Spring Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, A-Rod, Castro, Nova, Davis

Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)
Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training in just six days. Many — or most, it seems — are already in Tampa though, so some early camp notes are starting to trickle in. This is good. I am ready for baseball. Here’s a roundup of recent news and notes from Tampa.

Tanaka begins throwing, may be behind other starters in camp

Masahiro Tanaka has gotten back on a mound after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October. According to Ronald Blum, Tanaka threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium last week in front of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Bryan Hoch says Tanaka played catch in Tampa today. Afterwards he said he needs to “get innings in (to) see how I feel” before knowing whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Dan Martin Tanaka’s “throwing program was right on target,” though Brian Cashman was a bit more conservative. “He will enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons. He may be behind going off the bullpen from the beginning, but he is healthy. There are no issues, there are no hiccups,” said the GM to George King.

CC Sabathia was behind the other starters in Spring Training 2013 after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow early during the 2012 offseason. He was ready to start the season on time; the club limited his bullpen work early in camp, and had him make his first few spring starts in controlled minor league games rather than regular Grapefruit League games. Tanaka could do the same this spring. We’ll see.

“When you pitch a good game, you’re the hero,” said Tanaka, who worked out with his former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates in Japan this offseason, to Brad Lefton. “When you have a bad game, everyone says, ‘Something’s wrong with the elbow.’ There’s no way to handle it other than to just accept that’s the way it’s going to be. If you want to stop such talk, then you just have to go out and keep winning ballgames.”

Sabathia and his knee are feeling great

You can file this in the classic early Spring Training everything is awesome category: CC Sabathia’s knee feels great and he’s doing very well following his stint in an alcohol treatment center, he told Laura Albanese and Mark Feinsand. “I feel great and I’ve been working hard for the last three months and I’m ready to go,” said Sabathia. “I’m excited … This is the best I’ve felt in three years.”

Sabathia, now 35, usually throws year round, but he took a month off from throwing a baseball while in rehab. He’s been throwing off a mound for three weeks now. “I’m definitely in a good place. You’ve never got this thing beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place,” he said. “This is my 16th year in the big leagues and you can take it for granted. This whole experience has put a new lease on my career and the way I’m viewing it.”

I’d be lying if I said I have even medium high hopes for Sabathia this coming season — I’ve done the “overly optimistic about CC” thing a few times these last three years — but I’m glad he feels great and his alcoholism recovery is going well. That goes beyond baseball and he’ll be fighting it the rest of his life. On the field, if the new knee brace allows Sabathia to give the Yankees, say, 180 league average innings in 2016, that would be an enormous upgrade over what he gave them from 2013-15.

Cashman reiterates A-Rod will be a DH only

As if it was not already clear, Cashman reiterated the Yankees see Alex Rodriguez as a DH and a DH only going forward. “You’ve got to stop asking Alex questions,” said Cashman to Billy Witz. “He’s not playing any position anymore. He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH. For us to get maximum value out of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. If we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”

I wish the Yankees would at least entertain the idea of giving Alex some time at first base in Spring Training, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Greg Bird is done for the season, leaving Dustin Ackley as the backup first baseman. It would be nice if A-Rod were at least capable of being an emergency fill-in at first base for a few innings. Alas. The DH spot is his and his alone.

Castro will play some third base in Spring Training

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will have Starlin Castro play some third base in Spring Training this year, Cashman told Ryan Hatch. Castro has not played third since rookie ball years and years ago, and that was only a handful of games. He’s played shortstop most of his career, so he is familiar with being on the left side of the infield. Castro moved to second base last August, and I’m not sure giving him another new position to learn right now is the best idea, but we’ll see.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

Nova wants to start, because duh

Ivan Nova, who is currently sixth on the rotation depth chart, told Martin he wants to start this year but will pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. “I’m a starting pitcher. I’m not a reliever, but if that’s what they tell me to do, that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If I feel bad going to the bullpen, what’s that going to change?”

The Yankees sent Nova to the bullpen briefly last September, but he never did make a relief appearance and instead moved back into the rotation when Tanaka pulled his hamstring. I firmly believe Nova is going to end up making something like 20-25 starts this year. One or three of the other starters will get hurt and he’ll be the guy to step in. The sixth starter always works more than expected, it seems.

Nova, now 29, had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t blame his struggles on the elbow — “Whatever happened last year wasn’t because of the Tommy John. I just didn’t pitch good. If I didn’t feel good, I would have said it,” he said — but I do think it’s fair to expect him to improve as he gets further away from the procedure. That’s common. This is also Ivan’s contract year too. I’m sure he’s extra motivated to pitch well, and the Yankees will happily take it if he does.

Beltran, McCann do not want to play first base

Although both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have briefly played first base for the Yankees, neither wants to do it going forward, they told Anthony McCarron and Brendan Kuty. “No, no, no. I would do anything. Except (play first). It’s a different animal,” said Beltran. McCann added “I don’t think they want me over there. I don’t move too good. I don’t think they want that.”

Both Beltran and McCann have played some first base in pinstripes, so they’re clearly not opposed to the idea, but they don’t want to do it regularly. I understand that. The Yankees shouldn’t want Beltran or McCann to do it at all. Ideally Mark Teixeira stays healthy at first base and mashes taters all season with Ackley backing him up. If it gets to the point where Beltran has to play first, something very bad has happened. By the way, Beltran told Hatch he dropped ten pounds this offseason and joked he “might try and steal some bases this year.”

Cashman confirms Yankees have spoken to Davis

In the wake of Bird’s injury, the Yankees have indeed spoken to free agent Ike Davis, Cashman confirmed to Anthony Rieber. “We’ve talked to Ike Davis. That’s all I can tell you, really. We’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the GM. “Again, in terms of the Greg Bird scenario, we clearly have a need for an everyday first baseman at Scranton. So anybody that we feel is of quality and can fit that bill and is interested and willing to play in Scranton, then we’re going to have those conversations with a number of different people. But we have talked to Ike as well.”

Ken Davidoff says Davis is expected to sign a minor league contract — not necessarily with the Yankees — at some point soon. Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the A’s last season. He is a year removed from a 109 wRC+ season, however. Davis is a dead pull lefty hitter with power, making him a very good third string first base candidate for the Yankees. At this point of the offseason, he’s the best option to replace Bird in Scranton. Steve Simineri explained why the Yankees should side Davis in a guest post recently.

2016 Preseason Top 30 Prospects

The SI Yanks won their division in 2015. (Robert Pimpsner)
The Staten Island Yankees won their division in 2015. (Robert Pimpsner)

For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees relied heavily on their farm system last season. Every time a need arose, the team opted for an internal solution and rarely went outside the organization. Eighteen different players made their big league debut with the Yankees last summer. Eighteen! Some were top prospects and some were organizational fodder. All came from within.

Thanks to all those debuts and the emphasis on the farm system, four of last year’s Top 30 Prospects graduated to the big leagues in 2015: Luis Severino (No. 2), Greg Bird (No. 5), John Ryan Murphy (No. 9), and Chasen Shreve (No. 26). Six other players on last year’s list are no longer in the organization due to trades (Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis, Jose Ramirez, Ramon Flores), waivers (Danny Burawa), and the Rule 5 Draft (Jake Cave). Lots and lots of turnover.

I find this very hard to believe, but this is my tenth Preseason Top 30 Prospects List here are RAB. Time flies, man. We’ve come a long way since the days of Humberto Sanchez and Marcos Vechionacci, haven’t we? All of my previous Top 30 Lists are right here. As a reminder: I am no expert. I’m a guy who reads a lot (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MiLB.com, etc.) and has opinions. That’s all. Disagree and mock me as you please.

As for prospect eligibility, I stick with the MLB rookie limits (50 innings or 130 at-bats) with no attention paid to service time. That stuff is too difficult to track. Ranking prospects is all about balancing upside with probability, stats with scouting reports. There is no perfect mix. Everyone weighs things differently, often from player to player. This is baseball. If you’re batting 1.000 when evaluating players, you aren’t taking enough swings.

I changed the format of this year’s Top 30 Prospects List just a bit to liven things up. Hopefully it works out well. All head shots come from MLB.com or MiLB.com, unless noted otherwise. This year’s Preseason Top 30 Prospects List begins after the jump. Enjoy.
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Mailbag: Roark, Badenhop, Tanaka, Kaprielian, Guerrero

Eleven questions in the mailbag this week. I’ve gotta say, there weren’t many great questions in the inbox this week. Hopefully pitchers and catchers reporting next week will inspire everyone. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send any mailbag questions.

Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Brooks asks: What would it take for the Yankees to get Tanner Roark from the Nationals?  He seems like a great young pitcher who just doesn’t have a spot with that team, plus with Lucas Giolito eventually coming up you would think they might want to move him.  Thanks!

Roark is already 29, so he’s not that young. He was a late blooper who didn’t reach MLB until age 26. Roark had a very good season in 2014 (2.85 ERA and 3.47 FIP) then got knocked back down to Earth a bit last year (4.38 ERA and 4.70 FIP) as the Nationals shuffled him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen.

I’d expect something closer to the 2015 version of Roark going forward, especially in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. He’s neither a big ground ball (career 44.6%) nor strikeout (16.9%) guy, and he lacks a true put-away pitch. Roark is a three-pitch guy (two-seamer, slider, curve) who locates well enough. He is what he is at this point, and that’s a perfectly servicable MLB pitcher.

Right now Washington has Roark penciled in as their No. 4 starter behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, so he’s fairly high on their depth chart. The Nationals could use another starter, a depth outfielder, and bullpen help. Unless they’re going to take something like Ben Gamel and one of the Triple-A relievers, I don’t see a match. The Yankees shouldn’t give up Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller to get a guy like Roark, who I see as a lesser version of Adam Warren.

Dan asks: In 2018, when Harper is a FA, what kind of opt-out do you think he’s going to get? I wouldn’t be comfortable dealing out a $400-500m contract with it being after 2 years (unless the contract was backloaded by a lot). I think I’d be comfortable doing it after year 5, when he’d be 31 years old. You’d think for half a billion dollars, he’d be up for sticking around.

Jason Heyward’s contract with the Cubs includes two opt-outs, but with a catch. He can opt-out after the third year, and if he doesn’t, he can opt-out after the fourth year as long as he reaches a certain number of plate appearances. I have to think Bryce Harper is getting at least ten guaranteed years when he hits free agency, and Scott Boras will surely push for multiple opt-outs. Maybe after years three and five?

These days teams are giving opt-outs to almost everyone, not just the elite free agents — Scott Kazmir and Wei-Yin Chen got opt-outs, for example — so they’re a normal part of the free agent landscape now. To get Harper in three years you’re either going to have to include an opt-out(s) or pay an absurd premium to buy away that right to go back out onto the market. At this point I have a hard time thinking Harper and Boras will take a deal without an opt-out. That’s the cost of doing business nowadays.

Barry asks: Hi Mike, after reading about the Gurriels trying to establish residency in a different country, I started wondering what it would take for a US born player to become eligible as an international player and avoid the draft? Say someone like Bryce Harper realizes how good he is at around the age of 15, could he theoretically establish residency elsewhere or would he need to renounce his citizenship for that to work?

The player would have to renounced their U.S. citizenship. Shortstop Lucius Fox was born in the Bahamas, moved to the United States as a kid and went to high school in Florida, then last year he moved back to the Bahamas so he’d be an international free agent and not draft-eligible. (The Giants gave him a $6.5M bonus.) Fox had Bahamanian citizenship, so this was a special case, not a loophole any player can use. Trust me, if there was a relatively easy way for guys to avoid the draft and become international free agents, Boras and other agents would have figured it out already.

Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

dfed87 asks: The Yankees have a deadly back end of the bullpen, but I think the way the pitching is constructed, they need more pitchers so they don’t get over worked like they were last season. Wouldn’t Burke Badenhop or Ryan Webb make sense for the Yankees? They aren’t the sexiest names, but both are ground ball pitchers who limit walks, and they shouldn’t be expensive. Webb could probably even be had for a minor league contract.

A year or two ago I would have said yes to both, and while I’d bring in almost anyone on a minor league contract, I don’t see Badenhop or Webb as clear middle innings upgrades at this point. Badenhop lost some velocity last year and his ground ball rate plummeted from 61.0% to 46.7%, which is no good when your career strikeout rate is 16.1% (12.6% in 2015).

Webb is very similar to prime Badenhop. He gets a lot of grounders (59.2% in 2015) and limits walks (5.9%), but doesn’t miss bats (15.2 K%), and lefties have historically hit him pretty hard. If the Yankees want to bring one or both guys in for depth, sure. I wouldn’t guarantee them a big league roster spot though. They’ve got to compete for a job in camp. I’m ready to see what these young prospect relievers can do.

John asks: I’m a Comcast subscriber living in NJ and I’m starting to panic about not having a way to watch my team. Is there any new news about a deal? I know MLB has changed the app. Will I be able to watch games from there without a blackout restriction? Any info would be appreciated. Thanks.

I have nothing to pass along, sorry. If I ever come across any updates on the YES-Comcast dispute, they’ll be posted right here at RAB. You’ll be able to steam Yankees games in-market on MLB.tv this season, but you need to subscribe to YES through your cable provider, so that’s not a work-around for the Comcast situation. Hopefully the two sides get this resolved and soon. I wouldn’t wish no Yankees on my worst enemy.

Liam asks: Hey Mike, what do you think the Yankee will do about Tanaka’s opt out after 2017? Hiro will be coming off his age 28 season, and barring any disastrous injuries, he could probably beat the 3/67 remaining on his current contract. With the Yankees seemingly not committing any big money over the next couple years, do you think they will push to re-sign Ma-Kun?

As I’ve been saying since he signed the contract, Masahiro Tanaka will opt-out as long as he’s healthy. Ian Kennedy got five years and $70M this offseason. What’s 28-year-old Tanaka going to get on the open market if he’s healthy? Lots more than the $67M he’d be walking away from, that’s for sure. It’s a no-brainer. As long as his arm is sound — and it might not be in two years — opting out is an easy call.

Right now I’ll say the Yankees will walk away from Tanaka if he opts out. Obviously these next two years will bring important information the Yankees will use to make their final decision, but right now I think they’ll walk away. They will have gotten his age 25-28 seasons and would be in position to redirect the money elsewhere. The Yankees have given out two huge opt-out related contracts in recent years (Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia) and were burned both times. (Don’t forget they signed A.J. Burnett after he opted out of his Blue Jays contract!) I can’t imagine they’re eager to go something like that again.

Ed asks: How can the Yankees best use their financial might without affecting the MLB Payroll and luxury cap?

They’re doing it already. They spent huge internationally two years ago, they’ve added two new minor league affiliates in recent years (the second GCL team and Pulaski), they’ve renovated and upgraded the minor league complex in Tampa, and they’ve beefed up their pro and amateur scouting departments. The facilities at Yankee Stadium are state of the art — video equipment, workout equipment, etc. — so they’re doing what they can behind the scenes. I’m not sure what else the team could do, realistically. The Yankees have indeed pumped a ton of cash into the farm and player development systems the last few seasons while the MLB payroll had held steady.

Eric asks: Under what circumstances, if any, do we see James Kaprielian make a big league start this year? Another way of looking at this question would be to ask what is the major league depth chart at starter? Ie where are we after Nova at 6 right now?

After Ivan Nova the Yankees have Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Cloyd, and Chad Green as rotation depth in some order. I know that doesn’t sound great, but very few clubs have legit MLB caliber starters in the 7-11 slots of their rotation depth chart. I don’t think the Yankees will rush Kaprielian if there’s a need at the MLB level but I do think we could see him this year. He could end up doing something like six starts in High-A, ten starts in Double-A, four starts in Triple-A, then the big leagues if necessary. If Kaprielian does that in the minors and succeeds, I think we’ll see him in September. Surely the team will be able to find a way to squeeze him onto the roster.

Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Alex asks: Any interest in Alex Guerrero?

Only if he comes super cheap. The Dodgers would have to take little in return and pay him down to a $1M a year player. Something along those lines. Guerrero’s really bad. He hit .233/.261/.434 (89 wRC+) last year, but it was a 303 wRC+ in April and a 60 wRC+ (and a .238 OBP) the rest of the way. Guerrero has been a productive big leaguer for basically 28 plate appearances in his career, all last April. He’s a disaster defensively who can’t play anywhere at even a below-average rate, and he’s owed $15M over the next two years. (Guerrero can opt-out of his contract if traded, but he’s not walking away from $15M at this point.) The Dodgers are trying to trade him, but who’s going to take him on? Eventually they’ll just release him and eat the contract. Give Guerrero a minor league deal then. No way would I give up anything of value for him.

Simon asks: Is there a list of recent prospects the Yankees traded that became perennial all-stars?

No, because there aren’t any. The last was … Mike Lowell? I guess Tyler Clippard and Mark Melancon. Both went to two All-Star Games, though that doesn’t qualify as perennial. I’m not going to be heartbroken over trading two great relievers when the Yankees produced David Robertson and Dellin Betances in recent years. Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy became good players, not perennial All-Stars.

The best prospect turned MLB player the Yankees let go in recent years is Jose Quintana, who wasn’t traded. He was allowed to leave as a minor league free agent. I don’t think Quintana would have developed into what he has become away from White Sox pitching coach/cutter guru Don Cooper, but the Yankees clearly mis-evaluated him. They let Quintana walk to keep guys like Kevin Whelan and Brandon Laird and Melky Mesa on the 40-man roster. Hindsight is 20-20, but yeah, the Yankees goofed there. The Yankees haven’t traded many prospects they truly regret the last 15 years or so. I’m not missing anyone obvious, am I?

Ryan asks: If Sanchez makes the team, what do you think the workload will be like for McCann? I see him being behind the plate for maybe 110 games and then some games at 1st and DH.

I don’t think Brian McCann‘s workload will change at all. It might have had the Yankees held onto John Ryan Murphy, who showed last year he’s an MLB caliber player perhaps capable of handling more playing time. The Yankees don’t know exactly what they have in Gary Sanchez yet and they’re not going to figure that out in Spring Training or the first few weeks of the regular season. It takes time. McCann started 119 games behind the plate last year and that’s right in line with his career average (117.5). I think he’ll start another 115-120 games behind the plate again, leaving 42-47 for Sanchez. The 2017 season is when Sanchez could start stealing more starts from McCann.

Yankees outright Lane Adams to Triple-A

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have outrighted outfielder Lane Adams to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He has been invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player. The Yankees will now have 26 non-roster players in camp.

Adams, 26, was claimed off waivers from the Royals last month, then designated for assignment last week when the Yankees hilariously re-claimed Ronald Torreyes off waivers from the Angels. The team originally designated Torreyes for assignment when they claimed Adams last month. Got all that?

In 140 games split between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Adams hit .275/.342/.436 (115 wRC+) with 16 home runs and 31 steals in 140 games. He started the year at Triple-A before having to be demoted due to poor performance. Adams has six games of big league experience, all with Kansas City in 2014.

The Yankees currently have four Triple-A outfielders (Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams), so Lane could end up starting the season in Double-A. That assumes everyone makes it through camp in one piece and no one wins that last big league bench spot. Either way, Lane is way down the outfield depth chart.

Thursday Night Open Thread

You may have seen this by now, but if not, John Harper spoke to Brian Cashman, who broke down the Yankees’ offseason. He talks in detail about the trades they did make, and also discussed some other stuff that didn’t work out. I recommend giving that link a good old clickin’.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only look sports club in action, and there are only two college hoops games on the schedule as well. So talk about any of those three games, the Harper story, or anything else right here.