Sorry for the delay on this. Neil got in touch yesterday about exchanging questions and answers in advance of the Twins-Yankees series, and unfortunately my schedule mostly wiped me off the map yesterday. Below are the questions I presented to Neil as well as his answers, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully you still get as much as I did out of the detail here, even if it is 24 hours late.
Jesse: It feels like Brian Cashman is trying to reign in the check book a little bit in order to avoid long, incredible expensive free agent contract to older players and bring more of a focus back to producing talent from within the organization. Is this accurate, or are the contracts of guys like Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann still too recent for us to know for sure?
Neil: I think the Yankees have been trying to get younger for some time now, but in New York where there is pressure to win every season, that hasn’t been possible.
During the 2013 season, Yankees fans were told day in and day out that the team wouldn’t be spending in the offseason to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold to avoid steep penalties. But then the Yankees missed the playoffs and the Red Sox won the World Series and their financial plan went out the window. They gave $155 million to Masahiro Tanaka despite never throwing a pitch in the majors. They gave $153 million to Jacoby Ellsbury despite being the same player as Brett Gardner. They have $85 million to Brian McCann despite catcher being the one position of depth in the organization. And they gave $45 million Carlos Beltran despite him being 36 at the time. Then Tanaka got hurt, Ellsbury had a down year, McCann was horrible and Beltran was horrible and frequently hurt. It was a disaster.
This season, Tanaka and Ellsbury have been great when healthy, McCann has rebounded and Beltran, when healthy, has been decent. The foursome hasn’t lived up their contracts, but this year it just seems like they have because of some of those big free-agent contracts you mentioned in A-Rod and Mark Teixeira.
Jesse: I've enjoyed seeing Alex Rodriguez come back and hit well this year, if only because I like the story of redemption for any player who gets bombarded as harshly as he has been. (And that's difficult to admit considering my loathing of the man prior to April 1, so I guess I'm only a fan since he's hitting well.) What's been your reaction not just to his season on the field, but to the mess leading up to it - including the marketing of his home run totals?
Neil: I’m a big A-Rod supporter and maybe the biggest. His suspension was ridiculous and one day everyone will look back on it and agree, and I think most people have already started to do so and his treatment since his suspension has continued to be poor. He was left out of the All-Star Game and was the only player with an OPS over .900 that didn’t play in it. But somehow former suspended PED users Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Yasmani Grandal all played in it.
The Yankees are a business and one that has made A-Rod’s tenure a bigger circus than it ever should have been. The home run marketing was the latest example of the weird relationship the team and A-Rod have with each other, but thankfully they were able to come to a conclusion on the bonus money and avoid having an unnecessary storyline hanging over a first-place season.
Every "A-Bomb from A-Rod" this season has been extra enjoyable and it’s great to see him hitting in a way he hasn’t since 2009 and 2010 and has remained healthy as a full-time DH. It’s funny to think back to spring training when Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said A-Rod had to earn a spot on the roster and to the beginning of the season when they hit him near the bottom of the order. Cashman and Girardi’s jobs would both be called into question once again without A-Rod this season.
Jesse: We had some fun last year about BRIAN MCCANN: FUN POLICE. Can you give us a more balanced view of McCann that doesn't make him seem like the joy-killing baseball morality sheriff that we turned him into?
Neil: Brian McCann has done a good job this season after being an automatic out last season and his production and power in two years of playing home games at Yankee Stadium has been remarkable. From what I have seen, he hasn’t tried to take the fun out of the game during his time with the Yankees, so maybe his demeanor has changed with a new team.
Jesse: Are the Yankees exceeding their expectations this year? Do they have what it takes to hold onto the East and go into the playoffs?
Neil: I don’t think they are exceeding their expectations this season. I think they are meeting them. Everyone knew the AL East was up for grabs the way it has been since 2013 and the only thing that would prevent the Yankees from winning it would be their health. They weren’t healthy in 2013 or 2014 and missed the playoffs both seasons. Even this year, they were without Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller, arguably their three best players, for most of the first half and still managed to climb to the top of the division. The overall health of this team will have to hold up for them to win the division for the first time in three years, so I’m going to go ahead and knock on wood right now that it will.
Jesse: What's the direction of this club in the long-term? Two years from now the club is still committed to $115 million in salary to seven players, and that doesn't includes the $5 million buyout of C.C. Sabathia's 2017 option. It's an interesting situation and, especially after watching this transition in Minnesota, I'm curious to your thoughts on how Cashman can guide the Bombers through the next couple of years to not just stay competitive but to do so without resorting to more gigantic free agent contracts.
Neil: I wasn’t sure of the direction of this team when the season began and the Yankees gave Stephen Drew the starting job at second base over Triple-A talents Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. If their two best Triple-A hitters couldn’t crack the roster over the worst offensive second baseman in the league, what does that mean for the rest of their top prospects?
But as the season has gone on, we have seen Pirela called up and Refsnyder. We have seen Adam Warren mature into a reliable starter (before stupidly being put back in the bullpen because of CC Sabathia’s contract). We have seen the dominance of Dellin Betances and the payoff of trades for Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson.
Sabathia’s deal is pretty bad at this point, but with Teixeira coming off the books after 2016 and A-Rod coming off after 2017 and a revived minor league system along with the Yankees being smarter about free agency, I’m actually confident in the future of the team. However, the trade deadline is next week and I wouldn’t put it past Brian Cashman to screw the future up.
Jesse: The Twins get Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Nathan Eovaldi this weekend. What can you tell us about these three guys? (Feel free to make something up about Sabathia - we're pretty familiar with him and might be more amused by speculation on what he really likes in a buffet line.)
Neil: Michael Pineda (or "Big Mike" as he goes by here) is a pleasure to watch. The Yankees have screwed around with his starts to preserve his innings as if they know how to prevent arm and shoulder injuries, but when he pitches on regular rest, he’s dominant. He has had a few clunkers this season, but they have all come with extra rest and this start against the Twins will be on regular rest, so I expect him to shut down the Twins’ offense.
CC Sabathia is either going to give up six runs or grind his way through six innings. Long done are the days of Sabathia pitching into the eighth and ninth inning and being a guaranteed win on the mound. Now it’s about limiting the damage and hoping the offense can carry him. Sabathia will make about $700,000 on Saturday, which is what he makes per start, whether he’s good on or off. I wish he would just figure out how to pitch like his supposed best friend Cliff Lee or former teammate Andy Pettitte and stop trying to rely on a fastball that’s no longer fast. Either that or he needs to go back to overeating because the fatter he was, the better he was.
I really don’t like Nathan Eovaldi. I don’t like people who waste talent and Eovaldi is a talent waster. He consistently throws between 97 and 100 mph, but can’t strike anyone out and gives up multiple hits per inning. His 9-2 record is a product of his run support and he hasn’t pitched six innings in any of his last four starts and I really wish the Yankees’ Twitter would stop calling him "Nasty Nate." He is far from "nasty" and the nickname is worse than James Shields’ "Big Game James".
Thanks to Neil for his questions and for the time he put in on these answers!