Friday, January 30, 2015

Yankees again crossing fingers with Masahiro Tanaka

Just over one year ago the New York Yankees and their fans were full of excitement with the signing of Japanese right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. While not certain his success in Japan would translate in the states, there was something about his makeup which suggested he could. The club crossed their fingers after making a $175 million total investment and right off the bat, Tanaka put their minds at ease.

Fast forward and there is still excitement about Tanaka taking the hill, but it is still accompanied by finger-crossing and now a sense of dread because of the partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) suffered in July of last season. You see, this could become a full out tear at any point – soft tossing, long tossing, bullpen session, spring training, regular season, 2016 and beyond. You get the point; Tanaka’s elbow is a ticking time bomb.

At the moment Tanaka is said to be doing fine. Via The Japan Times, Kyodo reported Thursday that the 26-year-old recently participated in offseason drills with former Rakuten Eagles teammates. He even threw some offspeed pitches during the session.

“So far, so good – including that (the elbow),” said Tanaka.

The constant questioning about Tanaka’s elbow will continue throughout the rest of his career. Even if he suffers a complete tear and has Tommy John surgery or pitches healthy for an extended time – as in years without issue – he will be under the microscope. Unfortunately, the likelihood of the latter happening is not great considering Tanaka will not hold back when on the mound.

“Whether I’m the ace or I’m used in different roles within games, I’m always thinking I’m going to win, so I’m not going to change anything I do,” Tanaka said.

No one wants him to change either. Some pitchers have been able to succeed while pitching with partial tears – St. Louis Cardinals’ hurler Adam Wainwright and Minnesota Twins’ righty Ervin Santana are among the more prominent names.

Tanaka did make two starts at the end of the season after taking just over 10 weeks off. He fared well in his first appearance against the Toronto Blue Jays (one earned run in 5.1 innings), but was pummeled in his final start versus the Boston Red Sox (five earned runs in 1.2 innings) which bumped his ERA up 0.30 points.

It’s uncertain how the Yankees will monitor Tanaka’s time on the mound this season. They were more than happy to have Tanaka go deep into games in 2014 – he averaged 6.8 innings per start. But with an incredibly strong bullpen, it is possible the Yankees’ brass decides to take it easy on their prized righty.

Tanaka is a big piece of the puzzle for the Yankees in 2015. If he can replicate his 2014 marks through an entire season, he will establish himself as the ace of the organization for at least the next few seasons – Tanaka has an opt-out clause in his seven-year deal after completing the fourth season.

In 2014, Tanaka led the club in wins with 13 against just five losses. He compiled a 2.77 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 20 starts (136.1 innings). He was impeccable around the plate, racking up 141 strikeouts and allowing just 21 walks.

When Tanaka was not striking batters out with his nasty splitter, he was generating a healthy amount of groundballs to the tune of 46.6 percent of balls put in play. If he had a knock it was a tendency to give up the long ball, particularly early in games. He allowed 15 homers in all, but never seemed to get flustered when it happened.

Tanaka’s home/road splits suggest he is completely comfortable in front of the home crowd and not afraid of the visiting field. He posted a 2.07 ERA (3.29 FIP) at Yankee Stadium in 69.2 innings, striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. On the road, he pitched to a 3.51 ERA (2.79 FIP) in 66.2 innings.

It also didn’t matter much from which side of the plate batters faced Tanaka. Lefties slashed .237/.269/.363 against Tanaka, while righties managed a .239/.280/.407 line and struck out 11.09 times per nine innings against him.

Assuming health, Tanaka could certainly replicate his 2014 results. Steamer, via FanGraphs, is predicting above average but not elite performance for Tanaka in 2015. They peg Tanaka with a 13-10 record, 3.44 ERA (3.54 FIP) in 192 innings. They show a downward movement in K/9 rate (8.04 from 9.31) and an uptick in BB/9 (1.77 from 1.39). Still very good numbers, but the Yankees and he would want more. Tanaka always expects more.

Tanaka’s demeanor was something that elated the Yankees front office, coaches and fans. He never complained, he always put the onus on himself when he erred (to a fault at times when he was actually very good but unhappy all the same) and simply put forth the appearance of always expecting to win. It was marvelous to see him seamlessly transition from his incredible success in Japan, to being mentioned among the elite pitchers in Major League Baseball.

This is what makes the matter of his elbow so disturbing. He’s a true talent and fierce competitor. Tanaka is a difference maker. The Yankees absolutely need him to be on the mound for 33 starts this season in order to have a chance to compete for a postseason slot.

Whether he succumbs to a full tear of the UCL in 2015 or later, he’ll miss minimally one full year of baseball, and he might never be the same again. So, hold your breath when Tanaka strides toward the plate and puts immense torque on his elbow to produce that filthy split-finger fastball. It might be his last pitch that matters for the Yankees, or anyone else.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Photo of Masahiro Tanaka courtesy of Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can Yankees' CC Sabathia resuscitate his career?

The New York Yankees have a slew of questions concerning its 2015 rotation and near the top of the list is whether or not CC Sabathia can resuscitate his career.

Sabathia suffered from right knee discomfort in 2014 which ultimately resulted in season-ending surgery in July. He amassed just 46 innings of work last season, cutting a string of seven straight seasons in which he tossed at least 200 innings.

And that might be the issue going forward. Sabathia, 34, has a lot of mileage on his left arm, and without figuring out how to compensate for diminished velocity, it’s hard to see him showing much improvement than he displayed from 2013-14.

While the sample size is small, Sabathia looked dreadful at times in 2014. His performance metrics back up with we saw. He was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA (4.78 FIP) and a 1.478 WHIP. The good news is he lowered his BB/9 from 2013’s 2.77 to 2.00, and increased his K/9 from 7.46 in 2013 to 9.39. The bad news is he allowed an alarming 11.3 hits per nine innings pitched, up from a not-so-good 9.4 in 2013.

Some of those hits were hammered as well. His home run rate has steadily climbed over the years, peaking at 1.96 per nine innings in 2014, up from 1.19 in 2013.

Sabathia’s fastball velocity, per FanGraph's PITCHf/x data, has continued to wane, and worse the pitch now consistently costs the team runs where it used to be quite effective.

You can also see that Sabathia completely went away from using the fastball as the top pitch in his arsenal in the short time he spent on the mound in 2014. To compare, Sabathia threw his sinker 29.4 percent, his slider 24.7 percent and his changeup 24.6 percent of the time last season. The fastball was his fourth most used pitch in 2014, where it used to be at the top of his repertoire each season prior.

None of these peripheral stats paint a rosy picture for a player who is getting up there in years and whose “baseball age” is higher due to the number of innings he’s tossed in his 14-year career. It is difficult to suggest that he can simply flip a switch and turn things around to be an elite pitcher once again.

That said I do believe it is plausible Sabathia can show improvement from 2013-14 to this season. There has never been a knock on Sabathia’s work ethic. Hopefully he comes to camp in shape and stronger. He has the benefit of resting his arm for almost a full season.

If he is indeed stronger, and the knee is no longer an issue, it may boost Sabathia’s fastball back up a notch allowing him to regain confidence to use the pitch more so than he did last season. At the same time, he’ll also need to find a groove with the sinker, slider and change because he won’t get a 94-mph heater back. Basically, Sabathia needs to work to find what pitches he can use effectively to get batters out at a much better rate than he has shown the last couple of seasons.

A plus for Sabathia is that the Yankees do not need him to be their ace in 2015. If they do, they're in trouble. Sabathia doesn’t need to reach 20 wins with a shiny ERA under 3.00. Rather, 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50-3.70 range (with a FIP that is close to the same) will likely put him in the middle of the rotation and signify that he has something left in the tank for his remaining time in the Bronx. Those are optimistic measures to be sure, but not superior and attainable nonetheless.

The question remains; was 2013 was a blip on the radar, and were his 2014 stats all about being hurt? If that’s the case, Sabathia can look at 2015 as a learning situation, one in which his secondary pitches must make up for any continued lack of velocity in the fastball without dropping the pitch from his arsenal. If he can figure out this dynamic, Sabathia can be more than serviceable for the Yankees in 2015 – he might even be helpful.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Photo of CC Sabathia courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yankees can’t distance themselves from A-Rod no matter how hard they try

The New York Yankees made the proverbial bed when they agreed to a 10-year, $275 million contract with Alex Rodriguez. They hopped right into the sack with A-Rod when they added a separate milestone contract to the mix, believing they would cash in on his pursuit of Major League Baseball’s career home run crown.

Admissions of performance-enhancing drug use and a full-year suspension for Rodriguez's part in the Biogenesis scandal have doused any relationship the Yankees want to have with the former slugger.

Problem is, the Yankees are tied to him contractually and will never be able to remove him from their history. He’s played with two other teams, but it’s the Yankees who he is associated with and that sends ownership’s blood pressure sky high.

The Yankees wanted to break their player contract with Rodriguez and they couldn’t. A-Rod has tried to make peace in the last week and the Yanks refused to sit down with him. Now, the club wants to void the milestone contract that would pay him $6 million for tying Willie Mays (660 homers), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762) and then breaking Bonds’ record. That’s $30 million if he can hit 109 more home runs. In reality, it seems that Mays’ mark is the only one Rodriguez can reach. But, his performance is another story.

What’s at issue here is the Yankees desperate attempt to distance themselves from Rodriguez; no matter how hard they try he’s unshakable. The Yanks made it clear that Rodriguez would not be the starting third baseman by signing Chase Headley, and Rodriguez took it as a challenge.

Club officials have stated at various times that they have no idea what to expect from A-Rod on the field in 2015, but they do know in their heads that he creates a circus environment. Unfortunately, the Yanks are not helping that atmosphere dissipate by failing to suck up to their contractual mistakes. Picking a fight on the milestone contract and getting into a tussle with the Major League Baseball Players Association is not worth it.

The MLBPA has publicly vowed to fight for Rodriguez if the Yankees seek to void the contract. MLBPA’s stance is that A-Rod has paid the price for his PED suspension. However, the Yankees claim that they can no longer market Rodriguez as a home run hero when he ties these marks because of the Biogenesis scandal and Rodriguez’s admission of PED use before signing the contract. A battle between the MLBPA and the Yankees would be a difficult one for the team to win.

The Yankees might think about taking the high road here. They should pay Rodriguez the bonuses as they come and bring no further attention to it. Does it make the team look bad? It might in some eyes, but they've been made to look like fools for the contracts for some time now. Further, there is nothing in the contract that says they have to hold marketing campaigns to celebrate the milestones. That’s what the Yankees wanted to do, but simply cannot now.

The Yankees throw money away all of the time. While it's easy to see their argument, it’s time the Yanks understood that the cash left on Rodriguez’s player contract and the milestone contract is something they’ll have to honor. The Yankees must turn the page and look at Rodriguez as a bad investment, one which was inevitable even if he never took performance-enhancing drugs.

Like it or not the Yankees gambled on the absolute wrong player. Alex Rodriguez will be linked to the Yankees forever – no matter how hard they try to wipe him from the scroll.

Photo of Alex Rodriguez courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yankees’ Carlos Beltran is healthy and set for 2015 rebound

New York Yankees right-fielder Carlos Beltran had a rough inaugural season in the Bronx, due in large part to a bone spur in his right elbow which forced the veteran to take three separate cortisone shots. He had offseason surgery, has been rehabbing ever since and is said to be on target for full workouts with the team when spring training begins in Tampa next month.

Beltran, who turns 38 in April, was recently profiled by Yankees Magazine and was shown to be working out without holding back. In the spot he says that he’s finally pain free and working hard to put last season behind him. That is certainly welcome news for the Yankees.

When looking at Beltran’s stats in 2014 split by the month, it seems that much of his problems at the plate occurred when he was reporting the most pain in the elbow.

He had a mostly productive first month of the season, and then once the elbow began to bother him he started to slump. He underwent two cortisone shots in May, the first on the 12th and the second on the 17th. He was placed on the disabled list May 15.

He fought through the pain when returning in June, had a rough time adjusting and struggled while doing so. He put up very good and decent numbers in July and August respectively, but the discomfort was too much for him as the summer wore on and he played his last game of the season Sept. 19 which coincided with his wife's miscarriage.

If we’re to assume that the issue is behind him, is Beltran a candidate for a bounce back season?

Looking through his stats, the only glaring issues which are not easily attributed to his elbow are an increase in strikeout rate (17.8 percent) and a decrease in walk rate (8.2 percent) from career norms. It’s possible that Beltran was pressing at the plate thus affecting his rates, though he had an even lower walk rate in this final season in St. Louis (6.3 percent) suggesting there might be something more going on here for someone who had walk rates in double digits from 2006-12.

Steamer, via FanGraphs, projects upticks across the board for Beltran, though they estimate only 105 games played and 460 plate appearances. It is hard to debate that considering Beltran’s injury history. That said he did average 610 plate appearances in his two full seasons with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013.

Steamer sees Beltran producing a .260/.324/.438 slash line with 22 doubles, 17 homers and 58 RBIs. They see his ISO creeping up to .179, slightly higher than the .169 he produced in 2014. He is pegged for a 112 wRC+ up from 95 in 2014.

The slash seems reasonable, though it's conceivable he could show increases in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage – maybe, in the .335/.450 range – enough to approach an .800 OPS.

By extrapolating the counting stats to 600 plate appearances using Steamer’s estimates Beltran might produce 28 doubles, 22 home runs and 75 RBIs. That would not be too far off his 30/24/84 marks in 2013 and attainable.

The long and short of it is Beltran’s 2015 performance will likely be lockstep with his health. If the elbow is not completely right, he’ll probably continue to struggle at the plate. If he’s given enough breaks by manager Joe Girardi and the rest of his body holds up, Beltran can provide the Yankees with the offense they hoped for when he was signed last year. Based on Beltran's confidence and work ethic, he could do so.

Statistics gathered from FanGraphs.

Photo of Carlos Beltran courtesy of Shinya Suzuki via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Can Yankees’ Mark Teixeira find his stroke in 2015?

The New York Yankees are banking on the middle of their lineup to produce a lot more than they did in 2014 and first baseman Mark Teixeira is a big part of it. The questions about Teixeira are not new; does he have it in him to be on the field enough to generate the type of offense the club needs? And can he find the stroke to get it done?

Recent history says no to both questions. The switch-hitting Teixeira has played in just 271 games over the last three seasons. He missed almost all of 2013 and played in 123 games in both 2012 and 2014. He turns 35 in April and he’s battled numerous ailments since his last healthy season in 2011.

It’s true that the Yankees have a better backup in Garrett Jones than they did in 2014 when the club tried several players in the role. But the truth of the matter is they want – and need – Teixeira in the lineup at least 140 times this season. To expect more is unrealistic and getting less is simply not helpful.

Without looking at his 2013 statistics, here is a straightforward sample of figures to show how much more poorly Teixeira performed in 2014 versus 2012.

2012 32 524 113 27 24 84 54 83 .251 .332 .475 .807 115
2014 34 508 95 14 22 62 58 109 .216 .313 .398 .711 101
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/23/2015.

Everything is worse across the board, minus the number of walks, with virtually the same number of trips to the plate. Was his problem the surgically repaired wrist? Potentially, but his home run power is seemingly still there.

Did it matter what side of the plate he was hitting from? Not really, as his splits are pretty close to his career norms. He had an OPS+ of 105 against right-handed pitchers and 97 versus southpaws. Those numbers are not too far off his career OPS+ marks of 109 versus RHP and 96 against LHP.

But, Teixeira’s isolated power (ISO) was a career-low .182, which was 0.42 off his 2012 mark (.224). His ISO was significantly higher against righties (.199) than lefties (.138) in 2014. Interestingly, it was the reverse in 2012 – .261/.199. While his ISO as a whole is down, another year removed from the healing process of the wrist surgery could help some.

Where else is Teixeira going wrong? The infield shift is certainly one of his problems. He has yet to figure out a way to completely beat it. Further, he has more or less refused to try to combat the shift because he felt doing so adversely affected his swing.

Teixeira's groundball/flyball ratio has elevated significantly, sitting at 1.11 in 2014. It was 1.04 in 2012, and was never higher than 0.83 from 2009 through 2011. Combine his stubbornness with a new-found propensity to hit groundballs, and the results become unflattering.

Besides the shift, Teixeira is striking out more. His strikeout rate in 2014 was 21.5 percent. That was the highest of his career, and 5.7 percent higher than 2012. His walk rate was exactly in line with his career mark of 11.4 percent.

It seems that Teixeira has a lot of work to do on his approach at the plate. It’s possible that working with new hitting coach Jeff Pentland and/or assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell might benefit Teixeira. Maybe one of them sees something that former hitting coach Kevin Long didn’t, or better yet they can assist Teixeira in feeling comfortable modifying his swing when facing the shift – something opposing teams will continue to employ until he shows he's adjusted his approach.

So, if Teixeira is able to get 140 games under his belt this season, what can the Yankees expect, or hope for?

Steamer projections via FanGraphs have Teixeira playing in just 125 games. In 543 plate appearances, they have him pegged at .223/.314/.414, 104 wRC+ and a 1.4 fWAR. They’ve estimated 20 doubles, 23 homers and 69 RBIs with a .190 ISO. Extrapolated to 608 plate appearances (using their PA/GM ratio), those counting stats would increase to 22 doubles, 26 homers and 77 RBIs.

None of this is going to get Yankees fans overly excited, but it’s a hair better than what Teixeira produced in 2014. An optimist might suggest that if Teixeira’s wrist is much better he could bang out 25 doubles and 30 homers and get closer to 85/90 RBIs. However, it’s difficult to feel confident he will do so based on his past handling of the shift combined with his recent battles hitting groundballs and an increased strikeout rate. A change in approach is key for Teixeira.

If Teixeira cannot or will not make changes, then sadly, Steamer’s measure could be the best the Yankees receive from him and his $22.5 million salary in 2015. What's worse; Teixeira has one more year on the contract at the same price, with potentially more diminishing returns to come.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Mark Teixeira photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is the Yankees' bench better in 2015?

The unsung heroes of a baseball team often live riding the pine, and it might not be different for the 2015 New York Yankees. The assumed regular lineup for the Yankees has some question marks, which makes the bench an important piece of the overall puzzle. Did the club create a bench that is better than the one crafted for 2014?

At the start of the 2014 season the Yankees bench consisted of Ichiro Suzuki, Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte and Francisco Cervelli. As of now, the 2015 bench has Brendan Ryan, Chris Young, Garrett Jones and most likely John Ryan Murphy. Jose Pirela and Austin Romine have a chance with hot springs to overtake Ryan and Murphy respectively.

Suzuki ended up getting plenty of playing time due to Carlos Beltran’s injury woes. Ichiro slapped his way to a .284/.324/.340 line in 380 plate appearances. He also stole 15 bases. Suzuki, 41, is looking to latch onto another one-year deal as the Yankees decided to part ways.

Anna was never really given much of a chance, garnering just 25 plate appearances. He was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates July 5, 2014.

Solarte was an absolute phenom for the first two months of the season. He snagged the starting third base job from Kelly Johnson and made 47 starts, sparking an anemic offense with a slash line of .299/.369/.466 during the time span. He fell back to Earth (and hard) in June and the early part of July, recording a minuscule .459 OPS. He was traded to the San Diego Padres for Chase Headley July 22, 2014, so the Yanks can thank him for that.

Johnson in the meantime was tried out in many positions hoping to get his bat going but it never took shape. He finished his time in New York with a paltry .219/.304/.373 line in 227 trips to the plate. Johnson was traded to the Boston Red Sox and then to the Baltimore Orioles in time to be a part of their postseason run.

Cervelli had a fine season for the Yankees as the backup catcher for Brian McCann. He posted a .301/.370/.432 line in 162 plate appearances and was very reliable behind the plate. Cervelli is now in Pittsburgh, likely to be their fulltime backstop.

What can we expect of the current crop of bench players?

Ryan, who began 2014 on the disabled list, appeared in 49 games for the Yankees. Anna probably would not have made the team if Ryan was healthy to start the season. Ryan hit just .143 and had an OPS+ of 18 in 124 times at the plate in 2014. That’s not a typo. Ryan, never a hitting threat for opponents is all about the glove. He might be kept on the team simply because he is the only other natural shortstop on the roster besides newly acquired Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew, who the Yankees have penciled in as the starting second baseman.

Pirela surely has a chance to overtake Ryan with an extremely strong spring. But, even if he opens in Triple-A Pirela remains a very versatile piece of the puzzle. He could see significant time if Drew or Gregorius fail early on and he’s hitting the cover off the ball in Triple-A. In 2014, Pirela made a brief cameo in the Bronx after hitting .305/.351/.441 with 21 doubles, 11 triples and 10 homers at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pirela can play multiple spots on the field which makes him a likely replacement on the bench in case of injury around the diamond.

Ryan might never hit, but he’s not going to hurt in the field. He is not going to do what Solarte did, but he might fall the same fate as Anna. I would not be surprised if Pirela either beats Ryan out in the spring, or if over time the Yankees want Pirela to provide a spark and Ryan is the one sent packing. Again, it’s hard to know exactly what Gregorius or Drew is going to provide the team. If both are succeeding, Ryan will stick around, but if not, it would not be difficult to see the Yankees bring Pirela up.

Young came over to the Yankees in September, after a very disappointing stint with the New York Mets. Young went on a late season tear which prompted the Yanks to sign him to a one-year deal to be the fourth outfielder. Overall in 2014, Young had a .683 OPS, which was bolstered by his brief time with the Yankees in which he produced a .876 OPS (145 OPS+) in 23 games and 79 plate appearances.

If the Yankees can receive that type of production from Young it will be a welcomed difference from the kind of player Ichiro supplied the Yanks. Young has some pop and speed, while playing good defense, all essential qualities for a bench player.

Young can be an upgrade over Ichiro, purely from the need for power off the bench, and the fact that if he hits close to what he did with the Yanks last September, he could be a nice fill-in for days off required by the outfielders when a lefty is on the mound.

Jones came over in a trade this winter along with Nathan Eovaldi. Jones, a lefty hitter with power, will backup first baseman Mark Teixeira and can play right field. Having a true first base backup was something the Yankees missed in 2014 and boasting a lefty with pop on the bench at Yankee Stadium could pay dividends in close games. In 2014, Jones slashed .246/.309/.720 with 33 doubles and 15 homers in 547 plate appearances. Jones owns a career .764 OPS (108 OPS+) in seven seasons.

Having Jones on the roster instead of another middle infielder, works for the Yankees because they have Pirela and Rob Refsnyder waiting in the wings. With the number of injuries Teixeira has suffered of late, it makes sense to have someone experienced at playing first base on the bench. It allows the Yankees to give McCann full days off when needed versus inserting him at first base. Also, it can’t be stressed enough that the Yankees can benefit from having a power hitting lefty on the bench when it can be assumed the club will be in a fair share of close games this season.

Murphy has come on and seemingly leapfrogged Romine on the catching depth chart. In 32 games, 85 plate appearances, Murphy hit .288/.318/.370 and was fine behind the plate in 21 starts. That said, if Murphy falters and Romine excels in spring training, the latter is out of minor league options and could find himself on the opening day roster.

If Murphy makes the opening day roster he is fully capable of pleasing the Yankees coaching staff and can provide very similar numbers to Cervelli’s over the course of the season. There should not be a regression here.

Overall, the current bench composition is arguably better than last season’s. The versatility and power from both sides along with the minor league depth could spark the Yankees at times during the long season. That’s pretty much all a team can ask from its bench players.

Photo of Chris Young courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yankees set to prosper from deep farm system

The New York Yankees are in the midst of a strategy shift concerning how they run their on-field business. After years of over the top free-agent signings, some with great reward and others now bogging down payroll, the club has begun to resurrect its farm system and combine it with their financial might with a look to sustainability.

The Yankees have one of the deepest farm systems in all of baseball according to respected minor league scout Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. It may not contain the best of the best players, but it’s grown in terms of the quantity of quality players at all levels.

The Yankees are not likely to turn into the Tampa Bay Rays where it concerns payroll, but there is certainly a new-found desire to mix in young talent, some of which is being developed in the minor leagues.

The Yankees have several talented players knocking on the door, a few more are a year or two away and others won’t get their call to the Bronx, but could find themselves climbing the ladder in another organization.

The Yankees will have two young players in spring camp, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, who at one point this offseason were being considered front runners for the second base job. They’ll still get a shot to prove themselves, but with Stephen Drew signing, it might take a huge spring to leapfrog the veteran. While Pirela is not a rated prospect, Refsnyder checks in at number six according to and number seven at Baseball America.

New York has stressed youth via the international market this year. During this signing period, the Yanks have nabbed 10 of the top 30 international prospects according to Baseball America. The biggest catch of them all is unsigned in Yoan Moncada, who had a private workout for the Bombers recently. Moncada will come at a steep price, and the Yankees would have to ante up double the bonus for Moncada as a penalty for surpassing the spending threshold. Moncada is the type of talent that has a “can’t miss” label placed on him and that’s hard to live up to.

Prospects are surely not as “can’t miss” as they are often made out to be. Manny Banuelos was once thought of as the next great member of the Yankees’ rotation. Injuries and uneven performance find him pitching in the Atlanta Braves organization this spring as the Yanks finally gave up on the soon-to-be 24-year-old lefty.

The Yankees almost gave up on Dellin Betances two years ago before switching him from a starter to a reliever. He was incredible in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre and simply dominated with the Yankees in 2014.

It’s a tale of two options. The Yankees gave up on Banuelos who is young and might still breakout in the big leagues. They took a flyer on moving Betances to the bullpen and at 23 years old he could be the closer for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.

The longest tenured Yankee who came up through the system is now Brett Gardner. The speedy outfielder was a third-round draft pick in 2005 and fought his way up the ladder reaching the majors in 2008. Gardner was one of the few recent Yankees to receive an extension for his services; he’ll be with the club barring a trade through the 2018 season (Gardner has a team option for 2019).

Who could be the next homegrown Yankee to earn a long-term agreement?

Of the crop of Yankees in the farm system right now, Luis Severino is one to watch. He was just named the seventh best right-hander in the minors by He is the top Yankees prospect according the and Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus lists Severino as the number-two minor league player in the Yankees’ system. With a mid-90s fastball, which can reach the upper 90s and the ability to consistently throw strikes, Severino is on a fast track which might see him reach Triple-A early on.

But, will Severino reach the Bronx? Part of the Yankees thinking is no doubt to bring up the best talent to New York, but they are also cognizant of the extreme value a player like Severino might have in securing a young yet established Major League player. If Severino could be part of a package to land an already experienced and superior big leaguer without breaking the bank, the Yankees would have to think hard about it.

And then there is Gary Sanchez, a catching prospect who seems to have been with the organization forever. It’s been five seasons to be exact, and the next season or two will be pivotal for Sanchez and the Yankees.

Sanchez’s bat has not grown as quickly as expected. He was considered a no-doubt power-hitting catcher, but he’s hit just 28 homers combined in the last two seasons. However, he’s still listed as the number two prospect in the system by, and the Yankees would be happy for him to flourish in 2015.

Sanchez, 22, could be a very valuable trade piece for the Yankees especially if he is establishing his value on the field. With Brian McCann cemented as the Yankees' catcher for at least the next few seasons (he is under contract through 2018, with a 2019 club option), the team might feel that Sanchez is worth more as a trade piece than in the system. It’s not just McCann’s presence that allows the Yankees to think about trading Sanchez, but they have a solid catcher in John Ryan Murphy and another young backstop in Luis Torrens, who while just 18 years old is the Yankees’ number 10 prospect according to

Finally, the Yankees have wisely stockpiled a bunch of young relievers who have significant upside – Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, Chasen Shreve and James Pazos just a few among them. The role of the reliever has taken front row for many organizations and some could turn to the Yankees significant dearth of bullpen arms – lefties and righties – for supplies over the next few seasons. What’s best about the surplus is the Yankees can move players without impacting their own bullpen – which could be a major strength for years to come.

There are position players who have begun to make a name for themselves as well – Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Gregory Bird, Jorge Mateo and Tyler Austin all have the potential to make a major league club. The hope that most of them reach the big leagues with the Yankees is something significantly fresh for fans used to an old veteran squad.

But, among the many mentioned above, some might never wear the pinstripes in Yankee Stadium. Some will wither away and others will be traded. There are players not mentioned and currently unproven who might sneak up on us and win a job in the Bronx in the years to come.

One thing is certain; the Yankees have built a solid farm system over the last few seasons and with continued emphasis in the international market and sound decisions in the amateur draft the program can continue to grow. With some luck the Yankees can bring some of these players into the fold in the Bronx, or utilize them to land others via trade, with the chance of creating a new core to lead the club to another run of postseason success.

Rob Refsnyder photo courtesy of Tom Hagerty via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Yankees' best offseason decision was passing on Max Scherzer

The New York Yankees were seemingly never in on Max Scherzer, and that’s a good thing. The club, from the outset of the offseason, claimed they were not going to get roped into another nine-figure deal with a player, let alone a pitcher this time around. And with the Washington Nationals signing the former Cy Young award winner to a seven-year, $210 million deal this past weekend, we can finally say the Yankees are sticking to a plan with the future in focus. The non-move was their best decision of the offseason thus far and it demonstrates cohesive management and a committed strategy going forward.

In the end, the Yankees did not want to take the chance on another contract blowing up in their faces halfway through it. The Nationals are in a better position to win right now, forming a fantastic rotation for the upcoming season. For Washington, spending big on Scherzer made sense, and for the Yankees it did not.

Now, James Shields still sits out in the free agent market, but the team has not expressed the least bit of interest in Big Game James. For good reason – he’s got much more wear on his arm and wants a nine-figure deal of his own – and Scherzer’s contract is going to help him attain it. Either Scherzer or Jon Lester was the player to make a splash with if the Yanks really wanted to.

No, it seems the Yankees are completely out of the big name pitcher market this offseason. They have several of their own that they have decided to rely on. The Yanks need CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda to be healthy and to pitch to their abilities. If that can happen, the feeling of loss for Scherzer, Lester and to a lesser extent Shields will be minimal.

Some have suggested that the Nationals are now going to shop one of their returning rotation arms. Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are in their walk years, so they are less attractive at the moment, from the standpoint of a long-term commitment and the prospects a trade would take to secure their services as a pure rental. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are also presumably available. Strasburg and Gonzalez are controlled through 2016, and the latter has a team option in 2017 and vesting option for 2018.

But, why should the Nats trade any of these players right now? Who knows what could happen through the season on the injury front, and being as deep as they are benefits them in the long haul. If they stick with the starting five as arranged now, they’ll have Tanner Roark, who went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA (3.47 FIP) sitting in the wings. That’s an impressive sixth-man.

Could the Yankees speak with the Nationals if they make their pitchers available? Sure, but they would need to take extreme caution with Zimmermann and Fister because of the rental agreement it would become. Who wouldn’t want Strasburg, and Gonzalez is a bonafide arm, but they’ll cost some considerable talent the Yankees have coming through the system.

Any upper echelon pitcher the Yankees look at in a trade, like those previously mentioned and Philadelphia Phillies' southpaw Cole Hamels, will begin with Luis Severino at the top of the wish list. The Yankees' prized – maybe the only prized – pitching prospect is perhaps two years from reaching the big leagues. The Yankees' outlook all along was to get younger and regroup using tactical free agent signings, trades and their own farm system. The basis of the club’s plan does not seem to entail developing Severino for another club.

The future of the Yankees is taking shape. Each move, and non-move, points to the course of action the team set forth once they missed the postseason again in 2014. It’s not about splashy signings, and it might not even be about winning now. The future is about sustainability and the Yankees have realized that they cannot reach that goal operating in the same fashion they did right through the last offseason.

What are your thoughts? Was refraining from involvement in the Scherzer sweepstakes wise for the Yankees? Or should they have gone full-throttle for him? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Yankees’ offense centers on Brian McCann

The New York Yankees ran out a pathetic offense for a better part of the 2014 season. It cost the hitting coach his job and the club a spot in the postseason. If 2015 is going to be any different, Brian McCann is going to need to shoulder more of the offensive weight than his teammates.

Is he up for the task?

Before you start naming other players who might influence the offense more than McCann, I’ll give you reasons why I feel they can be tempered, and not considered more important than McCann.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are a package in my view – and a pretty good one at that. One or both of them will get on base and at a good enough clip individually, if not together. But, when one is not performing well, the other likely will be. Having one hitter at the top of the lineup that can get on base and make something of walks and singles is great, having two is a luxury and lessens the pressure on both hitters.

If you think of Carlos Beltran as the number three hitter, you’ve got someone who if healthy can regain some of the lost production from last season. I don’t believe that Beltran’s issues were completely about his elbow injury, but I do believe they affected his play and he will bounce back if he is fully healed. I just don’t think he’s as important as McCann, and I’ll explain why shortly.

McCann will likely hit fourth, so that leaves Mark Teixeira as the number five batter. Like Beltran, Teixeira should see a bounce from his 2014 numbers, IF he can stay on the field long enough to be productive. What makes Teixeira a little less important than McCann is that the Yankees have a bonafide backup for Teixeira in Garrett Jones something that was not a comfort of the club’s in 2014.

Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez will hit sixth and seventh, but I’m unsure (and so too are the Yankees I’d bet) about which player slots where. No matter really, as neither one of them is expected to carry the team offensively. Headley is there mostly for his glove, and if A-Rod is in the lineup at all, it means he is hitting the ball better than anyone could expect after not seeing a live pitch since the end of the 2013 season. Production here is important, but again pales to that of what McCann needs to provide.

Rounding out the perceived lineup is Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius. Now, each of these hitters has some upside – Drew's disaster 2014 season should prove to be an aberration with a full spring training, and Gregorius by virtue of the untapped potential many see in his bat. Again, the Yankees will be glad if they hit, but for the most part they are expected to be prime defenders for the Yankees.

Let’s turn our attention back to McCann. First, I believe, like many others, that McCann will benefit simply from not having to study an entire pitching staff from scratch this spring. There are new faces on the roster, but last year he dealt with a totally new staff. This will allow McCann some breathing room in terms of the amount of time he has to devote to learning the tendencies of the pitchers.

Next, I dismissed Beltran as the key and here is a reason why. If McCann is not hitting teams will pitch around Beltran. If McCann is hitting, Beltran will see better pitches and the Yankees would hope it could jump-start a comeback season. Beltran's potential success is in lock step with McCann's. This is particularly important for the Yankees. If both Beltran and McCann are doing well then it means the Yankees are scoring runs.

I understand that in a similar fashion, if McCann is producing at the plate opponents might avoid him, and pitch to Teixeira. But the simple answer to this is that the Yankees would hope that one or two of the first three hitters are on base, making it less likely that teams will want to work around McCann. I believe chances are good that they will be the case.

While McCann was bit by the infield shift quite often last season, I do feel that he is someone who can be encouraged to try to make some adjustments to beat it. He did try at times last season. I don’t mean by bunting or completely changing his approach at the plate, but he still has enough raw power to try and drive the ball to left field if opponents are giving it to him.

I believe this differs from Teixeira’s inability to beat the shift. Teixeira has turned himself into a complete pull hitter and I do not believe he wants to change that. If Teixeira is uncomfortable doing so, then I simply suggest he stick to his plan and try to pull as many balls out of the park, particularly when at the plate as a left-handed hitter. You can’t teach an old dog (and a stubborn one at that) new tricks.

So what is it exactly that McCann needs to provide at the plate?

The Yankees will be in great shape if McCann can produce a .260/.325/.475 line this season with 27-30 home runs and about 90 RBIs in roughly 550 plate appearances. In what was considered a terribly down year in 2014, McCann produced a .232/.286/.406 line with 23 homers and 75 RBIs in 538 plate appearances. Looking at this you might think I’m crazy to suggest he can manage to add over 100 points to his OPS.

Allow me to explain. McCann had a spell of 43 games (160 plate appearances) from Aug. 1 through Sept. 28 in which his OPS was .771 and his slugging percentage was .491. He hit 12 homers during the span and drove in 30 runs. So, he certainly has it in him.

But how?

What McCann needs to do is figure out a way to combat the shift and potentially draw some more walks. McCann’s walk rate was a measly 6 percent in 2014, severely affecting his on base percentage. His career walk rate in his previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Braves was 9.5 percent. Being more selective at the plate will only help the other aspects of his hitting.

As I mentioned earlier, McCann will be more at ease with the pitching staff this season, and I do see that helping his ability to concentrate more on his hitting approach, especially during the spring. Further, with new hitting coaches in place, it is entirely possible that one of them has some suggestions for McCann and if he puts them into practice, he could thrive in the Bronx as many predicted he would last season.

While it's true that each player in the Yankees’ lineup carries some importance to the success of the offense this season, Brian McCann is the ultimate key to it flourishing.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Yankees could exchange salary arbitration figures with three players

The New York Yankees might end up exchanging salary arbitration figures with right-handers Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and David Carpenter if they don’t come to an agreement Friday by 1:00 p.m. ET.

The Yankees have not had an arbitration hearing since 2008 and the likelihood of one with any of these players is slim. The club and the players would still have ample time to come to an agreement before a hearing takes place if an accord is not reached Friday. The hearings begin Feb. 1 and end Feb. 21.

The usually spot-on team at MLB Trade Rumors supplied the following projected salaries for the players -- Pineda ($2.1 million), Eovaldi ($3.1 million) and Carpenter ($1.1 million). The Yanks reached an agreement with Esmil Rogers Dec. 2, 2014, on a split contract worth $750K guaranteed and $1.48 million if he stays will the big league club. Earlier this week the Yankees agreed to a one-year non-guaranteed contract with Ivan Nova for $3.3 million.

Pineda, who turns 26 in two days, is one of several keys to the Yankees success in 2015. He was at times their best pitcher in 2014, but his issues with pine tar and then injury forced him to miss more than half the season. He finished with a 5-5 record, 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) and 0.825 WHIP in 13 starts (76.1 IP). Pineda has not pitched a full season in the majors since 2011 when he threw 171 innings; the year before he was traded to the Yankees. If the Yanks have any shot of postseason contention, Pineda will need to come close to making 30 starts and/or reaching 200 innings.

Eovaldi, 25 in February, is a wild card for the upcoming season. The power-pitcher has plenty of potential, but has yet to find a way to keep guys off the bases (he surrendered a league-leading 223 hits in 2014). In his defense, he suffered through some fielding problems behind him last season as witnessed by a wide ERA/FIP difference (4.37/3.37). Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild will work with Eovaldi to help him move to the next level of performance but it will not be an easy task against the American League East. The club is counting on Eovaldi to be a workhorse at the backend of the rotation.

Carpenter, 29, came over to the Yankees from Atlanta and steps right into a setup role leading up to either Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances. Carpenter has been quite effective the last two seasons (2.63 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 10.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 across 126.2 total innings) and he’s now part of one of the best bullpens in the game.

Check back for updates as the day progresses.

Updated: January 17, 2015, 1:25 p.m. - The Yankees avoided arbitration coming to agreements with Pineda ($2.1 million), Eovaldi ($3.3 million) and Carpenter ($1.3 million).

Photo of Michael Pineda courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Steinbrenner fails to close Yankees' door on Scherzer

New York Yankees’ managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke Wednesday with reporters at the Owners Meetings in Arizona and his comments left open the chance that the team might make one last splash before the offseason ends. Cue rabid fans, Scott Boras and Max Scherzer drooling over the prospects.

Steinbrenner’s statement, via The New York Daily News, was vague at best.

“Look, it’s not over till it’s over,” Steinbrenner said. “We still have a full month before spring training. We’re always going to continue to improve. I’m not putting a cap on it. We’ve certainly filled some holes that we had. We’ll keep going for the next few weeks.”

Steinbrenner followed it up with a cautionary tale that his front office has been touting for the entire offseason.

“There’s just a certain amount I’m going to go,” Steinbrenner said. “You all know my opinions about payroll, where you should be and where you really don’t need to be to win championships."

Of course, with Scherzer still on the market and the Yankees a prime landing spot in terms of needs and financial abilities, it puts the club on the periphery no matter what their public stance is. Until Scherzer signs elsewhere, the Yankees are going to be suspected as being a player in his market which will find a buyer soon. Plain and simple.

I’ve written numerous times – most recently here – that the Yankees should once and for all stick to their plan, even if it means another season without the playoffs. Given the growth of the farm system, the eventuality of big salaries coming off the books in the next few years and an extensive foray into the international market, the Yankees are primed to rebuild while remaining competitive.

The club has not exactly stopped spending; shelling out close to $100 million in contracts this offseason, and Steinbrenner’s comments could simply mean that the team will be willing to take on additional salary at a later point in the season. Or he could be referring to the large sum of money it will take to sign international sensation Yoan Moncada, who the Yankees are said to be heavily favored – along with the Boston Red Sox – to gain his services.

As for Scherzer, I’ll maintain that when it comes down to it, the Yankees will not abandon ship and sign the 30-year-old right-hander. I’ll believe Yanks' general manager Brian Cashman’s recent statement, “I don’t think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer.”

Yet, ownership has not completely shown the ability to stand back when it comes to the best of the best sitting on the free-agent market. Scherzer, right now, is among the best of the best rotation arms in the game. He is a difference maker now, but I assure you, he won’t be in five years when three seasons and up to $90 million remain on his contract.

Until Steinbrenner flat out says no, or Scherzer is signed by another team, the door unfortunately remains open for that big splash.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Putnam via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.