal, keep their immediate bullpen depth intact, and buy some time for other young arms to develop while waiting for Dellin Betances to eventually take over the ninth inning. A qualifying offer would nearly triple Robertson’s 2014 salary and would make him a very, very well-paid relief pitcher, which is why he would have to consider accepting it. Then again, MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday guessed that Robertson could earn something in the neighborhood of four years, $52 million on the open market, which is why he would have to consider rejecting.
Bottom line: Robertson is going to get paid this winter. The only questions are by which team and for how long? For our purposes, the questions get even more specific: Should the Yankees bring him back and on what kind of contract?
Here’s a quick look at what the Yankees already have in place for next year’s bullpen:
Proven late-inning arms
Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley
Betances is still two years from arbitration, Warren is one year from arbitration, and Kelley has a year of arbitration left. That puts three pretty good relievers under team control for next season. That late-inning depth was one of the bullpen’s great strengths this season, giving the Yankees plenty of alternatives when Robertson and Kelley dealt with injuries, when Warren went cold for a few weeks, and when go-to relievers were inevitably shut down because of workload concerns. Might be a stretch to call either one of them “proven,” but the Yankees also have Esmil Rogers and Preston Claiborne under team control. Rogers seems like a prime non-tender candidate, but Claiborne is in place as additional bullpen depth.
Long relief options
David Phelps, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell
Before he was hurt late in the year, Phelps really seemed to be emerging as a solid back-of-the-rotation option for next season. His overall numbers weren’t great, but at his best, Phelps was a perfectly good starting pitcher and seems to be an obvious swingman candidate to work as either a starter or reliever next season. Same could be said for Whitley, who had fairly drastic ups and downs, possibly attributable to his increased workload in his first season as a starting pitcher. Again, when he was good, Whitley threw strikes and got outs with a good changeup/slider combination. Depending on rotation depth, the Yankees could also consider putting either Greene or Mitchell into the bullpen if necessary. Such a move worked well with Warren this season, but the Yankees may be better served with Greene in the big league rotation and Mitchell in the Triple-A rotation to open the season.
David Huff, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, James Pazos
One thing to keep in mind about that list of four left-handed relief options is that there’s a solid chance none of them will be on the 40-man roster in spring training. Huff is a non-tender candidate while Lindren, Webb and Pazos have such little professional experience that none needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. Left-handed relief is kind of an odd spot for the Yankees right now because they don’t have a reliable option in place — they traded away Matt Thornton — but their minor league system could be ready and able to fill the hole immediately. They could also jump into the market for a guy like Andrew Miller.
Minor league depth
Jose Ramirez, Dan Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow
Ramirez might be a more reliable option by now, but he was hurt again — it was a lat issue this time — and the latest injury held him to just 22.1 innings this season. That said, he’s expected to be healthy for spring training, which makes him an obvious bit of bullpen depth. Burawa, Montgomery and Pinder are each strong 40-man candidates this offseason, and Rumbelow pitched his way to Triple-A in just his first full season of pro ball. “Has toughness and poise,” Mark Newman said. The Yankees have some bullpen depth in place, but it would be hard to count on this group for a can’t-miss reliever this season. Someone might emerge, there’s just some uncertainty here. Ramirez has the injury history, Burawa and Montgomery have been inconsistent, Pinder has just 13 games of Triple-A experience, and Rumbelow was in college two years ago.
Without signing a free agent or making a trade, the Yankees could pretty easily roll out an Opening Day bullpen of Betances, Kelley, Warren, Lindgren, Phelps, Whitley and Huff (just to pick a group that might make some sense), and that might not be the worst bunch of relievers in the world. The Yankees would have a big-time arm for the ninth inning, two pretty good setup men, an experienced long reliever in Phelps and a high-potential young lefty in Lindgren.
Adding another arm like Robertson, though, would greatly increase the bullpen depth, and that’s largely what the Robertson decision is about.
Based on what he showed this year, Betances is a capable closer in waiting. But adding a one-inning guy like Robertson would free Betances to put out fires in the seventh inning before building a bridge through the eighth. It would free Kelley and Warren to hover as late-inning alternatives and high-end options as early as the sixth inning. It might even free Warren to become a rotation option again (same with Phelps), and it might minimize the need to immediately put a guy like Lindgren into high leverage situations in his first big league season.
It’s often seen as foolish to give too much money to a reliever because relievers are unpredictable, but that unpredictability is the same reason it’s worthwhile to stockpile a bunch of bullpen arms. With so many young, cheap options already in place, the Yankees could pay Robertson for a few years and still keep their overall bullpen payroll relatively low. That said, this is a team looking to get younger and cheaper, and the emergence of Betances and Warren might give the Yankees a chance to immediately do both of those things in the bullpen.
If it were up to me, I’d bring Robertson back, keep him in the ninth inning, and build a young bullpen around him. But it’s not my roster, not my money, and it’s certainly not my decision. Both the Yankees and Robertson could be facing a tough choice come time for qualifying offers to go on the table.
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “You never really lose hope” • 09.05.14
From the outside, this really looked like a new low for the Yankees underwhelming offense. They’d come up with one hit since the third inning, their best chance to score had been doubled off first base, and Koji Uehara was jogging in from the bullpen with a one-run lead in the ninth. To start this month of must-win games, the Yankees were three outs away from losing two of three against a last-place team.
But to hear Chase Headley tell the story, that sense of impending doom was strictly from the outside looking in.
“I think there’s enough confidence in (the dugout), and there’s enough guys who’ve done it before, that you never really lose hope,” Headley said. “You expect each and every day that you come on that field that it’s going to turn around, and hopefully we’re on that way. I feel like we’ve swung the bats better lately. Even some tough outs and balls that we hit at people, it seems to be getting better so hopefully we continue on that trend, but there’s never any give up or any it can’t happen. There’s just too good of players on this team, too good of offensive weapons for this not to happen.”
Mark Teixeira hit his first home run since August 17, then Headley walked off with his fourth homer since coming over from San Diego.
“(The dugout) erupted,” Teixeira said. “It’s been an up and down season for all of us. When you can win a game like that, win a series in that fashion, it just doesn’t happen very much. You don’t hit two home runs off one of the best closers in baseball very much. That was a fun dugout.”
One win doesn’t change the situation. The Yankees are still on the outside looking in. They still face a bunch of must-win games, and there are still a bunch of teams ahead of them, but for at least one night the Yankees kept all hope from disappearing completely.
“We’re very confident, I can tell you that much,” Headley said. “The guys in the clubhouse believe it’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened yet, but we expect it to happen. Obviously walk-off wins, late-inning comebacks, that kind of win gives you some momentum. Having said that, you can’t just rely on that. You have to come out every day and play the game on the field. Hopefully we can build on this, but we expect it to happen. We’re going with the expectations that we’re going to go on a run, we’re going to get it done. The confidence, the belief, the effort, that’s all going to be there. So we’re just going to keep going.”
• Game-tying and game-winning home runs in the ninth inning tend to overshadow a lot of things. In this case, they overshadowed a terrific night for the Yankees bullpen, which pitched 4.2 scoreless innings without using either Dellin Betances or Dave Robertson. “I think games like this when we’re called on to give a lot of innings, we try to take the team on our back and say we’re going to keep the Red Sox there and allow the offense to come back,” Adam Warren said. “And that’s what we did. We’re just going out there and trying to put zeroes.”
• Warren got arguably the biggest outs by retiring three straight in the ninth inning to strand a pair of runners that were on base strictly because of his own mistakes. “With (Allen) Craig I just let the fastball get away and hit him,” Warren said. “Then I expected the bunt and just bobbled it first and kind of panicked after that instead of staying under control. Just trying to get ahead of guys once that happened, and trying to get outs, especially on the ground.”
• Interesting choice by Joe Girardi to trust Rich Hill — who was sent down just a few days ago — against David Ortiz in the fifth. Hill did the job with a big strikeout against a guy who’d homered in his previous two at-bats. “He’s just a really different look, being a sidearmer,” Girardi said. “Ortiz is a great hitter, but anytime you can give a hitter different looks, it’s beneficial. You talk about bullpens, you want different looks in your bullpen, so they’re not used to seeing the same guys. When Rich Hill is right, he’s really tough on left handers.”
• Costly mistake for Antoan Richardson. In his Yankees debut, Richardson was a seventh-inning pinch runner and wound up doubled off first base on a fly ball to center. He was running on the pitch, which complicated matters, but his mistake came in not picking up the ball soon enough. “I’ve got to peek a little earlier,” Richardson said. “I picked it up almost a step before I got to second base, and that’s just a little bit too late. … I think any time the ball gets into the outfield in the air you should be able to get back if you’re running on the pitch. If I execute the way I’m supposed to, I think I get back.”
• Girardi on Richardson: “We brought him here to steal bases. That’s why he’s here. The big thing is, you’ve got to peek. When you’re a baserunner, you have more than one responsibility than just running the bases. You’ve got to see where the ball’s hit. And it’s important that baserunners do that.”
• Teixeira on his at-bat against Uehara: “It’s funny how baseball works. Until two strikes, I was trying to hit a home run. Once I got to two strikes, his split is so good, if you try to pull a split and he throws it, you’re probably going to miss it or roll over it. I’m trying to hit a line drive to left there, actually. He hung a split in the middle of the plate, and because of that, I stayed on it and put a good swing on it.”
• Headley on his at-bat against Uehara: “You’ve got to try to get him up and he’s got the great split (with) good separation on the fastball and the split velocity-wise, so you really have to get him up in the zone. I felt like I was seeing him pretty good. He threw me a good fastball down and away in a hitter’s count, and I took it because it wasn’t what I was looking for. When it finally got to 3-2, I got a pitch I could handle and that was the at-bat.”
• Chris Capuano on the two Ortiz home runs: “The guy is a Hall of Famer. You’ve got to be tight with your location when you’re making pitches to him. I made two loose pitches, a fastball that came over the middle and kind of a hanging slider. He hammered it. He’s a good hitter. He does that.”
• This was Headley’s third career walk-off home run, and it was his second walk-off since coming to the Yankees. His first came in his game with the team. “I actually knew everybody’s name this time,” he said.
• It was the Yankees sixth walk-off of the season and their third via home run (also Carlos Beltran in June and Brian McCann in August). It was the team’s 34th come-from-behind win of the season, and by coming back from three runs they matched their largest comeback of the season.
• Derek Jeter got his 540th career double tying his childhood hero Dave Winfield and Joe Medwich for 32nd place on baseball’s all-time list. He hit the ball pretty hard three times tonight. “That (double) was crushed,” Teixeira said. “He just missed one in his first at-bat; that ball was crushed. It’s a good sign. Like I said, all bets are off in September. Derek might hit six or seven home runs this month. We’d like that. You just never know, because baseball is a weird game.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I think this team has fought all year long. We’ve went through a lot of tough losses. We’ve went through a lot of tough things and this team has never given up. Extra-inning wins and ninth-inning wins, it’s who this group is. There’s a lot of character in that room and at times we’ve had a lot of things that haven’t went right for us, but they’ve never stopped fighting.”
Associated Press photos
Adam Warren is well aware that he hasn’t been pitching very well lately. Even last night, when he wasn’t charged with a run, he didn’t make a particularly good pitch with a slider, and the resulting line-drive is the way the Astros took their first lead.
“It’s a fine line that they walk, location of pitches, being ahead in the count and being able to put hitters away,” Joe Girardi said. “It looked like he left a slider up, and it didn’t break much, and it got hit.”
Warren knows all of that. He also knows that he pitched really well for most of the year, and that a 9.00 ERA in his past 10 outings suggests something has gone out of whack recently. It happens to every pitcher at some point, and the key is getting it fixed.
Warren said it’s not a matter of fatigue, not a problem of workload. He believes he’s simply not staying back long enough in his delivery. It’s a small flaw that affects that fine line in a big way.
“My body feels fine,” Warren said. “I’ve had a week off between outings, so physically I feel fine. I think it’s just one of those funks where I just feel like I can’t quite get on top of the ball and feel like my stuff’s not quite as sharp. Just trying to get back to good solid mechanics. I feel like I’m getting there. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.”
Go back one month to the All-Star break and there was some talk about whether the Yankees should get Warren stretched out to join the rotation. At the time, he was one of their most trusted arms, and even in his first few games after the break Warren was steady and reliable. But he gave up a home run on July 24, and since then the results have been inconsistent at best, really bad at worst.
Getting Warren back on track would go a long way toward making the Yankees bullpen as deep and dependable as it was earlier in the season. And if the offense is going to remain inconsistent, the Yankees are going to need their bullpen. Last night’s not going to be their last close game in the late innings.
“Mechanically I feel a little off, but I feel like I’m taking a step in the right direction and getting where I need to be,” Warren said. “… Just (working on) really just focusing on mechanics when you can and when you do throw in (bullpen) sessions. Some dry work on the mound, just really focusing on staying back a little bit longer.”
Associated Press photo
Yankees pregame: Cervelli back, Murphy down • 06.17.14
John Ryan Murphy has been sent down to Triple-A and Francisco Cervelli has been activated from the DL, not just to be the backup catcher, but again to possibly be one of the backups for Mark Teixeira. When Cervelli hurt his hamstring back in mid-April, it was a game in which he started at first base. Two of his five starts in April were at first.
Joe Girardi said a choice between Kelly Johnson and Cervelli would come down to matchups.
“I think I’m comfortable there,” Cervelli said. “But I don’t want to forget about catching. That’s what I like, but I want to help any way I can.”
This has been the second straight season Cervelli has missed a huge chunk of time. He said he stayed positive these last two months.
“It’s frustrating,” Cervelli said. “But this time I took it differently. … I spent time with my dad. I recovered so fast before the 60 days.”
John Ryan Murphy got sent down to Triple-A to make room. He hit .286 with one homer and eight RBI in 24 games.
“He played extremely well,” Girardi said. “Obviously we were pleased with what he did. … We think it’s important for him to go play every day.”
CC Sabathia threw a 25-pitch bullpen yesterday and will have another session out there tomorrow. Joe Girardi compared this to the beginning of spring training for him.
Michael Pineda, who was shut down after his setback, is scheduled to play catch Saturday.
Rotation fill-in Vidal Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA. Adam Warren has been mentioned as a possible replacement. But the reliever would have to be stretched out. Girardi said Warren could probably only go up to about 50 pitches now.
“We’ll continue to evaluate our staff and decide what we’re going to do,” Girardi said.
Tonight it appears the ball is in good hands. It’s Masahiro Tanaka time.
“Obviously Tanaka is the best pitcher on the planet,” Sabathia said.
Photo by The Associated Press