As a Cincinnati Reds homer, I’m looking ahead to next season…actually, I’m looking forward to 2020, when the team will have time to truly rebuild their roster. Unfortunately, for a non-contending, rebuilder within a “small-market”, Cincinnati will not be a big player in free agency. Like many other clubs that are looking to build from within or on-the-cheap, free agency isn’t very kind, leaving the remnants of the market to pick through like a racoon at a garbage can. Oh, those beady eyes in your headlights in January will just be Walt Jocketty or Billy Beane looking for a backup infielder.
This winter, as with any other, baseball fans will see plenty of players on the move, including Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Aroldis Chapman, and Ian Desmond, who appear to be the few “big names” on the market. In addition to those select few, there are plenty of players with options, but are they going to get picked up? Let’s take a look at those optional options for 2017, shall we…
Fowler is having a stellar season, even having spent some time on the DL. He is earning $13MM this season on a one-year deal and has responded after facing a weak market this past winter with a career-best .877 OPS. The 2016 All-Star isn’t really needed as a leadoff hitter in Chicago with Jason Heyward getting paid mega-millions to be that type of player, but Fowler should be able to cash in. The Cubs will likely accept their portion of the option very quickly.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: $23MM club option, $10MM buyout
Howard has had one of the worst contracts in baseball since the start of the 2012 season. Coincidentally, that is when his five-year, $125MM extension kicked in. Finally, the Phillies will be able to walk away from him and his horrific deal, and they’ll be more than happy to drop $10MM in order to do that. We’ll see if they release him and roll with Tommy Joseph, which they basically have done since the beginning of June.
Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: $17MM club/vesting option, $1MM buyout
Holliday has collapsed in his age-36 season. His .237/.310/.449 line is the worst of his career. His 18 home runs have saved his line a bit, but he is still well short of his career .303/.382/.515 line. He certainly won’t rank in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting, which is all that it would take for his option in 2017 to vest. The Cardinals aren’t churning out prospects like they were a few years ago, so it will be interesting to see which direction they go to stay within the Cardinal Way.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets: can opt-out of remaining two-years, $47.5MM
Cespedes could cash in significantly in a weak market this winter. With so few power bats available, the 30-year-old corner outfielder, if healthy, would likely increase his AAV to $25-$28MM per season. He will beat his career-high for OPS this year. He just needs to stay on the field to keep the Mets in contention.
CC Sabathia, LHP New York Yankees: $25MM vesting option (if he doesn’t end the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, spend 45 days or more on the DL with a shoulder injury, or make six or more relief appearances because of a shoulder injury), $5MM buyout
If you asked in mid-June, Sabathia may have been worth a $20MM gamble for New York. On June 16th, he had a 2.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his first 11 starts; however, he has a 6.85 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over his last eight starts. With Mark Teixeira retiring after the 2016 season, the Yankees will have quite a bit of money to spend – unless they are serious about their rebuild and continue to add young talent to the roster. The Yankees may need to check-in on Sabathia’s shoulder, given his recent woes, and make sure everything is clean; although, the MLBPA may find a way to keep his option guaranteed with such a move.
Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets: $13MM club option, $1MM buyout
Bruce, who was recently acquired by the Mets from Cincinnati for a pair of prospects, will provide a lot of value to New York, especially if Cespedes remains on the shelf with his quad injury, but even more so if Cespedes opts out and signs elsewhere this winter. Bruce is a fine outfielder who is capable of strong production, as evidenced by his rebound 2016 season, but his lengthy slumps and declining defense don’t make him worth a huge deal. The $13MM option is still a fine value for the Mets, who may end up in quite a limbo with their other outfielder about a week after the World Series.
Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians: $12MM club option, $1.2MM buyout
Santana is an interesting player due to his ugly batting averages, average power, and incredible on-base skills. Everyone is waiting for him to finally put it all together, which would lead to a very Adam Dunn-like 30 HR, 100 R, 100 BB season for Cleveland; however, he just can’t beat the shift and his deflated BABIP keep him from meeting some of those numbers. With Mike Napoli also reaching free agency, the Indians will likely opt-in on Santana, as they couldn’t afford to lose them both. They may not be able to re-sign Napoli after his huge season, but they could offer him a qualifying offer and keep him around for one more season. Since Napoli’s decision will come after the option decision on Santana, expect the former catcher to stick for one more year with the Tribe.
Duh. The Rangers just gave up a nice prospect package for the best catcher this side of Buster Posey, so you can expect them to take on this very affordable option. Lucroy is public enemy No.1 in Cleveland right now, but he had the right in his contract and used it to his advantage. Playing in Arlington for half of his games, his numbers could inflate and help him inflate his earnings when he reaches free agency after the 2017 season.
Jason Hammel, RHP, Chicago Cubs: $10MM club option, $2MM buyout
Hammel has been excellent in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 21 starts. In his career, Hammel has a 3.33 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 399.2 innings while wearing a Cubs’ uniform and a 4.77 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in any other uniform. He needs to be in Chicago and Chicago needs him in their rotation, as the incredible talent within their system that continues rising to the majors aren’t talented on the mound. Hammel is a bargain with his production in a Cubs’ uniform.
There are several additional players with options that you can find at MLB Trade Rumors. It looks like the 2016-2017 offseason will be very trade-heavy as teams try to structure their rosters with talent without unloading gobs of cash on talent that may not be quite as talented as your typical market. In addition to that, the 2017-2018 market could have an even slower market with Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Fernandez heading towards free agency after the 2018 season.
There are a lot of things that make prospects special – their incredibly smooth deliveries, their sweet swings, and their game-changing gloves; however, I don’t have time to travel around the country. Therefore, scouting becomes what baseball is all about – the numbers. Based on the numbers, here are some prospects to watch in the coming months:
(NOTE: CLICK ON THE BLUE HYPERLINK TO VIEW PLAYER STATS!)
Signed as the No. 1 international prospect in 2013 for $2.8 million, the Cubs look to have another dynamic bat coming up through their system. The 6’4″, 200-pound right fielder is second in the MWL with eight home runs, while his 18 doubles show that the power is coming and will translate to future longballs. The rich are getting richer, though it will be at least a couple of more years before Jimenez is making it rain for the Cubbies.
The numbers speak for themselves with Hall, whose microscopic ERA and 10.24 K:9 scream that a promotion is needed, but not as much as his age. Though he is 22 – a bit old for the MWL, Hall was a 6th round pick in last year’s draft, so he just needed to get some innings in the minors. Still, he is ready for the Florida State League after dominating to this extent.
Like Hall, Mundell was a 2015 college draftee (7th round), and, like Hall, Mundell is dominating his league as a 22-year-old. His 32 doubles are 11 more than the next closest player, while his .351 average is pacing the league by a whopping 26 points. Add in his solid approach (30:22 K:BB), and you have yourself a potential star in Colorado at first base…if he continues hitting like this as he moves up, which should happen soon.
Keller could be creating his own version of “Mitchapalooza” by dominating and becoming the next big arm in the Pirates system. In his first taste of full-season ball, the 20-year-old, 6’4″ righty has a 69:6 K:BB and is holding opponents to a .195 BAA. When you strike out 10 per nine, don’t walk anyone, and don’t allow many hits, you can become a pretty valuable arm.
The Rangers don’t need much help up the middle, but Demeritte looks like a guy who can provide offensive production wherever he ends up playing. After ripping 25 homers in his age-19 season, Demeritte looks to be enjoying his time in the offensive heaven of the California league, having driven 15 bombs and 13 doubles in his first 58 games. There are some things he needs to work on, including his swing and miss, as his 80:31 K:BB in just 217 AB is grotesque. Plus, he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs last season. Still, power has value and Demeritte appears to have it.
Howard has received a promotion to Double-A after posting a 2.47 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 65.2 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .184 average. At 23, he is right where he needs to be now, and as a college arm, Howard could jump another level in 2016. He allowed a single run over 6.1 innings in his first Double-A start, so he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Also, he’s left-handed and breathing, which is always useful.
At 21, Ward is having his best season to date. He leads the Carolina League in OPS, matching his career-high with 10 homers this season. His 15 doubles show solid power, as well, but it is his 53:28 K:BB that shows the best improvement, as his 13% walk rate is, by far, his best in a full season league. At 6″3′, 215-pounds, Ward could continue to develop power and become a useful piece for the Nationals.
At 24, you’re probably wondering why Cooper could be a prospect in Advance A-ball. Well, this is his first season as a starter and he has struck out 11.4 per nine. His 92 strikeouts, in 72.2 innings, top the league by 28 punchouts. The 2014 16th round pick out of Hawaii was dominant as a reliever prior to this season, and he looks like a solid late-round find by the White Sox.
The Tigers’ 1st round pick last season, Stewart has shown impressive power (16 home runs and 12 doubles) and an advanced approach at the plate (60:43 K:BB) in his first taste of the FSL. As a college draftee out of Tennessee, he could move pretty quickly for the Tigers, who are in the middle of a “rebuild-while-winning” situation.
Adams was a 5th round pick last season by the Bronx Bombers. They eased him in as a reliever last season, but they have converted the 21-year-old to a starter this season. He has responded by striking out 11.4 per nine and holding opponents to a .196 BAA. At 6′, 215, he won’t intimidate, but you have to approve of the results.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
New York Yankees
2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in AL East, 19th in MLB)
Manager: Joe Girardi (648-486 in seven seasons with New York, 726-570 in eight seasons overall)
ARod is a miserable human being. He is a cheat, a liar, a disgrace to the game, and a $64 million financial burden over the next three seasons for a team that doesn’t appear to want anything to do with him. That appears to be fine for Rodriguez, who took to ESPN for a profile that painted him as a man who struggles with reality; however, the reality for baseball fans is that he is back on the field, healthy and rejuvenated, and ready to play and make an impact. His success depends on how much time the Yankees are willing to give him on the field. Since the club has Chase Headley, Garret Jones, and Mark Teixeira ahead of him on the depth charts at first, third, and DH, it remains to be seen how he will be used. Rodriguez, though, still has something left in the tank, working out with Barry Bonds (laugh and talk about PEDs all you want) to change his swing and strengthen his production as he ages. Rodriguez could be washed up or he could be a surprising producer. It may be unreasonable to ever expect good things from Rodriguez, on the field and off, but I see a man who, with 500 plate appearances, is capable of 20 to 25 home runs, making him quite useful -still- in an offense-starved league.
Eovaldi’s impressive fastball (4th fastest in MLB in 2014) has put him on the radar for a number of years, but he hasn’t taken a step toward dominance that many with similar electricity have. For example, even with the strong, dominant fastball, Eovaldi allowed 10.1 hits per nine, while striking out just 6.4 per nine. The positive in the low strikeout rate, however, is that Eovaldi walked just 1.9 per nine (3.3 K:BB), which may allow him to be a force if he was to miss a few more bats with his very straight fastball. While people may look to the fact that he is now pitching in the AL East and must deal with the incredible offenses there, you can look at a 25-year-old right-hander who is about to hit his peak. If Eovaldi is able to take a step forward, he’s going to take off and become quite dominant. If you can get him now, before that happens, you can thank me later.
Offseason Overview: The Yankees found their replacement for Derek Jeter when they acquired Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-way deal that included Shane Greene going to Detroit. Gregorius is now in his third organization, which shows that people still think he is valuable, but he had negative defensive value in 2014 and his .653 OPS doesn’t help his outlook if his defense is falling off. At just 25, he still has enough potential to outproduce Jeter. Eovaldi, as mentioned above, should be a nice addition to the staff, and with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda at the top of the rotation, they need Eovaldi to produce and be healthy, something they can’t quite count on out of the other two. Dellin Betances should step right into the closer’s role and be an Aroldis Chapman–Craig Kimbrel type of dominator, which is necessary after David Robertson left for Chicago. Re-signing Headley at third base was necessary due to the unknown of Alex Rodriguez, and Stephen Drew was brought back after a horrific 46 game audition last season, but both are more capable with their gloves than they are with their bats. The Yankees could have one of the best defensive clubs in baseball in 2015 for that reason.
The Verdict: The Yankees aren’t going to be worse in 2014. A full season of Headley should outproduce what Yangervis Solarte was able to do in 2014, and there is more to Brian McCann (.692 OPS), Teixeira (.711 OPS), and Jacoby Ellsbury (.747 OPS) than what they showed last season. The biggest question mark is their pitching. Michael Pineda threw 76.1 innings in 2014, his first in the majors since 2011, after having dealt with major shoulder issues, Masahiro Tanaka is pitching through a partially torn UCL, and CC Sabathia missed all but eight starts due to a right knee injury. Are they going to get enough out of these three to remain competitive? They have Scott Baker, Chris Capuano, and Ivan Nova as pitching depth, but if those three make significant contributions, the Yankees are going to be in really bad shape. It is fair to highly doubt that Tanaka makes it through the 2015 season, and, for that reason, the club will, at some point, be without a number one starter. It also seems fair to think that a winning season is highly unlikely without things breaking completely right. Those things include:
1) 180 or more innings from Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia
2) More productive seasons from Headley, Drew, Ellsbury, Teixeira, and McCann
3) A miracle
The Yankees PECOTA seems right in 2015, but without the above things happening, it is doubtful that they reach 80 wins.
Whether it’s the handwritten apology that is being broken apart by forensic units and handwriting specialists, or the lengthy feature released by ESPN: The Magazine, the reintroduction of Alex Rodriguez to the world hasn’t changed the world’s perspective on the aging slugger. After spending the 2014 season suspended from the only job that he had had since the age of 18, the year that he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and had 59 over-matched plate appearances, we have come to find out that Rodriguez spent the year toiling in the various activities that someone with $500 million from playing a game can afford to do to “find oneself”.
Are we expected to hate Alex Rodriguez due to his lies and cheating? Are we expected to feel sorry for him because his father ran out on him and he never went to college? Are we expected to forgive his indiscretions and transgressions due to his willingness to come back to a game that is trying to push him as far away from it as possible? Are we expected to think that he is coming back for the “love of the game” or for the $61 million that he is guaranteed over the next three seasons?
It would be an understatement to say that Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. Despite that fact that Barry Bonds utilized the same methods in the use of illegal materials and the same willingness to dodge the truth, it is Alex Rodriguez who has become the most hated man in baseball. Despite the fact that Bonds is the one who holds the record for career home runs, it is Rodriguez who isn’t supposed to break the record going forward. As the ESPN: The Magazine article discussed, it is Rodriguez who is the villain, despite Ryan Braun‘s presence in Major League Baseball, even with Braun’s willingness to drag everyone and their brother under the bus after being outed as a cheater, twice. The Hall of Fame cases for Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Mike Piazza are tainted, whether wrongfully or not, by the cloud of steroids that has followed them and an entire era of players; however, it is Jason Giambi, an admitted user, who gets to retire with honor this week and slide right into an organizational position with the Cleveland Indians, who is praised for his career, which he has admitted to altering.
So, what is it that causes this polarization on these players? If being super-competitive led declining players to seek elongation of a career, yet we mock Willie Mays for his time as a New York Met, what is it that our society really wants out of our professional sports icons?
Our culture has changed significantly during my 34 years as a member of this planet, but one thing that has been going on for quite some time is the fact that people are willing to take some wild steps to get to where they want to be in life. Today, we like to think that baseball is in need of a change due to the length of the games and the “entertain me now” philosophy that goes along with the Social Media age. Why not add a clock to ensure that a pitcher throws the ball while two-thirds of the stadium is busy tagging their friend in a picture and posting #nofilter on the beautiful sunset peeking through the right field corner of the stadium? It seems ridiculous to change the ideas of what is acceptable and appropriate in our lives and our entertainment, demanding more right now than we ever did in the past. More news, more excitement, more reasons why you should enjoy what you have in front of you than actually taking the time to enjoy it. The sensationalism of “things” and “experiences” has led to something as minute as an individual’s actions being more important than the game.
That ideology is why Alex Rodriguez and others have become the poster children for the fall of the game. Rodriguez wasn’t alone, but we always want to blame someone. Before ARod it was Bonds, before Bonds it was Canseco, and before Canseco it was Pete Rose. We don’t need to change baseball and we don’t need to change Alex Rodriguez. We need to remember that he was playing a game, that he made a mistake (albeit for several years) to try to maintain his lifestyle. In the same way that others make mistakes and create debt by using credit cards for things that they can’t afford, they are forced to dig themselves out.
In the same way, Alex Rodriguez needs to dig himself out. He doesn’t need to accept blame, he didn’t need to apologize, he just needed to change and be happy while playing the game cleanly. No one needs answers in this catastrophe of a public relations nightmare. There are far worse things going on behind the scenes of athletes’ lives than a man using his body as a pin cushion for steroids – just look at the NFL arrests since the Super Bowl. For all of the ridiculous spins that stories featuring Alex Rodriguez have taken over the last several days, here is one that you won’t see all over the internet: Alex Rodriguez was great, he was troubled, and he will overcome those troubles to be respected by the end of his career.
People have been cheating in all aspects of business. Sure, kids look up to him, but, as Charles Barkley once said:
Alex Rodriguez doesn’t need to answer questions for anyone except his two daughters, his family, and his closest friends. He isn’t threatening to end the world, attacking innocent lives, or testing ballistic missiles. He’s just a baseball player who screwed up. He deserves another chance to come out and do it right, and until he does it wrong again, we should all just sit back and watch, keeping our mouths shut the way that Alex Rodriguez should have the whole time.
When I search minor league stats, I look for strikeouts and WHIP leaders out of guys with solid frames at pitcher, solid plate discipline, gap power, and speed out of hitters. I am not a scout that can go to games, but I tend to find some pretty interesting talent on numbers alone, and while you can’t judge projection much while just using numbers, players have to produce to move up. Working with numbers alone worked for Billy Beane, right? Here is a list of some players to get to know or keep an eye on based on their production.
Not since Tony Cingrani dominated the California League to the tune of a 1.11 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 10 starts in 2012 have the Reds had a pitcher doing what Lively is doing this season. Since being drafted out of Central Florida last season, the 6’4″ right-hander has done nothing but dominate at each stop. The control is legit and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him jump to Double-A Pensacola in the next couple of weeks, moving him on the fast tracks to the majors, while joining Robert Stephenson as a member of the Blue Wahoo rotation.
Bowman is a Princeton product and, if nothing else, his intelligence could lead to long-term success; however, he seems to have some talen, as well. He is creently dominating Double-A for the Mets and continuing in his ability to keep runners off the base paths at every stop. With his continued ability to throw strikes, the Mets could team Bowman with Rafael Montero in New York to have young, strike-throwing machines within the rotation.
He’s left-handed and breathing, so he will get a long look, but Boyd has posted some pretty impressive numbers in his brief professional career. The strikeout totals are impressive for a southpaw, and it will be interesting to see how quickly the Blue Jays move him considering his collegiate pedigree.
Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler get a lot of hype for their abilities, results, and projection within the Rockies’ system, but Winkler continues to post solid strikeout totals and numbers in tough environments on his way up the organizational ladder. His early-season results have been quite impressive once again, as he gets a longer look at Double-A after making just five starts in Tulsa in 2013.
A 6’3″ right-hander out of Ohio University, Streich has put up solid numbers in the challenging pitching environment of the California League in the early-going of 2014. Improved strikeout numbers are evident, but, most importantly, he is keeping the ball in the park. With the A’s having to deal with injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them push some of their college arms who are posting solid numbers.
Merrit’s early-season success is very impressive, particularly the one earned run in 24.1 innings. He doesn’t miss enough bats to be considered an elite prospect within the Tribe system, but if he continues to keep runs off of the board, perhaps he could be a solid back-end of the rotation starter. You could view him as a Tommy Milone-like arm.
Another solid pitching prospect for an absolutely loaded system, Gonzales is a southpaw out of Gonzaga on the fast track to St. Louis. With a lack of left-handed options within the Cardinals’ rotation due to the constant shoulder woes of Jaime Garcia, his selection was a wise choice for the perennial contenders. Gonzales will be a solid addition to the Cardinal rotation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the youngster end up making a dozen starts in Double-A this season.
At just 6′, 175 pounds, Landazuri is going to have to overcome the same “too short” labels that have landed upon Roy Oswalt, Johnny Cueto, Kris Medlen, and flame-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura. When he isn’t pitching in a challenging environment (like the Northwest League and the California League), Landazuri has posted very impressive numbers. Now, a younger-than-average starter in Double-A, the righty is striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping the opposition from getting on with just 4.7 hits per nine innings and a 0.65 WHIP after four starts. He’s someone to watch within the Mariners rotation in 2014, as they try to work through injuries to Hashashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
Pinder, a shortstop at Virginia Tech, has moved to second base this season and he has produced solid numbers in the early-going in the hitter-friendly Cal League. His 17 extra-base hits in just 24 games is impressive for anyone, let alone a middle infielder. With Eric Sogard occupying second at the major league level, Pinder could be a viable long-term option for the A’s in the next couple of seasons. Another few weeks of this type of production, and Pinder could be moved to Double-A very quickly.
Everyone should already know his name thanks to his 40 home runs at the age of 19 in his first full season. The fact that he is showing some semblance of plate discipline this season while still showcasing his elite-level power makes Gallo one of the top prospects in the minor leagues right now. With so many slugging, elite prospects suffering through injuries this season (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Javier Baez are all currently disabled), Gallo will shoot up mid-season prospect lists with similar months. His long-term outlook will only beam brighter due to his ballpark and offensive projection for the Rangers.
Due to Gary Sanchez being in Double-A, O’Brien was forced to return to the Florida State League, but he hasn’t disappointed, posting solid power numbers in Tampa, though, he is a bit old for the league at this point. O’Brien’s ability to hit for power should make him a decent option for, at least, a backup catching spot. He’d likely have a better career than J.P. Arencibia, who could hit for power and couldn’t walk at the same clip that O’Brien has over his brief career. If he continues to hit like he has, the Yankees may move him off of catcher or use him as trade bait.
Another solid hitter found by the St. Louis Cardinals scouting department out of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, Rodriguez has handled the corner infield positions throughout his minor league career, but he has only played first in 2014. With Matt Adams ahead of him, another season of solid production will likely make him trade bait for St. Louis. Solid gap power, a solid approach, and good contact skills will make this right-handed bat a decent platoon player in a worst case scenario.
The Rangers system may not be as loaded as it was in years past due to the failure of so many elite prospects in 2013 in Hickory with their huge strikeout numbers, but Rua can’t be grouped in with those players any longer. He is raking in Double-A now, skipping the High-A level with his assignment this season and his brief promotion last year. There seems to be his continued power with early improvements in his plate discipline, and with Adrian Beltre potentially becoming a free agent after 2015 (he has a $16 million vesting option for 2016), Rua could be Gallo to the hot corner in Texas.
Betts is already nothing more than trade bait in Boston, given that he profiles as a second baseman and Dustin Pedroia has that spot locked down through 2021. Betts has incredible bat-to-ball skills, tremendous plate discipline, and solid speed. With his early-season production in Double-A at the age of 21, the Red Sox may be able to utilize this chip for an elite addition if they are making another playoff run in 2014.
I love this guy’s name and he has some intriguing tools that could even play in Seattle. His plate discipline isn’t elite, but there is enough there to be , and he has enough power and speed in his 6’5″ frame to be a very good producer, and, after being selected three times in the draft, he must have something in his game to make him an intriguing name to follow.
Brett Gardner is a good baseball player. He has been around since 2008, but he didn’t really get a full-time shot until 2010. He posted a 6.0 WAR in 2010 due to his 97 runs, 47 stolen bases, 79 walks, and solid defense while manning left field (123 games) and center field (44 games) throughout that season. He followed that up with a good 2011, compiling a 4.9 WAR and leading the American League in stolen bases (49) while seeing his wRC+ fall below 100 (97). The 2012 season was lost due to right elbow surgery (he played in 16 games), and the 2013 season was solid (3.2 WAR), while Gardner become better than league average in creating runs (108 wRC+) while leading the AL in triples (10) and manning center full-time for an injury-crippled Yankee squad.
However, this winter, the Yankees have been very active, acquiring a new catcher in Brian McCann, a solid rotation addition in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and adding one of the elite players on the open market – Jacoby Ellsbury – from their division rival, Boston. This clearly improved the roster and should allow the Yankees to be much more competitive in 2014 and beyond, but with these additions, especially the addition of Ellsbury, Gardner’s name was listed throughout many rumors, as his bat isn’t going to produce the numbers that many corner outfielders are capable of.
On Sunday, the Yankees signed Gardner to a four-year, $52 million extension. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had this to say about the signing:
“He would be a leadoff hitter and playing center field for most organizations because most organizations don’t have multiple center-field options. There are certain places that need a center fielder and would love to have a leadoff hitter. He fit that criteria, and you have to pay him that way.”
Are there other teams out there that have two players locked into the same role, and, why, when the club was so cautious (prior to this offseason) of the payroll, was it necessary to give a decent player $13 million per season in average annual value for his age 31 to 34 seasons, when he will, likely, be less likely to run and maintain defensive value?
The Atlanta Braves just signed Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million extension last week, so it wouldn’t be ideal for the Braves to try to sign Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz to a deal similar to what the Dodgers paid Erisbel Arruebarruena, as both are defensive-minded shortstops, though Simmons showed unexpected pop in 2013. Should the Yankees be excused from this type of investment because of their revenue streams?
Sure, there are other teams that have decided to employ solid defense in the outfield, potentially leaving some runs on the base paths to ensure that it is harder for the opposition to score. The Cleveland Indians, for example, went into the 2013 season with three capable center fielders in their outfield – Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center, and Drew Stubbs in right – and they became contenders, winning 92 games in 2013 after winning just 68 in 2012. Certainly, Nick Swisher‘s addition, improved production from Jason Kipnis, and surprising seasons from Yan Gomes and Ubaldo Jimenez helped, but…maybe it was the defense.
The Angels had Peter Bourjos penciled into center in 2013 until hamstring and wrist injuries kept him on the disabled list for 106 games in 2013. With Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton, the Angels, on paper, had a group of three center fielders, as well; although, it would be a reach to consider Hamilton a center fielder at this point. There is also the dynamic offensive numbers that Trout can put up wherever he is playing that separates him from any of the Indians’ outfielders, as well as Gardner – so with Bourjos gone and J.B. Schuck and Kole Calhoun taking his spot, Trout manned center and, once again, posted MVP-caliber numbers while the Angels finished with a disappointing 78 wins.
There are certainly arguments for defensive value that make the Gardner extension reasonable, but $13 million per season seems like a lot of money for the 20th most valuable outfielder in baseball from 2013, tied with Rays’ outfielder Desmond Jennings and Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton with a 3.2 WAR. There are so many other options who could have been more affordable for New York as players like Coco Crisp, Marlon Byrd, and Shane Victorino could have been available to them, and they each posted more productive seasons while earning similar totals to what Gardner will earn from 2015 through 2018.
Beyond Gardner’s peers, should the Yankees be concerned about his production when compared to his past production?
His best season will be three-plus years ago when the 2014 season starts and his production has been all over the place since then. You can see that Gardner’s walk rate has gone from 13.9 percent in his breakout 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, while, at the same time, his strikeout rate jumped to a full-season worst 20.9 percent in 2013. Gardner may have been pressing due to a need to be productive with all of the injuries around him, but if he isn’t on base, he isn’t running, and if he isn’t running, where does his value lie? It lies in his defense and if he isn’t playing center field, does that decrease his overall value?
Again, there is such a thing as an elite defense, but teams tend to want big offensive production from their corner spots. Brett Gardner is not as sexy in left as he is in center, and with Jacoby Ellsbury unlikely to ever reach the outlier power numbers that he showed in 2011 ever again, there isn’t room for error, regression, or depreciation in Gardner’s skill-set over the next four seasons for him to be worth this investment.
Whether a win is worth $5 million, $7 million, or it is immeasurable, this contract seems unlikely to contain any room for surplus value for the Yankees.
While the Yankees may be able to afford a failed investment that a team like the Reds, Rays, or Pirates can’t, but $52 million for a league-average player doesn’t seem like a wise investment – cost of a win be damned.
Derek Jeterannounced that the 2014 season would be his last on Wednesday, giving fans a full season of farewells, just as the league provided (along with some wonderful parting gifts) to the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, during the 2013 season. After 20 seasons of Hall of Fame worthy production, it may be fair to wonder if a part of the New York Yankees will disappear with him.
The “Core Four” of the Yankee dynasty will officially be gone after the 2014 season. Jeter, Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, led the Yankees to five World Series titles and seven American League pennants over 17 playoff appearances since the start of the 1995 season. While Pettitte and Posada slowly faded away from the club, the departure of Rivera and Jeter seem to sting a bit more.
It was easy to connect Rivera to this generation of Yankee dominance – as he was responsible for finishing 952 games and collecting a save in 652 of them, not counting his 42 postseason saves and 0.70 ERA over 141 postseason innings. Rivera and “Enter Sandman” were connected to that dominance and the lack of hope that so many opposing teams felt from this era of Yankee success.
However, it was and always has been Derek Jeter as the heart and soul of this group. With the names of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio hanging behind him and around him, Jeter overcame the shadows of greatness to become a lingering figure for those who will come next, creating an unreasonable expectation for the man who steps foot at shortstop from Opening Day 2015 and beyond – just as David Robertson will face as the new closer in 2014.
While all of those awards and honors detail his effort and character, the immeasurable value of his leadership will remain one of his most impressive skills and traits. He overcame the distractions of Alex Rodriguez, Pettitte, and Jason Giambi, when their names were linked to the Mitchell Report and other steroid rumor. Additionally, he undertook a leadership role in leading baseball back to provide healing for America after the 9/11 attacks, and, while the Yankees dropped Game Seven to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, he has still found a way to cope with the insanity of the New York media circus and the audacity of those around him, or in the game, who have attempted anything to get an edge.
Based on what we know, Derek Jeter is clean – outside of the laundry list of women that he has cycled through over the years; however, Jeter is New York – he is the Joe Namath face of the game, he is the water cooler and hot dog stand conversation between fans, he is the neon lights and the hustle and bustle of Times Square, and he is pinstripes and the lore that comes with the Yankee franchise.
Sure, the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann, but none of those men will be Jeter. No one will ever be Derek Jeter. While some baseball players leave a legacy of numbers and amazing stories, Derek Jeter has touched the game in a different way. Even after being tied to the “Core Four” for such a large part of his career, Jeter separated himself to become a larger part of baseball in New York.
Jeter is the Yankees. Jeter is the pinstripes. Jeter is New York. Jeter is Major League Baseball.
When he leaves the game after the 2014 season, the heart of the game will need to beat a little harder for the rest of baseball to work. While the Yankees may wonder how to replace Jeter for quite some time, Major League Baseball as a whole has to do the same thing.
With all teams reaching Spring Training by the end of this week, the 2014 season just became a bit more special. While the tributes, gifts, and focus on Derek Jeter may become obnoxious by the All-Star break, he has earned it. Love or hate the Yankees, you still have to respect Jeter.