A trip through the MLBTR archives: January 2008

Morgan Ensberg! (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Morgan Ensberg! (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Last month, before the chaos of the Winter Meetings, I decided to go back and look through the December 2007 archives at MLB Trade Rumors. The Yankees rumors, specifically. This is a Yankees site, after all. The idea was simple: to look through the old rumors to see how just they silly looked in hindsight.

Just to be clear, I had not intention of mocking or otherwise disparaging the hard-working crew at MLBTR, of which I was a member for more than three years. I just want to look back at some old rumors and remember how we reacted to them, mostly to see how ridiculous we were. Baseball rumors is a wacky business. You see a lot of weird stuff thrown around.

My trip through the December 2007 archives seemed to go over pretty well, so I think I’m going to try to make this a monthly feature. Hopefully with a more regular schedule. It’s not like there’s a shortage of rumors or anything. What good are they if we only look at them once and forget about ‘em? Since we covered December 2007 last month, we’ll now flip the calendar to January 2008, which was peak Johan Santana trade craziness. Good times. Let’s get to it.

JANUARY 2nd:

Peter Abraham had a note this morning about Johan Santana. He says “there are no indications the Yankees will suddenly get back into the mix for Santana.” Abraham notes that the main issue for the Yanks remains the massive extension they’d have to give Santana.

Might as well start with Johan. In December we heard the Yankees’ best offer was Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Marquez, and Mitch Hilligoss. This is the first time we heard that the extension — which ended up being a six-year, $137.5M deal — was the problem. The Yankees didn’t want to pay twice. They didn’t want to hand over a group of young players only to pay Santana like a free agent anyway.

The Yankees have sorta softened on that stance in recent years, but not when it comes to players of Santana’s caliber. They did trade young players for rentals like Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley last year before trying (and half-succeeding) to re-sign them this offseason. It’s the big name players they seem unwilling to pay twice for, once in prospects and again with a contract. I can’t say I blame them, really. Especially considering the team’s current situation. If they were legit contenders, I’d hope they would be more open-minded about renting a big name player.

JANUARY 3rd:

Anthony McCarron got another tidbit out of Hank Steinbrenner in his interview yesterday. He learned that the Yankees will not consider re-signing Roger Clemens, if he does play in 2008.

Clemens never did play after the 2007 season, so the Yankees didn’t want to re-sign him and no other team wanted him either. The fun part of this rumor is the source: Hank Steinbrenner was doing the talking. He was the head honcho back then. This was a month after the team re-signed Alex Rodriguez, remember, a deal Hank reportedly brokered. Hal Steinbrenner and the rest of the family seems to have pushed Hank out of the limelight since then. Can’t say that’s surprising.

JANUARY 4th:

According to Tyler Kepner, Alex Rodriguez has been “privately endorsing” Mike Cameron. Well, it’s not private anymore! The Yankees could entertain such a signing if they trade Melky Cabrera but don’t want to move Johnny Damon back to center. Kepner’s article also discusses the internal struggle between Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. Hank wants Johan Santana, Hal wants to show a little financial restraint.

More Hank vs. Hal, more Johan, and the first time we really saw Hal wanting to show financial restraint. Cameron was still really good back then — he hit .255/.341/.456 (112 OPS+) with 43 homers for the Padres from 2006-07 while playing his his usually excellent defense — and the Yankees actually worked out a trade to acquire him at the July 2009 trade deadline, but Hal squashed it because he didn’t want to take on the extra salary.

Cameron, by the way, signed a two-year deal with the Brewers a few days after this rumor and hit .247/.337/.464 (111 OPS+) with 49 homers in 269 games for Milwaukee. Cameron was a damn fine player. Traded for both Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr., you know.

JANUARY 7th:

Brian Cashman admitted that he lost some power when the Hank and Hal regime took over. He no longer has full authority to run everything, a sticking point when he signed on several years ago. It would not be shocking to see Cashman move on when his term ends after the 2008 season. He’s finishing up a three-year, $5.4MM deal.

Yeah, I think it was pretty obvious Cashman lost some power when Hank put that A-Rod contract together. Since then ownership has gone over his head to sign Rafael Soriano, trade for Alfonso Soriano, and re-sign Derek Jeter, among who knows what else.

That said, Cashman hasn’t moved on. He signed a three-year contract after the 2008 season, signed another three-year contract after the 2011 season, and another three-year contract after the 2014 season. Say what you want about Cashman’s moves, but the man is fiercely loyal to the pinstripes.

JANUARY 9th:

Kat O’Brien spoke to Hank Steinbrenner yesterday, and learned that the Yankees’ take on Johan Santana has not changed. They’re still in on him. One new tidbit: Hank said he wouldn’t go past a five-year extension for Santana. Since he’s already signed through 2008, an extension would go through 2013.

Hank’s still talkin’.

JANUARY 10th:

UPDATE, 1-10-08 at 10:34pm: According to Peter Abraham, the Yanks signed Lane to a minor league deal.

“Oh my gosh how could the Yankees sign Jason Lane!? What a dumb move. He’s taking playing time away from real prospects who might have a future with the team.”

I assume that’s what everyone said at the time. That’s what everyone says whenever the Yankees sign someone to a minor league contract. (Lane played 97 games with Triple-A Scranton and was released in August. The franchise somehow survived.)

JANUARY 14th:

The Yankees, Mets, and Pirates are interested in free agent lefty reliever Ron Villone.

Ron Villone! The search for a reliable lefty reliever in the post-Mike Stanton era really took some weird turns. Villone was with the Yankees from 2006-07 and had a 4.77 ERA (95 ERA+) in 122.2 innings as Joe Torre ran him into the ground. He signed with the Cardinals during this offseason and wasn’t very good for them in 2008 (91 ERA+).

JANUARY 14th:

UPDATE, 1-14-08 at 10:28pm: Hank says “there’s still a little back and forth” between the Yanks and Twins regarding Santana. Ugh.

Ugh is right. It never ended.

JANUARY 18th:

The same source told me on Friday that the Yankees, A’s, and Mariners have expressed interest in Wilkerson as well.

The Wilkerson in this case is Brad Wilkerson. The Yankees were looking for a first baseman to split time with Jason Giambi and, well, Wilkerson had hit 20 homers with a 104 OPS+ with the Rangers in 2007. He was as good a candidate as anyone. I don’t remember the Wilkerson chatter at all and I’m guessing my reaction would have been: meh.

JANUARY 25th:

Anthony McCarron says a long-term deal with Chien-Ming Wang looks unlikely, and the Yankees may have to go to a hearing with him regarding his ’08 salary.

The Yankees did eventually go to an arbitration hearing with Wang, and they beat him. He wanted $4.6M but they only had to pay him $4M. I’m pretty sure I was all for signing Wang to a multi-year extension back then, but it’s good thing they didn’t. Wang’s days as an effective big leaguer were over six months after this rumor made the rounds. For shame.

JANUARY 26th:

The Yankees considered bringing Octavio Dotel back, but wouldn’t go two years on him.

Dotel was only 34 at this time. It seemed like no matter how much everyone else aged, Dotel always stayed 38-39.

Anyway, the Yankees had Dotel in 2006 on one of those “he had Tommy John surgery but he’ll be totally awesome when he gets healthy in the second half!” contracts, when he allowed 13 runs in ten innings. Dotel got his two year contract from the White Sox and had a 3.55 ERA (131 ERA+) with 167 strikeouts in 129.1 innings from 2008-09. He was still pitching as recently as 2013.

JANUARY 28th:

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Yankees are close to a four-year deal with second baseman Robinson Cano. Since he’s a Super Two, this will cover all of his arbitration years. Rosenthal also says that the deal will include a club option or two, allowing the Yankees to buy out some of Cano’s free agency. The deal looks to be worth $30 million.

No deal for Wang, but the Yankees did lock up Cano and the contract actually looked bad in the first year, when Robbie hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) with 14 homers. There was much second guessing.

Thankfully, Cano turned into a star in the second year of this four-year contract — Robbie hit the quietest .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+) with 25 homers as a second baseman in history in 2009 — and the Yankees eventually did pick up those two option years. All told, Cano had a 129 OPS+ with 34.4 WAR during the life of the contract. The Yankees paid him $57M total. Heck of an investment.

JANUARY 29th:

Bob Nightengale of USA Today says an agreement to trade Santana to the Mets has been reached. They’ll send Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey to the Twins. The Mets still have to work out a six or seven year extension for Santana, according to Nightengale. If this baby reaches its true conclusion we’ll sit down and analyze.

Thank the baseball gods! The Johan saga was finally over. Well, no, not really. The Mets and Twins agreed to the trade but the Mets still had to sign him to an extension within the 72-hour window, which eventually happened.

But what would have happened if they didn’t agree to an extension? Would the whole thing have been called off? And if it was, would the Yankees have jumped back in and low-balled the Twins? I’m guessing no since they seemed to be pretty firm on that “not paying twice” thing, but it’s fun to think about. Maybe they could have gotten Santana at a discount — Melky, Marquez, and Hilligoss with no Hughes? — then let him walk after 2008?

JANUARY 31st:

The Twins tried to re-engage the Yankees Monday night, calling and asking, again, for Hughes to be in a package. The Yankees said no, and the Twins then asked, instead, for Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Kennedy, and the Yankees said no.

The Twins wanted Hughes, and when the Yankees said no, the Twins instead asked for the team’s best MLB pitcher and their other prized pitching prospect? That seems backwards. Those were the days when prospects had more value than actual big leaguers, though thankfully that seems to have corrected itself the last few years. Hughes was an elite prospect, but Wanger was an above-average starter at the MLB level. Wang had more value.

JANUARY 31st:

According to a source, the Yankees have signed Morgan Ensberg. They’ll use him at first base (and maybe off the bench). It’s a minor league deal. Jerry Crasnick confirms it, noting that the Rays and Giants expressed interest.

Contrary to the Jason Lane signing, the reaction to the Ensberg signing was something along the lines of “he hit 36 homers three years ago, what a great pickup!” Then Ensberg had a 34 OPS+ in 28 games and everyone hated him. The Yankees released him on June 10th and he never played another MLB game.

Yeesh, dark ending to this month’s trip through the MLBTR archives, eh?

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 17-19

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. 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Mitchell.. (Presswire)
Mitchell.. (Presswire)

As we jump into the top half of our 40-man roster rankings, we are now looking at players who are projected to have significant roles with the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and beyond Yankees. At least most of the time. There is still one exception to the “significant role with the 2015 Yankees” thing and we’ll cover him today.

Today we’re going to cover spots 17 through 19, which include two starters who are not expected to start the year in rotation, but seem likely to wind up there come the second half. The other spot belongs to the team’s best prospect on the 40-man roster. All three are important pieces to the future of the franchise. To the next batch of rankings …

No. 19: Bryan Mitchell

2015 Role: I don’t want to say sixth starter, but it’s something close to that. Mitchell made his MLB debut last season, including a spot start against the Orioles during a doubleheader, and he handled himself well. That doesn’t guarantee success this coming season, of course, but it’s better than getting lit up and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

Mitchell will presumably get regular work in Spring Training and could win the final bullpen spot as a long man, I suppose, but an assignment to Triple-A Scranton seems more likely. That way he could remain stretched out and available for whenever the Yankees inevitably need another starter. Given the state of the rotation, there’s a good chance Mitchell will make double-digit starts in the big leagues in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Middle to back of the rotation starter. The 23-year-old Mitchell is well ahead of where Shane Greene was in his development at the same age, and he has similarly nasty stuff in his mid-90s fastball and curveball, though he’s not a finished product. They sort of project to be the same type of pitcher though. Workhorse starters with A+ stuff but maybe not A+ results all the time.

Mitchell was drafted out of high school as a raw hard-thrower and has worked hard to improve his control over the years. He had a 13.6% walk rate in Low Class-A, a 9.3% walk rate in High Class-A, a 9.8% walk rate in Double-A, and an 8.9% walk rate in Triple-A, so he is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done and it appears much of it will happen at the big league level. The Yankees need Mitchell to help both now and in the future.

No. 18: Gary Sanchez

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

2015 Role: Doesn’t really have one outside of being a September call-up and the emergency extra catcher. A lot would have to go wrong for Sanchez to get a chance behind the plate before rosters expand, I think. His defense, specifically his receiving — he has thrown out 42% of attempted base-stealers the last two seasons and that’s outstanding — is still a work in progress and so is his bat, really. Sanchez will spend the season as the regular catcher with the RailRiders.

Long-Term Role: Impact bat. Hopefully at catcher, but if not, at first base or even DH. Either way, Sanchez is a bat-first prospect and that’s why he is so highly regarded. When Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect a few weeks ago, they said he has “the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually,” and that’s what the Yankees are hoping to see within a year or two.

Sanchez has shown quite a bit of improvement at making contact and controlling the strike zone as a pro — he had a 25.0% strikeout rate in Low Class-A, a 19.2% strikeout rate in High Class-A, and an 18.2% strikeout rate in Double-A. As with Mitchell, he’s trending in the right direction. Sanchez has power and a strong arm, so the physical tools are there. And he just turned 22 last month, making him the youngest player on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees very clearly value defense behind the plate. It all started years ago, really. They acquired Jose Molina from the Angels in the middle of the 2007 season and the only poor defensive catcher they’ve had since was Jorge Posada. Despite that gaudy caught stealing rate, Sanchez could find himself in another organization if the Yankees don’t like his defense enough. He could wind up being used as trade bait a la Jesus Montero.

Nova. (Presswire)
Nova and his braces. (Presswire)

No. 17: Ivan Nova

2015 Role: Rehabber, at least at first. Nova had Tommy John surgery in late-April and isn’t expected back until May or June of this year. He hasn’t had a setback or anything, the Yankees are just playing it a little safe. A lot of pitchers have recently needed a second Tommy John surgery soon after the first one — Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon Beachy just to name a few — and a lot of people (including Dr. James Andrews) say it may be because they are pushing too hard during the rehab of the first procedure. That’s why the Yankees are taking their time with Nova.

Once healthy and rehabbed, Nova will be expected to jump right back in the starting rotation and contribute. Every team needs more than five starters in a given season and these Yankees figure to be no different considering the injury risks present in the current projected rotation. If Nova comes back in May or June and the team doesn’t have an obvious spot for him, that’s a good thing. Let him get healthy first, then worry about where he fits. My guess is it won’t be a problem.

Long-Term Role: Like I said, Nova will jump right back into the starting rotation once healthy and he’s expected to be in the rotation in 2016 as well. That’s the extent of Nova’s ties to the Yankees though. He will become a free agent after the 2016 season and either he could decide to go elsewhere or the team could decide to move on.

That decision is still a long ways away, of course. Nova has to finish rehabbing his rebuilt elbow, get over the initial strike-throwing issues that so commonly plague recent Tommy John patients, then show in 2016 he is back to where he was before surgery. Now that I think about it … what was Nova before his injury? There were times he looked like an ace and other times he was throwing batting practice. We still don’t really know who the real Nova is at the MLB level. Isn’t that weird?

Coming Friday: Nos. 15 and 16. A young player about to get his first extended taste of big league action and a versatile reliever.

The very wide range of possible outcomes for the 2015 Yankees

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

This could be nothing more than the long offseason taking its toll, but I’ve found myself changing how I feel about the 2015 Yankees on an almost everyday basis. Some days I think they’re much improved and in position to contend in the AL East. Other days I think they have no shot whatever. I keep going back and forth. And the thing is, I don’t think either stance is wrong.

As presently constructed, the 2015 Yankees could either be very good or bad very. I mean, that’s true of every single team every year, breaks go both ways, but I feel these Yankees have a wider ranger of possible outcomes this coming season than any other team in the game. They have so much riding on health and the development of young players, two of the most unpredictable things in the game.

First and foremost, the quality of the rotation depends tremendously on Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and Michael Pineda‘s shoulder. Those two are the biggest x-factors of the season in my opinion. If they both stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day, the Yankees will be in very good shape. Healthy Tanaka and Pineda are difference-makers and arguably the two best starters in the division.

But, on the other side of the coin, if they both get hurt and miss substantial a amount of time, the Yankees will have a major uphill battle to climb. I won’t say it isn’t doable — they lost Tanaka and Pineda for extended periods of time last year but were able to keep the rotation afloat thanks to some shrewd pickups — but losing those two guys would take a huge, huge bite out of their chances to contend.

The health concerns extend to the position player side as well. Healthy Mark Teixeira is better than Garrett Jones, but healthy Teixeira is something we don’t see much of these days. Health Carlos Beltran is way better than a Jones/Chris Young platoon. Beltran flat out mashed before the bone spur in his elbow gave him problems last May. Teixeira and Beltran are not close to what they were at their peaks but they can still contribute more than their replacements.

And then there are the young players, specifically Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. Gregorius is the new everyday shortstop. The Yankees might sit him against the toughest of lefties, but otherwise the job is his. They seem determined to let him sink or swim, and since he’s a young player without much of an MLB track record, sinking is more likely than swimming, even with his defense. Being an everyday big leaguer is hard.

Eovaldi is a different story because he’s been a full-time big league starter for just about three years now. He’s coming over from a pitcher friendly park in the inferior league (come at me, NL diehards) where he had a very good year in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP) and a not so good year in 2014 (4.37 ERA and 3.37 FIP). The Yankees clearly hope the 2013 version is the real Eovaldi, but until he gets out there every fifth day, who knows?

CC Sabathia has his own health and performance concerns. He had his knee cleaned out in July and is expected to be ready to go come the start of Spring Training. Great! But just how good is healthy Sabathia at this point of his career? He’s not an ace anymore, but could he be what Hiroki Kuroda was last year? The veteran guy who goes out and eats innings every fifth day with a league average-ish ERA? That would be a big upgrade over what Sabathia gave the Yankees the last two years.

In my opinion, the Yankees have significantly improved the left side of the infield as well as the bullpen. I also think the farm system is in better shape with more call-up options (Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, etc.) and more trade chips. There are tangible reasons to believe the Yankees will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014. The injury risk really lets a lot of air out of the balloon though. If you could tell me with certainty that Tanaka and Pineda and everyone else will stay healthy, I’d pick the Yankees to win the AL East. But we can’t say that with any certainty. Not even close.

I see Tanaka as a microcosm of the 2015 Yankees. He could either win the Cy Young or pitch literally zero innings this coming year. Somehow neither would surprise me. He’s a boom or bust player for 2015 and the Yankees are a boom or bust team, a team with some interesting young talent that could take the next step and a team that could be crippled by injuries to veterans.

The worst case scenario for the 2015 Yankees is very bad. Like low-70s win total bad. Maybe worse. The best case scenario is pretty good though. Better than I think they get credit for, maybe something along the lines of 90-92 wins. As the title says, this team has a very big range of possible outcomes, and while it’s easy to expect the worst, we should also keep the mind the best case is likely enough to take the AL East.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

You guys, A-Rod is working out with Barry Bonds! This is a Very Big Deal. Josh Shea says Rodriguez and Bonds were spotted together at a Bay Area facility where apparently several players spend time working with Bonds throughout the offseason. Can’t believe A-Rod had the nerve to seek out the knowledge of the best hitter most of us will ever see. Go forth with outrage.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. There’s no hockey tonight, it’s all basketball. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing and there’s the usual slate of college hoops as well. Have at it.

Severino could help in 2015, but Yankees shouldn’t count on him making an immediate impact

(Trenton Thunder)
(Trenton Thunder)

At this point it goes without saying the Yankees have some major injury risks in their rotation heading into next season. We’ve been talking about it all winter. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka were all hurt for significant periods of time last year and Ivan Nova is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery. There’s no way to feel comfortable with this group from a health standpoint.

Of course, the Yankees did actually deal with a ton of rotation injuries last year, and they were still able to cobble together a decent staff. At one point five of the six best starters in the organization (Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka, Nova, David Phelps) were all on the disabled list, yet Brian Cashman & Co. dug up a Chris Capuano here, found a Brandon McCarthy there, and made it work. Even with the injuries, the rotation had the fourth highest fWAR in baseball (14.9). It helps that no one can hit anymore.

As with Shane Greene last summer, the Yankees will inevitably have to dip into their minor league pitching reserves at some point this summer, and it appears Bryan Mitchell is first in line for a call-up after making his MLB debut last year. Chances are the team will need more than one fill-in starter though. That’s just baseball. Getting through a season using only five or six starters never happens these days. Add in the Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda injury risk and the Yankees are even more likely than most to need extra starters.

New York’s top prospect heading into the 2015 season is soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, who is the team’s best right-handed pitching prospect since pre-2008 Joba Chamberlain. In their midseason updates, Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Severino as the 34th and 62nd best prospect in baseball, respectively, and he’s only climbed further up those rankings since. You will find no argument that he is one of the top pitching prospects in all the land.

The Yankees have very clearly put Severino on the fast track — he made 14 starts for Low-A Charleston, four for High-A Tampa, and six for Double-A Trenton in 2014 — and there’s little reason to think they’ll slow him down now. I don’t expect him to start the season with Triple-A Scranton but he’ll be there soon enough, likely by May or at the latest June. Once he’s there, it’s only a matter of time before he gets the call to the show. The Yankees usually don’t let their top pitching prospects spend much time in Triple-A. It’s just a quick stop on the way to MLB.

There is a very clear path for Severino to join the big league team at some point in 2015, likely around midseason after a last little bit of token fine-tuning in the minors. His performance speaks for itself — he had a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) at those three levels last year — but we can’t forget there is more to prospecting that stats. Severino himself admitted he needs to improve his command of the outer half of the plate and the consistency of his slider at MLB’s Rookie Development Camp recently. Here, look:

Improving location and the consistency of his breaking ball are real issues Severino has to address and things that can be improved and worked on in the minors, where wins and losses don’t matter. Severino might be able to get by without pitching to both sides of the plate or by hanging a bunch of sliders against minor leaguers, but the big leagues are unforgiving. Execution is more important than potential.

Even if Severino does master the outside corner and learn how to throw his slider where he wants, when he wants, there is still the issue of his workload. Severino threw 44 innings plus some unknown amount in Extended Spring Training in 2013 and then 113.1 total innings in 2015. That puts him on track for what, 150 innings in 2015? Maybe 160 if you really want to push it? Perhaps that will be enough — Greene threw 145 innings last year, but only after that weird April in which he went up-and-down a bunch of times and never really pitched (6.1 total innings in April — but more than likely it only makes Severino a temporary solution until he has to be shut down.

The workload is just something the Yankees and Severino will have to deal with. I hope they have learned from the Joba fiasco in late-2009 and will simply shut young pitchers down when they approach their innings limit rather than try something silly like 35-pitch starts or something like that. (My goodness that was such a mess.) There are innings Severino will be able to contribute to the big league team before the shutdown, but only a finite amount, and the quality of those innings is a total unknown.

A quick search shows 40 instances (featuring 31 different players) of a pitcher age 21 or younger starting at least five games in a season for an AL team since the turn of the century, and, of those 40, only 17 had a league average or better ERA. Just four have done it since 2007. Here’s the list. It’s not often pitchers this young get a somewhat extended shot in MLB, and those who do are rarely more than serviceable. It’s one thing if the Yankees call up Severino in 2015. It’s another if they call him up hoping he makes an impact rather than simply allowing him to get his feet wet.

Believe me, I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees bring up a hotshot pitching prospect and have him dominate this coming season. And with all due respect to Greene, I don’t mean someone like him. Someone like Severino, who is among the best pitching prospects in the game and could be a rotation fixture for years to come. That would be amazing. I don’t see how anyone could realistically expect that though. Severino might get a chance to help the Yankees in 2015, but if it comes in a spot where they need him to make a difference, he’ll be coming up under the wrong circumstances.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 20-25

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. 26-31 and 32-40.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Capuano. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

After spending the last two days looking at the 40-man roster players who might help the Yankees in some sort of limited capacity this coming season, we’re now getting to players expected to have regular roles during the 2015 season. We aren’t at the core of the roster yet, but some of these folks are more than fringe players.

Our 40-man roster ranking series continues today with Nos. 20-25, six spots split eventually between big league pitchers and prospects. There’s not much of a common theme in this group, that’s just the way the rankings fell. Boring, I know, but that’s the way it goes. Alright, let’s continue marching on …

No. 25: Chris Capuano

2015 Role: Fifth starter, maybe a swingman if a better rotation option comes along at some point. The Yankees re-signed Capuano to a little one-year contract worth $5M to add pitching depth and add some stability to the back of the rotation. Capuano did an alright job in pinstripes last year (4.25 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 12 starts) and the team will ask him to do more of the same in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Doesn’t really have one. I mean, yeah, the Yankees could always bring Capuano back in 2016, but he is very much a year to year guy at age 36. Maybe it’s more appropriate to call him a month to month guy instead. Capuano is nothing more than a stopgap rotation option. The Yankees just want him to soak up innings every fifth day and be a mentor to some of the younger pitchers on the staff. Capuano is important in 2015 because the rotation is full of injury concerns, though there’s no long-term plan here.

No. 24: Chasen Shreve

2015 Role: At worst, an up-and-down bullpen arm. At best, a bullpen fixture who serves as a reliable matchup lefty for Joe Girardi in the middle innings. The Yankees acquired the 24-year-old Shreve from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos trade a few weeks ago and while he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot come Opening Day, I think he is the leading candidate for the final bullpen spot. Either way, he’ll get a long look in Spring Training.

Long-Term Role: A bullpen regular. Shreve reinvented himself last season by simply airing it out — he stopped holding back velocity in an attempt to improve location, and the result was across the board improvement. Even to his walk rate. I don’t know if he has the pure stuff to be a late-inning reliever who can face both lefties and righties, but if the results stemming from the new approach are legit, Shreve is a guy who can hang around and contribute out of the bullpen for the next several years. I’m very intrigued by the pickup and am looking forward to seeing him this summer.

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

No. 23: Domingo German

2015 Role: Nothing at the MLB level. German came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade after spending all of last season in Low Class-A. He’s on the 40-man roster because the Marlins opted to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason. German will head to High-A Tampa this coming year and maybe, just maybe, he’ll earn a call-up to Double-A Trenton at midseason. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that.

Long-Term Role: German is one of the best pitching prospects in the organization — you could easily argue he’s the team’s second best pitching prospect behind non-40-man-roster guy Luis Severino — and that alone makes him an important part of the team’s future even if he won’t realistically make his MLB debut until 2016, if not later.

The Yankees want German to do one of two things: either become a long-term fixture in their rotation or continue improving his prospect stock so they can use him as the centerpiece in a trade. He’s much closer to the latter than he is the former right now. At 22, German is the youngest pitcher on the 40-man roster by 16 months and the second youngest player on the 40-man roster overall (behind Gary Sanchez), and that alone makes him an important part of the organization. He’s a key piece moving forward.

No. 22: David Carpenter

2015 Role: Setup man, replacing Shawn Kelley. Carpenter has been setting up Craig Kimbrel these last two years — he came over with Shreve in the Banuelos trade — and he’ll continue to work important innings in New York. It remains to be seen how the ninth inning will shake out, but if Dellin Betances gets the closer’s job, Carpenter is the leading candidate to be Joe Girardi’s right-handed complement to Andrew Miller.

Long-Term Role: Still setup man. Carpenter is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through the 2017 season, so he’s not going anywhere unless he’s just so terrible the team dumps him. The Yankees basically reacquired Kelley. He and Carpenter are very similar pitchers — fastball, slider, lots of strikeouts, lots of fly balls — and they’ll wind up filling the same role in pinstripes.

No. 21: Justin Wilson

2015 Role: Middle reliever but not just as a left-handed specialist. Wilson, who came over from the Pirates in the Frankie Cervelli swap, has a big fastball and a history of striking batters out and neutralizing both lefties and righties. The shaky control means he might never be a regular high-leverage option, but Wilson is a solid reliever who won’t have to be hidden from righties.

Long-Term Role: Wilson won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2018 season, so he’s expected to be a staple in the bullpen for the next several years. If the Carpenter is the next Kelley, Wilson is the next Boone Logan, a lefty with power stuff but questionable strike-throwing ability. Even with Miller on board, Wilson has a chance to grow into a traditional setup role if his control improves a la Logan because he isn’t held back by platoon splits.

Austin. (Star-Ledger)
Austin. (Star-Ledger)

No. 20: Tyler Austin

2015 Role: These last two seasons have been physically tough for Austin, who suffered a bone bruise in his wrist in April 2013 and had it linger all the way into the middle of the 2014 season. (It didn’t help that he played through it for most of 2013). He also missed several weeks with a hamstring strain last year.

Austin mashed before and after the wrist issues — he put up a .302/.355/.487 (133 wRC+) line in the final two months of the 2014 regular season and did more of the same in the Arizona Fall League (135 wRC+) — and he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He’s headed to Triple-A Scranton to start the year and could bypass Ramon Flores as the first outfielder to get called up when help is needed. So I guess that means his immediate role is up-and-down outfielder.

Long-Term Role: He’s not expected to be a star, but Austin has legitimate upside as an everyday MLB player, most likely in right field. He has also seen time at first and third bases in his career, but the hot corner ain’t happening. The Yankees have a full outfield at the moment, though Carlos Beltran will be an injury risk from now through the end of his contract. Among players on the 40-man, Austin has by far the best chance to come up, replace an injured outfielder, and make the team keep him in the lineup with his play.

The Yankees have a small wave of promising position player prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and Austin is in position to be among the first to get an opportunity in an everyday role. He could replace Garrett Jones as the part-time right fielder, part-time first baseman, part-time DH as soon as 2016 — Austin is a righty while Jones is a lefty, but that’s not a huge deal — before settling into a full-time role. Offense is at a premium and Austin has never not hit when healthy. If he contributes at the plate at the MLB level, he’ll stick around.

Coming Thursday: Nos. 17-19. Two pitchers at different points of their careers and a potential impact position player prospect.

2015 Payroll Breakdown: Part Three

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We’re officially in the dog days of the offseason. All of the top free agents other than James Shields have signed, all of the top trade candidates have been traded, and there’s really nothing left to do other than count down the days until Spring Training. It would be a surprise if the Yankees made another notable move this winter, meaning something more than a minor trade or handing out a minor league contract.

Since our last payroll breakdown in mid-December, the Yankees have made five trades — including three that directly impacted the projected Opening Day roster — and signed one big league free agent as well as all of their arbitration-eligible players. They also did, in fact, pass on Max Scherzer. The 2015 payroll situation has both changed and stayed the same since our last update — the Yankees shuffled money around, they didn’t really cut any or take any on. Here’s an update on where the 2015 payroll sits.

UNDER CONTRACT (21 players signed for $216.535M)
Players: Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.14M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.86M), Brian McCann ($17M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Brett Gardner ($13M), Chase Headley ($13M), Andrew Miller ($9M), Chris Capuano ($5M), Stephen Drew ($5M), Garrett Jones ($5M), Nathan Eovaldi ($3.3M), Ivan Nova ($3.3M), Chris Young ($2.5M), Michael Pineda ($2.1M), Brendan Ryan ($1.67M), Esmil Rogers ($1.48M), David Carpenter ($1.275M), Jose DePaula ($510k)

As a reminder, those numbers are luxury tax “hits,” not necessarily the player’s actual take home salary for the coming season. The Yankees seems to operate with the luxury tax payroll in mind — most of their multi-year contracts are paid out according to average annual value anyway — because I guess that’s the most important number to them. It determines how much extra they have to pay at the end of the season.

Anyway, Drew, Jones, Eovaldi, and Carpenter are all new additions since our last payroll update. Martin Prado, David Phelps, and Shawn Kelley have all been traded away. At the time of the last update, the Yankees had 16 players under contract plus four arbitration-eligible players who combined for $215.76M in tax hits. So all those trades last month resulted in one extra player and less than a million of extra payroll. Like I said, they just shuffled the money around.

DePaula signed a split contract, meaning he will earn one salary in MLB ($510k) and another in the minors ($175k). That’s standard for players in their pre-arbitration years. I included him in this section because one way or another, the Yankees are going to pay someone that sort of salary to fill out the last spot in the bullpen. It’ll probably be a revolving door of pitchers, all at that salary level. DePaula’s a placeholder, essentially.

Those 21 players listed above account for 20 Opening Day roster spots since Nova is going to start the season on the disabled list. The Yankees ended last season with a $225.6M payroll for luxury tax purposes and our estimate is already at $216.535M this year, for a little more than half the 40-man roster too.

PRE-ARBITRATION (19 players)
Players: Tyler Austin, Dellin Betances, Danny Burawa, Ramon Flores, Domingo German, Didi Gregorius, Chris Martin, Bryan Mitchell, John Ryan Murphy, Branden Pinder, Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley, Mason Williams, Justin Wilson

Like I said, these players will earn one salary in MLB and another in the minors. Betances, Gregorius, Murphy, Warren, and Wilson are all projected to be on the Opening Day roster and will earn something close to the league minimum. (Betances figures to make the most of this group next year because he has an All-Star Game to his credit.) Estimating them a $550,000 each brings us to $219.285M for 26 of the 40-man roster spots.

The other 14 pre-arbitration players are going to be in the minors, at least for part of the season. Some will come up because they perform well or there are injuries. There’s no real way to predict their playing time. I’ve seen salary estimates for the non-MLB roster portion of the 40-man roster range anywhere from $2M to $5M. I used $2M in our last payroll breakdown but I think the higher end of that range might be more appropriate because of the team’s injury risk in the rotation, at first base, right field, and DH. Guys like Mitchell, Pirela, and Whitley could wind up spending a lot of time with the Yankees this summer. Using the $5M, we’re at $224.285M for the full 40-man roster.

MISCELLANY ($3M guaranteed and up to $15.325M total)
Players: A-Rod ($6M bonus with six more homers), Prado ($3M to Marlins), Chris Young ($3.825M in incentives), Stephen Drew ($1.5M in incentives), Chase Headley ($1M in incentives)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Bonuses and incentives do count towards the luxury tax, so while I’m not going to include them in our little running estimate, we do have to be aware of them. A-Rod needs six more dingers to get that $6M bonus, and the incentives for Young, Drew, and Headley are all based on plate appearances. Chances are at least some of that bonus money will be paid out.

The Yankees sent the Marlins money to help cover Prado’s contract as part of the Eovaldi trade — they’re sending Miami $3M this year and another $3M next year. That makes it nice and easy for luxury tax purposes. Unlike the incentives, that $3M is definitely going to the Marlins in 2015. It’s on the books. So our 40-man roster estimate jumps up to $227.285M. The Yankees closed the 2014 season with a $225.6M payroll for luxury tax purposes, for reference.

We’re not done though. Every team has to contribute $12M or so towards player benefits and that counts against the luxury tax, so the Yankees are really at $239.285M with their luxury tax payroll. The Yankees started last season with a payroll right around $200M for luxury tax purposes and it climbed to $225.6M by the end of the year thanks to the addition of Drew, Headley, Prado, and Brandon McCarthy. The team is starting this coming season at $239.285M.

So, in a nutshell, payroll is up approximately $40M from Opening Day last year. Most of that is because of A-Rod, whose massive salary comes back on the books now that his suspension ended. The Yankees also added Headley for the full season. Those two account for the extra payroll all by themselves, pretty much. Eovaldi is more expensive than Shane Greene, but Carpenter and Wilson are cheaper than Kelley and Matt Thornton. The non-A-Rod/Headley portion of the roster more or less balances out.

CURRENT 25-MAN ROSTER
The Yankees seem to be done with their offseason moves but I would never rule anything out. Hal Steinbrenner could wake up tomorrow and decide the team just has to have James Shields, for example. I don’t expect that to happen, but would anyone really be surprised if it did? No. So, with that perpetual caveat in mind, here is the projected 25-man Opening Day roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Sabathia Betances
2B Drew CF Ellsbury Tanaka Miller
DH SS Gregorius RF Beltran Pineda Warren
A-Rod! 3B Headley Eovaldi Carpenter
Capuano Wilson
BENCH DISABLED LIST Rogers
C Murphy OF Young Nova ?
IF Ryan UTIL Jones

The only real open spot is that final bullpen spot, which could go to DePaula or one of many other in-house options. Shreve, Burawa, Ramirez, Whitley, Jacob Lindgren … the Yankees have no shortage of cheap candidates to fill out the bullpen. I suppose Romine could beat out Murphy for the backup catcher’s job, but that would be unexpected. It wouldn’t change the payroll equation much anyway. I do expect the Yankees to keep Ryan since he can legitimately play short and that’s a good skill to have.

The Yankees set a franchise payroll record during the 2013 season, when they finished the year with a $237.012M payroll for luxury tax purposes. The 2015 team is starting at just about that number and payroll will inevitably climb higher due to call-ups and midseason acquisitions. There are only two ways the Yankees could realistically shed a significant amount of money this year: they could trade the very desirable Brett Gardner, or A-Rod could get suspended again. That’s pretty much it.

Although they are going to set a payroll record this year, the Yankees have not been increasing payroll as much as the rest of the league in recent years. Here’s a real quick and dirty graph showing the team’s payroll (in millions, duh) and the average payroll of the other 29 teams since the 2000 season (payroll data from Baseball Cube):

2000-14 NYY vs. MLB payroll

New York’s payroll shot up from 2000-04 and has held steady since 2005 with the exception of 2012, when the team lost so many players to injury and had to cover. The 2015 payroll will be the team’s second time pushing $230M+ in the last three years, so is this the start of another 2000-04-esque spike, or just a blip? Hal has strongly indicated the team will try to get under the luxury tax threshold when it presumably rises for the 2017 season, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. That leads me to believe it’s just a blip.

Either way, blip or not, the Yankees will trot out a franchise record payroll this coming season and it might not be enough to get them back to the postseason. I’m not at all convinced one (1) Max Scherzer would have been enough to do the trick either. The Yankees have a lot really bad money on the books and it’s hamstringing them. It’s not just the money either, it’s the roster spots. They’re tied to these players. Until some of these bad contracts start expiring in two years, the team might not be major players for big name free agents at all.