Heyman: Yankees looking to add a right-handed bat this offseason

Refsnyder. (AP/Steven Senne)
Refsnyder. (AP/Steven Senne)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are looking to add a right-handed bat to their lefty heavy roster this offseason. They really struggled against southpaws down the stretch — they hit .248/.320/.345 against lefties as a team in September — and part of that was missing Mark Teixeira. Greg Bird was great, but the Yankees really missed Teixeira.

Adding a right-handed bat makes perfect sense — four regulars are left-handed and two others are switch-hitters with considerable platoon splits — the question is where does this player fit on the roster? The Yankees are locked into players at every position other than second base, where they’re said to be “leaning towards” playing Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley.

Assuming Refsnyder and Ackley share second base duty, the Yankees will have the backup catcher (John Ryan Murphy), a backup middle infielder (Brendan Ryan?), the other second baseman (Ackley or Refsnyder), plus a fourth player on the bench. That fourth player figures to be an outfielder, and Chris Young mashed lefties this year, so that won’t help the team improve against southpaws.

Ideally the Yankees would replace Ryan with a true platoon right-handed bat — Joe Girardi used Ryan against lefties this summer, but please, no more of that — except I’m not sure who fits the role. The player needs to be able to play shortstop, otherwise the Yankees won’t have a backup for Didi Gregorius. Someone who can play shortstop and hit half-decently will be hard to come by.

Unless there’s a surprise trade this offseason, which is always possible, the Yankees could add another righty hitting fourth outfielder and hope for more help from others like Murphy and Refsnyder, who figure to see even more time against southpaws this year. The Yankees do need another righty bat, I agree with that completely, but looking at the current roster, fitting that player on the team will take some creativity.

Heyman: Yanks not expected to pursue Yoenis Cespedes this offseason

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

You knew this was coming at some point. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are not expected to pursue Yoenis Cespedes as a free agent this offseason. Apparently part of it may have to do with his representatives at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. I guess the Yankees don’t have too good a relationship with them. Maybe that dates back to talks with Robinson Cano a few years ago?

Cespedes, 30, hit .291/.328/.542 (135 wRC+) with a career-high 35 home runs in 159 games split between the Tigers and Mets this year. It was his best all-around season since coming over to MLB by a decent margin. Cespedes had a good but not great .251/.298/.446 (106 wRC+) line from 2013-14, after all. I wouldn’t bank on the 2015 version being the real Cespedes going forward, but that’s just me.

The Yankees may or may not spend big on a free agent this winter, but, if they do, it’s hard to think they’d do it for another over-30 outfielder. They already have three of those making big money in Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner. Jason Heyward would be a different story because he’s so young, but Cespedes? I’m not sure that makes sense.

Of course, the Yankees could always trade Gardner to clear a spot for someone like Cespedes, and they do desperately need the right-handed power, so in that respect he would fit the lineup. But again, they’d be committing huge money — Cespedes is going to wind up with $150M or so, I think — to guy on the wrong side of 30. Seems like the Yankees want to stop doing that.

Cespedes and Heyward are the two biggest free agent outfielders this winter, along with Justin Upton. After them, the best of the bunch is probably Dexter Fowler. The Yankees would have no trouble finding a suitor for Gardner — would you rather trade for Gardner or give Fowler five years and $75M or so? — to clear a spot for someone else. Is there a way to trade Gardner and improve the team without handing out a nine-figure contract? I’m not so sure.

Cafardo: Nats could make Stephen Strasburg available in a trade this offseason

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

According to Nick Cafardo, there is a “lot of buzz” indicating the Nationals could make right-hander Stephen Strasburg available in a trade this offseason. Strasburg will become a free agent after next season, and he’s a Scott Boras client, meaning he will inevitably look for the largest contract. The Nats could try to move him for a package of players now rather than lose for a draft pick next winter.

Strasburg, 27, had a 3.46 ERA (2.81 FIP) in 23 starts and 127.1 innings while battling nagging lat, oblique, and back issues this season. He was out of this world after coming back from his first DL stint: 1.76 ERA (2.16 FIP) in 13 starts and 82 innings. Strasburg has a 3.11 ERA (2.91 FIP) in 120 starts and 708.2 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2011.

The Nationals figure to lose both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency this offseason, and while you always listen to offers for every player, it would be a little odd to trade Strasburg now. Washington is still clearly a win-now team — they’re not going to rebuild with Bryce Harper three years from free agency and Max Scherzer one year into a seven-year deal — and Strasburg’s a win-now piece.

Even though he is generally considered a disappointment because the prospect hype got out of control, Strasburg is a top tier starter when healthy, one of the 15-20 best in baseball. Last offseason similar-ish pitchers Rick Porcello and Jeff Samardzija were traded one year prior to free agency, though I’d rather have Strasburg than either of those two. Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes and stuff, Samardzija for just stuff.

Strasburg’s trade value is probably at an all-time low right now after his injury riddled season, which is part of the reason why I have a hard time thinking the Nationals will trade him. They’ve gone to great lengths to try to keep him healthy long-term — their intentions were good, their methods? eh, not so much — and cutting ties now would just be odd. It would make me wonder what they know that we don’t.

Anyway, yes, I think the Yankees should make a push to acquire Strasburg if the Nationals do indeed make him available this offseason. Strasburg’s stuff and command is so good (when healthy!) that I don’t think moving from the NL to the AL will affect him at all. Plus it seems like a change of scenery could do him good. The Nats touted him as the savior and made him jump through all those hoops.

The Yankees have seven starters either under contract (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka) or team control (Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren) next season, though I’m not sure I see the makings of a championship caliber rotation there. Even one year of Strasburg is very valuable and would be a big help to the team’s chances of contention next season.

Heyman: Zack Greinke to opt out of contract, Yankees expected to pursue rotation help

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract after the season. He has three years and $71M left on his deal. Given his monster Cy Young caliber season, it would have been a surprise if Greinke didn’t exercise the opt-out clause. He should clear that $71M easily this winter.

Greinke, who turns 32 later this week, had a 1.66 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 32 starts and 222.1 innings this seasons. Since 2008 he owns a 2.99 ERA (3.02 FIP) while averaging 205 innings per season. Greinke’s a true ace and it seems like the consensus is he will age well because he doesn’t rely on velocity. He succeeds with pristine command of five pitches.

Heyman says the Yankees are among the teams expected to pursue rotation help, which, duh. Yeah, they do have seven starters either under contract (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka) or team control (Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren), but there are a lot of question marks in there, mostly health related. Besides, there’s no such thing as took much pitching.

I don’t expect the Yankees to pursue Greinke at all. Aside from the fact they seem unlikely to drop huge money on another starter, they also steered clear of Greinke the last time he was a free agent due to concerns about his ability to handle the media spotlight in New York. He had no trouble in Los Angeles, but whatever. It seems a little silly but the Yankees have focused on that stuff quite a bit in recent years.

Joel Sherman spoke to a Dodgers official who agreed Greinke is in line for a five-year, $150M contract this winter.  That may sound surprising, but Cliff Lee and Sabathia signed five-year contracts worth $120M or so at age 32 a few years ago — Sabathia’s deal was his extension after 2011 — so adjust for inflation and you get five years and $150M for Greinke. Then again, the Lee and Sabathia contracts are cautionary tales.

The free agent pitching market is pretty stacked this year. In addition to Greinke you have other aces like David Price and Johnny Cueto, solid secondary targets like Jeff Samardzija and Hisashi Iwakuma, and back-end types like Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake, among others. The Yankees will have plenty of free agent rotation options this winter if they decide to go that route.

All things considered, the rotation stayed fairly healthy this season. Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia — the three biggest injury risks — combined for 80 starts. That’s more than I think many folks expected, including myself. Eovaldi ended the season hurt though, and Warren still hasn’t gone through a full season as a starter, so some depth would be appreciated.

If not Heyward, Yankees should splurge for Ben Zobrist’s versatility this offseason

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Given how the season ended, it’s easy to forget the Yankees finished 2015 with 764 runs scored, the second most in baseball. They actually averaged more runs per game in the second half (4.80) than the first half (4.65), which feels impossible, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean the offense didn’t sputter down the stretch though. The Yankees scored only 36 runs in their last dozen games.

By the end of the season it looked like half the lineup had run into a wall. More than half, really. Carlos Beltran and whoever was playing second base on any given day were the Yankees’ only consistently productive hitters late in the season. Joe Girardi discussed this at his end-of-season press conference, saying finding a way to keep his hitters productive all summer is “something I’ll think long and hard about this winter.”

The Yankees don’t have a lot of roster flexibility this offseason, with second base the only position they aren’t really locked into a player. Brett Gardner is pretty much their only tradeable position player — obviously Didi Gregorius has more trade value, but he’s not going anywhere — but I would be surprised if he’s moved. The Yankees love him and besides, he might be their best all-around player.

Yesterday I wrote about impending free agent Jason Heyward, who I think the Yankees should pursue aggressively this winter even though there’s no clear spot for him on the roster. He’s too young (26) and way too talented to pass up when the cost is only money and a draft pick. Heyward would fit in well given the team’s relative youth movement. I don’t expect the Yankees to sign Heyward, but I’d like it to happen. Players like him don’t hit the market too often.

If the Yankees do not sign Heyward, I think the next best free agent fit for New York is Ben Zobrist, who is not young and wouldn’t fit the youth movement. He would, however, fit well with the inevitable plan to rest more players next season thanks to his versatility. Zobrist has shown he can thrive despite playing different positions. Many players struggle at the plate or defensively when they move around. Zobrist is one of the few who doesn’t.

Just this season Zobrist played second base, third base, and both corner outfield spots. Last year he played 31 games at short as well. He even has experience at first base. The Yankees would be able to use Zobrist as something of a supersub, which is one of those ideas that works so much better in theory than in practice. Zobrist is one of the few who can pull it off. We’ve seen him do it already. It’s a valuable skill.

Next season the Yankees are going to have to come up with a way to rest their regular outfielders more often, as well as Chase Headley at third. Replacing the outfielders is easy enough, though the drop-off in production is usually pretty severe. It wouldn’t be with Zobrist. Headley played the second most defensive innings on the team this year (nine fewer than Gregorius) because the Yankees didn’t have a true backup third baseman much of the season.

One way or another, the Yankees are going to have to try to create some more roster flexibility next season. That was part of the reason they acquired Dustin Ackley. He offered more versatility than Garrett Jones. The Yankees are even talking about playing John Ryan Murphy on the infield to give themselves more options. Zobrist is a switch-hitter who can actually hit (123 wRC+ this year) and play almost anywhere.

The problem is a) you have to sell Zobrist on the idea of being a supersub for the Yankees rather than an everyday player at a set position elsewhere, and b) you’ve got to pay him. Even at age 34, my guess is Zobrist ends up with three years at $15M or so. Maybe even four years from a desperate team. He’s not eligible for a qualifying offer since he was traded at midseason, so there’s no draft pick involved. It’s just money.

Is that worth it for the Yankees? To bring in Zobrist to get 500+ plate appearances while playing all different positions in an effort to keep the other players rested and hopefully productive throughout the season? I think it is. The Yankees would be able to rest their players, still be able to play Rob Refsnyder regularly, and not take such a big hit in the lineup when someone sits. Pretty much the only way they can pull that off is with Zobrist.

I don’t think the Yankees are going to spend a substantial amount of money this offseason, but if they do, Heyward should be the number one target. If he’s not, Zobrist is the next best fit. He’s a fit for every team really, given his versatility and offensive production. The Yankees need to create a little more roster flexibility and don’t have a ton of open roster spots to work with. Zobrist potentially addresses many needs.

Given emphasis on young players, Yankees should be all-in on Jason Heyward this offseason

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Last week Joe Girardi gave his annual end-of-season press conference, which was like all other end-of-season press conferences, except he emphasized the need to find a way to keep players fresh and productive throughout the season. That makes sense, right? The Yankees looked sluggish for much of the second half and it led to their swift elimination in the wildcard game.

Last year Girardi emphasized the need to get younger during his end-of-season press conference. “At times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year,” he said. “Who is going to be the next great Yankee people latch onto? I’m anxious to see some kids in the minor leagues come up and have some tremendous years.”

At the time it sounded like lip service, the kind of thing every manager says at every end-of-season press conference, but both Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner followed with similar comments. Soon thereafter the Yankees showed they were serious by acquiring Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. During the season they backed it up by making Luis Severino and Greg Bird regulars, not to mention all the other call-ups.

The plan to get younger worked, at least partly. The Yankees went from being outscored in 2013 and 2014 to having the fourth best run differential in the league (+66) in 2015. They returned to the postseason (albeit briefly) and they now have some young building blocks on the roster moving forward. It’s been a while since we could say that. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Severino, Bird and others like John Ryan Murphy and Rob Refsnyder look like keepers.

The Yankees went with young players this past season and were rewarded immediately, so there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to lean young going forward. And if that is the case, I think the Yankees should augment their youth movement by going all-in on impending free agent Jason Heyward this offseason. It sounds contradictory to had out a huge free agent contract while trying to get younger, but Heyward is no ordinary free agent.

First and foremost, Heyward would be part of that youth movement. He just turned 26 in August, making him roughly the same age as Gregorius and Eovaldi. Players almost never hit free agency in their mid-20s. The last was who, Alex Rodriguez? And the next after Heyward will be … Bryce Harper in three years? Who knows what will happen between now and then.

Given his age, you can look at Heyward and expect to get the best years of his career. Maybe not every single one of them, but most of them. With most free agents you’re paying top dollar for what the player used to be while getting something less than that. Just look at, well, pretty much every free agent the Yankees have signed over the last decade. With Heyward you’re buying prime years. Not one or two, but potentially many, like five or six.

The Yankees tried to acquire Heyward from the Braves last offseason, so we know they like him. He’s a left-handed hitter with power and patience as well as excellent defense. Who wouldn’t like him? Heyward hit .293/.359/.439 (121 wRC+) this season, including .318/.397/.469 (140 wRC+) in the second half, and he did stuff like this in the postseason:

That’s not just an opposite field home run. That’s a no-doubt opposite field home run off super-ace Jake Arrieta on a pitch that was a few inches off the plate. ENHANCE:

Jason Heyward Jake Arrieta

There are very few players in the big leagues able to not only go out and get that pitch, but reach out and drive it out of the park with authority. The only player on the Yankees who I think even has a chance of going deep on a pitch like that is Mark Teixeira. I don’t think A-Rod or Brian McCann could do that at this point. Heyward did it like it wasn’t no thing.

Given his age and ability and all that, I think it’s easy to see why any team in the league would want Heyward for the next half-decade or so. He hits for power, his strikeouts continue to go down …

Jason Heyward strikeouts

… he draws walks, he steals 20 bags a year, he plays elite defense, and by all accounts he’s a great guy who is an asset in the clubhouse. Heyward’s not a true franchise cornerstone like Harper or Mike Trout, but holy moly, he’s got the skill set to be a two-way monster and is about to enter his peak years. That’s the kind of guy worth a huge free agent contract.

Of course, fitting Heyward on the Yankees is easier said than done. For starters, he’s going to end up getting $20M+ a year, possibly $25M+ a year, and I’m not sure the Yankees are ready to commit that much money to another player. They also have a full outfield already with no logical spot to play Heyward, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.

To me, as an outsider looking at the Yankees, those are hurdles more than roadblocks. You can make it work. The Yankees have the money, there’s very little doubt about that, and next winter they’re going to shed Teixeira’s contract and Beltran’s contract. Hal Steinbrenner would have to be over his payroll comfort zone for one season before things get back to normal in 2017.

As for the roster situation, the Yankees could always trade Gardner, or they could simply hold onto everyone and let things sort themselves out in Spring Training. Someone could get hurt in camp and clear a spot, or maybe Girardi decides the best thing to do is use Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran — the over-30 guys — in some kind of rotation to keep them rested. Having too many good players is not a problem, as far as I’m concerned.

The Yankees were smart for going young this past season. It’s something they’ve needed to do for a while but didn’t have the personnel to pull off. At age 26, Heyward can be part of this youth movement. The Yankees have the Teixeira and Beltran money coming off the books next year, but look at the 2016-17 free agent class. It’s weak. There’s certainly no one of Heyward’s caliber scheduled to hit the market next year. Where’s the Teixeira and Beltran money going?

The first year of the Yankees rebuild — and that’s essentially what this year was, you know, the Yankees version of a rebuild — was pretty successful. Even with the financial and roster hurdles, Heyward is the right free agent at the right time for New York, a dynamic player in his mid-20s available for nothing but money (and a draft pick). He wouldn’t be a hindrance to the youth movement. He’d be part of it.

Chris Young says it is “too soon” to know whether he’ll re-sign with Yankees

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

By fourth outfielder standards, the Yankees struck gold this season with Chris Young, who carried his late-season success in 2014 over into 2015. The Yankees quickly re-signed Young to a one-year contract last offseason, but last week he told Dan Martin and George King it is “too soon” to know whether he will return to the Bronx next year.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen this year or what opportunities I would have,” said Young. “I think I did a good job of taking advantage of the chances I got. I’ve made some good adjustments since coming here toward the end of last year and did the things I need to do to become productive … We’ll see what happens, but I’ve enjoyed being here.”

Young, 32, hit .252/.320/.453 (109 wRC+) with 14 home runs this past season. Believe it or not, he actually played in 140 games this year, but only 77 of them were starts. He came off the bench to pinch-hit or replace Carlos Beltran defensively in the other games. Young’s primary job was to hit lefties, and he put up a strong .327/.397/.575 (162 wRC+) batting line against southpaws in 2015.

Despite a miserable August — .122/.234/.268 (40 wRC+) with a 29.8% strikeout rate — Young was actually better in the second half (119 wRC+) than the first (103 wRC+). That surprised me. I guess that ugly August made it easy to overlook his productive September (122 wRC+). Young was also fine defensively as far as catching the ball goes. His arm? It was … not good.

The Yankees have two left-handed hitting starting outfielders plus a switch-hitter in Beltran who is more productive against righties. A right-handed hitting fourth outfielder isn’t a necessity, but it would fit the roster much better than another lefty. The Yankees have a slew of lefty hitting fourth outfielder candidates, most notably Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and even Dustin Ackley.

Young figures to try to turn his productive season into a multi-year contract — Scott Hairston, another righty hitting fourth outfielder, turned his huge 2012 season with the Mets into a two-year contract — but I can’t imagine the Yankees will go for that. My guess is they will look for the next Chris Young this offseason, a guy coming off a down year with a chance to bounce back in a platoon role.

The list of right-handed hitting fourth outfielder candidates set to hit free agency this winter includes Rajai Davis, Chris Denorfia, Jonny Gomes, Steve Pearce, and Drew Stubbs. They’re the most notable. The Yankees are going to want a good defender so they can replace Beltran in the late innings, which rules out Gomes and Pearce. There’s always the non-tender and trade markets too.

Young did a fine job for the Yankees this summer — he was streaky as hell, but very productive overall — though he strikes me as the type of player they won’t overpay to keep. It’s the whole “let him walk a year early rather than a year late” line of thinking. If they can bring Young back on another one-year deal, great. My guess is he’ll be looking for a little more security.