T-minus one week until pitchers and catchers report and Spring Training begins. Greg Joyce says Greg Bird, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, and 2018 first rounder Anthony Seigler are among those already in Tampa preparing for the season. This offseason needs to end already. I’m ready for baseball. Anyway, here are some random thoughts.
1. Because the free agent market is frozen, a few times in recent weeks I’ve mentioned the Yankees are in position to snag a free agent bargain in February or March, and that’s still true. On paper, they have an open bench spot and two open bullpen spots. The free agent reliever market has really thinned out. Craig Kimbrel is far and the away the best available. After him it’s probably Adam Warren, and I’d be cool with (another) reunion with him. There’s not much quality bullpen help available. For that bench spot though, gosh, the Yankees could have their pick of the litter. Derek Dietrich and Josh Harrison are still out there, as are lesser bench types like Yangervis Solarte. I would be surprised to see Marwin Gonzalez’s market collapse so much that he becomes an option for the Yankees, though, at this point, who knows? The Yankees have internal candidates for that final bench spot (Bird, Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade) so they are in position to sit back and see how the market shakes out in a few weeks. They can monitor Troy Tulowitzki’s comeback, react to any injuries in camp, and see whether anything makes sense. Neil Walker did last spring. Maybe Dietrich or Harrison or Warren or someone else does this spring. I think the Yankees still have one more move in them before Opening Day and I’m not referring to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. I could see one last cheap signing in late-February or March, with Jordan Montgomery’s inevitable 60-day DL stint clearing a 40-man roster spot.
2. I’ve been thinking a bunch about Jonathan Loaisiga’s role with the Yankees the last few days. We only got a brief look at him last year and he is so obviously talented. His fastball averaged 96.2 mph and topped at 98.4 mph during his big league stint last season, and his fastball spin rate (75th percentile) and breaking ball spin rate (86th percentile) were very good. The tools are there for success. Will the durability be there? Thus far the answer is no. We know the Yankees have gotten some trade calls about Loaisiga this winter, and I can’t help but wonder whether cashing him in as a trade chip is the way to go. His stock may never be higher than it is right now and the breakdown potential is scary high. And, if trading Loaisiga is not in the cards, is it best to use him as a multi-inning reliever in the big leagues rather than send him to Triple-A to accumulate innings? I guess this all boils to how the Yankees feel about his chances of staying healthy. Loaisiga is not the biggest guy (5-foot-11 and 165 lbs.) and the best predictor of future injury is past injury, and he has a lot of past injuries. I think the the Yankees should use him in the bullpen and get what they can out of him before the next injury rather than try to groom him for a long-term role when his body is telling us it probably won’t hold up long-term. I so wish Loaisiga would stay healthy. You just can’t count on it given his history. There may be a very small window to extract MLB value from him, and if that means trading him or using him out of the bullpen, then the Yankees should do it.
3. I know we’ve been heavy on Adam Ottavino content the last two weeks — I recently wrote about his move to sea level and his stolen base problems — but I have one more Ottavino nugget to dump on you. I was poking around some leaderboards the other day and found he’s among the best in game at creating “perceived” velocity, meaning the extension in his delivery makes his fastball play up. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to the plate and it gets on hitters quicker than the radar gun reading would lead you to believe. Here is last year’s leaderboard in fastball velocity gained through extension (min. 500 fastballs thrown):
- Tyler Glasnow: +2.6 mph (96.5 mph actual to 99.1 mph perceived)
- Freddy Peralta: +1.6 mph (90.7 mph actual to 92.3 mph perceived)
- Phil Maton: +1.6 mph (91.0 mph actual to 92.6 mph perceived)
- Yusmeiro Petit: +1.5 mph (89.2 mph actual to 90.7 mph perceived)
- Brent Suter: +1.5 mph (86.6 mph actual to 88.1 mph perceived)
- Jack Flaherty: +1.5 mph (92.6 mph actual to 94.1 mph perceived)
- Adam Ottavino: +1.3 mph (93.8 mph actual to 95.1 mph perceived)
First things first: Yeesh, Tyler Glasnow. I guess being 6-foot-8 with the wingspan of a condor has its advantages. Secondly, only 13 pitchers in baseball added at least one full mile an hour to their fastball through perceived velocity last year, so this isn’t particularly common. Ottavino is a big guy (6-foot-5) and last year’s perceived velocity gain was larger than 2017’s (+0.9 mph) and 2015-16’s (+0.8 mph), so maybe the increase is the result of last offseason’s training? Who knows. Velocity is not everything but it correlates well to higher strikeout rates and lower contact rates, which makes perfect sense. The hitter has that much less time to react. In Ottavino’s case, his fastball already has good velocity, and it plays higher due to his extension. Also, hitters have even less time to react to his cartoon slider. No other Yankee comes particularly close to Ottavino’s perceived velocity gain (Aroldis Chapman is next up at +0.5 mph) and I dunno, is this something you can teach? Adding extension seems possible but there are physical limitations (pitchers are only so tall and their arms only so long) and, at some point, you’re pushing the mechanical changes too far. Either way, Ottavino is among the best at making his fastball seem faster than it really it. When the radar gun says 95 mph and the hitter reacts like it’s 98 mph, his extension out in front and the hitter having to respect the slider is why.
4. Last week Ken Rosenthal (subs. req’d) reported the Reds have been “quietly shopping” infield prospect Jonathan India this winter. Teams have asked for top prospects Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell in trade talks and Cincinnati keeps steering them to India, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft. “For him to be available all winter is telling,” said one rival executive to Rosenthal, who indicated the Reds may have already soured on India because he hit .240/.380/.433 (129 wRC+) in 44 games in his pro debut. That was after a .350/.497/.717 line at Florida last spring. Jonathan Mayo and Kiley McDaniel have since reported that no, the Reds aren’t shopping India, other teams just keep asking about him. I figured that was coming. If a report comes out you are shopping last year’s fifth overall pick, you have to do some damage control. Anyway, I bring this up because the Yankees absolutely should go after India if the Reds have truly soured on him. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 53rd best prospect in the game. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:
With an advanced approach at the plate, he has excellent plate discipline and the ability to hit for average that should translate. India also has flashes of above-average power. Despite not being too speedy, he can be deceptively quick and is a solid baserunner with great instincts. A third baseman in college, India played there and at shortstop and could also likely man second base. He has a strong above-average arm with fielding skills and athleticism that would likely enable him to play multiple positions well.
That’s a guy I want in the system. I imagine the Yankees asked for India during Sonny Gray trade talks — they reportedly asked for Trammell, and likely worked their way down the line until settling on Shed Long — and perhaps this is something they can revisit. India’s name has come up in J.T. Realmuto trade talks and maybe the Yankees can get involved and make it a three-team trade. India to the Yankees, Estevan Florial (and others?) to the Reds, who then get flipped to the Marlins for Realmuto? I like Florial but I’d trade him for India in a nanosecond. The Yankees are loaded with high-end outfield prospects and short on high-end infield prospects at the moment, and elite (or potentially elite) infield talent is very hard to acquire. Get it while you can. India was my favorite prospect in last year’s draft — I never bothered to write up an RAB draft profile on him because there was no chance he’d fall to the Yankees — and if he is available, I hope the Yankees would make a strong effort to get him.
5. Two things I’d love to see that will never ever ever (ever) happen: One, Harper and/or Machado go to Japan or Korea for the 2019 season. They’d hit like 60 homers and it would be utterly humiliating for MLB, and MLB could use a good humbling. It won’t happen for many reasons, of course, chief among them being money. Even at an extreme discount, those two would make much more here than they would overseas (the highest paid player in Japan made less than $5M last year). You get the idea though. And two, the MLBPA proposes a “salary cap” for team profit. Profit exceeds the cap? Then the rest goes into MLB’s central fund. Or, better yet, it gets redistributed to teams that don’t exceed the cap. (Why is it always the players who need to have their earnings capped?) Either spend that excess profit on players and other baseball upgrades (minor league wages, ballpark improvements, etc.), or it goes away. Think that would light a fire under free agency? Can you tell I’m angry over the state of baseball? Because I’m angry over the state of baseball. Revenues are at an all-time high. There has never ever been more money in the game than right now, yet we get this bore of an offseason and a ton of crappy baseball teams because more than one-third of the league is not trying to be competitive. They don’t even hide it anymore. As fans, we are the ones who suffer. For the umpteenth straight year it will be more expensive to be a baseball fan this season than it was last season because prices continue to climb, and our reward is an increasingly crummy product. The product on the field is worse because competitive integrity has taken a backseat to pocketing revenue, and what is even the point of paying attention in the offseason? Nothing happening day after day is exhausting. I love baseball and hate baseball teams. What a mess the league is right now.
6. Speaking of the crummy market, last week I was reading something Buster Olney (subs. req’d) wrote about the Twins and their young players, and within that piece he said “(Miguel) Sano turns 26 in May, and considering the trends in the sport, it’s possible he’s closer to the end of his career in the majors than the beginning.” I read that and I did the Alonzo Mourning GIF.
It sounded preposterous at first, then I realized it is 100% true. How screwed up is baseball that a player with Sano’s talent and MLB success — this dude is one year removed from a .264/.352/.507 (124 wRC+) batting line with 28 homers in 114 games as a 24-year-old — might actually be closer to the end of his career than the beginning? I get that Sano has had some injury and conditioning issues, and that position-less right-handed sluggers are not the hottest commodity, but damn yo. The same concept applies to Aaron Judge, doesn’t it? He might be closer to the end than the beginning too. Trying to explain why owners are being cheap without saying “owners are cheap” is a daily thing now, with reporters and fans alike attributing it to front offices being smarter, which is generally true. Except Dietrich and Marwin are 29 and play everywhere and apparently no one wants them. Machado and Harper are 26! I get that they’re going to be expensive but they are 26 and awesome. If teams won’t pay them, who will they pay? That someone like Sano, who is so clearly talented and still months away from his 26th birthday, can be reasonably assumed to be closer to the end of his career than the beginning bothers me. Aren’t teams supposed to be tanking to get players like Sano? Now we’re already talking about him like he’s on the downside of his career.
7. Earlier this week it was reported a woman died after being hit in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium last August. Here’s the story. She was behind the plate on the first base side, a foul ball went over the netting, and struck her in the head. Three days later she was unresponsive and taken off life support. Every team extended the netting to the ends of the dugouts last year after that little girl was hit by Todd Frazier’s foul ball in Yankee Stadium in September 2017, which is a start, but it really should be extended more. Extended and raised. If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I am pro-netting. Players are bigger and stronger and they hit the ball harder than ever before, and MLB should not cut corners on safety. Telling fans to pay attention rather than stare at their phone is not a realistic solution. Complaining the netting interferes with the view is a weak excuse. It took a little girl getting hit in the head for the league to finally extend the netting. Hopefully some good comes from the woman’s death last year and teams will extend the netting further and raise it higher. Perhaps one of these days MLB will be proactive about this and prioritize fan safety without being pushed into action by a traumatic event. Even one serious incident is too many.