Shohei Otani still expected to be posted next offseason, which is great news for the Yankees

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
Otani or Ohtani? Neither, actually. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Earlier this week we learned Shohei Otani, the best pitcher (and hitter?) in the world not under contract with an MLB team, hopes to come over to MLB next offseason. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement means Otani will be subject to the international spending cap, severely limiting his earning potential. Hard to believe MLB and the MLBPA created a system that incentivizes a great player to stay away from the league, but here we are.

Anyway, according to Jim Allen, Otani’s manager with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Hideki Kuriyama, said he still expects Otani to come over next offseason despite the hard cap. He’s doing it for the challenge, not necessarily the money. “I think money is not a matter for Shohei. I think what he has in his mind is where and what kind of batters he wants to face,” said Kuriyama to Kyoto.

Needless to say, Otani coming over next season is good news for the Yankees. He’s a potential ace who will turn 23 in July, meaning he has so many prime years ahead of him. Otani would fit right in with New York’s youth movement. He’d be the centerpiece of the youth movement on the pitching side. Three other factors would make his decision to come over next offseason very good for the Yankees.

1. Several other big market teams will still be limited by the international spending penalties. The Yankees are currently riding out the second year of the penalties associated with their 2014-15 international spending spree. They were limited to $300,000 maximum bonuses during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Come the 2017-18 signing period, the one Otani will count against next offseason, they’re free to spend again.

Other big market teams are not so lucky. The penalties do carry over to the next CBA — you didn’t think MLB would let those teams get away easy, did you? — which means the Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all still be dealing with the penalties from their recent international spending sprees. They can’t offer Otani more than $300,000. Right off the bat, potential suitors like the contending Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Nats are out of the race. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Mariners, and Rangers will be the only traditional big market clubs not subject to the $300,000 limit.

2. The release fee still applies. There are two systems in play here. First, the posting agreement between MLB and NPB, which allows Otani to come over. And two, MLB’s international hard caps. Otani has to be posted, which means the (Ham) Fighters will presumably seek the maximum $20M release fee. Not every team can afford to pay that upfront. Well, they can, but some choose not to. The Yankees have no such problem. They’ll cut a $20M check no problem, like they did with Masahiro Tanaka and, ugh, Kei Igawa.

3. Otani will be insanely cheap. This is how it will work, as things stand. Otani gets posted and some team agrees to sign him for what I assume will be their entire international pool. That team pays the (Ham) Fighters the $20M release fee. Otani comes to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee (minor league contracts only for international players!), makes the team, and plays the 2018-20 seasons as a pre-arbitration eligible player making something close to the league minimum. An ace at that salary is basically the most valuable commodity in baseball.

Could a team promise to give Otani, say, an eight-year extension worth $180M at some point next year? Sure. But as Ben Badler notes, MLB would likely see such an arrangement as intentional circumvention of the hard cap and put an end to it. Otani, who made roughly $1.75M in 2016 and recently signed a $2.36M contract for 2017, won’t be able to truly cash in until his arbitration-eligible years. At that point I’m guessing MLB and especially the MLBPA would be okay with a big extension. If not, a grievance will surely follow.

* * *

The new CBA really screws over Otani, who is still making good money in Japan, but not nearly what he could be making over here. He’ll get a nice bonus when he signs next year, then have to settle for the big league minimum for a few years. It’s a fraction of what he’d get had he not been eligible for the spending cap because of his age. So much can go wrong from 2017-20, before the big extension, which really sucks. Otani has to assume a lot of risk.

Unless MLB makes Otani exempt from the hard cap — Ken Rosenthal has been told from MLB as well as teams there won’t be an exemption — in which case everything changes, the Yankees will be in great position to sign him next offseason. So may other big market clubs are dealing with the $300,000 limit, and many of clubs that aren’t can’t afford to fork over a $20M release fee. The Yankees also have the advantage of saying, “Hey, we’re in New York, so you’ll be able to make millions in endorsements for the time being.” (The downside: Every team can offer similar money.)

As it stands, the hard cap is incredibly unfair to Otani and a godsend for the Yankees. It makes the signing so incredibly low risk because all they’d have to pay is the release fee ($20M), his bonus ($4.75M), and three years at the minimum-ish salary ($2M, tops). That’s $26.75M total. How could they not go after him at that price given his upside? If Otani does intend to come over next season despite the hard cap, the Yankees couldn’t ask to be in a better situation. So much is working in their favor.

Thoughts following the Aroldis Chapman signing

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Late last night, the Yankees landed their high-priced closer and agreed to sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M. It includes no-trade protection and an opt-out after the third year. Joel Sherman and Bob Nightengale say Chapman turned down more money from the Marlins, who offered $87M with opt-outs after years one and two. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. From a baseball perspective, the signing makes sense in a vacuum (get good players) but I’m not convinced it’s the right move for the Yankees at this point in time. The last thing a mediocre to bad team needs is an expensive closer, and the Yankees very well might be a mediocre to bad team with an expensive closer in 2017. Maybe 2018 too. Realistically, what’s the upside on the 2017 Yankees, barring no other significant moves this offseason? Maybe 88 wins and a wild card spot? That’s the upper bounds of reasonable expectations. We saw this past season that having a dominant bullpen doesn’t mean a whole lot when the rotation and offense don’t hold up their end of the bargain, and neither the offense nor the rotation have been improved in a meaningful way this winter. Any improvement will stem from the kids coming into their own. The Yankees are paying a lot of money now to buy Chapman for the future, which would be fine if relievers weren’t so damn volatile. The history of long-term contracts for bullpen arms, even elite ones, is so very ugly. The Yankees are banking on Chapman being an outlier. Good luck with that.

2. It’s very possible, if not likely, the timing of the opt-out clause means that just as the Yankees are ready to be serious World Series contenders again, they’re going to lose their closer. That’s the best case scenario, right? The kids develop well, the Yankees sign some great players during the 2018-19 mega-free agent class, and they’re ready to raise some hell during the 2019 season. Sure, the kids could develop quicker than expected and things can happen sooner. That would be a surprise, I think. Maybe I’m just a pessimist. The odds are pretty good, probably higher than the Yankees are willing to admit, they’re a legitimate contender with Chapman for all of one season before the opt-out comes into play. I get it, opt-outs come with the territory now, but they so rarely work to the team’s advantage. What’s the scenario in which Chapman’s works out well for the Yankees, realistically?

3. The Yankees are trying like hell to get under the luxury tax threshold next season, and they just committed approximately 10% of their available player payroll under the threshold to a one-inning reliever who only has an impact when the other 24 guys on the roster do their job. Maybe not the smartest use of resources there, not with the rotation such a long-term question. Brian Cashman already admitted the Yankees are basically tapped out this offseason following the Chapman deal, so they can’t do much more than pick at the free agent scraps. I guess that doesn’t matter much since the free agent class stinks, but still. They can’t take on much salary in a trade either. Paying $17.2M a year for a one-inning pitcher whose usage depends on the rest of the team is something you do when you’re a) ready to win the World Series, or b) operating with a seemingly unlimited payroll. The Yankees are neither at the moment.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

4. Don’t forget how this started. This all started because Chapman did something terrible in his house with the people he cares about the most around him, terrible enough to warrant a police investigation and a 30-game suspension that would have been longer had he not cut a deal with MLB to maintain his impending free agency. That ugliness created the reality of Chapman in pinstripes. The Yankees are hoping some 105 mph fastballs will make everyone forget all about that, and based on the reaction over the summer, it’ll work. But the people whose lives have been damaged by domestic violence won’t overlook it. There have been questions about Chapman’s makeup for a very long time, dating back to his time with the Cuban National Team, and he had every reason to be on his best behavior this past season given his impending free agency. Now the Yankees plopped a ton of money in front of him and are betting on him being a changed man, and hey, maybe he is. The team better hope so.

5. Personally speaking, Chapman being on the roster takes so much excitement away from the youth and the rebuild. The Yankees have an awful lot of really good young players not just in the farm system, but at or near the big leagues too. Next year we’re going to see Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird possibly spend their first full season together. How fun is that? I was so looking forward to it. Have been for a long time. Now the Yankees cast a big dark cloud over it with Chapman. That’s my opinion — I know for sure the opinion of many others as well — and you are very welcome to feel differently. They’re going to market the crap out of Chapman and have a disgustingly over-the-top entrance whenever he comes into the game, just like they did this year. I just can’t enjoy it. You might be okay with it. I’m not. I guess I was wrong to get my hopes up thinking the Yankees would be above using something as serious as domestic violence to get ahead on the field. I was wrong. It is g r o s s.

6. The Yankees, as an important part of the community, really need to do something and take some sort of stand here. They made a long-term commitment. Chapman has shown zero remorse since the incident last year, not a shred of regret, so it’s up to the team to do something. Donate to charity, whatever. Go beyond the halfhearted tweets* every team in the league sends out. The Yankees are short on good PR these days. The team has been marginally competitive at best the last four years, the COO told non-elites to stay the hell out of the Legends seats over the summer, and now they’ve acquired Chapman twice. Turn this into a positive somehow and try to do something to salvage the “classy” reputation the team claims to have. But they won’t. They didn’t this past season. They’ll make some more shirts and turn it all into profit.

* How completely idiotic is MLB’s anti-domestic violence campaign? The slogan is “Not A Fan.” The league is “not a fan” of domestic violence. It makes it sound like it’s socially acceptable, but no, it’s not for me. You go ahead though. How stupid. Does anyone think this stuff through?

Yankees lose Torrens, six others in 2016 Rule 5 Draft

Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)
Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)

Thursday morning, the 2016 Winter Meetings unofficially wrapped up with the Rule 5 Draft. Traditionally everyone heads home after that. The Yankees were not able to make a Rule 5 Draft pick this year because their 40-man roster is full, though their incredibly deep farm system was raided pretty good, as expected. So it goes. Here’s a recap of the damage:

Major League Phase

2. Reds: C Luis Torrens (traded to Padres, according to Jonathan Mayo)
7. Diamondbacks: RHP Tyler Jones
9. Brewers: LHP Caleb Smith (traded to Cubs, the team announced)
13. Pirates: LHP Tyler Webb

Triple-A Phase

4. Rays: RHP Ty Hensley
15. Royals: RHP Kelvin Magallanes
30. Cubs: IF Kevin Cornelius

As a reminder, players selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have to stick on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be put on waivers and offered back to the Yankees. The Triple-A phase works differently. That’s just a straight draft. The players are gone. They don’t have to be offered back.

Torrens is the big name here. He was New York’s top catching prospect now that Gary Sanchez has graduated to the big leagues, though he’s been beset by shoulder injuries the last two years. He missed the entire 2015 season with labrum surgery and was slowed by a setback earlier this year. When healthy this past season, Torrens hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers and nearly as many walks (11.9%) as strikeouts (15.0%) in 55 total games for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston.

The chances of a 20-year-old catcher who has played 49 career games in a full season league, all at Low-A, sticking in the Major Leagues next season are so incredibly small. It’s hard to hide a catcher all season, especially in the National League, plus sitting on the bench most of the year and getting maybe 200 at-bats isn’t good for Torrens’ development at this point either. (The Padres are also going to be developing Austin Hedges, their own top catching prospect.) The $1.2M bonus baby from 2012 will almost certainly be offered back in Spring Training. If not, then, well, good luck to him. Torrens will have missed a lot of development time from 2015-17.

Webb, 26, was a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft as a southpaw with some velocity and a history of missing bats at Triple-A. This season he had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.1% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 72.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton, his third year at the level. The Yankees didn’t have the 40-man space to protect him. Webb, a tenth round pick in 2013, has a pretty good chance to stick with the Pirates all season, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably be claimed on waivers before being returning to the Yankees. Lefties get plenty of chances.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Smith, like Webb, is a lefty with a good fastball. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 63.2 Double-A innings this year, his second season at the level. It’s going to be really tough for the 25-year-old to stick all season with a championship team, but apparently the Cubs are going to try. Smith was New York’s 14th rounder in 2013. Jones, 27, had 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings in 2016. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent last offseason.

In the Triple-A phase, the most notable name by far is Hensley, the Yankees’ first round pick in 2012. He’s thrown only 42.1 professional innings total due to all sorts of injuries, including hip and hernia surgery, and a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Hensley is currently rehabbing from his second elbow reconstruction. He was still rehabbing from the first procedure when his new ligament gave out. Rough. The Rays have nothing to lose but a low level roster spot, so they’re going to roll the dice and see what happens.

Magallanes and Cornelius are a pair of organizational depth players. The Royals and Cubs are just plugging some minor league roster openings. Magallanes, 22, has yet to make it out of rookie ball. He has a 6.89 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 160.2 career innings. The 24-year-old Cornelius smacked 15 dingers in only 63 games with Rookie Pulaski and High-A Tampa this year. He hit .292/.383/.584 (172 wRC+) overall and was way old for both levels. New York selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 draft.

The Yankees did made two picks of their own in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft: C Jorge Saez from the Blue Jays and RHP Colten Brewer from the Pirates. Does Webb-for-Brewer qualify as the annual Yankees-Pirates trade? Eh, whatever. Anyway, the 26-year-old Saez hit .260/.314/.495 (126 wRC+) with 12 home runs in only 58 games between High-A and Double-A this past season. He’s a defense first catcher who is probably going to be the backup at Double-A Trenton this year. Saez fills a roster need, that’s all. He was Toronto’s 32nd round pick in 2012.

Brewer, 24, pitched to a 4.09 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 70.1 innings across 13 starts and five relief appearances at High-A in 2016. The Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, so he was kind of a big deal at one point. Brewer is a low-90s sinker guy who is still trying to figure out secondary stuff. The Yankees found gold in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year with Yefrey Ramirez. I wouldn’t get my hopes up with Brewer. Minor league Rule 5 Draft success stories are extremely rare.

So, after all of that, the Yankees lost seven players and gained two in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is, by far, the most important one to follow in Spring Training. The history of catchers sticking as Rule 5 Draft picks is pretty terrible, but Torrens is really talented, and the Padres might be determined to keep him around long-term. The Yankees simply didn’t have enough 40-man roster space to protect him (or Webb). We’ll see how it shakes out.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The 2016 Winter Meetings wrap-up today from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Late last night the Yankees swooped in and agreed to re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M, which is easily the largest reliever contract in history. Now the team can move on to other business, like adding rotation and middle relief help.

“I’ve got a lot of different things going on,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “Listen, they’ve got a time frame in free agency. They’re going through their process. In the meantime, I’m doing a whole bunch of other stuff at the same time. I’ve had several conversations with various agents today and a lot of club activity at the same time.”

On Wednesday we learned the Yankees have cast a wide net for bullpen help and have checked in on White Sox closer David Robertson and free agent Sergio Romo. Also, they want Ruben Tejada and Nick Rumbelow on minor league deals. We’ll once again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. I can’t promise a ton of updates. The final day of the Winter Meetings is traditionally the slowest. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: When asked about recent rumors involving Brett Gardner and the Orioles, Cashman said he wouldn’t have a problem making a trade within the AL East. “If I can trade with the Red Sox and Mets, I can trade with the Orioles,” he said. Interestingly, Cashman said he tried to trade Ivan Nova to the O’s at the deadline. [Pete Caldera, Hoch]
  • 10:29am: Cashman doesn’t expect to pursue any more position players this offseason. The focus is pitching. “It’s unlikely for us to make any changes on the position player side unless we trade Gardy,” said the GM, who added he’s rejected offers for Chase Headley. [Caldera]
  • 11:23am: Not surprisingly, Cashman said the Yankees are basically out of spending money this offseason after signing Chapman. Good thing the free agent class stinks, huh? [Andrew Marchand]
  • 12:24pm: Once again, Cashman reiterated he’s not optimistic about improving the rotation this offseason. “I don’t anticipate adding any starting pitching. I’d love to if I could but I doubt it’s realistic,” said the GM. [Marchand, Erik Boland]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Rosenthal: Yankees agree to five-year deal with Aroldis Chapman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to spend huge on a closer, and as a result, they’ve handed out by far the largest reliever contract in baseball history. Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees are bringing back Aroldis Chapman on a five-year contract worth $86M. There’s an opt-out after the third year. Marly Rivera says the deal includes a no-trade clause for three years, and the Yankees can’t trade him to a team in California. That’s oddly specific, but whatever.

Prior to Chapman’s deal, the largest reliever contract was Mark Melancon‘s recent deal with the Giants. They gave him four years and $62M. Jonathan Papelbon’s original four-year, $50M contract with the Phillies back in the day was the largest reliever contract ever coming into this offseason. The history of long-term reliever contracts is just awful, but the Yankees had to have their man. What’s done is done.

Chapman, 29 in February, spent the first half of the 2016 season with the Yankees after coming over from the Reds last offseason. The Yankees were able to acquire him at an extreme discount because he was under police (and MLB) investigation for an alleged domestic violence incident. Chapman dominated for a few weeks following his 30-game suspension, then was traded to the Cubs at the deadline and helped them win the World Series.

Between the Yankees and Cubs, Chapman pitched to a 1.55 ERA (1.42 FIP) with 40.5% strikeouts and 8.1% walks in 58 total innings. He’d walked 11.7% of batters faced from 2013-15, and the five-year deal suggests the Yankees think the sudden drop in walk rate is here to stay. I’m not sold, but whatever. Chapman was pretty excellent even when he was walking a top of batters.

The signing means Dellin Betances will slide back into a setup role and resume duties as Joe Girardi‘s eighth inning guy. I think he’s more valuable to the team in that role because he can put fires out in the seventh inning at times, rather than be married to the ninth. I had zero concerns about Betances as closer. The Yankees are just better off with him being available earlier in games.

Now that the all-important closer is on board, the Yankees can focus on reinforcing the rotation and perhaps adding some more middle reliever depth. Brett Gardner and Chase Headley have been on the trade block all winter, and I expect the team to continue pursuing deals. It seems getting a closer was the Yankees’ most important piece of offseason business, and that has now been addressed.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Another day without the Yankees doing anything at the Winter Meetings. Boring! Then again, like 23 of the 30 teams haven’t done anything this week, so it’s not like the Yankees are an outlier here. I thought for sure we would get an Aroldis Chapman decision today, and we still might, but so far nothing. It was weirdly quiet this afternoon. Everyone is saving their excitement for the Rule 5 Draft in the morning, I guess.

This is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, and there’s a whole bunch of college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games and the Winter Meetings right here.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

There is one full day remaining in the 2016 Winter Meetings and so far the Yankees have done, well, not a whole lot. Things can come together pretty quickly though. Last year at this time we were all lamenting the lack of activity, then bam, the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades went down.

“The free-agent stuff, you just have to stay close to it, because that can move fast,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “The trade stuff, there have just been certain teams that keep pursuing specific guys, so that’s been hot. There have been a couple different dynamics that have developed. Whether they lead anywhere or not, we’ll see.”

On Tuesday we learned the Yankees made contract offers to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, which is interesting. I’m kinda curious to see what happens if they both accept at the same time. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Chapman apparently has a $92M offer in hand. Goodness. That is offer is not from the Yankees, though they’re pursuing him aggressively and are “determined” to get a deal done. [Bob Nightengale, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees did talk to the White Sox about Chris Sale before he was traded to the Red Sox, but they weren’t going to go all out to get him. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run,” said Cashman. [David Lennon]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have spoken to the ChiSox about David Robertson. I assume he’s a backup plan should Chapman and Jansen fall through. The White Sox are rebuilding, and obviously the Yankees know Robertson and are comfortable with him. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 9:30am: Brett Gardner is “seen as a possible fit” for the Orioles, though they’d want the Yankees to eat some money. This sounds like speculation more than anything. I have a hard time thinking Gardner will be traded to a division rival, but who knows. [Heyman]
  • 9:40am: The Yankees are interested in signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract. They’ll need to sign at least one stopgap infielder for Triple-A this offseason, possibly two. Also, the Yankees are trying to re-sign Nick Rumbelow as well. [George King]
  • 10:07am: It sounds as though adding a closer is the team’s top priority, so much so that the Yankees will put all their other business on hold until that’s resolved. They need to see exactly how much money will be left over, I assume. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]
  • 11:23am: The Rockies have agreed to sign Ian Desmond. This is notable because Colorado is forfeiting the 11th overall pick, which means the Yankees move up from 17th to 16th. Here’s the full draft order. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: Along with the Yankees, both the Marlins and Dodgers are in on Chapman and waiting to hear his decision. Chapman is New York’s top target. [Heyman]
  • 12:42pm: I don’t think this will matter, but the Yankees are one of the eight teams included in Jay Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. He could block a trade across town. [James Wagner]
  • 4:57pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to show interest in free agent righty Sergio Romo. If the Yankees miss out on Chapman and Jansen, Romo could be a setup option behind Dellin Betances. [John Shea]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.