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June 23, 2011

Future Shock

Yankees + Prospects = Fear?

by Kevin Goldstein

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It's easy to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to the New York Yankees’ season. They've been riddled with injuries to important members of the roster, they've dealt with serious downturns in performances from aging stars like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, and they had one of their annual one-day media circuses when Posada refused to hit lower in the lineup. However, the team has the third-best record in baseball and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Yet the team could be better, and the Yankees seem to be reluctant—at this point to their detriment—in leaning on young players. For much of the first part of the century, the Yankees didn't have the prospects to help the team due to some downright embarrassing drafts. But that's not the case anymore: A combination of good picks and excellent work in the international market has transformed the system into one of baseball's best, and one that general manager Brian Cashman is happy to show public pride in while insisting that the Yankees want to keep their top prospects as opposed to using them as trade chips come July. For the first time in ages, they actually have the kind of prospects they've been hoping for, but they don't seem to know what they are doing with them.

Take the Brian Gordon situation. Gordon is a fantastic story, but he’s also a perfect example of what's going wrong in the Bronx when it comes to long-term thinking. The Yankees needed a starter, and while Gordon performed admirably in his first turn, the club has very good prospects in Double-A with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. If they wanted to avoid the hype train coming to town, Triple-A righty Adam Warren has been surging for Triple-A Scranton and could have been promoted in the same quiet manner Ivan Nova arrived last year. But the Yankees seem almost scared to bring their prospects up. “They just don't seem to trust their young players,” said one big-league executive. “Look at what the Braves did. When they needed a warm body, they had no issue with calling on [Julio] Teheran or [Randall] Delgado, even though those guys weren't fully big league-ready.” Nobody is saying to call up one of the new Killer B’s for good, but to go through all of the machinations for Gordon instead of leaning on what the team already has for a handful of outings shows either a lack of confidence in their own prospects, or maybe more telling, an almost perverse fear of failure.

The same applies to position players: The Jesus Montero situation showcases some of the unique variables the Yankees are dealing with. In nearly any other system, Montero would be a big-leaguer, and multiple scouts who have seen Montero play during his disappointing .291/.336/.414 showing at Triple-A say that there is a lack of effort and frustration to his game this year. One talent evaluator said, “He looks like a player who knows he's stuck in Pennsylvania.”

The problem is that calling Montero up would mean benching Posada, and if you thought it was a kerfuffle when Posada opted out of the lineup for one day, imagine him hitting the pine for the most well-known prospect in the system.

The Yankees don’t seem to have learned that when they've been forced to take chances on young players, those risks have paid off. They've done nothing in the draft lately; Brett Gardner represents the only regular player they've drafted and developed since the turn of the century, but New York has thrived in the international market. Robinson Cano was always seen as a good prospect—not a future superstar—during his minor-league career, yet when the Yankees gave him a shot at a job, he turned into an All-Star. That chance only came after the team figured out what everyone else already knew: Tony Womack wasn't anyone's answer at second base.

Here’s a modest proposal: Call Montero up. The Yankees don't have to bench Posada, but they do have to limit his role to get Montero consistent at-bats. New York can give Mark Teixeira the occasional day off, and you can even catch Montero once a week. Sure, he's awful back there, but so is Francisco Cervelli. At least Montero can make up for his mistakes behind the plate when he steps up to it. The next time the team needs a starting pitcher, which is going to happen to any team that is not the 2005 White Sox, call on somebody in the system. Warren and David Phelps at Triple-A are every bit as good as Gordon if the Yankees don't want to make a splash with the Double-A kids, but keep in mind that a quick one- or two-start debut with the up-front knowledge of a return ticket to Trenton regardless of the results can greatly lessen the pressure, both for the player and the fans.

 “The Yankees have made this big deal about their farm system, and they seem to be afraid that if those players fail. People will start asking what have they been making such a big deal about,” theorized a National League executive. The problem is, if the Yankees don't bring the prospects up, the same question applies. 

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Yankees Prospects,  The Call-up

30 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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pobothecat

Since this is an ESPN-first article, it probably won't generate a ton of response here --- but I think this is the most thought-provoking thing I've read about the Yankees in awhile. Fear of angering Posada, fear of angering Jeter, fear of exposing prospects --- there is something weird and wuss-like going on with this team.

Jun 23, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: 1
 
rskelley9

I disagree. Everyone loves to bash the Yankees front office, but Cashman is an extremely patient and well though-out guy. New York is a big stage, and every time New York has rushed its prospects it's been a disaster. In a lost year, panic over the team's rotation has ruined Joba Chamberlain's career.

Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy had serious issues pitching in New York when they were thrown into the pressure cooker rotation. Kennedy was a shell of himself until he went to Arizona years later. Hughes was a mess during his first couple of seasons and still hasn't harnessed his brilliant-yet-over-hyped potential.

Cano, Robertson and Soriano did work out very well, but Brackman could go the way of Drew Henson (at least partially) if fans see the big money arm struggle at Yankee stadium.

Banuelos and Betances are too valuable, and too fragile to throw into the team's playoff race, midseason. Betances had TJ surgery a couple of years ago, and it's probably not a good move to try to squeeze 6, high-stress innings per start out of his young arm. Banuelos is 20 years old. Name one other 20 year old pitcher that has ever found success with the Yankees (outside of borderline Hall of Famers).

Pitching isn't even the Yankees problem right now. They're getting plenty of quality innings out of journeymen like Colon, Garcia, Gordon, Nova, Ayala and Wade. The team has serious issues making contact with men on base, and they're very inconsistent. Their fielding has been shaky and they've seriously stunted Eduardo Nunez's development by benching him for a monthonly to allow the NY media to freak out about his rusty glove when he finally played.

If it were up to Cashman, he obviously wouldn't have overpaid for Jeter (even with the 3000 hits thing)-- knowing that they'd waste their payroll on a guy that doesn't even produce like a starter.--- This may sound cold, but the Red Sox had no problem benching their captain, saying farewell to Damon and trading Garciaparra. --- They also wouldn't have Soriano who's been a disaster and would be plenty happy with their dirt-cheap middle relief core led by Robertson, Ayala and Noesi. They'd have the money to grab a useful lefty- a problem that's killing their staff's situational effectiveness-- like Brian Fuentes or Craig Breslow.

Finally, how would Jesus Montero help the team exactly? A rookie power-hitting 1B/DH on a team that has to deal with getting the playing time for bat-only Jorge Posada and has a big-money 1B in Mark Teixeira. Montero isn't exactly tearing AAA apart either (.748 OPS) and even if he did have a fabulous rookie debut, how useful is a slow, rookie, right-handed DH who hits .270/.340/.480 on a team that already slugs plenty of homeruns and needs either lefty arms or veteran clutch-hitting bats.

Jun 23, 2011 15:10 PM
rating: 1
 
nalex83

Veteran clutch hitting bats...ha.

Jun 23, 2011 20:36 PM
rating: 3
 
pobothecat

You imply an important point here --- made explicit by others below --- that the Yankees judgement and Brian Cashman's judgement are two different, often contradictory, things. Not being a daily Yankee watcher, that's a nuance I'm glad to be clued into.

But the upshot of it all, the sum of the actions taken by whoever is making the final decisions, is still a hodge-podge of half-measures, second-guesses and reluctance, isn't it? (The Joba chronicle being the quintessential example.)

You're exactly right, too, in citing what the Red Sox would have done instead. And therein lies the answer to your question about Montero. Faced with a similar problem behind the plate, Boston went out and got themselves a lesser-Mentero. Jarod Saltalamacchia.

Whether or not he's the answer back there isn't the point. The point is, success or failure, every move the Sox make is guided by a plan for the future. With the Yankees, it's just the opposite --- an inability to let go of the past.

Jun 24, 2011 13:45 PM
rating: -3
 
DanLong

yeah...except Salty is 26 and hasn't been a prospect in years, whereas Montero is 21 and still has stuff to learn. I'm totally in favor of calling up montero and stashing Cervelli in AAA, but to compare the Sox with Salty and the Yankees with Montero, and praise the sox for playing Salty at catcher is just shortsighted.

Jun 24, 2011 14:02 PM
rating: 1
 
DanLong

whether or not you believe it, Montero is still officially listed as a catcher. the idea is that he'd be back up catcher instead of the .175 hitting cervelli, allowing girardi to rest Martin more often, as well as getting some at-bats from DH instead of the seemingly inept Posada.

Jun 24, 2011 13:59 PM
rating: 1
 
pobothecat

You're right, esp about the age/experience/usefulness difference between Montero and Salty. That wasn't a great parallel. But I think there's validity to the larger point I was trying to make. The Sox succeed by looking forward, seeing opportunities for future upside, while the Yankees seem anchored in what worked three years ago.

Jun 27, 2011 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

The problem is, how do you quantify the cost of failure for a GM in the bronx? It pains me to say it, but reality is if a prospect gets called up and he costs the Yankees a few games, that could mean Cashman's job. Meanwhile, I don't see anybody firing him for sticking with fan favs Posada and Jeter.

It's a classic Catch-22 situation. Cashman wants his prospects and he wants them to play, but the low chances of those prospects having star-power on par with their replacements' heydays is enough to get him run out of town on a rail.

If I were Cashman, I'd be hesitant too, even knowing the possible benefits.

Jun 23, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: 0
 
SaberTJ

Unlike the performance of Jeter and Posada that have already cost them games?

Jun 23, 2011 11:33 AM
rating: 0
 
cooper7d7

How dare you talk about The Captain and Jorgie that way, do you know how many rings they got?

Jun 23, 2011 12:07 PM
rating: 13
 
Peter7899

Just like to say to Mr. Cashman that he would not have worry about shenanigans like this if he decided to leave NY.

Plenty of other great jobs to be had out there, in say, *cough* Chicago. Just spitballing here...

Jun 23, 2011 14:10 PM
rating: 1
 
rskelley9

Sort of agree here, but don't think Cashman would lose his job. Cashman wants MLB-ready prospects, not young guys thrust into a high-stress sitatuation out of fan-panic and media-frenzy. Rookies that succeed generally do so with a low-stress, rebuilding environment (like the Rays, Marlins, Nationals had when Longoria, Crawford, Zimmerman, Coghlan, Stanton, etc... developed) or when they at least begin the season in the big leagues. Late-season call-ups in the middle of pressure-cooker playoff races won't be kind to a twenty -year old like Banuelos, or a soon-to-be dissapointment Brackman (unless he's used out of the bullpen as he should be), or a positionless Jesus Montero. Remember the booes that rained down on phenomenal talents like Henson, Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain when they had their growing pains?

Imagine the ugly fan/media reaction when Montero makes a bunch of throwing errors a la Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez, or when Banuelos-- pitching in a vital series against the Red Sox-- gets lit up by David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez for a young Phil Hughes line.

The Yankees should thank their lucky stars that Cashman was reasonable and patient enough to NOT listen to fans and media and trade away Montero and Nova for Cliff Lee (who would've left anyway). They should be even happier he didn't trade Cano and others for a pre-injury Santana.

Jun 23, 2011 15:21 PM
rating: 0
 
iddscoper

Steven Goldman has been beating this particular drum for a while - it's good to know he's not the only one! As a Yankee fan, it really is incredibly frustrating that the front office goes out of it's way to ignore the prospects they claim to be so proud of.

As far as Cashman goes, I doubt he's worrying about his long term prospects with the team. He's given every indication over the last 9 months that he's fed up with meddling executives and will be jumping ship at the end of his current contract.

Jun 23, 2011 11:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BPKevin

Like the article Kevin, and asked the same question as to why not call up Phelps or Warren.
But I don't necessarily agree about the fear factor.
They did bring up Nunez, who seems to be Jeter's eventual replacement.
Bringing up other position players at this point would really limit their AB. I'd love to see Montero up too, but would rather it be when he can get at 1east 10 AB per week.
While Posada's been a drain, (not as bad as Adam Dunn?) it's been palatable while the Yankees were in 1st place and one of the top hitting teams. No longer the case I think we'll see Montero up...and if Posada doesn't turn it around, it should be shortly after Jeter notches his 3,000th hit.

Jun 23, 2011 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BPKevin

Jorge Posada .225/.321/.390
AB-182 H-41 HR-7 RBI-23 K/BB-45/25
Adam Dunn .175/.314/.323
AB-217 H-38 HR-7 RBI-29 K/BB-91/41

Jun 23, 2011 11:48 AM
rating: -2
 
gilgamesh

Jorge Posada: 38 (for 2 more months)
Adam Dunn: 31

Posada blocking: Jesus Montero.
Dunn blocking: Dayan Viciedo?

Yeah, that's the whole picture.

Jun 23, 2011 12:57 PM
rating: 4
 
gilgamesh

Oops - sorry - actually 39 going on 40. :)

Jun 23, 2011 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
ddanyc
(837)

Just to set the record straight on something that is frequently misstated. Cano was not called up because the Yanks were tired of Tony Womack. On the contrary, they wished to move Womack to the OF because they were tired of Bernie's outfield defense and Womack became a regular OF (seriously, you can look it up). Since the Yankees discourage any negative mention of fan favorites (such as Bernie's poor late career play), it is now commonly stated by the broadcast booth that Cano replaced Womack and that has caught on as the explanation.

Jun 23, 2011 12:06 PM
rating: 6
 
Brian Kopec

If you bring up one of these prospects and they fail initially, it tarnishes their trade value.

Jun 23, 2011 12:55 PM
rating: -1
 
Benjamin Harris

Exactly. Just look at the Rangers. They bring up Justin Smoak, he hits .209/.316/.353 and all they manage to get in return is Cliff Lee.

Jun 23, 2011 13:30 PM
rating: 14
 
SydFinch

I thought that perhaps an element of this article would have touched upon the fact that the stock of the "BBB's" has effectively dropped from where they were in March.

Brackman has seemed to given back most of the gains that he had last year and is clearly now only a reliever at the MLB level.

Banuelos has not been as dominate in 2011 as he was in 2010.

Betances has been inconsistent.

I think that the larger reason neither of the last 2 were used was "performance-based" as opposed to being gun shy on rolling with their prospects.

Jun 23, 2011 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Dan W.

Betances has been wild, but he hasn't been inconsistent. His most recent start was the first time all year he didn't last five innings, and before it he hadn't allowed more than three runs (and had only allowed three once).

Jun 23, 2011 14:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Infrancoeurgible

Just to put some ephemera out there, the 2003 Mariners actually had all 162 games started by the same 5 pitchers. The 2005 White Sox were pretty close to doing that as well, though.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SEA/2003.shtml
http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/2005.shtml

Jun 23, 2011 14:30 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess

Cashman needs to get out of there. Its obvious Hank and Hal call the shots. Cashman's grumpy act is growing old as well. IE - the statements about not wanting Soriano. There was nothing to gain by going public with that unless you just wanted out. Get on with it already.

Jun 23, 2011 16:21 PM
rating: 1
 
CalledStrike3

A Trade that makes sense ... The Angel's Jeff Weaver is near the end of his contract and they cannot afford to re-up ...

The Angels already have three other good starters (Haren, Santana, Piniero) in their rotation and will be live contenders in 2012 in the AL West.

The Angels are playing Bobby Abreu at DH this year, his last ...and Vernon Wells in the OF along with an aging Tori Hunter. They will have future all-star OF Mike Trout up for good at the longest by super 2 deadline next year. The Angels also get their slugging 1B Kendrys Morales back next year.

They can contend in 2012.

Why not ship Jeff Weaver and Vernon Wells (AL East grizzled vet - who can be a 4th OF for the Yanks starting anywhere against leftys) .... The Yanks lock up Weaver ...and if Posada falters AB's filter to Swisher and Wells at DH

The Yanks send Miguel Montero to California (Mike Scosia is the perfect guy to get him to play "with energy") - let him get his feet wet catching twice a week and DHing three times a week.

The Angels also recieve a pitching prospect in the deal..preferrably Banuelos as they will want a lefty to break up their right handed dominant rotation in 2012 and beyond ...

The Angels bring up Trout to get his feet wet and get the frasnchise excited with Trout and Montero playing together ....find a 3B and 5th starter for 2012 and set their sails.

Jun 24, 2011 13:31 PM
rating: -3
 
DanLong

That might be the worst trade ever. especially considering you said Jeff Weaver (you meant Jered) and Miguel Montero (you meant Jesus). You think the Yankees would trade their top two prospects for Weaver, who has one year of arb left before no longer being under team control, and Wells, who is due $21M a year for the next 3 years after this season? Wow. Just wow.

Jun 24, 2011 13:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Austin (Raleigh)

I think the Angels are likely set for a while with Hank "King" Conger behind the plate. He's an offensive catcher (though not Montero-like) who plays solid D.

However if the Yanks could get Weaver and indication of the ability to lock him up, they would for SURE say goodbye to Montero.

Jun 27, 2011 08:13 AM
rating: 0
 
DanLong

I'm not sure they would say goodbye, but they'd at least think about it....so far the only names he's been tied to are Lee and Halladay, and Weaver isn't in their class...but he's no doubt a top tier talent. My bigger objection is that Wells would get thrown into that trade, and even worse, that Banuelos would...I wouldn't trade Montero for ANYBODY + Wells, and he thinks that Weaver and Wells for Montero AND Banuelos would make sense?

Jun 27, 2011 08:37 AM
rating: 0
 
BPKevin

gilgamesh, I was merely pointing out that the Yankees suffering through Posada's bad hitting isn't as bad as having to suffer through Adam Dunn's ineptitude. Of course I'd prefer Dunn to Posada, I wasn't comparing the two to eachother, but the present stats each team is enduring.

Jun 24, 2011 14:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

The problem is that now Posada is raking (.417/.442/.563 in 16 games), and I for one don't believe he's completely cooked. I'd rather have Montero in AAA for a few more weeks than playing 3 times a week.

On the other hand, you couldn't be more right about Gordon. Why bother going out and getting this total question mark when you've got perfectly good ones with futures to look towards? Hector Noesi is pitching out of the pen right now when he could be making Gordon's starts. I don't really get it. If he's not ready for the bigs, they could get a Gordon type for his role. If he is, let him start and skip the signings.

I think the problem will, for the most part, resolve itself, as Garcia/Colon start to have trouble, Posada shows complete uselessness and, most importantly, time passes. But it's a weird situation.

Jun 25, 2011 19:02 PM
rating: 1
 
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