Mailbag & Poll: Pineda, Non-Guaranteed Deals

The children of the 1980s
An ode to The Bull

Only four questions this week, but three are pretty long. As an added bonus, we’ve got a poll at the end as well. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

"Tell me about it. I've been stuck with this bullpen since 2005." (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Daniel asks: True that Pineda had a poor second half, and it is assumed he’ll build upon his performance last season. My question is how much will Pineda benefit from having a shutdown bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make strides forward? How much did his bullpen hurt him last season? How many of his baserunners were allowed to score by the Seattle bullpen?

The Yankees had one of the very best bullpens in the game last season, but the Mariners were pretty much middle of the pack in terms of ERA (3.61) and FIP (3.86). Their 6.34 K/9 and 16.6 K% were the second worst marks in the game though, and relievers who can strike guys out tend to do a better job of pitching out of jams than guys who rely on contact. The Yankees, on the other hand, were among the best in baseball at 8.46 K/9 and 22.2 K%.

Seattle’s bullpen inherited eleven runners from Pineda last season, and they allowed eight (!) of them to score (72.7%). That’s pretty nuts, the league average was 31.2% last year. The Yankees were at 24.9%. If only four of those eleven men came across (approximating the 31.2% league average), Pineda’s ERA would have been 3.53 instead of 3.74. If only three of the eleven came around to score (approximating the 24.9% Yankees average), his ERA would have been 3.47. That assumes all those runs were earned, of course. Having a better bullpen should help, but I’d prefer it if Pineda avoided all those baserunners in the first place.

Patrick asks: When a player is signed to minor league contract with an invite to camp, and it’s later described as non-guaranteed, what portion of the contract is non-guaranteed? Are they guaranteed a spot on a minor league team? Do players that don’t make The Show typically accept such a role?

Non-guaranteed contracts also apply to players who sign one-year deals during their pre-arbitration and arbitration years (so Russell Martin‘s contract is not guaranteed this year, for example). For players on minor league contracts, the team doesn’t have to pay them a thing until they add them to an actual roster (other than meal money), either majors or minors. These contracts all have some kind of opt-out clause allowing the player to elect free agency if they’re not added to the big league roster by a set date. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a uniform June 1st opt-out date, but the two sides can agree to an alternative date. Bill Hall, for example, can opt out his contract with the Yankees on April 4th. He’d rather look for a big league job elsewhere than play in the minors for the Yankees, but that isn’t true for all players. Some do go to the minors, like Dustin Moseley in 2010 or Cory Wade last year.

Guys on the 40-man roster with non-guaranteed contracts can be released in Spring Training without being paid their full salary. The club does need a valid baseball reason to release them though, the union isn’t a fan of players being released for money saving purposes and they will fight it. This year clubs have until March 19th to release a player and only pay them 30 days termination pay, and after that (but before Opening Day) it’s 45 days pay. If someone is on the 40-man roster as of Opening Day, they are entitled to their entire salary. The Yankees released Chad Gaudin in Spring Training two years ago, and only paid him $737k of his $2.95M salary (45 days worth). Guaranteed contracts, which are most free agent and multi-year deals, entitle the player to every cent unless he voluntarily retires or is released due to breach of contract (like Aaron Boone playing basketball).

Mike asks: I’ve followed the Yankee farm system for a long time, but have never followed another team’s farm system in depth. I have noticed that while the 15-30+ range prospects might not posses the star power it seems the depth of the Yankee Farm is really quite impressive. Is this my bias or does Damon Oppenheimer have a gift at getting guys who might not be stars but have a great chance to develop into major league regulars? I see the Yankees producing lots of Brett Gardner types in the future.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

We all focus on top prospects, and we should because those guys are the cream of the crop and deserve the attention. The best way to compare farm systems is to look further down the prospect rankings though. Don’t just compare the top three prospects, compare the #10 prospects, the #20 prospects, and the #30 prospects. Just as an example, Baseball America ranked Branden Pinder as the Yankees 30th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook, touting him as a power relief arm with a 93-94 mph fastball and a slider that’s shown “flashes of becoming a plus pitch.” The 30th best prospect in the White Sox’s farm system (the worst in the game) is Duane Heath, who had a 4.73 ERA in Triple-A last season and “won’t be trusted as more than a middle reliever.” Big difference between Pinder and Heath, showing the difference in each team’s prospect depth.

The Yankees still have some high-end star power in their farm system (though trading Jesus Montero took a big chunk of that away), but it’s primarily built on depth. They’ve done a good job of turning mid-to-late round draft picks into potentially useful players, which is far above the usual rate-of-return on those selections. Phil Coke is a useful player but nothing special, though he’s a star compared to most 26th round picks. David Robertson is 17th round gold. The Yankees have a lot of guys like that in the 12+ range of their farm system, including guys like David Phelps (14th), D.J. Mitchell (10th), Bryan Mitchell (16th), Brandon Laird (27th), Tyler Austin (13th), and Nik Turley (50th). The horde of power bullpen arms is just silly — Mark Montgomery (11th), Zach Nuding (37th), Graham Stoneburner (14th), Whitley (15th), Dan Burawa (12th), and Matt Tracy (43rd) among others — and it’s all by design. I don’t know if I’d call it a gift, but Oppenheimer & Co. have done a good job of maximizes those often forgotten late draft picks.

This doesn’t include the international players either, and prior to the CBA changes the Yankees were routinely among the biggest spenders in Latin America on an annual basis. It’s not all big seven-figure signings like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez, they’ve got a ton of quality prospects — like Ravel Santana ($150k), Claudio Custodio ($300k), Ramon Flores ($775k), and of course Robinson Cano ($150k) — on cheaper, six-figure payouts. They’re not all stars, but the Yankees have been consistently producing useful pieces for their roster and to use as trade bait over the last few seasons.

Jeb asks: If you could trade a future of uncertain performance (what is currently is) from the team in return for guaranteed bounce back years from all aging players and career years from the remainder of the roster at the cost of having a guaranteed steep decline in performance from each player for the remainder of their contracts, would you?

So the question basically asks a) the best possible year in 2012 plus utter crap in the future, or b) the current situation (a.k.a. reality). I know which one I would pick, but let’s do a poll. I’ll answer in the comments later so I don’t influence the poll results at all.

What would you prefer?
View Results
The children of the 1980s
An ode to The Bull
  • Darren

    I love the poll question because it’s the kind of fun questions you actually talk to your friends about when you’re at the game or the bar. Interesting that most answers lean towards reality. I think we’d rather take a chance than have guaranteed failure.

    • Lime

      It would be interesting to see how these results might change on a team that has a good, but weaker roster, and that hasn’t won a World Series in a long time. I’m guessing more people would’ve been willing to mortgage the future.

      • thenamestsam

        I think the weaker roster is the key point. As it stands you’d have to be crazy to choose the one great year.

        My reasoning is that the playoffs, by nature of the short series, are almost entirely random. Even with the best possible situation there is still a very good chance you don’t win the world series on randomness alone. Because of that the big difference between reality and the best case scenario is going to be in terms of making the playoffs, and for this strong a team there just isn’t that much upside. Right now I’d say the Yankees look like about a 95 win group. Best case scenario for every player means winning 110 at least. But that barely increases your probability of making the playoffs (maybe 75% to 100%).

        Now consider a weaker team who is just off the cusp of contention like say, Toronto (about 5% chance of making the playoffs currently by the projections I’ve seen). They’re projected for like 78 wins now, but their best case scenario is like 95-96 probably. That makes them a lock to be in the playoffs which gives them a much larger bump to their chances of winning the series. For a team like that I’d consider it a lot more seriously.

        • Ted Nelson

          Even with the Blue Jays, you’ve got a good amount of young talent and the prospect of being better 2, 3, 4 years from now than in 2012… so as a Blue Jays fan I don’t think I’d like to see a career year from guys like Lawrie, Rasmus, Escobar, their young Cs, Romero, Morrow… if I magically knew if would disappear…

          I guess an old mediocre team is really the sweet spot. Or a young team with guys starting to look like busts… the Snyder, Drabek, maybe Rasmus crew on the Blue Jays. Especially if you can pump and dump those guys’ values.

          • thenamestsam

            Yeah I actually agree with you and thought about putting a little bit extra in there saying exactly what you said. The Blue Jays are in the right spot on the win curve but they’re on the way up from that spot. A team in the same spot on the way down would have been even better, but it seemed like 3 paragraphs was enough about the crazy hypothetical. But I do agree with you. A team a bit past its prime limping to 80ish wins – The White Sox, maybe, or the Giants if their division was a bit stronger?

        • Mike HC

          I think you would have to assume that the career year extends to the postseason as well. So the question basically asks would you rather have things as they are now, or one year where we essentially blow out teams the entire year and throughout the playoffs, probably setting all kinds of offensive records and team records, cruising to a WS victory, and being able to say I basically saw the greatest season in the history of baseball, but then basically have everyone’s career disintegrates.

          The idea of the perfect season is tempting at the risk of being bottom dwellers for the next 5 (?) years or so, maybe longer, but no way would I make that deal with the devil.

          • thenamestsam

            That’s a more tempting proposition if you put it that way. But the way it is in the question doesn’t seem to guarantee that to me. It just guarantees a dominant team – every old player has a bounce-back and every other guy has a career year. Even in a phenomenal year players will have bad weeks, and so will the team, which means we could easily get knocked out of the playoffs. Even the ’98 Yankees were in some trouble in the ALCS, and the 2001 Mariners didn’t win it all. I could easily see even the perfect version of the current team losing in the playoffs. If they were guaranteed to have the greatest season in the history of the game, I’d strongly consider it.

      • Plank

        That’s a good point. I bet the results would be different for Astros fans.

        • MattG

          Not for the Astros, who’s 80% projection might still have them miss the playoffs, but for many other teams it would make sense.

          Just not for the Yankees. The Yankees have constructed a team with an excellent chance of winning on a 50 percentile year. They are not looking for their players to exceed expectations, they only want them to come within expectations.

          • Ted Nelson

            Best case Astros might be able to pump and dump the value of Carlos Lee, Wandy, Myers, and maybe some others… and it’s not like they’ve got much young talent. So I could maybe see it with an eye for trading for prospects and building a farm system since you’re probably still a “seller” anyway.

            • MattG

              So, we’re assuming the other GMs are unaware of Luhnow’s deal with the devil?

              • Ted Nelson

                I’m assuming that only the fan who made the deal is aware of it… and if they go around trying to tell people I really doubt they’ll gain much traction as being credible.

    • MattG

      The topic I would have with my friends in the bar would be, would you rather have a guaranteed three-in-a-row dynasty, followed by a guaranteed 10-in-a-row string of utter misery, or would you like to be competitive every year with no guarantees?

  • PiñedaPiñata

    #1 sounds eerily close to the 1980’s Yankees way…

  • DB

    Who is the next minor league position player that the Yankees have that could develop into a major league regular (someone of the caliber of Gardner, so not necessarily an all-star, but a very good player)? With Montero being traded, it seems like the Yankees are lacking of any ML talent at the high minors. The closest position players to the ML level (Nunez, Laird, and Romine) might reach that level, but it seems more likely that they will be bench players.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t really like referring to Gardner as a non-All-Star caliber performer, but I think I see what you’re saying in terms of a guy who can be solid and maybe exceed expectations. (Gardner is the 2nd most valuable Yankees over the past two seasons according to fWAR… he’s not an offensive All-Star, but a defensive one.)

      I think all of David Adams, Corban Joseph (2B), Nunez, and Romine have the potential to be maybe top 10 in MLB at their positions. Adams can be a solid regular at an up-the-middle position if he gets healthy. CoJo’s bat should play at 2B if his defense does… and even at 3B he might be a solid starter. Nunez isn’t really a prospect, but if he gets his throwing together could be a good player at one of the scarcest positions. Romine is also helped by the scarcity of decent Cs.
      Really helps that all of these guys play premium positions, so even though they’re not total studs the offensive bar is low.
      I would guess Romine is the obvious choice, but I’m not a huge fan of his upside… more a probability guy to me.

      Then Murphy and Heathcott are probably next I guess. I’m intrigued by Ronnie Mustellier as well. Don’t think he’s got realistic Gardner potential, but maybe super-sub sort of good year (not career year) Bill Hall/Chone Figgins.

      • MattG

        Romine had a hot half-a-season at a high profile point in his career, but he is one-and-a-half seasons removed from that. I don’t consider him an odds on everyday starter anymore.

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, Romine’s probability > upside. To be an MLB C the offensive cut-off is low. Romine should be able to make it in MLB. I don’t know that he’ll be a good starter, though.

          While he hasn’t produced in AA like he did first half 2010, he was still a .330 wOBA C in AA. That looks a bit better when you consider that his power was down despite being the part of his game that’s usually praised. He was able to get on base in AA, his power just disappeared.
          If he gets to a “good-case” (not too much drop-off AA-AAA-MLB) .320 wOBA in a few years he could be a pretty league average starter offensively and maybe a 2 fWAR player:,d

          Even at a .300 wOBA he can be a borderline MLB starting C with solid enough defense, which is why I say his probability is high.

      • CJ

        Optimistic position on all prospects. I don’t think Romine will ever be top 10 catcher but I do think he can be starting catcher on a championship team. The problem with Joseph and Adams is they will not get a chance to play in NY. I can see either, more likely Adams being a better than league average hitter in INF but only after 750 ML ABs with some struggles. When will that happen? If they were truly promising prospects, I would think small market teams would beg Cashman for them, and apparently that hasn’t happened.

        • Ted Nelson

          I explained in the beginning of that comment that it was an optimistic position… that what I understood the guy to be asking was sort of “players who look like borderline starters but could surprise us to become very good players.” Since that’s what Gardner did.

          Top 10 C isn’t all that great. C value is complex with all the factors going into it, but in terms of offense and basic defense the #10 C in baseball is usually a hair under 3 fWAR. I don’t project Romine that way, but I certainly think he has the ceiling to be there a few prime years.

          I totally disagree with your logic re: Adams and CoJo. Adams had a devastating injury… so his trade value is altered by that. Who cares whether GMs are “begging for” these guys, though? Cashman cares what they offer him for them, not how hard they beg him. As A-Rod ages and Cano starts to age a little for a 2B, there could be plenty of 2B/3B playing time over the next 7 years… which is about the time-frame these guys could be Yankees for.

          Again… the whole point is guys who aren’t stud prospects but if things break right and they put in the work could be good starters in MLB.

          • CJ

            What 7 years? They are 23-25 years old? In 7 years David adams will be the same age as Bill Hall is today They have 1-2 years to make the team, tops. An aging cano? The future is now for any “prospect” 24 or 25 years old.

            • Ted Nelson

              1 AAA year, 3 pre-arb years, 3 arb years… how’s your math? That’s 7 years.

    • Preston

      If Nunez was more consistent with the glove he’d be a candidate to be a regular. I like Romine, although we have to see how he does at AAA this year. Zoile Almonte, Corban Joseph are probably the two best bets to ever be consistent big league contributors from our upper minors. Although if David Adams can ever get healthy he’s probably the most talented guy in our upper levels. I also really like Melky Mesa, although at this point the production will probably never match the talent. Just keep in mind that neither Gardner nor Cano were highly regarded prospects, so maybe one of these guys will pleasantly surprise us.

      • Tom Swift

        2012 is the year for those guys to break out, I hope. Otherwise, the position players in the upper minors are a disappointment.

  • Ed

    Guaranteed contracts, which are most free agent and multi-year deals, entitle the player to every cent no matter when he voluntarily retires

    Actually, if a player voluntarily retires he doesn’t get the money. Look at the Royals and Gil Meche. Meche retired before this season and the Royals didn’t owe him anything.

    I also remember retirement being a little bit of an issue when Mo Vaughn quit playing. He had a press conference where he basically said “I’m not retiring, but I don’t think I’ll ever play again”. He handled it that way to get the remaining money on his contract.

    • Mike Axisa

      That’s a typo, it’s supposed to say *unless* he voluntarily retires. My bad.

    • Mike Axisa

      Egads, that sentence was worse than I realized. All fixed now.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    “True that Pineda had a poor second half …”

    actually that isn’t true, he even was slightly better in the 2nd half but he had a ton of bad luck.

    • Bo Knows

      yeah, I’m shocked at Mike he’s supposed to be big on saber stats but completely disregarded them….shame on you Axisa!

      • MattG

        Totally phoned this one in. I hear this is spurring Schur to rekindle FJM.

      • pat

        That was actually the question asker who presented it that way. I’m sure Mike could have posted the dissertation about how his 2nd half was not as bad as meets the eye, but he wanted to address the bullpen question.

  • MattG

    For a brief second, that seemed like a compelling poll question. Then I came to my senses.

    By the results, I think many had a similar experience.

    With the Yankees’ resources, all they need is a reasonable approximation of their expectations. The only thing that can out do them is a bunch of 20% PECOTA performances…or a bunch of 80% PECOTA performances in Tampa and Boston.

    • vin

      Exactly. The roster is too good, and the playoffs are such a crapshoot, that it doesn’t make sense to mortgage the future.

  • Drew

    I chose 2012 and steep decline afterwards. Steep decline is pretty vague, so I would choose CC getting 25 wins Pineda getting 20-25 wins with 200K’s Kuroda with 18-20 wins Hughes 18-20 Wins Nova 18-20 wins. Mariano getting 40-50 saves Robertson repeating last year, Soriano repeating his 2010 performance Joba being Joba again. Tex Arod Cano Granderson Swisher being 35 HR+ players while Martin Jeter being 20 HR players Gardner stealing 80 bases. It would be an epic epic year. I would sign up for that in a heartbeat. That being said I would stop watching baseball for a while after that because I know it could not get any better than that season.

    • Preston

      I think I would sign up for that as well. If everyone on this team had the best case scenario season they would probably be the best team in the history of baseball. I mean what would it look like

      Jeter .320/.400/.470
      Granderson .300/.380/.600
      Robinson Cano .340/.400/.570
      Alex Rodriguez .320/.440/.630
      Mark Teixeira .300/.420/.650
      Nick Swisher .280/.400/.530
      Russell Martin .290/.375/.470
      Jones/Branyan Platoon .260/.360/.470
      Brett Gardner .300/.400/.420

      CC Sabathia 250 innings 2.50 ERA
      Michael Pineda 200 innings 3.00 ERA
      Hiroki Kuroda 200 innings 3.00 ERA
      Ivan Nova 200 innings 3.50 ERA
      Phil Hughes 200 innings 3.50 ERA

      A bullpen with and ERA under 3.00

      We’d win 120 games and be the best team in history. If that meant for the five following years we were mediocre because of large under performing contracts I would be fine with it.

    • Steve (different one)

      2009 was somewhat close to this scenario. Almost everyone (sorry Wang) was healthy and productive. Damon, Matsui, Posada, Melky, even AJ were all good. That was a great team.

  • Reggie C.

    I chose the “reality” option. A big reason for the “reality” selection is that we’re locked into three long-term, respective contracts with Arod, CC, and Teixeira. Since “sharp decline” isnt defined, i’ll go ahead and assume that health and injury are factors of the decline. This team doesn’t look playoff built if injuries strip CC of 32 starts.

  • Lime

    I choose mortgage the future – I would want a serious shot at breaking Seattle’s single season record, as painful as the following 5-10 years would be. To me, that would be more memorable in the end, even if the team got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round after a great season. Imagine a 120 win season, partially fueled by performance, partially fueled by luck and outperforming the team’s pythag record.

  • Greg

    The point of a farm system is to (i) have guys who can make your team, or (ii) have trade chips. So depth is only good if it helps one of those two objectives. The question is with all of that depth, what can we use it for. The test will come real soon, as (hopefully) Warren, Phelps and Mitchell will prove themselves ready this year to move up. At that point, you have to decide to bring them up or move them for something more valuable to you.

  • Eric

    So the question is basically, would you rather win the world series now and lose the next five or not know the future. Stupid question, we are Yankees fans, we’ll win this one and the next five.

  • GardnergoesYardner

    I’d choose reality, because in reality we have a great team, full of capable players. Sure, a spectacular team would make for a memorable summer, but do we need a spectacular team to win right now? With our current team, we could defintely win the East, and potentially go farther thanks to our new rotation. It’s not like we need a juggernaut to overpower the Sox or the Rays.

    The thing that would be nice for 2012 would not be being a juggernaut, but for there to be some more clutch hitting, which was a major problem for them last year. There were times where they’d blow a game because they couldn’t get a run in with bases loaded, no or one outs, most notably in Game 5 of the ALDS. Both the games I went to last year (the Soriano 4 run disaster against the Twins in April and the Saturday loss in the A’s July series) could have been easily won if the Yanks had gotten a run or two in the late innings, and that is something they could improve this year.

  • RO RO

    I 100% agree with reality….. We would ALL be cursing and crying about how bad Cashman is as a GM, if we went through 3,4,even 5 years of bad baseball for ONE year of TOTAL DOMINANCE. With a little more CLUTCH hitting this team is IN PERFECT line to contend for the foreseeable future.