State of the organization: Third base • 10.09.14
Well, we were going to get here eventually. Might as well deal with it on a random Thursday in early October. The state of the Yankees organization at third base is a strange mix of embarrassing uncertainty in the big leagues and optimistic potential in the minors. The Yankees have a first-round pick waiting in the wings to replace a 10-year contract that stands out as one of the worst in all of sports.
Signed through 2017
Nope, you didn’t read that wrong. Rodriguez turns 40 in July, he’s hardly played in the past two years, and he’s signed for three more seasons. That’s the lingering mess of a 2008 contract that’s been nothing but trouble. Amazingly, Rodriguez’s previous record contract had actually been a fairly good one. In 2007 he won his third MVP award in five seasons. He was paid a boatload of money, but he was as productive as anyone this side of Barry Bonds. Then he opted out, negotiated a new deal, and things went downhill quickly. From a .965 OPS in 2008 to a .771 OPS in an injury-shortened 2013, Rodriguez’s production has declined each year of his current deal. And last year he was suspended for a full season because of his Biogensis ties (you probably heard about that). Now the Yankees say they’re expecting Rodriguez to play third base again next season, but there’s obviously a solid chance someone else has that job pretty soon.
On the verge
No sense pretending there’s someone in the Yankees system who’s truly “on the verge” of taking over the third-base job. Jose Pirela has played third base in the past, but he didn’t play a single inning at the position this year. Rob Segedin is the system’s most advanced third base prospect, but he’s had injury problems and hit just .143 in limited Triple-A at-bats this year. Zelous Wheeler is a third baseman by trade, but he’s also a DFA candidate. Adonis Garcia and Tyler Austin have some third base experience, but they’re primarily corner outfielders. Instead, the most ready alternatives are either Martin Prado (assuming either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is ready to play second base) or a free agent, and the most notable free agent is Headley, who made a strong impression during his two-plus months with the Yankees. Given the uncertainty of Rodriguez and the injuries to Mark Teixeira, the Yankees surely need someone capable of playing the infield corners. If it’s not Headley, it’s got to be someone. Prado could do it, but that’s going to require someone else who can play second.
In two of the past four drafts, the Yankees took a third baseman with their top pick. They took Dante Bichette Jr. out of high school back in 2011. Two years later, they took Jagielo out of Notre Dame. Despite a bounce-back season from Bichette, it still seems that Jagielo has to be considered the system’s top third-base prospect. He struck out a lot this season — 93 times in 85 games with High-A Tampa — but he also might have led the league in home runs had he not missed time with an injury. He instead ranked fifth with 16 homers. Only one player in the league had more than 19. “Jagielo hit home runs in college,” Mark Newman said. “He probably hit more and exhibited more power than we had anticipated, but we thought he had power.” While I would give Jagielo the nod as the system’s top third base prospect, Bichette had a nice year after back-to-back disappointing seasons. He wasn’t nearly as good after a late promotion to Double-A, but he did enough to get back on the map. If he can rediscover some of the power numbers he showed during his strong half season in 2011, Bichette could really make a push next year.
Deeper in the system
Two top draft picks headline the third base position in the Yankees minor league system, but two young players signed out of the Dominican Republic had nice years in the lower levels. Andujar in particular stands out as an interesting and legitimate prospect. Playing full-season ball for the first time, Andujar got off to a slow start with Low-A Charleston — a brutal month of May left him with a .212/.267/.335 slash line at the All-Star break, but he rebounded in a big way by hitting .319/.367/.456 in the second half. Still just 19 years old, Andujar’s a kid with a long way to go, but he put up good numbers in rookie ball last year, and this season’s second half was another step forward. Coming up behind Andujar, a 21-year-old named Allen Valerio hit .292/.404/.472 in his first season in the U.S., but he was pretty old for rookie ball.
An outfielder in the infield
While the Yankees don’t have a full-time third base prospect who’s knocking on the door to the big leagues, they do have Tyler Austin who’s likely to land on the 40-man roster this offseason and should open next season in Triple-A. Converted to right field back in 2012, Austin really hasn’t played much third base lately, but he’s played the position in the past and he got a little bit of time at third last season. After a strong second half and an assignment back to the Arizona Fall League, Austin should be one of the top prospects on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barer roster next season. If he hits, the Yankees might have to find a way to give Austin an opportunity in New York, and third base could be a way to do that either as a regular or part-time player at the position. A right-handed corner utility man would fit pretty well with this roster, and Austin could be that type of player if the Yankees still trust him in the infield.
Associated Press photo
This was the first week of the offseason, and it was full of stuff pretty typical of the first week of the offseason. Most notably, both Hal Steinbrenner and Joe Girardi spoke publicly about their disappointment.
“I apologize,” Steinbrenner said. “We did not do the job this year. We know what you expect of us, and we expect the same thing of ourselves, and we certainly did what we thought we could do in the offseason to field a pretty good team come April 1, but it didn’t work out for reasons we’ve just discussed. And we’re going to get right back to work.”
Getting back to work begins with hiring a general manager. Brian Cashman’s contract expires at the end of this month, but all parties involved seem to expect a new deal to be worked out. Steinbrenner acknowledged that he and Cashman have already discussed a new deal.
“Overall, everything Cashman does — dealing with you guys (in the media), dealing with the coaches and the manager — he is a good GM,” Steinbrenner said. “So, yes, we have been talking about that, but there is no deal done.”
Steinbrenner was less supportive of the Yankees coaching staff, indicating it’s possible we’ll see some coaching changes this winter.
“If I do deem that somebody is liable,” Steinbrenner said. “Or if I do deem that somebody is responsible, that things could have been better, I will act.”
• Both Girardi and Steinbrenner indicated — just as Brian Cashman did last week — that the Yankees plan to bring Alex Rodriguez back next season, and they’re hoping to have him play a lot of third base. Rodriguez is working out in California, but he’s missed all of one year and most of another. Hard to have any idea what to expect.
• As expected, Carlos Beltran underwent surgery to have his bone spur removed. Dr. Chris Ahmad also removed loose pieces from the elbow.
• Derek Jeter wrapped up his Farewell Tour — he might not like the name, but that’s clearly what it was at the end — but doing a pair of television interviews, first with a morning appearance on Today and then with an evening appearance on The Tonight Show. Nothing new revealed, just Jeter being a retired celebrity. He’s honestly pretty good in those situations.
• Bigger news from Jeter came in his announcement that he has started an online media platform called The Players’ Tribune, which is designed to give athletes a chance to present their thoughts without the filter of typical media. Interesting idea. We’ll see how it plays out.
• Eric Jagielo will have to skip the Arizona Fall League after being hit by a pitch to the face during instructs. He’s been replaced by Dante Bichette Jr.
• Speaking of the Fall League, baseball is going to try some new pace-of-game initiatives out there. I like the idea. Shaving game times by just 15 minutes or so would be a positive thing for the league.
• Brett Gardner was announced as the Yankees nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, which goes to the top offensive player in each league. Says a lot about the kind of season Gardner had, but also about the kind of season the rest of the Yankees hitters had.
• A possible offseason target, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, became an eligible free agent. Would be an chance to add power potential for right field. Obvious risk, though.
• The playoffs got started. Some awesome nights for the Kansas City Royals. Not such good nights for Joba Chamberlain.
Associated Press photos
Hit in the face by an instructional league pitch late last month, Yankees third base prospect Eric Jagielo will miss the next four to six weeks. Josh Norris first reported the time table last night, and Mark Newman confirmed this afternoon.
In the short term, Jagielo’s injury is significant because he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and will obviously have to skip that.
Newman said that Dante Bichette Jr. — the former first-round pick who really put himself back on the map this season — will take Jagielo’s place in Arizona. Having struggled the previous two seasons in Low-A Charleston, Bichette was bumped up to High-A Tampa this year and hit .271/.352/.410 before playing his final 18 games in Double-A. He just turned 22 in September, so he’s still fairly young, and he won’t be Rule 5 eligible until next winter.
One other mid-day note of interest: Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is an eligible free agent. Could be an interesting young target for the Yankees this offseason. If you have a subscription, here’s a ton of Baseball America information about Tomas.
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos