Given how I’ve a history paper to write (if anyone has extensive knowledge of Juan Perón’s economic reforms in Argentina, holler), and it being 90° here in Oregon (sorry east-coasters), today is not the time for heavy baseball thinking. Instead, I’m going for a casual-Friday kind of post, recapping some of the more light-hearted, impressive, or just downright weird occurrences in baseball during the past week. It’s quick and dirty, but every GIF, video, or article linked to is well worth your time. Unless of course you have a history paper to write as well.
– Robinson Cano returned to New York for the first time since leaving the Yankees for Seattle (and the $240M) over the winter, and found the time to film a segment for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Largely amusing, if only for the stupidity of some New Yorkers (sorry east-coasters, again) – the combination of a giant box and a microphone almost always spells prank.
– Cool graphs illustrating baseball’s borderlines (h/t to @nytgraphics for the incredible interactive map) not your thing? Well what about an info graphic (courtesy of Thirty81 Project’s Lou Spirito) overlaying the dimensions of every major league ballpark on top of one another? Still nothing? There’s just no pleasing some people.
– After last week poking fun at Mike Carp‘s woeful inning of relief, I thought we were in for another treat on Wednesday afternoon when Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado took to the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, Maldonado allowed just a leadoff single to Allen Craig before retiring the next three batters in order. Furthermore, after Carp’s marathon effort, Maldonado required only 14 pitches, 9 of which were strikes. An anticlimax in every regard.
– It wasn’t all so dull on Wednesday however, we did get a couple of very impressive fan showings; in Texas, a brave A’s fan dressed as Oakland’s ‘Stomper’ mascot, and in preparation for a sweep, brought along a broom (the Athletics won 12-1, which was likely not only a good sign for Stomper’s future career as a fortune-teller, but ability to escape Globe Life Park alive). Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, a fan snagged a sharply hit foul ball one-handed whilst carrying his son with his other arm. Tremendous stuff*.
– The Wednesday silliness even spread around the minor leagues. In the top of the fifth inning of the Fort Wayne TinCaps vs Great Lakes Loons game, first baseman Fernando Perez caught his foot on a sprinkler chasing a pop-up, and unfortunately activated it. Aside from dousing nearby fans, the subsequent torrent of water delayed the game for 18 minutes. Perez would hit a home run in his next at-bat though, so the incident obviously didn’t dampen his day. Sorry…
– Maybe B.J. Upton needs anti-glare versions of the prescription glasses he wears while batting when he’s in the field too, lest more potentially dangerous moments like this happen again.
– Speaking of dangerous, Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura was forced to leave last Saturday’s game against the Cubs after Ryan Braun‘s warm-up windmilling nailed the 24-year-old in the face. Segura would get stitched up by a plastic surgeon and returned to action yesterday; Braun later pulled an oblique and remains sidelined. Karma?
– Carl Bialik wrote a very interesting piece for Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com in which he explored Mark Buehrle‘s accelerating effect on the speed of a game; it turns out the Blue Jays lefty is taking just 15.8 seconds between pitches this year, his fastest rate yet. At the other end of the spectrum, David Price is the worst culprit in terms of between-pitch tardiness.
– After a prolonged stint on the sidelines, a short spell in the minors, and a couple of rain delays, Manny Machado finally returned from the DL in the second game of Baltimore’s doubleheader on Thursday. Naturally, David G. Temple manipulated the young third baseman’s happiness into an action more commonly associated with Miley Cyrus:
Yeah, I’m pretty confused how it’s relevant too. Your week in baseball oddities everybody!
* I’d be remiss not to point out the Boston fan who somehow snagged a foul ball prize while cradling his phone and a beer in one hand during Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays. No human life was put in danger however, so he’ll have to settle for a runners-up spot this time out.
With Opening Day II right around the corner, it’s finally time to bid adieu to Spring Training. As always it started out a pleasure, then dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, but we’ve made it through the slog nonetheless; only two more rounds of meaningless games (including today’s slate) remain before we can settle down for the halcyon days of an 162-game summer. So on that note, let us send off Spring Training in style, and celebrate the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous, in the manner I have arbitrarily deemed best – a two-part GIF review.
One of the most exciting aspects of Spring Training every year – without fail – is the first time you see the winter’s big free-agent signings with their new teams. It still seems weird to watch Robinson Cano rope his first hit for the Mariners, but $240 million apparently quickly erases any loyalty to certain laundry. Cano has had an impressive spring, cranking an .435/.480/.522 line, his squad compiling a 17-11 record – but as we all know, Spring Training stats aren’t especially indicative of regular season success.
Seeing Curtis Granderson wearing Mets blue and orange rather than pinstripes wasn’t especially strange; seeing him get hands on with the Cardinals’ first baseman Scott Moore on the other hand… pretty disturbing (though it should be noted they were once teammates in the minor leagues with the Tigers, so perhaps it was just an overly-friendly renewal of acquaintances).
With David Price quietly staying put in Tampa, Masahira Tanaka was the most wildly talked about pitcher of the offseason. The Yankees landed him from his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, thanks to a huge 7 year, $175 million offer (including posting fee), only for Brian Cashman to dub him “a really solid, consistent No. 3 starter.” Judging from his outings this spring, it now seems safe to say the Yankees GM was simply downplaying the ace up his sleeve.
Not everything went so smoothly for the Evil Empire during their spring tune-up however. Their infield is approximately 300 years old – not that Cashman noticed – and apparently, they still have a ton of work to do in regards to the simple tenets of fielding – lest more fantastically amusing collisions occur when the games actually count. Here’s a starting tip: don’t throw your mask down the third base line when going for straightforward pop-ups Brian McCann!
Of course, there were also plenty of moments of fielding brilliance to counter the Yanks’ ineptitude. Josh Reddick – a prime bounce back candidate after a 2013 marred by wrist injuries – bagged himself a pair of home run robberies early on, both at the expense of new Giant Michael Morse. (Only one GIF is necessary, seeing as they were nearly identical Spiderman grabs).
Even Daniel Murphy, legitimately one of the worst defensive second basemen in the Majors, managed one instance of amazing work, somehow throwing out the PED-free Bryce Harper with a throw from between his legs. Don’t hold your breath hoping for more of the same Mets fans, Murphy is significantly more likely to end up at first base once Ike Davis and Lucas Duda inevitably fail than to produce a play like this again.
Finally (for today at least), it wouldn’t be Spring Training without a couple of embarrassing incidents occurring on the grassy knolls that serve as outfield bleachers. Hey, anytime you can let your child careen down an incline while you chase after a baseball, to steal a joke from Bill Simmons, you have to do it! I mean, you’re not seriously there solely to watch the Marlins play right?
At least our father of the year didn’t make a complete fool of himself though, unlike this guy below. I’m not sure which is worse, falling over so pathetically, or the beer-toting bro in the Paul Konerko jersey prancing off prize in hand while the desperate kids look on.
That’ll do it for part I of my Spring Training GIF-cap, check back tomorrow for the second remembrance of the weird and wonderful. My thoughts on more serious matters, ie. the Miguel Cabrera extension, if they weren’t already apparent, can wait a while – Miggy isn’t going anywhere for a long time thanks to Dave Dombrowski’s ignorance of aging patterns.
After only going 85-77 in 2013 (dramatically outperforming their pythagorean win/loss expectation of 79-83 in the process) despite boasting the ML’s leading payroll ($228.1M), God only knows the New York Yankees needed to shake things up this offseason if they were to return to their accustomed winning ways. Out the door went their top position player by WARP from the year prior, Robinson Cano taking his non-hustling talents to the Pacific Northwest. Unobstructed by the Yankees, so too did the powerful (although free-swinging) center fielder Curtis Granderson leave to earn his fortunes elsewhere – in his case, just across town with the Mets. And of course, the Yanks’ top reliever, and the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, departed too – albeit through the planned retirement route rather than New York’s apathy. In rapid fashion, help arrived via free agency; Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and prize capture Masahiro Tanaka were all brought in by GM Brian Cashman for the princely sum of a combined $438M, while Hiroki Kuroda and Brett Gardner were both extended in the hope of further bolstering a squad also returning from injury the big name likes of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
And yet all their offseason activity may be for nought – in the ultra-competitive AL East, such spending may in fact merely have the effect of a plaster on a broken leg; the infield is still a mess. Their outfield is made of glass. C.C. Sabathia, despite his weight loss, looks likely to be the next Roy Halladay-like/Johan Santana-esque breakdown candidate. Alex Rodriguez’s half-man, half-centaur shadow remains looming over the team. The farm system is as unyielding as a pumpkin patch set up in the Sahara. And the team is ancient – all of their projected starting position players are over 30 years old, and the average age of those players is 33.8. The Yankees are going to need help in every area they can find it if they’re to seriously contend once again in 2014. Michael Pineda might just be one forgotten source.
When we last saw Pineda, it was September 2011, and he was in a Mariners uniform. As a 22-year-old, he hadn’t looked out of place aside Felix Hernandez at the top of Seattle’s rotation, posting a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP and 3.53 xFIP) over 28 starts after breaking Spring Training with the team, on his way becoming the first rookie to ever throw at least 150 innings with at least a strikeout per inning and fewer than three walks per nine. Armed with a 94-97mph heater and a slider off of which opponents hit only .175/.220/.294 (Pineda threw it 857 times), the imposing righty’s strikeout percentage of 24.9 was 6th best among 94 qualifiers, landing him right between Justin Verlander and the version of Tim Lincecum who won two Cy Young awards. He was so good at such a young age, that when New York landed him in exchange for the no. 4 prospect in baseball at the time, catcher Jesus Montero, as well as the RHP prospect Hector Noesi, the industry consensus was that they had got themselves a steal – despite the high price of losing Montero.
But, as no one at the time predicted, so far the swap has been the ultimate lose/lose trade. Montero is now an overweight first baseman in Triple-A Tacoma after bombing out in Seattle, and Noesi has been sub-replacement level; the pair have thus far combined for a total of -1.4 fWAR, 2 last place finishes in the AL West, and about 40 extra pounds this spring. Pineda on the other hand, showed up overweight to his first Yankees Spring Training back in 2012, and promptly tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder; two years later, he’s still yet to throw a pitch in the majors. Literally nothing good has come from the trade, apart from, as Baseball Prospectus pointed out in their annual, “the 40-man roster spot the Yankees freed up”. With Montero equally a non-factor in Seattle, Yankees fans couldn’t even direct their trade ire at the Dominican Republic native; the once much-hyped Pineda thus has become quite the forgotten man in New York, as other stories (A-Rod, the 189 plan, retirements), have overwhelmed his absence.
That might soon change. Though he returned to minor league action late last summer (in his 40.2 innings he posted a 9.07 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9), an eye-opening Spring Training has the 6’7 Pineda in line to claim New York’s open fifth rotation spot, and thus back under the spotlight. In beating out David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Adam Warren for the opportunity, the now 25-year-old Pineda has looked every bit the same as his 22-year-old self; he still has the same mechanics, the late break on the slider, and sub-3 BB/9 control, while similarly lacking the quality third pitch to be truly dominant. The man himself has said so much: “I’m the same Michael Pineda.” His fastball velocity has been somewhat down so far, sitting at around 92mph in Spring Training, though it’s not uncommon for pitchers to ramp it up once regular season games begin. The Bronx Bombers best hope he does so, as Pineda figures to be a large factor in their 2014 success.
Though the Yankees’ starting staff looks the strongest element of the team on paper, in reality questions remain at every spot; can C.C. still do it? Will Father Time finally catch up with Hiroki Kuroda? Is Tanaka the next Yu Darvish, or more like Daisuke Matzusaka? Was Ivan Nova’s second-half performance for real? The youthful impetus a fully-recovered Pineda would provide New York would be immense in terms of shoring up some of the squad’s deficiencies, and a pleasant surprise to those who had forgotten him.
A good performance from the ace up their sleeve, after two and a half years of waiting, could be the difference-maker for the Yankees.
Just putting it out there, but does anyone else find it slightly ridiculous that LeBron James will be paid $19,067,500 for his efforts during the 2013/14 NBA season? Many would say it’s way too much already, considering he plays a game for a living – plus he’s got endorsement deals to go on top of that base figure. Others – Bill Simmons for instance – think that James’ check should be significantly larger, say, in the $75M range. After all, he has been named the NBA’s MVP 4 times, won 2 titles, lost another 2, and been a 7-time All-NBA 1st Team selection – and even that’s cutting his career resumé very, very, short. Either way you look at it, overpaid or undervalued, one thing is clear however; compared to baseball’s salaries, one of the best players in basketball’s history has been truly shafted by his union’s negotiating skills (or lack of).
Let’s take James’ current 2013/14 salary, $19,067,500, and see where it would land him amongst baseball’s highest (total salary) earners in 2014; 22rd, behind not only top players like Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano, but the slightly less desirable likes of Ryan Howard ($25,000,000), Mark Teixeira ($23,125,000) Carl Crawford ($21,107,142). He’s barely ahead of Mark Buehrle ($19,000,000), and will likely fall further behind as soon as Mike Trout puts pen to paper. Now admittedly, LeBron famously took less money to sign with the SuperFriends in Miami, so is only tied for the 8th highest salary in his own sporting field (with teammate Chris Bosh as it happens; Dywane Wade is no. 10), but even the very top NBA earners are overwhelmed in number by their baseball-playing peers. In fact, Only Kobe Bryant’s (egregiously awful – I’m a Suns fan) $30,453,805 2014 salary would crack baseball’s top 11 for the current calendar year – Dirk Nowitzki, if anyone’s interested, would check in at no. 12 – just behind Felix Hernandez – if such a joint rich list formally existed.
Now I’m not saying that baseball players don’t deserve their money (well, maybe in the cases of Howard, Teixera, Crawford et. al), but when looking at the similar revenues generated from the two sports, one thing is drastically apparent; one union clanked iron at the negotiating table, and the other smashed their labor deal out of the park. If the puns didn’t make it apparent, the MLBPA might be the strongest professional sports union in existence, whereas the NBPA, well, it blows.
Since 2000, NBA revenue is up 120 percent, from about $2.5 billion to $5.5 billion, while MLB revenue has also seen a significant, but similarly proportioned boom; it has increased from about $3.4 billion in 2000 to about $8 billion in 2013, good for a 135 percent jump. But while the MLBPA have long fought off a salary cap on players earning power, the NBPA famously agreed to maximum thresholds for the sport’s top stars in order to end the 204 day lockout which nearly nixed the league’s 1999 season. And in doing so, they preserved basketball’s middle class, but screwed the big stars. In the word’s of super-agent Art Tellem, “They are really stealing from LeBron.”
Per Sports Business Journal, and spotrac.com, in 1999-2000, of the 20 players whose contracts had the highest average annual value, 11 were NBA players, led by Kevin Garnett at $21 million a year. Baseball made up the other 9, but Kevin Brown was the sport’s highest earner at only $15 million a year. By 2002-03 the distribution became a little more even; of the top 21 (three NBA players tied at No. 19 averaging $15 million a season), 11 were NBA and 10 were MLB, with Alex Rodriguez’s first 10-year deal significantly entering the fray. Fast forward to 2007-08, and the numbers had flipped – nine of the top 20 highest-paid players were in the NBA and 11 were in MLB, who in A-Rod and Johan Santana could boast sport’s top two highest earners. And finally, 2013, where of the top 21 highest-paid athletes in America (two players were tied for 20th place), 13 were MLB players, and only 6 NBA athletes (the other two were NFL quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Drew Brees). Furthermore, 8 of the top 10 deals belonged to baseball players – and this was all before Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw or Jacoby Ellsbury signed new contracts this winter.
The discrepancy between the two sport’s top salaries really is remarkable, and even more so when you consider the proportional importance of individual players to each game; with only 5 players a side, a star in basketball can have much more impact than the one of the 9 players in a baseball lineup. Mike Trout being taken away from the Angels would cost them around 10 wins a season. When LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavs went from a league best 61 wins in 2009/10 to a conference-worst 19 the following season – a 42 win differential – and along the way also tied the longest losing streak in any American professional team sport (26). And you’re telling me Masahiro Tanaka, who has yet to throw a pitch in an MLB regular season game and will likely appear in 50 fewer games than James, will make $2,922,500 more than him in salary during 2014?
Seriously, well played MLBPA.
Many internet prognosticators figured it would be at least 12 months before Robinson Cano voiced his displeasure concerning Seattle’s roster construction, projecting a full season of disappointment before any public outcry. Instead, it has taken only 90 days as a member of the Mariners for the star second baseman to provide the front office with some pointers. Though the speed of his ‘advice’ hasn’t earned him much in terms of popularity amongst his new fanbase, it would be wrong to instantly dub Cano and his contract off the mark, and begin the what seems inevitable process of his becoming a financial albatross to the team. He’s probably actually right.
Cano’s signing with the Mariners started the clock of contention ticking for Seattle, a situation succinctly explained by Mike Curto: “The mix of Cano’s age (31) and the financial commitment speeds up the Mariners’ calendar. The team is now pressured to win in the next few years, before Cano’s skills severely decline.” With a clear window of serviceable Cano years to operate in, and armed with an impending $2 billion thanks to a new long-term agreement with DirecTV, the M’s promised to be aggressive on the free-agent market in building a team around their prize in order to immediately contend in a loaded AL West division. What actually happened however… well, they struck out – as my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series detailed. Entering the season, the Mariners are projected to have Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager batting ahead of Cano, with Corey Hart in line for clean-up duty. That’s a problem, one Cano had no issue with immediately highlighting in an interview with CBSSports.com earlier this week:
“I’m not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don’t want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.”
When Cano signed his 10-year, $240 million contract in December, it was clear he was leaving a bad offense behind in New York; as Baseball Prospectus pointed out in their fantastic annual, “The second baseman accounted for 68 percent of the Yankees’ BWARP” in 2013. At age 31, he quite rightly jumped at Seattle’s offer – purportedly $65 million more than the next-highest bidder – and GM Jack Zduriencik’s promise to build a contender around him during the remainder of his prime. The problem there being that Cano’s prime may already be over – and Zduriencik has so far done nothing.
Mike Bates of SB Nation studied the 20 most valuable players who spent more than half of their careers at second base through age 30 since 1900; his results showed that the group average fell from a cumulative 47.3 WAR through their age 31 seasons, to just 22.3 WAR after. So while Cano has been remarkably durable so far in his cumulating a career 45.1 WAR (he’s currently in the midst of a seven season streak of at least 159 games played), and consistently great at both the plate and in the field, every historical indicator points to those days of healthy performance soon ending. In his study of the unsightly aging curve of offense-minded second basemen, Fangraphs writer Tony Blengino wrote the following about Seattle’s splashy acquisition:
History says that Cano will ride out the end of his peak period in 2014, begin a solid decline phase with some .300ish, 18-20 HR seasons, than begin a deeper secondary decline phase during which he accumulate hits — and outs. By age 35, there will likely be a severe disconnect between Cano’s salary and his production.
Paging Jack Z – 2014 is this year! It has always been acknowledged that the back end of the Dominican native’s contract would be an overpay, but the obliviousness of the Mariners front office to the obvious decline on the horizon is a little frightening for a long-suffering Seattle fan base. Father Time catches up with even the best players in the end – just ask Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.
All of which is why Cano’s recent lobbying for help (including for the still-available Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales) makes sense; if he is only going to be able to provide front-loaded production, the team should go out and get help now. Per Cot’s Contracts, the Seattle payroll is currently sat at around $74 million, with just Cano and Felix Hernandez as the only large contracts, yet with the benefit of their upcoming TV deal they neither seriously pursued Nelson Cruz or Ubaldo Jimenez in free agency, nor made an aggressive push for a David Price deal despite possessing a suitable return piece in Taijuan Walker (who is now injured, naturally). Cano’s addition alone will not be enough to in one year turn around completely an offense that in 2013 finished 12th in the Junior Circuit with 624 runs scored and ranked 10th in the AL in team OPS (.695), let alone push a 91 loss team to the peak of the AL West and into the playoffs – baseball is the most individual ‘team sport’ after all. One man can only do so much, and that one man is due to decline; (the admittedly conservative) PECOTA has him projected to hit .297/.352/.482 with a .307 TAv and 21 HR in 2014 – and his numbers are only going in one direction from there.
Cano probably knows it. Seattle apparently, does not. Keep talking Robbie, I don’t blame you. If the M’s are serious about contending, maybe they’ll start listening too.
It’s Day 27 of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series, meaning it’s finally the alphabetically-determined time of my newly local team! After yesterday waxing lyrical about Oakland’s new star pitcher Sonny Gray, today I look at a fellow AL West club; the 2014 iteration of the Seattle Mariners. After a noisy offseason full of signings, coaching turnover, and postulations of contention, are the M’s actually ready to flourish though? (Here’s a hint: No!)
When God gives you 19 intra-division games against a team as hapless as the 2013 Houston Astros, you are supposed to take fully advantage and sing His praises; unfortunately last years Seattle Mariners said “meh”, and passed over the scheduling gift, going just 10-9 against one of the worst teams in baseball history. Even worse, they were actually lucky to do so averagely, allowing the punchless Astros offense 91 runs in those 19 games while scoring only 81 themselves. Needless to say, the 2013 Mariners (who went 71-91, though their pythagorean win expectation was just 67-95) weren’t especially good.
And so the offseason began with drastic change promised. First out the door was manager Eric Wedge, who reportedly felt the incredible foulness of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s, president Chuck Armstrong’s, and CEO Howard Lincoln’s dissatisfaction with yet another losing season. Amidst the damning accounts of front office dysfunction, former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon was hired to right the ship – Zduriencik’s third manager of his tenure, and the team’s seventh since 2007.
Faced with a wave of negative press while simultaneously attempting to improve their lackluster offense, the Mariners threw money overboard in an attempt to right the ship, inking 31 year old second baseman Robinson Cano to a ten year, $240 million contract (a contentious subject to be discussed in a later post). In securing free agency’s biggest prize early, Seattle headed to baseball’s Winter Meetings ready to spend further in order to alter the public’s perception of their tolerance for losing.
The additional deals promised never materialized though. With incumbent DH Kendrys Morales and his associated compensatory pick lost to free agency (at least so far – he remains unsigned), and in need of a power outfield bat to replace Raul Ibanez (… I know – you can’t be good if Ibanez is playing the field), the Mariners were strongly linked to Nelson Cruz, but couldn’t work out a deal with the righty slugger. Instead, the M’s settled for Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who will split time in between the outfield, first base, and DH. Hart it must be added, who is expected to play 145 games and bat cleanup behind Cano, is already listed as day-to-day with knee tenderness – this after having missed the entire 2013 season recovering from surgeries on both knees. It appears then, that Seattle will be relying on significant improvements from former top prospects Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley (Jesus Montero seemingly out of the mix given his still-awful receiving and just incredible winter weight gain) to ignite an offense that has produced the least runs of any team over the last half-decade. Given their respective longstanding struggles, such a sudden reversal in fortunes seems unlikely.
With an enviable stable of young impact arms on the way to join Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation, Seattle’s lack of urgency in regard to acquiring additional starting pitching was more understandable. Already though, the Mariner’s presumed biggest strength is hurting; Iwakuma will miss a further 3 weeks and the start of the season after catching his finger in some protective netting, whereas top prospect Taijuan Walker has himself a worrying case of shoulder soreness. With Danny Hultzen too already out for the season, suddenly the back end of Seattle’s rotation looks set to feature the relatively unproven James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez, veteran Scott Baker (returning from elbow surgery that kept him out of 2012 and most of 2013), or (gulp) Hector Noesi. With just Ervin Santana left available on the free agency market – who is apparently demanding a multiyear deal – it seems for now that Seattle will once again be pinning their hopes for respectability on the continued existence of King Felix’s healthy right arm.
Where the Mariners did make a splashy signing however, was probably at the least needed position; in giving former Ray and ‘proven closer’ Fernando Rodney a two year $14 million deal, they not only managed to antagonize sabermetricians everywhere, but blocked the more than capable Danny Farquhar from the role. With Farquhar having saved 18 of his 20 opportunities towards the end of last season, Tom Wilhelmson waiting in the wings, the proven volatility of closers, and the 36 year old Rodney’s horrific peripherals, the contract seems questionable at best; but hey, it’s not like the ultra-savvy Rays know anything about extracting value from unreliable relievers before letting other teams overpay for them.
After pledging change, Zduriencik has somewhat misguidedly delivered then. Even after his expensive capture of Cano though, and subsequent signaling of Seattle’s willingness to open the checkbook (quite rightly so too, given the TV money boom the team will soon enjoy), Cot’s Contracts pegs their opening day salary at just $73,994,643, the Mariners’ lowest payroll since 2000, and $32,342,136 below the ML average. With the perennially underrated defending AL West champions Oakland going nowhere, a re-tooled Texas squad, and the Mike Trouts too, their division would have looked plenty daunting even if Seattle had aced this past offseason; as it is, a fourth-place finish again looks likely. The Mariners are still the Mariners, dysfunctional as ever.
Perhaps next winter, it will be Zduriencik’s ass getting hit by the door on the way out.
If yesterdays installment of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series was full of promise – detailing Twins prospect Josmil Pinto’s opportunity to shine before his hyped peers join him in the bigs – todays portion… well, there’s not so much potential. Yes, it’s the turn of the New York Yankees, who having spent nigh on half a billion dollars on free agents this winter, still enter Spring Training play with question marks at every infield position.
The 2013 Yankees infield wasn’t really much to write home about in terms of startling production – a sentiment ESPN’s Paul Swydan astutely evidenced: “for the first time in 11 seasons, the WAR posted by the New York Yankees’ infield starters was less than 10.0. In fact, it fell well short of that mark, as Lyle Overbay, Robinson Cano, Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez combined for a more modest 5.3 WAR.” Riddled by injuries across the diamond, the Yankees still somehow bumbled their way to a 85 win season, vastly outperforming their pythagorean winning percentage (which called for a 79-83 record) in the process, but finished 2013 with plethora of questions surrounding their future infield; the health status of presumed starters Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, the future availability of Alex Rodriguez, and the free agency of their best player – Cano. How they addressed such matters this past offseason can only be summed up by the title of the aforementioned Swydan’s article: “Yanks infield could be worst ever.” Oh.
Brian Cashman knows it: “our strength is not our infield this year.” Despite spending close to half a billion dollars in free agency this past offseason (exact figures are hard to come by, and depend on the inclusion of Masahiro Tanaka’s posting fee), and blowing past the luxury tax figure the Yankees had been so austerely attempting to duck for the last couple of years, Cano was allowed to leave for Seattle Mariners. As a result, heading into Spring Training with no one else left on the market (I feel we can safely rule out Stephen Drew and his draft pick compensation), New York’s infield profiles to be cobbled together out of a collection badly aging former stars, injury risks, and career backups. Perhaps put best by SB Nation’s ‘Pinstripes Alley’ , “With as much money as the Yankees have spent this offseason, having an infield as shaky as this seems like building a fancy luxury liner with the most amazing amenities without reinforcing the hull.” So while manager Joe Girardi can say “There’s a lot of competition here” all he wants this Spring Training, it doesn’t obscure the fact that it’s a contest between separately dire possibilities.
It’s fairly impossible to say anything with certainty regarding first baseman Mark Teixeira, aside from his contract officially taking on albatross status (he is still owed $67.5 million through the next 3 seasons); missing all but 15 games of 2013 with a torn tendon sheath in his wrist – an injury that has claimed the career of many a hitter before – was a good method in masking the dramatic extent of his recent decline however.
At the keystone, 36-year-old Brian Roberts will be first up in attempting to fill the void left by Cano – if he makes it through Spring Training first that is; his 77 games of wRC+ 90 level offensive production marked his largest workload since 2009, having played only 59, 39, and 17 the three years previous, though were still not enough for AL East rivals Baltimore to offer their seasoned veteran another chance. When he inevitably hits the DL though, Scott Sizemore might be there to fill in – the former Athletic having failed to log a full season since 2011 himself after tearing, then re-tearing, an ACL.
At shortstop there’s a 40 year old with a propensity for gift baskets who, if he stays healthy, will be oldest starting shortstop in the history of baseball. Naturally, he was limited by injuries in 2013 too, playing only 17 games.
Manning third base is future Hall of Famer Alex Rodrig… 32 year old Kelly Johnson, who has played 16 games total at the position over his career. To be fair to the journeyman Johnson, he most probably represents New York’s best chance at real production from their infield – he did after all crack 16 homers in 118 games for the Rays in 2013. Backing him up, Eduardo Nunez, with Brendan Ryan’s (immensely better than Jeter’s) glove and PCL batting champ Dean Anna expected to duke it out for any remaining playing time.
Once the backbone of a World Series offense, the Yankees infield now resembles a hospice, full of ailing players long removed from the peak of their powers – had they any real ones to begin with. More than simply an injury risk though, whichever quartet thrown out by Girardi each day will a liability on both offense and defense, something to be overcome by the seemingly strong outfield and starting pitching staff. If they’re to win close to 85 games again, it will most certainly be in spite of the (lack of) production of the ‘Poor Four’. With 2014 being Jeter’s final season, only God knowing how everyone else will hold up, and not much coming down the minor league pipeline, the Yankees face an uphill struggle in restoring their infield to its former glory beyond just this season. Cashman will certainly have plenty of work to do next winter in finding better than the current replacement level players (at best) he’ll be responsible for trotting out this summer.
Until then, I give it two weeks before Yankees fans long for the days of Robinson Cano not running out routine grounders.