Last week, Caitlin had some pretty good responses for your questions on the first Ask Pinstripe Alley post of 2016. Now it's my turn, and after putting out a call for questions on Sunday, I've gathered some from both the comments and our e-mail (particularly the latter since we had some left over from our inbox). As Caitlin said, we typically won't be able to get to all of your questions, so don't worry if we didn't get to it this time. We will have more opportunities!
With the formalities out of the way, here are this week's Ask Pinstripe Alley responses:
Zachary G. asked: I've always felt that teams feel obligated to start players getting paid huge contracts, just because they're making huge money, even though they're old and often injured. I've felt like the Yanks in particular are very stubborn about benching Carlos Beltran simply because of his contract. Although A-Rod was surprisingly amazing last year, a few years before, I remember screaming at the TV that I'd rather pay him $25 million to ride the bench as long as we were winning games.
I would really love to see Aaron Hicks get a lot more starts in RF this year than Beltran, not just against lefties. I'm wondering if you can explain some kind of logic that actually makes sense to me about teams' obligation to start players on huge contracts and explain it with, 'We like his history.' That's exactly my beef. The guy USED to be good, and you'd still be paying him $15 million whether or not he plays, so wouldn't any logical team just want to put the best player on the field?
This is a complaint that pops up from fans a lot, and there are certainly times when it is merited. For example, the Yankees waited way too long to ditch Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew the past couple years when it seemde clear that the veterans were not legitimate options anymore. It seemed like they were just committed to playing them because they were owed a few million dollars. They were legitimately sunk cost.
However, when the players are as talented as Beltran and A-Rod, I hesitate to demand benching unless it has been going on for quite awhile. The veterans who ended up on big multi-year deals usually reached that point through a considerable amount of skill. Often, those skills haven't all faded just yet, and unless the player is abysmal or there is an extremely clear alternative, it's not a bad plan to stick with the veteran who is being paid anyway.
Some fans are a bit too quick to dismiss one player while lauding a relative unknown. Remember, MLB teams have an even greater need to win than fans--the almighty dollar. If a veteran is dragging the team down long enough to burn obvious holes in the team's wallet, then they have every financial incentive to explore solutions at the appropriate time.
A perfect example of patience paying off is actually found in one of the gripes from the question. I'm not quite sure why there's such animosity toward Beltran here. He was inconsistent in 2014, but he still posted a league average 98 OPS+ with a 20-homer pace. (Simply league average play is often taken for granted--I definitely would have preferred league average catching to Chris Stewart in 2013.) The alternatives were simply not there, unless one wanted the even older Ichiro Suzuki or Quad-A outfielders like Zoilo Almonte and Ramon Flores.
Then in 2015, Beltran struggled in April, causing the Yankees to, in fact, institute somewhat of a platoon with Chris Young until the veteran took off. Beltran's defense was nonexistent, but his tremendous .295/.357/.505 run from May 1st onward validated the team's trust. He was their best hitter in the second half, and the Yankees don't make it to the Wild Card game without him. (That .862 OPS potential is also why Beltran will deservedly be getting more starts than Hicks, at least in the beginning. The Yankees need that in the lineup.)
Girardi's Barmy Army asked: Do you think that Monument Park is being used as a gimmick and lessening the honour of being put there?
Yes. And no. Everything about Monument Park is a gimmick to get fans excited about the team's history. It has been used to pump out a few sellouts the past couple years as the team on the field has barely hovered above .500, and the timing makes sense since we're now about a generation of players away from those 1996-2000 glory years.
That being said, I take the opposite view. The Yankees don't honor enough players in Monument Park. I would have chosen several other players before Tino Martinez was given a plaque, but at the end of the day, it's just a team Hall of Fame, no different than those operated by the Mets and Red Sox. Not all the players in those teams' pantheons are legends, and that's not a problem.
The problem is that early on, the Yankees did not make enough of a distinction between Monument Park and Retired Number. Having a number retired by the Yankees is an honor that has been watered down, but not because of Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada. That happened once George Steinbrenner started having them retire numbers for so-so candidates like Billy Martin, Roger Maris, and Reggie Jackson. In my ideal world, the only numbers retired would be 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 15, 16, and 42. That draws the line between the true icons and the awesome players who should still have Monument Park plaques, but not retired numbers.
Ben T. asked: I'm wondering what you guys are projecting from Dustin Ackley this season? He showed good power towards the end of 2015, has an OK defensive track record, and can play multiple positions. Is there any chance he could become a productive regular contributor this season?
Ackley could be a very useful addition for the 2016 Yankees simply because he is the Ditto of the team. He is basically being asked to potentially back up everywhere except for shortstop, third base, and catcher. (Hell, it wouldn't stun me if he's the emergency third catcher or a Brendan Ryan -like extra arm for blowouts.) Ackley will never be the guy the Mariners thought was outstanding enough to take second overall in the 2009 Draft, but he didn't fluke into that spot.
His lefty swing is a good fit for Yankee Stadium, and he smacked four homers in just 57 plate appearances. Maybe that's just small sample size, but it's at least encouraging. If someone goes down with an injury, Ackley is far from a bad fill-in in the interim; in fact, FanGraphs rated him one of baseball's top backups. PECOTA projects that Ackley will hit .258/.329/.412 with six homers in 229 plate appearances, and I think that he could even do a little bit better than that. Even if he doesn't, that's a .741 OPS, almost exactly equal to Brett Gardner's 2015 total. For a bench guy, that's great.
Of course, all that praise comes with the caveat that if Ackley ends up a starter at one point, then that's almost certainly not good.
CanGuest asked: Luis Cessa: Does his late conversion to becoming a pitcher give him a higher or lower ceiling than otherwise? I think I’m higher than most on him, just because I think he still has more that he can learn/be taught by a good pitching coach.
All conversions should be judged on a case-by-case basis, but if players like Cessa (an infielder until 2011) convert late, then their potential usually isn't as high for a simple reason. There are exceptions like Kenley Jansen, Sean Doolittle, and Trevor Hoffman (note: relievers), but usually, the choice would have already been made if they had higher ceilings on the mound.
Cessa is only an okay pitching prospect. For instance, MLB Pipeline did not include him in the Yankees' top 30 prospects, and while Keith Law had him 14th in the system, he said that Cessa has "no above-average pitch to make him a clear starter." He could probably make a few emergency starts or long relief appearances in the majors if Bryan Mitchell passes the buck to him since he's considered a little closer to the majors than Brady Lail or Chad Green, but not by much. If his fate is to be a reliever, that doesn't really say a lot since the Yankees have a plethora of hard-throwing relief arms in Scranton.
Mark S. asked: At what point should Yankees brass be concerned over their statements regarding service time. They said it would be best if Aaron Judge and Greg Bird spent 2016 in Triple-A to delay being arbitration eligible earlier. But now there are lawsuits on other teams for manipulating service time.
This would only be a problem if they were obviously pounding the door for a clear major league spot. Judge isn't ready yet, and if he proves himself while Beltran struggles, the Yankees demonstrated with Bird and Luis Severino last year that they will find a spot for him. The same goes for Bird, who if healthy just wouldn't have had a clear spot on the team with Mark Teixeira at first.
Also, those lawsuits for Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco are on teams who had much more glaring holes when they were keeping proven players down. The Cubs had Mike Olt at third and the Phillies had a very over-the-hill Ryan Howad at first. Those hold-ups were more transparent. At the moment, the Yankees really don't have to be worried about that since they have solutions.
TCuz asked: I’m concerned with the Yankees recent policy change towards printed tickets and it’s effect on StubHub and ticket market prices in general. Do you think public backlash or anything can and will be done to change this new policy and how do you see it affecting entry level ticket prices for games this year?
I just don't see it. The Yankees might do something small to placate the outcry, but don't count on it or expect much. The movers and shakers in the team's ticketing community are unfortunately the luxury box holders and the people with more expensive season ticket packages than normal.
Let us know what you think of our responses below! If we didn't get to your question, it's possible that we will get to it next week. Be sure to submit questions for our next round of mailbag answers by shooting us an email at pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail.com or dropping a comment in the next call for questions.