Thoughts prior to the first Grapefruit League game

Spring Training is weird. (Presswire)
Spring Training is weird. (Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees return to action with their first Grapefruit League game of the spring. Hooray for that. The game will air on both YES and MLB.tv. Prepare for all the small sample size analysis you can handle, even though we all know better. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this, the final day without baseball until November.

1. The best part of Spring Training games is the prospects, hands down. We’ll watch the veterans all summer. Spring Training will be our only chance to see most of the kids this year. Gleyber Torres figures to get some starts at shortstop when Didi Gregorius is away at the World Baseball Classic, and that’ll be cool. Jorge Mateo will run around center field and both James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield will throw a few innings each as well. I’m most interested in seeing Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, and Jordan Montgomery, personally. Frazier in particular. Those three all have a chance to help the Yankees during the regular season — at least moreso than Torres, Mateo, Kaprielian, and Sheffield — and I haven’t seen much of them previously. Frazier has the talent to be an impact hitter, and while neither Adams nor Montgomery will be an ace, they can be useful big league starters, and gosh do the Yankees need some of those. I’m looking forward to getting some eyes on the near MLB ready kids.

2. The fourth and fifth starter competition officially begins tomorrow — Bryan Mitchell, Adam Warren, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa are starting the first five Grapefruit League games in that order — and my official prediction is Severino and Cessa get the two rotation spots. Warren and Mitchell go to the bullpen and Green winds up in Triple-A. I’ll be pretty surprised if Severino doesn’t get a rotation spot, to be honest. He seems to have a leg up on everyone else simply because he’s the youngest and offers the most long-term upside. Severino becoming a capable big league starter would be a wonderful thing for the Yankees, and I’m guessing they’ll give him every opportunity to make it happen. Using Spring Training to settle position battles is sorta silly, though in this case I don’t think it’s a big deal. The rotation candidates all have MLB experience and odds are they’re all going to get a chance to start games this summer anyway. Whoever wins the rotation spots on Opening Day won’t automatically get to keep them all season.

3. A few weeks ago I mentioned the Yankees will face a severe 40-man roster crunch after the season, big enough that they have to consider trading some prospects just to avoid losing them for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. The dream scenario is packaging three or four prospects together and trading them for one quality player, though that doesn’t happen often. There aren’t too many teams willing to take on three fringe players and commit 40-man roster spots like that. What about trading a prospect for a draft pick though? The 14 Competitive Balance picks are tradeable, you know. (Only during the regular season for whatever reason.) In my top 30 prospects post I mentioned Dustin Fowler as a possible trade candidate given the team’s outfield situation. Would you trade Fowler to, say, the center field needy Athletics for their Competitive Balance pick, the 33rd overall selection? That slot comes with nearly $2M worth of bonus pool money. It sounds like a neat idea, but you know what? I’d rather have Fowler, a two-way center fielder not far away from the big leagues, than the 33rd overall pick. This is just an idea I was kicking around. Dealing prospects for draft picks, rather than an actual player, to help clear up the 40-man logjam.

4. I have a weird feeling Carter Capps will be a Yankee at some point this season. They tried to get him from the Marlins at the trade deadline two years ago, presumably as a potential alternative to their proposed Mateo-for-Craig Kimbrel trade with the Padres. Capps is with the Padres now. He blew out his elbow last spring and had Tommy John surgery, then was traded to San Diego as part of the Andrew Cashner deal. The hard-tanking Padres bought low and are looking to get value out of him now, and it stands to reason Capps will be on the trade block at some point. Capps, in case you’ve forgotten, is the guy with the ridiculous yet somehow legal hop-step delivery:

Between his call-up and a late-season elbow injury in 2015, the 26-year-old Capps had a 1.16 ERA (1.10 FIP) with a 49.2% strikeout rate and a 5.9% walk rate in 31 innings. Fifty-eight strikeouts in 31 innings! Crazy. Capps averaged 98.9 mph with his fastball that year, and Perceived Velocity, a Statcast metric that adjusts for the pitcher’s extension, says his fastball played like 101.5 mph. That hop effectively adds 2.6 mph to his fastball because he’s releasing the ball closer to the plate and giving the hitter that much less time to react. The cost to get Capps — he’d be a good candidate for the “bundle a few prospects together to get one player” idea given San Diego’s deep rebuild, no? — shouldn’t be as high as it was in 2015 because he’s coming off Tommy John surgery and is closer to free agency (he’ll be eligible after 2018). The Padres have ripped their roster apart and healthy Capps is one of their few remaining tradeable pieces. The Yankees had interest in him in 2015. I dunno, just feels like something will come together at some point.

5. Nothing has been officially announced, though earlier this week reports said MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to make intentional walks automatic this season. Rather than making the pitcher throw four wide ones, the manager gives a signal from the dugout and the batter goes straight to first. First of all, if the signal isn’t holding up a rubber chicken, then GTFO. Secondly, I don’t love the rule change, but it’s not the end of the world. Intentional walks are a competitive play and I feel the pitcher and catcher should have to execute. At the same time, intentional walks happen so infrequently — one every 46 innings in 2016! — that we’ll barely even notice. Also, the distribution of intentional walks is highly concentrated. Nearly 20% of all intentional walks last year were issued to the No. 8 hitter in the National League, the guy hitting in front of the pitcher. I wonder if we’ll see a slight uptick in the number of intentional walks this year because giving the signal is so much quicker than throwing the pitches. General rule of thumb: the easier something is, the more people will do it. More intentional walks means more baserunners, and that will inevitably lead to more runs. Could be cool.

6. Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters earlier this week MLB may unilaterally implement rule changes next season, specifically with regards to pace of play (i.e. a pitch clock) and the size of the strike zone, which is apparently something they’re allowed to do per the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Manfred complained the MLBPA keeps rejecting proposals. Unilaterally implementing rule changes won’t sit well with the players, and the last thing anyone wants is bad blood in labor relations. That said, MLBPA gave a ton of concessions with the current CBA — they’re fighting harder to protect pace of play than the bonuses of amateur players! — and they backed themselves into this corner. MLBPA chief Tony Clark is a really smart and nice guy from what I understand, but the union could really benefit from having an actual labor professional in charge. The union keeps giving concessions rather than pushing for a bigger piece of the revenue pie. Instead of trying to fix the revenue distribution problem, MLBPA essentially agreed to a salary cap. The new luxury tax penalties are so harsh that no team will exceed them. Not a great couple weeks and months for the union.

Open Thread: February 22nd Camp Notes

The weather was decidedly un-baseball-like in Florida today. Several teams on the Gulf Coast, including the Yankees, had to move their workouts inside because it rained so much. Not a big deal, just a little inconvenient. Everyone was still able to get their work in. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • The upcoming starting pitchers: Bryan Mitchell (Friday), Adam Warren (Saturday), Luis Severino (Sunday), Chad Green (Monday), then Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Cessa (Tuesday split squad). Michael Pineda will start a game soon thereafter. All those games except the two games Tuesday will be broadcast somewhere. [Erik Boland, Billy Witz]
  • Aaron Hicks has tweaked his swing from both sides of the plate. “With my left-handed swing, I got shorter with my load and right-handed just getting the ball deeper and seeing it for a longer period of time and being able to drive it to all fields,” he said. Also, apparently Jacoby Ellsbury‘s swing looks better than last year. [Brendan Kuty, Marly Rivera]
  • The Yankees brought in an FBI team to meet with Latin American players about staying safe back home. The club did it on their own. It wasn’t part of a larger MLB effort. In many Latin American countries, especially Venezuela, players and their families are targeted in robberies and things like that. Wilson Ramos was held hostage a few years ago. [Marly Rivera]
  • And finally, Derek Jeter took 20 prospects out to dinner last night as part of his annual “take the kids to dinner” event during Captain’s Camp. They talked about baseball and life on-and-off the field, that sorta stuff. [George King, Corey Long]

Here is your open thread for the night. The NBA is still somehow in their middle of their All-Star break. Must be nice to have this much time off. None of the local hockey teams are playing tonight, so it’s college basketball or nothing. You folks know what to do with these threads by now, so do it.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

The 2017-18 international free agent class and the Shohei Otani question

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

For years and years and years, the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They were in contention every year and forfeiting their low first round picks to sign top free agents all the time, though they were able to spend freely in international free agency to compensate. That’s why so many of their top prospects from 1998-2012 or so were international signees. Alfonso Soriano, Wily Mo Pena, Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, and so on.

Nowadays teams can’t spend freely internationally. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented a hard spending cap. Under the just completed CBA, each team was given a set bonus pool and punished harshly if they exceeded it. It was a soft cap. Three years ago the Yankees blew their bonus pool out of the water and signed many of the best available players. Four of my top 30 prospects were part of the 2014-15 international signing class.

As a result of that spending spree, the Yankees had to pay a 100% tax on every penny they spent over their bonus pool — the total payout between bonuses and taxes was north of $30M — plus they were unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That restriction will be lifted when the 2017-18 international signing period begins July 2nd. Hooray for that.

Earlier this week Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reported the Yankees, who have a $4.75M international cap this year, have been connected to Venezuelan center fielder Everson Periera in advance of the 2017-18 signing period. I can’t find much on the kid at all, but apparently he’s a big deal. Here’s some video:

The Yankees and every other team have been scouting international players for years, and I’m certain there are some contract agreements already in place even though they aren’t allowed. It happens all the time. Badler is the best in the business, and if he says the Yankees are connected to Periera, I not only don’t doubt him one bit, I assume the two sides already have some kind of deal in place.

The international hard cap really stinks, especially for the kids, though at least the Yankees will be able to hand out large bonuses to talented kids like Periera again. Being limited to $300,000 bonuses the last two signing periods stunk. The big question to me right now is not necessarily who will the Yankee sign on July 2nd. It’s how are the Yankees planning for Shohei Otani, if at all?

Otani, as you surely know, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He threw 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers. Most agree Otani’s long-term future lies on the mound because he has ace potential. For now, he’s a monster two-way player for the (Ham) Fighters.

Otani has expressed interest in coming over to MLB as soon as next offseason, though because he is only 22, he will be subject to the international hard cap. He’d have to wait three years until he’s 25 to be able to sign for any amount like a true free agent. Should Otani be posted after this coming season, all 30 clubs figure to shovel their remaining international cap space in front of him and hope it’s enough to sign him. What else could you do?

If you’re the Yankees — or any other team, for that matter — do you pass on Periera and everyone else on July 2nd and instead conserve your international cap space for Otani in the offseason? It’s awfully risky. Otani is not guaranteed to be posted. You’re walking away from the top international talent in July with no assurances Otani will be available after the season, and even if he is available, it’s far from a guarantee you’ll sign him. The odds of ending up with no talent and a bunch of international money burning a hole in your pocket is quite high.

At the same time, Otani is so insanely talented that you’d hate to take yourself out of the market for a big league ready impact player to sign a bunch of 16-year-old kids who are years away from reaching MLB. (The Yankees signed Gary Sanchez, a top international prospect, in July 2009 and it wasn’t until August 2016 that he reached the show for good, so yeah.) Otani would fit New York’s youth movement so well. He’d be the young rotation cornerstone they need going forward.

There’s always a chance the (Ham) Fighters will announce in advance they’re going to post Otani after the season, but I can’t remember that ever happening. If anything, it’s usually the opposite. We wait weeks and weeks in the offseason waiting for the team to decide whether to post the player. That’s what happened with Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. We didn’t know for sure they would be posted until their teams actually posted them.

I can’t imagine the (Ham) Fighters want to announce they’re moving their best player after the season ahead of time. That won’t sit well with fans. Then again, perhaps they could make a great event out of it and have a big farewell tour. That’d be kinda cool. Point is, it’s far from certain Otani will be available after the season. He may decide to wait out the next three years, make good money in Japan, then come over to MLB when he’s 25 and no longer subject to the international hard cap.

That the Yankees are already connected to a guy like Periera indicates they plan on approaching the 2017-18 international free agency period as if it’s business as usual. Badler’s report says eleven other clubs, including traditional big international spenders like the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays, are also connected to Latin American players for the 2017-18 signing period, so the Yankees aren’t the only team taking this approach.

(The Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all be limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2017-18 international free agency period as a result of past spending, so that’s the max they could offer Otani next offseason.)

My guess right now is that, despite the rumblings, Otani will not be posted next winter. The max bonus he can receive under the international hard cap is only a touch more than his projected salary with the (Ham) Fighters in 2018. He could remain in Japan until 2019, make close to what he’d make in MLB in the meantime, then come over when he can sign a monster contract at 25. The Yankees and plenty of other clubs seem to be proceeding as if that will be the case.

Clint Frazier’s possible paths to the big leagues in 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees went about their trade deadline business last summer, they appeared to focus on acquiring the best possible talent rather than addressing specific needs. That’s why they acquired Gleyber Torres despite a farm system already loaded with shortstops, and Clint Frazier despite a farm system with more than a few upper level outfielders. They were the best players, so the Yankees took them. Figure out the rest later.

Aside from Ben Heller, a one-inning reliever, Frazier is closest to big league ready among the prospects the Yankees acquired last July. He had been promoted to Triple-A about a week before the trade and he spent the rest of the season at that level. Frazier struggled, hitting .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) in his first exposure to the highest level of the minors. He’s not the first kid to have a hard time when he first reached Triple-A and he won’t be the last.

The various prospect rankings tell us the 22-year-old Frazier is highly regarded. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB.com all ranked him somewhere between the 16th and 39th best prospect in baseball in their recent top 100 lists. His average rank on the top 100 lists was 26.5. Frazier is really good and he’s going to start the season back in Triple-A, which means a big league call-up isn’t far away at all.

“I want to play in the big leagues, and I’ve got to go out there and prove myself,” said Frazier to Randy Miller earlier this month. “I’ve got to be a good teammate and a good player and stay healthy, so when all three of those things come together I think I’ve got a good chance to accomplish the dream.”

Getting to the big leagues is one thing. Staying in the big leagues and carving out a defined role is another, and with young players, those two things can be pretty tough. With that in mind, let’s look at some possible paths Frazier could take to reach the show this summer, using some recent Yankees as examples. These are listed in order of what I think is most likely to happen.

The Aaron Judge Path

Similar to Frazier this year, Judge reported to Spring Training last year after a tough finish in Triple-A the prior season. He got a long look in camp before being sent back to Triple-A for a few hundred plate appearances (410, to be exact). Once he sufficiently mastered Triple-A, the Yankees called Judge up in the second half last season and played him everyday in right field.

It seems very possible Frazier will follow a similar path this year. Go back to Triple-A for a few hundred at-bats, then join the big league team in the second half for an extended audition. Judge’s playing time was created by the Carlos Beltran trade, and the Yankees will have to do something similar for Frazier. Brett Gardner has been on the trade block all winter and he is most likely to go. We’ll see. (We could also call this the Greg Bird path.)

The Robinson Cano Path

The 2005 Yankees and 2017 Yankees are in very different places on the contention curve. The 2005 Yankees were very much a win-now team, and they were coming off their embarrassing ALCS collapse in 2004. The 2017 Yankees are a team in transition, which is YankeeSpeak for rebuild, and the emphasis is on young players. Do they want to win? Sure. But the kids are the priority right now.

In May 2005, the Yankees overhauled their lineup by moving Tony Womack to left field, sliding Hideki Matsui to center, reducing Bernie Williams‘ playing time, and calling Cano up from Triple-A to play second base. Robbie spent the second half of the 2004 season in Triple-A and he destroyed the level early in 2005, hitting .333/.368/.574 with eight doubles and four homers in 24 games. The Yankees needed a spark and Cano provided it.

Frazier has the talent to go to Triple-A this year and completely destroy the competition, a la Cano in 2005. And if the Yankees are in need of offense at the MLB level a few weeks into the season, calling him up will be awfully tempting in that case. Doing so would require clearing playing time. Maybe Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury goes to the bench, or Judge strikes out his way back to the minors. Point is, an early season call-up can’t be ruled out should Frazier rake.

The Jesus Montero Path

Unlike Judge in 2016 and Cano in 2005, Montero already had a full Triple-A season under his belt when he returned to the level in 2011. Montero hit .289/.353/.517 (133 wRC+) with 21 homers in 123 Triple-A games in 2010, his age 20 season. He was seven years younger than the average International League player. Montero was so highly regarded at the time that Baseball America ranked him as the game’s third best prospect prior to the 2011 season.

montero

Sigh. Anyway, Montero returned to Triple-A in 2011 and spent almost the entire season at the level again. He hit .288/.348/.467 (121 wRC+) with 18 homers in 109 games with the RailRiders that year. The Yankees then called Montero up that September and he took over as their regular DH, and gosh, it was glorious. Montero hit .328/.406/.590 (166 wRC+) with four homers in 18 games that September. He also went 2-for-2 in the postseason.

Keeping Frazier in Triple-A all summer before bringing him to the show as a September call-up and installing him as a lineup regular is definitely a possibility in 2017. The Yankees wouldn’t need to clear a roster spot, and it’s easier to give veterans like Gardner and Ellsbury and Matt Holliday days off in September, when they’re feeling the effects of the long season. The September call-up plan is probably the cleanest way to incorporate Frazier into the MLB lineup this year, barring injury.

The Brett Gardner Path

Following a 45-game cameo at Triple-A in 2007, Gardner opened the 2008 season back at that level, then made a few shuttle trips over the summer. Here’s how his 2008 season played out:

  • Opening Day: Sent down to Triple-A.
  • June 30th: Called up to MLB for the first time.
  • July 26th: Send back down to Triple-A.
  • August 15th: Called back up to MLB for good.

Gardner was first called up because both Matsui and Johnny Damon were banged up, and the Yankees needed another outfielder. He was sent back down after the Xavier Nady trade. Gardner was then called back up in August because the Yankees had gotten tired of waiting for Melky Cabrera to turn it around. Melky was sent down with his batting line sitting at .242/.296/.337 (65 wRC+).

The Yankees used Gardner first as an injury fill-in, then as a permanent replacement when a regular wasn’t performing well. Should injuries strike this summer, the Yankees could very well call up Frazier as a fill-in, even if it’s only temporary. He’d be a shuttle player, basically. And up-and-down player who comes and goes as needed. I don’t think it’s likely Frazier will be used in that way, but we shouldn’t rule it out completely.

The Melky Cabrera Path

A few months after calling up Cano, the Yankees determined Womack was unplayable and shifted Matsui back to his natural left field. They made the ill-advised decision to promote Melky, who had only a handful of Triple-A games under his belt at the time, and insert him into the lineup as their regular center fielder. Cabrera went 4-for-19 (.211) at the plate in six games and was demoted after a defensive miscue that resulted in a Trot Nixon inside-the-park homer. It was not pretty.

The parallels here aren’t perfect. Melky started that 2005 season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A, and he only played a handful of games at that level before being called up. Frazier already has 38 Triple-A games under his belt and will return there to start the season. More than anything, the Melky plan means calling Frazier up before he’s big league ready and throwing him right into the fire. I don’t think this will happen, which is why this plan is last in this post. Still though, the Yankees have done this sort of thing before, and you can’t rule out doing it again.

Open Thread: February 21st Camp Notes

This completely slipped my mind, but yesterday was RAB’s tenth birthday. That is pretty crazy. Ben, Joe, and I started the site as a hobby and it’s grown into … this. RAB has been around for a World Series championship and more historic moments than I care to count. But best of all, RAB has led to some great friendships, and that’s what I value most. The site has been a life changer. Thanks to all of you for reading. It’s been a hell of a ride these last ten years.

Okay, so now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, let’s get to today’s notes from Tampa, shall we?

  • Alex Rodriguez arrived today for his first stint as a guest instructor. He’ll be in Tampa for 4-5 days, and is expected to return for another stint next month. A-Rod also confirmed he’s retired. He doesn’t want to play anymore. A few teams called him last year after he was released, but Alex says the tank is empty. [Jack Curry, Ken Davidoff]
  • Bryan Hoch has the day’s pitching assignments, hitting groups, and fielding groups. Adam Warren and Luis Severino threw simulated games while Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman all threw bullpen sessions. Still no word on a starter for the Grapefruit League opener Friday.
  • Two relatively minor injuries: righty Ronald Herrera with miss two weeks with shoulder inflammation and lefty James Reeves will miss up to four weeks with an elbow sprain. Herrera is on the 40-man roster and could be part of the shuttle this season. [Hoch]
  • The Yankees are emphasizing pitchers’ fielding practice this spring. The drills are shorter and more intense, which better simulates game action. “It has been a focus of ours because we were not good, and that’s something we are focusing on in Spring Training,” said Joe Girardi. [Billy Witz]
  • Greg Bird feels great and not just hitting, but throwing as well. “It feels like I have something behind the ball. Not that I didn’t, but it’s nice to go out and throw the ball again,” he said. Bird was limited to DH duty in the Arizona Fall League as he returned from shoulder surgery. [George King]
  • Jorge Mateo said he expects to play several games in center field this spring. I kinda figured that was coming. “I like it. It’s not too hard,” he said. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Mateo is a full-time center fielder by the end of the season. [Brendan Kuty]
  • And finally, Jacoby Ellsbury was in camp for the first time today. He reported late because his wife gave birth to their second child over the weekend. [Mike Mazzeo]

This is tonight’s open thread. The NBA is still in the middle of their All-Star break, though all three local hockey teams are in action tonight, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball games on as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Yankees trade Richard Bleier to the Orioles

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced they have traded lefty Richard Bleier to the Orioles for cash or a player to be named later. There are now 66 players in big league camp. Bleier was designated for assignment last week to make room on the 40-man roster for Chris Carter.

Bleier, 29, joined the Yankees as a minor league free agent last winter and he made his MLB debut last summer. He threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.76 FIP) for New York while spending most of the season in Triple-A. I’m surprised he stayed on the 40-man as long as he did. Soon-to-be 30-year-old rookies usually don’t stick around long.

I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about the player to be named later. It won’t be an actual prospect. It never is in these situations. Chances are the Yankees will end up taking the cash anyway. That’s usually how it goes. At least they were able to get something in return for Bleier rather than lose him on waivers for nothing.

Now that he’s with the Orioles, expect Bleier to get a big out against the Yankees at some point this season. Folks will then complain they let him go. “Why can’t the Yankees get pitchers like that?” they’ll say. Thank you for your time.