Yankees Start Offseason On the Wrong Foot

tarting this offseason, the Yankees were operating from two premier positions of strength - catching depth and relief pitching.  Common sense dictates that, if the Yankees were to make a move, it would be at the expense of one of these positions, but the trade would bring in a new shortstop, or starting pitching, or a power bat.

What they did instead, however, could honestly go down alongside Tyler Clippard-for-Jonathan Albaladejo as one of Cashman's biggest "What were you thinking?" trades.

Now, I'd like to note that this is nothing against Justin Wilson - he is a fine young lefty relief pitcher who has shown both inconsistency in the strike zone and a remarkable ability to strike out both righties and lefties, who had a relatively down year in 2014, posting a 4.20 ERA in 2014 but striking out 61 in 60 innings.  No, this has to do with the fact that he has become literally the most redundant player in the Yankees organization.

The Yankees do not lack for relief pitchers, even if closer David Robertson bolts via free agency.  Dellin Betances had one of the best years for a relief pitcher in years, dominating literally everybody en route to a 3rd place Rookie of the Year finish and striking out a record-breaking 135 batters in 90 innings.  Sabermetrics reveal that Shawn Kelley did not pitch as poorly as his 4.53 ERA would make it seem.  Jacob Lindgren "The Strikeout Factory" and Tyler Webb wait in AAA and likely will compete for spots on the Opening Day roster.  Chase Whitley and Jose Ramirez showed potential this season and could be factors next year.  Adam Warren looks to build on a breakout 2014 campaign.  And let's not forget, somehow the Yankees have always had strong bullpens, despite having a mostly-revolving door every year since Joe Girardi became manager in 2008.

In addition to creating even more redundancy in the bullpen, the Yankees have also removed one of their biggest strengths, and that is the fact that their backup catcher would be a starter on most teams.  This gave the Yankees flexibility when the injury bug hit, as they were comfortable to play McCann at first and have Cervelli handle the catching duties for over a week while Teixeira nursed a reaggravated wrist.  Murphy does not exactly inspire much confidence in me, although he does have greater potential (and honestly, probably could have been traded for something better), and I would rather play Gary Sanchez, who has not appeared above AA, than Austin Romine on even a semi-regular basis.

In the end, might this prove to be a good trade for the Yankees?  Of course - we can't know for sure yet.  But for now at least, the Yankees have crippled their flexibility on the trade market, as the team will be more hesitant to move Murphy or Romine to acquire, for example, a shortstop.  We are not even halfway through November yet; there are 98 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training - there was absolutely no need for the Yankees to rush to pull the trigger on this deal just yet.

In Defense of Being a Yankees Fan

Why do you root for your favorite sports team?  Is it because you live in the city where they play?  Because your parents followed the team, and you were born and raised watching the games and following their teams?  Is it because you were watching the playoffs in your college dorm and fell in love with one of the teams, for whatever reason?

Everybody has their own fan backstory.  Each is one-of-a-kind, unique to every fan, and sharing them is a great way to bring fans of all backgrounds together.  And the best part is, nobody questions them - since it's all personal, the emotional attachment we all have to our different teams is what makes watching the games and interacting with other fans as much fun as they are.

Well, that's almost true.  There is one fanbase that, time and time again, you're questioned - no, challenged - "Them?  Why do you root for them?"  One fanbase where, no matter who you are or what you do, you are always misunderstood: the New York Yankees.

At first glance, this seems ridiculous; the most popular team in the country is also the misunderstood?  But the night of the AL Wild Card game, something got me thinking.  Somebody posted on Yik-Yak, an "anonymous local-area twitter" very common on college campuses, that he, a diehard Yankees fan, wanted to congratulate the Royals on their exciting Wild Card win and wished them luck in the playoffs."  A rather innocent post, in my opinion, one among many about that game.  And yet, somebody commented back to him something along the lines of, "Why do you #@&!*@#% root for that piece of #@#!^ team?  Why don't you root for the Royals or another exciting team all the time?"

Although I did not post that, the comment bothered me - what difference does it make to you what team I root for?  Why do you care?  And that got me thinking about how there really is a lot of Yankees hatred around these days.  For example, anyone who follows the popular Facebook page MLB Memes will know that there are more posts mocking the Yankees than any other type of post, and every single picture or status update, no matter what it is about, will always have at least one comment of "Yankees suck," and it will always be among the top-liked comments.  Heck, there's even a musical titled "Damn Yankees" that centers on beating the New York Yankees.  Make no mistake about it, baseball fans love to hate the Yankees.

To an extent, it makes sense, as it comes with the territory: the Yankees often spend ludicrous amounts of money, especially to sign the best free agents; despite relative financial responsibility in recent years, the team still has this free-spender reputation and will still occasionally use its financial strength.  Understandably, this angers the fanbases that these players used to play for (although, amusingly, most fans would love for their team to be in a position to do the exact same thing).  No, my issue is not about hatred towards the team, but hatred towards the fans.

Let's start with the stereotypical Yankees fans, who look like this:

Your stereotypical so-called Yankees fans

They are loud, obnoxious, and ignorant, who flash their money with their arrogant New York attitudes, and respond condescendingly with "But we have 27 rings!" to every criticism.  Right here, let me clear the air - these types of "Yankees" fans, we hate them too; we call them annoying bandwagon fans who identify with the team but do not follow baseball much, if at all.  They know little about the team, and even their main "comeback" is wrong, as any diehard fan knows, the Yankees have 26 World Series rings and 1 World Series pocketwatch.  These are not fans; but unfortunately, they are the people who fill the seats at Yankee Stadium, because true fans simply cannot afford the sky-high ticket prices.

That said, as with all stereotypes, there is some truth behind it, even with real fans.  Yes, Yankees fans are loud, obnoxious, and often arrogant, and very passionate about our team; we have, after all, the Bleacher Creatures.  But that is because we are New Yorkers, not because we are Yankees fans.  New Yorkers are loud and obnoxious by nature.  We walk fast, we talk fast; we jaywalk, stare down taxis while crossing against the light, and cram ourselves onto subways packed like sardines.  We have tourists and send them off to Times Square so they're out of our way, because no New Yorker ever goes near Times Square.  We complain about the very good, because we demand everything to be perfect, because we are the best city in the world and thus deserve perfection.  It's not an opinion, it's a fact.  That is who we are; that is New York.

New Yorkers hate coming in second in anything: we must have the best pizza, the most delicious bagels, the most popular and longest-running plays, the greatest economy, the most beautiful and well-attended churches.  And that extends to our sports - we don't want good sports teams.  We demand the best teams, and we wil go to the ends of the Earth to make them.  That doesn't mean that we stop following if the team is not doing well - on the contrary, 2013 and 2014 were two of the most interesting seasons in recent memory for fans - or that we ignore a Yankees-free postseason.  We engage with other fans, and we enjoy the games, even if our team isn't playing.

The thing is, if we don't win the final baseball game of the postseason however, and bring home another championship, we consider the season a failure for the team, and expect changes to be made.  And our attitude is, if that makes us hated throughout the baseball world...so what?

Being the villains is what makes New York baseball so much fun.

Why the ultimate football player.....is a punter

Ask yourself this question - who is the player who is most identifiable with football?  Answers will most likely include players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, and (until recently) Adrian Peterson.

Now ask yourself a different question - who is the most "quintessential" football player, the ideal, the person who embodies the best qualities found in football players, without possessing any of the bad?  Take your time, it's a tough question, but I'll give you a hint - he's not a QB.  Or a running back.  Or a receiver.  Or a defensive lineman.

He's a punter.  The Giants punter, #5, Steve Weatherford.

At first glance, this seems like an odd choice - punters are nowhere near the most important players on the field, and most fans don't know who they are, except for maybe their own team's.  But Weatherford is different than most, and I'm not just talking about the fact that, at 6-2, 210 pounds, he is bigger than defensive backs Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Prince Amukamara.

For starters, this guy is tough.  After getting hit in the first game of the season against the Lions, many (myself included) said things along the lines of, "Well then, I guess our punter's done for the night."  And then he came back into the game, so we assumed the injury was not serious - until the next day, that is, when we heard on ESPN that Weatherford had torn four ligaments in his leg.  Now, the reaction was, "His season's over then."  Except here we are, Week 9, and surprise, Steve Weatherford is not on the Giants Injured Reserve and will once again be playing tomorrow against the Colts, as he has every week this season.

His toughness isn't everything, however.  He is also one of the most passionate players in the NFL.  Need more evidence than his infamous line lip-read by many Giants fans in delight and 49ers fans in disgust - "The Super Bowl!  We're going to the m*****f*****g Super Bowl!"  Or the Facebook picture of him watching the following year's Super Bowl wearing his helmet and lamenting that he wasn't there?  Or his weekly Facebook pictures celebrating game day?  Or.....again, you get my point.  Everything about this guy shows just how much he loves playing football.

Still, as much as he loves playing football, and as famous as he is (he does have 61,545 Facebook likes at time of writing), he is still very much a regular guy.  He went to Disney with his family during the bye week.  He constantly posts photos of himself, and his wife, and his kids, doing all sorts of things, as if we knew him personally.  And at times, he interacts with the fans so much, I almost feel like we all do.  He runs contests, posts inspirational quotes, gives updates about his family, posts photos about the team.  There's #WeatherfordWednesday, always right on time, every Wednesday.  During training camp, there's "Pick of the Day," a photo with a random fan with both of them picking their noses.  He has even liked comments and commented back on numerous occasions!  It almost is as if he's just another guy down the block, on our friends list, who just also happens to be the punter for the most awesome football team in sports.

When he went down earlier this year, it hurt Giants fans almost as much as Victor Cruz's injury (and by almost, I mean like half, because of the sheer severity of the injury); but aside from Eli Manning, nobody else would come even remotely close.  And it's not because he's an irreplaceable punter; he's good, but let's face it, most of the league considers punters rather expendable.  Rather, it's who he is - the heart and soul under the helmet and behind the facemask, the punter who, to the true Giants fans, is as much of a face of the New York Giants as Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Michael Strahan.

How many football players post selfies with a Dark Lord of the Sith?

The Yankees' Need to Borrow from the Giants' Playbook - the New York Giants

Eli Manning leads a new-and-improved Giants that has rebounded strong after an 0-2 start, winning 3 straight.

Sound familiar, Yankees fans?  That's exactly what 2014 was like: Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson, Shawn Kelley, Yangervis Solarte - all of them were good, until all of a sudden they weren't.  A lineup that on paper looked like it had the potential to be at least above-average, and certainly serviceable, put together one of the worst seasons in baseball, and dare I say it, quite possibly scored the least amount of runs per dollar compared to any lineup ever put on the field.  Looking at this team right now, there is honestly very reason to have hope for the 2015 season.

And you probably said that about the 2014-15 Giants.  And yet here they are, in Week 6, looking at the possibility of being in first place before the Bye.  What's the secret formula, you might ask?

On the surface, it doesn't seem all that simple.  The Giants let a number of players go on both sides of the ball, including DE Justin Tuck and DT Joseph Linval, two of its better players, and Hakeem Nicks, a receiver with a historically good track record.  They acquired a new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, to put in place a brand new offense, based on the West Coast offense.  They spent millions of dollars revamping the secondary and reinforcing the defensive and offensive lines.  They drafted Odell Beckham, Jr., to provide Eli with another weapon on the outside.  At the surface, it just seems like a random list of moves, but there's something a little deeper than that:

The Giants reshaped their identity.

Gone were the days where the defense would rely on the pass rush to compensate for a poor secondary.  Gone were the days of the predictable offense - draw to the left, run to the right, pass downfield, punt, and repeat - that, while they flourished in the early days of Kevin Gilbride, ultimately became archaic and slow.  Gone even would be the memory of that disastrous season, as a good number of guys on the roster experienced little, if any, of it.  And in its place was a stronger defense, more explosive both in the trenches and down the field, and a new uptempo offense that relied on precision and speed, one that adapts to what the defense gives it, rather than try to force itself.  Defense guarding the pass downfield?  Then dump it off to TE Donnell.  Nickel package, with a weak linebacker corps?  Run the ball down the D-Line's throat.

Think back to late December/early January this past year, and remember what it was like to be a Giants fan.  The team had started 0-6, and although it ended 7-9 and were still in the playoff hunt down the stretch, the team just looked...well, bad.  And it made no sense when you thought about it.  Eli Manning had always been a good QB, albeit mistake-prone, until all of a sudden he wasn't.  Hakeem Nicks had always been an elite receiver, until all of a sudden he wasn't.  Jason Pierre-Paul was one of the best DE in the game, until all of a sudden he wasn't.  The Giants always had a strong running game, until all of a sudden they didn't.  The Giants had always been at least an above-average team, until all of a sudden they weren't.

So, how can the Yankees build off of this, you might ask, and rightfully so; after all, how similar is football to baseball, really, when you think about it?  Not at all.  But the Yankees can still look to across to the Meadowlands on how to bounce back from a bad year.  Sign some free agents and promote from within.  Work the trade market and try to secure a bat or two.  Try not to sign players for the sake of signing them, but look to the team's needs and work from there.  Think not about what the now, or the next step, but be five or six steps ahead of everybody else.  Sign a player to trade another.  Operate from positions of strength, not positions of weakness.  Think about the players already on the team, and build around it.  Trust the farm, but also make a splash, too.

Be energetic in the offseason.  And then bring that energy to the games.

Yankees Report Card Part 1: Position Players

Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira was one of many players that Yankees fans were frustrated with this season.

It's October baseball (even though, as I'm writing this, it technically still September), and once again, for the second year in a row, the lights will be dark in Yankee Stadium. And so, while we watch what should hopefully be an exciting offseason, it's also time to begin to look back at the last year in the Bronx, starting with the position players.

We know the general storyline for this year - despite spending more than $500M this past offseason, mostly to upgrade the offense, the Yankees could barely score this year, and in fact did worse at the plate than the 2013 squad that gave regular ABs to Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix, and Vernon Wells. But this year, who are the culprits?  [NOTE - all stats from baseball-reference and FanGraphs; WAR stats are differentiated, with letter corresponding to site; Grades are based relative to their expected contribution coming into the season]

Brian McCann, C (.232/.286/.406, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 1.8 bWAR, 2.3 fWAR, 92 wRC+)

This is not what the Yankees paid big bucks for; not at all.  McCann seemed overmatched for much of the season, and besides the occasional HR, he simply did not produce.  However, nothing but good - no, great - things have been said about him by the pitching staff, and as the great pitching this year showed, whatever he's doing, it worked. By season's end, he seemed to start getting into a groove offensively, and if he can carry his late-season production into 2015, the Yankees will effectively gain a solid middle-of-the-order bat.  Beyond, that, many believe his pinch-running for Jeter in the Captain's last game was a passing of the torch.....is it?  We'll see next year.


Francisco Cervelli, C/1B (.301/.370/.432, 146 AB, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 1.1 bWAR, 1.3 fWAR, 128 wRC+)

If Cervelli is healthy, not only is he arguably the best backup catcher in baseball, he's a solid starter.  Big question....IF he's healthy, because he never seems to be.

Still, he proved once again this season why he's worth sticking around - he's willing and able to play around the diamond when called upon, and while not a power hitter, he gets on base quite a bit.

Grade: B+

Mark Teixeira, 1B (.216/.313/.398, 22 HR, 62 RBI, 1.0 bWAR, 0.8 fWAR, 100 wRC+)

There's not a whole lot to say - Teixeira was not very good this season.  Clearly the wrist was still bothering him, as he consistently was forced to receive cortisone shots just to stay on the field - and aside from a few stretches in the first half where he hit HR like they grew on trees, he was less than worthless at the plate.  Expect this to continue if he either does not start going the other way or rediscover his power stroke from 2012 - and given his age, I wouldn't count on the latter.

Grade: D

Brian Roberts, 2B (.237/.300/.398, 5 RBI, 21 RBI, 7 SB, 1.5 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR, 84 wRC+)

In theory, Brian Roberts could have been one of the best hitters on this team; he had speed, he put the ball in play at a relatively high rate, and he had one of the highest hard-hit-ball rates in the league.  But eventually the Yankees could not wait around for him to start producing, leading to his release back at the trade deadline, after the acquisition of Stephen Drew.

Brian, you had a great career on the Orioles, and it was always exciting to see you play in your prime.  But unfortunately, your days as a baseball player are over.

Grade: D

Stephen Drew, 2B/SS (.150/.219/.271, 3 HR, 15 RBI, -0.6 bWAR, -1.3 fWAR, 32 wRC+)

Can you believe this guy was looking for a big contract this past winter?  Granted, surely his lack of spring training didn't help, but still, this is among the worst offensive performances of an everyday player I have seen.  Seriously, this is not pitcher-bad, this is worse.  The good news?  If the Yankees wanted to keep him to play SS next season, he's going to be cheap, and surely, he can't be this bad again....

Grade: On a scale from 0 to Pablo Sanchez in Backyard Baseball, this season was the square root of negative one.

(Bonus points if you get the joke)

Derek Jeter, SS (.256/.304/.313, 4 HR, 50 RBI, 10 SB, 0.2 bWAR, -0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+)

We will miss Jeter.  We won't miss his production at SS; virtually anybody on the free agent market is an upgrade.  Still, he was one of the team's most consistent players for most of the season, and if he could get to the ball, he almost guaranteed an out, so it could be worse.

Grade: C-/D+

Brendan Ryan, IF

He was not signed to hit.  He didn't hit, to the point that it wasn't even worth looking up.   Proof?  When the Yankees sent out the "I Don't Care" lineup against Boston this Friday, which included Cervelli as the power-hitting 1B and rookie Jose Pirela as the leadoff man, he was batting seventh.

Grade....in all honesty, is it fair to give him one?

Yangervis Solarte, 3B (.254/.337/.381, 6 HR, 31 RBI,1.0 bWAR, 1.1 fWAR, 104 wRC+)

For the first six weeks of the season, nobody on this team hit better than Yangervis Solarte.  He did it all - he played solid defense, he got on base, he drove in runs, he hit HRs.  In truth, his April was why this team was in a position to trade him for Chase Headley at the trade deadline.  And if anyone's interested...he did solid in San Diego; not great, but solid.  I wish him the best of luck, and hope he has a long and prosperous career.

Grade: B for performance, A+ for the excitement he brought the fanbase

Chase Headley, 3B/1B (.262/.371/.398, 6 HR, 17 RBI in 58 G, 2.1 bWAR, 2.8 fWAR, 121 wRC+)

His stats are a little misleading; if he weren't for the atrocious lineup around him, Headley would have quite a few more RBIs.  He simply wasn't on base all that often with RISP.  He brought excellent defense at the hot corner, proved he could serve as a competent backup to Teixeira at first, and hit enough to show that he is definitely one of the top free agent 3B this winter.  Chase wasn't brought on to be an All-Star, he was brought on to be a solid and consistent player, and he was.  The Yankees offense was horrible, but don't blame Headley.

And remember...he sure had quite an entrance into Yankee lore.

Grade: B

Kelly Johnson, 3B/1B (.219/.304/.373, 6 HR, 22 RBI in 77 G, 0.7 bWAR, 0.7 fWAR, 91 wRC+)

Not gonna lie, in my opinion Johnson was a huge disappointment.  I looked at his stats over the last few years - 16 HRs annually, whether in Toronto or Tampa Bay or wherever - and drooled at what he could do in Yankee Stadium, even at the bottom of the order.  And instead we got...this.  While it's true that he might have been distracted from having to handle two new positions, one of which he played only because of Teixeira's hamstring injury early in the season, it was still not enough on this offensively-starved team, which is why he has the distinction of being the only player in baseball to be traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox, and then traded to the Orioles barely a month later.  And we got Stephen Drew out of the deal, which we can and should hold against him.

Grade: D+

Brett Gardner, LF (.256/.327/.422, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 21 SB, 4.0 bWAR, 3.2 fWAR, 110 wRC+)

That batting average is deceiving, and the result of a poor August - at the trade deadline, Gardner had a solid .270 average.  His power numbers were surprisingly high this year, which is why he ended the season as the #3 guy, although his stolen base totals have suffered - he had a grand total of 6 after the All-Star Break.  Still, although a little more aggressiveness would have been nice, he was one of the team's leading hitters this season no matter how you look at it, and his offseason contract extension is already looking like a steal.  Now if only he stole more often.

Hahahahaha.....OK, I'll show myself out.  Grade: A-

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (.271/.328/.419, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 39 SB, 3.3 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR, 107 wRC+)

Again....he was almost exactly like Gardner this year.  Miscast in the #3 hole much of the season, he drove in a lot of runs (well, relatively speaking), stole a lot of bases, utilized the short porch in Yankee Stadium to increase his HR totals, and played his usual great defense (despite what your fancy sabermetrics say...they do not take into account the reduced amount of range he has to cover, which thus shows up as a bad year based on the stats).  While we won't know for sure if his contract will be worth it, for now at least, he's doing exactly what he has to - get on base, and run.

Grade: A

Carlos Beltran, DH/RF (.233/.301/.402, 15 HR, 49 RBI, -0.2 bWAR , -0.5 fWAR, 95 wRC+)

Like Tex, there's not much to say.  He just wasn't all that good, although he was hampered all season by an elbow injury (which, I believe, he suffered wen he fell over the concrete wall two weeks into the season), which limited his ability to play the field.  While it remains to be seen how much an impact the elbow surgery he just had will have, but when we look at this season, all we can say is that aside from a few hot streaks, he was rather worthless.  Still, I'm rather impressed with his 3 SB, considering how much damage his knees have had over the years.

Grade: D

Ichiro Suzuki, RF (.284/.324/.340, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 15 SB, 1.0 bWAR, 0.4 fWAR, 86 wRC+)

Ichiro was not supposed to play as much as he did.  When he was a 4th OF and had regular rest, he was among the league's best hitters when he played.  But when forced into daily service due to Beltran's injury and Soriano's general ineffectiveness, he tapered off due to fatigue.  He got on base at a decent clip though, which was useful, and when he chose his spots, he can still steal bases with the best of them.  And even at age 40, Ichiro is still one of the best defenders in the league.

Grade: B-

Martin Prado, 2B/3B/LF/RF (.316/.336/.541, 7 HR, 16 RBI in 37 G, 2.1 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR, 146 wRC+)

When Prado had the emergency appendectomy two weeks ago, he was the hottest hitter on the team; ever since the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline for essentially nothing, all he has done is hit, and play superb defense all around the diamond.  He did everything Girardi asked of him, and then some, and if he picks up where he left off - heck, if he picks up half where he left off - next season, then he will arguably the biggest asset in the Yankees' lineup.

Grade: A

Chris Young, LF/RF (.282/.354/.521, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 23 G, 0.9 bWAR, 1.0 fWAR, 146 wRC+)

When he started playing regularly due to injuries, many Yankees fans thought he was in it for garbage time, but he nearly-singlehandedly kept the Yankees in the wild card hunt all the way to the end.  There is a very good ballplayer in there somewhere, and for a short time, it surfaced.  He very well might get some attention this winter, and deservedly so, despite his terrible run with the Mets.

Grade: A

Zelous Wheeler, Eury Perez, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine, Jose Pirela

Honestly, we don't have enough on these guys to make a true judgement.......so........yea.  Some of these guys might be fighting for roster spots in spring training, others might become trade chips this winter.  Time will tell.

Alfonso Soriano, RF

Oh, don't make me remember the horror!  He looked clueless at the plate this year, and every time he hit the ball, it honestly seemed like an accident.  He had a good career, and a great run at the end of last year, but he is more than done now.

And there you have it - the 2014 New York Yankees offense.  Please, aside from Jeter, refrain from taking pictures; trust me, you don't really want to remember this terrible, terrible, terrible team....

An era ends in NY, but there is no reason for sadness

This is it, boys.  Never again, with the exception of Old Timers' Days, will Derek Jeter don Yankees pinstripes.  Never again will we see #2 jog out to shortstop.  Never again will Bob Sheppard's voice ring through Yankee Stadium during a game.  Never again will we see the Captain walk off the field after a Yankees win to Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.  Never again will any Yankee from the dynasty of the '90s add another ring to their collection, at least as a player.  Never again will a member of the Core Four play baseball in the Bronx.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

So much of this season has been filled with sad good-byes.  Sad, because everything that I mentioned earlier, we won't see it ever again.  One of the greatest players in baseball history, the face of the sport for many years, will no longer play the game.  To many of us, who literally have not seen baseball without this man, it is quite literally a piece of our childhood being ripped from us - it hurts, a lot.  Our entire lives, this Yankee great has been making the impossible look easy, so many times in fact that a top-10 list of his plays does not even come close to telling the story of his career.

But we shouldn't be sad that it's over, bur rather happy that it happened, and that we were here to be a part of such a great career.  We may never see another superstar like him, who was truly never the best player in the league, but was one of the league's most consistent players for almost twenty years.  And nobody ever matched his passion, or even came close; whether the first game of the season or Game 7 of the World Series, Jeter put 110% into his play.  His postseason statistics are unmatched, and there is nobody else anybody would rather have up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and down by a run in the World Series.  In twenty years, he put together a highlight reel for the ages, a reel which he added to even at the end, with his walk-off single to end his last home game.  And he did all this in the bright lights of New York, and with class, even going so far to wish the Orioles good luck in the playoffs on the night that was supposed to be all about him.

We will never again see a player like Derek Jeter.  Tonight was a bittersweet night in the Bronx, for Yankees fans throughout the world, and for baseball.  But that doesn't mean we should be sad.

Why the Yankees need Jon Lester

Jon Lester may not be the missing piece for the Yankees, but he should be the first move in the Yankees' offseason plans.

So as the season winds down and the Yankees expect to spend another October in silence (but, hey, there's still a chance!), it's time to turn our attention to next season - particularly, how the Yankees can improve this team which really should have been eliminated from playoff contention about three weeks ago.

And, paradoxically, the best way for the offense-starved team to improve over the offseason begins by upgrading their already-elite rotation.

Let's start by listing the list of potential holes this team has next season - 2B, SS, 3B, RF, and a legitimate backup 1B, all of which is complicated by the need to rotate Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez as the DH.  Filling these holes is rather complicated - they have Robert Refsnyder in AAA who can play 2B, and Prado can play all these positions but SS, but the team, honestly, needs more than this.  They could acquire Pablo Sandoval or re-sign Chase Headley to play 3B, or pick up JJ Hardy or the Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, or bank on Alex Rios having a bounceback season once healthy, or....or....or...

Problem is, none of these options do not look like they could fix this team on their own, unless Refsnyder has a Rookie-of-the-Year-level season or Prado becomes a superstar.  The team still needs a legitimate backup at 1B, and in all honesty, having this team has injury risks at pretty much every position on the diamond.  But rebuilding this team in a short time can happen, and it begins on the mound.

Right now, the Yankees have starting pitching aplenty: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Shane Greene, and David Phelps, with the (slight) possibility of Hiroki Kuroda returning and the possibility of re-signing Brandon McCarthy.  But first of all, keep in mind the injury risks - Nova is returning from Tommy John surgery, Tanaka will eternally be a risk for it, Pineda is just an injury-risk, period, and even if Sabathia is healthy, I'm not sure he will be all that effective anyway.  Bringing in help would definitely help reinforce this injury risk, and the best choice on the market is Jon Lester.

Think about it - Lester is a perfect fit for New York.  A left-handed pitcher in Yankee Stadium, who has dominated in October and in the AL East as well, who doesn't wilt under pressure.  If the rotation is fully healthy, he would be an ace among aces - with Tanaka and Pineda - and would provide the Yankees with a front three that would rival the Phillies "super rotation" of the late '00s and the Detroit and Tampa Bay rotations of recent years.  It would take pressure off of Ivan Nova and Shane Greene, and McCarthy if he is re-signed, and would provide depth for when the injury bug inevitably strikes.

Furthermore, Lester would give the front office some flexibility to improve the offense.  Make no mistake, the Yankees' farm system does not exactly include much in the way of trade bait - but a guy such as David Phelps has value, especially for a team looking for a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Theoretically, Cashman could operate from a position of strength and build a package around, for example, David Phelps and Gary Sanchez to swing a deal for a bat.  By reinforcing his team's strength, Cashman could gain some leverage to improve the team elsewhere. 

Despite the above-.500 record, this team lacks talent; barring major bounceback seasons from same aging players, that is unlikely to change unless Cashman makes some moves.  And to do so, he needs to stock up on something - the currency of Major League Baseball, no matter how he can get it.


Prospect Profile: NYY UT Jose Pirela

After discussing Yankees top infield prospect Robert Refsnyder last week, it's time to turn our attention to another infield prospect and now major league utilityman Jose Pirela.

Once Martin Prado's season ended thanks to an emergency appendectomy earlier this week, the Yankees promoted the 24-year-old Pirela, who, despite being overshadowed by his teammate and fellow second baseman Robert Refsnyder, put together a very fine season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  In 581 plate appearances, he put together a .305/.351/.441 line with 42 XBH (including 10 HR), 60 RBI, and 15 steals (caught 7 times), which amounts to a wRC+ of a very respectable 117.

Now, given the Yankees' 2B troubles for much of this season (the position Pirela has most commonly played) as well as Pirela's defensive ability at multiple positions - he has played 1B, 2B, SS, LF, and RF, and has played each like a natural - many have wondered by he didn't get the call to the Bronx earlier this season.  Well, here's why: he has never put together two back-to-back solid seasons, which has done nothing to improve his stock as a "non-prospect" (i.e., nobody expects him to make a significant contribution at the MLB level).  He's followed a tendency - he does well at one level, gets himself promoted, then appears overmatched; the next season, he starts hitting like he did in the lower level the year prior, gets promoted again, and then stops hitting.  This was his first season at one level, and he maintained the same level of performance he began recent seasons at.

Now, that begs the question - how will he respond at the Major League level?  As we've seen, there is a very big difference between AAA and the majors, a difference much bigger than the difference between any two minor league levels.  I see very two real possibilities with him; he might become a quadruple-A type of player, too good for AAA, but without the skills necessary to perform at the big league level.  On the other hand, however, if he can hit well in these final two weeks of the season - assuming, of course, he finds himself actually in a game - and can perform next spring training, he might find a spot on the team as a utility player, the ultimate backup.

What's his ceiling? Well, you can never be sure - Robinson Cano is one of the league's biggest stars, and he was much in the same boat as Pirela, a "non-prospect."  You'll never be certain unless he plays.  But ultimately, if he becomes a serviceable major leaguer, he'll find himself a job in the same vein of Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado, albeit with relatively little power.

But for the 2015 Yankees?  That will definitely be a team with a tendency for injuries - Teixeira, A-Rod, and Beltran alone will likely all end up on the DL - which means that Pirela's versatility may definitely come in handy.

A Videogame Study Part 3: It's Personal

Madden 15 lets players take a personal interest in all aspects of their team's season, from the draft to training camp to gametime on Sundays.

About a week and a half ago I posted an article titled "A Videogame Study - Why is Madden So Popular?" in which I described my current blogging undertaking: in addition to my usual baseball analysis, I decided that I will break down the Madden videogame franchise, in an effort to find out why it has been so popular for so long, and then theorizing how such practices could be used to create a comparable baseball game.

Well, in that article, I asked you to vote on your favorite feature in Madden, and the results are in - 44% of responders say that they prefer, above all other things, to play the Connected Careers Franchise mode as an NFL Head Coach or Owner.  And so, that is what we will talk about today - what makes this mode so good?

Now, make no mistake, any sort of Franchise mode will gain instant popularity; even casual players do at least one franchise mode with their favorite team - it's just what people do.  But in all honesty, that is often a one-and-done thing; even given the fact that random things tend to happen in these sort of modes, doing them over and over again gets predictable: continuing a franchise over multiple seasons, unless you're either not very good or using a bad team, often ends up with the player winning every game of every season on the way to (yet another) Super Bowl championship.

So why do people constantly play franchise modes instead of, say, trying to move up the online rankings?  In my mind, I think it boils down to one thing - a personal investment in the team.

When you break it down, running a football team as head coach, both in real life and in Madden, involves creating (and running) offensive and defensive schemes that make up a playbook, managing players as efficiently as possible, and developing young players to be (ideally) future stars.  It is a very hands-on affair; you have to know your players and their strengths/weaknesses.  After several years of adapting, tweaking, and occasionally overhauling, the Madden franchise has mostly gotten this down.

At its simplest, Madden Head Coach Careers work like this - you either create or become one of the league's head coaches, each of whom has a unique combination of offensive and defensive playbooks (schemes) and personality/skill traits.  Based on these attributes, you then shape your team.  While this is clearly an oversimplification of real football (in real life, the Offensive Coordinator largely determines the offensive scheme), it works for the game, and provides a lot more depth for very few changes. 

You see, once you've established a scheme on the strategic level, now on the practical level, you need personnel.  In Madden, a player's overall is not static, but instead varies depending on the scheme you run and the capacity he is utilized in that scheme.  Running an offense based on deep passes and vertical routes?  Tim Tebow is probably not your best bet.  But you're running the West Coast Offense and borrow a lot from the Wildcat?  Then Tebow is the man for you.  And not only will you know this instinctively if you watch football, the game will now change the players' overalls to help you find those players who need much easier. 

So now we've talked strategic...but where does it get personal, you might be asking?  The answer is in the day-to-day operation of the franchise.  Developing young backups in practice, following the seasons' storylines, monitoring the team's morale - the game forces you to engage with the world of the franchise, to become invested in it.  In videogames, there are fewer feelings better than when you take that young but raw QB in the draft, develop him for three seasons as the team's backup, finally hand him the keys to the offense, and ultimately lead him to win the Super Bowl.  It's a great feeling, because all the time that you spent with this team finally paid off.  After spending all that time, it's more than just a game - it's almost like another world you've created and become a part of, and to see success after years of waiting (in-game) is a grand thing.

And, arguably, the best part is that you are totally allowed to just hand over duties that you don't want to do to the computer so you're never at a disadvantage.  Want to just play some football?  Then just play games, and let the computer do the dirty work.  Want to be a coach, not just a player?  Then take advantage of the game's wide array of options.

Games like MLB 14 The Show let you act as General Manager in the franchise and manager during games, but there's little correlation between the two, and little opportunity for the player to get truly involved with the day-to-day operations of the team.

Now we get to baseball, which has not come even close to the success Madden has here.  Of course, to achieve that same level in baseball is a lot harder - there are only 16 regular season games in a football season, and even if you play every down of preseason and make it to the Super Bowl while playing in the wild card round, you've still got a max of 24 games in a season, compared to 162 in the regular season alonefor baseball.  Nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY, plays every game in The Show or in MLB 2K; anybody who says they do either has literally zero social life or is lying.  It's just too many games, too tedious, and frankly, it gets boring after a while - I'm a huge baseball fan, and I tried it once, and after 30 games I got flat-out bored and abandoned the franchise. 

So how do you generate a personal interest in a franchise where you cannot realistically play every game, where there is no true way to do a "practice" system like in football, and where player development happens in minor league games, which even the biggest fanatics do not play.  And the truth is...I have no idea.  How do you?  I have vague ideas that a more in-depth spring training and injury rehab system would help, that player and team morale is needed...but in truth, if I said anything specific would work, I would be lying.  Truly, the first step in the right direction I think would be fully fleshing out roster mechanics - 40-man rosters, qualifying offers, the inclusion of Japanese/Korean leagues and the posting system, international free agents, Rule 5 drafts.....OK, you get the point.

But in terms of the atmosphere......I'm not totally sure, which is why I don't design videogames. What I am going to do, however, is throw the question back out to you, baseball fans - how would *you* make players feel personally invested in their franchise modes?