The qualifying offer will be set at $18M this offseason, which doesn’t mean much to the Yankees

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty)

According to Buster Olney, teams have been informed the qualifying offer will be worth approximately $18M this offseason, possibly $18.1M. In that range. The qualifying offer is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. Make a free agent the qualifying offer, and you get a draft pick when he leaves. Simple as that.

For the Yankees this year, the qualifying offer is essentially meaningless. Not one of their impending free agents is a qualifying offer candidate. Here’s the list:

CC Sabathia
Matt Holliday
Todd Frazier (not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason)
Michael Pineda

That’s it. Pineda blew out his elbow earlier this month and needed Tommy John surgery, and since he’s going to spend just about all of next season rehabbing, there’s no reason to make him the qualifying offer. Right now Pineda is looking at a little one or two-year “rehab and prove yourself” contract a la Nathan Eovaldi last year. He’d accept the qualifying offer in a heartbeat. I’m not sure the Yankees would have made Pineda the qualifying offer even before his elbow game out.

The Yankees could very well have interest in retaining Sabathia beyond this season, though not at an $18M salary. Bartolo Colon signed a one-year deal worth $12.5M last winter. That’s probably Sabathia’s price range. Not $18M. Holliday is on a one-year deal worth $13M this year. Make him the qualifying offer and he’d take it. Frazier and any other rental the Yankees bring aboard isn’t eligible for the qualifying offer. All pretty simple, right? Right.

That all said, the Yankees do have one qualifying offer candidate this year: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out after the season, the Yankees could and should make him the qualifying offer. Tanaka would be walking away from three years and $67M by opting out. He’s not going to accept a one-year deal worth $18M. And you know what? Even if he did take the qualifying offer for some weird reason, good! I’d take him back on a one-year deal in a heartbeat.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed the free agent compensation rules pretty dramatically. All first round picks are protected now, and what you give up to sign a qualified free agent and what you receive when you lose a qualified free agent are tied to your team’s payroll. Here’s the bucket the Yankees fall into this coming winter:

  • Sign a qualified free agent: Forfeit second and fifth highest draft picks, plus $1M in international bonus money.
  • Lose a qualified free agent: Receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round.

It’s pretty straightforward for the Yankees because they’re going to pay luxury tax this year. Things are much more complicated for teams that do not pay luxury tax. That’s where the Yankees hope to be next season, under the luxury tax threshold. So, if Tanaka does opt-out and reject the qualifying offer, the Yankees would get a dinky draft pick after the fourth round. Not much, but better than nothing.

Scouting the Trade Market: First Basemen

Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the off-chance that Ji-Man Choi is not a true-talent 216 wRC+ hitter, the Yankees are going to need a first baseman to solidify and stabilize both the lineup and the infield defense. Chris Carter played himself into a second DFA, Greg Bird may require surgery on his balky right ankle, and none of the team’s internal options seem befitting of a team with playoff aspirations.

All of that put together, assuming the Yankees do not continue to struggle into the waning days of July, should make them something of a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The question then becomes a simple matter of who is available, and at what cost?

The simplest way to hazard a guess at the marketplace is to see what rentals are available (meaning who will be a free agent at season’s end). As per MLB Trade Rumors, that group is mildly enticing:

  • Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s
  • Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
  • Lucas Duda, New York Mets
  • Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
  • Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
  • John Jaso, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
  • Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
  • Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
  • Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
  • Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners

There are several names that can be ruled out immediately – Alvarez (trading within the division for a player reminiscent of Chris Carter), Lind (the Nationals aren’t selling), Moreland (the Red Sox aren’t selling), Morrison (trading within the division for someone that needlessly bashed Gary Sanchez), Reynolds (the Rockies aren’t selling), and Santana (the Indians aren’t sellers) are unlikely to pop-up on the Yankees radar for various reasons. Napoli is an unlikely target, as well, given that he may be the worst first baseman in the game this year, with a 77 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. That leaves us with:

Yonder Alonso

Alonso has been one of the best stories of this half-season, serving as a standard bearer for the flyball revolution (or the juiced ball, whichever point of view you prefer). He is currently slashing .280/.375/.568 with 19 HR in 280 PA, good for a 150 wRC+. There have been some signs of regression, though, as Alonso hit .267/.353/.433 with just 3 HR (114 wRC+) and an elevated strikeout rate in June. He’s also struggled with some nagging injuries, which has been the case on an almost year-to-year basis.

I’d be a bit weary of Alonso, due to how inflated his numbers are by his incredible May. A team might be willing to pay for his line on the season, rolling the dice that he’s broken out after years of mediocrity, and the A’s are sure to shop him aggressively.

Lucas Duda

The Yankees have not made many deals with the Mets, but it does happen on occasion – and there could be a definite match here, as the teams trend in different directions. Duda finally seems to be healthy, and he’s batting .249/.359/.548 with 14 home runs and a 137 wRC+ in 231 PA. He has a 123 wRC+ for his career, and he posted a 134 wRC+ between 2014 and 2015, so this isn’t a complete outlier. Duda may not hit for average, but he takes plenty of walks (11.5% for his career) and hits for power (.211 ISO).

As a result of this, Duda is likely the best hitter of this group, when healthy. That caveat bears repeating, but he feels like the safest bet to be a middle of the order thumper.

Todd Frazier

Frazier is a solid defensive third-baseman, so this is cheating a bit – but he has played a few games at first this year, and 94 in his career. He’s batting .215/.332/.450 with 16 HR (107 wRC+), but that is weighed-down by his early struggles. Frazier raked in June, with 8 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 109 PA, and he has hit for power throughout his career. His month-to-month inconsistencies, however, have followed him for several years now.

That being said, Frazier is an interesting target, if only because of his positional versatility. If Bird manages to get healthy or another internal option rears his head, Frazier could shift across the diamond and relieve Headley of everyday duty. He’s a feast or famine type, but the famine isn’t as bad some other options.

Eric Hosmer

I struggled with including Hosmer here, as the Royals aren’t all that far from contention. He’s in the midst of a bounceback season (he’s always better in odd-numbered years), with a .313/.371/.484 slash line (126 wRC+) in 348 PA, and he’s been a key to the team’s turnaround. The Royals have several key players coming up on free agency this off-season, though, so they may be inclined to cash-in now, instead of chasing a wild card berth and little else.

Hosmer is the youngest option here, at 27-years-old, and might be the least obtainable player in this group. There’s probably a team out there that would swing a deal for him with an eye towards re-signing him, and that’s unlikely to be the Yankees.

John Jaso

Jaso is strictly a platoon player at this point, with only 69 PA against LHP since the beginning of 2015. He has done fairly well in that role, though, with a 119 wRC+ against righties in that stretch (108 in 2017). Jaso is hitting .250/.326/.459 with 7 HR (107 wRC+) in 193 PA on the season, spending time at first and in both outfield corners.

If I had to handicap this group, I would bet that Jaso is the most available and most easily attainable player. He’s also the most uninspiring, though, as someone that only partially fills the need at first.

Danny Valencia

I nearly left Valencia out due to his character issues, but that hasn’t necessarily dissuaded the Yankees lately. The 32-year-old journeyman (he has played for seven teams since the beginning of 2012) is batting .272/.335/.412 with 8 HR (104 wRC+) in 310 PA, as he adjusts to being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. Those numbers are a bit skewed, though – he had a 53 wRC+ in April, but a 122 wRC+ since. And that 122 wRC+ is essentially the happy medium between his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Valencia offers some positional flexibility, having spent time at first, third, and both corner outfield spots. His defense isn’t particularly strong at any position, though. I do like Valencia’s bat, but I do worry that his bouncing around the majors and last year’s fight with Billy Butler may be indicative of a somewhat toxic presence.


Each and every one of these guys likely represents an upgrade over Choi, though I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about bringing Jaso or Valencia on-board. Jaso would need to be leveraged as a platoon bat in order to extract the most value, and Choi’s production at Triple-A, age, and five years of team control may just merit being afforded that same opportunity. And, as much as I try to avoid harping on unquantifiable concerns, Valencia’s history is disconcerting for such a young team.

That leaves us with Alonso, Duda, Frazier, and Hosmer. I won’t hazard any trade proposals, as mine would almost certainly suck, but I would be most interested in Duda, Hosmer, Alonso, and Frazier, in that order. And, depending upon the cost, I think that all four are worth kicking the tires on.

Hal says the Yankees aren’t looking to trade away prospects, but they will be “active” in free agency

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the quarterly owners meetings in New York earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner confirmed to Christian Red that no, the Yankees are not looking to trade away any of their top prospects at the trade deadline this year. They are open to adding pieces and will consider everything, but moving guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier is not on the agenda. The same goes for other top young players.

Trading prospects may not be in the cards. Free agency though? The Yankees could be pretty busy once the winter rolls around, Hal indicated. Here’s what he told Red:

“I think we’ve been pretty consistent about not trading away the young talent the last three to four years. I think in part that consistency has paid off in several areas. So that’s not something I’m looking to do, is trade away all of our top prospects,” said Steinbrenner, who attended the MLB owners meetings in Manhattan Wednesday. “When you look at the young talent that we got (last summer), those deals were tough to turn down. Got some good young players.”

“I don’t know if I’d be more open to it, but I will absolutely divert all of my attention to any one deal that is brought across my table. That’s the way I’ve always been,” said Steinbrenner, who spoke to reporters in the lobby of 245 Park Ave. “I’ll do the research. I’ll read the scouting reports, I’ll talk to (general manager Brian Cashman), all of his people. And I’ll consider any option. We will be active in the free-agent market, I can assure you. To what degree, and in what areas remains to be seen.”

Brendan Kuty says Hal pointed out that whenever the Yankees have had money come off the books in recent years, they reinvested it in the team. And this offseason the Yankees are shedding a lot of salary. A lot. CC Sabathia ($25M) and Alex Rodriguez ($21M), most notably, plus Masahiro Tanaka ($22M) could opt-out too. Matt Holliday ($13M), Michael Pineda ($7.4M), and Tyler Clippard ($6.15M) will also be free agents. A few things to keep in mind though.

1. The luxury tax plan is still a thing! The Yankees will be “active” in free agency as long as it doesn’t jeopardize their plan to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold next year. They’ve been wanting to do it for a long time, and next season represents their best chance to do it. Hal even hedged a bit by saying it “remains to seen” exactly how active they will be. The Yankees sat out free agency completely two offseasons ago. That was a rarity. I don’t think that will happen again. I also don’t think they’re going to abandon the luxury tax plan either.

2. The Yankees will still have plenty to spend. My quick math says the Yankees have approximately $100M on the books next season for luxury tax purposes assuming Tanaka does not opt-out. Arbitration raises will add another $30M or so to that. Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius are the major arbitration cases. Aaron Hicks and Adam Warren will get decent salaries as well.

That all adds up to roughly $130M for ten players. Fortunately guys like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez will all be making something close to the league minimum as pre-arbitration-eligible players, and hooray for cheap production. Add in player benefits and other miscellaneous expenses, and the Yankees figure to have $45M or so in annual salary space left over for free agency. That’s a lot! They should be able to add some real nice pieces without bumping up against the luxury tax threshold next year. And if Tanaka opts out, forget it, they’ll have lots to spend.

3. The 2017-18 free agent class kinda stinks. Okay, great, so the Yankees will have a lot to spend. Where will they spend it? Pitching is the obvious spot. Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are both scheduled to become free agents after the season, so I suppose the Yankees could make a big play for an ace. I would be surprised if the Yankees did that though. Arrieta kinda stinks now and Darvish had his arm cut open two years ago. Either way, here is the 2017-18 free agent class. Not the most exciting group of players. Having money to spend is only good as long as there’s somewhere reasonable to spend it.

4. The 2018-19 free agent class looms. The Yankees may be active in free agency this coming offseason, though I don’t think they’re going to do anything that endangers their a) plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, and b) ability to pursue Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper during the 2018-19 offseason. Those guys are both superstars and they’ll hit free agency soon after their 26th birthdays. They fit the youth movement perfectly.

Because the Machado/Harper free agency class is looming, I think the Yankees could wind up focusing on one-year contracts this coming offseason rather than multi-year deals. They don’t necessarily have to be cheap one-year deals. We could see some pricey one-year contracts a la Holliday. But the one-year part is important. It’ll better allow the Yankees to spend big for Machado and/or Harper, especially with the luxury tax rate reset.

* * *

Free agency is an awful lot of fun, but we are getting a little too far ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees have started the regular season very well, so much so that they might actually be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they make top prospects off-limits. I feel like the Yankees may be heading for a 2014-esque deadline, one with a series of low cost pickups a la Brandon McCarthy and Martin Prado. Those moves could end up shaping the team’s free agency plan.

Yeah, the Yankees missed the boat on Thames, but they didn’t match up well during the offseason anyway

(Dylan Buell/Getty)
(Dylan Buell/Getty)

Barry Bonds has returned to Major League Baseball. Or at least an approximation of Barry Bonds has arrived. Eric Thames, the former Blue Jays outfield prospect, is currently hitting .370/.489/.904 (251 wRC+) with an MLB leading eleven home runs as a first baseman for the Brewers. Thames has always had power — he swatted 27 home runs in 130 Double-A games years ago — but now he’s paired it with Joey Votto level plate discipline. He doesn’t chase off the plate, and when pitchers throw a pitch in the zone, he crushes it. It’s very Bonds-esque.

Thames, as I’m sure you know, returned to MLB this past offseason after spending the previous three seasons with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization. He washed out with the Blue Jays and Mariners years ago, hit .349/.451/.721 with 124 home runs in 390 games with the Dinos from 2014-16, then signed a three-year deal worth $16M with Milwaukee in November. They signed him very early in the offseason. (The Brewers cut Chris Carter to clear a 40-man roster spot for Thames.)

That $16M contract is looking like a massive bargain right now — for what it’s worth, FanGraphs values Thames’ production at $15.3M this month alone — even though we know Thames probably won’t keep up this pace all season. Or maybe he will. Who knows? Either way, there are 29 teams in baseball kicking themselves right now for not pursing Thames more aggressively during the offseason, including the Yankees, who originally drafted him in the 39th round of the 2007 draft. (He didn’t sign and went back to Pepperdine for his senior year.)

“We talked to his agent, but the financial considerations weren’t a match. It looks like (the Brewers) got a bargain. Good for them,” said Brian Cashman to George King recently, acknowledging the Yankees checked in on Thames this offseason. The Yankees went into the offseason planning to sign a designated hitter, and, well, they’re now paying Carter and Matt Holliday a combined $16.5M in 2017. Thames will make $16M total from 2017-19. D’oh!

Joel Sherman recently spoke to Adam Karon, Thames’ agent, who explained he went into this past offseason with very specific demands. From Sherman:

Karon established three criteria to sign his player back in the majors or else Thames would either enlist back in Korea or perhaps go to Japan: 1) a three-year contract; 2) contractual language that prevented him from being sent back to the minors (he has one option left); 3) no platoons.

Add those three small demands together and you get one big “he needs to play every single day” demand. Right now that sounds silly. Of course he’s going to play everyday! But back during the offseason, no one knew quite what to expect from Thames. After all, Byung-Ho Park put up Thames-level numbers in KBO, then came to MLB and found himself in Triple-A after three months. Park went unclaimed on waivers in Spring Training.

Knowing what they know now, of course the Yankees would have gone after Thames more aggressively, as would every team. They’d love to drop his military style plate discipline and Yankee Stadium friendly left-handed power into the middle of their lineup. A missed opportunity, this was. That all said, Karon’s demands indicate Thames and the Yankees were never really a match from the start, for two big reasons.

1. The Yankees want to get under the luxury tax threshold soon. As good as Thames has been, no one really knew what to expect when he came back from Korea. The Yankees are trying like crazy to get under the luxury tax in 2018 and any multi-year contract will make it more difficult. That’s why the Yankees focused on one-year deals with Holliday and Carter. Anything longer would make it harder to get under the luxury tax threshold next year.

That three-year, $16M deal Thames signed with the Brewers comes with a $5.33M average annual value — that’s his luxury tax “hit,” so to speak — which is little in baseball terms, but is real dollars. The Yankees would have had to outbid the Brewers — what if it would have taken, say, $9M a year to get Thames after a bidding war? — and they weren’t willing to do that. Not with so much uncertainty surrounding his potential impact. Thames was a mystery as recently as four weeks ago, and the Yankees didn’t want to tie up luxury tax space on an unknown.

2. The Yankees wanted to retain roster flexibility. The Yankees have a wonderful farm system with several high-end prospects close to the big leagues. Clint Frazier should arrive at some point this year and I don’t think it’s out of the question we’ll see Gleyber Torres at some point too. Others like Tyler Wade and Dustin Fowler are also knocking on the door, and the Yankees want to be able to give these kids a chance when the time comes.

Between the three-year contract and the fact he can’t be sent to the minors or platooned, Thames doesn’t offer much roster flexibility. He’d get a set lineup spot, good or bad, which meant less playing time available for the prospects whenever they arrived. As it stands, the Yankees are already looking for ways to get Aaron Hicks in the lineup more often, and it won’t be long before they’re looking for ways to get Tyler Austin at-bats too.

* * *

Keep in mind free agency is a two-way street. A rebuilding team — a true rebuilding team like the Brewers, not a “transitioning” team that is trying to contend like the Yankees — always made the most sense for Thames because they could afford to give him a long leash. Do I wish the Yankees had signed Thames? Of course! Now I do. Back during the offseason, I was totally cool with looking elsewhere for a short-term DH. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of committing multiple years to the DH, nevermind one with zero MLB success to his credit. Thames would look wonderful in the lineup right now. Back during the offseason though, the two sides didn’t seem to match up all that well. C’est la vie.

Wednesday Notes: Minor League Rosters, Payroll, Betances

Andujar. (Presswire)
Andujar. (Presswire)

The Yankees will wrap up their first series of the season later today, then enjoy yet another off-day tomorrow. Two off-days in a series at a domed ballpark. Not the best move by the schedule makers. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Minor league rosters announced

The minor league regular season begins tomorrow and, over the last few days, the Yankees’ full season affiliates have started releasing their Opening Day rosters. The farm system is loaded, so the rosters are pretty exciting. Here are links to the rosters and the top 30 prospects at each level:

There’s always one roster holdout and that is High-A Tampa this year. They haven’t announced their roster yet. We can figure out which top 30 prospects are likely to be on the roster through the process of elimination though: RHP Domingo Acevedo, LHP Ian Clarkin, SS Kyle Holder, RHP James Kaprielian, SS/OF Jorge Mateo, LHP Josh Rogers, and RHP Dillon Tate. That’s a hell of a rotation.

3B Dermis Garcia is not on the Charleston roster and will instead start the season back in Extended Spring Training. Even without him, the RiverDogs are stacked. Non-top 30 prospects like IF Oswaldo Cabrera, SS Diego Castillo, OF Isiah Gilliam, RHP Nick Green, RHP Nick Nelson, RHP Freicer Perez, and C Donny Sands are all on the roster and worth knowing. Cabrera, Castillo, Nelson, Perez, and especially Sands could be top 30 prospects next year.

I should note that while Montgomery and Green are on the Triple-A and Double-A rosters, respectively, both will pitch for High-A Tampa tomorrow. The weather in the Northeast isn’t looking too good and the Yankees want to make sure those two get their work in and stay lined up for the fifth starter’s spot.

Yankees rank third in Opening Day payroll

According to the Ronald Blum, the Yankees opened the 2017 season with a $195M payroll, third highest in MLB. That’s down from $225M last year. The Dodgers (duh) rank first in payroll this year at $225M while the Tigers are second at $199.75M. This is the first time since 1993 that the Yankees are not among the top two teams in Opening Day payroll. Been a while, huh?

Keep in mind this payroll number reflects the Opening Day active roster and disabled list only, so the Yankees aren’t getting dinged for the $21M they have to pay Alex Rodriguez this season. Or the $5.5M they’re paying Brian McCann. Their payroll for luxury tax purposes is much higher. The Yankees are looking to get under the luxury tax threshold soon and the 2018 season will be their best chance to do it. A-Rod and CC Sabathia will be off the books, possibly Masahiro Tanaka as well.

Yankees, Betances discussed two-year deal

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

At some point prior to their arbitration hearing, the Yankees and Dellin Betances briefly discussed a two-year contract, reports Jon Heyman. We heard the two sides talked about a multiyear deal a few weeks ago, though now we know the term. It was a two-year deal, not a longer contract that would have bought out free agent years. The Yankees beat Betances in arbitration and will pay him $3M this season, not the $5M he was seeking.

Betances, 29, will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. A two-year contract would have given him a nice little guaranteed payday and the team cost certainty over his next two seasons. These two-year “bridge” deals that buy out arbitration years but not free agent years are becoming quite popular around baseball. Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, A.J. Pollock, Eric Hosmer, Todd Frazier, and Bryce Harper are among those who have signed one within the last few years. As good as Betances is, I’m totally cool with going year-to-year given his history of command issues.

Tiebreaker rules officially added in low minors

The extra inning tiebreaker rules have officially been approved for the low minors, according to Josh Norris. Extra innings in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, Arizona League, and Dominican Summer League will begin with a runner on second base. (The Yankees have affiliates in the GCL and DSL.) The rules will be in effect for the regular season only. Not the postseason. Also, the automatic intentional walk rule has been implemented at every level of the minors.

The extra inning tiebreaker rules were used during the World Baseball Classic and my gosh, they were terrible. Thankfully commissioner Rob Manfred said they are not being considered for MLB. They’re using the tiebreaker rules in the low minors to avoid overworking young pitchers, which is totally cool with me. Those games don’t mean anything — the crowds are basically friends and family at that level, so it’s not like there are many paying customers in attendance — and protecting the young players is the smart move. I’m guessing it’ll be only a matter of time until the tiebreaker rules make their way to other levels of the minors.

Piecoro: Yanks believed to have some interest in Nick Ahmed

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

According to Nick Piecoro, the Yankees are believed to have some level of interest in Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. Arizona has plenty of middle infielders (Ketel Marte, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Daniel Descalso) and they reportedly started gauging interest in Ahmed a few days ago. The Yankees will be without Didi Gregorius for a few weeks, hence their interest.

Ahmed, 27, starred at UConn and was a second round pick by the Braves in 2011. They sent him to the D’Backs in the Justin Upton trade a few years ago. Ahmed has spent the last two seasons as Arizona’s most of the time shortstop, hitting .223/.271/.335 (56 wRC+) in 767 plate appearances overall. He had surgery to repair the labrum and an impingement in his right hip last August, but he’s fully recovered and playing without restrictions in Spring Training.

As you probably figured given that batting line, Ahmed isn’t in the lineup for his bat. It’s his glove. He’s an excellent defender beloved by both the stats — he is third among all shortstops in DRS (+32) and sixth in UZR (+19.9) the last two seasons despite playing less than full-time — and the eye test. You better be able to pick it when you hit like that. Here’s some video:

The Yankees have some decent shortstop options in-house, though you can understand why they’d keep an out for anyone who might become available. Also, they’ve shown a willingness to completely punt offense when no great options exist. They did it for entire seasons with Stephen Drew at second base and Chris Stewart behind the plate, remember. Ahmed would be a defensive upgrade over Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, etc.

As always, it boils down to cost. The Yankees will check in on Ahmed because they should absolutely check in following the Gregorius injury, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pay big to get him. I wonder if Tyler Jones could be a factor. The D’Backs took Jones from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, so New York could trade his rights to Arizona, thereby removing the Rule 5 shackles. Jones plus a low-to-mid range prospect? My trade proposal sucks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Ahmed is still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’s making something close to the league minimum, plus he has at least one minor league option remaining. (Possibly two but it’s hard to tell for sure.) He won’t cost much money and the Yankees could stash him in Triple-A once Gregorius is healthy. Not the worst piece of infield depth when the alternatives are guys like Tejada and Pete Kozma.

Anyway, we’ll see whether this leads anywhere. Like I said, the Yankees are smart to check in following the Gregorius injury, and if the price is right, perhaps there’s a deal to be made. Maybe not. Maybe the D’Backs value Ahmed highly and are willing to stash him in Triple-A themselves if they don’t get an offer they like.

(For what it’s worth, Brendan Kuty says Jose Iglesias and Zack Cozart have also been “floated as potential targets.” They’d both cost quite a bit more than Ahmed, both in terms of prospects and salary. Cozart is definitely available because the Reds are rebuilding. I have a hard time believing the Tigers would trade their starting shortstop though.)

The White Sox are scouting the Yankees for a possible Jose Quintana trade, because of course they are

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees remain in the mix for White Sox southpaw Jose Quintana. Or at least the White Sox hope they do. According to George King, the ChiSox have been scouting the Yankees all throughout Spring Training in preparation for a potential Quintana trade. Bruce Levine recently reported the Yankees are one of four clubs “believed to be dug into the sweepstakes” for the left-hander. The Astros, Cardinals, and Pirates are the others.

“I think our asks are commensurate with what we are willing to give up,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn to Joel Sherman. “We are open. We did deals with Boston and Washington, teams with World Series aspirations. Clubs like ours are focused more on the future and so if we are helping someone win in the short term, we have to feel they are helping us win in the long term.”

The Yankees have been connected to Quintana since December, when the ChiSox decided to commit to their rebuild by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. At one point it was reported Quintana talks were expanded to include David Robertson. The White Sox, weirdly, haven’t done much of anything since the Sale and Eaton trades; Quintana, Robertson, Todd Frazier, Nate Jones, and Melky Cabrera remain in their employ. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. This passes the sniff test. Does it make sense the Yankees would want Quintana? Yes. He’s very good, he’ll spend the entire 2017 season at age 28, and he’s signed affordably for another four years ($35.35M total). Does it also make sense the White Sox identified the Yankees as a realistic trade partner for Quintana, so much so that they’re scouting them this spring? Yes! The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in baseball, with both the high-end talent to headline a big trade package and the depth to provide quality second, third, and fourth pieces. Trade rumors can be a tricky business with lots of nonsense. There’s something to this one though. It’s not outlandish.

2. The Yankees sure could use a pitcher like Quintana. Obvious statement is obvious. Every team could use a pitcher like Quintana. He’s really good! But, at the moment, the Yankees have very little established pitching under contract/team control beyond 2017. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia will both be free agents after the season and Masahiro Tanaka figures to use his opt-out if he stays healthy. Imagine a rotation without those guys. Oy vey.

The Yankees are committed to their youth movement, so much so that two of Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green will be in the rotation on Opening Day. And, as always, the odds are strongly in favor of all four of them (and possibly others!) making starts this year. No team goes through a season with five starters these days. With any luck, one or two or three of those guys will emerge as long-term rotation going forward. That’d be cool.

The thing is, even if that happens, there’s still room in the rotation for Quintana. It’s not Quintana or Severino, Quintana or Cessa, or anything like that. The Yankees can have all of ’em. There’s no such thing as a blocked pitching prospect. Quintana is right smack in the prime of his career and he’s signed well-below market. He’d fit in well with the youth movement and the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. It’s hard to find another starter who does both so well (and is actually available).

3. Don’t forget to trade your prospects. My stupid and long-running shtick is intended to serve as a reminder that putting all your eggs in the prospect basket is going to lead to a lot of heartbreak. They don’t all work out, that’s why it’s good and necessary to build a deep farm system like the Yankees have. If you’re going to sit on your prospects, you’ll inevitably be left with a lot of nothing. It’s okay to trade some of them. Consider the last two World Series:

  • 2016: The Cubs traded prospects for Aroldis Chapman and the Indians traded prospects for Andrew Miller. Cleveland also agreed to trade prospects for Jonathan Lucroy before he invoked his no-trade clause.
  • 2015: The Royals traded prospects for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. The Mets traded prospects for Yoenis Cespedes (and Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard).

Trading prospects for high-end veterans tends to look good for the team getting the veterans when it’s all said and done. (There are always exceptions, and hopefully the Chapman and Miller deals are two of ’em.)

Now, I’m not saying the Yankees should go out and gut their farm system by trading for every available veteran. I’m saying that when someone like Quintana comes along, a very good and young and affordable player who fills a glaring long-term need, it’s okay to deal from that prospect depth. The Yankees have the pieces to make a strong offer while still having an excellent farm system.

4. Yes, I am for trading for Quintana. I guess I should make that clear. I am totally for a Quintana trade. Just don’t ask me to put together a trade package. My trade proposal sucks. The White Sox smartly emphasized quality over quantity (and positional needs) in the Sale and Eaton trades, so I doubt this is a “cobble together four prospects you don’t like and send them to Chicago” situation. Getting a pitcher like Quintana is going to hurt.

Obviously some prospects are more tradeable than others. Trading Gleyber Torres would be tough to swallow and the good news is the Yankees presumably have the pieces to swing a Quintana deal without including Gleyber. Would a package led by, say, Clint Frazier and James Kaprielian be enough? Aaron Judge and Justus Sheffield? Jorge Mateo and Severino? It’s cool to have options and not just have to say “the trade needs to include this one specific guy because he’s the organization’s only elite prospect.” Point is, it’s okay to trade some prospects for a really good pitcher, especially when you have a lot of prospects.