Tagged: Lou Piniella

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.

The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.

The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.

George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.

The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.

During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.

Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.

Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.

Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).

How did this happen?

Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.

The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.

It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.

Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.

There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.

After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.

From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.

That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.

The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.

If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.

But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.

It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.

Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.

He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.

When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.

He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.

So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.

Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.

The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.

Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for  a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.

Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.

So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)

There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.

It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.

The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.

It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.

But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.

The offense? Don’t ask.

Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.

They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.

The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.

His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.

The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.

The bench has some veterans, of course.

Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.

If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.

But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.

But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.

Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.

In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.

I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!

 

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Cano’s Temper Leads To Sad Departure To Seattle

Some Yankee fans got together and attempted to ship some baby pacifiers to Robinson Cano. How appropriate!

Temper, temper, Robbie! Tsk! Tsk!

Cano, 31, as you all know by now, got pissed off when the Yankees offered outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury an eight-year, $169 million contract and took his bats and gloves and run off to the Great Northwest for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Hope you did not let the clubhouse door hit you in the rump on the way out, Robinson.

To be clear, it is a shame that a marvelously talented player like Cano has decided to leave the Yankees. He was the best player on the team the past two seasons and his durability was welcome in a disastrous 2013 season that saw the Yankee roster look, at times, like an Independent League All-Star team.

Cano also had a point in looking at Ellsbury’s career statistics compared to his own and conclude that the Yankees were “low-balling” their monetary offer to him. They never really budged off the $175 million they were offering.

But after the excessive deals offered to Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford over recent seasons, teams are learning that mega-year contracts for boatloads of cash is not a wise idea. A-Rod has been playing on reputation alone for the past three seasons. Pujols is a walking physical wreck and Crawford is one of the worst fiscal mistakes the Boston Red Sox ever made.

If Cano and his agent Jay-Z had been realistic in the first place with their opening offer it would have been smoother sailing. But they sought $305 million, which would have been a record contract. No team was willing to shell out that much cash for Cano and he had to know it.

Once the Yankees zeroed in on seven years at $165 million the gauntlet was laid. But the chief rivals for Cano, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers stepped out of the process.

The Dodgers signed Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to play second and the Tigers traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt he was in the catbird seat at that point because Cano, at the time, had no other offers. Overtures by Cano’s people made to the New York Mets were turned aside so Cano and his agents came back to the Yankees and lowered their demands to $240 million.

The Yankees, appreciative of the semblance of reality, still were not too keen on extending the contract past eight years and, with no other bidder in sight, they smartly held the line at about $175 million.

The whole situation blew up after ongoing talks by the Yankees with free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had broken down. The Yankees shifted gears away from Beltran and they signed Ellsbury for a tidy sum. When Cano read about the monetary details he pitched a hissy fit.

Cano’s father, Jose, issued a statement to the effect that the “Yankees were obviously not interested in keeping Robinson.”

That could not be further from the truth. Cashman and the Yankees were hoping that any offer Cano might have received from other teams could be brought back to the Yankees to give them a chance to match or top it. Now $240 million looks to have been a problem but the Yankees could have extended a year and increased the offer to $200 million.

But Cano did not give the Yankees a chance and he had to shop himself to the Mariners to get what he what he was seeking.

Fortunately, Cano had a willing partner in Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has made his career on just two things: turning out lousy clubs year after year and miscalculating the value of young prospects he has in his system and ones he has acquired in trades.

Let’s look at the Mariners most recent history.

Since 2004, the Mariners have been a losing franchise. They have been below .500 in all but two seasons and have not finished better than second place in the American League West in any of those years.

After the departures of stars like Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella at the beginning of the new century this franchise has languished, boasting only outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez as true stars.

Zduriencik tried to seed the team with prospects by making trades, such as the 2010 deal he made to trade All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee.

The Yankees thought they had a deal for Lee in place, offering their No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero, right-hander Ivan Nova and second baseman David Adams. But Zduriencik balked at Adams because he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. He asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.

Cashman said no and Zduriencik turned around and shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers for their top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak.

Smoak, 27, has been an absolute bust. In 2011, Smoak hit a scintillating .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2012, he floundered like a real flounder at the Pike Street Market.

He hit just .217 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Last season he batted .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs. A budding Mark Teixeira he’s not.

He is currently listed on the teams 2014 depth chart as a backup to journeyman Logan Morrison, who is a career .249 hitter with a grand total of 42 major-league home runs.

Then there is Zduriencik’s 2012 deal acquiring Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi from the Yankees for right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

The Yankees decided to ship out Montero because they had determined he would never become a major-league quality defensive catcher and he would either have to move to another position or become a designated hitter to succeed in the majors.

The Mariners found out the hard way that the Yankees were right. Montero batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 2012, but he started only 55 games as a catcher.

In 2013, Montero not only lost his job as a catcher but he was sent back to the minors after hitting .208 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 games. He also suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that shelved him for most of the season.

Montero, 24, is listed behind Mike Zunino on the team’s depth chart.

This is the team Cano has decided to grace with his presence.

Good luck!

It could be 10 years before Seattle ever gets close to competing with the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angels Angels and the Rangers in the division, much less compete for a playoff spot. Cano does not solve the team’s weak hitting in the outfield and infield, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seagar.

The pitching with King Felix is competitive enough but the rotation lacks depth and the bullpen is a disaster.

Another point is that over the 10 years of Cano’s contract, a lot of young prospects will be brought up to follow his example. Let’s hope they cover their eyes when Cano raps a easy grounder to an infielder, who boots the ball but still nails him because Cano was loafing out of the batter’s box.

Let’s also hope they are not watching when he drops the bat at the plate thinking he has a home run and gets tossed out at second base because he did not run hard. That is a Cano trademark that manager Joe Girardi played off casually to the media but it chafed his chestnuts to the core.

Speaking of home runs. Robinson, you won’t be hitting as many of those in spacious Safeco Field. Your home run totals should drop back to the 20 to 25 mark or so because you line most of your shots.

You can also kiss goodbye having your number retired in Monument Park. That would have made you the first Dominican so honored. You also will not pass some the greats of the game on the franchise’s offensive categories list. You also will miss out on the division tiles, playoff games and championship rings. Lucky you got that 2009 ring squirreled away. That will be the only one you get.

It is shame you let your temper get the better of your good judgment.

Now you will be booed when you come to Yankee Stadium on April 29 with the rest of the no-name band you are hanging with these days. That is a shame, also.

You were a magnificent player and you really were a benefit to the Yankees with your skills as a hitter and a fielder. Those skills will be wasted in losing efforts much like the 2013 season you suffered through.

But you still can count your precious money after the game. Enjoy it because it obviously means more to you than winning.

Adios, amigo!