Monday Night Open Thread

I missed this last week, but Christian Red has a pretty great article on Justus Sheffield. Sheffield talked about his upbringing and what he learned from his arrest a few years ago, things like that, as well as his experience with the Yankees after the trade last year. Not surprisingly, as a left-handed pitcher from Tennessee, he looks up to David Price. Give it a read. Pretty great stuff.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, and there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about those games, the Sheffield article, or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

2017 Draft: Yankees hold 16th overall pick

(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)
(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)

Last week, both Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo signed new contracts with their former teams, the Blue Jays and Orioles. That’s a shame. I was hoping those two would leave the AL East. They combined to hit nine home runs against the Yankees last season.

Anyway, Bautista and Trumbo were the last two remaining qualified free agents, so now that they’ve signed, the first round draft order is set. The Yankees moved up one spot this winter and will pick 16th overall in the 2017 draft this June. They moved up when the Rockies forfeited the 11th overall pick to sign Ian Desmond.

The Yankees have a top 18 pick for the third straight season. That hasn’t happened since 1990-93, when they had a top 13 pick in four straight drafts, including the No. 1 pick in 1991 (Brien Taylor). New York selected James Kaprielian with the No. 16 pick two years ago and Blake Rutherford with the No. 18 pick last year.

There have been countless studies (like this one) that have shown once you get outside the top ten selections, the difference in expected value of a draft pick isn’t enormous within the top two rounds or so. But still, that 16th overall pick is juuust high enough to get a kid like Rutherford, who slips due to bonus demands.

The full draft order is right here. It’s worth noting the 14 Competitive Balance picks can be traded during the regular season, so the draft order isn’t truly final. Those 14 picks could still move around. Otherwise the rest of the draft order is set.

Masahiro Tanaka will not play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic

(Getty)
(Getty)

While speaking at an event in Japan on Monday, Masahiro Tanaka confirmed he will not participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, according to the Associated Press. He didn’t given a specific reason for his decision. “Taking various things into consideration, it would be difficult so I will not participate,” he said. The tournament begins March 6th.

Tanaka, who was part of Japan’s roster in both the 2009 and 2013 WBCs, said he wanted to pitch in the 2017 event back in December. Apparently something changed his mind since then, perhaps even the Yankees. That said, the Yankees had no control over the situation. They couldn’t prevent Tanaka from participating in the WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it.

Japan released a partial roster late last month that included 19 players, but only one big leaguer: outfielder Nori Aoki. The Associated Press report says the rest of the roster is expected to be made up of players from Nippon Pro Baseball. Japan has used big leaguers in the past, most notably Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka, but they’ve gotten away from that in recent WBCs. Their entire 2013 WBC roster was NPB players.

The WBC added a new rule this year that allows each team to add two pitchers to the roster after each round of the tournament, which is pretty blatantly an attempt to get Clayton Kershaw to commit to Team USA and pitch in the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium should they advance. Kershaw would be able to spend Spring Training with the Dodgers and then make the one quick WBC start.

Anyway, when the WBC announced that rule change, I wondered whether Japan would attempt to woo Tanaka (and Yu Darvish?) to pitch in the later rounds of the tournament, should they advance. That new rule is a good way for teams to get big name pitchers to commit to the WBC and add some excitement while allowing the players to remain in Spring Training with their big league team for most of March.

At some point very soon the 16 WBC teams will announce their official rosters for the tournament. Right now Dellin Betances is the only Yankee to commit to the event, as far as we know. He’ll pitch for the Dominican Republic. Minor leaguers Tito Polo and Carlos Vidal figure to play for Colombia after suiting up for the qualifying tournament last spring. The Yankees have other WBC candidates too.

Before the Yankees can think about Harper or Machado, the farm system has to come through

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Next year, as in 2018, the Yankees hope to get their payroll under the $197M luxury tax threshold. They’ve been hoping to get under for years, and 2018 will be the best opportunity to do it because CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will be off the books, maybe Masahiro Tanaka too. That’s a lot of big dollar contracts going away, and the Yankees are poised to replace those expensive veterans with cheap kids.

Once the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their tax rate, the assumption seems to be they’ll dive back into free agency and make some big deals. Coincidentally enough, if the team does reset their tax rate in 2018, it’ll happen just in time for the epiphany free agent class of the 2018-19 offseason. That’s the Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, et al class. Possibly the best free agent class ever.

Last week Brian Cashman was asked about that 2018-19 free agent class during the team’s town hall event. Cashman can’t talk about players under contract with other teams, like Harper and Machado — “You trying to get me suspended?” he joked — but he did speak about the possibility of the Yankees becoming big spenders in the near future. Here’s what Cashman said at the town hall. His full answer was quite long (video link):

“First and foremost, as you seeing we’re transitioning from contracts that we vested heavily in — and it did pay off for us in ’09, and you rob Peter to pay Paul — so at the end of the day we are going to be in a position to do a number of things, and maybe turn the clock back to be big-game hunters that we — and you — have been accustomed to being.

“But our hope is, in the meantime, that some of the high-end ceiling position players like you see in a Gary Sanchez — I know the talk of the big free agent class of 2018 already had been discussed before the 2016 season started like, ‘Oh, the Yankees are going to wait and reset the clock and go after these guys’ — and since this time, you saw one of our golden nuggets pop out of our system and establish himself as potentially one of the high-end young players in the game.

“If we could have a few more of those, it’ll allow us to have a lot of different choices to see what’s on the open market at the time. And who’s to say the rumors out there are the necessary ones? We all want what we have in that system to become what the younger guys in this game are as they’re approaching free agency and had their success and established themselves. We want our guys to be those guys six years from now. And hopefully this crew, and some of those guys in this crew, can become those guys.

“Therefore, you’re not having to rely on going to marketplace and pay a steep price regardless of what their talent level is. Out of respect for the other team’s talent, I can’t speak to those guys that are potentially future free agents, but I can tell you this: our hope is that the young guys that we have in our system become some of the young great players in the game going forward. That’s what we’re doing.”

There’s a lot going on there. Cashman’s good at saying a lot of words without revealing too much. In a nutshell, Cashman said they hope all the prospects in the system develop into productive big leaguers so they don’t have to go out and spend big to sign Harper or Machado or whoever. They want to develop their own Harper or Machado, or at least approximations of Harper and Machado.

That’s all well and good, but we all know not every prospect will work. It would be cool if they all did. That’s just not how baseball works though. The Yankees have accumulated a ton of prospect depth over the last year or so, so even when a few players inevitably flame out, they have others who could step in to fill those shoes. Aaron Judge doesn’t work out as the right fielder of the future? Well there’s Clint Frazier. Gleyber Torres isn’t all he’s cracked up to be? There’s still Jorge Mateo.

Realistically, the Yankees will need to dip back into free agency at some point to address a need. That applies to every team. The hope is in a few years, as in the 2018-19 offseason, the Yankees will be in position to spend big on a Harper or a Machado, because that will mean each the following statements are true:

  1. Multiple prospects have panned out and become cheap, productive big leaguers.
  2. The Yankees will have gotten under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 and reset their rate.
  3. The Yankees are good enough to consider a big free agent the missing piece of the puzzle.

The first point is important for obvious reasons. The Yankees want this robust farm system to become their next championship core in one form or another. If it doesn’t happen, they’re in trouble. The second point is important because guess what? If the Yankees don’t get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, they’re going to try again in 2019, and that likely means no big free agent contracts.

We can’t forget about the third point too. The Yankees passed on Edwin Encarnacion (and Chris Sale) this offseason because Cashman & Co. didn’t believe the time was right. And I empathize with that. Spend big and give up a draft pick to sign a 34-year-old DH when you’re ready to win right now. Gut the farm system and trade for a no-doubt ace when you have a chance to go to the World Series, not when you’re realistically a year or two away from contention, as the Yankees probably are at the moment.

My hope is the Yankees are able to develop a new young core during these next two seasons, at which point they can add Harper (or Machado, I guess) and make the jump from team on the rise to World Series contender. I’m not entirely convinced the free-spending Yankees will ever truly return, but for a 20-something elite talent like Harper (or Machado), I think they’ll be all-in, as long as the farm system comes through and the luxury tax rate is reset.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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Weekend Open Thread

An update on the new writer(s) search: we’ve made our picks! Or at least I have. I’m waiting for everyone else here at RAB to give the thumbs up as well. Once that happens, I’ll get in touch with the folks we’d like to bring aboard and make an announcement on the site. I hope to do that next week. (Nudges Ben and Joe.) Thanks again to all who applied, especially for being so patient. There were a ton of quality submissions to dig through. Whittling the list of candidates down was not easy at all.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Nets are the only local teams in action, and my goodness, that sounds awful. No college basketball tonight either. Geez. Anyway, talk about whatever here, just not politics or religion. Please please please no politics or religion. Thanks in advance.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. There are no NFL playoff games today — did they always play both conference championship games on Sunday? I could have sworn they used to play one on Saturday and one on Sunday — but the Knicks, Nets, Devils, and Islanders are all playing, and there’s more college basketball on than any human could watch. You know what to do here, so do it.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. The NFL playoffs resume today with Packers-Falcons (3pm ET on FOX) and Steelers-Patriots (6:30pm ET on CBS). The two winners advance to the Super Bowl. The Rangers are playing right now, so if you flip over to NBC, you can catch the end of the game. The Islanders are playing later tonight, and that’s pretty much it. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Previewing the Right-Handed Power

(AP)
(AP)

Last year, the Yankees had a power problem from the right side of the plate. Alex Rodriguez did, well, poorly enough that he essentially retired early. As right-handers, Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira had wOBAs of .301 (86 wRC+) and .307 (90 wRC+) respectively with basement-level power: .082 ISO for Headley and .109 for Tex. Starlin Castro did okay with a 93 wRC+ as a righty batter, but once Carlos Beltran left, the Yankees were left with a power void on the right side.

All told, the Yankees hit .251/.305/.415/.720 as right-handers, with a .309 wOBA and a 90 wRC+, and an ISO of .164. The American League’s collective right-handers hit .261/.321/.430/.752 with a .323/101/.169 wOBA/wRC+/ISO split. Gary Sanchez‘s arrival — Ruthian in nature as it was — helped erase some of the stain of the Bombers’ poor performance from the right side and, hopefully, signaled things to come.

A full year of Sanchez will be (hopefully) complemented by the other right-handed power potential in the lineup in the persons of Aaron Judge and new addition Matt Holliday. Starlin Castro returns, obviously, and even if his slash line wasn’t so great, he still did provide over 20 homers, good for any right-hander, especially one at second base. Chase Headley joins them as a switch hitter, and hopefully he can bounce back to his career levels as a right-handed hitter (.319 wOBA/102 wRC+/.136 ISO).

The lineup will feature more balance this year, with those four above as the right side and Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird representing the left side of things. Looking things over, there’s really not a ton of power potential from either side. While Didi just had a breakout year with power, Ellsbury and Gardner aren’t going to be counted on for extra bases anymore. Bird certainly showed ability in 2015, but coming off of a shoulder injury, it’s easy to imagine some of his power being sapped.

Matt Holliday, then, becomes a very important part of 2017. Of any player on the team, he has the longest track record of solid performance, especially in the power department. Considering he’ll hit in either the three, four, or five spot in the lineup, his pop from the right side is paramount. As an aside, I’m very excited about Matt Holliday being on this team. I’ve long been a fan of his and definitely think he’s got enough left in the tank for a pretty big season.

It’s hard to count on a new guy and a couple of youngsters like Judge and Sanchez, but if those players stay their courses, things will be just fine. Judge has shown the ability to adapt to new levels and Sanchez seems to have the talent to adjust to new things; if they follow those tracks and Holliday keeps on keeping on, the right side of the plate will be much improved for the Yankees.