Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are both playing tonight, and there are a few college basketball games on as well. Talk about those games, the Winter Meetings, or anything else here as long as it is not religion or politics.
The first two days of the Winter Meetings have been pretty eventful for the Yankees. On Monday they introduced Giancarlo Stanton with a press conference in Orlando. Then yesterday they salary dumped Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell) on the Padres. What will today bring? I’m not sure. All I know is the Yankees have been popped up in an awful lot rumors this week.
“We all know we have a stated desire to upgrade our starting pitching,” said Brian Cashman to George King yesterday. “We have more flexibility today than prior to (the Headley trade). We did it with knowledge that we have some hungry, talented, and inexperienced kids ready to prove they can take that next step. But at the same time there might be some opportunities that might exist via free agency or trade.”
On Monday and Tuesday the Yankees were connected to basically every possibly available starting pitcher, including Gerrit Cole, Danny Duffy, and Michael Fulmer. Also, we learned they touched base with Todd Frazier after the Headley trade. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updated. All timestamps are ET.
- 2:08pm: The Yankees are “possibly” in the mix for Eduardo Nunez. I figured this was coming at some point. They need help at second and third bases and Nunez can play either. Not well, but he can stand there. [Heyman]
- 2:02pm: Right now the Yankees are focused on adding a starting pitcher and Todd Frazier is on the back-burner. He could be someone they pursue more aggressively if they shed more money. [Sherman]
- 1:57pm: The Yankees are one of ten teams on Ian Kinsler’s no-trade list. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d reject a deal to New York, of course. Would he want something (i.e. an extension) in exchange for waiving the no-trade clause though? [Sherman]
- 1:47pm: Jabari Blash, who came over in the Headley trade, may wind up with a team in Japan. I get the sense he is not long for the 40-man roster either way. [David Waldstein]
- 10:50am: In addition to Patrick Corbin, the Yankees have also talked to the Diamondbacks about infielder Brandon Drury. The 25-year-old hit .267/.317/.447 (92 wRC+) this season while playing second, third, and left field. [Sherman]
- 9:43am: Hoping for a Michael Pineda reunion? Well, don’t. He’s inked a two-year deal worth $10M with the Twins, the team announced. They’ll rehab him in 2018 and hope he can help in 2019.
- 9:00am: The Yankees are among the teams interested in Manny Machado, who is available. Those involved say a trade is unlikely, however. I can’t imagine Orioles owner Peter Angelos would okay a trade sending Machado to the Yankees. [Buster Olney, Joel Sherman]
- 9:00am: The Yankees are still talking to CC Sabathia about he a reunion. He did meet with the Blue Jays yesterday though, a few days after meeting with the Angels. Hmmm. [Jon Heyman, George King]
(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)
In 2016, the Yankees sold at the trade deadline, signaling time for a rebuild. A year later? The tables had turned with the Yankees as buyers looking to bolster a club already in playoff contention.
Through two big deals and a few smaller ones, Brian Cashman was able to give the Bombers an extra boost they needed for the stretch run, October and beyond.
In one move, the Yankees solved multiple problems. Need another corner infielder in case Greg Bird doesn’t come back? There’s Frazier. Need to bolster the bullpen that’s gotten slightly overused? Robertson and Kahnle. It was a perfect move.
It did cost the Yankees, but not irreparably. They had to deal Rutherford just a year after drafting him in the first round. While he has plenty of potential, he’s yet to show any power. Clarkin and Polo likely wouldn’t have been protected in the Rule 5 draft, so they were expendable (Clarkin was added to the White Sox’ 40-man, Polo was not after getting hurt in the Arizona Fall League).
And somehow Tyler Clippard got himself traded to the Astros and won a World Series ring. Go figure.
We’ve already written about Frazier, D-Rob and Kahnle‘s respective impact in our season review series, but each has potential impact beyond this season. Robertson is under contract for 2018 while Kahnle won’t be a free agent until 2021. That’s a lot of value, even if the Yankees don’t re-sign the ToddFather.
As far as 2017, they each filled their roles to a tee. Frazier fixed the Yankees’ last hole in the lineup and brought energy to the club (Thumbs Down!). Robertson and Kahnle were studs down the stretch and in the postseason.
Yankees receive: Jaime Garcia
Twins receive: Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell
Garcia represented a fill-in for the Yankees’ rotation, an extra arm to allow Jordan Montgomery to throw fewer innings in the second half. As a rental, there was no expectation of him sticking around and it’s not like the Yankees expected him to start in the postseason.
He ultimately gave the Yanks 37 1/3 kinda-sorta average innings over eight forgettable starts before throwing 2 2/3 innings in ALDS Game 1. Remember that outing? He wasn’t bad, walking two and striking out three while absorbing eight outs.
Enns made two appearances for the Twins, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits over four innings. He was probably getting DFA’d or outrighted in the offseason, so he was highly expendable.
Littell less so. The 22-year-old righty acquired for James Pazos had a remarkable year between High-A and Double-A in 2017. Between the Yankees’ and Twins’ organizations, he threw 157 innings, struck out 142 and had a 2.12 ERA while going 19-1.
He is a new member of the Twins’ 40-man roster. He may not have made the Yankees’ roster this offseason, but he could be someone the Yanks regret dealing.
This deal made all the sense in the world. Getting 2.5 years of Gray for three prospects, two of whom were injured and one likely blocked.
Who knows if Kaprielian can stay healthy at this point? He has the stuff to pitch in the majors if he ever does stay on the mound, but that’s seeming less and less likely. Fowler had a pretty bad knee injury and the Yankees had Clint Frazier, not to mention Gardner, Judge, Hicks and Ellsbury in the majors (and now Giancarlo!).
Mateo seemed to have broken out after reaching Double A Trenton, but he was blocked by plenty of outfielders, just like Fowler.
So the Yankees dealt from a position of strength and added Gray, who had two playoff starts after a solid end to the season. He had some homer issues, but he’s still a good middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Yankees and much more affordable than similar arms on the current free-agent market. Even with the strong potential of all three players given up, it’s a deal the Yankees should make every time.
The other trades
– While the Yankees picked up bonus money in the Gray deal, they also dealt two possible Rule 5 picks for extra money in July. They dealt RHPs Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez to the Orioles for a lot of Baltimore’s pool as the O’s don’t really wade into the international market.
Considering the fact that Shohei Ohtani is now a Los Angeles Angel, these moves didn’t quite work out. The Yankees can still use some of the pool on other prospects, including the few remaining ex-Braves, but they couldn’t reel in the big fish of the international market and are left holding a little too much bonus money. Oh well.
– In exchange for Rob Refsnyder, the Yanks acquired Double A first baseman Ryan McBroom in mid-July. Refsnyder had been DFA’d and McBroom was a non-prospect. He did fill a hole as depth after the team had run through multiple first basemen in the majors. McBroom had previously hit some homers against the Trenton Thunder, so it was good to get him out of the opposing dugout.
– Along the same lines as the McBroom deal, the Yankees dealt LHP Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper. Cooper filled in for Chris Carter/Greg Bird for a month or so before going down with injuries. Webb gave up a grand slam on literally his first pitch with the Brewers. Seriously!
– Lastly, at the waiver deadline, the Yankees acquired Erik Kratz from the Cleveland Indians to be their depth catcher. He had two hits in two at-bats, produced 0.1 WAR and mostly rode the bench before being outrighted off the roster this offseason.
For next year, the Yankees still have Gray, Kahnle and Robertson as well as, to a lesser extent, McBroom and the bonus pool money. McBroom is hitting over .400 in Mexico right now!
But at the 2017 deadline, Cashman acquired a starter and two late-inning relievers for 2018. He has plenty of prospects left if he wants to add further at next season’s deadline.
As for the prospects traded away, it’ll be nice to see what Fowler can do in the majors this year. The rest of the prospects dealt are either further away from the show or are unlikely to even reach the majors in 2018. Regardless, monitoring their development from afar will be a pleasant side gig for Yankees fans.
The Yankees have (for the best of reasons) unexpectedly found themselves in need of a second baseman and/or a third baseman. That is, unless you expect them to go into 2018 with a rookie at one of those positions, and Ronald Torreyes at the other; suffice it to say that I don’t. Barring a trade for Manny Machado, the free agent market may be the best place to go for a short-term and palatable solution. And Neil Walker – who the Yankees allegedly backed out of a deal for at the trade deadline – is probably the best option.
Walker has rather quietly put together a solid eight-year career. A switch-hitter, he owns a career .272/.341/.437 line (115 wRC+) in over four-thousand plate appearances, and he hasn’t posted a wRC+ below 106 since his 40 PA cup of coffee in 2009. He’s been rather consistent, too, with his wRC+ checking in between 106 and 130 in each of his full seasons. And the last two years have been no exception:
The discrepancy in his power and walk rate do stick out a little bit, but those represent the largest swings in his career. Moreover, neither is the negative sort of outlier that suggests a decline, or anything of that nature – and his .174 ISO in 2017 was still a tick above his career ISO, so it isn’t as if his power is disappearing.
Walker’s performance against LHP does stick out like a sore thumb, and does appear to make a liar out of me, regarding his consistency. However, 2016 is the outlier here, as he has always been much better against righties. He has a 121 wRC+ against righties for his career, as compared to a 91 against southpaws. Walker might be best-suited as a platoon option, and that’s essentially how he has been used over the last several seasons.
It’s as a LHH that Walker hits for most of his power, and he does so to the pull side. Take a look as his spray chart as a LHH for the last two seasons:
Just under 45% of his batted balls go to right or right center, but he’s still tough to shift against as he is more than capable of driving pitches back up the middle. As per FanGraphs, he’s only see the shift in 414 PA for his career, and he has a career .323 against it (including .285 last year). Both points suggest that his bat would play well in Yankee Stadium … and he does have 2 HR and a 1.031 OPS in 21 PA there.
Walker is a second baseman by trade, and the metrics are all over the place. He has been a tick below-average there overall, with career rates of -2 DRS/150 and -3.7 UZR/150. He hasn’t been consistent on that side of the ball, though:
- 2015: -2 DRS, -8.8 UZR/150
- 2016: 0 DRS, 11.1 UZR/150
- 2017: -5 DRS, -2.1 UZR/150
Over the last three years he has been anywhere between awful and awesome, and the two go-to defensive metrics disagree with each other within each season. The reality is likely that he is a tick below-average but competent at the keystone.
He is somewhat versatile, as well, having logged 86.1 innings at first and 34.1 innings at third this year. It was his first time playing a position other than second since 2010, but he played both positions in the minors. Walker actually came up as a third baseman, and has played 444 games at the hot corner in his professional career. The sample sizes at the big league level are small and spread out over several years, so it’s tough to take much away from them (they’re not good, though). Whether or not he could be counted on to play either position for an extended period of time is an open-ended question.
The Yankees backed out of the deal for Walker due to his slow recovery from a partially torn hamstring, which kept him out for about six weeks over the summer. That wasn’t his first brush with the injury bug, either, as he missed the last month of 2016 with a back injury, which required surgery. Walker has missed time in almost every season with nagging injuries, but those are the two big baseball-related ones. This is probably the biggest knock against him as a free agent, as he’s 32 and has missed a month and change with injuries in back-to-back seasons.
Walker is said to be looking for a four-year deal, but there are no dollar figures tied to that just yet. MLB Trade Rumors went with 2-years, $20 MM, and FanGraphs’ Crowdsourcing projected 3-years, $39 MM. Last year’s market saw just two non-first base infielders get multiyear deals: Sean Rodriguez (2-years, $11 MM), Luis Valbuena (2-years, $15 MM), and Justin Turner (4-years, $64 MM). If the market unfolds similarly, one has to imagine that he’d be closer to Turner than to Valbuena or Rodriguez. Given that and his injuries, I think the FanGraphs number is close to the mark.
Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?
Walker checks pretty much every box if the Yankees are looking for a veteran at second – he hits, he works the count, he hits for power, he’s a capable defender, he’s a switch-hitter, and he might have some defensive versatility. The injuries would need to be looked into thoroughly, and his struggles against lefties might mean that Torreyes plays more than we’d like – but I don’t think either is a dealbreaker.
The issue is money. Brian Cashman has $30+ MM to play with, which means that he could easily fit in this year, even with a $13 MM price tag – and I could even see next year working out, with some finagling. But adding a third year is undoubtedly out of the question. If he’s available for the MLBTR projection, I’d be all-in; if he won’t settle for anything less than three-years, I’d be out. And I’m confident that the Yankees will be, too.
Within the last week the Yankees have added the reigning NL MVP, traded away their starting second and third basemen, and freed up some payroll space under the $197M luxury tax threshold. It’s been a busy few days. And the Yankees aren’t done either. Yesterday’s Chase Headley salary dump was so very clearly a precursor to something else. The Yankees cleared that $13M in salary obligation so they could use it elsewhere.
Starting pitching was a priority coming into the winter and, even after these busy few days, it remains a priority. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery are a quality top four. The best top four in the AL East, I’d say. But the fifth spot is open and the Yankees might want to handle that top four carefully given their big 2017 workloads. There’s even talk the Yankees could acquire two starting pitchers this offseason, not just one.
One name floating around over the last 24 hours or so is Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, who beat out Gary Sanchez for the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year award, not that I’m still bitter or anything. The Tigers are dreadful — they went 64-98 in 2017 and went 13-41 of their final 54 games, if you can believe that — and they’re just now starting their rebuild, so keeping Fulmer means hoping he stays healthy the next few years before they’re ready to contend. That’s risky.
The Yankees certainly have the prospects to trade for Fulmer — “There are a handful of teams out there that have the players to do it,” said Tigers GM Al Avila to Jason Beck earlier this week about the possibility of a trade — plus they have the motivation. He’s good, he’s young, he’s cheap, and he’s under control for a while. Fulmer would help the Yankees win now and later. Let’s break him down as a trade candidate, shall we?
Fulmer’s sophomore season was not quite as good as his 2016 debut, though he was still effective and a quality starting pitcher. Here are the overall numbers the last two seasons:
|IP||ERA||FIP||K%||BB%||GB%||HR/9||RHB wOBA||LHB wOBA|
Very good overall. Fulmer is more of a ground ball guy that a strike out guy, and while the Yankees tend to seek out pitchers who can get both, I think they’d be willing to bet on Fulmer being able to increase his strikeout rate going forward through various tweaks and pitch selection changes, things like that. His quality of contact rates held steady from 2016 to 2017:
2016 hard contact rate: 30.4% (31.4% league average)
2017 hard contact rate: 30.0% (31.0% league average)
2016 soft contact rate: 19.2% (18.8% league average)
2017 soft contact rate: 18.1% (18.9% league average)
2016 average exit velocity: 87.0 mph (87.7 mph league average)
2017 average exit velocity: 85.7 mph (86.6 mph league average)
The biggest difference between 2016 Fulmer and 2017 Fulmer is strand rate. He had a 79.0% strand rate in 2016 and a 65.6% strand rate in 2017. The league average is 72.6%. Strand rate is a pitcher skill but only to a certain degree. A lot of is tied to sequencing and general baseball randomness. Sometimes you give up a walk, a bloop, and a blast. Others you give up a blast, a bloop, and a walk.
Strand rate can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year, like it did for Fulmer. Chances are his true talent strand rate is somewhere between 2016 and 2017, which would put him at basically the league average. The decline in strikeout rate could certainly explain the strand rate drop to some degree — fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, and inevitably more hits falling in — but a 3.5 percentage point drop in strikeout rate and a 13.4 percentage point drop in strand rate? Nah. The strikeout rate doesn’t explain all that.
The tools are there for Fulmer to be successful and he has been successful in his MLB career to date. He doesn’t walk many batters and he gets an above-average number of ground balls. That’s a pretty great starting point for a guy who doesn’t turn 25 until March. Fulmer did strike out hitters at a below-average rate in his two seasons, though not so far below-average that it’s a big red flag. It’s not like he was running a 10.6% strikeout rate like Ty Blach, you know?
Fulmer is a no nonsense pitcher. He throws everything hard. His four-seamer and sinker both sit in the mid-90s, and both his slider and changeup sit in the upper-80s. He’s not unlike Severino in terms of velocity. Everything is hard. And Fulmer throws all four pitches regularly.
That pitch mix is why Fulmer has had success against both righties and lefties in his career. He has a quality slider for righties and a quality changeup for lefties, and there’s plenty of velocity on the two fastballs for everyone. Here’s some video from his past season, just so you can see what Fulmer’s stuff looks like:
Most of Fulmer’s swings and misses came on sliders and changeups down in the zone. There aren’t many on fastballs up in the zone or even up and out of the zone. Fulmer generally pounds the bottom of the strike zone with everything, hence the ground balls. There’s something to be said for elevating and changing eye levels though. The Red Sox helped Rick Porcello win a Cy Young (lol) by getting him to elevate his heater, so there is precedent for acquiring a talented young Tigers pitcher, making that adjustment, and reaping the rewards.
Fulmer does have a bit of an injury history, including a pair of elbow surgeries. Neither was Tommy John surgery though. Here are his injuries:
- 2013: Surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee.
- 2014: Surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow after the season.
- 2017: Missed a week with shoulder fatigue, then missed two weeks with elbow irritation, then had season-ending ulnar nerve transposition surgery in early-September.
I suppose the good news is Fulmer’s elbow is structurally sound. They ran all the tests when his elbow starting barking and everything came back clean. The ulnar nerve transposition surgery means they literally moved a nerve to a different spot to avoid irritation. Jacob deGrom had the same procedure last offseason and was ready for Opening Day, and had a great season. Fulmer is expected to ready for Spring Training. Still though, there are a few too many arm injuries in there for such a young guy.
The Tigers called Fulmer up late last April, which was late enough to push his free agency back a year, so that’s cool. He is under team control for another five seasons, so through 2022. Fulmer will be a Super Two — he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time next year — so his arbitration years will be more expensive than usual, but the most important thing is those five years of control. You’re getting this guy for five seasons before he can become a free agent.
Also, Fulmer has two minor league options remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A, if necessary. Then again, if you trade for him and need to send him down, something went wrong. You don’t want to have to use those options.
What Would It Take?
Acquiring five years of a young and very good starting pitcher is going to cost you, no doubt. You’re not getting Fulmer for some 40-man roster scraps, even with him currently on the mend from elbow surgery. Not too many guys like Fulmer get traded, so I had a tough time coming up with trade benchmarks. I found two.
- Max Scherzer: Traded with a lefty reliever (Daniel Schlereth) for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson in a three-team deal way back in the day. This was a few years before he became three-time Cy Young award winner Max freaking Scherzer.
- Michael Pineda: Traded for a top five global prospect (Jesus Montero) with some other players (Vicente Campos and Hector Noesi) involved. You remember this trade.
I’m not sure those trades help us much. Then Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was supposedly fixated on getting Montero. He went to the Yankees asking for Montero, and the Yankees named their price. The Yankees didn’t go to Zduriencik asking for Pineda. Simple supply and demand will control Fulmer’s market. The more teams in the mix, the more expensive he’ll be.
Avila will surely ask for Gleyber Torres. That’s what I’d do. Ask for Gleyber, see what happens, and if you have to negotiate down from there, so be. The Giancarlo Stanton trade likely makes Clint Frazier very available. Can the Yankees build a trade package around Frazier and some lesser secondary pieces? Or will the Tigers push for that strong secondary piece, like Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams? Whatever they want, it’ll hurt. Guys like Fulmer should be hard to get.
Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?
For sure. Fulmer is young, he’s very good, and he’s under control for five more years. Five more years! He’s also received positive reviews for his work ethic and competitiveness throughout his pro career. The arm injuries are an obvious red flag, though at least his recent elbow woes are not structural, and involve a procedure with recent precedent for a pitcher quickly coming back at full strength (deGrom).
I get the decline in strikeouts is a concern, though I think that is something can be solved with tweaks to Fulmer’s pitch selection and approach, namely using that fastball up in the zone more often. His power stuff is great. The tools to get strikeouts are there. It’s just a matter of a young pitcher gaining experience. That sort of thing. Fulmer is not a Nathan Eovaldi type who throws hard and gets hit hard. He’s been quite successful doing what he’s been doing.
Now, the elephant in the room is the brawlgame with the Tigers this summer. That all started when Fulmer drilled Sanchez in the third game of a three-game series in which Sanchez was whacking monster home runs all over the park. Was it intentional? Maybe not. But it sure seemed fishy. If the Yankees were to make a trade for Fulmer, I would think they’d go to Sanchez first, and see what he thinks. If there’s a grudge there, it might be a problem.
The J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton trades were widely panned this summer because pundits did not believe the Tigers received enough, especially for Martinez and Verlander. Will Avila try to make up for that by knocking it out of the park with an Fulmer trade, or is there is a disconnect somewhere? Do the Tigers value their players less than everyone else, or are they overrating everyone else’s prospects? Does anyone know anything or anything, or all we all just faking it?
If nothing else, Brian Cashman and the Yankees have shown they are pretty excellent dealmakers these last few years. They came out on the wrong end of the Eovaldi trade. There’s no doubt about that. But look at all the other trades they’ve made. Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Chapman again, now Stanton. If the Yankees deem Fulmer worth pursuing, I trust Cashman & Co. to make a good trade.
The Kratzken is back. The Yankees have re-signed journeyman catcher Erik Kratz to what I assume is a minor league contract, his representatives at JMG Baseball announced. He was on the roster as the third catcher in September after coming over in a cash trade with the Indians. The Yankees outrighted him and he elected free agency after the season.
Kratz, 37, went 2-for-2 with a double in September and is the all-time franchise leader with a 2.500 OPS (min. two plate appearances). True story. Kratz hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 86 Triple-A games before the trade. He is a career .203/.250/.366 (63 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues, though 24 homers in 649 plate appearances is pretty cool.
My guess is the Yankees are penciling Kratz in as Kyle Higashioka‘s backup with Triple-A Scranton next year, though I suppose it is possible he will get a chance to wrestle the big league backup job away from Austin Romine. Kratz traveled with the Yankees throughout the postseason even though he wasn’t on the roster. He must’ve made a nice impression.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. You folks all know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.