The Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles yesterday afternoon at the Stadium, ending their hopes to gain a wild card berth in the playoffs. The division title was lost long ago to these same Orioles, led by former Yankee manager Buck Showalter. Derek Jeter's last year will not be extended by an appearance in the post-season. His last game will be this Sunday at Fenway Park.
Just about 5 years ago I wrote about how impressive Derek's lifetime .317 batting average was. That average is now hovering between .309 and .310. Currently hitting an un-Jeter like .253, it's evident that he made the right decision in announcing that this would be his last year. He probably leads the league in ground outs but to be fair his hustle has turned some of those weak grounders into infield hits. If he were hitting close to .300 he might be plagued by doubts about retiring and maybe a desire to move up on some all-time statistical leaders list. He will finish 6th in career hits, trailing only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. The Hall of Fame beckons.
Don't get the idea that I'm blaming Jeter for the Yankees failure to make the playoffs. He's had plenty of help. With 4 games to go, Jacoby Ellsbury leads the team with a .271 batting average and 156 hits. (The few Yanks with higher averages don't have enough at bats to qualify.) With a strong September, Brian McCann leads in HR's and RBI's with 23 and 73 respectively. Brett Gardner leads in on base percentage with .328. Compare these numbers to the league leaders. It's no wonder the team ranks 13th among the 15 AL teams in runs scored.
Martin Prado was hitting .316 as a Yankee, .282 overall, before an emergency appendectomy recently ended his season. Part-timers Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were hitting about .285. The batting averages of the starters were a lot less impressive. Brett Gardner's .255 is very disappointing. His 133 strikeouts lead the team by a wide margin. Chase Headley at .263, Brian McCann .235, Carlos Beltran .236 and Mark Teixeria .219 are not much better than the since departed Brian Roberts at .237, Alfonso Soriano at .221 and Kelly Johnson at .219. None of the last three were getting it done defensively, another reason they were let go. Stephen Drew is well below the Mendoza line and I hope he's not going to be Jeter's replacement at shortstop in 2015.
While the pitching is not great, it's not as bad as the hitting. Their team era of 3.70 ranks a respectable 8th in the AL despite the early losses of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda and the mid-season loss of Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda has been outstanding since his return. Tanaka opted not to submit to Tommy John surgery but didn't pitch again til September 21st. The Yankees will be holding their breath in spring training. Hiroki Kuroda has been consistently good and Brandon McCarthy has been a pleasant surprise after pitching poorly for Arizona. Recent call up Shane Greene was looking real good but has faltered a bit recently. Chris Capuano has been only adequate as was David Phelps before he succumbed to the injury jinx. The bullpen has been strong bolstered by the emergence of Dellin Betances as the set-up man for David Robertson. Dellin has 135 K's in 90 innings and a 1.40 era. Adam Warren has been consistent.
The future is not very bright for one of the oldest teams in baseball for 2014 and will be complicated by the return of A-Rod who turns 40 in July of 2015. Besides his suspension this year, he only played in 44 games in 2013 and hit a paltry .244.
First, the outfield. Ellsbury is certain to return. Although his hitting could have been better, his defense and base running have been outstanding. Gardner has been good defensively but has not been as aggressive on the bases as hoped for. Unlike Ellsbury, he doesn't look to run early in the count. Ichiro will still be a reserve if he returns. Beltran looks like his days in the outfield are over and his baserunning is station to station. In the infield, there's the oft injured Teixeria with his ever declining batting average at 1st, Prado at 2nd, ??? at shortstop and A-Rod or Headley at 3rd. Catching looks like it will be McCann backed by Cervelli.
Trades or free agent signings could improve the prospects for 2015. JJ Hardy of the Orioles has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Jeter and pitchers Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester are the big pitching targets.
The contract situation is a big problem:
from Baseballprospectus.com, Cot's Baseball Contracts, a contracts clearinghouse for baseball contracts named after Cot Tierney, the NL's fifth leading hitter in 1922. (click on your team or any team you're interested in.)
Yankee major contract obligations and free agent status from 2015 thru 2019:
A-Rod - $22 mil for 2015 - 17, Free Agent in 2018
Teixeria - $23 mil for 2015 - 16, FA in 2017
CC Sabathia - $23 in 15, $25 in 16, $5 in 18 (no indication of FA)
Tanaka - $22 thru 2019
Elsbury - $21 thru 2019
McCann - $17 thru 18, option for 19
Beltran - $15 thru 2016
Prado - $11 thru 2016
Gardner - $12.5 mil thru 18, $2 mil in 19
You couldn't give away A-Rod, Teixeria or Beltran because of their contracts and you have to wonder what CC will be able to do next year.
Free Agents in 2015:
Robertson, Kuroda, McCarthy, Headley, Suzuki, Young, Capuano & Drew. Losing Robertson woud really hurt.
btw/ Former Yankee Phil Hughes had an outstanding season with a very bad Minnesota Twins team. After winning 4 and losing 14 with a 5.19 era for the 2013 Yanks, 28 year old Phil went 16 - 10 with a 3.52 era in 210 innings. Per ESPN, he also finished the year with only 16 walks. With 186 strikeouts, his 11.63 K's to walks ratio became the best of all time for pitchers with a qualifying amount of innings.