Why The Yankees Should Not Extend Robinson Cano

The Yankees seem to be quietly negotiating with Robinson Cano for a long term contract extension. This is a mistake. I’m not against a Cano extension per se, but I am against a Cano extension, which let’s say will cost something like 8 years / $200 million, before the end of the 2013 season.

I don’t doubt that Cano will hit very well this season, be an MVP candidate, and project to be a strong player for at least the medium term. However, the Yankees do not have sufficient information yet to determine whether or not they can afford to sign him to that kind of mega deal. They need two very key sets of information: First, how do Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez play in 2013? And second, how does the Yankee farm system collectively perform?

The former is important because it will reveal a lot about how the Yankees can expect their assets to perform over the next few years. Under the best case scenario, Teixeira returns to 5+ WAR, very-good-for-a-first-baseman form, CC Sabathia is himself, and Alex Rodriguez proves he can be a productive player post surgery. In this case, resigning Cano makes sense. The Yankee roster is in good health, and won’t need many high-priced additions other than Cano in order to compete. And should Cano’s career take a quick turn for the worst, they won’t immediately have four zombie contracts, just one.

But under the worst case scenario? Teixeira continues to slide into mediocrity, Sabathia’s arm continues to show its career workload, and the Yankees fail to get out from under Alex Rodriguez’s contract in the middle of a truly terrible performance. All of the sudden, the Yankees’ $189 million salary cap starts looking more like $100 million, plus three albatross contracts, without a ton of hope on the roster. At that point, the Yankees need to start thinking about a medium-term strategy that looks a lot more like a rebuilding mid-market club than a traditional Yankee offseason. Cano’s contract becomes a deadly risk, where the Yankees are one injury to their star 2nd baseman away from a majority-zombie payroll.

Just as important will be progress on the farm system. If things go well in 2013–meaning Gary Sanchez and two of the outfield crop continue to be great prospects and move up the ranks, Adams and/or Joseph start looking like a Cano backup plan and there is some pitching good news from Hensley, Campos, Ramirez, and Montgomery–the Yankees will have a lot of 2014 options. They can plan a roster with or without Cano based on this extra information. Michael Pineda is also in this category.

Again, I’d argue that good news here makes it easier to sign Cano to a huge contract. If you are more confident that the Yankees can count on the farm for 2-3 lineup spots and a pitcher or two, plus Michael Pineda, they know that they will need fewer dollars allocated to sign mid-level free agents to fill the roster out. They’ll have a fairly robust roster even while concentrating their payroll in fewer and fewer players. If there is more bad news on the farm, you start having to spread the free agent dollars out to more positions, instead of spending it all on Cano.

And let’s be honest: is there any real benefit to locking Cano up early? He is unlikely to give the Yankees much, if any, discount. If anything, Brian Cashman has shown that he tends to get screwed when negotiating against his own stars and no other team. I can’t imagine that even an MVP-caliber repeat of 2012 would change his asking much. The smart decision is to wait and see, and then possibly make an offer to Cano in November, or let him walk.

Yankees have four players on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List

Baseball America released its 100 Top Prospects list and four Yankees make an appearance on the list. None of the names are surprising but their postions in the list might be. None of them are in the Top 30 – the highest prospect appears at #32. The number one prospect on BA’s list is Jurickson Profar, a highly touted SS/2B in the Texas Rangers organization.

The Yankees on the list are:

OF Mason Williams at #32
C Gary Sanchez at #57
OF Slade Heathcott at #63
OF Tyler Austin at #77

Last year, the Yankees had four players on the list as well, with Manny Banuelos named the highest ranked Yankee prospect, appearing at #29 on the list. Banuelos is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. Another player not appearing on this year’s list is Dellin Betances who was slotted into #63 on 2012’s list.

Betances was also the victim of a very disappointing 2012. His problems were not injury-related like Banuelos, they were mainly were performance related. He split his time with the Empire State Yankees and Double A Trenton and finished the year with a 6-9 record with a 6.44 ERA.

Sanchez and Williams also appeared on last year’s list at #81 and #85 respectively.

Quick Hit: Hughes out for a few days with a back injury

Thanks to a flurry of tweets from the writers down in Tampa, we now know that Phil Hughes hurt his back while fielding a grounder in PFP. The diagnosis, so far, is a stiff upper back and manager Joe Girardi said Hughes was seen by a doctor but wasn’t sure if any tests were taken. He will be out a few days barring any setbacks.

In other camp news, David Phelps will be starting the Yankees’ first Spring Training game on Saturday with Adam Warren starting Sunday’s game which is the first televised Spring Training game.

Jorge Posada on Cervelli, Romine and the starting catching competition

Jorge Posada, who was invited to be a guest instructor at Yankees’ camp this Spring, hasn’t appeared in Tampa yet but he talked some baseball this morning with Jim Memelo and Jeff Nelson of Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio.

Among the topics discussed: Mariano Rivera‘s comeback, Kevin Youkilis as a Yankee, Derek Jeter‘s return from ankle surgery and most importantly, at least in my opinion, the Yankees’ current catching situation.

Posada knows a lot about catching for the New York Yankees so his perspective is certainly more welcomed than someone who never played the position. On the competition itself, Posada said, “Obviously whoever has the best spring is going to start. That probably changes throughout the year. We’ve got three young catchers and we’re going to hopefully look forward to seeing them compete. This is what baseball is all about. You don’t get the job, you earn the job. I think it’s going to be good.”

He also had something to say about Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine – two of the contestants in the Yankees’ version of “So You Want To Be A Starting Catcher”: “Cervelli, very energetic, very athletic, very quick behind the plate. He has a good arm. He’s a lot more mature now so I think it’s perfect timing for him right now. Romine, obviously a little younger, smart kid behind the plate. We like him very much but they don’t want to rush him, so we’ll see. He’s got a shot too. We’ll see what happens in the spring.”

I’m not so sure about the great arm thing in regards to Cervelli unless “great arm” is code for “able to throw the ball into centerfield with ease.” I seem to recall that sort of thing happening a few times with Cervelli behind the plate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not as anti-Francisco Cervelli as some people in the baseball blogosphere or Yankees Twitterverse but he doesn’t exactly make me confident when he’s behind the plate. to his credit, Cervelli opted out of playing in the World Baseball Classic in order to fight for the starting catcher job so he’s taking things very seriously and it will be interesting to see how he does.

As for Romine, the main concern with him, is his health. He’s had back issues and missed the majority of the 2012 season with injuries. If he can remain healthy this Spring – and he was able to stay healthy while playing the Arizona Fall League late last year – he has a good chance of making some waves and giving the Yankees coaching staff something to think about. Another factor with Romine is his age and lack of Major League experience. Cervelli has caught some of the guys in the starting rotation in the past so the edge could be given to him for that reason.

Sometimes a competition brings out the best in players and Posada didn’t even address Chris Stewart who is the third player in this equation. It’ll be interesting to see how the guys respond to the scrutiny they receive this Spring because there will no doubt, be article after article dissecting this starting catching competition and hopefully the attention won’t turn into a negative for any of the players involved.

And may the best man win.


The Jeter/Nunez/Shortstop Conundrum

Brace yourselves, folks. I may say something nice about Eduardo Nunez in this post.

Derek Jeter has a plate and screws in his ankle. Derek Jeter is turning 39 in June. Derek Jeter is a Major League shortstop. The first two things listed do not bode well for the third. Regardless of what you think of Derek Jeter’s defense at the game’s most important position, we can all probably agree that this year will be a trying one for the Captain in the field. Most normal 39 year olds aren’t so hot at short, let alone dudes with a plate and screws in their ankles. We would expect to-be-26 year olds (Eddie and I are birthday twins, sharing June 15, 1987) to be better fielders. However, when that to-be-26 year old is Eduardo Nunez, the certainty isn’t there. Regardless, though, we’re sure to see Nunez at short plenty in 2013.

Joe Girardi has never been shy about resting players and I don’t think he’ll start doing it, even with Derek “I’m fine” Jeter. What helps the situation is that the Yankees’ vs. LHP situation is still a bit fluid. Juan Rivera is probably the early favorite to go into the season as the DH against lefties, so that may limit the time Jeter could get at DH. If they want to, the Yankees could put Rivera in the outfield with either Brett Gardner or Ichirio Suzuki sitting. That would potentially put Jeter at DH and Nunez, uncomfortably, at short.

In limited time–202 PA–Nunez has been effective against lefties. He’s hit .298/.332/.436 against them, good for a .333 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. That makes me a little more comfortable with giving him semi-regular playing time. His fielding is likely to be a disaster. Perhaps just sticking at one position will help him, but I’m not going to hold my breath. He hasn’t been a solid fielder for how long now? I highly doubt he’s going to turn it around all of a sudden. Still, it’s worth noting that the playing time he could potentially have will be rather limited. That, in turn, means limited opportunities to make an error or a slip up in the field. If it saves Derek Jeter for later in the season, I’m more or less in support of Eddie getting a handful of starts at short against lefties while Derek DHs early in the season.

As an aside, I want to nip in the bud any ideas of Eduardo Nunez moving into the outfield. He’s a shaky fielder at a position he’s fielded all his life, but somehow, learning a new position that requires an entirely different skill set at the Major League level will be successful? I’m not buying that at all. Nunez, through no fault of his own, probably doesn’t know how to properly read an outfield fly ball or how to approach a ball on the ground that he needs to throw in to a cutoff man. Hell, the dude has problems setting and fielding a grounder like an infielder. Do we really expect him to charge a ball, get his glove hand/foot in sync, and come up in a crow hop effectively? I’m definitely not buying this. I’m not a big believer in Nunez at all, but that isn’t to say he’s worthless to the team or can’t fit as a useful piece. If he can somehow avoid myriad errors and still hit lefty pitching, he can contribute.

Regression In 2013: Hiroki Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda was an undervalued free agent last year, and when the Yankees picked him up on a one year deal, a lot of us fans realized the type of potential he had. Even with high hopes on Kuroda, understanding how his 3.07 ERA would fare in the AL East and Yankee Stadium was a difficult task. Add his ERA/FIP differential and age into the analysis, and it was hard to analyze how the starter would perform in 2012. The consensus on Kuroda in pinstripes was a decent number two or great number three, but not many expected him to approach CC Sabathia‘s level of production. By October, Kuroda came within .9 wins of the southpaw’s 2012 fWAR, and made 5 more games than the ace.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Despite how well Kuroda pitched in 2011, he should not have pitched as well in 2012. As I mentioned, his ERA/FIP differential was fairly large (3.07 ERA v. 3.78 FIP), Dodger’s Stadium and most of the NL West stadiums were very pitcher friendly, and he was 37 years old. Likewise, his left on base percentage was 80% in 2011, more than 10% higher than his previous three seasons. So how did Kuroda pitch so effectively in 2012?

If you look at the PITCHf/x data, the right-hander had much better movement on his pitches last season. His four-seam fastball had an additional inch of movement horizontally, and two inches of additional rising action. The sinker also had around an inch more vertical movement, with half an inch more movement into right-handed hitters. His slider and splitter showed similar improvements in movement, while velocity remained the same across-the-board. It’s an odd development for a 37 year, but the Yankees did some tinkering with him all season.

In the first month and a half of 2012, Kuroda pitched 48.0 innings with a 4.50 ERA, and hitters were batting .277/.338/.473 off of him. After a start where he gave up 7 runs to the Blue Jays on May 16th, it appears that the Yankees moved his release point slightly closer to the center of the mound, and after that he pitched to a 2.99 ERA in the rest of his 25 starts. In the image below, the release points from the beginning of the season to May 16th is in black, while the release points from May 21st through October remain in color.

There were some clear changes to Kuroda’s pitches that likely helped him have a better season than 2011. Going forward, Kuroda should be a similar pitcher to what he showed with the Yankees last year, but that’s doesn’t necessarily mean a repeat of his previous year. Again in 2012, his ERA/FIP differential was significant, (3.32 ERA v. 3.86 FIP) and his left on base percentage was 5% higher than his career 72.7%. This isn’t to say that Kuroda will necessarily regress from these factors in 2013, but a high FIP and LOB% can essentially be signs of luck.

The other side of regression is age related. Kuroda is 38 years old in 2013, he’s thrown over 600 innings over the last three years, and history hasn’t been kind to aging pitchers with high innings counts. The starter still lives off a hard sinker, and if the velocity begins to regress, or movement starts to slip, things can fall apart quickly.

Overall, his success in 2012 was likely not a fluke, changes made to his approach gave him better movement, but age regression is something that catches up to everyone. At 38 years old, Kuroda has a good chance of maintaining his stuff, but when you add in his LOB% and possible fielding luck, chances are his ERA will come closer to his 2012 3.86 FIP than his 3.32 ERA. Some slight regression is in order for Kuroda in 2013.

Some IIATMS changes

Good afternoon, all. For the last two years, my work schedule has prevented me from taking the same active, day-to-day role in contributing to this site. While this hasn’t been easy for me, since I truly love and miss the regular writing and interacting with all of you, it has been easier thanks to Brien Jackson’s diligence and persistence. Handling the day-in, day-out role of running a site like this is not easy and Brien has done a great job in my absence.

Recently, Brien let me know he would not be able to run another season at the helm of this ship for a few reasons, all of them perfectly legitimate and understandable. Brien has indicated that he will continue to contribute as he’s able but not at the pace of the last two years. Thank you, Brien, for your unrelenting drive and desire to keep IIATMS a major Yankees news, info, commentary destination.

Of course, Brien stepping aside left me with one of two choices, and only one was a good one. Thankfully, that’s the direction I’m thrilled to share today. Stacey Gotsulias, who came aboard last year as a contributor, has agreed to step in and assume command of IIATMS. She’s done a great job so far and I have zero concerns about her running things going forward. I couldn’t be happier her accepting this challenge.

Please join me in officially welcoming Stacey as our new lead voice and writer here. I’ve got a few ideas for her, but really, we want to know what you guys want more/less of at IIATMS. Suggestions and comments are welcome below.

For those not yet following Stacey on Twitter: @stacegots

Quote of the Day: Ichiro Suzuki

I really like Ichiro Suzuki. He seems to have a pretty great sense of humor and also doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Case in point: He showed up to camp yesterday in a glittery NYY cap. Of course, there were no pictures of the hat because pictures are not allowed in the clubhouse but nearly every beat writer in Tampa mentioned the cap’s existence on Twitter.

Here’s another reason why I like Ichiro: His hilarious quotes. When talking about the captain Derek Jeter, he had this to say to reporters earlier today, “Jeter was not the eater the media portrayed him to be. That was good to see.”

So now we know that Ichiro reads the New York papers during the offseason. I am really looking forward to a full season of Ichiro quotes. He’s definitely going to make every writer’s job a little easier.