Update: 2017 Salary Arbitration Filing Day Signings

Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Original Post (Friday, 12pm ET): Today is a significant day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2017 season is 1pm ET. The team submits the salary they believe the player deserves while the player submits the salary he feels he deserves. Simple, right?

The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster right now. They started the offseason with nine, but Nathan Eovaldi and Dustin Ackley were released when 40-man roster space was needed back in November. Here are the seven arbitration-eligible players and their projected 2017 salaries, per MLB Trade Rumors:

Most arbitration-eligible players around the league will sign a new contract prior to the filing deadline. Last year the Yankees signed Pineda and Ackley before the deadline, but ended up filing figures with Gregorius, Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Aroldis Chapman. It was the first time they failed to sign an eligible player before the filing deadline in several years.

It’s important to note exchanging figures today doesn’t mean the two sides have to go to an arbitration hearing. They can still hammer out a contract of any size at any point. In fact, the Yankees were able to sign Gregorius, Eovaldi, Nova, and Chapman not too long after the filing deadline last year. New York hasn’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason.

We’re going to keep track of today’s Yankee-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy like a long-term extension happens. I’m not counting on it. Make sure you check back for updates often. The deadline is 1pm ET, but the news tends to trickle in all throughout the afternoon.

Update (Friday, 11:39am ET): The Yankees and Gregorius have agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.1M, reports Jon Heyman. Exactly as MLBTR projected. Gregorius made $2.425M last season, which was his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. A long-term extension was always a long shot. Didi can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

Update (Friday, 12:27pm ET): Romine and the Yankees have an $805,000 agreement in place, says Heyman. Quite a bit below MLBTR’s projection, relatively speaking. Romine made made $556,000 last season. This was his first trip through arbitration.

Update (Friday, 4:52pm ET): Pineda and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.4M, per Heyman. That’s up from his $4.3M salary in 2016. It pays to be a (middling) starting pitcher. Pineda came in just under his MLBTR projected salary.

Update (Friday, 4:55pm ET): The Yankees have a $2.29M agreement with Warren, according to Josh Norris. Almost exactly what MLBTR projected. He made $1.7M a year ago. Warren will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 as well.

Update (Friday, 5:30pm ET): The Yankees announced they have agreements in place with both Hicks and Layne. They’re one-year contracts. No word on the money yet though. That leaves Betances as the only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. I’m not surprised. Contract talks weren’t smooth last year.

Update (Friday, 7:13pm ET): Betances filed for $5M and the Yankees countered with $3M, according to Heyman. That’s a pretty significant gap. They might end up going to a hearing. Then again, I said the same thing about Chapman last year, and they hammered out a deal. Get that paper, Dellin.

Update (Friday, 7:56pm ET): Layne received $1.075M, so says Bryan Hoch. He was arbitration-eligible for the first of four times as a Super Two this offseason, so he’s under team control through 2020. Then again, Layne is already 32 and he’s been in four organizations the last five years, so yeah.

Update (Tuesday, 6:00pm ET): The Yankees and Hicks agreed to a $1.35M salary for 2017, reports Ronald Blum. Just a touch below MLBTR’s projection. Hicks made $574,000 last season. He will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019.

CC Sabathia hopes to continue pitching beyond 2017

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

Hands down, one of my favorite things about last season was CC Sabathia‘s resurgence. It was tough watching him struggle the last few years, but last season Sabathia developed a cutter and made the transition to finesse pitcher. Hopefully he gives the Yankees more of the same this coming season. They’ll need it to contend.

Not surprisingly, Sabathia recently told Pete Caldera that as long as he’s healthy and feeling good, he plans to continue playing. This is the time of year when we begin to hear stories like this. CC was also surprisingly non-committal about remaining with the Yankees long-term even though his family lives in New Jersey full-time.

“If anything, it made me want to play as long as I can. As long as I’m healthy and feeling good, I want to play,” said Sabathia when asked about Mark Teixeira‘s and Alex Rodriguez‘s farewells. “I don’t think there would be anything sentimental (about 2017 possibly being my final season as Yankee). If it’s my last year (here), I’m sure I’ll pitch here again, whether it’s in a different uniform or whatever.”

Usually we hear players say they want to wear pinstripes the rest of their careers. I know Teixeira said that last year, when he was still in “I want to play until I’m 40” mode. It’s kinda refreshing to hear Sabathia be so candid. He knows this is a business, he’s been through free agency and all that before, and he understands the business could lead to him pitching elsewhere after 2017.

The Yankees are in need of pitching beyond 2017 since both Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents after the season, plus Masahiro Tanaka can opt-out. Hopefully a few of the kids emerge as reliable rotation options this year. That would be cool. And even if it happens, there’s always room for a veteran innings guy on the staff. I can’t imagine the Yankees ever going with five kids in the rotation.

Sabathia’s new cutter and knee brace, not to mention his sobriety, give us some tangible reasons to believe his success last year was sustainable. He’ll never be an ace again, but if he can be a league average starter for 170+ innings, that’s a nice little rotation piece. If he has another solid season, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Yankees try to bring Sabathia back in 2018, presumably on a one-year deal. Hard to think of a better one-year veteran.

With the right field job up for grabs, Judge is still making adjustments this offseason

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Know what’s a fun game? Trying to figure out which young Yankees player you’re most looking forward to seeing this coming season. The easy answer is Gary Sanchez and understandably so. He was incredible last year. But there’s also Greg Bird, who we haven’t seen in over a year. And Tyler Austin‘s opposite field power. We can’t forget Aaron Judge either. He hit some jaw-dropping home runs in his brief 2016 cameo.

Along with those jaw-dropping homers came a whole bunch of strikeouts. Lots and lots of strikeouts. Forty-two in 95 plate appearances, to be exact. A total of 7,718 players have batted at least 90 times in a season this century, and Judge’s 44.2% strikeout rate was third highest behind 2015 Joey Gallo (46.3%) and 2016 Madison Bumgarner (44.3%), so yeah. We knew the strikeouts were coming. We just hoped they wouldn’t be that bad.

Of course, we’re talking about 95 plate appearances here, and that’s nothing. Jose Bautista struck out 40 times in 96 plate appearances (41.7%) in his MLB debut in 2004, and by 2006, his first full big league season, it was down to 23.5%. Javier Baez went from 41.5% strikeouts in 2014 to 24.0% strikeouts in 2016. Neither of those guys was 6-foot-7, but with a little hard work and patience, it is possible to cut the strikeouts down to a more manageable rate.

Last offseason Judge spent a bunch of time with the organization’s hitting gurus working on various adjustments, and when he showed up to Spring Training, he had a brand new leg kick. I’ve used this GIF a bunch of times before and I might as well do it again. Spring Training 2015 is on the left and Spring Training 2016 is on the right:

Aaron Judge 2015 vs 2016

Judge had a much more pronounced leg kick last spring, and he also moved his hands down ever so slightly. The adjustments didn’t stop there either. When Judge was called up in August, his hands were even lower, and the leg kick wasn’t quite as big as it was in Spring Training. Check it out:

aaron-judge-adjustments

That ball cleared the visitor’s bullpen and landed about five rows deep in the left field bleachers. I just thought I’d mention that. Here’s the video if you’re desperate for a baseball highlight.

Anyway, that’s three versions of Judge in the span of 18 months. He added a leg kick, lowered his hands, reduced the leg kick, and lowered his hands some more. The adjustments are ongoing. Very rarely is there a magic fix. Do this one thing and everything will work out fine. It would be nice if that’s how it worked, but nah.

Judge is again hard at work this offseason, making adjustments in an effort to cut down on his strikeouts and become a productive big leaguer. And again, the lower half is the primary focus. Brian Cashman said Judge has been working to remain “calm” and “balanced” with his legs this offseason.

“Aaron was just at Yankee Stadium about a week to ten days ago,” said Cashman during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “(Hitting coach) Alan Cockrell was working with him on his lower half, and continuing the efforts and adjustments they started last year … The lower half is the final adjustment that they’re working through — his front side and staying clam and trying to stay balanced — and so I think that’ll help.”

It sounds like — and I could be completely wrong here — the Yankees and Judge are still trying to find a leg kick that works. They tried the big one in Spring Training and obviously that didn’t stick, because it was much shorter when he arrived in the big leagues. A leg kick is a timing mechanism, and if Judge improves his timing, it should help him cut down on the empty swings.

“He’s a big kid. Strikeouts are going to be part of his game,” added Cashman. “It’s just limiting them. He can’t have success and maintain a career at the big league level with that level of strikeouts. If we shave that off, we’ll take the power trade-off he’ll provide.”

The question is not the adjustments themselves or Judge’s effort level. He continues to put in the work and he’s shown the aptitude to make adjustments in the past. The question is where should he make these adjustments? Do the Yankees live with the growing pains at the MLB level, or send Judge down to Triple-A, where development is the goal and winning is secondary?

I guess we can’t answer that right now. The Yankees have more information than us, they know what’s going on behind the scenes, so this isn’t simply a case of watching some Spring Training at-bats and making a decision. Judge could rake in camp, but if the team doesn’t think he’s where he needs to be, they could send him down for a few weeks. It’s not like they’re short on outfielders. They can plug someone else in right field for the time being.

“His history in the last two years of promotion — at the Triple-A level and last year with us — was failure, adjustments, success,” said Cashman. “He experienced some failure at the Major League level. That whole experience in the short sample will serve him well as he approaches 2017 … He’s got options, so if he’s not quite ready, he gets to go down there and finish himself off, and wait until he’s ready.”

I mentioned this in last week’s mailbag, but Judge will be an interesting test case for the rebuild. How patient will fans be with him? And, more importantly, how patient will the Yankees be with him? We caught a glimpse of the potential reward last year. The balls hit off the top of the restaurant and over the bullpens. Judge is working to get to that level consistently, and the Yankees should remain patient and give him as much time as necessary, even if it means another stint in Triple-A.

Thoughts four weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

Need baseball. (Presswire)
Need baseball. (Presswire)

In just four not-so-short weeks, the Yankees will open Spring Training and pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa. Can’t come soon enough. I don’t even care that it’s a non-news day. I’m ready for this offseason to be over and something that resembles baseball to begin. Anyway, I have some random thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. This isn’t really something we can quantify at the moment, but I think we can all agree the Yankees will take a huge defensive hit at first base this coming season. Mark Teixeira, even at the very end of his career, was a dynamite defender over at first. He saved countless errors with great scoops — the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS tells me Teixeira was third among all first basemen in “sure-handedness” (scoops, picks, etc.) over the last three years, behind Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez — and was a vacuum on hot shots hit his way. Neither Greg Bird nor Tyler Austin is much of a first base defender. They were always bat-first prospects. I do expect Bird and Austin to out-hit the 2016 version of Teixeira, by quite a bit too, but in the field, they’re a big step down. Hopefully the offensive upgrade outweighs the defensive downgrade. I still think it’ll be a bit of a shock to the system when we see fewer throws in the dirt get scooped and fewer hard-hit grounders turn into outs.

2. Speaking of defense, do you think the Yankees would be better off flipping Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury? It’s hard to say. Gardner spent only one season, 2013, as New York’s full-time center fielder, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen him out there on any everyday basis. Also, Ellsbury’s experience in left field is very limited. He’s played only 86 games and 563.2 innings in left field in his career, and none since 2010. Aside from the fact this would probably never ever ever happen, I don’t think it would be worthwhile. Left field in Yankee Stadium is tricky, especially during day games when the sun peeks out from over the stands, and Gardner has it down pat. Ellsbury’s learning curve would be steep. On top of that, I think Ellsbury has more range, which plays better in center field. A few years ago the Yankees discussed flipping Gardner with Curtis Granderson because Gardner was the superior defender, and they did do it for a handful of games, but not many. In that case it made sense because Gardner was clearly a better defensive outfielder. With Gardner and Ellsbury, I don’t think it’s nearly as clear cut. This is just something that crossed my mind. The numbers might say it’ll save the Yankees a few extra runs per year, but once you factor in potential adjustment periods, it might not be worth the trouble. Like I said though, not happening anyway.

3. I wonder whether the Yankees will revisit the “Starlin Castro at third base” experiment this Spring Training. The plan got put on hold last spring after the team realized Castro was still rough around the edges at second base — I always thought asking him to learn third only a few months after learning second was too much, too soon — but now that he’s played a full season at second, they may try it again. It’s a good idea in theory. Why not make your players more flexible, if it all possible? As Matt mentioned over the weekend, it’s not like the Yankees are loaded with options at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the incumbent backup, and then there’s, uh. Ruben Tejada? Donovan Solano? I don’t think anyone wants to see those guys in the lineup full-time. At least if Castro can play third, he could slide over should Chase Headley get hurt, then the Yankees could roll Rob Refsnyder out there at second. I’d rather see Refsnyder at second and Castro at third than Castro at second and Torreyes/Tejada/Solano at third. (Refsnyder at third doesn’t seem to doable in the eyes of the Yankees.) It’s worth trying Starlin at third in Spring Training. Whether the Yankees go through with it is another matter.

4. The 2017 Hall of Fame class will be announced Wednesday, and my official prediction is three players will be voted in this year: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman, while both Vlad Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez fall fewer than ten percentage points short of the 75% needed for induction. I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote yet, I’m still eight years away from that, but if I did, I would have voted for Bagwell, Raines, Guerrero, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker this year. I’ve written our Hall of Fame case posts for Walker at CBS the last few years (here is this year’s) and I managed to change my own opinion from not a Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer. He’s fifth among outfielders in WAR over the last 50 years, you know, behind only Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Reggie Jackson. Also, only 31% of his career plate appearances came in Coors Field, so the ballpark didn’t inflate his career numbers that much. Anyway, those are my ten. As you can see, I’m not one of those folks who believe keeping someone out of Cooperstown is an appropriate punishment for performance-enhancing drugs. As far as I’m concerned, Manny got caught (twice) and served his punishment (twice) and that’s that.

5. I’m sure this is something only I care about, but with the center field area at Yankee Stadium undergoing massive renovations this offseason, I hope we get a true dead center field camera angle.  Here’s the current home YES Network camera angle and the home FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals) camera angle, which is one of my favorites:

yes-vs-fox-camera

Several teams have a true dead center field camera angle these days (Cardinals, Braves, Orioles, Red Sox, Pirates, Rockies) and it’s so much better than the old school offset camera angle. You get a much better look at pitch movement — not just breaking balls either, it’s eye-opening to see how few fastballs are truly straight — and left-right pitch location. Pitches that look like they catch the corner on the offset camera angle are often off the plate, and the dead center angle shows that. The dead center camera makes for a much more enjoyable baseball-watching experience, in my opinion. I hope we get one now that center field at Yankee Stadium is being overhauled.

6. In each of the last few seasons the Yankees had a longtime minor leaguer break out and become a legitimate prospect. Last year it was Kyle Higashioka. The year before it was Ben Gamel and Dietrich Enns. I’m guessing lefty Daniel Camarena is that player in 2017. He missed the entire 2015 season after having bone spurs removed from his elbow, and he returned last season to pitch to a 3.55 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 19.8% strikeouts and 4.2% walks in 147 total innings, most at Double-A. Not the sexiest numbers, though he was coming back from elbow surgery, so we need to grade him on a curve. Camarena is not an out-of-nowhere player. The Yankees gave him a well-above-slot $335,000 bonus as their 20th round pick out of a (surprise surprise) Southern California high school in 2011, so they like him. Camarena is a true three-pitch pitcher who always stood out most for his ability to locate his 90-ish mph fastball. He also throws two quality secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Southpaws with three pitches who can spot their fastball are worth keeping around. Camarena is healthy, he had success at Double-A last year, and he’ll be a minor league free agent after the 2017 season. Hopefully he forces the Yankees to make a 40-man roster decision come November.

Monday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Yankees announced their first (annual?) Winter Warm-Up event, in which players and prospects will meet with fans throughout New York this week. Gary Sanchez was at the Bullpen Deli outside Yankee Stadium today. Mike Mazzeo has the story. The rest of the events this week are a surprise. This is pretty great. The Yankees don’t have any sort of winter event, like a FanFast or something, and I’ve felt their fan outreach has been lacking over the years. It’s good to see them get out in the community like this and stay in touch with fans, and maybe even cultivate some new ones.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing, so you’ve got some college hoops and not much else. Talk about whatever here. Just don’t be a jerk.

Yankees sign Ji-Man Choi to minor league contract

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Yankees have signed first baseman Ji-Man Choi to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He’ll make $700,000 at the big league level with another $400,000 in incentives. The Yonhap report says Choi turned down a “substantial amount of money” to remain with the Angels.

Choi, 25, elected free agency last week after Billy Eppler’s squad dropped him from the 40-man roster. Anaheim selected him from the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft last offseason. Choi hit .170/.271/.339 (67 wRC+) with five homers in 54 games and 129 plate appearances with the Angels in 2016. It was his MLB debut. He began his career with the Mariners back in the day.

At one point last summer the Angels placed Choi on waivers and offered him back to the O’s, but Baltimore declined to take him back, so the Halos sent him to Triple-A. Choi hit .346/.434/.527 (157 wRC+) with five homers in 53 Triple-A games last year. He’s a left-handed hitter who has outfield experience in addition to first base, though he’s no defensive wiz.

The Yankees appear set to go with a Greg BirdTyler Austin platoon at first base next season, meaning Choi figures to play first base for Triple-A Scranton. As best I can tell, Choi has a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees will be able to send him up and down as an injury replacement, if necessary.

Richard Bleier may be the unspoken rotation candidate

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One thing has become pretty clear this offseason: the Yankees like left-hander Richard Bleier a heck of a lot more than I realized. They’ve kept the 29-year-old journeyman on the 40-man roster all winter, opting to instead cut ties with potentially useful young players like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Goody when space was needed. Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder too, though they’re rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Bleier, who the Yankees signed as a minor league free agent last offseason, made his MLB debut last summer and did solid work for New York. He threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP). Bleier spent much of the season as a low-leverage option before seeing increased responsibility in September, when the Yankees were essentially holding open auditions for the bullpen. Things were wide open there for a while.

Although he worked out of the bullpen last year, Bleier has been a starter pretty much throughout his entire career, including early last season with Triple-A Scranton. As recently as 2015 he managed a 2.57 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 26 starts and 171.2 innings with the Nationals between Double-A and Triple-A. Bleier is a starter who just so happened to pitch in relief last year. Tons of guys break into the show that way. Especially older journeymen.

The Yankees have some openings at the back of the rotation and everyone involved has said the kids will compete for those spots in Spring Training. Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell are the leading candidates, and Adam Warren is coming to camp as a starter too. The Yankees have a history of doing that. Anyone who has been a starter in the past comes to Spring Training prepared to start, because hey, why not?

Bleier has not been mentioned as a rotation candidate — Brian Cashman listed Cessa, Severino, Mitchell, Warren, and Green by name when asked about rotation candidates last week  — but again, the Yankees tend to bring anyone who could conceivably start to camp as a starter. That includes journeyman types like Sergio Mitre and Esmil Rogers. Of course, Mitre and Rogers were former top prospects. Bleier is … not one of those. Big difference there.

Also, the Yankees seem to have a type, and Bleier is decidedly not that type. They love hard-throwers who miss bats. Who doesn’t? Bleier is a finesse southpaw who lives and dies by the ground ball. In his 23 big league innings last year, he struck out 13. He struck out 25 in his 58 Triple-A innings. That 171.2 inning season he had with the Nationals in 2015? Only 65 strikeouts. That’s a 9.5% strikeout rate. Lordy.

Bleier’s thing is ground balls, and he is quite good at getting them. He had a 54.1% ground ball rate with the Yankees last year. It was 61.9% in Triple-A and 65.0% two seasons ago with the Nationals. Combine the ground balls with few walks (4.4% in MLB in 2016, 4.6% in Triple-A in 2016, 2.3% in 2015) and you can survive with few strikeouts. Your margin of error is smaller — tough to strand a runner on third with less than two outs when you can’t miss a bat — but it can work.

Since batted ball data started to being recorded in 2002, the lowest strikeout rate by a qualified starter with a better than average ERA belongs to an ex-Yankee: Chien-Ming Wang. Wanger had a 3.63 ERA (125 ERA+) in 2006 despite an 8.4% strikeout rate because he got grounders (62.8%) and didn’t walk anyone (5.8%). Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a non-Mariano Rivera pitcher generate as much weak contact as Wang. His sinker was something else.

Other pitchers have gotten by without low strikeout rates, however. Aaron Cook had several better than average seasons (in Coors Field, no less) despite a sub-12.0% ground ball rate because he got so many ground balls. Carlos Silva did it a few times too. Mark Buehrle is the gold standard of “effective despite few strikeout” pitchers, though compared to Buehrle, Bleier looks like Randy Johnson in terms of fastball velocity.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating giving Bleier a chance to start. I just wonder if it’s something the Yankees will try. They clearly like him, as evidenced by the fact he’s, you know, still around. Guys like him tend to be among the first to lose their 40-man roster spots in the offseason. Bleier has three pitches (sinker, slider, changeup), he excels at something (getting grounders), and he has a history as a starter. When you get down to it, there’s really no reason not to try him in the rotation in camp.