Rojas: Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to one-year contract

(Mitchell Layton/Getty )
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

According to Enrique Rojas (translated article), free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to taking a one-year contract and testing the market again next offseason if he can’t get the deal he wants this winter. “If Asdrubal can not get a contract for at least four years, then he probably would sign only for one season to reset his market. Surely many other teams will be interested if that happens,” said a source to Rojas.

Rojas says the Yankees were among the teams with interest in Cabrera — a few weeks ago we heard they didn’t have interest in him, but things change — though this report is more than a week old now, dating back to before the team re-signed Chase Headley. They have since traded away Martin Prado though, so the Yankees still have an opening on the infield, just now at second base instead of third.

With Headley back and Prado gone, Asdrubal on a one-year contract to play second base sure sounds like a swell idea to me. I wouldn’t like giving him three or four years, but one? I’d do that in a heartbeat. Cabrera could play second, provide some shortstop depth in case Didi Gregorius doesn’t work out, and perhaps become a trade chip if Rob Refsnyder forces the issue. Best case scenario, Asdrubal mashes and the Yankees get either a quality prospect at the deadline or a draft pick next offseason. Worst case, they release him and give the job to Refsnyder.

Cabrera, who turned 29 last month, split this past season between the Indians and Nationals — he played 823.2 innings at short and 432 innings at second, his first action at a non-shortstop position since 2009 — and hit .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) with 14 homers and ten steals. He had two very good years from 2011-12 (116 wRC+) but has been a tick below average at the plate in the two years since (96 wRC+).

Of course, whether Cabrera’s market fails to develop remains to be seen. He’s the best infielder left on the market and my guess is he would take a lower annual salary on a two or three-year deal before taking a one-year deal. That’s what I’d do, anyway. Cabrera hasn’t been above-average either at the plate or in the field for two years now, but as a one-year flier in a small ballpark? All day errday, baby. There’s no such thing as too many middle infielders.

Yankees no longer interested in Jason Grilli

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are no longer interested in free agent right-hander Jason Grilli, his agent Gary Sheffield confirmed to George King. (Yes, that Gary Sheffield.) “We talked to (Brian Cashman) and he said ‘not at the moment.’ We will sit back with the offers we have and wait,” said Sheff. “I don’t see a reason why he isn’t a fit. He can close and pitch the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.”

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees had some interest in Grilli, though that was before they signed Andrew Miller. They could have been discussing Grilli out of due diligence in case the worst case scenario played out and they failed to sign either Miller or David Robertson. Now with Miller signed and both Chris Capuano and Esmil Rogers re-signed, adding a bullpen arm isn’t as high a priority.

Out of the crop of veteran late-inning relievers, Grilli will probably be the cheapest because he’s old (38) and didn’t have a great 2014 season (4.00 ERA and 3.37 FIP). Sergio Romo re-signed for two years and $15M just yesterday, which helps set the market for Rafael Soriano. Casey Janssen will probably come in a little lower than that, and Francisco Rodriguez even lower than that. The rest of the free agent bullpen market is journeymen.

The best way for the Yankees to improve their bullpen right now is to improve their rotation, and I don’t necessarily mean get more innings out of the starters or anything like that. Adding someone to the rotation pushed David Phelps into the bullpen, where he’s been pretty good throughout his career. He’d join Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and Justin Wilson to form a fine complement to Miller and Dellin Betances. Another reliever would be nice. Another starter would be even better.

Reports: Yanks were among runners-up for Brett Anderson

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

According to Jeff Passan and Buster Olney, the Yankees were among the runners-up for left-hander Brett Anderson, who signed with the Dodgers earlier this week. The Braves, Royals, and Athletics were also after him. The Dodgers gave Anderson a one-year contract worth $10M with a bunch of incentives a few days ago.

As noted in our Scouting The Market post a few weeks ago, the Yankees tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so their interest in him as a free agent this winter is no surprise. They tried to get him from the Athletics last offseason and again from the Rockies at the trade deadline this past season. Anderson, who will turn 27 in February, was the youngest free agent on the market this winter.

I’d love to know what the Yankees were willing to offer Anderson — chances are we’ll never find out, of course — because that $10M deal seems a little crazy for a guy with his injury history. (Anderson has thrown only 206.1 innings since 2011.) Most contract estimates pegged him for a $7M salary on a one-year deal coming into the winter. I guess $10M isn’t all that crazy then. Reclamation projects don’t cost $1M or $2M anymore.

The Yankees re-signed Chris Capuano yesterday and I suppose that could be a direct result of losing out on Anderson. Once they realized they weren’t getting Anderson, they turned around and gave the money to Capuano. That sort of thing. The Yankees do need multiple starters this winter though, so maybe they would have signed Capuano even if they had landed Anderson. Who knows.

Anderson is still really young and has upside remaining — the upside being he continues to pitch exactly like he has but actually stays healthy all year — but there is no shortage of reclamation project arms still available. Chad Billingsley, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Josh Johnson, and Alexi Ogando have all had a bunch of injury problems in recent years and remain on the market. Still plenty of opportunity for the Yankees to add even more injury risk to the rotation.

Cashman: “I don’t think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer” in 2015

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

During a recent television appearance, Brian Cashman reiterated what we’ve been hearing all offseason: the Yankees are unlikely to be major players for Max Scherzer. Cashman is the first team official to actually go on record saying the club is unlikely to pursue the free agent right-hander though. “I don’t think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer,” said the GM flatly, according to Brendan Kuty.

Of course, this could all be nothing more than posturing. If Cashman or anyone else involved with the Yankees comes out and says they’re planning to pursue Scherzer, the price will only go up. Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, and Boras is no dummy. He’ll use anything he can as leverage against a team to get the most possible money, even a stupid little quote from the GM on a local television broadcast.

“The idea of them having a No. 1 pitcher certainly would add protection to where their current pitchers are, to take innings off them, give them a little bit an umbrella, somebody to be the No. 1,” said Boras at the Winter Meetings last week. “I can’t predict what the Yankees are going to do, but a guy like Max fits in with their starting rotation to develop a World Series-caliber set, similar to what they’ve had in the past.”

Boras is right. Scherzer would be a tremendous addition to the rotation. There’s zero doubt about that. But, as I said this morning, the team needs more than one starter and they have almost no money coming off the books next winter, so spending huge bucks on Scherzer would essentially take them out of the running for any of next year’s top free agents without a huge increase in payroll. I prefer signing two or three pitchers — inferior pitchers to Scherzer, to be sure — to smaller deals than handing out the one huge contract.

It’s hard to see a non-Yankees team that could be in the mix for Scherzer at this point, but it’s only a matter of time until Boras finds a desperate owner and gets a near record contract for the righty. The Tigers, Nationals, Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox, and Scherzer’s hometown Cardinals could all be in the mix. The Yankees say they’re out on Scherzer, but I won’t believe it until he signs with another team.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

2014 Winter Meetings-002Thanks to the Dodgers, yesterday was by far the busiest day of the Winter Meetings. They made four trades and also agreed to a four-year contract with Brandon McCarthy, so he is no longer a pitching option for the Yankees. There are still plenty of quality pitchers left on the free agent market but they’re starting to come off the board pretty quickly, so the Bombers can’t sit around and wait much longer to act.

The Winter Meetings have been relatively quiet for the Yankees. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we learned they continue to say they won’t bid for Max Scherzer, will give Chase Headley four years in exchange for a lower annual salary, have talked to a few teams (Braves, Royals, Marlins) about bullpen help, and have some level of interest in Stephen Drew, Sergio Romo, Jason Grilli, and Rafael Soriano. Today’s the last day of the Winter Meetings and we’ll keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back throughout the day. All timestamps are ET.

  • 4:33pm: The Yankees did contact the Diamondbacks about Wade Miley and the Tigers about Rick Porcello before they were traded to the Red Sox. “Did I call Arizona? Yes. Did I call Detroit? Yes. I didn’t have Cespedes to send to Detroit. We are waiting for something we are comfortable with.,” said Brian Cashman. [George King]
  • 2:02pm: Ervin Santana is currently finalizing a four-year, $54M deal with the Twins. The contract includes a fifth year vesting option based on innings pitched. Scratch him off the list of available pitchers. [Jeff Passan]
  • 1:56pm: It’s unlikely Chase Headley will pick a team today. Earlier this week it was reported he would likely pick a club before the end of the Winter Meetings. So we wait. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:35pm: “There are still players in the market place who are attractive to us at the position they play,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler in the most generic Yankees quote ever. They’ve mastered the art of saying something and nothing at the same time. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 1:06pm: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees never did make an offer to Brandon McCarthy. “I figured the market would take him at a level that we couldn’t play on,” said the GM. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 12:53pm: A team official said the Yankees are “definitely not” chasing Max Scherzer. We’ll see. I will never truly believe the Yankees are out on a big time free agent until the player signs with another team. [Bob Klapisch]
  • 12:23pm: The Yankees are active in the trade market but are unwilling to give up their top prospects for a pitcher they would only control for one year, like Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto. [Joel Sherman]
  • 9:37am: The Yankees are “kicking the tires” on Ervin Santana. The Twins are pushing hard to sign him and are reportedly offering four years though. Santana is probably the third best available starter right now behind Scherzer and James Shields. [Chris Cotillo & Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees spoke to the Dodgers about Dee Gordon and the Phillies about Jimmy Rollins before they were traded yesterday. Neither conversation went very far. We heard about their interest in Rollins a few weeks ago, but the interest in Gordon is new. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • The Rule 5 Draft is at 12pm ET today and Cashman said the Yankee are unlikely to make a selection. They have three open 40-man spots but prefer to keep them open for flexibility. Lame. [Chad Jennings]

Scouting The Free Agent Market: James Shields

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Now that the Yankees know their dominant bullpen will feature only two elite relievers rather than three, the focus turns to the rotation, which needs quite a bit of help given all the injury concerns. The idea of relying on the Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller tandem in the late innings only works if the starter can get through the first six or seven innings, and right now I’m not sure if the Yankees have anyone capable of doing that.

Behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the consensus third best pitcher on the free agent market this winter is ex-Rays right-hander James Shields. He’s older than Scherzer and Lester but is still outstanding and will command a hefty contract. Shields is also a top of the line workhorse and the Yankees sure could use someone they could count on for innings. Let’s see if he makes sense for New York given their pitching situation.

Consistently Excellent

Outside of an ugly 2010 season in which he was alarmingly homer prone (1.50 HR/9 and 13.8 HR/FB%), Shields has been outstanding these last few seasons. He was very good but not truly elite with the Rays from 2007-09 before that down 2010, but since them he’s been dynamite. Here are the stats:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2010 249.1 2.82 3.42 23.1% 6.7% 46.2% 11.1% .286 .269
2011 227.2 3.52 3.47 23.6% 6.1% 52.3% 13.4% .286 .306
2012 228.2 3.15 3.47 20.7% 7.2% 41.6% 8.6% .331 .276
2013 227.0 3.21 3.59 19.2% 4.7% 45.2% 9.7% .310 .309
TOTAL 932.2 3.17 3.49 21.7% 6.2% 46.3% 10.6% .303 .290

Like I said, Shields has been consistently excellent since that ugly 2010 campaign. The declining strikeout rate is a red flag, especially since the league average strikeout rate continues to increase year after year, but there appears to be a perfectly valid non-decline explanation for the lack of strikeouts, which we’ll look at in the next section. Otherwise you’re getting everything you could want from a pitcher — innings, few walks, lots of grounders, no platoon split, the works. In summation: Shields definitely has a G Factor of 1.

Stuff Breakdown

Unlike Scherzer, Shields is not someone who will blow hitters away with high-end stuff. He doesn’t throw in the mid-90s, doesn’t buckle knees with a breaking ball, nothing like that. Shields succeeds because he throws five different pitches and consistently locates them in the lower third of the zone. In fact, among the 128 pitchers to throw at least 5,000 pitches over the last three seasons, Shields has 26th highest percentage of pitches in the lower third of the strike zone (and below) at 56.0%, according to Baseball Savant.

The strike zone continues to expand downward league-wide — this Jon Roegele post and this Jeff Sullivan post do a great job detailing recent strike zone expansion — so it’s easier to get a called strike at the knees (and below!) than ever before. Having the ability to keep the ball down like Shields is a great weapon. Nowadays hitters have to swing at these pitches to protect the plate and very few can hit balls that far down in the zone with authority. The result is a lot of weak contact and that’s a big reason why Shields is able to continually outperform his FIP.

As for his actual stuff, Shields does throw five pitches regularly, but his pitch selection did change a bit when he got to Kansas City two years ago. Check it out (via Brooks Baseball):

James Shields pitch selection

For whatever reason, Shields scaled back the usage of his changeup and curveball while with the Royals and instead ramped up the use of his cutter. The changeup was his go-to pitch for the early part of his career, he sold it extremely well (meaning it looked like a fastball out of his hand) and the pitch tumbled right off the table. It was devastating. The curveball is a good strikeout pitch in general. Certainly moreso than the cutter.

Fewer changeups and curveballs could explain why Shields’ strikeout rate has dropped the last two years, his only two with the Royals. Let’s look at the swing-and-miss rate of his five pitches over the last few years:

Four-Seamer Sinker Cutter Curveball Changeup
2011 3.8% 4.0% 6.7% 13.4% 22.1%
2012 5.3% 6.7% 8.4% 10.4% 21.6%
2013 5.6% 4.4% 9.8% 9.6% 20.5%
2014 6.0% 4.7% 11.1% 16.2% 18.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 5.4% 9.7% 11.1% 14.9%

The changeup and curveball have been, by far, Shields’ best pitches for swings and misses over the last few years. The cutter is trending in the right direction and is it starting to catch up a bit, but there’s still a comfortable gap between that pitch and the other two. So this makes sense then, right? Shields has thrown more cutters but fewer changeups and curveballs during his two years in Kansas City, which is why his strikeout rate is down. We can’t really prove this but it certainly sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

I spent some time scouring the internet to try to figure out why exactly the Royals had Shields change his pitch selection — or whether he did it on his own — but came up empty. Maybe they wanted him to pitch to contact and get quick outs? Unless there’s some sort of underlying physical reason why he can’t throw his changeup or curveball as much anymore — I guess that if his elbow barking, it could explain fewer curveballs, but I’m not sure what would physically prevent a pitcher from throwing changeups — Shields should be able to use those pitches more in the future and boost his strikeout rate a few percentage points.

Otherwise Shields’ stuff has held up remarkably well over the years. In fact, his velocity increased this past season. Check it out:

James Shields velocity

Not often you see a soon-to-be 33-year-old pitcher add about seven-tenths of a mile an hour to his pitches, especially not when they’ve thrown as many innings as Shields. Hey, maybe throwing fewer changeups and curveballs allowed him to better build and maintain arm strength throughout the season. Who knows. Either way, Shields’ stuff is more than fine. No red flags here.

Big Workload & Injury History

Like I said, Shields has thrown a ton of innings so far in his career. He missed the entire 2002 season in the minors due to major shoulder surgery but has otherwise thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2007 and at least 220 innings in each of the last four years. The guy is a bonafide horse. Shields has taken the ball every fifth day and gone deep into games his entire career now. He’s never been hurt aside from that 2002 shoulder issue. It’s pretty remarkable.

Shields has thrown just short of 2,000 careers innings to date (1,910.1 to be exact), so I wanted to see how other recent pitchers with similar workloads fared later in their careers. Since 1990, 40 pitchers other than Shields threw at least 1,800 innings before the age of 33, and 26 of those 40 have finished their careers. Excluding Daryl Kile, the remaining 25 pitchers averaged 2,080.1 innings and 36.3 bWAR before their age 33 season. But, starting with their age 33 season, they averaged only 586.2 innings and 7.2 bWAR the rest of their careers. That’s scary. (Here’s my spreadsheet.)

Now, I think we can all agree Shields is more Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte than Jeff Suppan and Jaime Navarro, but what if he’s Brad Radke? Or Andy Benes? Those guys were workhorses earlier in their careers and completely done after 32. Like done done. Without warning too. What if he’s Barry Zito or Kevin Appier? Healthy enough to continue pitching but simply not any good? That’s the risk whichever team signs him is going to take.

Contract Estimates

The Royals did make Shields the qualifying offer, so he will cost a draft pick to sign, but that’s only a minor consideration when talking about a player of this caliber. No team will lose sleep over forfeiting a pick to sign a high-end starter. Here are some contract estimates from around the web.

The offseason has been very quiet for Shields so far. The same is true for Scherzer. It seems like everyone was waiting for Lester to come off the board before turning their attention to the rest of the pitching market. The Giants and Marlins are said to have some interest in Shields but that’s all right now. Check out his MLBTR archive if you don’t believe me.

I think Shields is going to wind up with something like five years and $100M, right in line with the estimates. That’s basically the A.J. Burnett and John Lackey contracts from a few years ago adjusted for inflation. He’s not young and there are a ton of miles on his arm, but he is excellent and would be a major short-term upgrade for a contending team. Whoever signs Shields will be focused on winning in 2015 and 2016, not worrying about how the deal will look in years four and five of the contract. He makes the most sense for a win now team, basically.

Wrapping Up

Between his performance, his stuff, and his injury, Shields carries no red flags whatsoever. The only concern is his career workload to date and the expectation that it will eventually catch up to him and he’ll break down. After everything that’s happened with CC Sabathia these last two years, it’s hard not to be concerned about Shields’ workload. (To be fair, Sabathia threw way more innings at a young age than Shields.)

Shields would help the Yankees the way he would help every team. There’s not a rotation in baseball that wouldn’t get better by adding him. The contract figures to be shorter than the massive pacts Lester and Scherzer will receive, but you’re also getting fewer of his theoretical prime years. After all, is seven years for 30-year-old Lester or Scherzer all that different than five years for 32-year-old Shields? You’re getting a similar chunk of his career minus some peak years. Shields offers AL East pedigree and is a reliable innings guy, so that alone makes him a good fit for New York. Whether the price is right is another matter.

Rosenthal: Brandon McCarthy close to four-year deal with Dodgers

Later, Brandon. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Later, Brandon. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Right-hander Brandon McCarthy is close to a four-year contract worth $48M with the Dodgers, reports Ken Rosenthal. No word on the money. The Yankees had interest in re-signing McCarthy but, like most teams, they were not in love with the idea of going four years given his history of his shoulder problems. In fact, Andy Martino says the Yankees told McCarthy’s camp they were unwilling to exceed three years.

McCarthy, 31, had a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 14 starts and 90.1 innings for the Yankees this past season after being acquired from the Diamondbacks for Vidal Nuno just before the trade deadline. McCarthy was damn near ace-like in New York and a huge help in the second half. The Yankees will not get any kind of draft pick for losing him — they were unable to make McCarthy a qualified offer because he was traded at midseason.

The pitching market has finally started to heat up these last few days. McCarthy is going to the Dodgers, Jon Lester is going to the Cubs, and Francisco Liriano is staying with the Pirates. Max Scherzer and James Shields are still available, ditto reclamation projects like Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson. Middle of road options include Edinson Volquez and, uh, Hiroki Kuroda maybe?