Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: October & November 2012

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

We’re now into yet another new month, which means it is once again time to go back through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. We have two months to cover, actually. I forgot skipped October because things were hectic during the postseason. October is a slow month for trade and free agent rumors anyway. So I’m going to combine October and November here. Easy enough, right?

Anyway, the Yankees finished the 2012 season in first place at 95-67. They beat the Orioles in five games in the ALDS before getting swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. A disappointing finish to the season, that was. The big story going into the 2012-13 offseason was the futures of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, as well as the impending free agencies of Nick Swisher and Hiroki Kuroda, and Rafael Soriano‘s opt-out clause. Let’s go back through October and November rumor mill.

October 2nd, 2012: AL East Notes: Banuelos, Farrell, Ortiz, Steinbrenner

Though the Yankees went from a big AL East lead in mid-summer to fighting for the division title with two games left, managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner told reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch) that the team’s minor collapse won’t lead to any offseason changes.  “Are jobs riding on this? Not that I know of,” Steinbrenner said. “Jobs are not riding on this, but that’s not something I’m concerned about right now. We look at everything in the offseason, as we always do.”

There was a lot of talk about coaching staff changes following the 2012 season because the Yankees collapsed. No one remembers because they won the AL East anyway, but they had a ten-game lead on July 18th. It was gone completely by September 4th, and the Yankees eventually won the division by two games. Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long were on the hot seat, at least in the minds of many fans and media members, though that wasn’t really the case. Hal Steinbrenner said so.

October 8th, 2012: Pettitte Likely To Return Next Season

Throughout the 2012 season, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte has been non-commital when asked whether he would return next year.  However, the 40-year-old gave a strong indication that he will be back in 2013 as he gets ready to take on the Orioles in Game 2 of the ALDS, writes Mark Hale of the New York Post.

I know one thing: I know the competition and the desire to compete is still there, and I don’t feel like I kind of got that itch out from the 70 innings or so that I threw this year,” Pettitte said.

Ah yes, another offseason of “will Pettitte retire or won’t Pettitte retire?” I love Andy. He’s the man. But the annual offseason waffling got old after a while. Of course, this time things were different, because Pettitte had retired and unretired earlier in the year. He came back and had his leg broken by a comebacker, cutting his comeback short. Andy eventually admitted he was planning to call it quits (again) after the season before the injury. He didn’t want to go out like that though.

October 8th, 2012: Yankees Designate Cory Wade For Assignment

The Yankees have designated right-hander Cory Wade for assignment, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (via Twitter).  In a related move, Dellin Betances was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Awww, Cory Wade. He was a personal favorite. The Yankees grabbed him from the Rays at midseason in 2011 and he threw 39.2 innings with a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) that year. What a find. It didn’t last though. Wade couldn’t keep the ball in the park in 2012, and finished with a 6.46 ERA (4.51 FIP) in 39 innings. An upper-80s fastball never left him much margin for error.

As for Betances, he started the 2012 season in Triple-A and eventually earned a demotion to Double-A. His line in the minors that year: 6.44 ERA (5.11 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts and 15.7% walks in 131.1 total innings. Shoulder inflammation sent him to the disabled list in mid-August. That was back in the “please figure out how to throw strikes, Dellin” days. Funny how history repeats itself.

October 18th, 2012: Yankees, Marlins Had Preliminary A-Rod Talks

THURSDAY: Marlins president David Samson told Joe Frisaro of MLB.com that there have been “no conversations between the Yankees and the Marlins.”

WEDNESDAY: Earlier today, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman shot down a report from Keith Olbermann which indicated that the club has talked with the Marlins about a possible trade involving Alex Rodriguez.  However, Yankees president Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria have in fact had a casual conversation about relocating the embattled third baseman to Miami, a source tells Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com

Good times, good times. This was shortly after Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the postseason, kicking off the annual “how will the Yankees get rid of A-Rod this offseason?” chatter. Every year, like clockwork. This time we had organizational higher ups involved. Levine said he talked to the Marlins about an A-Rod trade. Samson said no, that conversation didn’t happen. Hmmm, which completely unlikable team president to believe?

October 25th, 2012: Latest On Ichiro, Yankees

Ichiro Suzuki strongly wants to re-sign with the Yankees, a person close to the free agent outfielder told Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Ichiro enjoyed playing in a winning atmosphere with players in his age range this past season, Sherman reports

The “enjoyed playing … with players in his age range” line is too funny. Sad, but funny now looking back on it. Ichiro was 39 years old at the time of this report! Among his teammates in 2012: 38-year-old Derek Jeter, 37-year-old A-Rod, 40-year-old Ibanez, 40-year-old Pettitte, 37-year-old Kuroda. Oy vey.

October 29th, 2012: Yankees Exercise Options For Aardsma, Cano, Granderson

The Yankees announced that they have exercised the 2013 options for right-hander David Aardsma, second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Curtis Granderson.

The Cano and Granderson options, both worth $15M, were easy calls. I forgot the Yankees picked up the Aardsma option. They signed him the prior offseason, as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. He had a few setbacks and wound up pitching one whole inning in pinstripes in September 2012. The Yankees picked up his $500,000 option for 2013 … and then released him at the end of Spring Training.

October 31st, 2012: Rafael Soriano Opts Out Of Contract

7:45am: Rafael Soriano will opt out of his contract with the Yankees and elect free agency today, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Soriano’s contract includes a $14MM player option for 2013 with a $1.5MM buyout.

Rivera blew out his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track, pushing Soriano into the closer’s job, and he was great. Dude went 42-for-46 with a 2.26 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 67.2 innings. After that, Soriano used the (second) opt-out clause in his contract and eventually landed a two-year deal worth $28M with the Nationals. Fun fact: that contract included a ton of deferred money, and the Nationals have to start paying it next year. Soriano will get $2M each January 5th from 2018-24.

October 31st, 2012: East Links: Ortiz, Hunter, Oliver, Marlins, Phillies

The Yankees have some interest in Torii Hunter, reports Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News (on Twitter). Since the Angels are unlikely to make Hunter a qualifying offer, it wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign him.

I was very much against signing Hunter at the time. He was 36 and I wanted the Yankees to get younger. They had an opening in right field given Swisher’s free agency, and it seemed like a chance to find a younger player to potentially build around going forward. The Yankees wound up re-signing Ichiro. Womp womp.

  • Hunter (two years, $26M): .295/.327.456 (116 wRC+) and +2.7 WAR
  • Ichiro (two years, $13M): .271/.308/.341 (79 wRC+) and +2.6 WAR

WAR says their production was equal from 2013-14. Me? I’ll take the good bat/bad glove guy over the bad bat/good glove every day of the week.

November 2nd, 2012: Soriano, Swisher, Kuroda Obtain Qualifying Offers From Yankees

The Yankees extended qualifying offers to Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher and Hiroki Kuroda, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). The players now have one week to accept or decline the offers.

Fun fact: the qualifying offer was worth only $13.3M during the 2012-13 offseason. It’s $17.4M this offseason. It was an easy decision to give all three guys the qualifying offer. And they all declined it. Kuroda wound up re-signing with the Yankees. Swisher went to the Indians and Soriano went to the Nats, and with the compensation draft picks, the Yankees took Aaron Judge and Ian Clarkin, respectively. That Swisher trade, man. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Four great years from Swisher and now at least one MVP caliber year from Judge.

November 3rd, 2012: AL East Links: Swisher, Orioles, Ross, Cabral

The Yankees intend to keep 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral and give him another look in Spring Training, reports Chad Jennings of The Journal News. Cabral, a left-hander, missed all of this season with an elbow injury.

The Yankees liked Cabral so much they traded up to get him in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft — in a prearranged deal, the Royals selected Cabral and traded him to the Yankees for $100,000 (Cabral wouldn’t have made it to New York’s pick) — then kept him around for a second Rule 5 year. Rule 5 players have to spend 90 days on the active roster, and since Cabral missed 2012 with the elbow injury, the Rule 5 Draft rules carried over to 2013. All told, he allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings for the Yankees. He plunked three batters in his final appearance, you may remember.

November 3rd, 2012: Mariano Rivera To Return In 2013

Mariano Rivera informed Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman that he wants to return next season, tweets Erik Boland of Newsday.  The closer is now a free agent after finishing up his two-year, $30MM contract.

This was when we found out Rivera was planning to retire following the 2012 season. Then he blew out his knee in Kansas City, and decided he didn’t want to go out like that. I wonder what would’ve happened had Mo not hurt his knee, and instead followed through on his plan to retire following 2012. Hmmm. Do the Yankees re-sign Soriano to close? Do they hand the reins to David Robertson a year earlier? And if so, do they re-sign Robertson after two great years as closer? That likely means no Andrew Miller, and then no Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. Intrigue!

November 5th, 2012: Yankees Claim Eli Whiteside

The Yankees announced that they claimed catcher Eli Whiteside off of waivers from the Giants.

In the coming days lots of players will hit the waiver wire as teams clean up their 40-man roster. These days the Yankees are a team that loses players on waivers in November, like Blake Parker and Kirby Yates last year. Once upon a time they were a team claiming random players for depth. That was the case in 2012.

A complete list of players the Yankees claimed on waivers during the 2012-13 offseason: Eli Whiteside, David Herndon, Josh Spence, Mickey Storey, Jim Miller, Russ Canzler, Dan Otero, Sam Demel. Whiteside, Storey, Canzler, and Otero were all lost on waivers later in the offseason. Otero’s gone on to have a few solid years as a middle reliever for the Athletics and Indians. Everyone else? Nope. Yet they all spent time on the 40-man roster. Miller actually had cups of coffee with the Yankees in both 2013 and 2014. Huh. Had a 20.25 ERA both years too. Gave up Xander Bogaerts’ first career dinger.

I embedded that just so any visiting Red Sox fans can remember what it looked like Bogaerts had power.

November 5th, 2012: Soria Would Set Up For Yanks; Eight Other Teams Interested

Oscar Suarez, the agent for Joakim Soria, has received calls from eight contending teams expressing interest in his client, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. Suarez has yet to hear from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, but says that Soria would be more than willing to pitch in a setup role for his idol, Mariano Rivera.

Remember Greg Holland last offseason? That was Soria back during the 2012-13 offseason. He was a formerly elite closer who hadn’t pitched at all the prior season as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. In Soria’s case it was his second career Tommy John surgery, which adds another layer of concern.

Everyone wanted Soria back then. It’s so very easy to dream on these guys coming back from elbow reconstruction good as new, and dominating. How often does that happen? Very rarely. Soria eventually signed a two-year deal worth $8M with the Rangers, and gave them 57 innings with a 3.16 ERA (2.15 FIP). That one worked out. Texas traded Soria to the Tigers for Corey Knebel at the 2014 trade deadline, then a year later they traded Knebel to the Brewers for Yovani Gallardo. D’oh.

November 12th, 2012: Yankees, Red Sox Interested In Napoli

2:38pm: The Yankees are also interested in Napoli, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter). The Yankees have a need at catcher, since Russell Martin has also hit free agency. Both Napoli and Martin have strong career numbers against left-handed pitching.

The Yankees lost Martin to the Pirates during the 2013-13 offseason without even making him an offer, which annoyed me to no end. He only wanted a three-year deal and later said he’d take a one-year deal, but nope, Yankees let him go, and we were saddled with the Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli/Austin Romine mishmash in 2013. Next time you feel like complaining about Gary Sanchez‘s passed balls, remember that season.

Martin and Napoli were the two top free agent catchers that offseason. And Napoli never caught again. He agreed to a three-year, $39M deal with the Red Sox, but it was discovered he had a degenerative condition in both hips during his pre-signing physical, so they cut their offer to one-year and $13M, and moved him to first base. I was very Mad Online about the catcher situation going into 2013.

November 13th, 2012: AL East Links: Ibanez, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox

Dan Martin of The New York Post reports that the Yankees have had “preliminary discussions” about bringing Raul Ibanez back as a platoon player next season. The 40-year-old played more than the club would have liked this year due to Brett Gardner‘s injury.

We all remember the clutch homers. They were awesome. The fact of the matter though was Ibanez was 40 years old, and he’d hit .240/.308/.453 (102 wRC+) in 2012, which pretty much sucks for a bad defense corner outfielder-slash-DH. There were plenty of reasons to stay the hell away. Then Ibanez went back to the Mariners and hit .242/.306/.487 (121 wRC+) with 29 homers in 2013. Go figure.

November 14th, 2012: Marlins Shopping Morrison; Nolasco May Be Traded

The Yankees are among the teams with an interest in Nolasco, Erik Boland of Newsday reports (on Twitter). The right-hander has one year and $11.5MM remaining on his contract with Miami. The Rockies had interest in Nolasco last winter and could inquire about him, Troy Renck of the Denver Post suggested this morning (on Twitter).

I was pro-Nolasco back then, when most baseball analysis was “ignore the hundreds and hundreds of innings of crummy run prevention because one of these years his ERA will match his FIP!” Nolasco had a 4.48 ERA (3.57 FIP) in 2012 and was a good bet to chew up innings. The Marlins didn’t trade him that offseason though. They sent him to the Dodgers at the deadline, a few months before he became a free agent, for nothing in particular. I’m pretty sure Nolasco in Yankee Stadium would’ve set a new single-season home runs allowed record. (Current record: 50 by Bert Blyleven in 1986.)

November 20th, 2012: Yankees Agree To Terms With Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees have retained their most consistent starter from 2012 as the club has agreed to terms on a one-year, $15MM contract with Hiroki Kuroda, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (Twitter links).  Kuroda is represented by the Octagon agency.

Welcome back, Hiroki. Kuroda was just the best, wasn’t he? Three years with the Yankees, all one-year contracts, totaling 620 innings with a 3.44 ERA (3.68 FIP) and +12.0 WAR.

Man it would be so awesome to add 2012-14 Kuroda to the 2018 Yankees. What a stud.

November 20th, 2012: Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees Interested In Stephen Drew

Shortstop Stephen Drew is drawing interest from such clubs as the Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees, reports CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.  Drew became a free agent after the A’s declined their half of a $10MM mutual option in October, though Oakland is still interested in re-signing the Scott Boras client at a lower price.

The Stephen Drew love goes back a long, long time. The Yankees wanted him long before getting him at the 2014 trade deadline. They were after him during the 2012-13 offseason. Drew signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox that offseason and hit .253/.333/.443 (108 wRC+) in 2013. Why couldn’t he do that in pinstripes?

November 24th, 2012: Yankees Have Interest In Jeff Keppinger

The Yankees have “renewed (their) longstanding interest” in free agent utility man Jeff Keppinger, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. People within the industry think the team may be laying groundwork to use Alex Rodriguez as the primary DH as soon as 2013, which GM Brian Cashman refuted.

Good gravy Jeff Keppinger was still a thing in 2012? Apparently so. The internet tells me he hit .325/.367/.439 (128 wRC+) with the Rays in 2012. What the what. The White Sox gave him three years and $12M, then he hit .253/.283/.317 (62 wRC+) in 2013 and was released in May 2014. The Yankees always seemed to be connected to Keppinger because he could kinda sorta hit and play a few different positions. Keppinger, Ty Wigginton, Mark DeRosa … the Yankees were always connected to those dudes without ever actually signing one of them.

November 26th, 2012: Seven Teams Interested In Victorino

B.J. Upton‘s name has dominated the conversation regarding free agent center fielders lately, but Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Indians, Rangers, Yankees, Giants, Rays, Red Sox and Reds all have interest in another free agent center fielder — Shane Victorino.

Victorino, like Hunter, was not someone I wanted the Yankees to sign. He was 32 at the time, which isn’t old by any means, but he’d just hit .255/.321/.383 (94 wRC+) in 2012, and was trending down. I thought the Red Sox were asking for trouble when they gave him a three-year deal worth $39M. Then he hit .294/.351/.451 (119 wRC+) in 2013. Pretty much every free agent the Red Sox signed in 2013 worked out perfectly. Annoying! Victorino was awful in 2014 and 2015, but by then, no one cared. The 2013 World Series title made the contract worth it.

November 28th, 2012: Yankees To Sign Andy Pettitte

The Yankees announced that they have signed Andy Pettitte to a one-year, Major League contract. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, who first reported the deal, adds that it’s worth $12MM (on Twitter). The contract also includes $2.5MM in awards bonuses according to Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News (on Twitter). Excel Sports Management now represents the 40-year-old left-hander. 

Welcome back, Andy. He retired after the 2010 season and yet here were the Yankees, giving him $12M in November 2012. And everyone was totally cool with it.

November 29th, 2012: Yankees Agree To Terms With Mariano Rivera

The Yankees have agreed with closer Mariano Rivera on a one-year contract for 2013, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link).  The deal is worth $10MM in guaranteed money, plus extra performance and awards incentives.  Rivera is represented by SFX.

Welcome back, Mariano. In the span of ten days the Yankees handled three major pieces of offseason business by re-signing Kuroda, Pettitte, and Rivera. They committed $37M to three players who averaged 41 years of age, and they were basically the three best pitchers on the team in 2013. Those three gave the team 450.2 innings of 3.32 ERA ball.

November 30th, 2012: Yankees Designate Jayson Nix For Assignment

The Yankees have designated Jayson Nix for assignment, the team announced. The move creates room on the 40-man roster for the recently re-signed Mariano Rivera.

We all thought this would be the end of the Nixy (Nixie?) era, but nope, just some clever roster manipulation by the Yankees. We later found out they signed Nix to a one-year deal worth $900,000 prior to this move, which was quite a bit more than everyone expected him to get. About $900,000 more then expected. The relatively pricey one-year deal meant he’d get through waivers, so the Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster, Nix agreed to stick around as a non-40-man player until Opening Day, when he was re-added to the roster. The essentially bought a temporary 40-man roster opening by giving their utility infielder a few extra grand. Seems …. unnecessary?

The Yankees and the 2017-18 Offseason Calendar

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Last night the Astros won the first World Series championship in franchise history with a Game Seven win over the Dodgers. Game Seven was a bit of a dud, but the series sure was exciting overall. And the Yankees came so close to playing in it as well. Just one win away.

Anyway, now that the World Series and the 2017 baseball season are over, the offseason is officially underway. There are a ton of important dates and deadlines coming up these next few weeks, plus some not so important ones as well. Here is the offseason calendar and what each of these dates means for the Yankees.

Today, November 2nd: The start of free agency, kinda
As of 9am ET this morning, all eligible players became free agents. Once upon a time players had to file for a free agency, which was a waste of time, so now it happens automatically. Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia all became free agents this morning. That opens four 40-man roster spots. (Pineda was on the 60-day DL and didn’t count against the 40-man.)

Saturday, November 4th: Option decisions due
In most cases option decisions are due three days following the end of the World Series. Some contracts set an earlier date for the option decision — Jimmy Rollins’ contract stipulated the Phillies had to exercise his option for the 2011 season following the 2009 season, for example — though that doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Three days after the World Series is pretty standard around the league now.

The Yankees have one option decision this offseason and it is a big one: Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out. He can opt out of the final three years and $67M remaining on his contract and test the free agent waters. Most RAB readers expect that to happen. We’ll get a definitive answer by the end of the weekend.

Monday, November 6th: Qualifying offers, roster deadlines, awards finalists
Five days after the World Series, teams must decide whether to offer eligible free agents the $17.4M qualifying offer. Tanaka is New York’s only qualifying offer candidate. Frazier isn’t eligible because he was traded at midseason. Even if the Yankees want to re-sign Sabathia, they, can probably do so for less than the qualifying offer. They’re trying to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold next year, remember. Every dollar counts.

Also on this date, players must be activated off the 60-day DL. Aside from Pineda, who came off the roster when he became a free agent today, the only player on the 60-day DL is Luis Cessa. So those four open 40-man roster spots I mentioned early? One is going to Cessa on Monday. Oh, and eligible players become minor league free agents on this date. Jake Cave is the Yankees’ most notable minor league free agent, and he’ll reportedly be added to the 40-man roster. Other notable impending minor free agents include Dante Bichette Jr. and Daniel Camarena.

And finally, the various awards finalists will be announced on this date. A few years ago MLB started announcing three finalists for each major award as a way to build hype and stay in the news, and hey, it’s worked. The Yankees have several awards candidates this year. Aaron Judge will win Rookie of the Year and figures to be among the MVP finalists. Luis Severino could be the third Cy Young finalist along with Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. Could Joe Girardi be among the Manager of the Year finalists? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Tuesday, November 7th: Start of free agency, Gold Gloves announced
The five-day exclusive negotiating period expires on this date, so starting next Tuesday, free agents will be truly free. They can negotiate and sign with any team. MLB free agency is a slow slog, however. There aren’t a rush of signings on the first day like in the NFL, NHL, and NBA. Those are salary cap leagues and players want to make sure they don’t get left out in the cold when cap space runs out. MLB free agents have no such concerns, so they’re patient.

Also on this date, the 2017 Gold Glove award winners will be announced. The Yankees have two Gold Glove finalists this year: Judge and Brett Gardner. Gardner has a pretty good chance to win his second straight Gold Glove in left field. He’s up against Alex Gordon, who’s lost a little something off his fastball, and Justin Upton. Judge probably won’t beat out Mookie Betts, but never say never.

Wednesday, November 8th: Silver Sluggers announced
Judge is going to get an outfield Silver Slugger and I have to think Gary Sanchez will win the Silver Slugger behind the plate. He led AL catchers in basically everything. Salvador Perez and Welington Castillo are Gary’s only real competition. I can’t believe I just wrote three sentences analyzing Silver Sluggers.

Monday, November 13th: Qualifying offer decisions due
Players get seven days to mull over the qualifying offer. Should Tanaka opt-out, he’ll decline the qualifying offer. He’s not opting out of three years and $67M to take the one-year, $17.4M qualifying offer. We’ve seen a few players accept the qualifying offer the last few offseasons, so I’m sure it’ll happen somewhere around the league this winter.

November 13th to 16th: GM Meetings in Orlando
The GM Meetings are held to handle various off-the-field matters, but, in recent years, more and more transactions are going down at the GM Meetings. I guess that’s inevitable when you get stick all 30 GMs in one place for a few days. Two years ago the Yankees and Twins made the Aaron HicksJohn Ryan Murphy trade during the GM Meetings.

Also during these days, the major awards will be announced. Awards week will start with Judge and Cody Bellinger being named the Rookies of the Year on Monday. Managers of the Year will be announced Tuesday, Cy Youngs will be announced Wednesday, and MVPs will be announced Thursday.

November 20th: Deadline to set 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft
Given the depth in the farm system, this is one of the most important days of the offseason for the Yankees. This is the day they must add players to the 40-man roster to prevent them from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft next month. A partial list of Rule 5 Draft eligible players:

  • Pitchers: RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Domingo Acevedo, LHP Nestor Cortes, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP Stephen Tarpley
  • Position Players: IF Abi Avelino, OF Rashad Crawford, IF Thairo Estrada, 1B Mike Ford, 1B/OF Billy McKinney, OF Alex Palma, IF Gleyber Torres

Abreu, Acevedo, and Torres will definitely be added to the 40-man roster because they are three of the best prospects in the system. Also, it’s already been reported McKinney will be added to the 40-man as well. I think the Yankees will add Estrada — middle infielders who can hit a bit are worth keeping around — and I’m curious to see what happens with Loaisiga. He’s been getting a lot of hype lately, though he’s thrown only 103.2 innings in parts of five seasons due to injuries, and none of those innings have come above Low-A. I think you leave him exposed.

December 1st: Non-tender deadline
Usually the non-tender deadline — that is the deadline to submit a contract offer to all pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players — is December 2nd, but December 2nd falls on a Saturday this year, so they moved it up to December 1st. Specifically, the deadline is 8pm ET on December 1st. A whole new batch of free agents will hit the market on this date.

Aside from Erik Kratz, who figures to be dropped from the 40-man roster long before the non-tender deadline, the Yankees don’t have any real non-tender candidates. Perhaps they’ll non-tender someone like Kyle Higashioka or Ronald Herrera, then re-sign him to a minor league deal? They’ve done the non-tender/re-sign trick many times over the years. That allows teams to drop a player from the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers.

December 10th to 14th: Winter Meetings in Orlando
The busiest week of the offseason. Historically, the biggest deals of the winter go down during the Winter Meetings. That includes trades and free agent signings. Last year the Yankees signed Holliday and agreed to re-sign Aroldis Chapman during the Winter Meetings. The year before that they made the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades during the Winter Meetings. This is always a busy week. Even if deals don’t get done, there are gobs of rumors. It’s fun.

December 14th: Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 Draft marks the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings. Everyone heads home afterward. The Yankees have a strong farm system and there are only so many 40-man roster spots to go around, so they’re going to lose players this year. That’s just the way it goes when you have a lot of quality prospects. Last year the Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft: Tyler Jones, Caleb Smith, Luis Torrens, and Tyler Webb. The Padres kept Torrens all year. Jones, Smith, and Webb were all returned before the end of Spring Training.

As a reminder, players picked in the Rule 5 Draft have to remain on their new team’s 25-man active roster all next season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to their original team. The Yankees have not made a Rule 5 Draft pick since taking Cesar Cabral and Brad Meyers back in 2011. There’s no reason to think they’ll pick someone this year. They barely have enough 40-man space for their own players. There’s not enough room to stash another club’s fringe big leaguer.

January 13th: Deadline to submit salary arbitration filing figures
This is the day teams and their arbitration-eligible players file salary figures with MLB. The player files what he thinks he should earn in 2018 and the team counters with what they think he should earn. Most players will sign a contract before exchanging figures. The Yankees for the longest time signed all their players before the filing deadline, though in recent years they’ve exchanged figures with a few players, only to sign them shortly after the deadline. Not a big deal, really. For the most part though, arbitration-eligible players sign before this date. Only a small percentage wind up filing salary figures.

Mid-January 2018: 2018 Hall of Fame class announced
Next summer’s Hall of Fame class figures to be at least four players deep: Vlad Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome. Omar Vizquel might get in this year too. Eh. Chipper and Thome will be on the ballot for the first time. Vlad and Hoffman fell only a handful of votes short last year, and should get over the hump this year. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina have slowly been gaining support in recent years, though probably not enough to make it this year.

Among the former Yankees on the ballot this year are holdovers Clemens, Mussina, and Gary Sheffield, and newcomers Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood. I’m curious to see what happens with Andruw. I don’t think he’ll get in this year and maybe not ever, even though his peak was incredible and he is on the very short list of the best defensive players in history. Damon had a long and very productive career, but falls short of Cooperstown for me.

Early-to-mid-February: Arbitration hearings
Last year the Yankees went to their first arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008. The Yankees went to a hearing with Dellin Betances last offseason, won the ruling, then president Randy Levine needlessly took shots at Betances. How stupid. Generally speaking, teams and players try to avoid arbitration hearings because they can get messy and awkward, so they work out a contract beforehand.

With Dellin though, there is clearly some level of bad blood here. He wasn’t happy with Levine last year and rightfully so. The smart money is on the Yankees avoiding hearings with all their players, because that’s usually how it goes. Betances might take them back to a hearing though, if he thinks he has a better case this year. Lots of walks won’t hurt much in arbitration. Certainly not enough to negate the ten extra saves he picked up this year and the fourth straight All-Star Game selection. We’ll see.

Mid-February: Spring Training begins!
Hooray for that. The Yankees haven’t announced their reporting dates yet, though that’ll come soon enough. No team has announced their reporting dates yet. Spring Training is going to be a little different next season because the Yankees will have a new manager, potentially a new coaching staff, and wildly optimistic expectations.

March 29th: Opening Day!
The Yankees open next season on the road against the Blue Jays. Also, the season starts on a Thursday next year, not a Sunday or Monday as usual. The MLBPA pushed for a few more days off during the season in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, so Opening Day was moved up a bit to accommodate the extra off-days. The Yankees open on Thursday in Toronto then come home for the Yankee Stadium opener the following Monday.

MLBTR’s arbitration projections and a potential Didi Gregorius extension

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the next few weeks and months, the Yankees and every other team will tweak their roster in an effort to contend in 2018. Some teams are more serious about contention than others. The Yankees are ready to win, they showed it this year, and they’ll try to do it next season while getting under the $197M luxury tax threshold.

A few weeks ago Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors posted his annual arbitration salary projections, and because the Yankees have a large arbitration class — nine players total, including several key contributors — their salaries will be a big factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. These players are a bargain relative to what they’d get on the open market, though their salaries add up. Here are the arbitration projections:

Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate overall. It has trouble with outlier players — Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into his first arbitration year with two Cy Youngs — though it gets us in the ballpark and often much closer. Let’s dive into the projections a bit.

1. It’s time to consider a Gregorius extension. Didi has emerged as a true core player for the Yankees. He’s an above-average hitter and an above-average defender, and he’s a big part of the clubhouse culture. Gregorius can become a free agent following the 2019 season, and I think it’s time the Yankees start thinking about signing him long-term. He’s only 27 and quality in-their-prime shortstops are awfully hard to find.

The Jean Segura extension is a perfect benchmark for Gregorius. Segura signed his five-year, $70M deal earlier this year, two years prior to free agency at age 27, the exact same point of his career as Gregorius is right now. Look at the numbers:

Segura in year prior to extension: .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+) and +5.0 WAR
Gregorius in year prior to extension: .287/.318/.478 (107 wRC+) and +3.9 WAR

Segura career: .280/.319/.396 (91 wRC+) and +8.6 WAR
Gregorius career:
.266/.313/.413 (94 wRC+) and +11.5 WAR

Segura had the better platform year prior to signing his extension, though Gregorius has the better body of work overall. That five-year extension worth $70M is the benchmark for Didi. The market has been set.

The problem with an extension is the luxury tax. If Gregorius gets the $9M arbitration projection, he counts as $9M against the luxury tax threshold. Give him the Segura extension, and he counts as $14M (the average annual value of the contract) against the luxury tax threshold, and saving $5M is a big deal. Then again, signing Didi now could equal tens of millions in savings later. An extension has to be a serious consideration.

2. Betances and the Yankees might be in for a messy hearing again. Had Betances won his arbitration hearing last year, he could’ve been looking at a $6.5M to $7M projection this offseason, and we might have been talking about him as a non-tender candidate right now. Instead, the Yankees won, and you can see how arbitration savings add up.

  • Dellin wins last year: $5M in 2017 + $6.5M guesstimate in 2018 = $11.5M total
  • Yankees win last year: $3M in 2017 + $4.4M projected in 2018 = $7.4M total

That $2M in savings last year turns into $4.1M in savings from 2017-18. Arbitration uses the prior year’s salary as a baseline for a raise, so any savings compound over the years. Last year’s arbitration hearing win over Betances may end up saving the Yankees close to $10M from 2017-19. That’s a big chunk of change.

Last year’s arbitration hearing was reportedly ugly, uglier than these things usually are, and team president Randy Levine only made things worse when he ripped Dellin in a conference call afterward. I have no idea whether there is still any bad blood between the two sides, but I suppose another hearing is possible this year.

And here’s the thing: Betances still has a really good case. All the walks this year won’t hurt him much in arbitration because the system isn’t built that way. Saves and strikeouts count. Dellin doesn’t have many saves, but he struck out 100 batters yet again this season, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87 to be exact), and he went to his fourth straight All-Star Game. Those are all points in his favor. I’m not sure how this will play out. Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not as ugly as last year.

3. Shreve might stick around until Spring Training. The Yankees spent last offseason and pretty much the entire pre-deadline regular season looking for a reliable left-handed reliever, and they came up empty. I get the sense they’re going to spend the winter looking for a lefty again. For now, Shreve is the in-house option, and his $900,000 projected salary is nothing.

Keep in mind arbitration-eligible players are on non-guaranteed contracts. They can be released in Spring Training and only be paid 30 days or 45 days termination pay, depending when they get cut. The Yankees could sign Shreve, keep him around, see if they come up with a better lefty, and if they do, they could drop him for a fraction of his salary in camp. Harsh, but it happens every year around the league. It’s easy to think Shreve, who is out of minor league options, will be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around though.

4. Kratz is a goner. Obvious statement is obvious. The Yankees acquired Kratz to be the third catcher in September only because Kyle Higashioka was injured at the time. He’ll be the very first player dropped from the 40-man roster once space is needed, which will be later this month when the roster has to be set for the Rule 5 Draft. Kratz won’t even make it to the non-tender deadline. Such is the life of a journeyman. Hey, at least he got to hang around with the team during the postseason. He traveled with the club all through the ALDS and ALCS.

5. My estimates were pretty good, actually. A few weeks back I looked at the 2018 payroll situation with regards to the luxury tax. I estimated $25M to $30M for the arbitration eligible players, not including Kratz or Shreve, and Swartz’s model projects this group at $28.5M. Hey, I’m getting kinda good at this.

Add that $28.5M projection to the other contract commitments as per my post a few weeks ago, and we get $163.5M already on the books for next season. It’ll drop to $141.4M should Masahiro Tanaka opt out, which most RAB readers expect to happen. Point is, the Yankees will have about $35M under the $197M luxury tax threshold to play with this winter, assuming Tanaka sticks around. If he doesn’t, it’s closer to $60M. Having that much wiggle, to me, means the Yankees should get serious about signing Didi long-term.

Saturday Links: Coaching Staff, Qualifying Offer, Super Two

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It has now been two days since the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, and we’ve yet to hear anything concrete about potential replacements. Just speculation. I suspect we’ll hear some news next week, once Brian Cashman holds his annual end-of-season press conference following the World Series. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

Espada a candidate for Astros, Red Sox

According to Sweeny Murti, the Astros and Red Sox are considering Yankees third base coach Joe Espada for their bench coach openings. The Tigers also considered Espada for their managerial opening before hiring Ron Gardenhire. The ‘Stros lost bench coach Alex Cora to the Red Sox, who was named their manager. Current Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina is a John Farrell holdover, and he could be shown the door as Cora builds his staff.

Espada, 42, has been New York’s third base coach for three years now, and prior to that he spent some time in the front office as a special assistant to Cashman. As I said yesterday, Espada checks pretty much all the boxes associated with a modern manager. He’s young, he knows analytics, he’s upbeat, and he has a rapport with the front office (with the Yankees, at least). I’m not surprised two smart teams have interest in him for a coaching position.

Next manager will have say on coaching staff

Not surprisingly, the next Yankees manager will have a say on the coaching staff, according to Jack Curry. That’s usually how it goes. When Girardi was hired during the 2007-08 offseason, the only holdover coaches were hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Tony Pena. All the other coaching positions changed and it seems possible, if not likely, that will happen again.

Like Girardi, every member of the coaching staff has an expiring contract this year, so they’re all free to look for opportunities elsewhere while the Yankees sort things out. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees have already given teams permission to interview any of the coaches before their contracts officially expire (after the World Series). My hunch is Pena and bench coach Rob Thomson will stick around in some capacity — Thomson is a Yankees lifer and particularly good with the young players — though it wouldn’t surprise me to see all the other coaches head elsewhere, even assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames, who it appeared was being groomed for the main hitting coach job the last few seasons.

Naehring not interested in manager’s job

Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring is not interested in the now vacant manager’s job, he told Andrew Marchand. Naehring took over as Cashman’s right-hand man after Billy Eppler left to join the Angels. He has no coaching experience at all — Naehring has been working in various front offices since his playing career ended — so shifting down into the dugout would’ve been an interesting move. Naehring was never named as a real candidate for the managerial opening. It was just speculation given his relationship with Cashman. Now we can scratch him off the list.

Qualifying offer set at $17.4M

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Tim Dierkes, the qualify offer has been set at $17.4M for this coming offseason. That’s lower than I expected. I thought it would be up over $18M. Heck, last year the qualifying offer was $17.2M, so it didn’t go up much. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and I guess salaries didn’t go up much this season. That makes sense. Last winter’s free agent class kinda stunk. Yoenis Cespedes signed the only $100M+ contract, and it was only $110M.

Anyway, as I detailed in July, the Yankees only have one qualifying offer candidate this offseason: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out of the final three years and $67M left on contract — which most RAB readers expect to happen — then of course make him the $17.4M qualifying offer and get a draft pick, even if it is only a dinky fourth rounder. Todd Frazier is not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason, and even if the Yankees want to bring CC Sabathia back, they won’t make the qualifying offer because he’d take it and throw a wrench into the luxury tax plan. They’ll likely be able to sign him for less.

Super Two cutoff set at 2.123

The Super Two service time cutoff has been set at two years and 123 days this offseason, reports Dierkes. Players who qualify as Super Two go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three, which is their consolation prize for essentially having to wait an extra year for free agency. The Yankees do not have any players who will qualify as Super Twos this winter. Greg Bird is 70 days short of qualifying and he’s the closest. Bryan Mitchell would’ve qualified as a Super Two by six days had he spent the entire season in MLB, but he didn’t, so that’s that.

Tuesday Links: Sabathia, Girardi, Mets, Judge, Tate, Abreu

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Thanks to wins in Games Three and Four of the ALDS the last two days, the Yankees will play for a spot in the ALCS tomorrow night. What a fun season this has been. I hope it never ends. Anyway, here are some stray links to check out now that we all have a chance to catch our breath a bit during the off-day.

Sabathia still wants to pitch in 2018

Over the weekend CC Sabathia reiterated to Jon Morosi that he plans to pitch in 2018. He said this back over the winter too, but at 37 years old and with a balky knee, he could’ve changed his mind at some point during the season. And heck, maybe the Yankees will win the World Series and Sabathia will decide to ride off into the sunset as a champion. That’d be cool, as much as I’d miss CC.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, I am totally cool with bringing Sabathia back on one-year contracts for pretty much the rest of his career, Andy Pettitte style. He showed this year that last season’s success was no fluke. The new Sabathia is here to stay. Between the perpetual need for pitching depth and Sabathia’s leadership role in the clubhouse, bringing him back is a no-brainer. And why would Sabathia want to leave? The Yankees are good and fun, and he lives here year-round. The going rate for veteran innings dudes (Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, etc.) is one year and $10M to $12M these days. Maybe Sabathia gets $15M because he’s basically a legacy Yankee?

Mets have discussed Girardi

I had a feeling this was coming. According to Mike Puma, the Mets have internally discussed pursuing Joe Girardi should Girardi and the Yankees part ways when his contract expires after the season. Terry Collins was essentially pushed out as Mets manager after the season, and the team is looking for a new skipper. Also, as George King writes, Girardi has given some indications he could step away after the season to spend more time with his family and avoid burnout.

While we should never rule out Girardi going elsewhere or simply stepping away to be with his family, these two reports struck me as plants from Girardi’s camp as a way to build leverage for contract talks. The best thing for Girardi would be the Nationals and Dusty Baker having trouble finding common ground for an extension, because then he could use them as leverage too. I think Girardi wants to come back — who’d want to leave given how well set up the Yankees are for the future? — and I think both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman want him back. The chances of a reunion seem quite high to me. Maybe as high as 95/5.

Judge named BA’s Rookie of the Year

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

A few days ago Baseball America named Aaron Judge their 2017 Rookie of the Year, which should surprise no one. They give out one award for all of MLB, not one for each league. Baseball America has been giving out their Rookie of the Year award since 1989 and Judge is the second Yankee to win it, joining Derek Jeter in 1996. From their write-up:

“You watched him in the minor leagues and you saw the raw power and athletic ability,” one pro scout told BA during the season. “You saw a big swing and high strikeout numbers. Then you have to ask yourself does he have the ability to make adjustments and shorten the swing. The answer was yes.’

“If anybody says they expected this I would have to call them a liar. Nobody in their right mind expected this.”

The last few Baseball America Rookies of the Year include Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Jose Abreu, Jose Fernandez, and Mike Trout. Judge is for sure going to win the AL Rookie of the Year award — he’d be the first Yankee to win that since Jeter — and he should win unanimously. The real question here is the MVP race. I see way more people explaining why Judge shouldn’t win it (his slump) than why Jose Altuve should win. Kinda weird.

Tate removed, Abreu added to AzFL roster

Dillon Tate has been removed from the Scottsdale Scorpions roster with Albert Abreu taking his place, the Arizona Fall League announced. Also, Chris Gittens was removed from the roster as well. I’m not sure why Tate was dropped from the roster, but it could one of countless reasons. He could’ve gotten hurt. The Yankees could’ve decided to shut him down after Instructional League. The Yankees may think those innings would be better spent on Abreu. Who knows.

Abreu came over in the Brian McCann trade and he threw only 53.1 innings around elbow and lat injuries this year. He finished the season healthy though, and is obviously healthy enough to go to the AzFL, so he’ll be able to squeeze in some more innings there. That’s good. Abreu has an awful lot of upside, maybe the most of any pitcher in the system. As for Gittens, he was removed because Billy McKinney was added to the AzFL roster, and he’s going to start playing some first base there. Only so many first base roster spots to go around, so Gittens gets dropped.

The Yankees are reportedly “very interested” in Alex Cobb, but should they be?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This offseason the Yankees will have to replace at least one, and possibly two, starting pitchers. CC Sabathia is due to become a free agent and Masahiro Tanaka could opt-out of his contract. I think it’ll happen. Even if it doesn’t, the Yankees will still need to replace Sabathia. And hey, maybe they’ll just re-sign Sabathia. I’d be cool with it. Sabathia is still the man.

Inevitably, the Yankees will be connected to several free agent pitchers this offseason, including the top guys like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Even when the Yankees aren’t interested, agents say they are because it’s good for their clients, and the Yankees usually play ball because it means an opposing team will have to pay more. I would be surprised if the Yankees signed a top free agent this winter though. We’ll see.

Among the many mid-range free agents due to hit the market this offseason is Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who we’ve seen plenty of times over the years. The splitter specialist has a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 173.1 innings this season, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Cobb, who turns 30 in two weeks, threw 309.2 innings with a 2.82 ERA (3.29 FIP) from 2013-14, before blowing out his elbow.

According to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are among the teams “very interested” in Cobb. I had a feeling a “Yankees like Alex Cobb” report was coming at some point. On the surface, this makes sense. The Yankees need a starter, Cobb is AL battle tested, and he shouldn’t cost as much as Darvish or Arrieta (or Tanaka). Does that make him a good target though? Let’s look under the hood a bit.

1. His ground ball rate is trending down. During his peak years from 2013-14, Cobb ran a 56.0% ground ball rate, fourth highest among the 86 pitches to throw at least 300 innings those seasons. This year Cobb is down to a 47.7% ground ball rate, which isn’t awful, but it took a recent spike just to get it that high:

alex-cobb-grounders

Granted, we have to cut Cobb some slack here because this is his first full season following Tommy John surgery, but how much slack is appropriate? Losing close to ten percentage points off your ground ball rate following elbow reconstruction is not insignificant.

2. The splitter has stopped getting swings and misses. In addition to all the ground balls, Cobb also ran a healthy 22.5% strikeout rate from 2013-14, so he combined the best of both worlds. Strikeouts and grounders. His success was not a mirage. Cobb was a bat missing, ground ball generating machine from 2013-14.

This season Cobb’s strikeout rate is down to 17.3%, which ranks 50th among the 63 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. The swing-and-miss rate on his splitter tells you all you need to know:

alex-cobb-splitter-whiff-rate

Hmmm. That doesn’t look good. The splitter is Cobb’s go to pitch. Take that pitch away from him and he’s not the same guy. Imagine Tanaka without his splitter? Well, we don’t have to imagine, we saw it earlier this season. For whatever reason Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t behaving properly earlier this year, and he was throwing batting practice. Cobb hasn’t been that bad. But how much longer until he is that bad? Bottom line: his splitter has not been a quality swing-and-miss offering. That undeniably cuts into his effectiveness.

3. Hitters are making much more hard contact. Not surprisingly, Cobb is allowing more hard contact this season, and that’s never good. When your trademark pitch isn’t working, it affects everything. Cobb’s fastball isn’t as effective as usual because hitters don’t have to worry so much about the split. Anyway, here’s his hard contact rate:

alex-cobb-hard-contact

Yeah. That’s not good. Fewer strikeouts plus fewer ground balls plus more hard contact is not a good combination. That’s why Cobb has gone from a 2.82 ERA pre-Tommy John surgery to a (not bad!) 3.63 ERA post-Tommy John surgery. There are enough red flags here to be skeptical of Cobb going forward.

* * *

It is so very easy to look at a potential trade or free agent target and come with reasons not to pursue him. I know I am guilty of it. All the time. So, for the sake of looking at both sides, what are some of the reasons to pursue Cobb as a free agent this offseason? First of all, if a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) and not missing a start constitutes a down season, you’re pretty darn good. Two, Cobb has shown he can succeed in the tough AL East. That’s cool.

And three — and this might be the biggest reason to buy into Cobb long-term — it’s not unreasonable to think his performance will improve as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery. This is his first full season back. He’s shaking off the rust. Cobb’s not old — again, he’ll turn 30 in two weeks — so there should still be a few years of peak or near-peak performance coming. He’s essentially a high-end bounceback candidate.

I am curious to see how Cobb’s market shakes out this offseason. I get the sense he’s going to be a very popular player with basically every contender in the mix. Want him? You’re going to have to outbid the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Nationals, the Cardinals, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks … every contender is going to show interest in this guy. Even though Cobb comes with some very real red flags, there are also reasons to be optimistic. I’m not 100% sold on him as a free agent target at the moment, but this offseason, he’ll be very in demand, and the Yankees figure to be among his suitors.

Eric Hosmer’s impending free agency and the luxury tax plan

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The Royals took a really big gamble this year. So many of their core players are due to become free agents after the season, but they decided to hang on to everyone at the trade deadline and try to make a run in the second half. Kansas City was in the second wildcard spot on July 31st so hey, it wasn’t an unreasonable decision. It was still a gamble.

That gamble has not worked out. The Royals are 17-23 since the trade deadline and they are now three games behind the second wildcard spot with 18 games to play. They’re not out of it by any means, but things aren’t looking great right now. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 9.1%. General manager Dayton Moore was hoping for a big second half and another deep playoff run. Probably not going to happen.

Among Kansas City’s impending free agent core players are center fielder Lorenzo Cain (this offseason’s Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Heyward) and third baseman Mike Moustakas, as well as first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer has been a household name for a while now, ever since his days as a prospect and top three draft pick, though it wasn’t until this season that he’s really lived up to the hype. He’s hitting .328/.394/.517 (141 wRC+) with 24 homers in 2017.

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees like Hosmer “very much,” and usually when the Yankees like an impending free agent “very much,” it means they’re going to go after him in the offseason. And the Yankees might pursue Hosmer. Who knows? The plan to get under the $197M luxury tax plan is a real thing though, and that might stand in the way of a Hosmer pursuit. A few things about this.

1. On paper, Hosmer is a great fit for the Yankees. Chase Headley has been, far and away, the best Yankees first baseman this season. It’s not even close. And that’s a problem because ideally Headley wouldn’t be your best anything. Hosmer, despite his up-and-down track record, offers the following, in no particular order:

  1. A left-handed bat. New York’s lineup leans right-handed these days and it’s only going to get worse as righties Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier work their way into the full-time lineup.
  2. Youth, relatively speaking. Hosmer will turn 28 in October, so whichever team signs him will get several peak seasons, at least in theory. This isn’t a 30-something. He’ll spend all of 2017 at 27.
  3. World Series experience. This isn’t nothing! It’s not everything, but it’s not nothing either. Hosmer has been a key member of two AL pennant teams and one World Series champ. He knows all about winning and how ridiculously difficult it is to win a championship.
  4. Contact skills. Hosmer’s worst single season strikeout rate is 19.8% last year, which was better than league average. It’s 15.6% this year and 16.3% for his career. Putting the ball in play is good.
  5. Quality defense. The defensive stats don’t like Hosmer for whatever reason, but defensive stats struggle with first basemen anyway. The eye test tells me he’s above-average, especially at scooping the ball. He’s a vacuum over there.

My concern with Hosmer is that he’s the first base version of Heyward, a 20-something who gets overrated based on name value and potential. Whoever signs Hosmer will be doing so hoping his offense ticks up the next few years — and it very well might as a lefty hitter in Yankee Stadium — rather than hoping he maintains his decidedly meh .284/.344/.440 (111 wRC+) career batting line. I wanted the Yankees to sign Heyward for that reason and boy was I wrong.

Adding a young-ish left-handed hitter who doesn’t strike out a ton and plays a strong first base and knows what it takes to win the World Series sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It does. On paper, Hosmer really fits what the Yankees need going forward. How would it actually play out? Who knows. Big name free agent signings have a way of disappointing.

2. The Yankees have luxury tax space for a big signing (probably). My real quick back of the envelope math suggests the Yankees have about $40M to spend this offseason even if Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t opt-out. Some of that money will be earmarked for a new starting pitcher given CC Sabathia‘s impending free agency. Also, the Yankees aren’t to spend right up to the luxury tax limit. They need some wiggle room for in-season additions.

Point is, there appears to be enough space under the luxury tax threshold to sign Hosmer, who is surely looking at $20M+ per year. Elite players are getting $30M+ per season these days, but I don’t see that happening, even with Scott Boras calling the shots. If Tanaka opts out, the Yankees will definitely be able to afford a prime free agent. That said … Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Imagine not being about to sign one of those dudes because you’re paying Hosmer big bucks. Oy vey. Anyway, yes, there looks to be payroll space to sign Hosmer, should the Yankees choose to go in that direction.

3. The free agent compensation is nothing. The Royals are of course going to make Hosmer the qualifying offer. The Yankees will pay luxury tax this year, so according to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they will have to surrender their second and fifth highest draft picks, plus $1M in international bonus money to sign any qualified free agent this offseason. That’s not bad at all. You do lose draft bonus pool money, but you get to keep your first rounder, and you could always trade for more international money. As far as I’m concerned, the new free agent compensation rules are negligible. They’re not going to deter anyone from anything.

4. Don’t forget about Bird. The Yankees still have a pretty talented young first baseman in Greg Bird, and they’d love love love him to develop into a left-handed complement to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Remember, Brian Cashman said Bird is still the first baseman of the future a few weeks ago. The Yankees really like this kid. Maybe a little too much. Signing Hosmer would presumably turn Bird into trade bait or a full-time designated hitter, which might not be such a bad thing given his ongoing injury issues. The youth movement is real though. Signing someone else’s big name to block your talented young kid is an old Yankees move.

* * *

An undeniable fact: Greg Bird has not been a productive big leaguer in two years now. Not since his 2015 debut. He missed last season with the shoulder injury and most of this season with an ankle injury. And he’s missed the last two games with lower back tightness, which might not seem like such a big deal, except a back injury is what led to him transitioning from catcher to first base back in the day. Bird, two years after that big debut, is still an unknown.

My guess is yes, the Yankees do like Hosmer as a player, but not enough to displace Bird and potentially put the luxury tax plan in jeopardy. Hosmer is a good player, not a truly great one, and tying up considerable payroll space on a good player when you already have a talented youngster at that position doesn’t seem like a great idea. Bird’s injuries worry me. How could they not? I’m still not ready to move on and spend big on a first baseman though.