Mailbag: K-Rod, Ichiro, Villarreal, Fifth Starter

Bullpen option off the board: Balfour goes back to Tampa
With a tattered infield, Yanks need Drew

Eleven questions and eleven one-paragraph answers this week. You can send us mailbag questions or anything else using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.


Dan asks: Doesn’t it make a lot of sense for the Yankees to go after Francisco Rodriguez? He’d provide a power arm for the bullpen (which clearly still needs one or two more pieces). He has closer experience if Robertson doesn’t work out.

Rodriguez, 32, didn’t sign until the middle of April last year, remember. He did pitch better in 2013 (2.70 ERA and 3.65 FIP) than he did in 2012 (4.38 ERA and 3.83 FIP), so maybe that means he won’t have to wait as long to find a new team this offseason. K-Rod still misses plenty of bats (10.41 K/9 and 28.0 K% in 2013) but he’s also become way more fly ball (only 36.4% grounders) and homer (1.35 HR/9 and 15.2% HR/FB) prone in recent years as he’s lost velocity. He’s not the elite, shutdown reliever he was as recently as 2011 anymore, but Rodriguez is still a solid bullpen arm who can help the Yankees. They might be wary of his off-field issues though.

David asks: Now that the Yankees have signed Masahiro Tanaka, are they more free to trade Ichiro Suzuki? I thought they might hold onto Ichiro long enough for him to help with the sales pitch, but they really need an OF who can hit the ball out of the park now and then. On the days Beltran plays the OF and Jeter plays SS, would Ichiro be the current option at DH?

I don’t think Ichiro was ever part of the sales pitch to Tanaka — if we was, we haven’t heard anything about it — and they were always free to trade him. It just seems like there are no takers, even if the Yankees eat some salary. The bench right now looks really awful (Frankie Cervelli, Brendan Ryan, Ichiro … Scott Sizemore?) with no one who can be used as a pinch-hitter or anything like that. Beltran and Alfonso Soriano figure to split DH and right field, but on the days one of them sits, it’ll be Ichiro who plays. That’s not ideal. I’d like to see an actually hitter on the bench, someone who can run into a fastball or at least get on-base at a decent clip.

Sam asks: We see Robinson Cano get 10/240, Clayton Kershaw land 7/217, and Tanaka (without an MLB pitch to his name) get 7/155. Is there a point, in your opinion, where we hit a ceiling of what an MLB player is being paid, or are we looking at $500+ million dollar contracts down the road?

This isn’t an MLB only thing, though MLB salaries have inflated more rapidly than the rest of the working population’s. It’s only a matter of time before we get a $500M+ contract and I bet it’ll happen sooner than we expect, maybe within the next 20 years or so. Heck, there will be a point where the average annual salary in the U.S. is $500M, but that won’t happen in our lifetimes. As long as the union stands its ground and does not allow a salary cap, MLB salaries are only going to continue going up. It’s the way of the world.

Kevin asks: Do you think last year’s three first round draft picks and the planned spending frenzy in international free agency can lead to the Yankees’ farm system being decent and (dare I say it) maybe even good? I know they won’t have a first round pick this season, but it’s not like you are completely missing out on talent if your starting your draft in the second round.

Jagielo. (Robert Pimpsner)
Jagielo. (Robert Pimpsner)

To steal a phrase from Hubie Brown, there is a lot of upside potential in the Yankees’ farm system this year. They’re adding what amounts to four first round talents in Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, and Ty Hensley, who is due to return from his hip(s) surgery. Manny Banuelos will also return from Tommy John surgery to give the system a boost. International guys like Abi Avelino and Luis Severino will have a chance to improve on last year’s success as well. Just based on the guys already in the system, there’s a lot of potential for a big step forward in 2014. Every team has a handful of guys who could really awesome if they stay healthy and take a step forward and yadda yadda yadda, but I feel like the Yankees have more than the average team.

Dan asks: Will the failure to achieve $189m put away all talk of getting under for the foreseeable future? Or every offseason from now on will the Yankees consider $189m as a possible offseason strategy to evaluate each year?

Given all the long-term commitments they handed out this winter and the fact that Alex Rodriguez‘s salary will be back on the books next year, I don’t see how the Yankees could get under the luxury tax threshold in the future. My real quick math already has the 2015 payroll at $152.1M for only eight (!) players, and that’s with two above-average producers (David Robertson and Brett Gardner) heading for free agency and needing to be either re-signed or replaced. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season and I have to think the luxury tax threshold will rise at that point. There’s too much money in the game to keep it at $189M; they might have to bump it up to $200M or even $210M.

Uke asks: Now that the Yankees have gone over the $189 million goal, why don’t they offer Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez one-year contracts with the stipulation that they won’t make a qualifying offer next year?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says you can’t sign a player and promise to not make the qualifying offer in the future, though I’m not sure how they’d go about enforcing that. I’d love to see Ubaldo fall into their laps in March, similar to what happened with Kyle Lohse last year, but I’m counting on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed this weekend. Adding another starter, even someone like Bronson Arroyo, to knock the internal guys down a peg would be awesome in my book, but the infield and bullpen have to be the priorities right now.

Dustin asks: Should the Yankees put a claim on Brayan Villarreal if he falls to them? He walks way too many, but his strikeout propensity would do well in low-to mid-leverage innings, kind of like how Joba Chamberlain was used of late.

The Red Sox designated the 26-year-old Villarreal for assignment a few days ago after an ugly season in which he walked nine and struck out six while allowing ten runs in 4.1 big league innings. His 2.67 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 42.1 minor league innings looks great, but he also walked 30 batters (6.4 BB/9 and 16.5 BB%). Villarreal had a strong 2012 season with the Tigers (2.63 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 54.2 innings) but he’s a classic hard-thrower who has no idea where the ball is going. Very similar to Brian Bruney when the Yankees signed him. All you can do with a guy like that is hope he irons out his command for a long stretch of the season. The Bombers need bullpen help but they don’t have room for Villarreal on the 40-man roster and I’m not sure if he’s worth clearing a spot for.

Charley asks: Do you think now that the Yankees got Tanaka that Vidal Nuno has a leg up on the fifth starter spot since he is a lefty? Joe Girardy typically likes to split his lefty/righty pitchers and now they have only one lefty in CC Sabathia.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would have more than one left-handed starter because of Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch and the various power lefty bats in the division (David Ortiz and Chris Davis, primarily). I don’t think it’s a requirement though. At this point the team needs to just assemble the best pitching staff it can regardless of handedness. If Nuno wins the fifth starter’s spot in camp, great. If it’s David Phelps or Adam Warren, well that’s okay too. To answer the question, no, I don’t think Nuno’s handedness gives him a leg up on the competition. I think they’ll give the job to whoever impresses the most.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

Paul asks: Let’s play glass-half-full for a moment and assume that Michael Pineda is healthy and producing in ST and gets the #5 rotation slot. Phelps would almost certainly go to the BP. What about Warren and the other #5 competitors? Are they too similar in the roles they would fill to go with him?

I think both Phelps and Warren would go to the bullpen in that case, one as the long man and one as a more traditional short reliever. Warren was the long man all last year while Phelps did the short relief thing in September after returning from his forearm injury. It’s possible one would go to Triple-A to remain stretched out as the sixth starter, but I think both would wind up working in relief given the state of the bullpen. Using both as multi-inning middle relievers (rather than a long man and a one-inning guy) would be pretty neat. It would obviously be awesome if Pineda showed enough to win a rotation spot in camp. That would really create some roster options for the Yankees.

Tucker asks: In the past with these ST starter competitions, we’ve seen the Yankees seemingly give one candidate a leg-up. I think this year we could see that happening with Pineda. Do you agree, or do you think that a different starter fits that role better?

The Yankees have definitely held some rigged Spring Training competitions over the years, most notably the fifth starter competition in 2010 (Phil Hughes over Joba) and last year’s catching competition (Chris Stewart over everyone). If it does happen with the fifth starter’s spot this year, I think Phelps would be the guy with the advantage given the last two years. That’s just a hunch though. Pineda is coming off two lost years and might need more time in Triple-A to shake the rust off. As I mentioned before, I honestly think this competition will be more legitimate — whoever pitches the best in camp will win it. Of course, Spring Training competitions don’t end in Spring Training. If the fifth starter doesn’t perform well early on, someone else will take his spot. The team has enough candidates that they won’t have to live with a poor performing fifth starter for more than a few starts.

Kyle asks: Do you see the Yankees re-signing Brian Cashman or will they let someone else take the role as GM, like Billy Eppler?

I wrote this post about the future of the front office two years ago, after Eppler was officially named the assistant GM. It seemed like the Yankees were setting up a line of succession — Eppler spends three years learning the ropes as the assistant before taking over as GM when Cashman’s deal was up. Cashman would presumably be moved to some kind of president or director or chairman or whatever role. The Indians (Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti) and White Sox (Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn) have both made similar moves in recent years. I still expect something like that to happen. Ownership clearly loves Cashman but this will be his 16th year as GM. Things can get pretty stale after that much time and a new voice could do wonders for the organization (it could also do a lot of damage, remember). Moving Cashman into a different role and making Eppler the GM seems very possible and I do think that is what will happen.

Bullpen option off the board: Balfour goes back to Tampa
With a tattered infield, Yanks need Drew
  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Agreed 100% on Cashman and Eppler.

    I remember one appearance of Villareal’s against the Yanks where I was impressed by him but, yes, guys like him sort of do grow on trees. Yankees may need relief help, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the kind of pitcher they should bring in and have patience with.

    Will be rooting hardcore for Pineda to come out strong in ST.

    Also, Eppler already failed.

    • Ahk

      So… If they move Cashman to a different role, where does that leave Randy Levine?

      • Jorge Steinbrenner


      • RetroRob

        Levine was hired by George and kept around by the Sons not for his baseball skills. His political connections helped the Yankees cut a sweet deal with the city for the new Stadium; his legal background helped them set up different operating units that shields the majority of the team’s money from revenue sharing, especially its local TV revenue; he helped monetize the YES Network, etc. Face it. He’s not with the Yankees for his email-writing skills or his fine hair cuts. He is delivering value to the Yankees, otherwise he’d be gone.

        If Levine were to retire (and he’s not even 60, so that’s unlikely for a few years to come), Cashman would not be his replacement. He doesn’t have the background for the type of job that Levine does. So it’s probably more likely that Cashman becomes president of baseball operations with Levine remaining president of the Yankees.

  • Jersey Joe

    1. K-Rod sounds good to me. He has what we are looking for in a reliever; a veteran presence and success within the past 3 years. As long his deal is under 5,000,000 than I would be happy with it.

    2. Trading Ichiro seems ideal at this point. I’d like to give that role to Zolio Almonte, or at least a minor league free agent; both of whom can probably outperform what Ichiro would provide.

    3. Yeah, more and more big contracts are going out. It’s a matter of time before they inflate up to 500 mm.

    6. Signing another, proven starter at this point is unneeded unless its a minor league deal. The infield is a priority.

    7. Villareal seems like an attractive option, but I just don’t know if he’s worth more than what is on our roster now.

  • Darren

    ARod’s salary *should* come back on the books next year…unless he’s suspended again for something new, or retires.

    But what happens if the Yankees buy him out? Would that buyout (say, $40mm) be spread out (for luxury tax purposes) over the original length of the contract? Or would it be spread out only over the length of time they pay it out? If they paid it out all at once, would it only count for that year’s salary for luxury tax purposes?

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      It would be spread out over the remaining years of the contract for luxury tax purposes.

    • The Great Gonzo

      A Rod is suing the MLBPA as well, right? And the league? And the Yankees?

      In theory, couldn’t there be a deal that as part of the settlement from those lawsuits, a buyout of the contract would make it null and void, in which case the Luxury Tax implications would be negated? Pure spitballing and speculation, of course…

      Law people, could you do lawyer things to this line of thinking?

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Doesn’t that usually involve a line of coke off a stripper’s ass?

        • I’m One

          If so, I want to go back to school to become a lawyer. ;-)

    • Laz

      Why would he take that buyout though?

  • Algernon Blackwood

    K-rod is such a scumbag, I really hope the Yankees don’t sign him. This would almost be as bad as when they brought in Armando Benitez.

  • Deuces Wild

    Top 3 rotation in baseball If we sign ubaldo. Guy makes atleast 31 starts every year and for some reason I think it’s a really good fit. I can see ubaldo in pinstripes and actually pitching decent. Getting ubaldo would strengthen the pen too cuz it pushes nuno and warren there. Get ubaldo and maybe drew for some icing on the cake.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I could never say this rotation, even with a Jimenez at the #5, is a “Top 3” rotation. Every guy would have a strong question about him. It’d be a deep rotation, that’s for sure, but still one where every single starter would have the potential to trend the wrong way. The advantage, of course, is that not every single starter is going to trend bad and that the risk is, at least, spread out. The upside is massive.

      I’d say Ubaldo only at a strong bargain, but I am perfectly content rolling with an open competition for the fifth spot in Spring Training. Get me another vet reliever and addition infield depth.

      • I’m One

        Yes, Ubaldo only at a strong bargain. I’m not sold on him having fully returned to form, but it certainly does spread the risk around in case of a downturn among the starters. I just don’t see the Yankees getting a strong bargain on him, in which case I’d rather see them go after Drew or another IF or relief help (NOT K-Rod).

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Other than what I think I remember as strange involvement from his dad or grandpa while with the Mets, I can’t remember off-hand what K-Rod did wrong.

          Is he reliable enough at this point in time to be considered the kind of reliever you bring in as an anchor to an unproven staff? Not so sure.

          • I’m One

            Doesn’t appear that way. Not enough ground balls and too many homers, especially for YSIII.

      • LK

        Just curious, but who would you put ahead of the Yanks’ rotation with Ubaldo? Fangraphs would project them 3rd in MLB in that scenario after the Tigers and Red Sox. I think I’d probably take the Nats over them as well, but it seems to me that Sabathia/Tanaka/Kuroda/Ubaldo/Nova with Pineda/Phelps/Warren as depth would clearly be in contention for top 3 in the game. It would have a chance to end up being far worse than that, which is maybe the point you’re making, but that rotation also has the upside of the best in MLB.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I’ll be honest. I wasn’t sitting there with rotations in hand. That was purely a “that seems too high” sort of comment.

          Dodgers, obviously, of course. I’m sick of the talk about them, but the rotation’s damn good. Tampa, if Price sticks around.

          • LK

            Yeah Dodgers are a possibility, depending on how much you like Haren and Ryu, but they’re pretty thin depth-wise. Rays I think are overrated because they play in a pitchers’ park with great defense, so I think their overall run prevention is better than their rotation. But yeah, top 3 might be too high, but not by much.

      • The Great Gonzo

        All of this. Even with Ubaldo at a discount, what is that number? $12.5M?

        Hell, $12.5 can get another infielder, another former closer AND a minor league deal for a Jack Cust-type bench option to run into a fastball once a week. ALL more important today to the Yankees than Jiminez.

        • I’m One


  • Frank

    Really wish they had signed O’Flagerty. Great signing by A’s who have developed a great BP

  • Hearn

    1. Trade Ichiro + B- Prospect for JJ Putz
    2. Anoint Almonte as extra OF
    3. Trade Romine for some infield prospect
    4. Murph as back-up catcher

    That is all.

    P.S. I’m REALLY looking forward to Tanaka drilling Jonny Gomes in his fat ass this year, to be shortly followed by McCann getting in his grill. This Yankee team has been AWFULLY short on cojones ever since Posada retired. I think part of the rationale behind letting Cano go (aside from what I suspect is PED concerns) was the fact that his attitude was too “why me worry?” Anyone remember the shots from the dugout in 2012 Postseason of Cano goofing around in the midst of his 0-567 postseason? He’s a compiler, just like his buddy A-Rod, though the pile will look a lot less gaudy in Seattle.

    • Kosmo

      1) I like the idea but doesn´t Arizona have enough OFers? It could work if NY sent along cash.

      2) I´m down

      3) Romine and prospect(s) for some infield prospect. Who do you have in mind ?

      4) What do you propose NY does with Cervelli ?

    • Laz

      Don’t get why so many people seem to be in a rush to get Cervelli out and bring up Murphy. McCann is a very good catcher and will be playing most days, so why would we want to deplete one of the few depths this team has by getting rid of all the backups? Better to keep Murphy in the minors for longer instead of starting his free agent clock, when in reality doing so will not really improve the team all that much, and be worse for his development.

  • djyank

    pineda making the rotation strengthens the pen and looks more likely every day a reliever like balfour comes off the board


    AAA rotation: nuno, ramirez
    AAA bullpen: betances, montgomery

    two lines of rotation and bullpen depth in AAA is pretty good, im not sure why everyone is freaking out

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Here’s my hypothetical: Kelley, by mid-May, looks more like a DFA candidate than an 8th inning guy. What’s your next move?

      • LK

        Here’s a fascinating thing that I just saw. Fangraphs projects Robertson to be good, Kelley and Thornton to be solid, and the rest of the Yankee pen to be replacement level. That bullpen projects to be the 7th (!) best in baseball.

        Girardi has been good at managing a bullpen, and Cashman has a pretty good track record of unearthing relievers. This pen will be worse than we’re used to because Mo’s gone, but I think they can figure this out.

        All of this to say, I want them to focus on adding to the IF, even if it means neglecting the bullpen. It’s easier to cycle guys in and out of the pen and make midseason moves. If they have a shitty infield they’re probably stuck. The more I look at this the more I’m convinced that they should sign Drew, even if they have to overpay a little bit. I think that’s really the only realistic way left to move the needle for this club. (My fantasy is that they go full-blown evil empire and sign Drew and Ubaldo, but that’s obviously not happening.)

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          And I more than hope they’re right. I’m just not putting money on it.

    • The Great Gonzo

      I don’t think Dellin can end up in Scranton again. Isn’t he woefully out of minor league options?

      I will pile on to my friend Mr. Steinbrenner’s hypo and say that Betances sees more 8th inning appearances for the Yankees through July 1 than Kelley does.


      • Kosmo

        yes Betances is out of options. At this point his only option is to succeed.

        • The Great Gonzo

          THAT is the kind of attitude I need in my Yankees bullpen!

          KOSMO is teh new bullpenz coach!!!

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Scout. Bullpen coach. What can the man NOT do?

          • Kosmo

            Frankly I´d rather be snorting coke off a stripper´s ass. Forget the coke.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Dellin’s got another option. Cashman said so about a month ago.

        I’ll say this now: I think Kelley lives up to the task. I’m just not willing to throw every egg in that basket and have Claiborne, Thornton, and assorted swingmen as Plan B.

        Notice I’m not even talking DRob. I think he’s up to the task as well, but that pooch is more than screwed if he’s not.

        It can be done. I believe in them. I’m just not going to be cavalier enough to say that nothing is wrong and that mixing and matching will get them through half the season.

        • The Great Gonzo

          pssssh…. Cashman needs to stop saying shit. I liked Kosmo’s answer better. Succeed, goddammit!!!

  • Donkey

    The White Sox are a little way off from getting playoff bound but Hahn has done wonders with getting young talent into the system. I like a little change in perspective.

  • FLYER7

    Cash/Eppler would be similar to Theo/Hoyer but where’s that leave Randy Levine?

    Also like idea of KRod or Ayala

  • bpdelia

    One quick nitpick.

    The average American wage has stagnated and even fallen for a huge swath of the population since the Reagan administration.

    I myself make a similar wage to what I did in the late nineties.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      The average starting entry level wage in my profession hasn’t changed a whole lot either since the start of the millenium, but I’m in the non-profit sector. I was in grad school in the late 90’s so, obviously, yeah, I’m making more now. I have no ideally what direction wages go three generations from now. Maybe we’re all fighting for scarps then.

      This is all, of course, a royally different animal from the world professional athletes live in.

    • LK

      Two responses to this –

      The stagnating wages thing only really shows up if you adjust for inflation, generally speaking. That’s the right thing to do, but it also means that even on our current trajectory the average American would (eventually) make $500M, it’s just that at that point $500M would only buy what ~$50K does today.

      But to your larger point, while it’s true that wages have stagnated over the last few decades, I think it’s still tough to argue that over the very long term average wages will not rise. If we’re talking average wages of $500M that’s many generations in the future, so the experience of the past few decades isn’t necessarily all that informative.

      And that’s about as far as I’ll wade into this without things turning political…

      • bpdelia

        That’s true. I was of course adjusting for inflation, no need to get political as this trend has been through all different administration’s and congresses. But even in real unadjusted dollars the average wage has risen incrementally over the last two decades being hilariously outpaced by inflation.
        And the whole 500 million thing is meaningless, we agree, since we work for value not paper.

  • Tyrone Sharpton

    Mike, glad you’re not an economics major.

  • TWTR

    Unless the farm system turns around, I can’t see why they would promote Cashman or Eppler, although they probably will because…