The Yankees Should Be Realistic, Put Team on Short Leash in 2013

A week ago, the 2013 Yankees were walking on a tight rope. Their roster, while a significant downgrade from the 2012 squad, looked strong enough to contend for a wild card spot in the American League. The team’s rapidly aging core was still effective last year, and should a few things go right should have been good for 90 wins this year.

And then Curtis Granderson suffered a freak broken arm. Spring training has barely started, and probably the third or fourth most valuable hitter on the Yankee roster will miss around 1/4 of the season, without an able-bodied replacement in sight. The Yankee outfield/DH group was already razor-thin, and just lost its most valuable contributor for awhile.

By no means should the Yankees throw in the towel on the season, but at some point they need to decide whether they want to bet  on this team to make the playoffs. I don’t know what the cut off point is, but  it can’t be, “never.” This roster is not a vintage Yankee, sure-fire playoff team. It would be a huge mistake to assume that no matter what, the Yankees have to approach the trade deadline as a buyers.

Perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, the Yankees have a ton of players that could be sold off at the trade deadline for a valuable return. Any of Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Boone Logan, Phil Hughes and especially Robinson Cano, are all free agents after the season, could plausibly fetch good prospects from buying teams in late July. Not all of them will be performing great–otherwise, the Yankees would be unlikely to be out of contention–but a number of them could be.

What kind of prospects are we talking about? Below are seven 2010-2012 trade deadline deals that could serve as analogs:

  • Robinson Cano – Mariners trade Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak (BA #13), and Blake Beavan, Matt Lawson, and Josh Lueke, all solid MLB prospects
  • Hiroki Kuroda – Indians trade Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz (BA #30), Alex White (BA #47) and Matt Mcbride and Joe Gardner (Both unranked, but solid MLB prospects)
  • Curtis Granderson – Cardinals trade Carlos Beltran for Zach Wheeler (BA #35)
  • Kevin Youkilis – Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis for Ethan Martni (BA #80)
  • Travis Hafner – Phillies trade Jim Thome for Kyle Simon (decent prospect)
  • Boone Logan – Pirates trade Javier Lopez for Joe Martinez and John Bowker, both fringe players.
  • Phil Hughes – Cubs trade Paul Malholm to the Braves for Arodys Vizcaino (BA #83)

It seems highly plausible that the Yankees could pull off some kind of hall that looks like the following at the trade deadline: Justin Smoak, Zach Wheeler, Joe Martinez, and Ethan Martni, at the trade deadline, plus a few other pieces.

The point isn’t that the Yankees can pull off this entire prospect haul or that these trades are perfectly equivalent, but that they have a ton of valuable ammunition at the trade deadline. Under the best case scenario, the Yankees could infuse a lot of life into their farm system, easily doubling their number of top-100 prospects. Every single player listed is a free agent, and does not affect the team past 2013. The cost includes a couple of compensation draft picks as well.
The Yankees would enter the off season with one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, and could potentially pull off some significant trades for talent, or roll the dice on a group of new young stars. They’ll be better set up over the next 3-4 years than they otherwise would have been.

Here’s the problem: the presence of the 2nd Wild Card slot makes contention status less clear. Its tempting to use it as an excuse to never give up hope that a strong performance in the last two months of the season will propel a team to an unlikely playoff spot. But this is a dangerous thing to have around. Good teams need to go through a rebuilding cycle at some point. The Yankees were never immune to this, and are significantly less sheltered from it than in past years due to the new CBA soft cap, huge legacy contracts on the books, and a general trend toward higher payrolls and fewer players reaching free agency around the league.

The Yankees face a medium term trade off that every other aging contender faces: maximize your shot at the playoff this year, or sell off and increase your chances of a quick rebuild next year? If the Yankees are winning, this is a pretty easy question to answer: go for the playoff dice roll. But if the playoffs look unlikely (I’ll peg it at a 15% chance or less in late July), they should bite the bullet and maximize what they can get.

Briefly discussing the internal options to replace Curtis Granderson

With Curtis Granderson down and out for ten weeks or so, the Yankees have a hole in left field. No injury can have an upside though there can be silver linings. “Luckily,” a lot of Granderson’s rehab time will be taken up by Spring Training and he’ll be back in early May. But on that not-so-lucky side, since it’s Spring Training, the market for outfielders is pretty thin and obviously, the timing isn’t great. There are, however, some internal options.

Though it should be obvious, let’s just cross of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. Ramon Flores, who’s on the 40-man roster and whose star seems to be rising, should be discounted because of the fact that he’s so young (he’ll turn 21 next month). That leaves us with Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa. For brief rundowns of those two, check out this post from Yanks Go Yard.

To add to it, the Yankees have expressed excitement about Almonte. That article, in which Brian Cashman says he wouldn’t want to use a young guy as a bench outfielder, was written before Curtis Granderson’s injury. With Granderson out, though, there’s a starting spot open. What could give Almonte an edge is that he is a switch hitter. What’s more, Almonte seems to be a better hitter as a lefty batter. In 2012, Almonte crushed righties to the tune of .303/.349/.542 with 17 homers. For his career, Almonte has a line of .286/.345/.497/.842 against righties. His career line of .268/.323/.440/.763 against lefties isn’t terrible, but the line against righties is more encouraging and hints that he could handle the heavy side of a platoon.

On the other hand, there’s Melky Mesa. Mesa, who just turned 26 in January, has a ton of minor league experience and finally got a crack at the Majors last year. He’s a speedy and powerful right handed hitter who also has a bit of a hole in his swing. As a righty, we’d expect him to fill the light side of a platoon if he were on the big league team, but for his career, Mesa actually has a reverse platoon split: His OPS vs. LHP is .642 and his OPS vs. RHP is .808. And with his power/speed combo–and reportedly good defense–he could be the most logical replacement for Granderson since he offers some of the same tools.

If the Yankees go internal by using their minor leaguers as a Granderson replacement, they’ll need to make sure that the player they pick gets a lot of playing time, especially if it’s Almonte. As Cashman said, it’s not good for the player or the team if a young guy sits on the bench. If I had a choice, I’d go with Almonte. But if I know the Yankees, I think they’ll go with Mesa’s tools and experience before going to Zoilo.

Quick hit: Today’s Yankees-Phillies game may be up in the air

According to Eric Boland of Newsday:

A pounding rain here in the Tampa area. Yankees buses aren’t scheduled to leave for Clearwater until 11:15. Game still up in the air.

Damn that iffy Florida weather.

If the game does go on as scheduled, here are the backups and relievers:

And one of the best things I read this morning also comes from the Lohud Yankee blog. When Joe Girardi was asked why he didn’t insert Ichiro into the leadoff spot, he said, “I don’t know. I just put him second.”

Well, okay then.

UPDATE at 11:11a:Joba Chamberlain just posted a link to a video which shows just how lovely it is in Florida this morning.

Time To Trade For An Outfielder

There’s a lot to say about this year’s offseason, but most of it is far from positive. The Yankee front office typically aims for a 95 to 100 win team, but this year it looks like they may barely get to 90. Will it be enough? We won’t know until the season is over, but no AL East team looks exceptionally good. Even with the current roster, most reports have the Blue Jays or the Yankees as favorites.


The Yankees usually go above and beyond to put together a team that’ll leave the rest of the division far behind them, but they’ll lose $20+ million in payroll in 2014, and they have filled a lineup with one year deals and minor league gambles in preparation.  To replace Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Wilson, Shawn Kelley, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz. Needless to say, the front office has brought in some disappointing replacements.

Now with Curtis Granderson out for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees have no major league third outfielder on their 40 man roster. The three outfielders outside of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ramon Flores. Of these three, only Mesa has played above Double-A, where he hit .230/.271/.524 in 133 plate appearances. Though the outfielder has some pop, he is awful at drawing walks, and last year in Triple-A he struck out 43 times next to his 7 walks.

There are also outfield options on minor league deals that could make the team. As I mentioned earlier, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are available, have some upside, though both couldn’t crack an on base percentage higher than .290 in 2012, and their slugging was equally awful.

I haven’t heard much about him from the media, but perhaps the highest upside player is Thomas Neal. Through the Giants farm system, Neal was a highly touted prospect up until he reached Double-A. In 2009, the right-hander hit 22 home runs and batted .337/.431/.579, but followed that up with a less than inspiring 2010 where he hit .291/.359/.440. In 2011, Neal was probably sent to Triple-A prematurely, and then traded to the Indians after a mediocre season. In 2012, Neal rebounded in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs. Most impressive from the outfielder was his patience at the plate, where he took 46 walks to his 71 strikeouts.

At 25 years old this season, Neal is probably the most mature and best fit of the young guys, assuming the Yankees are willing to move him to the 40 man roster. However, the team needs to continue to look for another viable outfielder. With Granderson breaking his arm, Gardner out for nearly all of last season, and Ichiro 39 years old, the amount of games these three can stay on the field for is a big question. The Yankees really should have a decent fourth outfielder with such risky players.

Even before the Granderson injury, Cashman was still looking for another right-handed outfielder, though the rumors had stopped as of late. Now he has little choice but to start adding depth to this outfield. The team doesn’t need to add a Giancarlo Stanton or even Alfonso Soriano, but a young outfielder like Casper Wells or Tyler Colvin should be able to step in and play replacement level ball or better. With only two major league outfielders on the team, and hardly any reasonable choices for a third or fourth, a trade is overdue.

Tuesday morning Yankees notes: 2/26/12

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, Februrary 26, 2012 and the Yankees already have their first oblique injury of 2013. This year’s lucky player is Kevin Youkilis who was scratched from today’s lineup. He will be evaluated in a few days. Hopefully it’s not a serious injury and that it won’t linger.

From Bryan Hoch of MLB.comYoukilis says the “injury” was just a cramp yesterday. Could play today with no problem, but Yankees being cautious. “No concerns,” he said.

I mentioned this last night but Johnny Damon is really lobbying to help the Yankees. So much so that I even saw the headline on the WABC 7 ticker during Good Morning America. He appeared on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show yesterday:

“You guys know that I would have tons of interest to go to New York,” Damon told Kay and co-host Don LaGreca. “But I just don’t think they would be interested. I’m not exactly sure what happened over the years or something. They have had plenty of opportunities and I kept raising my hand, wanting to go back and, you know, hopefully it would be a perfect fit. It always had been. Have me for six weeks and then send me off on my merry way. That’s fine.”

Johnny, what happened was you got older and your skills diminished. The Yankees already have enough older players on their team so don’t take it personally. You had your time here but it’s over.

Here’s today’s lineup for the game in Clearwater against the Phillies:

Nunez 6
Ichiro 9
Cano 4
Teixeira 3
Hafner DH
Diaz 7
Mesa 8
Wilson 2
Maruszak 5

Ramirez RHP

The upcoming starters for the Yankees this week: Nik Turley tomorrow, and then for Thursday’s split squad affair, David Phelps will pitch at home and Brett Marshall will pitch on the road.

Replacing Granderson

Before Spring Training started, I had made a joke to a friend that the Yankees were going to have to begin shooting a reality show called, “So You Wanna Be A Catcher?” so the three main players competing for the starting catcher position – Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine – could show off their skills. What I didn’t realize is that SYWBAC would have a sister show called “Project Left Fielder,” and that instead of it turning into a showcase for Curtis Granderson to be groomed into an everyday, starting left fielder, it would become a competition for someone else replace him.

Since Granderson suffered a broken forearm during yesterday’s game against Toronto, much has been written about what the Yankees are going to do. Many people have pointed out the lack of depth the team had before Granderson went down and how this injury exposes their weaknesses.

The past 24 hours have also seen a flurry of articles written about how the Yankees should go about replacing Granderson while he recovers from his injury. Some are suggesting the Yankees replace him with one of their OF prospects or one of the guys they acquired this offseason like Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz. It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s only going to be a month, maybe a month and a half of the season so why panic?

Even former Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon, expressed his interest in helping the team while Granderson was on the shelf. But don’t worry, there’s a better chance of the Yankees asking me to replace Granderson than of them asking Damon to step in for him. At least I hope so. You know what? Don’t hold me to that because you never know.

There have also been rumblings of a reunion with former Yankee Alfonso Soriano as a possible Granderson replacement. In fact, people were bringing up his name before Granderson went down. Now, he’s being mentioned even more.

Over at Fangraphs today, Jeff Sullivan examined the many different ways the Yankees could go about replacing Granderson. He goes into great detail about some of the scenarios I just touched upon and from what he writes, things don’t look too promising. But again, Granderson is only supposed to miss a month, maybe a month and a half of the season so it doesn’t have to be a complete disaster but Sullivan does bring up a few solid points.

He points out that the recovery timeline makes it so Granderson will more than likely only miss a fifth of the season – this would include rehab assignments, but for this piece Sullivan is using 41 games as a measuring stick because:

Last year, Mark Teixeira started 121 games, and didn’t start 41 games. The Yankees won 23 of those 41 games, whereas applying the winning percentage in Teixeira’s starts would’ve yielded 24 wins. This doesn’t prove anything, but it’s a point. Perhaps more saliently, the Yankees were 13-11 when Mariano Rivera went down for the year with a major injury. That was said to be devastating, and the Yankees finished 82-56. The Yankees survived the prolonged absence of Rivera, and they should survive the less prolonged absence of Curtis Granderson.

See? That’s not so bad. But the offense is a lot different in 2013 than it was in 2012. You’re not just missing Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, you’re also missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and even Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez to a lesser extent. We also don’t know how Derek Jeter is going to be in the beginning of the season while trying to come back from his ankle surgery.

More from Sullivan on the 41-game equation:

Here’s the super simple math. By various measures, Granderson projects to be worth three or four wins in 2013. The Yankees have a bunch of approximately replacement-level internal options. Take Granderson out for 41 games and the Yankees are down about a win or so. That’s just average, that’s just probability, and in reality the Yankees could struggle far more out of the gate, but at the same time the Yankees could also overachieve because anything’s possible over a fraction of one season. Missing Granderson is only as devastating as missing about one win is devastating.

So it’s not all doom and gloom. Honestly, no one really knows what is going to happen which is why, as cliched as this sounds, the games are played on the field and not on paper. Maybe Kevin Youkilis comes out strong in the beginning of the season. Maybe Mark Teixeira doesn’t have a bad April. Who knows? Robinson Cano could explode and have an unconscious April like Alex Rodriguez did in 2007 and maybe Granderson won’t be missed that much in the lineup.

One guy Sullivan brings up as a possible replacement for Granderson, that a few people have mentioned in passing, is Casper Wells.

Maybe a better option would be Casper Wells, who has years of team control but who isn’t locked into a guaranteed multiyear deal. Wells is a righty outfielder capable of playing all three positions, and he’s basically fighting Jason Bay for a job.

Hmm a righty who can play all three positions and it looks like he may be left to languish in Seattle? Sullivan added:

Wells would be preferable to the Yankees’ other in-house options, and it’s doubtful he would cost a premium prospect. He seems to me like a good compromise between overreacting to the injury and underreacting to the injury. Though the Yankees don’t stand to be crippled, they do stand to be hurt, and Wells could help out in the short-term while sticking around for a while as quality depth.

Now, of course, availability and cost are a big factor in this and GM Brian Cashman seems to be in favor of the “fill in from within” mantra that he is also practicing with the starting catching position. As long as the Yankees don’t do something crazy and as long as Granderson recovers on time and comes back 100%, I think they’ll be fine.

Happy 50th Birthday, Paul O’Neill!

Today is Paul O’Neill’s 50th birthday, I know, I can’t believe it either and to honor him, I thought I’d post the video that would make anyone cry: It’s the infamous “Paul O’Neill” chant that erupted during the top of the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2001 World Series.

Yankee fans knew that game would be the last time they’d see O’Neill in a home uniform, in Yankee Stadium and the result is truly amazing. Even Joe Buck was astonished by what the New York fans did that night.

Spring Training Game Three: Orioles 5, Yankees 1

The Yankees fell to 1-2 in Grapefruit League play thanks to a 5-1 loss to the Orioles.

I don’t think anyone was expecting the Yankees to win this one. It was a road game early in Spring Training and the only regular to make the trip was Brett Gardner. Speaking of Gardner, he was 3-3 on the day. Jayson Nix was the only other Yankee with more than one hit – he finished 2-3. The team had eight hits on the day.

Their lone run was scored in the top of the ninth inning when shortstop Walter Ibarra hit a single that scored Corban Joseph. It was the Yankees’ first run since Saturday afternoon’s win against the Braves.

The Orioles played most of their regulars and a few of them contributed to the win. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth all had RBI and Russ Canzler, who was designated for assignment by the Yankees earlier this winter drove in Baltimore’s last run in the bottom of the 6th inning. Brian Matusz earned the Spring Training win and Vidal Nuno picked up the loss for the Yankees.

The Yankees will take on the Phillies tomorrow afternoon at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

An outfield made of glass?

Yankee spring training has gotten off to a rough start. By now everyone knows that Curtis Granderson will be out until early May with a fractured forearm. That’s a huge loss for the Yankees. Granderson’s 2012 may have paled in comparison to his 2011, but he’s still a critical bat in the Yankee lineup. His absence will be felt immediately.

The most glaring weakness that comes from Curtis’ injury is the loss of power. Granderson’s OBP may be inconsistent, but he’s managed 40+ homers each of the past few seasons. That’s production I’d rather have on the team than on the bench. The Yankees don’t have any substitute on a lineup that was already missing a lot of pop due to injury or players leaving.

But this also means that the Yankees are that much more dependent upon Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to stay healthy. That’s no small order. Gardner has been injury prone his entire career. Suzuki is 39 years old. The odds that either of them goes down with an injury, leaving the Yankees with not one but two injured starters in the outfield, is not insignificant.

All of this demonstrates just how little room to maneuver the team has under the new austerity budget. As recently as 2012 the Yankees could turn to Raul Ibanez to step in for Curtis and give the team some power while playing the outfield (badly). This year there is no clear internal replacement. Instead, the Yankees will have to hope Curtis suffers no setbacks in his recovery and that Gardner and Ichiro remain healthy. It’s becoming increasingly clear that 2013 will be one of the more interesting, and potentially frustrating, Yankee seasons in recent memory.