Friday, November 7, 2014

WHY STEPHEN DREW IS A BAD PLAN


With the retirement of Derek Jeter, the Yankees are naturally looking for a shortstop. In fact, they are trying to figure out their plans for both middle infield positions. Because Stephen Drew was the de facto shortstop/second baseman last year, you might be tempted to think that this is your Plan A. If so, you should re-think that.


Maybe it was the dreadful lineup the Yankees played day after day that made him look worse than he was. That would have been hard to do. He hit .162 on the season, and .150 for the Yankees. Eight hitters actually had higher slugging percentages than he had OPS (.536). The only thing that was worse than watching him take an at-bat was watching him take an at-bat with runners on. His batting average fell about 10 points with runners on vs. with no one on. With men in scoring position and 2 outs, his average dropped to .118. That is as close as you are going to get to “automatic out” while still playing at the major league level.


His one redeeming quality might be his glove. His defense is not bad, albeit he is better at shortstop. The Yankees tried to use him at second, but his fielding percentage was below the league average there. At shortstop, his career numbers are just above the league average, making him a defensive asset. Nevertheless, he is no Omar Vizquel. By that, I mean a shortstop who hits below average, but his play in the field is good enough that it is net positive and that he’s helping the team. Stephen has not helped his team since 2010 in Arizona, when he hit .278, had an OPS just over .800, and hit double-digits in home runs.


Drew is still 32, and maybe he can find his way back to hitting decently. There are a bunch of baseball people who believe he is young enough to regain his stroke. With the market for shortstops being as tight as it is, the Yankees may find him appealing as the “best available”. If the Yankees bite, they may end up regretting it. If we sign him and he continues to hit on the interstate, we may begin asking ourselves “Couldn’t we just promote some minor leaguer, which costs a lot less and has a lot more upside potential???”  I’m just saying.


Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

YANKEES TARGET: NELSON CRUZ


The Yankees need to improve in many ways, most of them related to hitting. When looking at the hitting talent out there in free agency, Nelson Cruz’ name is very near the top of the list. The Baltimore Orioles acquired Cruz at a bargain-basement price of $8M for 1 year, and had a monster season with 40 home runs and 108 RBI. He is exactly the kind of right-handed power the Yankees lineup needs.


When looking over the last several years of Cruz’ hitting, he is the picture of consistency. He has not missed any significant time due to injury since 2011, and at the age of 34, he is still young enough to provide the Yankees consistent playing time that they desperately needed from their stars. Over the last four years, his slash line looks like .265/.323/.500 with an OPS of .823 – a serious power threat. His numbers in the postseason are even more impressive, having a career OPS of 1.016. He can play the corner outfield positions and can slot in to the DH spot as needed.


What could be the most promising aspect of his coming to the Bronx would be the fire he brings. I clearly remember, as some of you do, the 2011 postseason when the Yankees fell to the Rangers in six games. In that series, he hit .350 and went deep twice. He was the one guy that the Yankees did not want to challenge, where five of his seven hits were for extra bases. He scored six times, and drove in 5. He was a force to be reckoned with. If the Yankees can work out the deal, this is one guy that can be immediate benefits.


Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

HOW DO YOU FIND THE DRIVE TO WIN?


If you have been a Yankees fan for any length of time, you know the mission of the New York Yankees every single year: win the World Series. It is what drives the team to spend money, acquire top-notch talent, and makes the fan base argue about whom the Yankees should go after first – Max Scherzer or James Shields. We all operate on the assumption that the team with the best players wins the World Series. Do you still really believe that assumption?


The Kansas City Royals have gotten everyone’s attention, primarily because they should not be in the World Series to begin with. Let’s review. They are below the league average in runs per game, OPS, and Fielding Percentage. They are the only team in the American League to fail to hit 100 home runs. They were 4th in ERA, but they beat the teams who came in second (Oakland) and third (Baltimore) to get to the World Series. You might be able to argue that pitching at least gets you to the stage, but it is clearly not enough. Other teams have dominant pitching, and you need a complete team to even get to the postseason, let alone win the Series.


Here is some food for thought. Maybe it is not just about the talent and potential of the members of the roster. Maybe it is the ability to translate that into wins at crunch time. Maybe what they say is true – the baseball is a game of wits, and that those with the mental fortitude to keep pushing until they win are the ones that end up on top. Remember, the Royals came back from being down late and down in extras to win the wildcard elimination game. They won the first 2 games of their ALDS in extra innings, and the first 2 games of the ALCS in the 9th or later, grinding until they pulled out the win.


I don’t want to focus too much on Kansas City, since they don’t have the perennial winning legacy that would legitimize them as the example to follow. Not yet, anyway. But there are some people, players, and teams that just have that mental focus and drive that we haven’t seen on the Yankees in some time. Guys like Terry Francona, who took the Red Sox from the annual tradition of frustrating loss to a legacy that made the Red Sox a feared team year after year. As much as we hate what they did, you have to admire a manager that can keep a team in focus when they’re down 3-0 in a best of 7 and come back to win. When he left the team, they completely collapsed, and he brought the Indians back into contention. Why don’t we have any Terry Francona’s on our team? The last dynasty – in the late 1990’s – had an expectation to win every last game, and they went out and played all nine inning of all 162 games, plus the postseason.


I will leave you with this thought. A week from now, the World Series will be over, everyone will be analyzing how the winning team got it done, and we will all be talking about which players to go after for our team. Some players will leave, others will join, and we will all be pissed off and elated at various points of the winter when it all goes down. The question is, how do you know who is going to bring the fire to the team, the drive to win no matter what the circumstances? Will the front office and management be able to discern between the stars and the duds? Sure, they will be pouring over the stats, the dollars and contract lengths, but I hope someone is watching out for the players and coaches who can find the guys that can carry a team. If you’re like me, you would like to bring back the days of fighting for every baserunner, every run, every win.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SILENCE ON A HITTING COACH COULD MEAN TINO


Yankees Universe is still waiting on the front office’s decision on the hitting coach decision. After the Boston Red Sox grabbed Chili Davis off the market, and second thoughts on Dave Magadan, the pool of candidates has grown wide open. When the Yankees first let Kevin Long go, rumors swirled, and Tino Martinez was near the top of the list. Bob Klapisch reported, days after the Long firing, the Tino was not in consideration. Now that plans A and B have gone up in smoke, who knows?


Having had some experience at the position with the Florida Marlins, and the love fest this past season with the Yankees and his new plaque in Monument Park, Tino seems like a good fit. There is good reason to give him serious consideration. He has a long history of hitting well with the Yankees, and with keeping players accountable.


While we do not condone everything he did that caused his exit from the Marlins organization, it would be good to see some fire in the Yankees clubhouse. His record of accountability is well-known, chewing fellow players out for not running hard down the baseline or not going all out in the field. After the 2014 season, I think we are all a little tired of seeing the hitters lacking drive. Tino's personality may be the perfect fit.


Expect the Yankees to make an announcement in the next few days, and we will see how the new coaches shape up. If the Yankees are smart, Tino should at least get a call back.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BRING BACK CHASE HEADLEY!


The Chase Headley acquisition in July was definitely a gamble for the Yankees. Headley had a monster year in 2012 for the San Diego Padres, winning the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for third base that year. He hit 31 home runs, a league-leading 115 RBI, and came in fifth in the NL MVP voting. The following year he returned to being mortal, to a batting average around .250 and Runs/RBI/HR’s all going to about half of the year before. After 2014 began to look like the second consecutive year of confirming that Headley’s future was much less bright than his past, the Padres gave up on him and traded him to the Yankees for some young talent.


Chase Headley’s first game spoke volumes to me. He arrived in the middle of the game, was ready to suit up, and hit a walk-off base hit in the bottom of the 14th inning. He would end up getting two more walk-off hits in his 58 games as a Yankee. On a team that had a clear lack of heart, this is a guy is worth keeping.


As an everyday player, he hit a respectable .262 with 6 home runs (on pace to hit 17 HRs if he had played all 162 as a Yankee), and an OPS of .768. On the defense side of the game, he had fielding percentages of .986 at third and .983 at first – both impressive. Being able to field at both corners of the infield may make him invaluable to the team, given the question marks that Yankees have at those positions. Alex Rodriguez is a question mark at third, and Mark Teixeira’s ability to stay healthy and be available for the length of the season make Headley a unique fit for the 2015 team.


Look, his ability to shine in pressure situations is what makes him valuable. You cannot put a stat on that, except the number of times he ends a game with a swing of the bat and ends up under a Gatorade bath. Headley has done that enough to warrant some attention. He reminds me of Raul Ibanez in that respect – the guy you wanted at the plate when a comeback was required.


The Yankees have begun their planning for 2015. Plans will include their approach to the free agent market. They know they have to answer the questions about third base, and Headley will certainly be in the conversation. He will also get attention from other teams, so the Yankees need to play this right. The Yankee teams that have won the World Series have all had a mix of players that would come up big in big situations. If you have enough of them scattered throughout the lineup, every game becomes winnable, even if you are losing late. Headley needs to be in that mix.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Thursday, October 9, 2014

HAL & CASHMAN HAVE LOST THEIR MINDS


Many things went wrong with the Yankees in 2014. It had mostly to do with injuries, key people in key positions that became unable to play for a variety of reasons. It was a frustrating, tragic play unfolding, like a scene out of a dark comedy where things continue to go from bad to worse. So imagine my surprise when reading quotes from the Daily News’ recent articles on how Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner believe last season’s failures were a statistical anomaly, and that the team is well-staffed. As Hal Steinbrenner put it, “I thought we had a team that could certainly contend and win a championship. Right or wrong, that is what I thought. That really hasn’t changed.” Does he believe that this team can contend? If their 2015 plan is to try the 2014 plan again, we are in deep trouble.


“I honestly believe if you repeated this season 100 times, you would not get this result." That is Brian Cashman’s code for “the team is fine, we just ran into a lot of bad luck.” I sincerely hope that he is just trying to deflect bad press about the team, and that he does not actually believe that. By my count, we just completed our third consecutive year where we did not play to our potential because our key players were injured. I honestly believe that if you repeated this season 100 times, some combination of our players – maybe the same ones – would get hurt every single time, with the same ultimate result.


“You’ll see the real Carlos Beltran next year". We saw the 37-year Beltran this year, and we will see the 38-year old Beltran next year. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not blasting the guy. When he was healthy, he was a force in our lineup. He just was not healthy enough, often enough. He spent the majority of the season at DH because we did not know if he could physically throw a ball from the outfield to the infield. Next year, he will be a year older. He may be a significant contributor, but we have the 38-year old injury-prone outfielder, not the 29-year old MVP candidate. That is the real Carlos Beltran for 2015.


“And Tex should be much better. His doctor says the first year after wrist surgery is difficult, and the next year is better.” The question is, how much better, and is better enough? Look, I am a huge Mark Teixeira fan, and I would love to see him hit .320 and pop 32 home runs and 115 RBI. Nevertheless, you have to have a better plan than “next year [should be] better”. For starters, he needs a real backup. If you are not going to acquire one, and the backup is Brian McCann or Chase Headley, then decide who their respective backup will be at their primary positions. Having a team dependent on a 35-year old to play 140+ games, when he has not had an injury-free year since 2011, is ludicrous.


Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. If you believe Cashman’s quotes, we should just do the same thing we did last year and we should expect a better result. You can blame injuries on a lot of factors, and both age and coaches competency are the places I look at, but you can’t expect the team to be healthy and productive without making a significant change. Is it the coaches? Maybe it is time to get better ones. Is it the age factor? How about we stop acquiring players past their prime and invest in the young players coming up in the farm system.


The one statement Hal Steinbrenner made which gave me hope went like this: “We’ve got to continue to improve player development and get these young players to be part of the team in addition to the seasoned veterans and the stars that we know we always have to have.” Now that sounds like a much better plan. It would be refreshing and encouraging to see the Yankees stop trying to catch lightning in a bottle with aging stars and second-rate players, and finally develop a viable plan. It should be an interesting winter.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue

Monday, October 6, 2014

WHO STAYS & WHO GOES: THE STARTING ROTATION


When the season started in 2014, and the rotation started a mess emigration to the DL, it looked like déjà vu all over again. The injury plague was going to end all hope for the year. Surprisingly, the pitching rotation did not do too badly, especially after making some key acquisitions. Therefore, as we look to 2015, here is our view on who should stay, who should go, and who should be on the development plan for the future.


When talking about the guys that need to stay, you have to talk about 3 guys to build around: Brandon McCarthyMasahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda. McCarthy was on the road to nowhere, sporting a 3-10 record and a 5.01 ERA. He arrived in the Bronx, and turned it around in a major way. We often talk about guys who cannot pitch here. McCarthy can pitch here, and he has a 7-5 record and a 2.89 ERA to prove it. At age 30, he has a lot of runway in front of him, and we need to sign him and build around him.


Michael Pineda comes with a high risk of injury, but if he stays healthy, he can make a serious impact. Thirteen starts and a 1.89 ERA indicate that he is a force to be reckoned with. In case you are worried about that 5-5 record, note that the Yankees never scored more than one run in any of those five losses. Nine of those 13 starts were quality starts. When he pitches, the Yankees are always in a position to win. He is a definite keeper.


Masahiro Tanaka was the imminent Cy Young Award winner going into the All-Star break. In fact, he did not have a single non-quality start until July. Then that injury curse reared its ugly head. If his elbow stays healthy, he is the clear ace of the staff. Nevertheless, I will not lie to you – he looked dreadful in that last start in Fenway. It really makes me wonder about the condition of his UCL. If reconstructive surgery is in his near future, Tanaka is not in ours for 2015. Enough said.


C.C. Sabathia has been the nominal ace for the staff ever since he signed prior to the 2009 season. The 2015 plan has to include him, but his durability is in question, not to mention his productivity. Let’s be honest – he hasn’t looked like an ace since at least May 2013. The pitcher who threw for 15-20 wins and an ERA in the low 3’s turned into a 50/50 pitcher with an ERA in the high 4’s to low 5’s. The hope is that it was all due to the injuries in his knees and ankles. Still, the Yankees have $23M flowing his way, so they have to put him in and hope he returns to his expected form.


That leaves 1-2 slots for the Yankees to use to develop the young guys. They should start with David Phelps. In 17 starts, he had a 5-5 record with a 4.28 ERA and less than HR/9 innings pitched. He had flashes brilliance, with some bad starts that are typical for a young pitcher. He needs some team investment.


They should also go with Shane Green, which would round out the starting five if either Sabathia or Tanaka were not healthy. Green had a 5-4 record, a 3.78 ERA, and 9.3 K/9. At age 25, he is already establishing himself as a strikeout pitcher, and needs get the ball every 5th day. Chase Whitley gets an honorable mention here, though he is still developing. He was brilliant in his first five starts, but still has some room to grow, and he best fits in a middle-relief / spot-starter role. I would love to mention Ivan Nova here, because I think he has tremendous potential, but he is returning from Tommy John surgery, and it is hard to put together firm plans that depend on him being ready to go.


We love Hiroki Kuroda, but let’s be honest. He will turn 40 just before spring training, and the future of the organization may not rest with him. I think he can still pitch, but he is not at the level where we have to keep him. Chris Capuano was a one-year rental. While we appreciate his efforts – which were not too bad at all – he is not a person around which to build a rotation.



The good news here is that many injured players are returning, and the Yankees should have a lot to build on. It will all depend on players staying healthy, coaches doing their jobs, and giving the kids a chance.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue