New York Yankees' Biggest Winners and Losers of the Offseason so Far
Unlike many New Year's celebrators, the New York Yankees didn't suddenly decide on Jan. 1 to be a better organization, drop some salary-cap weight and reflect on the past year.
Many of us have only recently let go of some sweet 2013 memories, but the Bombers have been muttering "good riddance" to the most recent season since late September—when they finished third in the AL East and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The process of self-betterment is an ongoing one for the Yanks. They haven't quite cleared house, but after two months of the offseason, we've learned that Robinson Cano apparently prefers Seattle's climate to New York's, that Curtis Granderson believes true New Yorkers are New York Mets fans and that some things—like the Yankees' spending habits or Scott Boras—will just never change.
Within the next month, the Yankees could sign Masahiro Tanaka, per a report by Marc Carig of Newsday, and showcase one of the most imposing pitching staffs in MLB. During the same span, the front office may also temporarily transform into a locker-room celebration—champagne and all—if Alex Rodriguez's suspension is upheld.
Having arrived at the midway point between the beginning of the winter months and the Yankees' first of the spring-training games, let's discuss the biggest winners and losers so far this offseason—with an eye to new acquisitions, recent departures, innocent bystanders, fortunate beneficiaries and special recognition to those who continue to find themselves in hot water.
We'll skip the honorable mentions and start out with some "big" winners and losers before progressing to the "bigger" examples and, finally, rounding it out with the "biggest" victors and failures of the offseason so far.
While the offseason is well underway, it is true 2014 has just begun; but if you were hoping to continue reminiscing about the 2013 season—or Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera's retirements and "moment" on the mound—you can probably still catch the relentless reruns on YES Network.
Think there was a bigger winner or loser not mentioned? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts.
'Big' Winners: Newly Signed Infielders
It's almost too easy to call Brian McCann (five years, $85 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million) the Yankees' winners of the offseason so far. They got their money, they got their years and they all did so with at least one red flag or raised eyebrow.
But what's even easier?
Life for Brendan Ryan, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, who are each millionaires in 2014. They each enter the season on short-term deals with little to nothing expected of them. They don't have to fill the shoes of previous All-Star Yankees infielders and, as of Jan. 1, there's even a possibility that at least two of them are Opening Day starters.
The Yankees, in offsetting Cano's offensive production before his second-base glove, have so far made their biggest free-agent acquisitions with a catcher and two outfielders.
Ryan, who re-signed after a late-season stint with the Yankees, and Johnson are insurance for Derek Jeter and A-Rod at worst and stopgap solutions at best. By mid-December, the looming 2014 season apparently caused even greater stress about those solutions for Yanks brass, who decided to additionally sign Roberts while they trek onward in their hunt for a premium infielder.
We can imagine A-Rod missing some time due to the impending decision on his 211-game suspension, and we know that the Yanks have yet to sign a big-name third baseman or promote one from within (though Dean Anna could certainly compete for a spot in the spring).
We know that Jeter is recovering, we are unsure if he will be 100 percent healthy by April and it's painful to picture him starting more than 100 games at shortstop next year. Moreover, they still haven't replaced Cano.
That leaves these three newly signed infielders sitting awfully pretty. Consider Ryan, for example (two years, $4 million), who will be playing his age-32 season: In 104 games in 2013, he slashed a .197/.255/.273 with an abysmal .238 wOBA, terrible 44 wRC+ and minus-0.6 WAR.
Yes, we know Ryan is a solid defender—slightly above-average six DRS and 3.2 UZR/150 in 2013—but that's $2 million next year for a one-way 32-year-old player who might ultimately start more games than Jeter. That's a win for Ryan.
In 2013, Johnson (one year, $3 million) slashed just below his career averages of .235/.305/.410 and had a well-above-average 101 wRC+, but he also struck out 99 times (well-below-average 24.3 K%) and, defensively was slightly below-average (2 DRS, 2.8 UZR). How's $3 million and potentially a starter's job?
The 13-year veteran, two-time All-Star Roberts (one year, $2 million), because of a slew of injuries and concussions hasn't played a full season since 2009 (.283/.356/.451; 16 HR, 30 SB, 109 wRC+, 3.4 WAR).
Between 2010 and 2013, he played 192 games, and in 2013, only 77 games. You don't expect Roberts to even come close to matching career highs (4.8 WAR, for example). But really, the best he could do—along with Ryan and Johnson—is be a pleasant surprise in his age-36 season, while collecting millions in New York.
'Big' Losers: Top 4 Prospects in System
While the three marquee acquisitions have indirectly benefited the crop of newly signed infielders, they have impacted the Yankees' top four organizational prospects in the opposite fashion.
In a recent article, I examined Baseball America's Top 10 Yanks prospects and predicted their respective MLB arrival dates.
The problem is, Nos. 1 and 4, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy, are both catchers, and Nos. 2 and 3, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams, are both outfielders. That doesn't bode particularly well for their big-league roles with the five-year deal for McCann and the seven- and three-year deals for Ellsbury and Beltran.
They're not huge losers, in the sense that they are 21, 22, 23 and 22 with potentially bright futures, barring a trade (or lack of improvement in Murphy's case).
Sanchez and Murphy don't lose out completely because of the fairly wide-open competition for backup catcher come spring training (Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine). Heathcott and Williams aren't necessarily locked in to Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton for the entirety of 2014 either.
But the negatives?
Let's start with the catchers: Unfortunately, we were treated to an ugly major league sample size from Murphy in 2013 (26 AB, .154/.185/.192, 9 SO, 4 H).
Prior to his September call-up, the 2009 second-round pick put up solid numbers in Scranton (230 AB, .270/.342/.430, .304 BABIP, 117 wRC+), but his successful offensive transition is hardly guaranteed, even with his defensive abilities (48 percent caught stealing in 2013 Double-A ball).
It's not that McCann outright prevents him—or Sanchez—from being on the active roster, but his signing certainly is a roadblock to the backup role, which could have been more likely locked down in a spring competition against only Romine, Cervelli and Sanchez.
Sanchez, meanwhile, showed flashes of raw power last season and showed off an incredible arm, but he needs to improve his blocking and footwork and prove he can hit for average. In short, he needs more time in the system.
The picture isn't terrible for Heathcott and Williams, but so far this offseason, the Yankees have acquired two (former) Gold Glove winners with All-Star-caliber bats to dot the outfield and lineup for 2014 and remain for the next few seasons as well.
The Yanks might still give at least one of them—more likely the speedster Heathcott—a shot late in the upcoming season, but the Ellsbury and Beltran signings have demonstrated two things:
One, the Yankees very much intend to win now and not rebuild; two, the Yankees absolutely do not trust their young talent to help them contend in the near future.
'Bigger' Winners: Pitchers Vying for Back End Who Are Still Relevant
Hooray for relevancy!
For the time being, Masahiro Tanaka is not a New York Yankee, and none of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo or Johan Santana have inked multi-million-dollar Bronx deals (and Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are gone, too!).
That's great news for in-house pitchers who have, all offseason to this point, been projected to vie for that No. 4 and/or 5 role. And, with the key words being "so far," Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are all still incredibly...relevant.
In a piece last week, I proposed some blueprints for the Yanks to build a championship rotation should they be without Tanaka's services by Opening Day. One of those rotations—after CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova—included two of these "relevant" back-end arms.
Using Steamer projections, via FanGraphs, for the 2014 season, the blueprint rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda and Phelps wouldn't be too shabby. More importantly, you can hold up this "projected" rotation alongside those of the 2009 Yankees and 2013 Red Sox if you consider that the respective champions each used four primary starters and patched together the fifth during their regular seasons.
Though the projections aren't infallible, here's how their theoretical totals would match up with those four-man championship rotations—if we plug Pineda and Phelps into the Nos. 4 and 5 spots:
|2013 Red Sox||118||735.4||44-36||4.04||11.6|
|2014 Yankees (Projected)||132||793||50-48||4.08||12.8|
Obviously nothing, including the projections, is guaranteed—like Pineda's health, Phelps' improvement or Warren's or Nuno's rise to prominence out of the Spring; but these back-end competitors are very much in an open race at this point.
So far this offseason, they are incredibly opportune—and big-time—winners.
'Bigger' Loser: Eduardo Nunez
The above picture perfectly sums up the woeful Eduardo Nunez—the constant adventure on ground balls hit his way and the utility man who has proven he lacks offensive potency.
Prior to the offseason, there wasn't too much standing in the way of Nunez getting a shot in the spring at a starting infield role.
But Nunez has quickly become the odd man out in this scenario. The 26-year-old has been a Yankee since he was signed in 2004, but he just doesn't fit their plans in 2014—especially not after the Yankees brass proved their mistrust in him by going out and signing three short-term infielders.
"[T]he Yankees do not view Eduardo Nunez as anything more than an emergency possibility at second," the New York Post's Joel Sherman wrote a few weeks ago.
He definitely isn't the biggest loser this offseason, but he is a big one, nonetheless.
A fair amount of these winners and losers, of course, run into their issues or successes with a combination of bad or good luck. As such, you have to admit that Nunez ran into some awful luck in 2013.
Due to Jeter's injury, he was gifted the starting shortstop role on Opening Day—and should have held it for most of the season—but by early May, he ended up on, first, the 15-day and, eventually, the 60-day disabled list. What started as an oblique strain ended up preventing him from fully returning until early July.
He not only missed the opportunity to prove himself in a full season starting in pinstripes—as a true role player—but, when he came back, he ultimately proved himself unworthy.
"They wonder about his toughness/fragility after his slow healing in 2013, and likely are not anxious to have him learn a position in which his back will be to the runner on double-play pivots," added Sherman.
On top of the bad luck, there were his combined team-worst 14 errors in 2013 between shortstop (608.1 innings, 12 E) and third base (120, 2 E); there was also his two DRS at third base and outrageous league-worst minus-28 DRS at shortstop—essentially making him the biggest defensive liability in the bigs (and we still complain about Jeter's range!).
In 90 games, he slashed a .260/.307/.372, with an 83 wRC+, a .298 wOBA and a terrible minus-1.4 WAR.
Brendan Ryan, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts each saw a higher WAR in 2013 and fewer total errors. They are each making at least $2 million to be utility infielders—the role that Nunez "won" in 2013 for $553,300.
Finally, there were Brian Cashman's deal-sealing comments to the New York Daily News, per Anthony McCarron, in early December, saying of Nunez and Ryan at the time, "We want to put the best team out on the field; we’d have to find somebody better than those two names." Ouch.
'Biggest' Winner: David Robertson
Who knows how David Robertson and his family spent New Year's, but hopefully it was with continuous champagne-drinking while listening to "Sweet Home Alabama"—because no one is even challenging the Birmingham, Ala., native for the Yankees' closer role so far.
The worst news regarding Robertson—in the sports-media capital, home to the most historic sports franchise—was a meager comment by Cashman in early November that he wasn't "sure Robertson is capable yet" of becoming the closer because "He's never done that before."
The general manager then followed it up with, "I think he’s earned the right to take a shot at it. And he very well may be the guy."
Cash can be as coy as he likes, but as of Jan. 1, Robertson still stands as the best option to succeed the gaping hole left by Mariano Rivera. Better yet, there isn't a single breathing human who would expect him—or any other pitcher—to fill Mo's shoes, anyway. The Yanks simply need to find their next closer.
Robertson is the best in-house option, and even if the Yanks signed a remaining free-agent reliever, he would still have a tremendous shot at winning the job. But so far, he is the man, and he has gained plenty of experience in setup duties the past two seasons—the job with the second-largest pressure and responsibility out of the 'pen.
In 2012, he pitched 60.2 total innings with a 2.67 ERA; he tossed 44.2 of those innings in the eighth with a 1.61 ERA, 61 strikeouts, three homers allowed and an opponents' batting average of .199.
In 2013, he went 66.1 total innings with a 2.04 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 0.7 HR/9; in 54.2 eighth innings, he pitched to a 2.14 ERA, 63 strikeouts and .226 opponents' batting average. And in 9.0 innings of work in the ninth, he may have allowed two earned runs and five hits, but he struck out 13.
We will see whether Robertson can handle the most pressure-packed job on the most pressure-filled organization in the most stressful ballpark. But remember, even Mo blew nine saves in his early goings as closer. And you can't tell me the idea of your ninth-inning anxiety being met with the bullpen doors opening to Lynyrd Skynyd doesn't get you a little excited.
It could even ease the transition from hearing "Enter Sandman" for the last two decades.
He may not ultimately prove to be the "biggest" winner, but so far this offseason, no one else in MLB can claim they are most likely to be the next closer of the New York Yankees.
'Biggest' Losers: Alex Rodriguez and Randy Levine
We already knew that A-Rod and team president Randy Levine were conceivably "losers" this offseason for their respective transgressions: Rodriguez embroiled in the fiasco of appealing his unprecedented suspension while awaiting the arbitrator's ruling, and Levine playing the "I was kidding about what I said" game with his Mike Trout comments, as reported by Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.
In case you missed it, Levine in mid-December was asked for his sentiments on Cano's signing with Seattle. While expanding on why the Yanks bent but didn't break on the 10-year super-deal to retain their 31-year-old second baseman, Levine said, "Now, if it was Mike Trout, I'd offer him a 10-year contract. But for people over 30, I don't believe it makes sense."
Shortly thereafter, MLB decided to investigate Levine for possible tampering since Trout isn't a free agent until four years from now. And Levine's response was even better: "I was using it as an example of the type of player because of his age, we would consider giving a 10-year deal to," per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
What takes these two offseason "losers" and turns them into the two "biggest losers" of the winter, however, is a peculiar, embarrassing, uncomfortable and awkward email exchange between them that New York Magazine's Steve Fishman uncovered while reporting for his Dec. 9 cover story, "Chasing A-Rod."
If you grew sick of holiday movies the past few weeks, it's a shame you didn't get to sit back and laugh, squirm, double-take and squirm again at the emails, which can be read in excerpts here.
Fishman puts the Rodriguez-Levine email thread into context at the outset:
It goes without saying that, over the course of a Yankees tenure that included two MVP years and a world championship, numerous slumps and streaks, and a pair of drug scandals that have come to define [A-Rod's] career as much as his talent has, the men would have much to talk about, which they did primarily via e-mail.
There's having "much to talk about," and then there's having an incredibly weird relationship between yourself, as Yankees president, and your player, as the most embattled figure in the history of MLB.
In the excerpts from May 2011 to August 2013, Levine types like a gossiping teenager, not an MLB executive. From a 2011 game: "Hey, tough game, I'm worried about your health, u sure u r ok?"
And he exposes his strange reverential "friendship" that borders on being oddly patriarchal; for example after a 2012 game in which New York is shut out:
My friend, I have always believed that in difficult times there r two ways to go. ... I believe in u. I believe u will hit those levels. It has been a tough year ... but we need a leader, that is you. Take the lead, get these guys going, put a chip on your shoulder. When u succeed it will be Yankees lore. There is nothing more powerful than that. I am here to support u. Tell us what u need.
A-Rod emails childlike essays in response that approach a level of companions who have recently parted ways. In February 2013:
Randy, [...] As you can imagine, I’m feeling left out, I can’t be with the team at spring training and this leaves an empty hole in my life. And on top of that I’m dealing with the backlash of all these ugly rumors and false stories. [...] Of course I am very concerned about these rumors and about what the team is doing and saying about me. ... I hope this [e-mail] is the start of us clearing the air between us. I don’t want us to be enemies. I am loyal to the team. I only want the best for the Yankees organization. But I do need reassurance from you and I need to know what is going on.
Again, this is a player emailing the team president—of the New York Yankees.
I encourage you to read the rest, which is all sort of shocking and unapologetic. It even includes Levine "joking" in August 2012, "Hey, what’s up with Robby. This guy must not be using the liquid."
In August 2013, after their mutual mistrust had bubbled over, A-Rod begs, "Can u please stop!! I want to play baseball and I could make a big difference to the game. Steinbrenner would roll in his grave IF he knew what was happening!"
So congrats to Randy Levine and A-Rod on the "biggest losers of the offseason" honors. Hopefully the former slides back behind the scenes—not his keyboard. And it would be nice to have a healthy A-Rod back in the lineup, but it would also be beneficial if he falls out of relevancy for the next 211 games.
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