This is the first of a three-part series on how the New York Yankees’ 2013 roster is shaping up this winter. There will be some changes and we will look at the starting pitching, the bullpen and the starting lineup to see what those changes might involve. This is:
PART1: STARTING PITCHING
Meat cleaver or scalpel?
That is the choice every Major League Baseball general manager ponders over the winter with respect to how to deal with their 2013 rosters.
Teams like the Miami Marlins may believe the meat cleaver approach is the way to go while teams like the Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a piece here and cut out a small piece there with a gentle scalpel.
The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman pretty much have the choice made for them by payroll commitments that restrain what they can or can’t do. Long-term contracts handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter plus potential free agency down the road for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano kind of limits what Cashman can do to repair what needs fixing.
Of course, the criticism of some Yankee fans that the team needs to “get younger” is being counterbalanced by those long-term deals and the signing of veterans like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.
Some factors have already played out. Catcher Russell Martin has signed a more lucrative multiyear deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is a certainty that right-fielder Nick Swisher will not return.
We also know that Rodriguez, once again, will be unavailable to play a full season for the Yankees. Hip surgery scheduled for January will shelve the 37-year-old veteran until June at the earliest. That will mean Rodriguez has failed to play a full season with the team since 2007.
So what will Cashman do to address the needs of the team? Let’s look at the roster and see what the Yankees have and what they may need.
There is a huge debate about the Yankee starting pitchers. Though the Yankees won the American League East with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, there are those who believe it is not strong enough to carry the team to the team’s 28th championship.
Obviously, Cashman disagrees because he re-signed Pettitte and Kuroda. One reason he may have felt it necessary to sign a 37-year-old right-hander and 40-year-old left-hander was because Kuroda and Pettitte pitched well in 2012. Kuroda posted a career-best 16 victories with a 3.32 ERA. Pettitte was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts in a season abbreviated by a broken ankle.
Cashman sees Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as the core of the starting staff.
Hughes regained the form that saw him go 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. Though he has won 34 games in his first two seasons as a starter and he is only 26 years old, Yankee fans want him to be more consistent. Unfortunately, Hughes is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher lacking a quality third pitch. So without a quality third pitch, Hughes will pretty much stay on the tract he currently is on.
Nova, however, has possibly the best stuff of the staff. When his fastball, curve and slider are right he can be downright nasty. But after an impressive 2011 rookie season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.40 ERA, Nova took a step backwards in 2012.
Nova was 12-9 with a 5.02 ERA and he gave up a whopping 28 home runs and hitters hit a ridiculously high .288 against him. But the Yankees are not ready to give up on Nova at age 25. Nova still has the capability of being the same guy who was the team’s No. 2 starter in his rookie season. Why demote a guy who is 28-13 in his first major-league 55 starts?
The Yankees also have a insurance policy behind their top five with rookie right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps earned his way on to the team as a long reliever after being named the team’s top pitcher in the minor leagues in 2011 and the best rookie pitcher on the team last spring. He then drew raves for his work out of the bullpen and as spot starter, finishing the season with a 4-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). At age 26, Phelps has a future as a starter.
Cashman may add a starter or two to the mix this winter but it is likely they will be along the lines of the Freddy Garcia scrap-heap variety. Yankee fans are dreaming if they are thinking Cashman is going to obtain Justin Verlander or David Price in a trade.
Of course, the prospects for this staff would have been better if Cashman’s major deal of 2012 did not blow up in his face.
The Yankees traded a power-hitting catcher compared as a hitter to Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez in 22-year-old Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda after he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.34 ERA in 2011. Because Montero was such a heralded young prospect, much was expected of Pineda when he arrived at spring training last February.
However, it was pretty apparent that he came to camp severely overweight and the velocity he showed on his fastball in 2011 was missing. After six starts this spring and he was raked like last winter’s leaves to the tune of a 5.68 ERA it became that there was something wrong.
As it turns out, Pineda was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he missed all of 2012. Pineda is progressing in his rehab and he hopes to be able to pitch this spring. However, the Yankees are not really counting on Pineda to be able to claim a starting spot this spring. He probably will continue to rehab at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, until he is ready to pitch in a lengthy rehab assignment in the minors.
Pineda could be a big boost to the staff at midseason or he could end up working out in a full season in the minors in order to compete for a starting role in 2014.
The Yankees boasted in 2012 the team’s best minor-league pitching depth they have had in many years. Phelps was among five pitchers the Yankees believed were just on the cusp of possible stardom at the Triple-A level.
Though Phelps succeeded, D.J. Mitchell was traded late in 2012 to the Mariners as the Yankees did with Hector Noesi as part of the Pineda deal. Adam Warren struggled in his only major-league start though he remains a potential starter for the team at age 25.
But the team’s two top pitching prospects had disastrous campaigns in 2012.
Manny Banuelos, 21, made only six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down with a left elbow injury. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and he will miss all of the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, Delin Betances, a 24-year-old right-hander, pitched so poorly at Scranton (3-5, 6.39 ERA) he had to be demoted to Double-A Trenton and he was not much better there (3-4, 6.51 ERA). Betances has been unable to harness his control in the minors and he needs to show some significant improvement in 2013 to maintain his prospect status.
The Yankees do have a number of pitchers that could have a long-range impact on the team.
Brett Marshall, 22, was 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Trenton in 2012. Though the right-hander has not been labeled as a top prospect, he is similar to Phelps in that he has succeeded at each level he has pitched. He was the Yankees’ best minor league pitcher in 2012.
Lefty Nik Turley, 23, is a tall strike-throwing machine who was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Class-A Tampa. Righty Jose A. Ramirez, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA at Tampa. Jose Campos, 20, was acquired along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he could be a real gem.
Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five starts for Class-A Charleston before the right-hander had to be shut down with a minor elbow injury. Campos led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts in 2011 and he may end up being more valuable in the long term that Pineda. The Yankees will be watching his progress closely in 2013.
Cashman and the Yankees seem to have a matrimonial allegiance to their pitching staff these days. They pledged their devotion to each other to remain in sickness and in health for as both retain their jobs. But in baseball, there are short honeymoons. The problem will manifest itself if the staff does not do its part.
The Yankees’ pledge to reduce payroll makes it hard for this team to spend a large amount of money on a Plan B. So the Yankees have to really hope that what they have on hand is enough.
NEXT: THE BULLPEN
For those fans expecting Matt Garza to be modeling Yankee pinstripes in 2012, your dream is not likely to come true.
The Yankees did have an interest in the 28-year-old Chicago Cubs right-hander. But the team’s president of baseball operations Theo Epstein must have been smoking some of that fraternity stash of his lately. His asking price for Garza, who is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA in his career, is two of the Yankees’ top three prospects.
Yes sir! Epstein and the Cubs want slugging catcher Jesus Montero and either left-hander Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances, according to a report by Jack Curry of the YES Network.
Needless to say, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman nearly choked on his Nathan’s hotdog when he heard that request. Although the Yankees would love to obtain Garza to bolster their starting rotation, the asking price for a pitcher who was just 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 2011 would seem to be excessively steep.
The Cubs might as well go all the way and offer back-up outfielder Reed Johnson even up for Curtis Granderson. Or how about catcher Geovany Soto for Robinson Cano? You can criticize Epstein for a lot of things but you have to give him credit for having cojones.
This overpricing of pitching has been a trend this winter and it is one of the reasons why Cashman has had to decline big-money offers to overpriced free agents such as C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle. The Rangers paid $51 million just for the right to negotiate a deal with Japan’s best pitcher, Yu Darvish.
Teams like the Padres and Athletics have exacted a cartload of prospects for pitchers such as Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs are trying to do the same with Garza.
But the Yankees have apparently bowed out of the sweepstakes, leaving the Blue Jays and Tigers as the players left interested in Garza unless the Cubs begin to start lowering their demands.
This is is exactly what I was predicting in my last post when I stated that Cashman should proceed with caution in talks for Garza and not succumb to desperation at the expense of the building blocks to the Yankees’ future. You have to know when to fold your hand and leave the table.
Cashman, it appears, has done just that.
Montero, 22, is simply the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have developed since they promoted Mickey Mantle in 1951. The jury may be out on his skills to be a creditable defensive catcher but scouts have compared his ability to hit to players such as Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez. You do not trade players with this much upside.
Banuelos, 20, is the best left-hander and the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization and Betances, 23, is the second-best pitching prospect. Neither of the two have had an opportunity to show the Yankees what they can do at the major-league level. Both rose from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. Both project as potential top-of-the-rotation starters. The Yankees have no other starters in their farm system with that capability.
So why trade any of the three for Garza, who only is two seasons away from free agency and is likely to earn $20 million over the next two seasons in arbitration? Garza is essentially a .500 pitcher. He is not more than a No. 3 starter. If Garza was a flavor of ice cream he would be vanilla. Plain vanilla.
You don’t trade your best prospects for vanilla. You tell Epstein, “Fudge you!”
Which is exactly what Cashman has done.
With any potential deal for Gaza apparently gone, the Yankees are now looking at free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, according to CBSSports.com.
Jackson, 28, was 12-9 with a 3.73 ERA and 148 strikeouts for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. He reportedly is looking for a contract in the $15 million to $17 million range for 2012. The Yankees might be unwilling to go that high on the veteran right-hander, who is 60-60 a 4.86 ERA and 801 strikeouts in his career.
The Yankees are apparently trying to find a middle ground that Jackson and his agent could accept. The Yankees see Jackson as a potential reliable and durable No. 3 starter.
The Yankees already have five potential starters in CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. They also have six potential young starters in Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Betances and Banuelos.
But they have made no secret of the fact the would love to unload troubled right-hander Burnett and his $33 million salary paid over the next two seasons. The Yankees have reportedly offered to pay up to $7 million of that contract but have received no takers so far for Burnett.
The signing of Jackson would allow the Yankees to continue to develop their prize minor-league prospects and renew their efforts to unload Burnett.
It is looking as if the Yankees will not be signing Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a contract by the Friday deadline, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
A source told the Ledger that the talks have been “slow” and the Yankees are unlikely to complete a deal for Nakajima, 29, by the 30-day deadline called for in the posting process. The Yankees wish to pay Nakajima as a backup infielder and Nakajima has been paid as a starter in Japan. So both sides are not close to a deal.
The Yankees posted a $2 million bid for Nakajima in early December and won the right to negotiate a contract. If the two sides can’t agree on a contract Nakajima’s team in Japan, the Seibu Lions, will return the $2 million to the Yankees and Nakajima will remain with the Lions.
The Yankees looked at Nakajima, who hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with Seibu in 2011, as a potential backup infielder at second, third and shortstop. The negotiations for Nakajima precluded the Yankees from making a deal to re-sign 34-year-old veteran Eric Chavez.
However, if the Nakajima talks fail the Yankees could, if they wish, can contact Chavez’s agent to get the 34-year-old corner infielder back for the 2012 season. Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees in 2011. He missed two months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot.
The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.
CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (18 HRs, 65 RBIs, .237 BA)
At the midpoint of the season, Martin was hitting .222 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs. So he raised his average 15 points, hit eight home runs and drove in 31 runs in the second half. Martin’s offensive production was a somewhat disappointing considering he is a career .267 hitter. But back and toe injuries in the first half and a thumb injuries on both hands in the second half short-circuited his season at the plate. But the Yankees have to be pleased with his power and his 65 RBIs at the bottom of lineup. Martin’s biggest contribution though was his Gold Glove defense behind the plate. Martin called a good game, blocked pitches in the dirt and controlled the running game with his arm. He entered the season with a .990 fielding percentage and he matched that this season. He also had a career mark of nailing 40% of the base-runners attempting to steal on him. He threw out just below 30% this season, a dip probably having to do with the thumb injury and some pitchers who were slow to the plate. Overall, though Martin was an excellent investment for a one-year, $4 million contract.
Backup catcher Francisco Cervelli started the season on the disabled list with a broken left foot he sustained in the exhibition season in Florida. He hit .231 with one home run and 13 RBIs in the first half. He also was guilty of some pretty awful throwing errors, which is not good for a backup catcher. Cervelli improved greatly in the second half. He raised his average to .266, hit three home runs and drove in nine runs until a September home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Orioles left him with a severe concussion that clouds the rest of his season. Though Cervelli is working out he is not expected to play in the first round of the playoffs and likely will miss the rest of the season. He had a .980 fielding percentage and nabbed 20% of base-runners attempting to steal.
The Yankees entered 2011 with real strength at catcher. Behind Martin and Cervelli was former starter Jorge Posada, who could catch in an emergency. (That only happened once, however.) The Yankees also had a trio of great minor-league catching prospects in Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. Montero and Romine were at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, respectively. Both were recalled. Montero came up when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and Romine was summoned to replace Cervelli a week later.
Montero did not catch much in September. He mostly was used as a right-handed hitting designated hitter. But that was more than OK with Yankee fans. In just 61 at-bats, Montero hit four home runs, drove in 12 runs and hit a robust .328. At age 21, Montero is drawing comparisons to hitters like Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza. His right-center power stroke seems ideal for Yankee Stadium and he could be the most significant power hitter the Yankees have produced in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle some 50 years ago. His defense behind the plate is still a work in progress. Montero’s size at 6-foot-3 makes it hard for him to block pitches and come out of crouch to throw out runners. The Yankees may see him more valuable as a DH and a backup catcher next season.
Romine, however, is a more polished receiver behind the plate. Manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who both know a bit about catching, believe Romine’s defense is major-league quality. In his few starts he threw out 33% of the base-runners attempting to steal on him. At age 22, Romine is still working as a hitter. He hit only .158 but he only received 19 at-bats. Scouts believe Romine will get better as a hitter. He won’t hit for Montero’s power but he will be a good line-drive hitter.
Catcher was the Yankees’ deepest position beginning the season and with Cervelli’s late-season injury, it is good thing the Yankees did have the depth here. The question is will Romine and Montero make the postseason roster? Monetro is more likely to stick because Martin will catch all the postseason games. However, if Montero is used as a DH, the Yankees will have to use Posada or lose the DH if Martin is injured. Tough choice.
SECOND HALF GRADES
CERVELLI I (Incomplete)
I gave Martin a B for his first half for his strong April and the promise of great improvement in the second half. It never really materialized for him. Martin, a former hockey goalie in his native Canada, is tough as they come. However, the wear and tear of catching makes it hard to be a consistent hitter. The Yankees have to be happy with his 16 home runs and 65 RBIs hitting at the bottom of the order and there is no doubting that Martin is an excellent defensive catcher with a good arm. Any season of enduring the wildness of A.J. Burnett deserves some honor. Martin was an excellent signing by general manager Brian Cashman.
OTHERS (Cervelli, Montero, Romine) I
The fact that Posada was only needed to catch part of one game shows the depth the Yankees have at this position. Martin started 118 games and, despite the nagging injuries, he gave the Yankees superior play behind the plate. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees make a bid to re-sign Martin in the offseason. My guess is they will make an offer but his price is going to go up considerably.
- Swisher’s clutch home run was his first of the spring. It came after lefty Cesar Ramos retired the first two hitters in the seventh but he then walked Robinson Cano. Rays Manager Joe Maddon summoned the right-handed Ekstrom, which turned Swisher around to his power side. Ekstrom missed with his first three offerings and then grooved a 3-1 fastball that Swisher hit over the deck in right-field.
- Alex Rodriguez homered for the third consecutive game. His solo blast to lead off the second inning came off Rays starter Chris Bootcheck. Rodriguez has hit safely in all 11 games he has played this spring and he has now driven in runs in five straight contests.
- Phil Hughes had a passable fourth outing. He gave up two runs on four hits and one walk and fanned three batters over six innings. He gave up a sac fly to Manny Ramirez in the opening frame and was victimized again on his cutter to open the third inning when John Jason hit a solo home run to right.
- Steve Garrison, who already has been optioned to Double-A Trenton, came in relief with the bases loaded and two out with the Yankees protecting their 3-2 lead in the eighth inning. Garrison got the Yankees out of the jam by fanning Chris Carter.
- The Yankees scored 10 runs on 12 hits on Wednesday and then went back to their old ways. They managed only three hits in the game: Swisher and Rodriguez hit home runs and Curtis Granderson tripled to lead of the sixth inning. He remained there as Jesus Montero grounded out to third, Brett Gardner struck out and Derek Jeter hit back to the pitcher Ramos to end the threat.
- Romulo Sanchez nearly handed the lead back to Tampa Bay in the eighth inning after Swisher had put the Yankees in the lead for the first time. Sanchez walked the bases loaded after retiring two of the first three batters he faced. But Garrison came in to shut down the Rays.
- The Yankees were not exactly facing the Rays’ best pitchers but still struggled. Bootcheck, Adam Russell, Jake McGee and Ramos held the Yankees to just two hits and one run until the seventh inning. The Yankees also were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. This was on a night when all the starters, except for catcher Russell Marrtin, were starting for the Yankees.
- You may be rid of Man-Ram but Jason Bay does not scare pitchers like the bad boy you caudled all those years.
- David Ortiz’ issues with his wrist are an extension of his steroid use and despite his lame denials, power hitters don’t decline at age 33 for no reason.
- You pinched “Penny’s” to sign Brad Penny and 42-year-old John Smoltz and bragged about it even after the Yankees actually lowered their 2009 payroll by signing Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. How is that working for you now, Theo?
- You have screwed Mike Lowell so many times it is laughable and he is your hottest hitter since he came off the disabled list. Trading for Victor Martinez may have looked like a great idea on July 31, but it is not producing a better offense.
- How does those signings of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew look now, Frat Boy? Lugo not only could not field but you found out he could not hit either. Bummer. Now you find out J.D. Drew’s shoulder is a limp appendage and you are finding out that 12 home runs and a sub-.250 average won’t cut it anymore.
- You tried to get Roy Halladay but offering garbage to the Blue Jays for him was just a funny exercise in futility. J.P. Riciardi is not as stupid as the Diamondbacks front office when they handed you Curt Schilling for a bag of baseball, huh?
- Now that Lugo is gone, who is your shortstop? Nick Green? Chris Woodward? Cristian Guzman? None of them are as good as Nomar was or how Hanley Ramirez is now. Beckett or no, dealing Ramirez was a stupid error given the revolving door at SS.
- Was giving up $100 million worth getting Dice-K? It is obvious that the return you have gotten from that investment was pretty darn awful.
- You know when your manager brags about all the pitching depth you have in spring training that it might be a great time to start looking to add to it. Suddenly the Red Sox rotation is Beckett and Lester and pray for a lot of rain.
- A bullpen is only as good as the rotation it supports. When you get innings from your starters the bullpen looks great. When you don’t get those innings even great bullpens spring leaks. Yours has been leaking like a sieve lately.