What's Going On Behind The Scenes In Yankeeland?

Cash 2013

Cash had a lot to say to the media yesterday.  Unsurprisingly, the bulk of it was about injuries.  While the news on A-Rod and Michael Pineda was both positive, it was what Cash said about Mark Teixeira that stood out.  When asked about Kevin Long's statement over the weekend that Teix hadn't seemed right since coming off the DL, Cash pulled off the impressive feat of going both on the defensive and the offensive, saying that Long had never said anything like that in any internal discussions and calling it "alarming" that Long would then say that to reporters.  When pressed further to comment on whether he was angry with Long, Cash summed up his feelings with this statement:

“I think some people are better with the microphone than others.”

Boom, roasted! I don't care if you like Cash or not, that's a good line.  What I do care about is the fact that it's another example of Cash publicly airing out his people, something that's never been a part of his playbook and has come as a bit of a surprise to me this season.

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Who's To Blame For The Youkilis Screw-Up?

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

We're never going to find out, and I ask the question knowing full well that it really doesn't matter in the long run.  What matters is that Kevin Youkilis get 100% healthy and not come back to play until his back is 100% healthy.  But just out of sheer, morbid curiosity I'd like to know what went on behind the scenes on Friday/Saturday that led to Youkilis' name being put on the lineup card so he could go out there and hurt himself again.  Cash's statement on the matter yesterday Tuesday was pretty damning, about as clear-cut an instance of people getting thrown under the bus as I've seen in some time, and I work at a company that specializes in that.  It's pretty out of character for Cash to be that blunt and sell his own people down the river like that, so I'd be very interested in knowing what happened to inspire his comments.

As far as I can figure, the "everyone involved" would have had to include Youkilis, Joe, and the training staff, with maybe Cash getting a vote on the matter after he heard all the reports.  His statement indicates that he wasn't on board with Youkilis playing, so who effed up?  We know Joe's been talking to Youkilis every day since he first started missing games, so did he just misunderstand something that Youkilis told him about how he felt?  Did the training staff miss something when they checked him out?  Did they miscommunicate something to Joe?  Or did Youkilis just snake everybody and say what he had to say to get himself back on the field?

Any and all of those explanations are possible and I'd believe all of them if that was the explanation the team gave.  But I still really want to know and it's driving me crazy knowing that I'm never going to know.  It's not every day that something like this happens in professional sports and it's not every day we see Cash sell his people out that publicly.  Somebody dropped the ball here, Youkilis is going to miss more time as a result, and his back injury could become an even greater lingering issue moving forward.  I DEMAND ANSWERS!!!

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Jeter related ramblings

Happy Friday, all. I hope your week hasn't been too stressful. Anyway, let's get down to business. We're all aware of Derek Jeter's injury situation. Opening Day has long been Jeter's goal, but that now appears in jeopardy. Yesterday, GM Brian Cashman announced that Jeter would no longer participate in Major League Spring Training games; however, he'll continue to play in Minor League games. As we've all heard by now, this is essentially a clerical "just in case." It allows Jeter to get game action, but also allows the Yankees to retroactively place Jeter on the 15-day Disabled List in case he isn't ready to go for Opening Day. This all makes me think that they should just place Jeter on the DL now. The Derek Jeter we've all come to know and love is the guy who "shows up to work every day" and just "does his job" (and does it exceedingly well most of the time). Like any successful worker, Jeter is goal-oriented, and in this case, Opening Day readiness is the goal and he's been steadfast in his determination to reach that goal. That effort is certainly laudable, but is this "toughness" actually a good thing? Being in the lineup on Opening Day is certainly admirable, but if Jeter isn't field-ready by then, can't we argue that it hurts the team just as much as--if not more than--it would if he just sat out for the first few games and returned on April 6th? Granted, Eduardo Nunez isn't going to be any great shakes at short for those few games, but how effective would an injured Derek Jeter be? His range is already limited and now he's got another year to his name as well as an ankle plate and some screws to match. Wouldn't it be better to get the DL stint out of the way now rather than in May or June when he's an absolute statue in the field and possibly unbalanced at the plate?

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Yankees' Plan This Offseason Could Be Setting Them Up For Future Failure

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

One of the posts I read over the weekend that really stuck with me was Greg Corcoran's open letter to Brian Cashman over at Bronx Baseball Daily letting Cash know what he thinks of the Yankees' offseason plan.  The general theme of Greg's post was that while he can get on board with what the team has done this offseason to transition to the sub-$189 mil payroll in 2014, he didn't see their no-spending approach as a real plan for success after the payroll ceiling had been reached.  Specifically, he cited the Yankees' failure to sign or trade for useful players on multi-year deals and their perceived assumption that multiple prospects are going to come up and contribute as flaws in their logic, and that got me thinking.

As it is, the Yankees have seen their monetary advantage shrink over the past few seasons as teams started signing their own players to new deals before they hit free agency.  Now, with that spending already capped and more teams working to extend their big names, any plan to reload after reaching 189 could prove useless if there are no big free agent targets left.

As it stands, the biggest free agent available after the 2013 season is going to be Robinson Cano, and there have already been plenty of debates about what the Yankees should do about that situation.  With all the money they have coming off the books after this season, it's likely that they'll use a large chunk of that to nail down a new deal for Cano.  The leftover roster spots will be filled by another round of cheap, 1-year free agents and assorted prospects, constructing a club that Greg correctly described as one "getting closer and closer to a nonplayoff team."  The big free agent fish are supposed to be a part of the 2014-2015 free agent class, but that well could dry up on the Yankees before they even get to it.

That future free agent class, if nothing happens between now and then, would include position players like Elvis Andrus, Chase Headley, and Colby Rasmus, and pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Yovani Gallardo, Jon Lester, and Johnny Cueto.  Any of those players would be a welcome addition to what is sure to be a still older and less-talented Yankee roster after the 2014 season, and after resetting their luxury tax penalties the Yankees would be wise to open the checkbook back up for players of this caliber.  The only problem is that some, most, or possibly even all of them might not be around with the way the game has trended recently.

It wasn't that long ago that we were labeling guys like Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria, David Price, and Joey Votto "future Yankees."  And in the past year or so, all of them have received contract extensions from their current teams, some for only a few years and some for long enough to take the players right through the remainder of their peak years.  Looking back at the potential 2014-2015 class, there's already seeds of those type of extensions being sewn.  King Felix is in the early stages of negotiating a new deal with Seattle, as is Kershaw with the Dodgers.  The Tigers would be out of their minds to let Verlander go, and Andrus is going to end up with a long-term deal somewhere whether he gets traded by Texas or whether Jurickson Profar does.  By the time the Yankees have money to spend, this well could already be dried up.

And that's assuming they are even willing to spend after 2014.  Things said by Hal Steinbrenner recently indicate that at least he would like to see the Yankees maintain a payroll somewhere around the $189 luxury tax avoidance level even after the Yankees reset their penalties.  That, combined with the rest of MLB's newfound desire to keep their best players in their current uniforms, could leave the Yankees with few options to replace their lost production and an even bigger dependence on their farm system, which Greg was quick to remind us has a greater than 50% failure rate even among the best prospects.

The Yankees have put themselves in a tough spot this offseason, not just for 2013 but for the years to come in the near future.  They've shown their hand when it comes to involvement in big trade opportunities and big FA negotiations, and that hand isn't holding big-money contract offers.  It's not holding anything.  With other teams now seeing the benefit to locking their good young players up long-term before they hit the open market, another practice the Yankees continue to stubbornly not engage in, there are going to be much slimmer pickings for the Yankees whenever they do decide to open up their wallets again.  As Greg said, I certainly hope this is something the front office has considered and factored into their offseason plans for the next few years, but I'm not 100% convinced that it is.

Would The Yankees Really Go To Tampa With What They've Got Right Now?

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

I didn't write about it last week when the comments were made because it didn't tie in to the Prospect Week theme, but Cash made some head-scratching statements to our buddy Wally Matthews about the Yankees' current roster makeup and the stance they're taking as the offseason winds down and moves into the preseason.

“I know it’s getting late, but we’re still looking."

“We’re open for business, but we’re not going to do something just to do something. If we have to, we’ll go to Tampa with what we’ve got."

It's just 2 short sentences, but there's a lot to take from those statements.  "Getting late," "still looking, " open for business," and "If we have to... " all lend some possible insight as to exactly what the situation is at the top levels of the Yankee decision-making hierarchy and how Cash feels about it.  By now, I'm assuming he's as fed up with the penny pinching as most of the fanbase is and is just trying to get through the offseason by creating as few a number of waves as possible.  But as the guy whose job it is to construct the best team possible, can Cash really be serious about going to Tampa with what he's got?

By my count, there are 21 players on the active roster right now who are locks for a spot on the Opening Day roster: CC, Hirok, Andy, Hughes, Nova, Phelps, Mo, D-Rob, Logan, Joba, Aardsma, Rapada, Teix, Cano, Jeter, Youkilis, Ichiro, C-Grand, Gardner, and any 2 of the 3 active catchers.  That leaves 4 spots up for grabs- a DH position and 3 bench roles (4th OF, utility IF, utility corner IF) that need to be filled.  The good news, if you want to call it that, is that the Yankees at least have their Opening Day starting lineup intact.  The bad news is that the pickings are slim to fill the other 4 spots from what's currently available.

From the active roster, the leading candidates to fill those spots would be Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Melky Mesa, and Russ Canzler.  Nunez can play 3 infield positions and the corner outfield spots, none of them well, but seems destined for the utility IF role if he makes the team.  CoJo and Adams are both best-suited as second basemen, with Adams having limited third base experience.  They could conceivably function as a lefty/righty DH platoon, but setting that up with 2 guys who have 0 combined Major League ABs wouldn't be an ideal situation.  Mesa can play all 3 outfield spots and DH if needed, and Canzler has the ability to play outfield and first base and could also be a righty DH candidate.

If none of that sounds appetizing, the Yankees could look to some of the guys not on the active roster.  Matt Diaz and Gil Velazquez received non-roster invites to big league camp, and Jayson Nix and Ronnier Mustelier are candidates to compete for the utility IF, 4th OF, a/o DH jobs.  But as expected, the talent level of this group is a little less than that of the players already on the 40-man, and the expected ceiling in production a little lower.

The issue with this large group of players, those on the active roster and those who aren't, is clearly not quantity-based.  There are more than enough players with more than enough positional flexibility to cover the 4 open roster spots.  The issue is with the quality of production that any of these 4 can be expected to provide.  Based on past performance and career history, the Yankees would be looking at replacement-level production from this group at best, and that's where the question comes in relating to the team's, and Cash's, actual willingness to "go with what we've got."

If I had to guess, I'd say Cash's statements were more along the lines of trying to be strategic about his negotiating position, because there are still players out there who would greatly help the Yankees and would not represent making a move just to make a move.  But at the same time, with as strictly as ownership has stuck to their guns on not wanting to add payroll, it wouldn't come as a shock (although it would be a disappointment) if the Yankees really did stand pat and went to ST looking to fill their open roster spots from their internal cache.  Cash indicated that they are still "open for business," but failing to follow through and conduct a meaningful transaction would be another strike against the "we're still trying to win a championship this year" stance from ownership.

Cracking The Hot Stove Code

Last week, we had four days of Winter Meetings to look forward to, and all we got were four days of rumors. (1,2,3,4) The Yankees haven't needed this much TLC since 2008, and now they get to do it with a budget in mind. On top of that, the free agent market isn't exactly booming with potential. Brian Cashman may have missed a number of outfield  and infield free agents last week, but none of them were "must-haves". He has to please the fans with a winning team, he has to please ownership by staying within a budget, and he has to do his job with the largest media market in American sports breathing down his neck. How's he going to get his job done when the media is broadcasting all his weaknesses to every baseball organization and agent he needs to negotiate with? He makes stuff up.

If you've followed any of the rumor updates from last week, you'll see that the number of contradicting reports is ridiculous. Baseball news has evolved into a competition of the fastest fingers. The first reporter to tweet a rumor or an acquisition gets some sort of point. What are the points good for? I don't know. And while it breeds competition, it degrades the quality of news. A false break is usually lost in the storm of other rumors from unreliable sources, and nothing goes checked.

Welcome to "The Hot Stove", the show where everything's made up and the points don't matter. That's right, the points are like awards given out by the BBWAA.

But this post is more than a rant about how untrustworthy the rumor mill is, because there's actually a meaning behind it all. The rumblings come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually an agent or organization. One agent may offer a reporter a legitimate signing break so that they could help spread a false rumor that a big market team may be interested in their client. While the rumor is bogus, that'll rarely hurt a reporters reputation. Instead, this rumor will help influence a team to increase their bid on the free agent in order to keep up with the fake suitors.

It works in favor of organizations as well, as they can pretend to have interest in a free agent that a rival is involved with. Only last year, Cashman admitted to driving up the price on Carl Crawford, who was heavily connected to the Red Sox, and ultimately signed with them. He's become notorious for manipulating the media, and it's hard to read into anything linked to the Yankees anymore.

So far in this offseason, in response to losing Alex Rodriguez for the first few months of the season, Cashman said that the Yankees are looking to upgrade at third base. During the length of the winter meetings, the Yankees were connected to Chris Nelson, Kevin Youkilis, Eric Chavez, Ian Stewart, Jack Hannahan, Marco Scutaro, and Mark Reynolds. They were also linked heavily to Jeff Keppinger, and at one point, were considered favorites to sign him. But when Keppinger actually signed, we heard a completely different story.

First the Yankees bid $12 million for 3 years, more than what he received from the White Sox, but preferred to play for Chicago. Lots of fans and reporters were shocked that the Yankees couldn't even sign a utility player they clearly had interest in. Then we heard the Yankees never even made an offer.

Eric Chavez, another third baseman the team supposedly had a lot of interest in, was also signed by another team, yet later we found out that the Yankees again never offered a contract.

Then there were the outfield rumors, which included Scott Hairston, Cody Ross, Shane Victorino, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nate Shierholtz. The team was the frontrunner for Shierholtz, and they even (supposedly) offered him a contract. Of course, he went on to sign a one-year $2.25 million deal. It's hard to believe the Yankees couldn't beat that.

Now the team supposedly offered Kevin Youkilis a $12 million one-year deal, and I'm not sure we should have any faith in that being real either. It seems that the long list we were given a week ago of outfield and third base options have all signed somewhere else, and the Yankees never even got close to making an offer. Cashman also led off the Winter Meetings by saying he's looking for just an "upgrade" at third base. The organization closed out the meetings by saying that Cashman's hands were tied by ownership, and he couldn't even offer contracts to these utility players without consulting the Steinbrenners. It would seem that the Yankees are struggling to even find a mediocre bench player.

But all of these rumors from a normally quiet Cashman is a bit odd. It makes me believe that the GM is strategically making teams believe that he's only interested in a platoon and utility third basemen and outfielders. Why would he do that? Because teams know that the Yankees need these positions filled, and by playing coy on the market for positions of need, other teams are less likely to inflate the price.

An example of this happened yesterday. Just a week ago, the Royals made it well known that they needed a top tier pitcher, and that they needed him now. They got their guy in James Shields, as well as Wade Davis, but paid for it with the top offensive prospect in the game, Wil Myers, as well as former first round picks, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and a former 5th rounder from last year, Patrick Leonard. In other markets, Myers for two years of James Shields sounds reasonable, but as it stands, the Rays were able to convince the Royals to give up much more.

After his long tenure with the Yankees, Cashman has learned how to manipulate the media beautifully. I expect that everything he tells reporters, and much of what we find out, is for a reason. Heck, we didn't even find out that Andy Pettitte signed until a week after the parties agreed.

When it comes to the rumors about platoon players this offseason, I think Cashman means the exact opposite of what he says. I won't say that the team will go out and sign Josh Hamilton and trade for Chase Headley, but even if they extend Robinson Cano next year, they have a bit over $40 million to play with in 2014, and 3 potential first round picks in 2013 to restock their farm system. They still have a considerable amount of resources stockpiled, and I think they're poising themselves to unexpectedly strike some impact players.

The only other option would be that the team has decided to go through their first rebuild since the early 1990's. Considering they gave Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera rather big contracts, I find it hard to believe ownership would be willing to waste money on pitching without a commitment to win in 2013. There are four offensive positions to fill, and based on everything we've heard, there are two ways I see the team moving forward.

  1.  The rumors about the Yankees contacting teams about Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are true. They could get a nice package of MLB ready prospects for that, and fill out the team with young high upside players for the long term. It's risky, and something the Yankees aren't accustomed to, but it looks similar to what the team planned when trading for Michael Pineda. It doesn't help them much in 2013, but it makes the future bright, and helps offset the bulky contracts of CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira.
  2. They sell the farm for young players closer to their prime. Trading away Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Gary Sanchez would allow them a pick at a number of established and productive players. It'll risk the team becoming older over the next few years, but they'll have a much better chance over 2013 and 2014. The farm wouldn't be completely destroyed either, thanks to the three first round picks in June's draft.

I'm sure there are a number of other ways to treat this offseason, but from the numerous rumors that have become more transparent to their real nature, it's clear that the Yankees are molding a new team, and the most logical way is through the trade market.

2013 and 2014 will ignite a new stage for the organization, and this offseason will determine what it'll be. The starting lineup for the 2013 Yankees will likely have at least four different players at OF, 3B, C, and DH. In 2014, Granderson will be gone, Rivera and Pettitte will probably retire, Derek Jeter will be in the last year of his contract, and who knows if Robsinson Cano will agree to an extension.

These are weird times in Yankee-land, and how this offseason is handled will hold tremendous consequences to the future. So while the rumors say that they'll probably settle for a platoon at just about every position of need, the next stage for the team won't be composed of aging platoon players and utility infielders as we've been led to believe. Cashman is up to something.