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Friday, March 15, 2013

Goldman: The Yankees, Derrek Lee, and a Failure of Nerve

If the Yankees had an executive and a baseball operations department whose judgment mattered, it might be different.

That the team has no faith in its own valuations is demonstrated by the team’s pathetic outreach to the retired All-Star Derrek Lee. Lee has officially told the Yankees he’s staying home. The Yankees should consider themselves lucky to have been spared this particular flight of fancy given that Lee had been idle since September 28, 2011 and hadn’t played well since 2009. In his prime, Lee was a solid performer, a mostly good-not-great first baseman who had one season, 2005’s .335/.418/.662 for the Cubs, that falls somewhere in the top 50 offensive seasons of all time at that position. That was eight years ago, though, and skills are not immune from the ravages of age and disuse. The chances of Lee coming back at 37 and equaling even the meager .263/.337/.436 that he put up from 2010 to 2011 had to be rated as small.

That benchmark, .263/.337/.436, is key to understanding Cashman’s thinking. Last year, the average major league first baseman hit .262/.336/.442. The average American Leaguer hit .255/.320/.411. Thus, in calling upon Lee to substitute for Mark Teixeira, Cashman was not looking for even average first base production and perhaps not average production for any position. In other words, unless he was basing his estimate of Lee’s production on a completely unrealistic return to his career rates of .281/.365/.495, his estimate of his current first base options is that they won’t hit as well as (a) a 37-year-old retiree, and (b) anybody.

...But then, that’s the problem with having a baseball operation that has let part of its brain atrophy. You can’t give to your team, but only take from others. The Yankees cut the latter option off in the name of austerity this winter, and now that the injuries have occurred, they don’t know how to proceed. What they are experiencing now isn’t a failure of depth, so much as it’s a failure of depth compounded by a failure of imagination—or more aptly, a failure of nerve.

Thanks to JOEV.

Repoz Posted: March 15, 2013 at 03:48 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics, yankees

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 15, 2013 at 04:12 PM (#4389047)
i think one can make a case that there is a dearth of first base options that have a realistic chance of making a positive contribution over any length of time barring hit luck or other forms of strange good fortune

the brewers need a temp and while alex gonzalez is not anyone's idea of a quality sub i am not certain that there are really better alternatives in terms of a short-term 'fix'
   2. Walt Davis Posted: March 15, 2013 at 04:24 PM (#4389052)
Cashman was not looking for even average first base production

Because Cashman isn't stupid enough to think that league average first base production is just sitting around in March waiting for the phone to ring to offer them a short-term sub job?

Did nobody notice that the Yanks haven't had a good bench during almost the entire run of the last 18 years? Certainly never a good enough bench to replace ARod, Granderson and Tex with anything resembling league-average production. Even if the Yanks had re-signed Swisher and Ichiro they'd still be scrambling for an emergency Tex or Granderson replacement.

I won't click through ... does the article suggest any realistic solutions? It wouldn't surprise me in the least if there's a AAAA guy out there who projects better than Derrek Lee but, I dunno, I thought reaching out to Lee was kinda imaginative. Certainly of all the guys who've taken the last year off, he's probably a good one to take a risk on (he was still in shape at least, he finished well). Are the Ms really so enamored of Ibanez that they wouldn't consider shipping him back over? The Cubs really have no use for LaHair.
   3. Swedish Chef Posted: March 15, 2013 at 04:32 PM (#4389058)
Is he really bemoaning that the Yankees doesn't have an above-average minor leaguer in the wings when their first baseman goes down in March? As far as I can see that is what he is saying.
   4. The District Attorney Posted: March 15, 2013 at 04:52 PM (#4389065)
The Cubs really have no use for LaHair.
That's why he went to Japan. What team do you root for again...?
   5. John Northey Posted: March 15, 2013 at 05:13 PM (#4389072)
I hear Barry Bonds is available. Heck, he'd probably still outhit the average first baseman but might have trouble out running the average catcher.
   6. frannyzoo Posted: March 15, 2013 at 05:30 PM (#4389079)
I dunno, looking at the cycling photos, Barry might be in the best shape.....
   7. Ray (RDP) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 05:35 PM (#4389082)
You can go three routes:

1. Take a chance on a player nearing, at, or past the end of the line like Lee.

2. Take a chance on a player who could post an .800 OPS but hasn't gotten the chance.

3. Sign a reliable mediocrity.

All three are reasonable. I'd go with 1 or 3 and take a chance that I might stumble onto gold (an .800 OPS).
   8. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: March 15, 2013 at 05:47 PM (#4389089)
Is he really bemoaning that the Yankees doesn't have an above-average minor leaguer in the wings when their first baseman goes down in March? As far as I can see that is what he is saying.


It takes Goldman a little while to get there, but toward the end of the column he advocates the Yankees rely on Dan Johnson and Ronnier Mustelier instead of going after the Derrek Lees of the world.

So it's sort of a combination of "The Yankees should have better prospects at a high enough level to contribute immediately, and they don't because they did a poor job drafting and didn't leverage their financial advantage when it was possible to do so" and "If the Yankees don't have great options, they have a couple OK-ish ones in Johnson and Mustelier and it speaks poorly of New York that the Yankees are unwilling to go with those guys instead of pursuing a retired first baseman whose most recent performance was only OK."
   9. Canker Soriano Posted: March 15, 2013 at 05:55 PM (#4389094)
That benchmark, .263/.337/.436, is key to understanding Cashman’s thinking. Last year, the average major league first baseman hit .262/.336/.442. The average American Leaguer hit .255/.320/.411. Thus, in calling upon Lee to substitute for Mark Teixeira, Cashman was not looking for even average first base production


If you put Lee at .263/.337/.436, he's almost exactly average (.262/.336/.442). He doesn't have to live up to 2005, or to his career numbers. Just the average of what he did in the 2010 and 2011 seasons would be a perfect fit for a couple of months.

Yeah, maybe that's not a realistic expectation given that Lee took last year off and this year would have missed most of Spring Training. But if the Yankees were convinced, through some evidence that they may have that we don't, that Lee could match his decline phase numbers, then he'd seem a perfectly cromulent fill-in in case of injury.

I think dumping on this is evidence of a writer who longs wistfully for the days when the Yankees had All-Stars at every position and either former All-Stars or hotshot prospects sitting on the bench waiting to fill in. (Plus, of course, Enrique Wilson.)
   10. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:07 PM (#4389099)
The excerpt is dumb on so many levels.

Is there any evidence the Yankees were considering Lee as their primary solution? From what I read, he was just one of many guys they reached out to to kick the tires on. What's the harm in throwing a few guys some spring training invites, and seeing what they have left in the tank? Why wouldn't you want options.
   11. Ray (RDP) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:09 PM (#4389100)
It takes Goldman a little while to get there, but toward the end of the column he advocates the Yankees rely on Dan Johnson and Ronnier Mustelier instead of going after the Derrek Lees of the world.


I will finally bite: Why is everyone suddenly in love with Dan Johnson? He seems indistinguishable from a dozen mediocrities you could plug in - including Derrek Lee.
   12. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:22 PM (#4389106)
Someone remind me why Jim Thome's name is not being bandied about.
   13. JJ1986 Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:25 PM (#4389111)
Someone remind me why Jim Thome's name is not being bandied about.


I don't think he can play 1B anymore.
   14. Swedish Chef Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:25 PM (#4389112)
Someone remind me why Jim Thome's name is not being bandied about.

I think it was, at the same time as Lee made the rounds.

Now they have signed Brennan Boesch, guess Goldman can't object to that.

   15. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:32 PM (#4389119)
Goldman is right on about Lee. Asking a guy in his late 30s to come back after a full season layoff--and without the benefit of a full spring training--smacks of desperation and perhaps stupidity. (The GM looks particularly foolish when he asks reporters to text Chipper Jones and express interest on the Yankees' behalf. That kind of move, which is just silliness, really makes me wonder if Cashman is losing it.)

Thankfully for the Yankees, Lee turned them down. They'll be much better off with Boesch in left and some mix of Johnson, Rivera, and Youkilis at first base.
   16. Ray (RDP) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:39 PM (#4389124)
Goldman is right on about Lee. Asking a guy in his late 30s to come back after a full season layoff--and without the benefit of a full spring training--smacks of desperation and perhaps stupidity.


But the injury to Teixeira didn't happen until they were already into spring training. So I don't understand the criticism. Is it that Brian Cashman is not psychic?
   17. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:49 PM (#4389128)
I will finally bite: Why is everyone suddenly in love with Dan Johnson? He seems indistinguishable from a dozen mediocrities you could plug in - including Derrek Lee.


Derrek Lee wanted like $8M in the 2011/2012 offseason, which is why he didn't play for anybody last year. Say what you will of Johnson, but he's probably cheaper than that, at least.
   18. JJ1986 Posted: March 15, 2013 at 06:59 PM (#4389130)
So I don't understand the criticism. Is it that Brian Cashman is not psychic?


He was one injury away from courting retired players. I think that he should have had at least one backup plan before it came to that.
   19. Ray (RDP) Posted: March 15, 2013 at 07:10 PM (#4389132)
He was one injury away from courting retired players. I think that he should have had at least one backup plan before it came to that.


A good backup 1B doesn't seem to be a reasonable priority; more like an expensive luxury, a spot which is hard for a GM to fill because good 1B already have jobs and don't want to sign to be a backup.

I think trying to pry a Chipper Jones away from retirement is a completely reasonable backup plan before the injury happens. I mean, he's probably not going to sign, but this is as realistic a plan has having a good backup 1B in camp.

At any rate, accepting your premise that Cashman should have been more prepared, who *should* he have had in camp before the injuries who could have stepped in and played 1B with an .800 OPS?
   20. The Ghost's Tryin' to Reason with Hurricane Season Posted: March 15, 2013 at 07:19 PM (#4389141)
The Yanks would do well to look hard at third basemen, sliding Youkilis to first, as he might stay healthier over there. All they need right now is for Youk to go down.

The Mariners do seem to have stockpiled guys who can handle 1B. They have Smoak, Morales, Morse, and Ibanez off the top of my head. But I don't see them getting a decent enough offer from the Yanks to make a trade.
   21. JJ1986 Posted: March 15, 2013 at 07:23 PM (#4389144)
At any rate, accepting your premise that Cashman should have been more prepared, who *should* he have had in camp before the injuries who could have stepped in and played 1B with an .800 OPS?


Expecting an .800 OPS (from Lee or any backup plan) doesn't seem like properly adjusting to the new lower offensive environment. That would be around a 115 OPS+ in YS last year.

I think there are a bunch of players who could put up a .700-.750 including Dan Johnson and one guy (Canzler) who the Yankees cut, especially in a platoon. I wouldn't expect Lee to project any better than them.
   22. willcarrolldoesnotsuk Posted: March 15, 2013 at 07:27 PM (#4389146)
I think I must be misreading this, because it seems to make no sense on multiple levels. To me, it seems like he's saying:

"Lee hit like an average first baseman from 2010 to 2011. Hitting like an average first baseman is meager. He probably won't hit as well as that. So unless Cashman thinks Lee will hit a whole lot better than an average first baseman, Cashman therefore thinks his other first base options will not hit as well as anyone at any position."
   23. cardsfanboy Posted: March 15, 2013 at 07:40 PM (#4389151)
Expecting an .800 OPS (from Lee or any backup plan) doesn't seem like properly adjusting to the new lower offensive environment. That would be around a 115 OPS+ in YS last year.


The thing about "if you sign" Lee, is that the expectations would be "he aint going to do ####, but there is a small chance he might, so let's take a chance"... nobody is going to expect him to do a 100 ops+ even, but for the league minimum offer, it doesn't hurt to see. Teams do this all the time with no expectations. Once in a while you get lucky with a Freddy Garcia, that makes the rest of the failed investments worth it.
   24. zonk Posted: March 15, 2013 at 08:26 PM (#4389183)
The Cubs really have no use for LaHair.

That's why he went to Japan. What team do you root for again...?


That does still surprise me... I mean, I know "Brian LaHair ALL-STAR!" doesn't mean much and he also disappeared after a pretty good April/early May (then completely vanished when Rizzo came up) - but IIRC, he still has at least one more full year of pre-arb. Hard for me to believe NO ONE had any interest in keeping him around for org fodder. I mean, Tony Campana brought back 2 17 yo lottery ticket arms -- you're telling me no one would give up half that for LaHair? You're not very good if you need to give him ~600 PA's, but he's the perfect piece for someone who needs to fill 1B for a month or so (better if happens to be hot that month).

His career 107 OPS+ in ~600 PAs is no great shakes - but keep in mind, that's because he's completely hopeless against LHP. Against RHP - he's a career 289/355/479 hitter.

Was it just a favor to let him make a 7 figure salary in Japan? I truly cannot believe most teams wouldn't benefit for having a ~$600k LaHair under contract - especially a contender in need of insurance, and especially an AL team.
   25. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: March 15, 2013 at 09:14 PM (#4389220)
I believe Lahair wanted to make more money, which he could in Japan.
   26. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: March 15, 2013 at 09:19 PM (#4389224)
Let's face it, this is shaping up as one of those Yankee years like 1965, where the #### all hit the fan at once. Injuries, losing players, and stars in a more or less normal decline phase. You may be able to make chicken soup out of chicken #### and convince some people that it tastes like chicken, but you ain't gonna make no chicken soup out of a starting lineup that has exactly one first rate certified healthy young player and a whole lot of imposters. Brett Gardner and Ichiro may be good role players if only there were someone who could drive them in, but they're not exactly the sort of run producers the Yankees have been seeing for the past 19 years.
   27. Walt Davis Posted: March 16, 2013 at 12:51 AM (#4389345)
As I mentioned, the Yanks almost never have good benches so it has been a blind spot for a while. But then the starters have generally been so good that 1 or 2 injuries didn't matter much. Anyway, it's fair to say that Cashman should have done more to have a solid bench in place given the age of the team.

But ... he's lost his starting 3B who's expected back mid-season. He lost his CF at the start of spring. He just lost his 1B. Who knows what his SS will do. No team can replace 4 starters without absolutely busting the bank. I mean I think he should have found a better 4th OF than Rivera but Rivera was already in the lineup when Tex went down. "Complicating" it is that these guys are expected back this season so, even if one were available, he can't even approach a good borderline starter with an opportunity to start.

What team do you root for again...?

The one without Bryan LaHair.
   28. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 16, 2013 at 03:10 AM (#4389366)
Did nobody notice that the Yanks haven't had a good bench during almost the entire run of the last 18 years? Certainly never a good enough bench to replace ARod, Granderson and Tex with anything resembling league-average production.


Does any one team ever have much of a chance of replacing three particular regulars with three subs at all likely to put up ML average production?

As for Cashman's approach to subs generally, during pretty much every other year of his tenure he was able to go out and pick up 10m/year contracts to replace anyone who went down; I think he just never really felt he had to devote much time to building a bench (even though I think it cost them in a postseason or two).
   29. tfbg9 Posted: March 16, 2013 at 08:39 AM (#4389378)
The Steinbrenners have gone, at least temporarily, "cheap".
They need to make $100 million in profits, rather than $80 million, in 2013 and 2014. Yankee fans just need to simmer down and understand. The spawn of Big Stein run the team now, and will run it as they see fit.

There's always Yankeeography.

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