Spring Training Game Thread: Baseball Returns!

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time since October 2nd of last year, the Yankees will play a baseball game today. Not a meaningful one, of course, but a game nonetheless. The Yankees open the 2017 Grapefruit League schedule with a home game against the Phillies at renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa this afternoon. Welcome back, baseball. I’ve missed you.

A few things to watch today: Greg Bird! We haven’t seen him since the 2015 Wild Card Game. He is in today’s lineup. So is Aaron Judge, who is competing for the right field job. I’m curious to see what his mechanics look like these days. There’s been some confusion of late (which is my fault). And, of course, the fourth and fifth starter competition is beginning. Here is the cast of characters the Phillies sent across the causeway, and here’s the lineup Joe Girardi is sending out there in the exhibition opener:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. LF Aaron Hicks
  9. RF Aaron Judge
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Pitchers: RHP Tyler Clippard, LHP Tommy Layne, RHP Luis Cessa, LHP Jordan Montgomery, and RHP Gio Gallegos are all expected to pitch today, assuming I’m reading the lineup card correctly. LHP Daniel Camarena, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, and LHP Joe Mantiply are also listed as available.

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Ruben Tejada, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Miguel Andujar, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Rob Refsnyder, and DH Wilkin Castillo will be the second string off the bench. That’ll be fun. C Kellin Deglan, C Francisco Diaz, C Jorge Saez, SS Jorge Mateo, OF Billy McKinney, and UTIL Tyler Wade are also available today.

The internet tells me the weather in Tampa is pretty much perfect for baseball. Sunny and warm but not oppressively hot and humid. I want to go to there. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and both MLB Network and MLB.tv nationally. There’s also the FOX Sports Go app. Over the last few years MLB.tv blackout rules have not applied during Spring Training, and hopefully that is still the case. Enjoy the game, folks.

Mailbag: Tanaka, Kaprielian, Sterling, Gardner, Pujols, Ellsbury

There are 13 questions in this week’s Grapefruit League opening mailbag. Hooray for real live baseball. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com are where you can send us questions.

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Ryan asks: So Tanaka has come over and done VERY well in the majors. In comparison, Daisuke Matsuzaka was heralded as highly and did not have a great career. Also, Yu Darvish has been good as well. Compared to other Japanese pitchers, where does Tanaka rank as far as success in the MLB?

I’d say Dice-K came over with far more hype than Tanaka or Darvish. The hype for that guy was out of control. Off the top of my head, I’d say Tanaka has been the fourth most successful Japanese-born pitcher in MLB behind Darvish, Hideo Nomo, and Hiroki Kuroda. Thankfully WAR exists, and it’s perfect for a question like this one. Here are the top ten Japanese-born players in MLB history by WAR:

  1. Ichiro Suzuki (+59.9 WAR)
  2. Hideo Nomo (+21.8 WAR)
  3. Hiroki Kuroda (+21.7 WAR)
  4. Hideki Matsui (+21.3 WAR)
  5. Hisashi Iwakuma (+16.5 WAR)
  6. Yu Darvish (+15.8 WAR)
  7. Koji Uehara (+13.6 WAR)
  8. Tomo Ohka (+11.9 WAR)
  9. Masahiro Tanaka (+11.7 WAR)
  10. Shigetoshi Hasegawa (+11.6 WAR)

I completely forgot about Iwakuma, so my bad on that. Tanaka has thrown more MLB innings than Uehara (490 to 437.2), though we’re comparing a reliever to a starter. Ohka has a +0.2 WAR edge on Tanaka in 580 more innings. At this point I’d say Tanaka is no worse than the sixth best Japanese-born pitcher in MLB history behind Nomo, Kuroda, Iwakuma, Darvish, and Uehara. There’s a pretty good chance Tanaka will pass Uehara on the WAR leaderboard this year too.

(With all due respect to Nomo, who was truly a pioneer for Japanese baseball players, Kuroda has an essentially identical WAR in 657.1 fewer innings. Also, Shigetoshi Hasegawa was an all-time great Bob Sheppard voice name.)

Mike asks: Can you put in perspective where 2012 (#1 Ranked) Mason Williams would fall in the 2017 top 30?

It was 2013, not 2012 when Williams was at the peak of his prospect-dom. Baseball America ranked him as the Yankees’ best prospect and the 32nd best prospect in baseball that year. Meanwhile, both RAB and MLB.com ranked Williams as the team’s No. 2 prospect behind Gary Sanchez. Either way, Williams or Sanchez, the Yankees had a very good top prospect back in 2013 and both would have rated highly in this year’s top 30. I would have ranked them like so:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Clint Frazier
  3. 2013 Gary Sanchez
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. 2013 Mason Williams
  6. Blake Rutherford
  7. James Kaprielian
  8. Justus Sheffield
  9. Jorge Mateo
  10. Miguel Andujar

Sanchez finished the 2012 season at High-A Tampa and both his power and rocket arm were already on full display. Williams had the better statistical season in 2012, hitting .298/.346/.474 (125 wRC+) between Low-A and High-A, though the power hitting catcher won out for me. Given how things have played out since then, I feel validated.

Chris asks: My question is, what’s the soonest you could possibly see Kaprielian going to double-A? Assuming his first starts are limited to five innings. Is 15 lights outs inning over three starts enough? 25 over 5? It took Sev 8 GS over 32 IP in 2015 at Trenton before they moved him to Scranton.

Pretty soon, I think. Mid-May or so. The main reason for sending Kaprielian to High-A to start the season rather than Double-A is the weather. It’s a heck of a lot warmer in Tampa in April than it is in Trenton, and you don’t want the kid from Southern California pitching in cold weather for the first time immediately after a pretty serious elbow injury. Unless he gets rocked in April, which is unlikely to happen given his stuff and pedigree, I think Kaprielian will be at Double-A before the end of May, for sure. Six or seven starts in Tampa, thereabouts.

John asks: Which Yankee ZiPS projections would you “take” right now for 2017? Judge (30 homers) seems the most obvious, who else?

Yeah, Judge is the big one. ZiPS projects him as a .229/.301/.479 (112 OPS+) hitter with 30 homers and +2.2 WAR right now. First full season in the big leagues? I’d sign up for that right now. Most promising ZiPS projections are on the pitching side for me. Getting 156.2 innings of 3.96 ERA (3.38 FIP) ball from Michael Pineda would be pretty rad after the last two seasons. Same thing with Luis Severino and his 4.20 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 152 innings projection. Jonathan Holder throwing 67 innings with a 3.63 ERA (3.42 FIP) and great strikeout (27.1%) and walk (5.4%) rates would be a hell of a thing. The bullpen could really use someone like that for the middle innings.

Dellin and Larry Rothschild. (Presswire)
Dellin and Larry Rothschild. (Presswire)

Michael asks: If the Yankees’ relationship with Dellin Betances has been greatly damaged by Randy Levine’s (stupid) comments, wouldn’t a trade sooner rather than later make the most sense?

Nope. The Yankees are not going to make roster decisions, especially one involving a great player, based on someone’s hurt feelings. Dellin is a pro and he’s gone about his business since the arbitration ruling. The Yankees will trade Betances only if it makes sense for the organization, not because the two sides aren’t BFFs anymore. And when Betances becomes a free agent in three years, he’s going to make the best decision for him and his family. That was always the case. The Betances-Levine stuff was unfortunate, but a war of words won’t lead to a knee-jerk trade, at least not as long as Brian Cashman calls the shots. If Levine and ownership get involved like they have in the past though, all bets are off.

Paul asks: Looking back, do you think it was better with A-Rod at 3B and Jeter at SS or would it have been better the other way around?

At the time of the trade Alex Rodriguez was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball while Derek Jeter was one of the worst, so yeah, the Yankees would have been better off with A-Rod at short and Jeter at third. I’m not sure how that would have worked long-term. By 2010 or 2011, Rodriguez’s mobility was pretty far gone due to his hip problems. Would A-Rod with bad hips have been a better defensive shortstop than Jeter? Probably not. In the short-term they would have been better off with Rodriguez at short. No doubt about it. I’m not quite sure what it would have meant long-term. Maybe the Yankees would have never re-signing an aging shortstop to a ten-year deal after 2007. And, in that case, maybe they don’t win the 2009 World Series. Hmmm.

Michael asks: Last week there was a question on whether Brian Cashman deserves a plaque in Monument Park. Is there a possibility John Sterling and/or Michael Kay get one after all their years of doing Yankee broadcasting? Certainly they are no Mel Allen, but then again, Paul O’Neill and others were no Babe Ruth.

Oh man, Sterling is definitely getting a plaque in Monument Park, isn’t he? He’s been calling Yankees games for almost 30 years now, and he hasn’t missed one since 1989. Based on this Jim Baumbach article, Sterling’s streak is currently at 4,493 consecutive games called, and he’s given no indication retirement is in his near future. He’s the MC for the team’s on-field ceremonies and he hosts Yankeeography and all that on YES as well. Sterling is the voice of the Yankees at this point.

Kay still has a ways to go, I think. He was splitting time between the Yankees and Knicks as recently as 1999, so he hasn’t been full-time with the Yankees that long. Not long enough to get a plaque in Monument Park, anyway. Kay has been the team’s primary television play-by-play man since YES launched in 2002 and there’s no reason to think that will change anytime soon. He’ll have to keep at it a while longer to get Monument Park consideration, I think. Sterling might be there already.

Dan asks: Does Brett Gardner have 10 and 5 rights after this season? Does this affect the Yankees desire to move him?

Let’s start with a real quick primer on 10-and-5 rights for anyone not familiar with baseball’s quirky rules. From MLB.com:

Players who have accrued 10 years of Major League service time and spent the past five consecutive years with the same team are awarded 10-and-5 rights. Under these circumstances, a player can veto any trade scenario that is proposed. In essence, 10-and-5 rights function as a full no-trade clause.

As for Gardner, he will start the 2017 season with eight years and 72 days of service time. In the world of baseball 172 days equals a year, so Gardner needs another year and 100 days to get his 10-and-5 rights. That will put him on target to get them sometime in July 2018. The Yankees have been shopping Gardner since last offseason and while I’m sure they’re aware of his 10-and-5 situation, it’s not a pressing matter. They still have time before those become a concern.

(Gardner doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract. Not even a limited one. He will receive a $1M bonus each time he’s traded, however.)

RJ asks: Mike, how does the union generate revenue? Do players contribute a percentage of their salaries or maybe get a percentage from MLB endorsements/ TV contracts? Can they choose whether they want to be in or out of the union?

Yep, the players pay union dues. I have no idea what they are, but I assume they’re pretty substantial given their salaries. Also, the union negotiates licensing deals for baseball cards and video games and all that. They get a piece of that pie as well. Same goes for the national television contracts. A chunk of that goes to the players. And yes, players can opt out of the union, or just parts of it. Barry Bonds opted out of the licensing agreement, which is why he was never in any video games. He was Reggie Stocker in The Show and Jon Dowd in MVP Baseball. Good times, good times.

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

P.J. asks: Back on January 9th you published a piece about the Yankees Rule 5 eligible players for next winter. Of that list of about 23 players including the potential Minor League FA’s how many and which ones do you think the Yankees absolutely need to protect?

Here is the list of players from that post. This isn’t comprehensive, just the most notable names:

Catchers: None
Infielders: Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade
Outfielders: Jake Cave, Rashad Crawford, Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Leonardo Molina, Tito Polo
Pitchers: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Daniel Camarena, Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, J.P. Feyereisen, Zack Littell, Jordan Montgomery, Nick Rumbelow, Eric Swanson, Stephen Tarpley

I count seven absolute must-protect players: Abreu, Acevedo, Fowler, Frazier, Montgomery, Torres, and Wade. McKinney, Camarena, Clarkin, and Littell could also receive serious consideration based on their 2017 seasons. There’s a pretty good chance Frazier and Montgomery (and Feyereisen) will make their MLB debuts this summer, so they figure to already be on the 40-man roster by time Rule 5 Draft decision time comes.

The Yankees currently have five impending free agents on the 40-man roster: Chris Carter, Tyler Clippard, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia. Tanaka can opt-out as well. They’ll need to clear two spots at a minimum, but keep in mind there will inevitably be players on the 60-day disabled list who have to be activated the end of the season. The Yankees had to clear five 40-man spots to make room for Rule 5 Draft eligible players this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if they need to do the same after this season.

Erick asks: Mike, non-Yankee related, Albert Pujols and 700 homeruns. He has 591 career homers, five more years in his contract, hit 31 last year, can he average 22 for the remaining part of his contract?

Geez, still five years left on his deal? That’s a humdinger of a contract. I don’t think he’s going to get to 700. Pujols’ feet are a wreck at this point. He’s had foot surgery each of the last two offseasons as well as back in 2012. Hitting starts from the ground up, and if you don’t have a good base underneath you, it’ll compromise your power. Also, this will be his age 37 season. Pujols needs 109 homers to get to 700, and only eleven players have hit that many after their age 36 season. As we saw with A-Rod and Mark Teixeira last year, and Alfonso Soriano in 2014, when it goes, it can go quick. Asking a player, even one as great as Pujols, to average 22 homers a season from 37-41 is an awful lot. I think he’ll fall short of 700 and have to “settle” for being fifth or sixth on the all-time home run list.

Brent asks: I know it’s easy for couch GM’s to second guess things but the Jacoby Ellsbury signing seemed bad from the jump. At least from the informed baseball fan group. I believe Cashman’s a smart guy and the signing was more of a Hal thing. Was this a miserable attempt at re-igniting the rivalry between Boston and trying to make a run with one of their better players?

I don’t remember where I read this — I think it was a Joel Sherman article shortly after the signing — but I remember reading a report that said everyone was on board with the Ellsbury signing. Cashman, Steinbrenner, the rest of the front office and ownership, everyone. I think the deal was the result of the Yankees overestimating …

  1. Ellsbury’s ability to do something close to his 2011 season again.
  2. Ellsbury’s durability on the basis that several of his previous injuries were flukes.
  3. The value of thriving in a similar high-pressure market like Boston.
  4. The impact of taking Ellsbury away from the Red Sox and adding him to their roster.

That last one never made sense to me, yet it was a common argument in favor of the signing. It only works if the Red Sox were trying to bring Ellsbury back, which they very clearly weren’t. They were going to lose him anyway. Adding him to your roster doesn’t make it hurt twice as much.

I don’t think the signing had anything to do with re-igniting the rivalry. I think the Yankees overvalued Ellsbury because he had success with the Red Sox, the team that plays in the closest environment to the New York market. It was a terrible contract the day it was signed — how much did they overpay if Scott Boras was willing to let his top client sign before the Winter Meetings? — and the Yankees deserve what they’ve gotten.

Dan asks: I know that we can know only as much as the media tells us, but after reporting yesterday that Derek Jeter took some of the Yankees top prospects to dinner it got me thinking. How much do you really think the Captains Camp helps the prospects? Also, obviously there not many other teams that have the same history as the Yankees, but do you think other teams take as much time as the Yankees do for their young kids?

I don’t see how it could hurt, do you? I know other clubs have some sort of mini-camp or rookie development program, but I don’t know if anyone does anything as extensive as Captain’s Camp, which is a six-week program. From what I understand, Captain’s Camp is more about developing their off-the-field skills than anything. They teach the kids to be accountable, how to handle the media, all that. Basically how to represent the Yankees in a positive way. The players get to bond and develop relationships, and I see that as nothing but a positive.

Open Thread: February 23rd Camp Notes

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees return to action with their first Grapefruit League game of the spring. Hooray for that. I’ve missed baseball an awful lot. Tomorrow’s game against the Phillies will begin at 1pm ET, and it will air on YES and MLB.tv. Here’s the latest from Spring Training:

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing tonight, and there are some college basketball games on as well. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not politics or religion. Thanks.

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.