Year by year, Yankees longevity stands out • 01.23.15
My first reaction to seeing the graphic in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post was a bit of criticism: where were the names?
It seemed awkward to look at a chart that was created by individual players and showed no individual names, but as I looked at it a little longer, the lack of names became one of my favorite parts.
Whether intentional or not, one thing Steve and Rich really emphasized in their graphic was the value of longevity.
If you’re looking for individual superstars, they’re easy enough to find — just look for the huge patches of blue. Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly are easy to spot in the first base column. Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada stand out at catcher. Joe Gordon, Willie Randolph and Robinson Cano are obvious at second. It’s not hard to spot Babe Ruth, it’s easy to find Derek Jeter, and the transition from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle is obvious.
There are some important specks on that chart — one speck is the year Rickey Henderson moved from center field to left field — but the graphic really emphasizes sustained success, either through one long-term player or through one very successful transition. And the Yankees are in a period of obvious transition without a lot of blue in these most recent years.
So what positions are close to developing large patches of sustained success?
Center field and left field could be heading that direction. There’s a 2014 dot of blue in left field because Brett Gardner had a nice season, and that season came after a very small gap of red following the mix-and-match left field success of the late 2000s. Jacoby Ellsbury also provided a blue dot last season as a transition from Curtis Granderson to Gardner to Ellsbury in center field. Gardner and Ellsbury are signed long term and could continue that outfield success through the end of this decade.
If a guy like Rob Refsnyder can take hold of the second base position, that could be another strong and relatively quick transition after the standout seasons of Robinson Cano. Maybe Dellin Betances can provide a strong transition in the relief column. Obviously the top two starters have generally provided a lot of blue-dot success over the years, and Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda seem poised to keep that going as long as they stay healthy.
Plugging short term holes is helpful and necessary along the way, but sustained success is what really stands out.
Associated Press photo
Whatever the batting order, it’s the hitters themselves that will determine whether the Yankees lineup is any good this season. Joe Girardi could put them in the perfect 1 through 9, but if key players don’t perform up to their abilities, the offense simply won’t work. Hitters don’t have to be at their absolute peak to become valuable assets again, but key hitters reverting back toward key career stats would be a good strong step in the right direction.
If these specific players could bounce back in these specific ways, it would make a big difference.
MARK TEIXEIRA – Slugging percentage
Last season: .398
Teixeira has acknowledged that he’s probably not going to be a .300 hitter at this stage of his career. The shift has taken away a lot of his hits, and he’s just not a .300/.400/.500 guy anymore. But in 2012 — his last healthy season before last year — Teixeira slugged .475. That would have been the 12th-heighest slugging percentage in the American League last season. And it’s not that Teixeira absolutely can’t do that any more (he was slugging .474 at the end of June before a brutal second half). Power is at a premium these days, and Teixeira doesn’t have to be a great overall hitter to be a productive run producer.
BRIAN MCCANN – OPS vs. RHP
Last season: .633
McCann actually hit pretty well against lefties last season. Even exceeded his career numbers against them. What he did not do is hit against right-handers. He’d typically crushed them, but last season McCann slugged less than .400 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage against right-handers. Blame it on the shift. Blame it on the transition. Blame it on a bad year fully of lofty expectations. For whatever reason, McCann simply didn’t hit right-handers. Now that the American League East has lost several left-handed starters — including standouts Jon Lester and David Price — McCann should be able to feast on a bunch of righties in the division. Improve his splits, and McCann should significantly improve his production.
CARLOS BELTRAN – RBI
Last season: 49
Because of the elbow injury, it’s hard to know what to make of Beltran’s capabilities at this point. Was last year’s diminished slash line the product of age or injury? As recently as 2013, Beltran was still an .830 OPS guy. In his career he’s typically hit for a good average, hit for good power, and played a role in the middle of the order. That’s why he’s averaged more than 100 RBI per 162 games. Clearly RBI is not really an individual statistic. It depends heavily on playing time, and it depends on the rest of the lineup, and that’s why it’s such a key stat for Beltran. However he does it — through raw power or clutch hits or simply an abundance of opportunities — another 100 RBI season from Beltran would indicate that he’s stayed healthy and stayed in a lineup that’s generating plenty of run-scoring chances. As a guy the Yankees will surely count on in the middle of the order, a lot of Beltran RBI would be a good sign for the entire Yankees team.
JACOBY ELLSBURY – Stolen bases
Last season: 39
This is just a guess, but if Ellsbury is back at the top of the order (focusing on getting on base and creating havoc) rather than hitting in the middle (focusing on driving in runs and being a typical No. 3 hitter), I bet he’ll steal more bases this season. I might be completely wrong — and certainly a 39-steal season isn’t bad by any measure, it was the second-most in the American League — but a higher number of stolen bases would seem to indicate a better job getting on base and a willingness to run. In each of Ellsbury’s two highest-steal seasons, he’s had a .355 on-base percentage, which is 27 points higher than his on-base percentage last season. Stolen bases are hardly an absolute proof of Ellsbury’s productivity — he also had 39 steals in 2011, which was easily his overall best season — but a lot of steals in 2015 could be a sign of several things for the Yankees: It would suggest Ellsbury’s getting on base a lot, and that someone else hitting well enough in the middle of the order that Ellsbury gets to stay in his more-natural No. 1 or 2 spot.
STEPHEN DREW – Batting average on balls in play
Last season: .194
At times, BABIP is considered a measure of luck. If a typically good hitters has abnormally bad numbers, then a low batting average on balls in play could be an indication that he’s a few inches away from typical production. In the case of Drew, last year’s abnormally low BABIP could also be explained by his abnormally low line drive percentage. His home runs per fly ball were also down, as were his infield hits. His strikeout rate was significantly higher than usual. All of that could be an indication that Drew wasn’t simply unlucky last season, he simply wasn’t as prepared, making weaker contact when he made contact at all. Surely the Yankees aren’t banking on Drew being a dominant offensive player, but they’re obviously banking on him being better than last season’s .162/.237/.299. Better and more consistent contact should help.
CHRIS YOUNG – OPS vs. LHP
Last season: .561
Similar to the McCann situation, but from the opposite side of the plate and in a much smaller role. Even with that strong month of September, Young’s splits last season were not at all what’s come to be expected. He was alright against right handers, but he was brutal against lefties. Given all of the left-handed hitters in the Yankees regular lineup — and the presence of Garrett Jones as left-handed outfield option off the bench — Young’s role this season seems to be entirely in a platoon situation, bringing some right-handed balance to a team that leans to the left. Whether he’s in the lineup against lefties or coming off the bench to pinch hit for Drew or Didi Gregorius, Young could have a real impact if he’s able to make the most of his limited playing time against left-handers.
Associated Press photos
In today’s Pinch Hitter post, Bennett focused on the Yankees batting order. Lineup construction is always a source of fascination, and it’s still an evolving art form as we continue to learn more and more about the game. In the past decade or so, managers have changed the way they build lineups, and although most analysis finds that lineup optimization has limited impact, it does have some impact, which makes it important.
So how should the Yankees stack their batting order this season? Like everything else about this unpredictable season, it really depends on many factors.
Is Jacoby Ellsbury definitely the leadoff hitter?
Last year Ellsbury hit third, which always seemed odd considering he came to the Yankees as one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. In theory, a healthy lineup should free Ellsbury to move back to the very top of the order this season, but that shouldn’t be a given. With Brett Gardner, the Yankees have another obvious leadoff candidate who had nearly the exactly same on-base percentage and a slightly higher OPS than Ellsbury last season. The Yankees could keep Gardner in the leadoff spot and use Ellsbury one of two ways: Either in a return to the No. 3 spot, or as the No. 2 hitter. While baseball used to lean toward batting its best hitters third, there’s been a recent move toward prioritizing the No. 2 spot. That might be where Ellsbury fits best.
Is Alex Rodriguez a good hitter? Is he even an everyday player?
This morning, Bennett proposed batting Rodriguez eighth — that’s happened before, hasn’t it? — and it makes a lot of sense. It’s been a while since A-Rod was a great, middle-of-the-order slugger, and his return from suspension isn’t exactly generating a lot of optimism. But what if he does hit? Could he be a legitimate No. 4 or 5 hitter? Is that too much to even dream about? There’s also an opposite scenario to consider. What if Rodriguez is so bad that he can’t get regular at-bats, especially against right-handed starters? If Garrett Jones is the everyday DH against righties, that raises a new batting order problem. Specifically…
How should Joe Girardi split up his left-handed hitters?
Right now, the Yankees seem to be banking on only one right-handed regular, and that’s A-Rod. Otherwise, Ellsbury, Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Brian McCann are each lefties; Headley, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are switch hitters. It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that Ellsbury and Gardner will hit back-to-back at the top of the order — they each handle left-handed pitchers pretty well — but Drew and Gregorius have significant splits, so it’s worth keeping them separated. And the lineup becomes even more left-leaning if Jones is starting at DH. A middle-of-the-order that has Beltran, McCann, Teixeira and Headley bunched together — which isn’t an absurd idea on the surface — could leave five straight lefties (Jones, Gregorius, Drew, Ellsbury and Gardner).
Will the lineup look significantly different against lefties?
Basically, how many platoon situations are the Yankees planning to have this season? Is Chris Young going to play against most lefties to give one of the regular outfielders a day off? Is Brendan Ryan going to platoon with Gregorius at shortstop or with Drew at second base? Can Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela make the team out of camp and play regularly (or at least play regularly against lefties)? Is there anything to the idea of giving John Ryan Murphy regular reps against lefties so that McCann can either DH or take some days off? We know the American League East doesn’t have many left-handed starters these days, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t run into their share during the course of the season. How drastically will the lineup change on those days?
What should we make of Chase Headley’s strong second half?
Here’s the central point Bennett was making this morning: Headley has been a terrific hitter in the past, and since the Yankees have to bank on healthy veterans anyway, why not bank on a healthy Headley being a productive run producer? Since the alternatives aren’t all that appealing, Headley could be a middle-of-the-order guy. Problem is, Headley’s been a true power hitter only once in his career. During that standout 2012 season he slugged .498, but he’s otherwise slugged better than .400 only once, and that was in a partial season (even in 2012 he didn’t slug a ton in the first half, just went nuts after the break). Most of his career, Headley’s been more of an on-base guy, and that’s mostly what he was with the Yankees last season despite the lingering impression of those big hits along the way. His career slugging percentage is lower than Derek Jeter’s or Kelly Johnson’s. Can he be productive enough to hit in the middle, or does he have to be considered more like a No. 6-7 hitter?
Can at least one veteran seriously bounce back this season?
This might be the most important question of all. The Yankees might not be banking on much production from Rodriguez, but they’re surely counting on McCann, Beltran and Teixeira. Those are the real sources of power in this lineup, and the Yankees need at least one of them to perform like a stereotypical No. 3 or cleanup hitter. McCann slugged .519 in September (maybe that was a sign of adjustment). Teixeira slugged .474 through the end of June (that’s a good slugging percentage these days, and maybe he can maintain that pace after a normal offseason). Beltran hit .263/.311/.516 in April (maybe his May elbow injury was root of all the disappointment that came next). If one of those three can get productive and stay that way, the Yankees might have to adjust their lineup to give that guy priority at-bats.
Associated Press photos
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees first significant signing came this weekend when they agreed to a new one-year deal with Chris Young, bringing some right-handed balance to the outfield and some power/speed potential to the bench. With that signing, the Yankees seem set in the outfield with no need to add either a big league bat or additional minor league depth.
As it is, the Yankees have seven full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster — that’s to say nothing of the three 40-man infielders who have a solid amount of outfield experience — and they’re likely to add one or two more outfielders when it comes time to protect Tyler Austin and possibly Mason Williams from the Rule 5 draft.
Just taking a look at the projected big league roster, and the potential options at the highest levels of the minor league system, it seems the Yankees should have all that they need in the outfield. The depth could also leaves the Yankees with trade options should they decide to make a move.
Granted, it’s not remotely a lock that Pirela is going to make the team, and there’s a solid chance Wheeler will be designated for assignment at some point, but this is still a clear picture of three obvious starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and at least one infielder who can play the outfield regularly if necessary. This roster also has three guys who can play center field when necessary, so the Yankees are covered as the most difficult-to-fill outfield position. Maybe another outfielder comes to camp on a non-roster invitation just in case — stranger things have happened — but there’s no overwhelming need here. Especially if the Yankees carrying a versatile utility guy like Pirela, they have plenty of big league outfield options as it is.
Picking the three “starting” outfielders for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season isn’t an easy task. I assume Austin will move up after his finishing strong in Double-A, and the bulk of his playing time will surely come in the outfield corners (perhaps with a little bit of corner infield now and then). Flores and Perez clearly need regular at-bats as well — they could be first in line for an outfield call-up — and both Dugas and Garcia have played well enough to also deserve playing time. Chances are Refsnyder will be strictly a second baseman, but he’s listed here just to show the Yankees have yet another guy who could play some Triple-A outfield if necessary. There’s also the chance that Pirela and/or Wheeler could end up back in Triple-A providing even more depth. There’s not much big league experience here, but there are only so many Triple-A at-bats to go around, and the Yankees surely want to prioritize legitimate prospects ahead of minor league veterans. Bringing back a guy like Antoan Richardson or signing someone similar would only take away at-bats from young guys who need the playing time.
Kind of like the Triple-A outfield, the Double-A outfield has more than three guys who seem worth of everyday at-bats. The tough part here is predicting what the Yankees are going to do with Heathcott and Williams. Is Heathcott going to be healthy enough to stay on the field (and if so, is he going back to Double-A or finally jumping to Triple-A)? Is Williams going to be lost in the Rule 5 draft (and if not, would he get priority playing time ahead of the other guys listed here)? Like with Austin, I’m assuming Judge will be challenged with a jump up a level, which means right field is taken, and Cave has played too well to be anything less than an everyday outfielder next season. In terms of immediate outfield depth, the important thing to notice here is that Heathcott and Williams are still looming as upper-level outfielders who could be on the 40-man roster and still warrant playing time as well. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of outfielders who need at-bats.
Associated Press photo
Looking for a re-do on the Yankees roster • 11.08.14
Last winter, the Yankees added nearly a half-billion dollars in new contracts, but they refused to give a 10-year deal to their best player. The Yankees reluctance with Robinson Cano seemed to be a clear attempt to avoid repeating past mistakes (specifically, an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of one other decade-long contract).
Of all the current regrets on the roster, I think it’s a safe bet that Alex Rodriguez’s contract is the one the Yankees would most like to void if they could. Three more years at basically $20 million a year for a guy who might be a non-factor on the field? That’s pretty bad, and that’s before factoring in all of the off-the-field problems. Total mess.
But if the Yankees could magically get out of one other current obligation, which would it be?
I’m going to assume the Yankees feel good about the Brett Gardner extension, considering he’s coming off a strong season and looks like a relative bargain. They also probably don’t have much regret about two more years and $22 million left on Martin Prado’s deal, if only because it’s a relatively small contract that isn’t going to cripple their payroll. The Brendan Ryan contract also is not the sort of thing that creates many payroll problems.
So, of the other multi-year contracts on the Yankees roster — non-Rodriguez division — which are you second guessing most?
Contract: Five years, $122 million (plus a vesting option)
What’s left: Two years (plus the vesting option)
This is the triple crown of contract concerns: Age, performance and injury. And that vesting option is based on shoulder injury, not a knee or elbow injury, so that option could vest despite the current concerns. Pitchers are always risky investments, and while there was very little doubt the Yankees would extend Sabathia back in 2011. He was good again in 2012, but the contract has been a problem ever since. If Sabathia can become a steady middle-of-the-rotation arm for the remaining years, the Yankees will surely be happy with that production at this point. The rotation now belongs to Tanaka and Michael Pineda.
Contract: Eight years, $180 million
What’s left: Two years
I’ve written before that if you go back to that 2008 offseason, Teixeira was exactly the kind of player worth a long-term investment. He was consistent, he was terrific on both offense and defense, there was little indication he’d ever have to abandon his position, and he was — perhaps most importantly — always healthy. One great years, though, and things started to slide in a big way. To me, Teixeira is the strongest example of why all long-term contracts are giant risks. If he hits for power like he did the first three months of 2014, and carries that through a full season, Teixeira can still be plenty productive for the Yankees. There are a lot of red flags at the moment, though.
Contract: Three years, $45 million
What’s left: Two years
This is a relatively short and relatively inexpensive contract, but because of Beltran’s age and overwhelming unproductive season, I think the Yankees would back out of his deal before they’d back out of some others. Losing Beltran might open right field for a free agent like Melky Cabrera or Nelson Cruz. This isn’t a contract that’s going to cripple the Yankees payroll for an extended period of time, but it’s a contract that looked bad just two months into its first season.
Contract: Five years, $85 million (plus a club option)
What’s left: Four years (plus the club option)
Even after a brutal first season in New York, I’m not sure the Yankees would be desperate to get out of this contract. After another year like this year, it might be a different story, but McCann seemed to show some signs of significant improvement late in the year. He also helped get a strong season out of a patchwork pitching staff, and I think that has to count for something. That said, the fact the Yankees are deep in upper-level catching prospects means they have some young and cheap alternatives behind the plate. I doubt the Yankees are too bothered by the McCann deal at the moment, but that first year certainly didn’t go as planned.
Contract: Seven years, $153 million (plus a club option)
What’s left: Six years (plus the club option)
In his first year after coming from the Red Sox to the Yankees, Ellsbury’s performance was more or less in keeping with his past production. He hit the second-most home runs of his career, put up a slash line pretty close to his career numbers, and more or less provided the same speed and defense that the Yankees had seen from afar. The only immediate regret in the Ellsbury contract is that there are so many years left. Any contract of this length is worth second guessing. Which brings us to…
Contract: Seven years, $155 million
What’s left: Six years (with a player opt out after 2017)
My guess is that the Yankees don’t regret this deal. Yes, Tanaka’s elbow could go out at any moment, but that’s basically true of any pitcher. Bigger risk with Tanaka, obviously, but they also signed a legitimate front-line starter who’s Japanese numbers carried over to the big leagues. That’s a big deal, and a young ace is nearly impossible to find. Even with the injury risk, that’s a guy worth signing for big money. That said, this is a lot of money and a lot of years for a guy who broke down midway through his first season.
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
State of the organization: Center field • 10.14.14
Up next in our position-by-position look at the Yankees organization is a position that has a long-term solution already in place at the major-league level. It’s also a position with quite a bit of depth — and a good amount of both disappointment and production — within the minor league system. The Yankees have a lot of young center fielders who might or might not work out, but right now there’s not really a place to put them even if they do emerge as immediate big league options.
Signed through 2020
The Yankees lineup didn’t have much in 2013, but one thing it did have was a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. And so, of course, when the Yankees got into the offseason and needed to find a high-end position player, they gave seven years and more than $150 million to a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. For the most part, Ellsbury lived up to expectation in his first season with the Yankees. He had a 113 OPS+ in 2013, then a 111 in 2014. He had 246 total bases in 2013, 241 in 2014. Home runs were up, stolen bases were slightly down, but ultimately this was a reasonable and productive year for Ellsbury. Whether the contract will still be reasonable and productive at the end of the decade remains to be seen, but for the time being, the Yankees seem to have gotten the player they expected. And having Ellsbury in center field has allowed the Yankees to move Brett Gardner back into left field, giving them a ton of outfield range and a double-dose of speed near the top of the order.
On the verge
I’m using Richardson’s name here mostly to make a point about the uncertainty of all the organization’s upper-level center fielders. The Yankees have a lot of center fielders who could push themselves onto the big league roster early next season — Can Slade Heathcott get healthy? Mason Williams has the defense, what about the bat? Will Jake Cave keep moving up? Is Taylor Dugas for real? Are Adonis Garcia and Ramon Flores good enough in center? — but this September, when the Yankees wanted a speedy center field type to bring up in September, they called on the veteran Richardson. Even with a lot of center field talent in Double-A and Triple-A, Richardson was the choice. Ideally, one of the true center field prospects will push for that sort of call-up next year. Williams is Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Heathcott and Flores are already on the 40-man. Cave and Dugas had great 2014 seasons. Both Garcia and Flores are intriguing hitters who primarily play in the corners but have center field experience. With both Ellsbury and Gardner on the big league roster, the Yankees have ready-made depth in center field, so the development of a center fielder isn’t overwhelmingly important. But the Yankees have a lot of upper-level talent at the position, and they’ll surely need some of that talent to play some sort of role going forward.
Two things are at play here. The first is all about Cave himself. The 21-year-old missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, but he made a strong showing with Low-A Charleston in 2013, and he did so well with High-A Tampa this season that he forced a mid-July promotion to Double-A Trenton. When he got there, Cave’s power numbers actually spiked. He finished the year with a .294/.351/.414 slash line between the two levels. He can run, but he hasn’t stolen a ton of bases. He has some power, but it mostly plays out in a lot of doubles. He’s noted for a strong arm in the outfield. Good as Cave has been these past two years, though, some of his move to the top of the organizational pecking order at center field is because of the decline of both Williams and Heathcott. Williams hit just .223/.290/.304, which was another a step backwards after a disappointing 2013. His speed, defense and upside might be enough for a 40-man spot this winter, but Williams’ prospect stock is falling fast. Heathcott, on the other hand, remains one of the highest-potential players in the organization, but he had yet another surgery this season. He simply missed too much time and remains too injury prone to still consider him the top center field prospect in the system.
Deeper in the system
The Yankees top five draft picks this year were all pitchers. The first position player they selected was Payton, a University of Texas center fielder who made a strong first impression by hitting .320/.418/.497 between Low-A and High-A. Just like almost all of the other center fielders in the system, Payton is a left-handed hitter, and most scouting reports suggest a fourth-outfielder upside. He seems to be one of those guys who does a lot of things pretty well but no one thing extremely well (could say that about a lot of the Yankees other center field prospects as well). Have to assume Payton will head back to Tampa next season, looking to basically follow Cave’s footsteps with a mid-season bump to Double-A. Also coming up from the lower levels, Dustin Fowler hit for some power in Charleston this year, but Leonardo Molina is the name to watch. He’s just 17 years old and put up bad numbers in rookie ball, but the Yankees see considerable potential. Needs time to develop.
Getting things right
It’s not unusual or surprising to see a lot of left-handed center fielders in the organization. Most high school teams tend to stick their best players at shortstop, but if that best player is left-handed, center field seems to be the best alternative. And it seems the Yankees organization is seeing the trickle-down impact. Ellsbury, Gardner, Cave, Dugas, Flores, Heathcott, Williams and Payton are all left-handed hitters. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a redundant thing. With Ellsbury and Gardner locked into multi-year contracts, the Yankees most immediate opening for a young center fielder is in fourth outfielder role, and it would be convenient to have that fourth outfielder bat right-handed (if only to balance the two guys already in place). At some point the Yankees might have to trade away some of this center field depth to find a player who’s not so repetitive within their own system. Problem is, Heathcott and Williams have lost considerable trade value, and guys like Flores and Dugas (and probably even Cave) aren’t likely to headline a particularly significant deal.
Associated Press photo
Kind of weird to watch a game that was most notable for the guy who wasn’t playing.
Derek Jeter had warned Joe Girardi even before last night’s game that he probably wouldn’t want to play tonight. In some ways, the overwhelming circumstances of Thursday night surely caught Jeter off guard, but in other ways, his entire season was building to that moment. He knew it was going to be draining, but perhaps didn’t realize it was going to be so overwhelming. Even when it was over, Jeter said he slept only a couple of hours last night.
Had he ever before asked to sit out? Jeter acted as if he couldn’t believe the question was being asked.
“Me?” he said. “Never. Yeah, today, I couldn’t play today. First time.”
Jeter’s desire to be in the lineup is notorious. Two years ago, he kept playing through an ankle injury until his ankle finally snapped. This year, even at 40, he’s been mildly frustrated by the occasional days off that he’s received through the course of the year. Jeter likes to play, and he said he still wants to DH on Saturday and Sunday. He just didn’t want to play tonight.
“I can’t tell you (what it will be like) on Sunday,” Jeter said. “But I can’t imagine it (will be as emotional as Thursday), because that’s pretty much as good as it gets, I think, for me. Like I said, I’m playing here because I have respect for this rivalry, for Boston, and the fans. If it was anywhere else, I don’t know if I’d play.”
Jeter said he literally doesn’t remember taking his uniform off last night. It was the last time he ever took off a white pinstriped uniform, and you’d think that would be a memorable experience, but Jeter said he didn’t think about it.
“I was just happy, you know what I mean?” Jeter said. “Everything happened so quickly in terms of the swing of the emotions. Taking off the uniform, I don’t even remember it.”
If his desire to play is notorious, so is the fact the pays little attention to baseball beyond those games he is playing. But Jeter said he’d actually like to host a private screening to re-watch Thursday’s game with friends and family. Why that game?
“Because a lot of it I don’t even remember,” Jeter said. “I mean, I was doing things last night, like I told you, I almost told Joe, ‘Get me out of here.’ I was giving signs to (second baseman Stephen) Drew on who to cover second base on a steal, and there’s no runner on first, you know what I’m saying? There were a lot of things going on. I’d like to see how it went because I think I missed a lot of it.”
Ultimately, there’s still a chance Jeter will back out of playing this weekend. After all, when the Yankees left for Houston at the end of last season, everyone seemed certain Mariano Rivera was going to want to play at least one inning in center field. Rivera changed his mind, and there’s still a chance Jeter will as well. It just doesn’t seem very likely.
“I really think Jeet will go back out there,” Girardi said. “If he didn’t, I don’t have a problem with that, and I completely understand it. I’m not so sure what I would do if I was him in that situation. But he loves to compete, and I just have a feeling he’ll go back out.”
Jeter seems pretty sure about that as well. But this one night, for the first time in his career, he preferred to sit and watch.
“I don’t know if I could play tonight if I wanted to play tonight,” Jeter said.
• Small bit of news coming out of the clubhouse: Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury won’t play this series. “He’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s done. I am not going to use him. I would think it would be silly for him to re-injure himself at this point in the season and have to deal with it in the offseason. So, let’s send him home a healthy player, and we don’t have to worry about it over the offseason.”
• Dave Robertson was smiling tonight. Even though last night ended on a high note, he was obviously frustrated by last night’s blown save. He joked that he considered blowing tonight’s save just so the Yankees could let Jeter be the hero again. “I definitely thought they should have pinch-hit him after I gave up the run,” Robertson said.
• In all seriousness, Robertson now has 39 saves with two days to reach 40. That’s pretty good for a guy who came into this season answering big questions about whether he’d be able to handle the role in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement. “Forty is just a number to me,” Robertson said. “The biggest thing for me personally, if I was 35-for-35, that’s what I would want to be. I don’t want to be the guy who lets people down. I know I’ve got five blown saves. It happens. Those are the games I want back. I don’t really care about the number that I get to. It’s just more the games that I help our team win.”
• If Robertson had given the Yankees an opportunity to use Jeter again, this crowd wouldn’t have had a problem with that. There were Derek Jeter chants often tonight. :There’s a substantial number of Yankees fans here,” Girardi said. “There always is, but also, I’ve got to believe there’s some Boston people chanting that too. … And I understand people want to see him, but he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot this year. It’s extremely emotional. He’s given everything he’s had inside of him for 20 years, and I respect whatever he does.”
• In the later innings, the crowd was booing the other Yankees hitters, always wanting Jeter to pinch hit. “I kind of felt bad for Austin (Romine) going up to the plate,” Chris Capuano said. “He was getting booed just because the fans wanted Jeter in that spot. He had such a special night last night. I think everyone can understand him wanting to take a day.”
• Speaking of Capuano, another strong start from him. This was the third time since joining the Yankees that Capuano made a start without allowing an earned run. It was his fourth start without a walk. He matched a season-high with 6.2 innings. “I feel like I learned a lot,” Capuano said. “I just got to soak in Derek’s last couple of months, and last night was amazing. It was among the best two months I’ve had in the big leagues, that much fun.”
• When he was pulled from the game, Capuano shook Girardi’s hand. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Capuano said. “I just wanted to thank Joe for that. Just a great opportunity to pitch.”
• Girardi on Capuano: “I think every player wants to finish strong. I think that’s a feeling that you want to have going home. … I thought he did a really good job for us. And I thought tonight he was excellent again.”
• Did Girardi consider pinch hitting Jeter at any point? “As I’ve said, I’m going to leave it up to him,” Girardi said. “He felt that he just needed a day today. He didn’t sleep much last night. We got in late. He was up early today. That’s what happens when you get older, you kind of get set on the time you wake up in the morning and it’s hard to change.”
• Still plan to have him DH the next two games? “Whatever he tells me. I’m sticking to that,” Girardi said. “Whatever he tells me he wants to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
• Francisco Cervelli went 2-for-3. Since being recalled from the 60-day disabled list on August 25, he’s hit .306 with 10 doubles and two homers.
• New outfielder Eury Perez singled in his first at-bat of the season for his third career hit. He also stole a base, his fifth career steal.
• Final word to Robertson: “There’s a lot of Yankees fans in the seats tonight, and I know that the Red Sox fans respect (Jeter). They’ve enjoyed seeing the rivalry. It’ll be fun to watch him tomorrow when he plays.”
Associated Press photos
Bud Selig is at Yankee Stadium today, and he’s going to address the media in just a few minutes so I need to head back down to the press conference room in just a few minutes. A few quick pregame notes before I head downstairs.
• Mark Teixeira had his latest cortisone injection on Sunday, and he’s back in the lineup tonight. “I’ve gone through all the basic tests, and it seems to have taken,” Teixeira said. “Unless something crazy happens during BP, I should be fine.”
• Teixeira said he usually takes a full month off when the offseason starts. This year, he’s planning to take maybe a week before beginning regular offseason workouts. “Get right back into strengthening,” he said. “My upper body strengthening really didn’t start full time until January (last offseason). Like I’ve told you guys a number of times, I definitely need to get stronger, my whole upper body, but definitely the wrist. … We’re past the rehab point. We need to get into the strengthening point. The strength will help the inflammation stay out of there. Hopefully the little things in my legs that happened this year, I just need to get stronger from top to bottom, but especially the wrist.”
• No baseball activities for either Carlos Beltran or Jacoby Ellsbury today, though Ellsbury will do some light exercises just to see how he responds. Girardi acknowledged that the way he treats those two going forward will likely depend on whether the Yankees stay in the mathematical playoff race. “That’s probably fair to say,” Girardi said. “My guess is, we wouldn’t push it (if the team were eliminated).”
• Is Derek Jeter going to play all three games in Boston this weekend? “My plan is to play him,” Girardi said. “Obviously if things happen and we are eliminated, then obviously I’ll talk to him on a daily basis. My plan is to play him, but I’m going to talk to him and see what he physically needs and what he mentally wants. … My guess is, he’s going to want to play every day.”
• New outfielder Eury Perez is here today. Not in the lineup, but he was in the clubhouse and on the lineup sheet. I assume he’s available off the bench.
• If Masahiro Tanaka is starting Saturday and Michael Pineda is starting Sunday, it seems this will likely be Brandon McCarthy’s final start unless the Yankees advance to a wild card game. He’s been a terrific second-half addition heading into free agency. “For the most part, he has brought out the same stuff almost every game and has gotten deep into games,” Girardi said. “And his sinker has been outstanding. He’s gotten a ton of ground balls. There’s a lot of times when you’ll see guys when they don’t have their A stuff and they have to battle through it, but his stuff has been consistent for the whole time that we’ve had him, for the most part.”
Associated Press photo