Thursday, February 27, 2014

Yankees Spring Home Opener

Brett Gardner LF
Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Brian Roberts 2B
Francisco Cervelli C
Kelly Johnson 3B
Austin Romine DH
Russ Canzler 1B
Mason Williams CF

SP: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Charlie Morton

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gardner, Yankees Agree to Extension

After what I believe was too long of a wait for a player of Gardner's caliber, the Yankees and Brett Gardner have agreed to a contract extension that will keep Brett Gardner in pinstripes until 2018. The two sides settled that the extension would go into effect after the 2014 season. This season the Yankees and Gardner avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one year deal that will pay him $5.6 million. In each of the four years after 2014, the corner outfielder will make $12.5 million per year, a raise of more than two times what Gardner is slated to make in 2014. The extension does not come with a no-trade clause, and in the case that Gardner is traded he will make a $1 million bonus. The deal could possibly span five years if the Yankees pick up an option for the 2019 season, which if exercised will have Gardner making another $12.5 million in his age 35 season.

The contract is a win for the Yankees, who figure that compared to Ellsbury, Gardner's contract is team friendly and the Yankees will get similar production from both players. In addition, having the pair patrol the outfield for possibly six seasons means the Yankees will have some of the best outfield defense in baseball. However, upon signing Gardner realizes that he will spend the rest of his Yankee days playing LF/RF. He will see time in center field only when Ellsbury is injured or needs a day off. Gardner is a durable player who embodies the grittiness that the Yankees were once known for. Before his minor injury that sidelined him for the Yankees final two weeks, Gardner set career highs in many categories including hits (147), RBI (52), doubles (33), triples (10) and home runs (8).

In addition, after announcing the deal, Gardner reiterated that he wants to be a Yankee for life, and that he has no desire to play for another team. The Yankees are the only team Gardner has ever known besides playing baseball in college as a walk-on, who did not get much consideration. Now, Gardner is an asset on the Yankees and management loves him and his skills on the bases and in the outfield. Cashman would not trade Gardner for Brandon Phillips earlier in the off-season, and we now know why.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Player Assessment: Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury was by far the most unexpected signing of the Yankees off-season splash. Ellsbury was the first in what was a week of signings galore for the Yankees, where they quickly followed the Ellsbury signing with the Carlos Beltran announcement. On the scale of off-season needs for the Yankees, Ellsbury was probably near the bottom but felt that they needed a player like Jacoby to bring fans into the seats. I personally do not believe Ellsbury has much drawing power but is plays as dynamically as he did in Boston he will be a crowd favorite despite coming over from the dark side. The Yankees fans have a rich history of embracing former Boston players; whether it be Johnny Damon or Wade Boggs. Almost each Red Sox turned Yankee loved their tenure in pinstripes after playing for the Yankees' long-time rivals.

The Yankees signed Ellsbury to a seven-year deal worth $153 million which brings his yearly salary to almost $22 million, far more than he is worth if you go based on every year that isn't 2011. In 2011, Ellsbury had a year in which he led the Red Sox in almost every meaningful offensive category, coming in second in the MVP voting to Justin Verlander who had a historic year for the Tigers that same season. In 2011, Ellsbury had 32 home runs, drove in 105 runners and hit an incredible .321. Every year other than 2011, Ellsbury has been strictly a speed guy, stealing anywhere from 50 to 70 bases when healthy. However, the operative word in the last sentence is healthy. Jacoby needs to prove that he can be a durable player. The Yankees are paying him to be gritty and pesky, but if he can't stay on the field for more than 100 games per season the contract will be a huge bust for the money he is owed through 2020.

The Yankees signed Ellsbury to play center field for them, with Gardner waiting in the wings if something were to happen to Jacoby. Ellsbury and Gardner together in the outfield is an opposing hitter's nightmare, as the pair will act as vacuums catching everything hit in their direction, poised for some highlight reel catches and plays. If Ellsbury can hit 15 home runs while maintaining a .300 average and stealing 50 bases the Yankees will consider the signing a huge success. If Ellsbury repeats what he did for Boston in 2011, this will be a steal for the Yankees, even at almost $22 million per year. Again, if he stays healthy he is one of the most dynamic players in baseball, and will also serve as a pitcher's nightmare especially if he and Gardner are hitting back-to-back in the lineup with Ellsbury leading off the game for the Yankees. In addition, his power should translate well to the short porch in right because Yankee Stadium is conducive to lefty hitters whereas Fenway Park was nicer to right handed power. Ellsbury has always been in the thorn in the side of Yankees pitching over the years, so it will be glorious watching him do the same thing for the Yankees instead of against them.

My predictions for Jacoby Ellsbury in 2014: .298 AVG, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 52 SB

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Derek Jeter to Retire

After five world series championships, a rookie of the year award, over 3,000 hits, countless gold gloves and thirteen All-Star Game selections, the captain of the New York Yankees since 2003 will be hanging up his uniform at the conclusion of the 2014 season, whether it be against the Red Sox at Fenway at the end of the regular season, or hoisting the World Series Championship trophy in the October night. Dererk Jeter has been the most iconic Yankee of his generation, the catalyst of five world titles and an infinite number of intangible moments. From his Mr. November home run, to the flip play to throw Jason Giambi out at the plate, to getting his 3,000th hit in dramatic fashion off David Price on a steamy July day in 2011. Jeter has given a generation of Yankees fans something to look forward to when they come to the ballpark, as well as giving many children dreams of playing in Major League Baseball with a number 2 stitched to their backs. Through it all, Derek Jeter has been the definition of class and winning.

The New York Yankees will never be the same after the 2014 season, as the last member of the dynasty era of the late 1990's will call it a career. In addition, the final member of the Core 4 will no longer be on the field as Jorge Posada went first following the 2011 season, followed by Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte after 2013. These Yankees will all have their numbers retired, and there will never be another player in a Yankees uniform with the number 2 on the back of it. Jeter is the right man to have the last single-digit Yankee number as he has been deserving of it through all of his achievements and accomplishments. Through it all, Jeter has maintained a level of class that is unmatched by anyone except for maybe Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams.

As we all watch the last of Derek Jeter on the field, we need to take in the greatness, as we will one day be telling our children that we saw Derek Jeter play, just as our parents saw Mickey Mantle play or their parents saw Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play in Yankee Stadium. Jeter is our generation's version of those players and there may not be another man who is as honorable and as loyal of a Yankee as Jeter is in our lifetime.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Player Analysis: Corner Outfielders

This post will cover the most players in one sitting because the Yankees have three corner outfield player possibilities for two spots. Just for the record, I will be assuming that Ichiro will be on the bench to start the year as his numbers took a turn for the worse last year and because the Yankees have three expensive players they need to play in the corner outfield positions; and even then one of the three players will need to sit or be the designated hitter in some games.
I will start with the Yankees newest corner outfielder, Carlos Beltran. Beltran spent the last two years with the St. Louis Cardinals and put up gaudy numbers with the National League Central contenders in each of the two seasons he spent with them. Beltran was signed to a three year/$45 million contract prior to this season which will be his final contract that will take him up to his age 39 season. Presumably, Carlos Beltran will retire as a Yankee given his advanced age and clear indication that he intends on this being his final deal. Beltran comes to the Yankees with borderline Hall of Fame statistics over the course of his career, with a lifetime .283 average and 358 home runs and his postseason numbers challenge Babe Ruth as the greatest of all time with a .333 batting average in 51 games with 16 home runs and an outstanding .445 OBP. Beltran is a switch-hitter who provides the Yankees with power from both sides of the plate; particularly the right side. The Yankees were in desperate need of a right handed power hitter last year, and Beltran's home run rate per plate appearance from the right side gives the Yankees just what they need with Alex Rodriguez suspended for the year.

Carlos Beltran is also a superior defender in the outfield. He isn't as quick to the ball as he used to be, as proven by his -1.5 defensive WAR for the 2013 season. He used to be a threat to steal on the base paths but given his injuries in recent years, the Yankees are looking for him to be more of a power threat than a speedster on the bases.

In stark contrast to Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner will likely be the Yankees every-day left fielder. Gardner played most of the 2013 season in center field, which is the position that is most natural to him. The 30 year old is one of the fastest players in baseball and he is a superior defender in the outfield, with his ability to make highlight reel catches in left and in center. Gardner's offense has come a long way over the last three seasons. The speedster makes the most of his hits. Out of his 147 hits in 2013, 51 of them were for extra bases with 33 doubles and a league leading 10 triples. Gardner did not steal as many bases in 2013, but if he were less selective he could easily have 50 stolen bases, which he has proven he can do in 2010 and 2011. 2012 was a lost year for Gardner who had a persistent injury all year in his elbow but came back in 2013 and played in 145 games before ending the season on the bench because of an oblique injury. Gardner will be a dynamic player regardless of where he plays this season before entering free agency where he will make bank given all of his offensive skills. The desire other teams have for Gardner can be proven by the Reds willingness to trade Brandon Phillips for Brett Gardner, straight-up earlier in the off season.

Lastly, Alfonso Soriano will see time in left field and will DH a handful of times to allow Beltran to take a tun in the outfield. Soriano came to the Yankees in a trade with the Cubs in July of last year. Soriano almost propelled the Yankees to the playoffs after a monstrous week in August where he batted .484 with five homers, a double and 18 RBI in a single week! Soriano is an offensive force for the Yankees and actually made every single catch he needed to make with a couple of homer saving catches mixed in toward the end of the season. For Soriano, he became more comfortable when the summer was at its hottest in the dog days of August and September. Soriano will likely be the Yankees primary DH when they aren't giving Carlos Beltran or Derek Jeter a half day off in a day game after a night game.
This will be the Yankees most dynamic outfield since the glory days of the 1990's with Jacoby Ellsbury patrolling center field with Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano sharing left field and Carlos Beltran playing right. The Yankees will have no problems keeping their outfield numbers high assuming their players stay healthy, which can be a question mark with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who have had their share of injuries that have kept them on the DL for a substantial number of games in the past.

My predictions for Carlos Beltran in 2014: .290 BA, .345 OBP, 26 HR, 97 RBI
My predictions for Brett Gardner in 2014: .288 BA, 375 OBP, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 55 SB
My predictions for Alfonso Soriano in 2014: .250 BA, 31 HR, 93 RBI

Monday, February 3, 2014

Now Batting: Derek Jeter

The Yankees shortstop who goes by the name of Derek Jeter appeared in only parts of 17 games in the Yankees nightmare 2013 season of injuries. The 39 year old Yankees captain first suffered injury in the 2012 postseason against the Tigers in extra innings, but the break in his leg would not completely heal as he was in and out of the lineup in 2013. He made a couple of trips to the disabled list and after a couple of starts following a DL stint, Jeter quickly limped onto the disabled list to finish the season. In last year's assessment of Derek Jeter I was naive about the nature of his injury given his age, what was then 38 going on 39. One year further removed from the initial injury in his leg, Jeter is 39 and before you know it he will be 40 in mid-season.

It is easy to say that Derek will not be a reliable player in 2014 however I believe in Jeter and his ability to know his body by now. He rushed his return in 2013 which is what contributed to his absence. Knowing this, Derek Jeter should be able to learn from this mistake and to assess accordingly in 2014. Jeter has the ability to put up great numbers, as he has proven throughout his nineteen years in the Major Leagues. He has 3,316 hits and can still make solid contact; he even hit a home run in his first at bat against lefty Matt Moore after returning from his second DL stint in 2013. Jeter has the ability, even at 40, to be a consistent player. However, his body is not as quick to heal as it was when he was younger and more durable. Jeter's body has more of a chance to break down after all of the wear and tear over a long baseball career. At age 40, Jeter will be the oldest starting shortstop in Major League Baseball by a wide margin.

Brendan Ryan
Should Jeter's body not hold out the grind of a long season, even with DH days, Girardi has a couple of options in his back pocket. The Yankees signed Brendan Ryan as Jeter insurance following the 2013 season. Ryan is a defensive wiz at the shortstop position however he struggles with the bat. In 17 games with the Yankees in 2013, Ryan hit .220 with two doubles, a home run and only 1 RBI in 59 official at-bats. After some work with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Ryan could fix whatever problems he had that was preventing him from being a productive hitter. If Jeter does not hold up and Ryan is forced to take over the position, the Yankees would be ecstatic if he hit .250.

Girardi's other shortstop option will be Eduardo Nunez, who is a nightmare defensively but is a good line drive hitter. I do believe though, that Nunez will see little to no playing time at short as he may be needed more at third and second base. I do think though, that Nunez's bat and speed on the bases would help the Yankees who find themselves with a few more power hitters again.

Prediction for a healthy Derek Jeter in 2014: .300 AVG, 10 HR, 58 RBI, 180

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Position Assessment: Third Base

Third base, much like second base and almost every other position on the infield, is a huge uncertainty heading into Spring Training which is only 12 days away. With Alex Rodriguez suspended for the entire 2014 season, the Yankees plan right now is for Kelly Johnson to play third base. Johnson is a utility man who spent the 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Johnson is a reliable player who you can depend on to play whatever position he is asked to play, though he primarily plays second base. For the Yankees, Brian Roberts will play second until he is injured, which is a safe bet to make based on Roberts' recent history.

Johnson can platoon with Eduardo Nunez at third base as a right-handed compliment to the third base platoon, which can serve well for the Yankees over the course of a 162 game season where there will be days that players need rest, especially the platoon-type players. The Yankees learned with Eric Chavez that rest is important, and Joe Girardi likes to rest his players regardless of how durable they are. This season in particular will be a challenge coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season where Robinson Cano was the only member of the infield stay healthy for the season.

To conclude, it is difficult to gauge just how well the Yankees third baseman situation stacks up in comparison to other teams in the league, however the uncertainly, along with the low-risk signings could turn out to work well for the Yankees, as it did with several low-risk players they have signed in recent years. My prediction stands that Johnson will share playing time at third base with Eduardo Nunez.

Predictions for Yankees third basemen in 2014: .275 AVG, 17 HR, 65 RBI