Archive for Hot Stove League
Wednesday: Cano’s representatives met with the Mariners’ brass in Seattle yesterday, according to Kevin Kernan. No word on whether Robbie himself was actually there. “The meeting went very well,” said one source to Kernan. Anthony McCarron hears the M’s are going after Cano with “guns-a-blazing” and may have made an offer during the meeting that exceeded New York’s.
Tuesday: Via Wally Matthews: The Yankees believe the Mariners may jump into the Robinson Cano sweepstakes and make a big offer, perhaps $200M across eight years. One official said the chances of Cano staying with New York are “less than 50-50″ while Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik acknlowedged speaking to pretty much every free agent available.
The headline and opening of Matthews’ article are scarier than the actual message. The Yankees think the Mariners could jump into the race but Seattle has not done that yet. I think the Dodgers could still get involved, but until it actually happens, it’s not worth worrying about. Cano’s camp is holding firm at nine years and $250-260M while the Yankees insist they won’t go near $200M. Things won’t get really interesting until another team gets serious and makes an offer.
Via Jeff Passan: The Yankees are taking a hard line with Robinson Cano and will not push their contract offer up to $200M. The two sides met face-to-face several times last week and Robbie’s camp asked for a nine-year, $250-260M deal. “They are not going to go to $200M, period,” said a source to Passan while Mark Feinsand hears they remain “oceans apart.”
The offseason is still relatively young and Cano has yet to receive an offer from another team, at least as far as we know. That could change in an instant. The Nationals could make a push and I won’t believe the Dodgers are out of it until Cano signs his next contract. For now, the Yankees and their second baseman are locked in a high stakes game of hot stove chicken. At some point someone will cave — either the team will raise their offer or Cano will lower his demands. I don’t think either of those things will happen anytime soon.
Forty-three players joined the free agent pool at midnight last night — including three Yankees (David Adams, Jayson Nix, Matt Daley) — when the non-tender deadline came and went. Here’s the full list. Most non-tendered players are spare parts not really worth carrying on the 40-man roster all winter, but some are legitimate big leaguers whose projected salary had eclipsed their on and off field value.
The Yankees grabbed Russell Martin three years ago after he was non-tendered and last winter they made a play for Nate Schierholtz before he signed with the Cubs. This year they’re seeking pitching help, both in the rotation and the bullpen, though the non-tender market very rarely offers quality starting pitchers. Bullpen help is plentiful though, and an interesting crop of relievers became free agents last night. Here’s a quick rundown of four newly available bullpen arms who could help New York as they seek a late-inning reliever to pair with David Robertson (and Shawn Kelley).
I’m listing these guys alphabetically but it’s fitting we start with Axford, who spent 2007 bouncing around New York’s farm system before being released, tightening up his mechanics, and having lots of success with the Brewers. Years of hefty saves totals beefed up his salary and the Cardinals walked away rather than pay him upwards of $6M to be a seventh inning reliever in 2014. Not a bad idea given all their young power arms.
Axford, 30, had a 4.02 ERA (4.34 FIP) in 65 innings this past summer. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s and he still backs it up with a nasty curveball that allows him to miss bats (9.00 K/9 in 2013 and 10.82 career) and get an okay amount of ground balls (45.3% in 2013 and 46.9% career). Axford walks a fair amount of guys (3.60 BB/9 in 2013 and 4.05 career) and will occasionally lose the strike zone all together, plus he’s very homer prone, especially these last two years (1.34 HR/9 and 18.2% HR/FB). When he makes a mistake, it gets hit out of the park. That’s not exactly a desirable trait for a late-inning reliever.
I think there’s a good chance another club will offer Axford — who will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, by the way — a closing job, which could put the Yankees at a disadvantage unless they promise him the ninth inning over Robertson. The homer problems are very scary but outside of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan, and Brian Wilson, I’m not sure there’s a better combination of power stuff and late-game experience out there. The Yankees signed Axford as an undrafted free agent back in the day, so they know him pretty well and there’s some kind of relationship already in place.
After missing the 2011 season due to drug-related visa problems, the 30-year-old Belisario has been workhorse in Don Mattingly’s bullpen. He’s pitched to a 3.24 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 139 innings over the last two years while relying on a heavy mid-90s sinker that has gotten a ground ball 62.8% of the time. The sinker doesn’t really miss bats (7.60 K/9) and location can be an issue at times (3.69 BB/9), but at least he keeps the ball in the park (0.39 HR/9 and 9.2% HR/FB) and can hold his own again lefties (.320 wOBA against). Like Axford, Belisario would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, though he figures to come much cheaper as a non-former closer. I was surprised to see the Dodgers non-tender him (that makes me wonder what they know that everyone else doesn’t) but Belisario a versatile and durable reliever, and that’s something every team needs.
I’ve always liked Webb, who is a classic “the results don’t match the stuff” guy. His low-to-mid-90s two-seamer runs all over the place and his low-80s slider looks like it should miss bats, but batters have consistently squared him up. Since landing with the Marlins three years ago, Webb has a 3.34 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 191.1 innings with a very good ground ball rate (56.0%) but unimpressive strikeout (6.07 K/9) and walk (3.15 BB/9) rates. His platoon split is manageable (.321 wOBA against lefties and .296 against righties). Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of improving strikeout rates, so maybe he could help Webb turn that nasty stuff into better results. At worst, he’s a decent middle reliever, but I think the 27-year-old has some untapped potential and is something of an upside play.
With Boone Logan likely leaving as a free agent, the Yankees figure to cast a wide net and target a bunch of lower cost players to compete for the lefty reliever spot. Wright, 28, is a pure specialist, holding lefties to a .228/.313/.342 (.296 wOBA) line in his career while righties have tagged him for a .263/.356/.500 (.367 wOBA) line. His strikeout (10.42 K/9) and ground ball (55.3%) rates against same-side hitters are very good despite a soft upper-80s fastball and low-80s slider. Wright has been around for a while and figures to get a guaranteed contract somewhere, and that might not jibe with what New York wants to do at this position. I get the sense they’ll add some pieces via waivers and minor league deals and see what happens in camp between Cesar Cabral, David Huff, and whoever else. If they are willing to sign someone to a low cost big league deal, Wright could be the guy.
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Some of the big name non-tenders like Andrew Bailey (shoulder capsule) and Daniel Hudson (Tommy John surgery twice in the last 17 months) come with major injury concerns and aren’t expected to be healthy enough to pitch until the second half of the season at the earliest. Given the nature of their injuries, I think 2015 is a more realistic target for a return. Others like Tommy Hanson and Dan Bard are too far removed from consistent success to warrant anything more than a minor league contract at this point. Everyone loves a good reclamation project, but the Yankees need healthy players who can actually help them come Opening Day right now given the state of the roster. Once they’ve brought in a few of those, they’ll be in better position to roll the dice on guys with something to prove.
4:30pm: The offer was made “a long time ago,” according to Mark Feinsand. The Yankees never expected Kuroda to make a decision right away. Sounds like they made a standing offer soon after he declined the qualifying offer to just make it clear they want him back.
1:00pm: Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees have offered Hiroki Kuroda a contract in the $15-16M range in hopes of keeping him from retirement or going back to Japan. Kuroda turned down the $14.1M qualifying offer last month. The team is said to be “more upbeat” about their chances of keeping him now than they were a few weeks ago.
Kuroda, 38, had a 3.31 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 201.1 innings this past season, but he faded badly down the stretch for the second straight year. The Yankees paid him $15M in 2013 and although I love Kuroda as much as anyone, his age and the back-to-back second half fades are definite red flags to me. The team needs starters in the worst way and there might not be a better deal out there than Kuroda on a one-year contract, but I’m much more nervous about him returning for another season right now than I was last winter.
Via LaVelle E. Neal: The Twins have agreed to sign Phil Hughes to a three-year contract worth $24M. I thought he would take a one-year deal, hope to rebuild value in 2014, then try to land a big contract next winter, when he would still only be 28. Hughes appears to have gone for the biggest payday instead, which is never a bad idea. Target Field should help his homerun problem, at least somewhat. The Yankees will not receive a compensation draft pick because they didn’t make Hughes a qualifying offer.
Via Ken Davidoff: Robinson Cano‘s camp requested a nine-year contract worth $250-260M when the two sides met face-to-face earlier this week. That’s down from the ten years and $305M they were seeking earlier this year. The Yankees, meanwhile, are holding steady with a seven-year offer in the $160-175M range. No reason to tack on another year or anything until another club actually makes him a competitive offer. Something tells me Robbie won’t be signing anytime soon.
Via Chris Cotillo: Catcher Chris Stewart is drawing trade interest from unknown teams in advance of Monday’s non-tender deadline. The Yankees are also discussing a contract with him to avoid arbitration. Matt Swartz projected the backstop to earn $1M next season, his first trip through arbitration.
Stewart, 31, hit an awful .211/.293/.272 (58 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances this past season, though he did contribute defensively, especially with his pitch-framing skills. The Yankees recently agreed to sign Brian McCann and they have a small army of young catchers on the 40-man roster, so they no longer need Stewart. If they can get something for him via trade, great. If not, then he’ll almost certainly be non-tendered on Monday. There will be resolution soon, one way or another.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are “more upbeat” that Hiroki Kuroda will return to pitch next season than they were earlier this offseason. A few weeks ago we heard the team believed the right-hander was leaning towards returning to Japan for 2014. As George King notes, the Dodgers are probably not a serious suitor anymore after signing Dan Haren.
Kuroda, 38, pitched to a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings this past season, but he faded badly down the stretch for the second straight year. He turned down the team’s qualifying offer, so it stands to reason he’ll seek more than $14.1M when the time comes to discuss a contract. The Yankees paid him $15M this past season. I love Kuroda as much as anyone, but his age and the back-to-back second half fades are pretty significant red flags to me. He’s definitely worth bringing back, just not at all costs.
According to multiple reports, the Yankees met with Robinson Cano‘s representatives today to continue contract negotiations. It’s unclear if the two sides made any progress towards a deal, but the “gap is still very substantial.” They’ll talk again tomorrow before presumably breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday. As Joe wrote yesterday, the Yankees have been playing hardball with Cano and there’s a chance it will work to the benefit of all involved. The team has to continue to move forward and address their other needs though, they can’t wait around forever.
As soon as Brian McCann passes his physical and his five-year contract becomes official, the Yankees will forfeit their first round pick (18th overall) in next summer’s draft. It will be only the third time in the last eight drafts that New York has surrendered its first rounder as free agent compensation, believe it or not. That surprised me. They used to give away their top pick every year, it seemed.
Young players reign supreme in baseball these days. Everyone wants them because they’re cheap and tend to be on the upswing of their careers. As a result, prospects and draft picks have become highly valued. I’d argue overvalued. Either way, they are important. Most teams do not want to give up their first rounder to sign a free agent, but the Yankees were cool with it and now they have one of the five best catchers in baseball.
Now that McCann is on board, the offseason dynamic has changed for New York. Most teams are trying to figure out ways to improve their team without surrendering a draft pick. The Yankees don’t have that problem anymore. They’ve already committed. While other clubs wrestle with the decision about whether to forfeit a first round pick to sign a qualified free agent, the Yankees only have to consider giving up a less valuable pick later in the draft, either their second rounder of one of the compensation picks they’ll receive for losing one of their own qualified free agents, depending how things play out. (Yes, you can lose those picks now.)
“It’s like buying the buffet instead of ordering off the menu. You might as well go back for seconds and thirds,” said one executive to Buster Olney (subs. req’d) recently, referring to giving up a draft pick. The first rounder is the big one, the one teams don’t want to lose. But once you’ve crossed that line, you might as well go all-in and get the players you need. Giving up a first and second rounder this year is better than giving up a first rounder both this year and next. Catch my drift? The cost of signing free agents has dropped for New York with the McCann deal. Not in terms of contract size but in terms of the draft pick they’d have to give up.
This changes the Curtis Granderson vs. Carlos Beltran debate, for one thing. Before it was “Granderson and the 18th overall pick” vs. “Beltran and a supplemental first rounder.” With McCann signed, both Granderson and Beltran would cost the same pick*. Like I said, much different dynamic now. Next year’s free agent class is really bad and it’ll only get worse as a few of the high-end guys sign extensions. Pass on Granderson or Beltran this year because you want to keep the pick? Fine, but the best available outfielder next winter is … Colby Rasmus? Nate Schierholtz? Nick Markakis? The Yankees need long-term help in the outfield and it appears they’d be better off surrendering another draft pick to get it right now rather than roll the dice and wait for a future free agent class. Salaries are only going up and it seems like the quality of the free agent class only gets worse.
* No, Granderson wouldn’t technically cost a draft pick to sign, but the Yankees would not get the compensation pick if they re-signed him. That pick is gone either way as soon as they sign another qualified free agent.
With their first rounder gone and losing later picks not being enough of reason to pass on adding additional qualified free agents, I think the Yankees could benefit the most later in the offseason, near Spring Training. Remember, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse didn’t sign until camp had already opened last season because teams didn’t want to forfeit a pick. The Brewers stepped forward and gave up their first rounder for Lohse, and they were rewarded with a really good pitcher at a relative bargain. If, say, Granderson or Ubaldo Jimenez is still sitting out there when spring rolls around, New York will be in a position to pounce because giving up a later pick isn’t a big concern. Needless to say, giving up a third draft pick to sign a third qualified free agent would be an even easier decision than doing it the second time.
Five years ago, the Yankees forfeited their first, second, and third round draft picks to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. They did all of their shopping at once and had fewer needs to fill in subsequent years. The draft pick cost was high, but only in that one year. They didn’t spread it out over multiple years and lose multiple first rounders, which would have hurt both the big league roster and several drafts. They can do the same thing now, only on a smaller financial scale. Giving up that first round pick is the step no team seems to want to take, but giving up second and third rounders after that is a much easier pill to swallow.