Spend Hal's Money: Max Scherzer

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Max ScherzerRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia, anyone?
This Yankees offseason has no $189 million goal, nor does it appear a half-billion-dollar spending spree is in the offing, but owner Hal Steinbrenner and the team will likely make a few moves. As always, we like to be helpful at ESPN New York, so once again, we will aid the Yankees' decision-makers with a little game we like to call Spend Hal's Money.

Today's Candidate: Max Scherzer
Position: RHP
Age: 30 (31 in late July)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 220
2014 numbers: $15.525 million salary, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 220 1/3 IP, 1.175 WHIP

PROS: Of the top three starters on the market, Scherzer is the youngest. He is nearly four years younger than James Shields and six months younger than Jon Lester. While the age difference between Scherzer and Lester is not significant, it is possible Scherzer has had less tear on his arm.

The past two years, Scherzer has arguably been the most dominant of the trio, highlighted by his 21-3, 2.90 ERA, Cy Young-winning 2013 season.

He is a power guy who, in theory, can be a difference-maker in the regular season and the postseason. Of course, Scherzer's performance for the Tigers in the playoffs has been a bit of a crapshoot.

You pay the big money for the regular season and then hope it works out in the playoffs. Scherzer has been a 200-plus inning guy the past two years.

With a healthy Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, adding Scherzer might make the Yankees the favorites in the AL East. Yes, he will command a big salary, but if the Yankees want to make the postseason next year, it might be a check they have to write.

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Should the Yankees spend Hal's money on Max Scherzer?

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    71%
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Discuss (Total votes: 2,500)

CONS: Before the 2014 season, Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the Tigers. He didn't do that to take less on the open market. So those parameters are where the negotiations will begin, but knowing Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, they won't be where they end.

The Yankees have the money, but with Steinbrenner seemingly wanting to control the payroll, the money and years could be the biggest deterrent.

Scherzer will likely want seven years, which would take him into his mid-30s. Unlike Lester, who was traded this season, Scherzer would cost the Yankees a first-round pick.

THE VERDICT: I'd be in on Scherzer if I were the Yankees. As we said with Lester and Shields, this is an area the Yankees can improve. Just because the pitching wasn't the problem in 2014, it doesn't mean it might not be the issue in 2015.

More importantly, the Yankees would have a chance to have a dominant rotation if everyone stays healthy. These longer-term deals are risky and the back half of the contracts are particularly worrisome, but the Yankees can't just punt on seasons, can they? This is not the NFL or the NBA, where tanking a season or two can conceivably be rewarded by bouncing off the bottom to relevancy with high draft picks as the springboard.

I would have my parameters, but in the end, the Yankees would have a dream rotation with Scherzer, Tanaka, Pineda, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia. If Luis Severino and/or Manny Banuelos join Shane Greene, then all of a sudden the Yankees could have a really impressive -- and deep -- staff.

Mets hire Kevin Long as hitting coach

October, 23, 2014
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NEW YORK -- Kevin Long is switching boroughs, but remaining in New York City.

Shortly after being fired as hitting coach with the Yankees, the Mets have hired Long for the same role.

"Kevin's experience, success and wealth of knowledge make him the perfect fit as our hitting instructor," general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement on Thursday. "This is a very positive step for the Mets. We welcome Kevin and his wife Marcey to the Mets family."

Said Long: "I'm excited to get the opportunity to work with a team that I think is on the rise. I had a great meeting with Sandy and [manager] Terry [Collins] yesterday and I can't wait to get started and help in any way I can."

Long, 47, had served as Yankees hitting coach for eight seasons.

He succeeds Lamar Johnson, who will return to a role in the minor leagues. Johnson had been promoted in May with the firing of hitting coach Dave Hudgens.

Hudgens since has been hired by the Houston Astros as hitting coach.

The Mets also announced the promotion of Dustin Clarke from Triple-A Las Vegas to serve as strength and conditioning coach.


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Paulo Berejuk pleads not guilty

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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MIAMI -- A man described by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a black-market chemist who concocted athletic performance-enhancing drugs in his garage pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges arising from Major League Baseball's recent drug scandal.

Paulo Berejuk, 50, entered the plea during a federal court hearing on charges of conspiring to distribute testosterone and human growth hormone, both controlled substances.

The DEA says that Berejuk for years was the main supplier for Anthony Bosch, former owner of the now-closed Biogenesis of America clinic on Coral Gables that sold banned substances to MLB players and other athletes, some still in high school. Authorities say Berejuk was paid as much as $20,000 a month for his work.

Berejuk, a permanent legal U.S. resident originally from Brazil, was also ordered jailed without bail until his trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber agreed with prosecutors that Berejuk might flee to Brazil and is a danger to the community because he was dispensing controlled substances without a medical or pharmaceutical license.

And it appears Bosch's arrest in August may not have stopped Berejuk. DEA Agent Gene Grafenstein said when Berejuk was arrested earlier this week, a powder was found at his home that is used in producing human growth hormone.

"He has still been purchasing items that could possibly be made into substances," Grafenstein said in court.

The case has resulted in a half-dozen other arrests and suspensions for 14 MLB players, most notably the record season-long suspension for New York Yankees star and three-time American League MVP Alex Rodriguez. Bosch has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators, including providing key information to the DEA about Berejuk's involvement.


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Spend Hal's Money: Victor Martinez

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Victor MartinezRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsVictor Martinez wouldn't make the Yankees' lineup any younger. But he could make it a lot better.
The Yankees went into last winter with a publicly stated goal of keeping their payroll below $189 million. They came out of it having committed more than $400 million for four new players. This winter, there are no such payroll limitations, at least to our knowledge, but there is still plenty of need. And since there is nothing more fun than playing with another guy's cash, we at ESPN New York will once again aid the Yankees' decision-makers with a little game we like to call, "Spend Hal's Money."

Today's Candidate: Victor Martinez
Position: DH/1B
Age: 36 in December
Height: 6-2
Weight: 210
2014 numbers: $12 million salary, .335-32-103, .409 OBP, .974 OPS, 5.3 WAR

Pros: Martinez's 2014 numbers are absolutely eye-popping: a career-high 32 home runs; a .335 batting average, second-best in the AL only to Jose Altuve, who is 12 years younger; a league-leading .409 on-base percentage and .974 OPS, and in a year in which hitters seemed to strike out more than ever, Martinez struck out just 42 times in 641 plate appearances. You have to go way down the list of Yankees hitters, all the way down to Francisco Cervelli, who played in just 49 games and came to the plate only 162 times, to find one who fanned less than V-Mart. He was easily the best hitter on the Detroit Tigers, who happen to have a guy named Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. Not only can he DH, but Martinez also played 35 games at first base, and we all remember how well it worked out for the Yankees last season without a proper backup for the oft-injured Mark Teixeira. And perhaps most attractive to the Yankees, 20 of the switch-hitting Martinez's home runs came from the left side of the plate, which sounds like a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

SportsNation

Should the Yankees spend Hal's money on Victor Martinez?

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    42%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,753)

Cons: When you're the oldest team in the league, as the Yankees are (by a solid three years!) adding yet another 36-year-old to the mix is probably not what you want, even if Martinez, after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, has been healthy enough the past two seasons to play in 310 of a possible 324 games, plus nine postseason games, in which he batted .343. Plus, the fact that 2014 was in many respects a career year for V-Mart raises red flags. And he will not come cheap. The Tigers are sure to give him a qualifying offer, and the public statements of their GM, Dave Dombrowski, seem to indicate they will push hard to sign him to a longer-term deal. And they will not be the only bidders. The Yankees are already paying one 36-year-old DH (Carlos Beltran) $15 million a year for the next two years; can they afford to carry another?

The verdict: V for Victor-y. The risks of signing Martinez are real, but the reward is great if he can turn in another season or two that is even close to what he did in 2014. He becomes the most dangerous hitter in the Yankees' batting order as soon as Joe Girardi writes his name on the lineup card, and hopefully, he can elevate the production of the Yankees' hitters to his level before they drag him down to theirs. Hey, it's Hal's money. It's about time he took a chance on a player who could really be a game-changer.

Spend Hal's Money: Hanley Ramirez

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Hanley RamirezJayne Kamin/USA TODAY SportsHow about Hanley Ramirez as Derek Jeter's successor at short?
The Yankees went into last winter with a publicly stated goal of keeping their payroll below $189 million. They came out of it having committed more than $400 million for four new players. This winter, there are no such payroll limitations, at least to our knowledge, but there is still plenty of need. And since there is nothing more fun than playing with another guy's cash, we at ESPN New York will once again aid the Yankees' decision-makers with a little game we like to call, "Spend Hal's Money."

Today's Candidate: Hanley Ramirez
Position: SS
Age: 31 in December
Height: 6-2
Weight: 225
2014 numbers: $16 million salary, .283-13-71, .369 OBP, .817 OPS, 3.5 WAR

Pros: By the numbers, Ramirez, even by the diminished standards of his 2014 season, would have led the Yankees in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, been one tick behind Ichiro Suzuki for highest batting average and run second to Brian McCann in RBIs. This probably says more about the Yankees' offense this year than it does about Ramirez, who is no longer the player he was back in the day, when he was a 30-30 man for the Florida Marlins, and the 2009 NL batting champion. Still, even at his current level, Ramirez could give the Yankees back at least some of the production they used to get out of their infield in the days when Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano -- remember him? -- were at their peaks. And they wouldn't have to worry about a veteran like Ramirez wilting under the pressure of trying to replace Derek Jeter.

SportsNation

Should the Yankees spend Hal's money on Hanley Ramirez?

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    32%
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Discuss (Total votes: 6,902)

Cons: Injuries have shortened three of Ramirez's past four seasons, causing his production to plummet. Alas, his age is not plummeting, and if the Yankees balked at giving a 30-year-old Cano a 10-year deal, why would they lock themselves up with Ramirez for at least five years? They've gotten caught in that trap before and have two infielders, Tex and A-Rod, in the process of cashing in on big contracts while outliving their expiration dates as players. Do they want to do that again? Plus, as a right-handed batter in Yankee Stadium, Ramirez's power numbers, at home at least, are likely to decline even further.

The verdict: Pass. In the short term, signing Ramirez might be a move that excites the fan base, but over the long haul, there's a lot of potential here for another disastrous contract. There are younger, healthier -- and cheaper -- options out there, and while we'd love to spend Hal's money on just about anything, I would wait for a better opportunity than this.

Echoes of the '85 K.C. Royals

October, 22, 2014
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Ned YostED ZURGA/GETTY IMAGESThe 2014 Royals respect manager Ned Yost as much as the 1985 Royals respected Dick Howser.

I was lookin up when it was a cool night in October

Darryl Motley caught

a lazy fly off Andy Van Slyke's bat

Kansas City delirious as champs

we poured champagne on sweat-soaked heads

it burned our eyes

we didn't care

we screamed we sang we laughed

drunk with victory


--"A Career," from On Days Like This, poems by Dan Quisenberry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Long time, 29 years. The airport, a hub for TWA, is still there, but TWA isn't. The Huffington Post, which wasn't around in 1985, just declared Kansas City "the coolest city in America," which might have seemed laughable back then. The ballpark is the same but different -- the beautiful grass hill in center field fell to the scourge of revenue-producing seats.

The home clubhouse has been rearranged, with the pitchers now on the side of the room closest to the field. Dan Quisenberry, the Royals' submarining closer, has passed away, a victim of brain cancer at age 45 in 1998. So has the skipper, Dick Howser, who died of the same thing less than two years after he won the World Series. Ewing Kauffman, the owner who brought the Royals to Kansas City, is also gone.


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Royals turn to Ventura in Game 2

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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[+] EnlargeYordano Ventura
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Royals' chances to even up the World Series rest on Yordano Ventura's shoulders.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura's defining moment in the 2014 postseason could have easily occurred in the American League wild-card play-in game, when he pitched in an unfamiliar role out of the Kansas City Royals' bullpen and gave up a potentially crushing homer to the Oakland A's Brandon Moss. It was the type of confidence-sapping failure on a grand stage that could have haunted him for a while. At the very least, it prompted a few Internet alarmists to mention Salomon Torres, the former Giants prospect who experienced the mother of all meltdowns on the final day of the 1993 season.


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Spend Hal's Money: James Shields

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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James ShieldsPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsShould the Yankees take a shot on James Shields?
This Yankees offseason has no $189 million goal, nor does it appear a half-billion-dollar spending spree is in the offing, but the team will likely make a few moves. As always, we like to be helpful at ESPN New York, so once again, we will aid the Yankees' decision-makers with a little game we like to call "Spend Hal's Money."

Today's Candidate: James Shields
Position: RHP
Age: 33 in December
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 215
2014 numbers: $13.5 million salary, 14-8, 3.21 ERA, 227 IP, 1.22 WHIP

Pros: The Kansas City Royals' World Series' Game 1 starter is a 200-inning machine. Check out the innings' column on his statistics page. In each of his eight full seasons in the big leagues, he has thrown more than 200 innings.

Shields is not a dominant guy, as his 3.72 career ERA demonstrates, but he is a reliable one. The idea of adding 200-plus innings to a staff with question marks surrounding Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow) and Michael Pineda (who knows) is pretty appealing.

SportsNation

Should the Yankees spend Hal's money on James Shields?

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    39%
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    61%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,834)

The Yankees' starting pitching could be strong and deep next year, but it will need to rely on some luck -- otherwise known as health -- to have all its difference-makers. They do have Shane Greene, David Phelps, Manny Banuelos, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Sevirino and could re-sign Brandon McCarthy. There is some depth there, but they all come with uncertainty.

McCarthy, by way of comparison, has thrown 200 innings only once in his career. McCarthy would likely be cheaper, but the innings Shields eats helps in games he is not pitching because it preserves his team's bullpen.

Cons: He has thrown 200 innings forever, so at some point he might break down. He is soon to be 33, so the Yankees don't want it to happen on their dime. This risk is always the case on big-time free-agent pitchers.

So the Yankees could be scared off by Shields' age and odometer, plus his reputation is not fully backed up by stats. His nickname is "Big Game," But that might have as much to do with the rhyme as it does with his success, considering his postseason ERA is 5.19 in nine playoff games heading into the World Series.

The verdict: Just like lefty Jon Lester, I say go after Shields.

A mistake teams make from year to year is to look at the previous season and say, "This part of our team was good, so we don't need to add there, while this other aspect must improve." It doesn't necessarily work that way. And while pitching, despite the injuries, was a positive for the Yankees in 2014, they would be wise to upgrade it even more if they want to make the playoffs in 2015.

Like Lester, I would have limits in what I was willing to do. But if they can limit a deal to four years, I would be very interested if I were the Yankees.

Only 124 days until pitchers and catchers

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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NEW YORK -- It may seem like the 2014 season just ended, but believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. The Yankees announced their 2015 spring training schedule today, and pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp on February 20, position players on February 25, and the first full-squad workout will be the following day.

The first of 33 scheduled exhibition games is slated for March 3 against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater. The Yankees' first spring game at home will take place the following day, also against the Phillies.

The spring schedule includes five night games at The Boss, and the crosstown rival Mets will visit the Yankees in Tampa on March 25. The Yankees will trek down to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets on March 22.

Season tickets for Yankees spring training home games are on sale beginning Monday, Oct. 20, and can be purchased here or here. Individual game tickets go on sale Friday, January 9, 2015 at the Steinbrenner Field box office, online or through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.

A-Rod's Football Tour Across America

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Out of hiding, Alex Rodriguez is currently participating in what apears to be a tour across America's football landscape.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez stands on the field before Alabama vs. Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
Earlier this fall, A-Rod had been spotted, attending a Notre Dame game, a Miami game, and Alabama-Arkansas.

On Sunday, he turned it up a notch and was nearly knocked over by Tony Romo as he entered the field for the Cowboys game against the Giants in Dallas.

That would've been something considering the last known time he was at the Cowboys' stadium he was being fed popcorn, which caused a stir.

What does his latest tour mean? Well, who knows, exactly. However, A-Rod -- with his PED suspension officially ending at the conclusion of the World Series -- has always been a football fan. He played quarterback in high school and once told me he thought he could have been a backup quarterback in the NFL, which I think was his attempt at being modest.

Maybe, he wants to be a two-sport star -- or, perhaps more likely, he is ready to assume center stage again.

Spend Hal's Money: Jon Lester

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Jon LesterBob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsFormer Red Sox ace Jon Lester would look great in pinstripes. Want him, Yankees fans?
This Yankees offseason has no $189 million goal, nor does it appear a half-billion-dollar spending spree is in the offing, but the team will likely make a few moves. As always, we like to be helpful at ESPN New York, so once again we will aid the Yankees' decision-makers with a little game we like to call, "Spend Hal's Money."

Today's Candidate: Jon Lester
Position: LHP
Age: 31 in January
Height: 6-4
Weight: 240
2014 numbers: $13 million salary, 16-11, 2.46, 219.2 IP, 1.10 WHIP

PROS: He is a top lefty starter at Yankee Stadium, which is always the right combination. He is championship-tested, even if he didn't come through for the A's in the wild-card game this year. He would fit in quite nicely smack between Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. If healthy, it would be an unbelievable 1-2-3 punch with Shane Greene, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia, plus possibly Brandon McCarthy et al, making up a pretty solid rear of the rotation.

Lester is coming off arguably his best season in the majors, which has included many good ones. He basically throws 200 innings every season. All in all, he is an experienced top-of-the-rotation starter. There is a lot to like.

SportsNation

Should the Yankees spend Hal's money on Jon Lester?

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    68%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,301)

CONS: He basically throws 200 innings every season. He will move into his mid-30s during this contract. He will cost nine figures and probably want at least five years.

The Yankees have been down this path before. These large contracts that extend into a player's mid-30s are often bad toward the middle and end. Between Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, expectations will likely be dulled for the aging Yankees going into 2015. To continue this cycle has a definite downside because Lester may not age well in pinstripes.

THE VERDICT: Go for it. The Yankees should be in on Lester. They don't have to go crazy, maybe putting a five-year limit on their offer. If someone wants to be beat that, so be it.

Here is the thing, though, about the payroll. Hal Steinbrenner has said teams win the World Series paying less than the Yankees do. But if you want to make the playoffs every year, like the Yankees were doing before the past two blips, you can't really cut back.

You don't sign Lester to win a World Series, you sign him for a chance to win a World Series. You add Lester so your starting pitching is as deep as possible; if the offense can improve a bit, you can get into the tourney.

Starting Wednesday, two wild-card teams will begin play in the World Series. They deserve all the credit in the world, but there is no grand design to be mimicked. The Royals hadn't made the postseason since 1985, so, if you want to do it like them, Yankees fans can wait until 2041 after their own 29-year playoff drought.

The Giants are becoming championship regulars, and while they deserve praise, they have been very fortunate. They have been a 70-or-so-win team five out of the past 10 years. This season, they used the expanded playoffs to sneak in as the second wild card and then had none other than Travis Ishikawa hit the pennant-clinching homer.

The goal of the offseason is to try to give yourself the best chance. The Yankees have to be in on Lester, because he may be the free agent who can most help them return to the playoffs. They need to be in on him, even if they put limits on what they're willing to give.

Brian Roberts retires after 14 years

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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[+] EnlargeBrian Roberts
G Fiume/Getty ImagesBrian Roberts never played a postseason game in his 14-year career, most of which was spent as a second baseman for the Orioles.

Second baseman Brian Roberts, who played all but one season of his 14-year major league career with the Baltimore Orioles, confirmed Friday that he is retiring.

"It was just kind of my time," Roberts told the Baltimore Sun. "There were numerous reasons that I felt like I couldn't play at a level that I was accustomed to and wanted to play at if I continued to play. I always said that I wasn't going to be the guy that tried to hang on as long as I could."

Roberts signed with the New York Yankees in 2014, but was released in August after hitting .237 in 91 games. He told the Sun that several teams had expressed interest in signing him, but he decided against a deal.

He ends his career with a .276 average, 97 home runs and 542 RBIs.

Baltimore's supplemental first-round pick in 1999 was among the players listed in the 2007 Mitchell report, with Roberts later saying he tried steroids only once, in 2003.

A two-time All-Star, Roberts said he did not speak with the Orioles about an extension after the 2013 season.


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Time for Teixeira to shift his priorities

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Mark TeixeiraKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAs Mark Teixeira has aged, his numbers -- and, seemingly, his desire -- have dipped. Will he ever be a big-time player again?
The New York Yankees have one of the highest-paid first basemen in all of baseball. They also had, in 2014, one of the least productive first basemen in all of baseball.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark Teixeira. Of course, you'd probably give him right back.

A player as perceptive and business-savvy as Teixeira -- who will collect $45 million in paychecks from the Yankees over the next two seasons -- would probably be among the first to admit that over the past couple of seasons, he has not even come close to giving his club its money's worth.

You can throw out 2013, when Teixeira missed all but 15 games after suffering a torn wrist tendon sheath that required season-ending surgery. And you can probably excuse some, but not all, of 2014 because it was probably too much to expect a 34-year-old player to fully bounce back from that kind of surgery in less than a year.

What you can't throw out, however, is the nagging belief that for some reason, Teixeira no longer has the burning desire to be the kind of iron man presence he was in his first nine seasons, in which he averaged 153 games, or the ability to be the kind of hitter he was when he was not only hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 100 runs a season, but regularly batting between .280 and .308, his career high in 2008.

In 2014, Teixeira appeared in 123 games, a significant number. But there were too many nagging injuries, and a couple too many unsettling absences -- one for "tired legs" early in the season, another for lightheadedness -- for a player who likes to say, "I play through anything."

Uh, not anymore.

It's possible that at his age -- Teixeira will turn 35 on April 11 -- injuries that he once would have played through now force him to take a day or two off.

But it's also possible that at his salary level and level of achievement -- he's been a world champion, an All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove winner -- the same hunger is no longer there.

I am reminded of a great quote from the former middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, who once described the rigors of training for a title fight as follows: "It's tough to get out of bed to do roadwork when you've been sleeping in silk pajamas." Hagler lost his next fight, to Sugar Ray Leonard, and never got up to do roadwork again.

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Are Mark Teixeira's days as a big-time player over?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,614)

There are some Yankees who wonder if the same syndrome is starting to affect Teixeira. His numerous business interests are well-known -- he spoke of many of them in a 2013 Fortune magazine article -- and last year, displayed a genuine flair for comedy in the "Foul Territory" segments he did for the YES network, in which he played himself as a bumbling TV interviewer. He has appeared on TV ("Entourage") and in a Broadway show, and acting may be one of his post-baseball aspirations.

Where he has not shown much flair, or desire, is in overcoming the effect of the proliferation of shifts that have become the rage in major league baseball, especially against hitters like him. Anyone who can read a spray chart can see that from both sides of the plate, and especially from the left side, Teixeira is as predictable as the clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

As a result, although his home run and RBI totals have tailed off gradually, his batting average, on-base percentage and BABIP -- a measure of how many of his balls in play become outs -- have taken a steady, precipitous drop.

And much to the Yankees' dismay, Teixeira has not seemed all that inclined to remedy it.

Just last week, at the news conference to announce his contract extension, GM Brian Cashman acknowledged the adverse effect the shift was having on some of his hitters. "The analytics have proven that certain guys obviously have tendencies that opposing defenses can take advantage of," Cashman said.

Without mentioning any names, Cashman was obviously talking about Brian McCann and Teixeira, the heart of his 2014 batting order that saw too many line drives and hard grounders turned into outs by an infielder stationed in short right field.

Before the 2013 season, Teixeira did mention something about occasionally laying down a bunt or two, to beat the shift and keep opposing defenses honest. But more often, he has shrugged off suggestions that he try to go the other way, saying things like, "I'm in there to drive in runs" and "You don't want to turn me into a slap hitter."

So instead, what he has turned into is a guy who will give you the occasional home run interspersed with a heck of a lot of outs hit into the shift.

Perhaps a new hitting coach will be better able to reach Teixeira regarding his approach than the departed Kevin Long did. But the fact is, the change must come from Teixeira himself.

A baseball insider I spoke with this week said Teixeira's "outside interests" -- he is financially involved in real estate holdings, a chain of juice bars, and is working to create what he called a "marriage of baseball and social media" -- had become a point of concern, with some wondering how badly he still wanted to be a baseball player.

Another said that while Teixeira's health was a factor -- he also missed time with a hamstring injury and recurring soreness in his wrist -- he also needed a change in approach at the plate. "He needs to go back to being the Mark Teixeira who used the whole field," the source said.

In truth, Teixeira's decline began just about as soon as he signed his Yankees deal before the 2009 season. By 2010, his BA had dropped to .256, then to .248, .251, and this year's .216, which was worse than all but two full-time MLB first basemen. His RBI total fell from a career-high 122 in 2009, to 108, 111, 84, and this year's 62, his lowest for a full season.

In just about every other offensive category, Teixeira was in the bottom half of 23 full-time MLB first basemen: 14th in home runs, 19th in RBIs, 19th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging percentage. As a result, the heart of the Yankees' order, spots three, four and five, generally filled by Teixeira, the underperforming McCann, the oft-injured Carlos Beltran and the misplaced Jacoby Ellsbury, ranked well below the average for the other 14 American League teams.

And here you thought Derek Jeter was the problem!

That missing middle of the order was the reason the Yankees' offense was so feeble this season, and Teixeira was a big part of that.

Like Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira is going to be here, collecting big paychecks and being expected to put up commensurate numbers.

But whether it's in his approach to hitting, his attitude toward playing, or simply the condition of his body, something, and maybe several things, are going to have to change for the Yankees to get what they are paying for.

For nine seasons, you could have set your watch by the numbers on the back of Teixeira's baseball card.

Now, how can anyone be sure of exactly what he is capable of giving them?

QUESTION: Do you expect Teixeira to have a better 2015 season? Or do you think his days as a big-time player are over?

Can McCann help lead the Bombers back?

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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Brian McCannNick Turchiaro/USA TODAY SportsBrian McCann looked good behind the plate. At the plate? That was a different story this season.
When the New York Yankees scouted Brian McCann in 2013, their greatest concern was, according to one source, the "change-ups" McCann was throwing down to second base after shoulder surgery.

With his shoulder improving as that year went on, the Yankees were convinced McCann's lefty-swinging bat and his renown for handling pitchers would compensate for being worse than league average at throwing out runners.

As it ended up, McCann caught base stealers at a 37 percent clip in 2014, which was the best in baseball. The league average was 27 percent.

McCann also guided a starting staff that was missing four-fifths of its original rotation for much of the season. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a stickler for catchers as a former backstop himself, lauded McCann for how he handled pitchers, crediting McCann for some of the success of the replacements.

Now, don't be mistaken, this is not a defense of McCann's year, which was largely a disappointment. McCann was part of a combination of free-agent hitters asked to replace Robinson Cano's bat -- and he didn't do nearly enough at the plate to make that happen.

Heading into spring training next season, you will hear how McCann will be more comfortable and, with Derek Jeter retired, how McCann might be more of a leader. Those both might be true, but despite McCann's stellar defense, no one will listen to him unless he hits.

In 140 games in 2014, he hit 23 homers, which was just one fewer than his career high. His 75 RBIs were middling for his career. His batting average (.232) was the second lowest of his career and 40 points worse than his career average. His .692 OPS was his worst ever, and, out of the nine catchers who qualified for the batting crown in 2014, it was lower than all but one of them.

His wins above replacement value was tied for 19th among all catchers -- knotted with none other than the Chicago Cubs' Wellington Castillo.

In all, as disappointing of a year as McCann had, it could have been worse if the Yankees' fears about his throwing had been prescient in the first season of a five-year, $85 million deal that can vest to six years and $100 million.

SportsNation

How will Brian McCann be in 2015?

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    82%
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    4%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,103)

So what can the Yankees expect from McCann in 2015 when he turns 31? Most likely, he'll probably hit a little better and throw a little worse. Is that good enough?

The Yankees were dead-on in their assessment that marrying McCann and the right-field porch would end in home run bliss. McCann hit 19 of his 23 homers in the Bronx. At home, his OPS was .784, which is respectable and in the neighborhood of his .808 career OPS, but still off his .832 career home OPS.

On the road, though, McCann had major issues. His OPS was .591. 5-9-1! Five-nine-one!

Brendan Ryan's career OPS is .610. In 2014, Ichiro Suzuki's OPS was .664, while Jeter's was .617.

Five-ninety-one! Yikes!

That is in the first year of a five-year deal. Those contracts are designed to be good at the beginning and leave you praying they're not an albatross at the end.

So there is concern if McCann's bat is on the way down. If you combine his past three seasons, his overall OPS is just .723, a decline from his .800-plus number overall.

If possible, McCann must overcome the shift. This is easier said than done when pitchers are throwing the ball 90 miles per hour or faster.

But McCann took the Yankees' money a year ago. With it came huge expectations and, if the Yankees are going to be playing this time next year, McCann must be among those who've lead them back.

Free-agent free-for-all about to begin

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
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Ramirez, Cruz, Scherzer Getty ImagesIt'll be free-agent shopping time before you know it. So who's on Brian Cashman's wish list?
The winter free-agent shopping season is still a couple of weeks away, and with the Yankees' hierarchy holding their annual organizational meeting this week in Tampa, Florida, newly extended GM Brian Cashman probably doesn’t even know yet what, if any, budgetary constraints he will be under for the 2015 roster.

Be that as it may, it’s never too early to start spending Hal’s money, and we all know there’s plenty of it to spend.

But who to spend it on?

In truth, the Yankees have more areas of need than they have available roster spots, being locked into at least a half-dozen big-money contracts for players penciled in to key positions.

Hence, we have identified four potential areas of need: shortstop, one outfield spot, one starting pitcher (only because three elite arms will be available) and one DH/backup player. I’m assuming that since the pickings are slim at second base -- unless you want Kelly Johnson back -- the Yankees will plug Martin Prado, who has played more than 250 games there and is signed through 2016, into the slot until something better comes along.

I’m not going to bother giving you all the possible options, just the ones that seem likely to draw some interest from the Yankees this winter. Then, it’s your turn to weigh in on which ones you think are worth gambling some Steinbrenner cash on.

SHORTSTOP

Top shelf:

Hanley Ramirez
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $16 million
2014 stats: .283-13-71, .369 OBP, .817 OPS, 3.5 WAR
Pro: Bat
Cons: glove, range, injuries. Likely to get qualifying offer, likely to reject it, probably won’t be cheap.

SportsNation

Which bat do you want most on the Bombers?

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    16%
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    25%
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    24%
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    21%
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Discuss (Total votes: 7,649)

Middle of the road:

Asdrubal Cabrera
Age on Opening Day 2015: 29
2014 salary: $10 million
2014 stats: .241-14-61, .307 OBP, .694 OPS, 1.8 WAR
Con: Never became the player he was expected to become.
Pro: Young enough that he still might.

Stephen Drew
Age on Opening Day 2015: 32
2014 salary: $10.1 million (prorated from $14 million qualifying offer)
2014 stats: .162-7-26, .237 OBP, .536 OPS, -1.1 WAR
Pros: Was starting SS for a World Series champion and has got to be better than he looked last season. Also, should come relatively cheap.
Con: Scott Boras

Stopgap:

[+] EnlargeRamirez
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonWill Hanley Ramirez replace Derek Jeter at shortstop? Or will Stephen Drew get another chance in the Bronx?
Jed Lowrie
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $5.2 million
2014 stats: .249-6-50, .321 OBP, .676 OPS, 1.9 WAR
Pro: Switch-hitter. No chance of qualifying offer. Could be a bargain.
Con: Won’t make anyone forget Derek Jeter.

OUTFIELDERS

Top shelf:

Melky Cabrera
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $8 million
2014 stats: .301-16-73, .351 OBP, .809 OPS, 2.6 WAR
Pro: Aside from the obvious, has been here before and probably can handle New York.
Con: Sure to get the qualifying offer and will cost a draft pick and some heavy dough, probably three to four years at $13 million-plus. Also, hate to see another PED cheat get rewarded for it.

Nelson Cruz
Age on Opening Day 2015: 34
2014 salary: $8 million
2014 stats: .271-40-108, .333 OBP, .859 OPS, 3.9 WAR
Pro: Bust-out season could be first of a few.
Con: Or it could be his career season and the beginning of a decline into full-time DH-ville. Also, another guy riding the Biogenesis express to riches.

Fallback position:

Chris Young
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $7.25 million
2014 stats: .222-11-38, .299 OBP, .684 OPS, 0.4 WAR
Pro: Performed well in his brief time with the Yankees at the end of last season.
Con: Performed horribly with the Mets for the rest of the season.

DH/BACKUPS

The only choice:


Victor Martinez
Age on Opening Day 2015: 36
2014 salary: $12 million
2014 stats: .335-32-103, .409 OBP, .974 OPS, 4.4 WAR
Pro: The best all-around hitter in baseball last year, can also back up the oft-injured Mark Teixeira at first. Would certainly wake up the Yankees' offense.
Con: Age, but stayed healthy enough to play 151 games last season.

THIRD BASEMAN (Just for fun)

Pablo Sandoval
Age on Opening Day 2015: 28
2014 salary: $8.2 million
2014 stats: .279-16-73, .324 OBP, .739 OPS, 3.0 WAR
Con: The Yankees already have a 3B they’re paying $21 million for 2015.
Pro: Another reason for you to be mad at A-Rod.

SportsNation

Which arm do you want most on the Yankees?

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    31%
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    38%
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    11%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,212)

STARTING PITCHERS

Top shelf


Jon Lester
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $13 million
2014 stats: 16-11, 2.46, 219.2 IP, 1.10 WHIP
Pro: Tough left-hander in Yankee Stadium? That's what you want.
Con: Will cost a fortune in money and years, and we’ve seen how long-term contracts work out with pitchers.

Max Scherzer
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $15.5 million
2014 stats: 18-5, 3.15, 220.1 IP, 1.18 WHIP
Pro: Steady improvement over the past three seasons.
Con: Bring cash, and plenty of it.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
AP Photo/Alex BrandonJames Shields may be the most inexpensive of the Big 3 free-agent aces.
James Shields
Age on Opening Day 2015: 33
2014 salary: $13.5 million
2014 stats: 14-8, 3.21, 227 IP, 1.18 WHIP
Pro: Will come cheaper than the other two.
Con: Also the oldest of the Big 3.

Consolation prizes:

Chris Capuano
Age on Opening Day 2015: 36
2014 salary: $2.2 million
2014 stats: 3-4, 4.35, 97.1IP, 1.39 WHIP
Pro: Steady if unspectacular, pitched better than his numbers with the Yankees due to lack of run support.
Con: A stopgap at best. Also, not young.

Brandon McCarthy
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $9 million
2014 stats: 10-15, 4.05, 200 IP, 1.28 WHIP
Pro: Pitched much better with the Yankees than he had with the Diamondbacks.
Con: Jury still out on whether he was actually a better pitcher, or just a luckier pitcher in the Bronx. Still a fly-ball pitcher in Yankee Stadium.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146