Alex Rodriguez was the subject of a cascade of boo birds from the home town crowd during the Yankees win over the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and their loss to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, but he's not the only the Yankees player whose future in New York is tenuous.
Overnight, the Yankees got old, slow, and in some cases, uninspired and unmotivated. It's not the first time this has happened to the team since the turn of millennium. The Yankees approach will be a little different though, at least one can hope, then when Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius retired and Tino Martinez was pushed out in the cold for Jason Giambi and his steroid enhanced numbers.
The Yankees need to get younger and more versatile. The DH spot will have to continue to be open for a rotation of players and not used for one player as is the tendency for most teams. The 25 Yankees that head north for opening day next season could be very different from the 25 that opened the 2012 season.
First let's take a look at the obvious returnees, some of which could/will be returning with physical issues.
1. The Captain, Derek Jeter: The Yankees every day shortstop since the start of the 1996 season missed his first post-season games this Fall when he fractured his ankle in the first game of the ALCS. Jeter underwent surgery to repair the fracture as well as the ligaments he damaged. A 5-6 month recovery period is expected, with the possibility that Jeter may not be ready for opening day. Jeter had an incredible season with 216 hits1 and a number of clutch hits, but his body did wear down as the season went on.
The Yankees need to address their utility infield position. They need a player who can ably play second base, shortstop, and third base, but especially the two middle infield positions. Eduardo Nunez has shown potential with his bat and speed, but cannot be the backup shortstop, nor can he be a stop gap until Jeter is ready.
2. Robinson Cano: Cano's overall numbers for the year were 33 HRs (career high), 94 RBI, .313 Avg, .920 OPS, and he also won his second Gold Glove Award in three years. Parts of Cano's game had its downside as well. He was less selective at the plate and hit just .268 with Runners In Scoring Position and it dropped even further to .207 with two outs.
There were rumors during the season that the Yankees would go against their usual policy and negotiating a new deal while Cano was still in the middle of his current deal. That deal is set to expire after the 2013 season at which point Cano will become a free agent.
All of that talk was before Cano went from being the hottest hitter in baseball to the coldest as soon as the post-season began (3-40). Fans started pointing out deficiencies that had always been there- doesn't bust it out of the batter's box, won't dive for a ball, etc. Offensively, Cano has eclipsed an .800 OPS in only three of the 11 post-season series he's participated in and has been below .400 in five of them. The Yankees exercised their $15MM option on Cano for 2013, but what happens beyond that remains to be seen. My hunch is that they will get a long term deal done before the '13 season is over. (Perhaps before it begins.)
3. Mark Teixeira: The Yankees first baseman had a tremendous year, as usual, at first base and captured his fifth Gold Glove Award. But Teixeira suffered through a miserable season when it came to consistency at the plate and suffered through a variety of ailments. An upper respiratory issue left him breathless and coughing for the first two months of the season and the year ended with a strained calf that affected the stretch run and playoffs.
Teixeira's 123 games played was the lowest total of his career as was the number of home runs (24) he hit. His RBI total of 84 matched his lowest output, which came when he was a rookie with the Texas Rangers in 2003. The switch-hitter still produced very good numbers from the right side, but his OPS from the left side was nearly 100 lower than from the right. Much maligned for his failure in the playoffs since becoming a member of the Yankees, Teixeira swung a better bat this year, but upon closer inspection it was far from great.
Though he was 6-17 (.353) against the Orioles in the ALDS, not one hit was for extra bases and he had only one RBI. He managed a double in the ALCS, but was just 3-15 and had no RBI. Teixeira turns 33 early next season and has four years left on his contract. Kevin Long must get him back to being less pull happy from the left side and get him to recognize breaking pitches much better.
4. CC Sabathia: The Yankees ace did not look like his "normal" self for much of the season. There were a couple of instances where he felt soreness in his elbow and spent some time on the disabled list (Once with a strained groin). In late September, with the Orioles breathing down the Yankees neck, Sabathia returned to form and helped the Yankees win the AL East.
He was excellent in the division series and threw a complete game in the finale to push the Yankees into the ALCS. But his lone start against Detroit was awful and soon afterwards it was announced he would be visiting renowned orthopedic specialist, Dr. James Andrews. On October 25, Andrews removed a small bone spur from Sabathia's left elbow and said that the Yankees' ace would be ready for the season.
With $94MM guaranteed over the next four years (plus the ability to earn another $25MM in 2017) one can only hope that the bone spur was the lone issue that affected Sabathia in 2012.
5. David Robertson: The Yankees version of Houdini entered 2012 looking to repeat his 2011 season when he struck out a remarkable 13.5 batters per nine innings. Robertson was elevated to closer this year after Mariano Rivera tore up his knee in early May, but his new role only lasted a few games before the Alabama native was placed on the DL with an oblique strain.
When he returned a month later, Robertson was back in his 8th inning set up role with Rafael Soriano having earned the closer's job. Though he struck out 12 batters per nine innings and had the lowest walk total of his career, Robertson struggled with his control for the final four months of the season.
6. Boone Logan: When Logan was acquired with Javier Vazquez prior to the 2010 season it was strictly to fill the lefty specialist role. But Logan's performance against lefties and right-handed hitters earned manager Joe Girardi's trust, which translated into appearances. He went from 51 his first season in the Bronx to 64 in 2011 to a career high 80 in 2012.
It's my opinion that Girardi overworked Logan this season, especially if you include all of the times Logan warmed up, but did not enter the game. Logan struck out a career high 11.1 batters per nine innings, but his walk total doubled from the previous season. The 28-year old is at his best when he isn't overused and Girardi needs to keep that in mind. You don't need to mix and match in every single late inning of the ball game. (Girardi needs to just remind himself of what Joe Torre did to Scott Proctor.)
7. Ivan Nova: I am not a believer in the "sophomore jinx" that so many broadcasters and members of the media like to talk about when a second year player's performance doesn't match or exceed their rookie season. More often than not, especially in baseball, the league adjusts to the player and said player needs to then make adjustments of his own.
That being said, I am concerned about Ivan Nova's performance in 2012. Nova finished 4th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting after he posted a 16-4, 3.70 with 13 home runs allowed in 2011. He was counted on to be a mainstay of the rotation this past season and increased his number of starts over 2011 by one (28). But outside of the month of June (3-0, 1.26), Nova wasn't very good. He gave up 28 home runs and his ERA passed the 5.00 mark.
The right-hander went on the DL August 24 with shoulder inflammation, which makes one wonder if hadn't been covering up an injury all year. (If you recall he left his last post-season start against Detroit in 2011 with a strained right forearm.) Nova returned with a sharp outing in a win against Tampa Bay in September, but was awful his next two times out. That's all Girardi needed to pull him from the post-season rotation plans.
The Yankees need Nova to return to his 2011 form if they are to compete for the division title once again in 2013.
8. Brett Gardner: Until the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki at the trade deadline, the Yankees were a one dimensional team due in great part to the loss of Gardner to an elbow injury in April. Gardner's .321 batting average and .817 OPS contributed to the Yankees 7-3 start to the 2012 season, but after trying to rehab his inflamed right elbow to no avail, Gardner went under the knife in July.
The Yankees left fielder returned in late September and was added to the post-season primarily for his speed and defense. But with the Yankees mired in a team wide slump, Gardner actually got eight at-bats (with no hits- I did say it was a team wide slump) in the league championship series.
The Yankees need a healthy Gardner to help set the table next season and eclipse his career high of 49 stolen bases.
Most Likely To Return
The list of players to follow are those that are likely to find themselves back in the pinstripes unless Brian Cashman has other ideas in mind.
1. Phil Hughes; The one-time top prospect in the Yankees organization will be 27 next June and is coming off another inconsistent season. It's something that has driven fans, who still hold high expectations, into snark filled rants. Hughes was 16-13, 4.23 and threw a career high 191.1 innings. He threw a solid six innings in a division series win against Baltimore, but left after only three innings and a run allowed in the ALCS due to a stiff back.
Hughes improved his strikeout to walk ratio, but allowed a career worst 35 home runs. He was just 5-9, 4.76 on the road, but 11-4, 3.74 at home despite the fact that Yankee Stadium favors left-handed hitters. Hughes enters a second year of arbitration eligibility and will probably get a modest bump up from the $3.2MM he made in 2012. He's likely not to be used as trade bait since the Yankees top pitching prospects and Michal Pineda, whom they were counting on heavily this past year, are hurt and/or not ready for prime time.
2. Curtis Granderson; Like Cano, the Grandyman was another candidate to be given a new deal while still playing out his current contract. But as the year went on, Granderson's production at the plate diminished. While he kept his power (career high 43 home runs), his batting average and OPS took nose dives from the prior year and he struck out at an alarming rate (a career high 195 whiffs).
Hitting coach Kevin Long seems to have created a home run hitting monster, who lost his plate discipline while he still produced the long ball. I've used the analogy previously in talking with other Yankees fans and I stand by it. Long overcompensated with Granderson to the point that he turned an all around great hitter in 2011 and made him into Rob Deer (at his best, the 11-year MLB veteran averaged 28 home runs, led the league in K's and finished his career with a .220 career batting average.) It's a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get my point.
I'll take 25-30 home runs, an OPS 50-100 points higher, and a strikeout total that doesn't eclipse 140. For instance, take Granderson's 2007 season with the Detroit Tigers. A .302 batting average, .913 OPS, 23 HR, 38 , triples, 23 doubles, 26 stolen bases, and 141 strikeouts. Granderson hit lead off 93% of the time in '07, so his role was a little different than with the Yankees. But do you want a hitter with this potential hitting 7th or 8th, like he ended up at the end of the 2012 season?
Long needs to get Granderson back to somewhere between that 2007 season and the 2011 MVP-caliber year that Granderson had. For the moment, Granderson will be in the final year of his contract when the 2013 season begins. (The Yankees exercised his $15MM option earlier this week.) Danny Knobler of CBS Sports also reported the Yankees are considering moving Granderson to a corner outfield position and moving Gardner to center.2
3. Alex Rodriguez; You don't really think that the Yankees are going to pay the major of A-Rod's contract so he can play for somewhere else, do you? A-Rod's rough year and even rougher post-season has been well documented as is the five years and $114MM that is still owed to him. A-Rod's season was already pretty average, well below his norm, when a Felix Hernandez broke his left hand in July. Upon his return, A-Rod wasn't even able to match his production prior to the injury.
The end result was an OPS that was below .800 for the first time since his rookie season in 1995. The result of that was endless boos from a rancorous Yankee Stadium crowd. It was apparent that all the good feelings that A-Rod had garnered during the team's run to their 27th world championship in 2009 had been completely erased. Back was the "It's all your fault we blew the 2004 ALCS" mentality.
Things only got worse in the post-season when A-Rod couldn't hit the side of the barn, got pinch-hit for twice, and then was humiliated even more when he was benched. It had to have put a strain on the relationship between A-Rod and Joe Girardi, which up until that point, had been a good one (Girardi has already spoken by phone with A-Rod to begin a healing process). All that being said, the Yankees aren't going to swap one bad contract for another (i.e. the Heath Bell trade rumors before the Marlins dealt him to Arizona.) and it's likely A-Rod will be the Yankees opening day third baseman in 2013. Now he just needs to stay healthy and get the pop back in his bat.
4. Eduardo Nunez: What do you do with this guy? He has tremendous speed. He shows flashes of offensive spark, than gets in a pop-up funk. His play at shortstop can be more frightening than Freddy Krueger. But the "people in the know" think the kid has real potential. Do you turn him into an outfielder, have him work out more regularly at shortstop and have Jeter DH more games in 2013?
Do you trade him before all potential is erased? I am glad I am not in on this decision, because I have no idea what to do with this guy. (Maybe he can be converted to pitcher and be the new 7th inning guy.)
Could Be Back
1. Mariano Rivera: I never ever wanted to think about this possibility, let alone write about it. 2012 was likely going to be it for Mo, but then he tore his ACL while he shagged fly balls in Kansas City on May 3. He underwent surgery after he cleared up a blood clot and vowed to return in 2013. His career would not end this way.
But less than a week ago Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com3 reported that Rivera told Cashman he was having "second thoughts" about playing again. Rivera's decision could have a domino effect in determining the make up of the Yankees bullpen in 2013. If he is to return, I would not be surprised for the Yankees to ask him to take a pay cut from the $15MM he made this season (i.e. $8MM with incentives to get him to $15MM?)
2. Hiroki Kuroda: The Japanese veteran gave the Yankees more than they possibly could have expected, especially considering it was his first year in the American League and in its toughest division. Kuroda worked on a one year, $10MM contract. The Yankees would love to have him back in 2013 and possibly longer. (Mutual second year option?)
First, Kuroda needs to decide if we wants to play another season at age 38, and if he's fine with another one year deal. There's no doubt that the Yankees will offer him arbitration in this, his first year of eligibility. Kuroda had career highs in innings (191.1), complete games (3), wins (16), winning percentage (.593) and strikeouts (167), and was the Yankees best pitcher in the second half. To top things off, Kuroda allowed just five runs in 16.2 innings over two post-season starts and struck out 11 in a hard luck loss to the Tigers in the ALCS. He
certainly will be in demand this off-season if he hits the free agent market.
If Kuroda is willing to return to the Yankees, this is a no-brainer. You plug him right into the number two spot in the rotation.
3. Andy Pettitte: The Texan's return to the Bronx was unanimously well received by fans, the front office, and teammates. Pettitte was amazingly sharp for a guy who sat out a year and all things looked to be coming up roses. Then a line drive off the bat of Cleveland's Casey Kotchman fractured his ankle and limited him to 12 regular season games.
Pettitte made two pretty good starts in the post-season, but a lack of run support stuck him with a loss against the Orioles and a no-decision against the Tigers. Just like Rivera and Kuroda, Pettitte first has to decide if he wants to come back for 2013. If so, the Yankees would certainly welcome him at the right (low) price. (It seemed a lock for Pettitte to return prior to the injury, but not as much so now. I believe he will though.)
4. Russell Martin: The Yankees catcher took a lot of heat for his awful first half of the season, but he remained steady calling games and throwing out runners (Or as best he could with some pitchers doing a poor job holding runners on).
Martin hit a career high 21 home runs and looked a little better in the second half. Fans still rode him hard for his lack of overall offense, and already wanted the Yankees to sign free agent-to be Mike Napoli. (Most of Napoli's popularity comes from the tremendous 2011 regular and post-season campaigns he put together; For a variety of reasons, Napoli has played more than 115 games just once in his seven year career)
The Yankees don't need their catcher to be an offensive machine; that is not the first priority for any catcher. But all that is forgotten when the team as a whole doesn't hit, especially in the post-season. My guess is that the Yankees and Martin come to an agreement on a short term deal, maybe two years with a mutual or team option on a third year. Martin made $7.5MM this past season and would probably only get a modest increase from the Yankees. They will most certainly offer him arbitration, which he may or may not accept. (Ideally, Austin Romine's back is healthy enough to back up Martin next year as the Yankees wait for Gary Sanchez and other top catchers in the organization to make their way to the top of the food chain.)
5. Raul Ibanez: The late game hero in the final stretch of the regular season and the man who pinch-hit for A-Rod in the post-season and homered to tell about it, would be welcome back next year if he's willing to basically accept the same deal he received this year. (With a modest increase from the $1.1MM he earned this year).
Ibanez would like to find a multi-year deal, but at age 40 that might be difficult to do.
Not Likely Back
1. Rafael Soriano: Even if Mariano Rivera had already announced he would not return for another season, there was no question that Soriano would opt of his contract before the third and final year kicked in. Had he still been a setup man in 2012, Soriano may have opted out any way. But after having ably filled in for Rivera (42 saves in 46 attempts), it was clear Soriano would look for a new multi-year contract, and you can bet he'll find one.
Again, if Rivera makes a quick decision and decides to retire, it does not mean the Yankees will go all out to bring back Soriano. Not with Hal Steinbrenner looking to get payroll under $189MM by 2014. (Per ESPN.com, the 2012 payroll was $195,998,004.) But they will most certainly attempt to retain him if the closer position is still open.
2. Ichiro Suzuki: As red hot as the future Hall of Fame member got in the stretch run, he just turned 39 and really doesn't fit in the plans. Ichiro would most likely try to sign on somewhere as a full-time player, something the Yankees shouldn't be offering him at this point.
Bye Bye aka Don't Let the Door Hit Ya...
1. Nick Swisher: All of the good feelings towards Nick Swisher and his "dag gummit" interviews and gee whiz, ain't life grand attitude disappeared in a millisecond during the playoffs. Swisher was just 16-100 as a Yankee when the calendar turned to October from 2009 - 2011. A 5-34 (.147) performance this year totally turned the fans against him, some crossing the line as fans tend to do once the beer starts flowing.
Swisher was shocked by the words thrown hurled his way and was truly stung by them. His great rapport with the fans was gone and Swisher shielded himself by ignoring them as the ALCS played out in New York. Even if the Yankees wanted him back (Which they certainly will not; Swisher will be seeking a multi-year free agent contract), there's a good possibility that Swisher would not even consider a return.
Swisher proved in his four years in the Bronx that he is a good, solid Major Leaguer, especially with the bat. But when it comes time for the big games, at the season's October restart, Swisher disappears. Sayonara Swish.
2. Andruw Jones: The one time powerful slugger, who ate up left-handed pitching, got worse as the season progressed. He made less and less contact at the plate and will definitely be shown the door.
3. Freddy Garcia: The 14-year veteran was an amazing find in 2011, but was pretty awful (to put it nicely) this past season. Thanks for your time and please accept this Turtle Wax as a show of our appreciation.
4. Eric Chavez: The former Oakland Athletics stand out had his best season in years, primarily because he stayed healthy. Despite a .281 avg, 16 home runs, an 845 OP, and solid play in the field, this is one of the spots the Yankees must get younger. Chavez will turn 35 in December and is always a step or swing away from an injury. He looked old during the post-season, when both his bat and glove failed him.
Chavez definitely earned more than a gold watch for his time in NY and the door should be held open for him as he leaves. Thank you for a job well done.
5. Casey McGehee: Already given his walking papers, McGehee turned down an assignment to the minors and became a free agent. What happened to the guy who hit 23 HRs and knocked in 104 in 2010? This version really stinks.
6. Derek Lowe: Though he pitched decently after his acquisition, there's no room for Lowe in the Bronx. I could see Cashman trying to make a low money deal though, as he did with Garcia, to pitch either at the back end of the rotation or to be the long man in the pen. I'd rather they let him walk..far, far away.
Up in the Air
1. David Aardsma: Had his $500K option picked up for 2013; that's no shock since the Yankees brought him in to rehab from Tommy John surgery this year in hopes he could contribute in 2012 or 2013. The former Mariners' closer could get a shot at that role if he's fully healthy, and if there is an indeed a job opening.
2. Clay Rapada: Was a pleasant surprise as the second lefty out of the pen and could be back.
3. Cody Eppley: An even bigger surprise than Rapada. A little bit of Jeff Nelson with movement and delivery, Eppley needs to cut down on walks and probably appearances to be really effective.
4. Jayson Nix: Did a fine job of filling in at times, but a .690 OPS in over 200 plate appearances probably spells his demise in pinstripes.
5. Michael Pineda: The big catch in the Jesus Montero trade, Pineda had shoulder surgery before the season started and missed all of 2012. Word is he could be out until at least June in 2013. But will his effectiveness be back as well? You can bet Brian Cashman is praying so.
6. Chris Stewart: Can the Yankees please stop employing back up catchers that haven't hit since Little League? And no, Francisco Cervelli is NOT the answer.
So there you have it. It's not a pretty picture with so much uncertainty and it may take a (playoff-less) year to get things back on track. Those who are drooling over the prospect of signing free agent Josh Hamilton, forget it. It's not happening. Any free agents brought in will be the lower priced ones and Cashman will be working the Bat phone in hopes of swinging a deal or two.
Let the Hot Stove begin.
1 - Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
2 - cbssports.com
3 - espn.com