Anyway, here is the nightly open thread. The Rangers and Islanders are playing each other in a relatively big game — big for the middle of the season, anyway — and there’s some college hoops on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed veteran catcher Eddy Rodriguez to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to Spring Training. Teams always bring extra catchers to camp anyway simply because they need guys to catch all those early-spring bullpen sessions.
Rodriguez, 29, is a long-time minor league journeyman who has only played two games in the big leagues, both with the Padres in 2012. He hit a homer in his first career at-bat (video) and that is his only career MLB hit to date. Neat. Rodriguez appeared in 13 games for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate last summer before being released in May.
As you might suspect, Rodriguez is not much of a hitter. He has a .235/.286/.386 (71 wRC+) batting line in 598 minor league games since being drafted in the 20th round by the Reds in 2006. The Nichols Law of Catcher Defense says he must be a good defender then, and he has in fact thrown out 33% of attempted base-stealers in his minor league career. If the Yankees targeted him, I’m guessing E-Rod can frame the hell outta some pitches too. The Yankees love their pitch-framers.
It’s a minor move, but signing Rodriguez is notable because he is basically Austin Romine‘s replacement. Romine is out of minor league options, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without clearing waivers, so I’m guessing he’ll either be traded or lost on waivers at the end of Spring Training, assuming Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy don’t get hurt. Rodriguez is now the odds on favorite to back up Gary Sanchez in Triple-A and be the emergency third catcher.
Time to “empty out the notebook,” so to speak. I have a whole bunch of miscellaneous links lying around that are worth passing along but aren’t necessarily worth their own individual post. So, here are some Yankees-related notes from around the web.
New commissioner will look to ban infield shifts
On Saturday, Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner officially ended and new commish Rob Manfred came into power. Manfred told Jerry Crasnick that youth outreach, pace of play, and improving labor relations are among the first items on his agenda. He also said he is open to banning infield shifts (video link). Here’s what he said about getting rid of infield shifts:
“I would be aggressive about using the (pitch clock) over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along,” said Manfred to ESPN. “I think the second set of changes I would look at is related, and that related to injected additional offense into the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.
“Look, we have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” added Manfred. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say ‘is this what we want to happen in the game.'”
Jeff Passan ran Manfred’s quote by “two sabermetrically inclined GMs” and both agreed with dumping shifts because “the game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want,” and there’s concern within the industry that baseball isn’t delivering. (That makes me wonder how many lefty pull hitters those GMs have on their rosters!)
I understand why many people want them gone but I am not a fan of eliminating shifts, personally. It’s basically a ban on creativity and that is bad regardless of industry. The MLB-wide batting average on balls in play has not changed at all over the last two decades even as shifts became popular, and I think teams with better information — or maybe I should say more willing to use that information to try something outside the box — should be allowed to use it.
If MLB wants to improve offense — and I am 100% all for that — I think they should start with fixing the strike zone and not having it depend on who’s catching and who the umpire is. Forcing relievers to face at least two batters and thus eliminating matchup specialists could be another idea. Telling players where to stand on the field is not something the commissioner’s office should control. Let teams position defenders where the hitter is likely to hit it. What’s wrong with that?
Pirela okay after taking pitch to hand in winter ball
During a recent winter ball postseason game in Venezuela, utility man Jose Pirela took a pitch off his right hand and had to exit the game. He went for x-rays after the soreness lingered and they showed no fracture, reports Chad Jennings. “He’s all good to go,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler. Pirela was shut down from winter ball play as a precaution but has already resumed working out.
Pirela, 25, hit .296/.394/.515 with 11 doubles, four triples, six homers, 26 walks, and 30 strikeouts in 47 winter ball games. He’ll come to Spring Training on the outside of the big league roster looking in — I still don’t expect the Yankees to cut Brendan Ryan, extra shortstops are useful — but with a chance to put himself in position to be the first position player called up. Pirela’s done nothing but hit these last few years and his versatility is a plus as well.
Kiley McDaniel’s massive farm system breakdown
Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel is in the middle of a series looking at each organization’s farm system from top to bottom. He covered the Yankees earlier this week and the write-up is massive, nearly 10,000 words. It runs 68 (!) players deep and McDaniel said it “may be the deepest system in the game.” Needless to say, the write-up comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.
Best of all, McDaniel also posted a ton of video at FG’s YouTube channel. He has clips of all the usual suspects there (OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, C Gary Sanchez, etc.) and also some hard-to-find video of several of New York’s recent international signings, like OF Leonardo Molina, OF Jonathan Amundaray, and OF Juan DeLeon. (3B Dermis Garcia is embedded above.) Some of the videos span multiple years, so you can see how the players have changed over time. It’s a goldmine. Check it out.
YES ratings up 10% in 2014
For the 11th time in the last 12 years, the YES Network was the most-watched regional sports network in the country in 2014. Ratings were up 10% overall and 16% during primetime, the network announced. YES averaged 58,000 households during primetime in New York last season — game broadcasts averaged 223,000 households — blowing MSG (41,000) and SNY (30,000) out of the water. Pre- and post-game rated were up 25% and 23%, respectively.
Obviously some of that improvement is due to Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour, but not all of it. I’m sure Masahiro Tanaka‘s arrival boosted ratings a ton as well. Same with Carlos Beltran, who is more or less the most popular active player from Puerto Rico. Either way, lots of people were watching the Yankees last season. Lots more than 2013, that’s for sure.
Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 11-14, 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.
As we enter the top ten of our 40-man roster rankings, we’ve reached the cornerstone players. The guys who are under contract or team control for multiple years and are expected to be key contributors going forward. Everyday players, no-doubt starting pitchers, late-inning relievers. The core of the roster.
Today we’ll cover Nos. 6-10, which are something of a mixed bag with three position players and two pitchers. But, again, these guys are all going to play major roles for the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and 2017 Yankees, if not longer. Maybe not the stars of the show, but the best of the supporting cast. To the next group of rankings …
No. 10: Andrew Miller
2015 Role: High-leverage reliever. Maybe even closer. It remains to be seen exactly how the late innings will shake out, though there is no doubt Miller will factor into the eighth and/or ninth inning somehow. He’s left-handed but no lefty specialist — Miller is a very high-strikeout pitcher who dominates both righties and lefties. Joe Girardi won’t have to worry about platoon matchups when using his new bullpen toy.
Long-Term Role: The same, high-leverage reliever. The Yankees gave Miller a four-year contract worth $9M annually to replace David Robertson — Robertson got a bigger contract from the White Sox and New York gained a draft pick in the process — which maybe wasn’t the most popular sequence of events, but it was a sound baseball move. At age 29, Miller should have multiple peak years remaining before fading into a LOOGY later in his career. Then again, relievers age differently than everyone else. Either way, Miller was given that contract to be a factor in the late innings.
No. 9: Chase Headley
2015 Role: Starting third baseman. Make no mistake, the Yankees didn’t re-sign Headley to be a part-time player and Headley didn’t come back to the Yankees to be anything less than the starter at the hot corner. There is no third base competition between Headley and Alex Rodriguez. The job is Headley’s. The Yankees have made it abundantly clear.
As the starting third baseman, Headley will be expected to be a two-way threat. His defense is his best tool and he’s well-above-average at third. We all saw it last year. Headley’s offense is more of a question. He hit .243/.328/.372 (103 wRC+) with 13 homers overall last year, down from .250/.347/.400 (114 wRC+) with 13 homers in 2013 and .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers during his career year in 2012. The 2012 version of Headley ain’t coming back, but the 2013 version sure would be nice.
Long-Term Role: The third base job is Headley’s going forward even with 2013 first rounder Eric Jagielo slated to open the season at Double-A. (Jagielo has to work on his glovework before we have to worry about him displacing Headley.) The Yankees gave Headley a nice four-year contract worth $52M that I think we’re going to look back on next offseason and say it’s one hell of a deal. There are no good third basemen set to hit free agency these next few years.
Ideally, Headley would slot in not as a middle of the order guy, but into the sixth or even seventh spot of the lineup. He did hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 58 games for New York after hitting .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 77 games for the Padres last summer, and there’s no doubt moving from spacious Petco Park into tiny Yankee Stadium will help his offense. Headley is right in the prime of his career at age 30, and hopefully the guy we saw in the second half is the guy we’ll see the next four years. Maybe with more power too.
No. 8 Brett Gardner
2015 Role: Everyday left fielder and table-setter for the rest of the lineup. Derek Jeter‘s retirement means Girardi is free to use Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury — two leadoff hitters by trade — in the one-two spots of the lineup, in whatever order that may be. Gardner’s role is simple: catch everything in left and get on base for the middle of the order. If he hits 17 homers again like he did last year, great! But I don’t think that’ll happen.
Long-Term Role: Same thing, everyday left fielder and someone who hits high in the order. The Yankees finally got with the times and put an end to that silly “no extensions” rule last spring by signing Gardner to a four-year, $52M contract. That extension starts this year — the four-year contract was tacked on top of his existing one-year deal for 2014 — which means Gardner is locked up through his age 34 season. The Yankees have always spoken highly of him and they put their money where their mouth is last year.
No. 7: Nathan Eovaldi
2015 Role: Innings eater. Eovaldi, who turns 25 next month, will have a full-time rotation spot this coming season, though sticking a number on him (No. 2 starter, No. 3 starter, etc.) is pointless. He’s going to get the ball every fifth day and be counting on for innings, like the 199.2 he threw for the Marlins last year.
There’s more to the story though. In addition to eating innings, the Yankees will work with Eovaldi to get better results out of his high-end stuff. It’s a development year as well. No soon-to-be 25-year-old pitcher is a finished product. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi with the idea of getting good innings out of him now and great innings out of him later.
Long-Term Role: Frontline starter, or close to it. That might be a little too much to ask. I’m sure the Yankees would be thrilled if Eovaldi developed in a consistent above-average innings eater, a guy good for 200+ innings and, say, a 3.50-ish ERA. They paid a good price to get him in a five-player trade with the Marlins – second baseman Martin Prado and the generally reliable David Phelps — and control Eovaldi’s rights through 2017. The plan is to get good innings this year and dominant innings by 2017. Eovaldi’s development is critical to the future of New York’s rotation.
No. 6: Brian McCann
2015 Role: Starting catcher and middle of the order power source. McCann’s first year in pinstripes was a mostly disappointing mixed bag. His defense was very good — he threw out 37.2% of attempted base-stealers and again ranked as one of the game’s elite pitch-framers — as expected, and while he provided power at the plate (team-high 23 homers), his overall .232/.286/.406 (92 wRC+) line was less than hoped.
This coming season, the soon-to-be 31-year-old McCann will again handle everyday duties behind the plate. The Yankees are also hoping for a rebound at the plate, that his poor 2014 season was simply the result of moving to a new league and having to learn an entirely new pitching staff. With any luck, McCann will be more comfortable this time around and get back to being the guy he was with the Braves, who put up a 119-123 wRC+ four times in five years before coming to New York. He’s expected to drive in runs and lots of ‘em.
Long-Term Role: There are four years left on McCann’s contract and the reality is that there aren’t many everyday catchers at age 34+, which McCann will be in the last year of his contract. Since 2000, only 41 catchers age 34 or over have managed 400+ plate appearances in a season, and most of them were flat out awful. Here’s the list.
At some point the Yankees will have to scale back on McCann’s workload behind the plate, and it could start this year. That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the lineup — McCann could always DH, and, as we saw last year, the team is open to sticking him at first for a day — just that they have to protect him from the wear and tear of catching. They knew that going into the contract.
So, McCann’s long-term role is starting catcher and mentor to John Ryan Murphy, the obvious in-house candidate to take over as the No. 1 catcher down the road (unless Gary Sanchez shows marked improvement behind the plate this year). The perfect world scenario would be a Girardi/Jorge Posada-esque apprenticeship, where McCann’s time behind the plate gradually decreases and Murphy increases these next four years. No matter how many games he catches, McCann’s power is an important competent for the team’s offense.
Coming Wednesday: Nos. 3-5. Three young players, all with less than two full years of MLB experience, expected to be part of the core of the next great Yankees team.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The NHL is still on their All-Star break, but the Knicks and Nets are playing, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, the snow, or anything else right here.
This is only the second time in the last ten years New York has held three of the top 57 picks. The other instance came two years ago, when they landed 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, and LHP Ian Clarkin with their first rounder and the compensation picks for Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano. Here are some miscellaneous draft notes.
MLB.com’s Top 50 Draft Prospects
MLB.com has published their first round of 2015 draft prospect rankings, which are topped by Florida HS SS Brendan Rodgers (video above!). Duke RHP Michael Matuella and JuCo LHP Brady Aiken rank second and third, respectively. Aiken, as you might remember, didn’t sign with the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft and will be draft-eligible again because he’s going to a junior college, not a four-year school. As always, the MLB.com rankings include free scouting reports, 20-80 scouting scale grades, and video. Great resource.
You can’t really make the straight comparison, but, if you’re interested, MLB.com has Fullerton RHP Phil Bickford and Tennessee HS RHP Donny Everett ranked 17th and 31st, respectively, the Yankees top two draft slots. Bickford passed on signing with the Blue Jays as the tenth overall pick in the 2013 draft and Everett is one of the hardest throwing high school arms in the draft class. Overall, the 2015 class appears to be very heavy on pitchers with few impact position players available.
MLB, NCAA agree to move draft to July 1st
According to Peter Gammons, MLB and the NCAA have a “general agreement” to move the draft to July 1st with a July 15th signing deadline. This isn’t final yet — MLB can’t just change the date of the draft, the whole thing has to be collectively bargained and the MLBPA has to agree to it.
Moving the draft from the first week of June to July 1st doesn’t seem like much, but it will create a bunch of logistical headaches in the lower minors. (I wrote about them at CBS.) More than anything, moving the draft seems like a precursor to an international draft, which the owners have been trying to get for years to cut costs. The international signing period opens July 2nd of each year, remember. The timing if awfully interesting.
RHP Jacob Nix enrolls in IMG Academy for 2015
Nix, the Astros’ fifth rounder last year, is heading to the IMG Academy in Florida for post-graduate work this year, according to John Manuel. Nix was a second or third round talent last summer who fell into the fifth round due to bonus demands. Houston was set to pay him an above-slot bonus with the saving from their below-slot deal with Aiken, but, when the Aiken deal fell apart, they didn’t have the draft pool space to sign Nix and reneged on their agreement. The MLBPA filed a grievance on Nix’s behalf and won, so the Astros had to pay him the full $1.5M they agreed to give him originally.
Anyway, the post-graduate year at IMG means Nix will again be draft-eligible this year, and he’ll presumably slot in as a projected second or third rounder again. It’ll be interesting to see how teams treat him this year. They know Nix has money now, and the fact that he is re-entering the draft rather than going to a four-year college means he wants to turn pro. Could he be a below-slot guy this year? He doesn’t have much leverage. We’ll see. Nix is 6-foot-4 and has a mid-90s fastball, which is usually the kind of prospect the Yankees love. He could be a target for that 57th overall pick. (The highest draft pick in IMG history is, of course, John Ryan Murphy.)
Yankees bringing East Coast Pro to Tampa
According to Manuel, the Yankees are bringing the East Coast Pro to Tampa this summer. It is one of the top events on the summer scouting showcase circuit. The event will be held from July 27-30 — so we’re talking about 2016 draft picks, not 2015 — and feature 150 of the best high school players in the country. The event moves around each year, so it won’t be in Tampa long-term.
Just to be clear, scouts from every team will be in attendance, so this isn’t an exclusive workout for the Yankees. That said, only the Yankees will have access to the pitch tracking data available at Steinbrenner Field because they are the event host. The East Coast Pro has many big name alumni, including David Price, Justin Upton, David Wright, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Harvey.
According to Ken Davidoff, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred early last week to clear the air and attempt to create some goodwill. Manfred officially took over as commissioner on Saturday and spearheaded the league’s investigation into Biogenesis two years ago.
A-Rod initiated the one-on-one meeting, which took place at the league’s offices on Park Avenue. The logical next step would be for Alex to initiate a similar meeting with the Yankees, though Andrew Marchand says the Yankees have declined. Here’s more from Marchand:
The Yankees have no plans to make owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine or general manager Brian Cashman available for any similar Rodriguez make-up sessions, a source said. An official with knowledge of the team’s thinking said that Rodriguez will not receive any special treatment during spring training and will be dealt with like any other member of the 40-man roster.
For what it’s worth, Dan Martin makes it sound as though a meeting between A-Rod and the team’s brass could happen once Spring Training begins. The Daily News — which, aside from Mark Feinsand, has been aggressively anti-A-Rod throughout this whole mess — says the Yankees will try to void the home run milestone bonuses in Rodriguez’s contract, but good luck with that.
Davidoff says that as far as the league is concerned, Alex is a player in good standing who served his time. The only way he could face more trouble stemming from Biogenesis is if evidence is discovered showing he helped distribute banned substances. The only reason the Yankees haven’t released A-Rod yet is money — they owe him over $60M these next three years and could recoup some via insurance (if he gets hurt) or if he gets suspended again.
I want to say it is a bit petty of the Yankees to not meet with A-Rod so they could clear the air, but I’m not sure how much it would actually help. Their relationship is clearly (very) contentious and a hug and a handshake won’t change that. These two are stuck with each other though. A-Rod ain’t going anywhere, so if there’s something the Yankees could do to make the best out of an awful situation, they should do it. Publicly feuding with Alex is only going to add fuel to the fire.