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
On the 40-man: Mark Teixeira • 01.23.15
Up next in our look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster is a first baseman who nearly delivered an MVP season in his first year with the team, only to see his production gradually decline ever since. Still locked into a long-term deal, he’s still a key part of the lineup despite his diminished numbers.
Age on Opening Day: 34 (turned 35 a few days later)
Acquired: Signed just before Christmas, 2008
Added to the 40-man: Officially added January 6, 2009
In the past: The fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft, Teixeira was a big league regular by 2003 and an All-Star by 2005. His first seven seasons were defined by his strong glove at first base and his potent all-around production at the plate. After stops in Texas, Anaheim and Atlanta, he joined the Yankees in 2009 and promptly won a World Series and finished second in MVP voting. His numbers have dragged since then, and the past two seasons have been especially disappointing after a severe wrist injury that required season-ending surgery in 2013.
Role in 2015: Starting first baseman. Middle-of-the-order hitter. The Yankees made their commitment to Teixeira six years ago, and that commitment continues. The Yankees added Garrett Jones as an experienced backup, and they’ve talked about Alex Rodriguez possibly getting some time at the position, but first base still belongs to Teixeira. And since Chase Headley might be the most potent bat the Yankees added this season, Teixeira could get another shot in the cleanup spot as well.
Best case scenario: Healthy and strong after finally having a normal offseason, Teixeira is back to his 2010-11 production. Asking that he go back to 2009 is probably a bit much, but a .252/.353/.487 slash line in this offensive climate would be a welcome boost in the middle of the order. As long as Teixeira can still hit for power, he can still be a really valuable offensive piece (and he should be a contributing piece to an infield that’s improved defensively). If Teixeira simply hits the way he did in the first three months of last season, but carries it through September, that would be pretty solid as well. The best-case scenario is probably better than that, but the Yankees might sign up for a continuation of those first three months.
Worst case scenario: After hitting .242/.344/.474 through the first three months last season, Teixeira hit just .191/.282/.324 from July 1 to the end of the year. That’s probably the worst-case scenario, a repeat of last year’s second half along with nagging injuries that keep Teixeira out of the lineup occasionally but never really send him to the disabled list so that a guy like Kyle Roller can get a look. Basically, the worst-case scenario is that the days of a reliably productive Teixeira ended with that wrist injury in 2013, when he still had four years left on his deal.
What the future holds: Teixeira’s eight-year, $180-million contract ends after the 2016 season. He’s built a home and a life in Connecticut, so there seems to be very little chance he would waive his no-trade clause even if the Yankees could find someone to take on part of these final two seasons. If Teixeira can be reasonably productive, he could hold down the first base job until 2017, when prospect Greg Bird will be ready (potentiall) to give it a shot. If he can’t be reasonably productive … well, that would make his contract even harder to move.
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
Earlier today we looked at a few problems the Yankees would like to have in spring training (too much pitching depth, too many hitters exceeding expectations). But what if the opposite happens? What if the things that could go wrong, do go wrong? This isn’t meant to be a doomsday scenario — it’s not about unpredictable injuries or unlikely declines — but rather a look at realistic problems that could pop up based on past performance and familiar issues. How would the Yankees react if the roster begins to crumble before Opening Day?
What if Alex Rodriguez is absolutely finished?
This morning we considered a resurgent A-Rod, but what if the opposite is true? He’s 39 years old, he’s hardly played the past two years, he didn’t play at all last season, and he’s gone through multiple injuries in recent seasons. How would the Yankees react if Rodriguez is not only incapable of playing third base everyday, but is also no longer able to hit well enough to deserve regular playing time? Would Rodriguez get the benefit of the doubt for a few months, or would Joe Girardi decide he’d seen enough in spring training and open the season with Garrett Jones as the regular designated hitter against righties? Is it possible for Rodriguez to play so poorly that he’s not even worth platoon at-bats against lefties? Surely Rodriguez would have to be epically bad for the Yankees to completely cut ties.
What if Dellin Betances can’t throw strikes?
After last season, it seems like a near ridiculous idea. Betances has been a very good relief pitcher for basically a season and a half now (making a terrific transition in Triple-A, then putting together an All-Star rookie season for the Yankees). But what if some of his old minor league problems resurface in spring training? Maybe the pressure of trying repeat last season gets to him. Maybe the closer role is too much. Whatever the reason, let’s say Betances just isn’t sharp in spring training. The stuff is still great, but he’s inconsistent, and there’s a snowball effect as Betances tries to sort it out. If the Yankees don’t see the same old Betances in spring training, how thoroughly would they have to rearrange their bullpen? Would they chalk it up as an exhibition fluke and keep Betances in a key role, or would he have to prove himself all over again?
What if Didi Gregorius isn’t an everyday shortstop?
Last spring, the Diamondbacks went into spring training giving Gregorius a chance to be their everyday shortstop, and he lost the job to Chris Owings. The Yankees are already well aware that Gregorius has some flaws — he hasn’t hit well against lefties, his offense as a whole remains somewhat questionable — but they’re banking on his defense and his ability to at least hit righties. If Gregorius is a massive disappointment, would the Yankees change plans to give the shortstop job to Stephen Drew (opening second base for either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela), or are they fully committed to Gregorius regardless of spring performance? Basically, how long is the leash on a new guy who might be the Yankees shortstop of the future, or might be in over his head as an everyday player? Girardi hasn’t seen much of Gregorius. How important is his first impression?
What if the rotation really does fall apart?
This probably qualifies as a doomsday scenario, but it’s a scenario rooted in realistic possibility. We all know about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s shoulder and CC Sabathia’s knee. We saw each of those three miss significant time last season. What happens if those three show up in spring training and immediately run into familiar injuries problems. Tanaka’s ligament can’t hold up, Pineda’s shoulder suffers another setback, and Sabathia’s body continues to break down. If the Yankees rotation basically runs into the same health problems as last season, but does it right away, would the Yankees desperately try to find replacement starters (sacrifice the farm for a guy like Cole Hamels) or would they simply roll the dice with guys like Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell, deciding this season isn’t worth trying to save?
What if there’s a clear need for firepower?
What’s the biggest source of offense the Yankees added this offseason? Garrett Jones? Chris Young? Chase Headley? A-Rod? Ultimately, the Yankees plugged a lot of holes this winter, but they didn’t necessarily add one big bat meant to make a major difference in the middle of the order. This team struggled offensively last season, and it’s really banking on bounce-back seasons from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to significantly boost the run production. How would they react this spring if it looks like those bounce-backs aren’t going to happen? Could a guy like Tyler Austin suddenly get a longer look? Would the Yankees accelerate the development of Aaron Judge or Greg Bird? Would they try to get regular platoon production out of Jones or Young? Would they bat Jacoby Ellsbury third again?
Associated Press photo
Some odds and ends from today’s Jeff Pentland conference call:
On Alex Rodriguez
“I’ve seen Alex for a long time. I saw him in his first professional games in the instructional league. He’s been a tremendous talent over the years. I’m looking forward to being around him and being with him. Him and I have talked over the years, just hi and hello kind of conversations, but I have a great deal of respect for his career and what he’s done, so, you know, I have a great deal of respect for him. I hope he has a successful season and I’ll be there for him.”
On Carlos Beltran
“I had Carlos when he was a little younger (in Kansas City), but him and I had a great rapport and I’m sure that will continue. He was a tremendous athlete. Obviously he’s not 25 anymore, but there’s plenty left in him, and his experience and his knowledge of hitting, he’s been in New York before. We just got to keep him healthy.”
On Mark Teixeira
“You’ve got to remember, I’m not a young guy, so I’ve seen most of these guys probably. Mark Teixeira was certainly a plus player in Texas, and he has been with the Yankees. I think you said it best; if we can keep him injury-free, and he needs any adjustments, we’ll be there for him. I’ve talked to him briefly when he was with the Rangers, kind of like a ‘hello, how are you’ kind of deal. I’m looking forward to spending time with him and being around him. I have an open mind. Whatever happened in the past means nothing to me. We’ll start anew, and from what I understand, he’s had some wrist injuries. Injury is part of this game. Hopefully we can keep him healthy.”
On Didi Gregorius
“I saw Didi a lot when I was with the Dodgers. I was there when they brought him up, and he started out very well, but just like most young hitters, they figure him out eventually. He’s an incredibly athletic player, he’s got a huge future, and I’m very excited that he’s a Yankee. I always thought there’s a lot (of ability) in there. We’ve got to get it out, and we’ve got to work it, but the problem with younger players, you’ve got to be a little bit more patient. I think this guy has a big upside.”
On assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell
“Obviously hitting coaches have their own circle; we’re kind of like a fraternity. And we have spoken more than a few times. I don’t there will be any problems among the two of us, it’s just our ability to deal with the players. … The job has just gotten huge. The technical ability of video and TVs and statistics, it’s just become overwhelming. As hitting coaches, we have to weed out information to give the hitters a simple approach. When you’re sitting in there against 95 (mph), your brain can’t do a whole lot. It kind of has to be focused on the ball. Walks and staying in the strike zone and the information on pitchers, it’s not so much mechanical or technical side of it from a hitting standpoint, it’s gathering all the information, putting together good plans and good information, (to build) a simplistic, easy plan for a hitter to understand and go up there with somewhat of an empty mind. Most of your great athletes, they don’t think a lot. They have the information in the back of their mind, but they’re basically on the attack.”
On having been a pitcher for part of his playing career
“I’ve been asked that question all my life. I was very good at pitching, I just hated it. The days that I played, there wasn’t a lot of money in, so we basically did what we wanted, and I loved to hit. Hitting was a little bit harder for me, and if you look at me, I’m not a gigantic guy, and I’m left-handed so I was very limited in the positions I could play. But I was born with a good arm. … Most of the communication and talk I have is with pitchers because I have to know pitchers to attack them, and pitchers have to know hitters to get them out. I have been with Larry (Rothschild) before, and Larry is as good as it gets, so we talk a lot. It might be about opposing hitters, or it might be about opposing pitchers. We have always had a great relationship, but there’s a bond there just because of what our jobs are.”
Associated Press photo
I believe I was 13 years old when Steven Spielberg made Jurassic Park, and because I was 13 years old, I absolutely loved it. The dinosaurs were cool — dinosaurs are always cool — Jeff Goldblum laid out the movie’s central message with a not-so-subtle line:
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I thought of that line because among the challenges for new Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland — among the challenges for any hitting coach, really — is the question of how to handle defensive shifts that have become commonplace throughout baseball. Is it possible to teach a shift-susceptible player to go the other way? And if it can be done, should it be done?
“That’s the rub,” Pentland said this morning. “Do you change them, or do you let them keep doing it? The only thing I try to tell them is, if we’re going to do anything, let’s do it in Spring Training. Once the season starts, it’s very difficult to even think about changing swings. You’re always tinkering and fine tuning, and you’ve got older guys (so) you’re not inventing the wheel here. You’re not making wholesale changes. If I tried to do that, they’d shut me out in a heartbeat. These guys have been around, they know what they’re doing and they know how successful they’ve been. You’d be surprised how open-minded most of them are. I’ve got my work cut out for me as far as them getting to know me and trust me. Then we go from there. If we’re not making any adjustments at all, then I’m not doing my job.”
For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann stand out as key middle-of-the-order run producers who tend to pull the ball. Teams shift against them, and those shifts have cost them hits. The question is whether it’s worthwhile for these guys to go the other way more often, potentially raising their batting averages, but perhaps taking away the pull power that made them All-Star sluggers in the first place.
On the right is a Brooks Baseball chart of McCann’s career spray angles. Little surprise that he’s shown an obvious tendency to hit groundballs to the right side — that’s why teams are shifting in the first place — but the chart also shows that last season he showed a significant uptick in balls hit the other way. He seemed adjust to the shift by hitting more groundballs up the middle and to the opposite field.
The result was the worst offensive season of his career.
“As far as hitting the ball the other way, that’s something I’ve definitely done going into spring training,” McCann told MLB Network earlier this offseason. “And then a month into the season you look up and you sacrifice power and driving the baseball. Or at least I do. That’s the line I have to walk. I’ve hit a certain way for a long, long time.”
Here’s what Teixeira told Dan Barbarisi about beating the shift:
“You beat the shift by hitting line drives,” Teixeira said. “Don’t hit ground balls. If you hit a slow ground ball in the hole, you don’t deserve a hit. It’s a rollover. With line drives, yeah, every now and then you hit a line drive at somebody, but that’s baseball.”
There are obvious benefits to changing an approach and beating the shift, but it may be that the next generation of players — the guys who have faced shifts throughout the minor leagues — are better equipped to make those changes. Veteran guys like Teixiera and McCann got to the big leagues by hitting a certain way, and making a drastic change in the name of adding a few singles could do as much harm as good.
“We’ll talk about it,” Pentland said. “The player has to buy in, No. 1. We’ve got four or five weeks of spring training, and obviously I’m going to pick their minds. The shift becomes almost a mental block sometimes. It’s not only the Yankees, it’s a lot of teams that are going through that situation. You can’t completely change players, but we certainly could talk about it and work on it and make them understand. Sometimes you’ve got to think more in the middle of the diamond rather than focus on so much pull. But obviously that’s something between me and the player.”
Associated Press photo
Yankees remodeled infield in place for 2015 • 12.15.14
The Yankees have significantly overhauled the infield in the past six months. Here’s a look at the four regular infielders from last year (plus their primary backups) along with the players projected to play each position next season. Is the Yankees 2015 infield going to be better than it was in 2014?
2014: Mark Teixeira (Kelly Johnson for 23 games)
2015: Mark Teixeira
Just like the catcher position, the Yankees are committed at first base, and they have to hope for better production from the guy who’s already in place. The Yankees — and Teixeira — believe that healthy and a normal offseason will be significant factors in keeping Teixeira’s power production relatively high. He slugged .474 through the end of June last season (a pretty high number in the current climate) but he slugged just .324 after July 1. Last year the Yankees didn’t have a real backup at the position. It seems Alex Rodriguez could play that backup role this year.
2014: Brian Roberts (Stephen Drew for 31 games)
2015: Martin Prado
Although there was a lot of mixing and matching at second base, it was Roberts who spent more time at the position than any other Yankee last season (Prado, Ryan and Solarte also had double-digit starts at second). In theory, Prado’s a solid bet to outperform Roberts’ .237/.300/.360 slash line. He hit .282/.321/.412 last season and has slugged below .400 only once since becoming a big league regular. If Prado can’t hit beyond Roberts’ numbers, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela are waiting as young alternatives.
2014: Derek Jeter (Brendan Ryan for 19 games)
2015: Didi Gregorius
Although Gregorius hasn’t been much of a hitter in the big leagues, his .653 OPS last season was better than Jeter’s .617, and Gregorius is also considered a much better defensive player. The Yankees could try to get even more of an offensive boost by platooning Gregorius (who’s struggled against lefties) with right-handed-hitting Ryan, another good glove, questionable bat shortstop. By the way, kind of amazing just how many games 40-year-old Jeter was able to play last year.
2014: Yangervis Solarte (Chase Headley for 49 games, Kelly Johnson for 33)
2015: Chase Headley
Third base was supposed to be Johnson’s job last season, but he lost it to Solarte, who was eventually traded for Headley. As it turned out, Solarte had the most starts at third, but even he barely started a third of the games there. Headley surged after the trade to New York, and that came after Solarte’s numbers had seriously dragged following his standout first month and a half. In theory, Headley is a better defender and potentially a better hitter than what the Yankees had last season, but Headley’s also had back issues and he’s rarely hit for much power.
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
This season, we all got a glimpse into Mark Teixeira’s personality — and possibly into his post-playing career — through the YES Network’s goofy but funny Foul Territory series. While Teixeira has a few years left on his Yankees contract, he seems to have some interest in pursuing some sort of broadcasting at some point, and tomorrow morning, he’s going to get another taste of the industry. For you morning radio listeners out there, Teixeira is going to be on Mike and Mike on Wednesday morning. I can weirdly remember listening to Mike and Mike during some early mornings driving a tractor many, many years ago. But I’m sure most folks have the same memory. Anyway, here’s the quick press release with details, including a pretty funny quote from Teixeira.
New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira will serve as a special in-studio contributor during ESPN Audio’s Mike & Mike on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 6 – 10 a.m. Teixeira, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic will discuss Game One of the World Series, the Yankees and other sports news of the day.
“As a regular listener of Mike & Mike, I’m excited to join the Mikes to irrationally overreact to all of the day’s sports stories,” said Teixeira. “But seriously, I am very honored to join the show and can’t wait to have some fun.”
Teixeira began his Major League Baseball career in 2003 with the Texas Rangers and has spent the last six seasons with the Yankees. Mike & Mike is broadcast nationally from 6 – 10 a.m., Monday – Friday, on ESPN Radio, espnradio.com, ESPN Radio app, Sirius XM and simulcast on ESPN2.
Associated Press photo
To be bullish on Mark Teixeira this offseason is to assume that last year’s wrist surgery was more than a health problem, it was a conditioning problem.
“I’ll only take about a week off this year, and get right back into strengthening,” Teixeira said late last month. “My upper-body strengthening (last winter) really didn’t start full time until January. Like I’ve told you guys a number of times, I definitely need to get stronger — my whole upper body, but definitely the wrist.”
There were two problems with Teixeira this season. The first was his health. While he went on the disabled list only once for a hamstring injury, he also needed three cortisone shots for his wrist and missed time for a variety of ailments including back, thumb, knee and groin issues. He once admitted needing a day off because of fatigue, something players rarely admit.
“Every player is different,” Steinbrenner said. “He obviously had a pretty major surgery. He’s going to have his feelings. We try to address a player’s feelings, but sometimes we feel like we need that player, so we’re going to be a little bit more forceful, if you will, in trying to get that player to play. But we were in a situation this year where things were tough, and we needed everybody to contribute as much as possible, but we certainly don’t want to hurt anybody either. We need to continue to listen to Mark and be cognizant of what he’s going through.”
Again, pretty unusual to hear an owner talk about trying to get a player to play, but it all goes back to the second problem with Teixeira’s season: he seemed to lack his typical strength and durability. That’s related to health, certainly, but it’s also a separate issue. Even when he was healthy enough to be on the field, Teixeira’s production dragged through the course of the year. Here are Teixeira’s slugging percentages for each individual month:
Only 19 players slugged better than .482 this season, and only 25 slugged better than .469, so those first-half slugging percentages were pretty good. By the end of the year, though, Teixeira was driving the ball like one of the least powerful hitters in baseball. That’s a problem for a guy who no longer hits for average and needs to hit home runs to remain a true run producer.
Speaking to Dan Barbarisi yesterday, Teixeira addressed Steinbrenner’s comments — “I’d love to play 150 games,” he said, “but if that’s the risk of hurting yourself, and hurting the team, maybe you do have to back off” — and said he’s already doing light workouts and plans to hit the weights heavily in a couple of weeks.
Teixeira believes a typical offseason — when he’s no longer recovering from surgery and can simply train his body to be at full strength — will make all the difference. He believes it will make him healthier, but that it was also make him stronger and more durable. Five years ago, he’d never had to worry about those two things. Now it’s one of the most pressing issues facing him and the Yankees.
“We’re past the rehab point,” Teixeira said. “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 (will go away). I just need to get stronger from top to bottom.”
Associated Press photo