Morosi: Didi Gregorius expected to play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

According to Jon Morosi, dedicated WBC newsman, Didi Gregorius is expected to play for the Netherlands in the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. None of the rosters have been officially announced yet, though that should happen reasonably soon. The tournament begins March 6th and the Netherlands opens pool play in South Korea, so Didi has a long flight ahead of him.

There are currently six Dutch players in the big leagues, and Morosi says all of them will play in the WBC except Kenley Jansen. That means Gregorius will share an infield with Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, and Jonathan Schoop. The rest of the roster will be made up of players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands.

Last week Bogaerts told Brian MacPherson he’s going to play third base at the WBC while Simmons mans shortstop, meaning Gregorius will either have to play second base (Schoop’s position) or designated hitter. It’s entirely possible Didi will end up getting starts at second, short, and DH in the tournament. We’ll see. He’s one of the team’s best players, so he’ll be in the lineup one way or another.

Gregorius did not play in any of the previous WBCs, and since his roster spot with the Yankees is secure, he has nothing to lose by playing in the event. It wouldn’t make sense for, say, Luis Cessa to go pitch for Mexico in the WBC when he’s trying to win a rotation spot with the Yankees, you know? Gregorius isn’t competing for his job. He knows he is New York’s starting shortstop.

The final WBC rosters will be announced in the coming weeks. We know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic and Masahiro Tanaka will not pitch for Japan, and that’s about it right now. The Yankees have a few other players who could represent their country in the WBC.

Yankees discussed a multi-year deal with Betances, but going year to year makes the most sense

Stride length. (Harry How/Getty)
Stride length. (Harry How/Getty)

At some point in the next few weeks, the Yankees and Dellin Betances will go to an arbitration hearing to determine his 2017 salary. Brian Cashman confirmed it. Betances is seeking $5M while the team countered with $3M. The two sides will make their arguments and the three-person panel will pick either the $5M or $3M, nothing in-between.

Although the Yankees and Betances could still agree to a contract of any size prior to a hearing, Cashman indicated that won’t happen. They’re going to a hearing. Cashman also told Dan Martin that at some point during their contract talks, the two sides discussed a multi-year contract. Obviously nothing came of it given where things stand now.

These days teams rush to lock up their young players to long-term contracts because that’s the best way to get bang for your buck. Sign the player early in his career and you get his peak years at a discount relative to what he’d earn through arbitration or free agency. That’s the idea, anyway. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and the contract goes bad. That’s baseball.

Betances is not all that young by baseball standards anymore — he turns 29 in March — though as his upcoming arbitration hearing suggests, he’s about to get pretty expensive. Even if the Yankees win the hearing and Betances makes $3M in 2017, that’s still a record salary for a non-closing reliever going through arbitration the first time. Dellin will help establish a new salary standard for relievers, specifically top setup men.

In many cases signing a player to a multi-year extension is an obvious move. The Indians should lock up Francisco Lindor for the next eight to ten years, right? Of course. With relievers, even one as good as Betances, it’s not always so obvious. Relievers are inherently volatile. They’re all relievers because something prevented them from starting, like bad command or lack of a third pitch or injury history. That makes them riskier assets.

So, not surprisingly, very few relievers have received multi-year contracts prior to free agency. In fact, over the last 20 months, only two relievers signed extensions during their team control years: Adam Ottavino and Nate Jones. Both were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time. Their value was down, and their teams took advantage by locking them up at a lower rate than usual. And hey, Ottavino and Jones got a couple million bucks out of it, so who are they to complain?

Point is, there are very few multi-year contract benchmarks for Betances, similar to how there are few salary benchmarks among first year arbitration-eligible setup man. Here is the full list of relievers to sign extensions at the same service time level Betances is at right now:

  • Craig Kimbrel: Four years, $42M with a club option.
  • Sam LeCure: Two years, $3.05M.
  • Josh Collmenter: Two years, $2.425M.

That’s it. Kimbrel is, by far, the most relevant of the three to Betances, and Kimbrel was a closer who was going to smash arbitration salary records had he not signed his extension. Dellin won’t set salary records because he lacks saves, and saves pay. The Yankees and Betances would have had to break a lot of new ground to come to terms on a multi-year deal.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees approached Betances about a multi-year deal or vice versa, but the most important questions are these: why would Betances do it and why would the Yankees do it? Betances would do it because it’s a chance to lock in a pretty nice guaranteed contract. He’d pass on maximizing his earning potential through arbitration in exchange for the guaranteed cash. Remember, he spent eight years in the minors before reaching MLB for good, and had a lot of injuries along the way. The guaranteed deal might be pretty appealing to him.

As for the Yankees, they’d gain cost certainty over a player who is already in uncharted salary territory for setup men. Like I said before, even if Betances loses his arbitration hearing, his $3M salary this coming season will still be a record for a setup man in his first trip through arbitration. The Yankees, who are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold next year, would lock Betances in at some number they can plan around going forward.

At the same time, the Yankees would be assuming quite a bit of risk, moreso than Betances. The only thing Dellin would be risking is his chance to earn even more through arbitration. He’ll still have set for life money coming his way. The Yankees, meanwhile, would still be on the hook if Betances breaks down or suddenly loses effectiveness. As good as he is, Betances is pretty risky. He had arm problems earlier in his career and his history of strike-throwing issues is well documented.

A multi-year contract doesn’t have to extend into free agency, remember. A three-year contract would buy out Betances’ remaining arbitration years and give the Yankees cost certainty over what could be three very pricey years without delaying his free agency at all. That figures to appeal to Dellin and his representatives. A three-year deal worth $22.5M — that’s assuming $4M in 2017, $7.5M in 2018, and $11M in 2019 — could be more budget friendly than going through arbitration three times.

Ultimately, the Yankees can afford to pay Betances whatever he gets the next few years. They’ll just have to work around his salary to get under the luxury tax. That’s all. And given the risk involved based on Dellin’s injury history and on again off again command issues, going year to year is the safe play. Should things go wrong at some point, the Yankees could walk away, like they did when Chien-Ming Wang‘s shoulder gave out. Multi-year deals are nice in theory, but with a risky asset like Betances, I think going year to year makes the most sense for the team.

Thoughts three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

Hurry up, baseball. (Presswire)
Hurry up already, baseball. (Presswire)

Three weeks! Three weeks until something that kinda sorta resembles baseball begins to happen. I’m setting the over/under on the number of moves the Yankees make these next three weeks that impact the big league roster at 0.5. I’ll be bold and take the over. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things.

1. Really good work by the Yankees with their (first annual?) Winter Warm-Up event last week. Most of the events took place behind closed doors — several players served food at a church and others spent time at a senior center, for example — though I’m glad they finally put together some sort of offseason community outreach program. The town hall with Brian Cashman and various prospects was the highlight of the week. (Here’s the 87-minute video, if you missed it.) What stood out most to me was the way the Winter Warm-Up focused on prospects, not big leaguers. Starlin Castro was the only big league player at the town hall, for example. The rest were all prospects. The same was true at other events throughout the week. There were a few actual Yankees involved each day, but, for the most part, the emphasis was on the kids and the future. Only a really small percentage of fans follow prospects and read RAB. For lots of folks, this was their first introduction to guys like James Kaprielian and Gleyber Torres. Nice work by the Yankees promoting the future last week. That was neat.

2. Speaking of Castro, he made what I thought was an interesting point to Steven Marcus recently, about how he went from the rebuilding Cubs to a Yankees team that is essentially rebuilding as well. When the Cubs were ready to make the jump from team on the rise to bonafide contender, Castro was dumped in favor of younger players. It’s entirely possible the same thing may happen to him with the Yankees. Here’s what he told Marcus:

“I don’t really think about this. I just try to do my job. I don’t have any control of this. Whatever they want to do, they have to do it … That’s the second time (being part of a youth movement has) happened to me. That happened my last year in the Cubs. All the younger guys coming to the team. Here, the same thing.”

Castro said all the right things — “I just try to do my job,” etc. — but I have to imagine the possibility of being pushed aside in favor of a younger player again is in the back of his mind. He admitted at last week’s town hall he was a bit sad when the Cubs won the World Series because he sat through all the ugly rebuilding years without getting to experience the reward, and man, that must really stink. Who knows how things will shake out a year or two down the line. Hopefully Starlin uses his past experience with the Cubs as motivation and finally takes his game to another level as he enters what should be the prime of his career. That’s the best possible outcome here. The Yankees having to make difficult decisions when the kids arrive because they have too many quality players.

3. Yesterday we learned Masahiro Tanaka will not participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and that’s a relief. Losing your ace to a season-ending injury in the WBC is every team’s worst nightmare. At the same time, Tanaka could just as easily get hurt during Grapefruit League play with the Yankees. Pitching is still pitching. It’s an unnatural act and injuries happen. Heck, you could easily argue that if Tanaka is going to get hurt, you’d rather have it happen at the WBC, because then the WBC would cover his salary while he’s on the disabled list. That’s what happened with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in 2013. No one wants any player to get hurt in the WBC, but in this case, is it really any safer for Tanaka to pitch for the Yankees in Spring Training than it is Japan in the WBC? Does the increased intensity matter that much? Starters are kept on strict pitch counts in the WBC, you know. It’s not like they’re asking these guys to throw seven innings on March 10th.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

4. What about signing Matt Wieters? He’s sitting out there in free agency, waiting for someone to sign him, and it appears his number of potential landing spots is dwindling. (The Braves just signed Kurt Suzuki.) I said many times I was in favor of keeping Brian McCann — barring a massive trade return, of course, which I don’t think the Yankees received — as a part-time catcher/part-time designated hitter and veteran mentor for Gary Sanchez. Wieters could fill the same role, though these days he’s neither the hitter nor defender McCann is. Still, he’s better than Austin Romine, and he shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. (One year, $6M?) Granted, this will never ever ever happen, for a few reasons, but the thought crossed my mind. I like the idea of having a veteran (i.e. better than Romine) backup to lighten the load on Sanchez when things get tough. It’s a long season. Bumps in the road for a young catcher are inevitable. Wieters went through them himself.

5. One phase of the game the Yankees seem likely perform better going forward: baserunning. Over the last six months or so, the team cut ties with the thoroughly immobile quartet of McCann, Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran. Those guys were true old school basecloggers who went station-to-station because that’s all they could handle at that point of their careers. No one is expecting Sanchez or Greg Bird to swipe 20 bags or anything, but the collective infusion of youth should help the Yankees some on the bases. Last season New York took the extra base in only 37% of their opportunities, which ranked 27th among the 30 teams. (That’s going first-to-third on a single, etc.) Just getting back to league average (roughly 41%) would be a nice little improvement.

6. Based on this year’s voting results and the newcomers to the ballot, my guess is we get a four-man Hall of Fame class next year: Trevor Hoffman, Vlad Guerrero, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome. Hoffman fell five votes shy of induction this year (five!) while Guerrero fell 15 short, and historically, when a player gets that close, they get in the next year. Chipper and Thome will be on the ballot for the first time and are no-brainers as far as I’m concerned. Maybe Thome gets lumped in with the suspected performance-enhancing drug guys because he, you know, hit homers, but he was such an unbelievably nice guy that I think the BBWAA voters put him in on the first ballot. It shouldn’t work like that, but it does. Anyway, that’s next year. The following year is when the Hall of Fame watch starts to get fun for Yankees fans. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will join the ballot in two years, and Derek Jeter the year after that. Rivera and Jeter are first ballot locks. I don’t think Pettitte gets in, though hopefully he doesn’t fall off the ballot the first year like Jorge Posada. That sucked so hard.

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.