Mailbag: Ohtani, Stanton, Pettitte, Lowrie, Greinke, Harrison

We’ve got 13 questions in the mailbag this week, the first post-Winter Meetings mailbag of the winter. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.

Ohtani (Joe Scarnici/Getty)
Ohtani (Joe Scarnici/Getty)

Many asked: Would you rather the Yankees have signed Shohei Ohtani or made the Giancarlo Stanton trade?

Ohtani, easily. That doesn’t mean I think the Stanton trade is bad. The Stanton trade was great! But the Yankees need an Ohtani (23-year-old potential ace signed dirt cheap) more than they need a Stanton (power hitting corner outfielder on a huge contract). I know Ohtani has the elbow thing, but even if he needs Tommy John surgery and misses 18 months, that’s still four and a half years of cheap production during his prime years. The Yankees made the Stanton trade simply because it was way too good to pass up. Anytime you can get a top ten player in baseball at that price, you do it. But they didn’t need another corner outfielder. They do need another pitcher though.

Patrick asks: Hey Mike! Was just wondering what the heck the Yankees are going to do with the 3.25M in international spending money? Since they haven’t shown much interest in the Braves prospects that are available- are they saving them for Raimfer Salinas and Antonio Cabello? Kind of weird they haven’t signed with anyone yet.

It’s $3.5M and they’re going to spend it on players, probably Salinas and Cabello because they’ve been connected to them the longest, but maybe on some others as well, like Julio Pablo Martinez. Those three guys are the best available international free agents now that all the worthwhile ex-Braves prospects signed. The international bonus money doesn’t have much trade value now that Ohtani has signed — the Mariners traded $1M for a Double-A depth arm earlier this week, so yeah — so they might as well spend it. They have until June 25th to spend it too. It doesn’t have to happen before the end of the year or anything like that. It’ll go somewhere soon enough.

Dave asks: Do the Yankees have to stay under the tax the whole year or just on opening day?

Their end-of-season payroll, as calculated per the luxury tax rules, has to be under the threshold. It would be possible for the Yankees to, in theory, start the season with with a $200M payroll, then dump enough salary in a midseason trade to get under the $197M threshold. In reality, that would be close to impossible to do because other teams would know why the Yankees are looking to dump salary, and they’d leverage the crap out of it in trade talks. They have to stay under all year, basically. Can’t be under on Opening Day then add salary like crazy during the season.

Steve asks: How about this idea: the Yankees restructure Stanton’s contract to smooth out the backloading. In other words, they would move money from the back end to the first 3 years. No change to AAV for LT, the player’s union would obviously be ok with it, BUT it induces Stanton to opt out and you let him walk. Basically, you make it a pricey 3 year deal and get away from the back end. If he gets hurt or opts in, you are in the same spot you were anyway minus some time value of money.

Interesting. The problem with this is the time value of money. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar a year from now. Stanton will make $77M in real dollars from 2018-20 and $86M from 2025-27, the final three guaranteed years of his contract. Right now, $77M across three years is pretty darn pricey in the world of baseball. It makes Stanton one of the highest paid players in the game. In seven years though, $86M across three seasons will be much easier to swallow. Rearranging the contract in such a way would make sense from a “let’s get Stanton to opt out” perspective, but economically, it’s probably not worthwhile for the Yankees. Besides, unless he gets hurt, I think the chances of Stanton opting out are much better than people think. Wait until Bryce Harper and Manny Machado get paid next year, and Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon get paid the offseason after that.

Morris. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Morris. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Ken asks (short version): As a big fan of Andy Pettitte, I have thought since his retirement that he had maybe a 50/50 shot at being elected to the HOF someday, but with Jack Morris’ election, do you agree that Andy’s chances just increased?

It might, though Hall of Fame voters don’t think in terms of “this guy got in and that means that guy has to get in now” when casting their votes. Also, the BBWAA didn’t vote Morris in. He exhausted his 15 years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. Morris was voted in by the Modern Era Committee, a 16-person panel of Hall of Famers and current executives. You are right though, Pettitte’s career was better than Morris’.

W-L IP ERA ERA+ FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
Pettitte 256-153 3,316 3.85 117 3.74 6.6 2.8 0.8 2.37 +60.9
Morris 254-186 3,824 3.90 105 3.94 5.8 3.3 0.9 1.78 +43.8

Neither won a Cy Young and they both have five finishes in the top five of the voting. Morris has three World Series rings and was a key member of all three teams. Pettitte has five rings and was a key member of all five teams. Pettitte threw way more postseason innings (276.2 vs. 92.1) with an identical ERA (3.81 vs. 3.80), though docking Morris for the workload is unfair. He didn’t play in the Wild Card era. In fact, 92.1 postseason innings is a frickin’ ton for his generation. Pettitte used HGH. Morris is an ass.

If Morris is in the Hall of Fame, yes, Pettitte should be in the Hall of Fame. Easily too. The fact the BBWAA did not vote for Morris and he needed one of the committees to get in probably doesn’t bode well for Andy, ditto the HGH stuff. I think Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Famer myself. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

John asks: Seeing that the four teams on Stanton’s approved list were the four LCS teams, do you think he’s a Yankee if the team doesn’t come back to win against the Twins and the Indians?

Huh, I hadn’t realized that. I don’t think losing the Wild Card Game would’ve changed anything though. Stanton had the Dodgers on his approved list because they’re good and they’re his hometown team. He had the Astros and Cubs on his approved list because they’re good and they’re the last two World Series winners. He had the Yankees on his approved list because they’re good and young and look like an emerging powerhouse. That’s probably all there is to it. Had the Twins gotten to within one game of the World Series this year, I don’t think they would’ve ended up on Stanton’s approved list instead of the Yankees or anything like that. For all intents and purposes, Stanton’s approved list was the four teams that look set up the best going forward.

Jeff asks: Lowrie’s got one (1) year left on his deal in Oakland, can play 2nd or 3rd and was even able to fake SS early in his career. Switch hitter, plays multiple infield positions, and is pretty cheap (Especially now Castro and Headley have been moved) at 1yr/7mil. Does he make sense? What would Beane ask for?

Jed Lowrie is my preferred second base (or third base!) solution at the moment. He hit .277/.360/.448 (119 wRC+) with a lot of doubles (49!), a lot of walks (11.3%), and not a lot of strikeouts (15.5%) this past season. He’s a switch-hitter, he can play second or third, and he’s owed $6M ($7M luxury tax hit) in 2018. Perfect. Pretty much exactly what I want in a stopgap infielder. Lowrie isn’t much of a defender, though I’ll live with it given everything else. I’m not sure what it would take to get him, but if the price is reasonable, Lowrie would be my pick for infield trade target. Domingo Acevedo for Lowrie, straight up? I’d do it, which I guess means the A’s wouldn’t.

Dan asks: How about Ellsbury for Greinke (and their respective contracts) straight-up? Yanks would take on salary long term, but it adds a quality veteran #2-ish arm that would cost less than the Arrieta’s of the world.

Zack Greinke for Ellsbury would essentially equal the Diamondbacks selling the fourth place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting for $70M. That’s the difference in contracts. Greinke is still so good — he had a 3.20 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 202.1 innings this year — that I think the D-Backs could get similar salary relief and actual talent in return. I mean, the Marlins unloaded $265M in Stanton and got Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman, and Jose Devers back. That’s something. Ellsbury types are available for cheap in free agency. Sign Jon Jay, for example. You don’t need to trade an ace to get him. I do think the D-Backs want to move Greinke and his salary. He’s been on the block since the new front office regime took over last year. But I don’t think they’re so desperate to move him that they’ll trade him straight up for Ellsbury to get the salary relief. Not enough in this for Arizona.

Harrison. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Harrison. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

Nik asks: I know he surfaces every now and then, but what do you think about Josh Harrison filling it at 2B/3B? He turned in a solid performance last year, even with a down BABIP, and chipped in a bit of everything (except walks). He’s in the last year of his contract, so he wouldn’t be an albatross if he didn’t work out. Is this the type of guy worth targeting, or only if he sweetens another deal (*cough* Gerrit Cole *cough*)

I had a feeling the Pirates would look to unload Harrison this winter. He’s owed $10.25M next year with similarly prices options for 2019 and 2020, so he’s sneaky expensive in terms of the luxury tax plan, and he “rebounded” to hit .272/.339/.432 (104 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. That’s after hitting .285/.318/.389 (92 wRC+) from 2015-16. Harrison is basically Castro, offensively. He’s a better defender than Castro, sure, but you’re getting Starlin level production at the plate. And that’s fine, I guess. I feel like the perception of Harrison as a player is greater than the reality of Harrison as a player. I get the feeling the asking price is going to reflect the perception of Harrison and not the reality. He’s okay. That’s about it.

Sam asks: Who is the backup first baseman right now if Bird goes down? (Inevitable question) Could we see a rotation of one of Judge/Stanton over there?

Right now it’s Tyler Austin, I guess. But that’ll probably change before Spring Training starts. I don’t see Aaron Judge or Stanton working out at first base this year. They’re both still young enough and good enough outfielders that moving them for defensive reasons isn’t necessary. Judge is coming back from (minor) shoulder surgery and Stanton will be in camp with a new team for the first time. They have enough on their plate. Asking them to spend some time at first base in Spring Training seems a little unnecessary. Down the road at some point, yeah, probably. Not yet.

Rob asks: Buster Olney had a column this week making the case for batting Judge leadoff. Setting aside whether or not Boone and the Yankees would do something so unconventional (it seems unlikely) the numbers are compelling. Judge gets on base a ton (he broke Ted Williams’s rookie walk record!). He takes a lot of pitches (over four per at bat). Plus leadoff means more at bats for the team’s best hitter. Drawback would be nobody on base (at least in the first at bat). Thoughts?

I saw Buster’s column and I didn’t think it was as crazy as the general reaction I saw in our comments and on Twitter, but I wouldn’t do it. Buster’s argument is Judge is a great on-base player who sees a ton of pitches, which is exactly what you want in a leadoff hitter. And these days teams are more willing to use a power hitter in that leadoff spot. George Springer hit leadoff for the Astros all year, for example. Francisco Lindor hit leadoff for the Indians.

Those guys do not have Judge power, however. Bat Judge leadoff and you guarantee him 150 plate appearances with no one on base (leading off the game), right out of the gate. He would get a few more plate appearances during the course of the season — the difference between batting first and batting third is roughly 39 plate appearances per 162 games, though it might be more for the Yankees because their offense figures to be so good — but I don’t think it would be enough to make up for all those at-bats with the bases empty. It’s not like the Yankees are lacking a leadoff hitter, you know? Judge is not an ordinary power hitter. It’s one thing to bat a 20-homer guy leadoff. Bat Judge leadoff? Nah. Guaranteeing that nearly one-quarter of his plate appearances are with the bases empty is a bad idea.

Jim asks: Some kind of Ellsbury – Zobrist deal?

The Cubs would say no, the Yankees would say yes. Zobrist was pretty terrible this past season, hitting .232/.318/.375 (82 wRC+) overall, but he’s owed only $29M in real dollars from 2018-19 and has a $14M luxury tax hit. Ellsbury is owed $68.4M in real dollars from 2018-20 with a $21.86M luxury tax hit. Even if the Yankees agreed to eat, say, $20M to make this happen, why would the Cubs do it? Yeah, they could put Javy Baez at second and Addison Russell at short full-time, but that’s an awful lot of money for a guy to be your fourth outfielder. The Yankees would do Ellsbury-for-Zobrist in a second because of the savings, both real dollars and luxury tax dollars. Whatever Zobrist gives them would be a bonus.

Matthew asks: The concept of “immaculate inning” made me think of how often a pitcher has a three up, three down, three pitches inning. All three batters retired (no double plays, pickoffs etc). I’m betting very rare. And what should we call such a feat? Mini Innings.

Minimum Inning? Flawless Inning? I’m not sure what to call it. I’m not that good with PitchFX and Statcast, so I have no idea how to search for three up, three down, three pitch innings within longer appearances, so like within a start or a multi-inning relief appearance. I did get the Play Index to spit out pitchers who had a three up, three down, three pitch relief appearance. Here’s the last five:

  • August 16th, 2017: Emilio Pagan vs. Orioles
  • August 11th, 2016: Aroldis Chapman vs. Cardinals
  • July 29th, 2016: Scott Oberg vs. Mets
  • June 29th, 2014: Tommy Hunter vs. Rays
  • May 31st, 2010: Brandon League vs. Twins

So it didn’t happen at all from June 2010 through June 2014, then it happened twice in the span of two weeks. Go figure. It happens more often than I thought it would. Hitters are taught that if the first two guys make quick outs, you’ve got to take some pitches and work the count as the third guy. Not only to make the opposing pitcher work, but also to give your pitcher a chance to catch his breath in the dugout.

Anyway, the last Yankee with a three up, three down, three pitch outing? Allen Watson, of course. He had one of those against the (Devil) Rays on September 26th, 1999 (play-by-play). Mariano Rivera had a three-pitch inning against the Cardinals back in 2003, but he allowed a baserunner. First pitch hit-by-pitch, second pitch double play, third pitch ground out. Tino Martinez hit the double play. True story. Here’s the play-by-play.

Mailbag: Indians, Giants, Avila, Rule 5 Draft, IFA Money, Ohtani

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the last mailbag before the Winter Meetings, which kick off Monday. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)
Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)

Michael asks: Why would a free agent catcher want to sign with the Yankees? With the limited playing time opportunities. Wouldn’t a trade for a catcher with a fair amount of team control remaining make sense? The Indians have some depth, Perez Gomes, and Mejia, what would it take to get either one of the vets?

Yeah, I don’t get why a free agent catcher would sign with the Yankees to back up Gary Sanchez, unless they blew him away with an offer or the guy had nowhere else to go. The Indians definitely have some catching depth — Francisco Mejia is pretty close to MLB ready and I think he’s a top ten prospect in baseball, maybe top five — so maybe it is something they would dip into to make a trade. I prefer Roberto Perez to Yan Gomes, personally. The 2017 stats comparison:

AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR CS% FRAA Remaining Contract
Gomes .232/.309/.399 87 14 42% +3.2 $12.95M from 2018-19 plus two options
Perez .207/.291/.373 75 8 43% +14.4 $7.875M from 2018-20 plus two options

Neither guy can hit much, but Perez is the better defender, he’s a year and a half younger, and he’s considerably cheaper. I think it’s pretty interesting Terry Francona went with Perez as his starter the last two postseasons even though Gomes was the starter during the regular season. He must trust Perez more behind the plate, and hey, when they’re both below average hitters, why not go with the superior gloveman?

I have no idea what it would take to acquire Perez. Trades involving no-hit/all-glove backup catchers signed long-term are pretty darn rare. Does the Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson trade work as a benchmark here? Cervelli was a better hitter than either Gomes or Perez, but he wasn’t signed long-term either. I don’t have much interest in Gomes. Or any interest, really. Perez would be fine though, depending on the price.

Brian asks: Building upon your CBA thoughts in the article posted today, do you think the Union will ever get 6 years of team control and/or 3 years of league minimum reduced? It seems much more prohibitive/management friendly than other leagues.

The rule stating players need six years of service time to qualify for free agency has been around since free agency became a thing in 1976, so this has been the status quo for a while. Getting it down to five years of control would be a huge win for the MLBPA, and because of that, the owners will fight it tooth and nail. The union might have more luck pushing for two pre-arbitration years and four arbitration years instead, essentially making everyone a Super Two and putting more money in their pocket early in their careers. Generally speaking, MLB players do have to wait longer to qualify for free agency than players in other sports, and this seems like one of those things the owners will never budge on. They might lock the players out before agreeing to five years of control before free agency.

AJ asks: Do you think the Players should hire Scott Boras to lead the MLBPA?

I think Boras would be better at the job than Tony Clark because he’s proven himself to be a master negotiator, though there’s no way this happens. Boras won’t take the pay cut. Eric Fisher and Liz Mullen reported that Clark earned roughly $2M in 2014, his first year on the job. Boras undoubtedly clears that given the players he represents. This offseason he has J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas in free agency. Even if his commission is a mere 2% (I’m sure it’s quite a bit higher), he’d make what, $6M off those guys alone this winter? The MLBPA needs someone in charge who can get them some real benefits and not concede concede concede. Maybe Boras is that guy, but it’s hard to think he leaves his own agency for the job.

Nicholas asks: If the Giants trade Panik for Stanton-they’ll be in the market for 2b and 3b…maybe the Yankees trade Castro and Headley and sign Frazier?

There are conflicting reports about the Giancarlo Stanton trade package. Some say it includes Joe Panik, some say it doesn’t. I don’t really know. The larger point here is the Giants need more than just Stanton to contend — this a team that went 64-98 this season, after all — so if they’re going to trade for him, it doesn’t make sense to stop there. Stanton doesn’t put them over the top himself.

Even after a potential Giancarlo pickup, the Giants would still need a third baseman (and possibly a second baseman if Panik is traded), a bench, and pitching help. Chase Headley and/or Starlin Castro could make sense for them, sure. San Francisco doesn’t have much to trade these days, so maybe that means Headley as a salary dump is the best fit. I don’t love the idea of trading Headley (or Castro) then signing Frazier though. I feel like we’d end up right back in the same place next winter, talking about ways the Yankees could unload Frazier.

Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Michael asks: Did you see Avila said his main concern is not playing time, but playing for a team that is going to contend? Do you think this makes the Yankees a reasonable landing spot. He would be a pretty huge upgrade over Romine, he can play some first, he compliments Sanchez as a lefty bat, etc.

Yeah, I saw it. Alex Avila made those comments on the radio. No offense to him, but I’m going to have to see this to believe it. Would he really pass up more money elsewhere to back up Sanchez because he thinks the Yankees have a chance to win? The big problem for the Yankees’ is the salary given the luxury tax situation. If Avila is willing to back up Sanchez but wants a starter’s salary, it won’t work. If the Yankees could get him to back up Sanchez at something like $3M a year, great. I would be shocked if a guy who hasn’t really broken the bank in his career (Baseball Reference puts Avila’s career earnings at $18.3M) is truly willing to take less to be a backup behind a great starter, especially since Avila is only 30 and his earning potential will never be higher than it is right now given the year he just had. I heard his comments and immediately thought it was just one of those things a player says in an interview because it makes him sound good, not because he means it.

Jackson asks: Can you explain the minor league phase of the rule 5, the portion where once the player gets chosen there’s no chance of him returning? I understand that Alex Palma will likely get selected and if so he won’t get offered back.

The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft works differently than the Major League phase. If a player gets picked in the minor league phase, that’s it. He’s gone. No getting him back. The Yankees lost Ty Hensley to the Rays in the minor league Rule 5 Draft last year. (Hensley didn’t pitch this year as he rehabbed from his second career Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t pitched at all since 2014.)

Anyway, the minor league Rule 5 Draft eligibility rules are the same as the Major League phase. You’re either eligible for the entire Rule 5 Draft phase or you’re not. There are two levels of protection:

  • Players on the 40-man roster are protected from both the Major League and minor phase phases.
  • Players on the 38-man minor league reserve list are protected from the minor league phase only.

There used to be Triple-A and Double-A phases, but the talent was so sparse in the Double-A phase that MLB and the MLBPA did away with it in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, so now it’s just the Major League phase and minor league phase. There used to be a Major League phase, Triple-A phase, and Double-A phase.

Rule 5 Draft eligible players the Yankees did not add to the 40-man roster this winter, like J.P. Feyereisen and Nestor Cortes and Mike Ford and a bunch of others, will be included on that 38-man reserve list for sure. That 38-man reserve list is usually plenty big enough to protect anyone worthwhile. Most minor league Rule 5 Draft picks are guys like Hensley, who are hurt and have been hurt for a long time, or complete non-prospects teams bring in to fill roster spots. I’m sure the Yankees will find room for Palma on the 38-man reserve list. There are not 38 Rule 5 Draft eligible players in the organization worth protecting ahead of him. Not even close.

Asher asks: Any thought about an “Aroldis Chapman” rule- preventing a team from signing a free agent that that traded at the deadline? Perhaps we can call it the “Sidney Ponson” rule.

I don’t see the need for one. I’m not sure who that rule change would be helping. It would likely lead to fewer trades — would the Yankees have traded Chapman knowing they couldn’t re-sign him? I doubt it considering they tried to extend him before trading him — and it would limit the player’s market by taking away a potential suitor. How many times does this happen anyway? The Yankees did it with Chapman, the Cubs did it with Jason Hammel, and the Orioles did it with Ponson way back in the day. I can’t think of any others. This seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Chris asks: With all the international money the Yankees accumulated, is there any chance they try to trade some of it to a West Coast team and get someone useful in return?

Sure. The Yankees are going to do something with that $3.5M they have left over. Earlier this week the Angels (2017 third rounder Jacob Pearson) and Mariners (2017 fifth rounder David Banuelos) traded actual prospects to the Twins for $1M in bonus money. One of those teams traded away a legitimate prospect and won’t get Shohei Ohtani. Maybe both!

Anyway, clearly the market for international bonus money is inflated right now. Matt Eddy says the Yankees received $1.75M in bonus money from the Orioles for Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez. Geez. Now guys like Pearson and Banuelos are getting traded for $1M in bonus money? The Yankees absolutely should see what they can get for their bonus money from the teams chasing Ohtani.

Here’s the thing though: the Mariners, Angels, and Rangers are the only teams that can add money. The other clubs in on Ohtani (Padres, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants) are all limited to $300,000 bonuses, so it doesn’t make sense for them to trade for bonus money. I get the sense the Yankees are going to use that $3.5M to sign prospects, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what the Mariners, Angels, or Rangers would give up for some of it in a trade.

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Assume a team signs Ohtani. If that team were to trade him prior to the season what do you think he would bring in return? Equivalent to the Chris Sale to the Red Sox package? Substantially less? How many top-25 prospects? top-50? top 100? What package of Yankees prospects would RAB give up to acquire Ohtani via trade?

Can’t trade him before the season. Players can not be traded until six months after signing their first pro contract, which means whichever team signs Ohtani won’t be able to trade him until next June at the earliest. Hypothetically though, it would take a monster package to get him. He’s a potential ace, he’s only 23, and he’s under control for six more years. And that’s ignoring whatever he might give you with the bat.

If Ohtani were on the trade market right now, his team would be asking for the moon. Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. They might even aim higher and ask for Luis Severino or Aaron Judge, plus others. Chris Sale was traded with three years of control and he fetched two top 25 prospects plus two others. Ohtani doesn’t have Sale’s track record, but he has three more years of control, and that’s huge. I feel like Ohtani for Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield would be a win for the Yankees. Ohtani is insanely valuable given his talent, his age, and his salary/team control situation.

Rich asks: How possible is it that the Boone hiring hurt the Yankees’ chance of getting Ohtani? Shutting out big market teams on the East Coast just sounds silly to me and the timing seemed suspicious too.

Nah. Ohtani ruled out every single East Coast team and pretty much every Midwest team as well. The timing of the Aaron Boone news and Ohtani’s rejection was just a coincidence. Boone did joke about it the other day at his press conference — “I called Cash and said, ‘Sorry I couldn’t get Ohtani for you.’ I got named and Ohtani wanted no part of it,” he said — but nah, I don’t think there’s anything to this. Ohtani doesn’t want to play for the Yankees, or on the East Coast in general, apparently, and that’s his choice. Sucks, but what can you do?

Pete asks: It seems pretty clear that Ohtani never intended on signing with the Yankees (and other teams) based on how quickly he whittled his list down to 7 teams. Reports indicate the Yankees delivered a very strong presentation and Ohtani’s agents implored him to interview with them, but he still said no. That being said, what do you make of reports that teams are annoyed at the decision process and feel they got “played”? They just bitter or do they have a point – after all, they could have used that “wasted” time and resources to recruit other players.

I think they should stop whining. Ohtani is making a major life change here. He’s moving halfway around the world and jumping into a new culture. Asking (not making) the 30 clubs to put together the recruiting letter/presentation is basic due diligence. Seven teams are still in the running and apparently some of them are convinced Ohtani has not only already made a decision, but made his decision a long time ago. Maybe instead of complaining about it they should be thankful they had an opportunity to meet with him in-person and potentially change his mind. Won’t someone think of the poor front offices? I’m sure teams will complain about getting “played” next time they rake a player over the coals in arbitration for having the audacity to seek fair compensation.

Many asked: Why is the font on RAB smaller???

Yes, the font on RAB is smaller. More accurately, we added another layer of security to the site and the font defaulted to Times New Roman for whatever reason. I have no idea how to fix it. If it bothers you that much, take out the “s” in “https” in the site address and things will go back to normal. You are forewarned though, that is a less secure version of the site, so you’d be at risking the general badness of the internet infecting your device.

Update: The font issue is fixed. Stick with the “https” site for our own good, folks.

Mailbag: Abreu, Cobb, Judge, Hall of Fame, Ohtani, Kahnle

There are 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send your questions throughout the week.

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

Chase asks: What do you think of a Jose Abreu Trade? If you could buy down the contract to say $15 per year I could see it fit the salary cap. I feel like they could use a bat/DH. I think a lefty might fit better, but a big bat is always welcome. MTPS but Chance Adams, Tyler Wade, Domingo Acevedo, that seem fair?

There are too many first base/DH types in free agency to justify giving up a big prospect package for Abreu, in my opinion. Why trade prospects for Abreu when you could sign Carlos Santana, for example? MLBTR projects Abreu to get $17.9M through arbitration next season, which means he’ll probably be at $25M or so in 2019, his final year of team control. Santana very well might be cheaper in terms of average annual value (and thus luxury tax hit). The new Collective Bargaining Agreement says the Yankees would have to give up their second and fifth picks, and $1M in international bonus money next year, to sign a qualified free agent, and I would absolutely rather do that to sign Santana than trade near MLB ready pieces like Adams and Wade for Abreu. If you don’t want to sign Santana, then sign Lucas Duda or (ugh) Logan Morrison for much cheaper. The gap in production between Abreu and Duda/Morrison won’t be nearly as big as the gap in cost.

Brent asks: Kevin Maitan. He’s a highly touted prospect. Should MLB have waited for this Ohtani thing to get figured out before making him a FA? Ohtani and Maitan could be the biggest free agent targets ironically. I think Ohtani is definitely safer just because of level of play and age but you can probably only sign one right? What’s the chances the Yanks land at least one of them?and who should it be?

MLB timed the Braves/Maitan thing specifically so teams know not to screw around with Shohei Ohtani, and make him some under the table promises. Do that, and you’re going to get banned like John Coppolella, get taken out of the international market for a few years like the Braves, and lose Ohtani anyway. There is not a doubt in my mind the Braves penalties were intentionally announced right before Ohtani gets posted as a warning to teams. Don’t try any funny business.

I’ve said this before, and yes, Ohtani should be the priority over Maitan given their proximities to MLB. One thing I did not realize, however, is teams can use next year’s international bonus money to sign Maitan and the other Braves prospects. Anything you give them over $200,000 counts against the hard cap, but teams can choose to have that money count against next year’s cap. So it would be possible to sign both. Use all this year’s money on Ohtani and part of next year’s money on Maitan. The recent Maitan scouting reports are not good, but the Braves lost a lot of prospects, and some of the other guys are worth looking at. And on that note …

Alex asks: With the Braves having to relinquish 12 prospects, how many of them should we hypothetically be going after and what would they cost? Who are the most interesting ones?

Eric Longenhagen, who knows these guys much better than I do, says righty Juan Contreras is the top name after Maitan. Contreras signed for $1.2M and his numbers this year were terrible (5.95 ERA with 21 walks and 12 strikeouts in 19.2 rookie ball innings), but people love his arm. Ben Badler ranked Contreras the 41st best prospect in the 2016-17 international free agent class two years ago. A snippet of his scouting report:

Contreras projects as more of a power arm and already has one of the best fastballs in the class, ranging from 89-94 mph and delivering the pitch with downhill angle. With his arm speed and the projection to his body, Contreras should be able to reach the upper-90s within the next few years … The rest of his arsenal beyond his fastball is inconsistent, with scattered strike-throwing ability.

Shortstop Yunior Severino (No. 8), catcher Abraham Gutierrez (No. 15), shortstop Livan Soto (No. 16), righty Yefri del Rosario (No. 26), and third baseman Yenci Pena (No. 32) all ranked among Badler’s top 50 international prospects two years ago and are now free agents, so I guess they’re the guys to sign. Looking at the scouting reports, Severino (“quick wrists generate excellent bat speed”) and Soto (“high baseball IQ guy with a gamer mentality”) interest me the most.

Will asks: Do you think there is anything to the Alex Cobb rumors mentioned by Peter Gammons? Seems like it would be tough to stay under the LT with that type of move, plus he would cost a draft pick.

I didn’t expect the Yankees to spend relatively big on a starter (or free agent in general) no matter what this offseason given the luxury tax plan, and that really went out the window when Masahiro Tanaka didn’t opt out. And there is no Cobb rumor. This is all Gammons wrote:

Heading for Thanksgiving, the industry consensus is that the Alex Cobb showdown will come down to Cubs v. Yankees.

That has somehow turned into “the Yankees are interested in Alex Cobb” and “the Yankees and Cubs are the finalists for Alex Cobb” and all sorts of other things. It means nothing like that. All it means is people within baseball think the Yankees and Cubs will pursue him most aggressively. That’s all. Cobb is really good, but I think he’s going to end up with something like $18M to $20M a year, and I don’t see the Yankees going there.

Cobb. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Cobb. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Tamir asks: Has a Mike Trout type ever been traded? If yes, how would it compare to a possible trade now? What kind of trade would the Angels accept? Top talent on the MLB Roster and multiple top 10 team prospects?

Alex Rodriguez! He hit .298/.396/.600 (151 wRC+) with 47 home runs and was the AL MVP in his final season with the Rangers. A-Rod was 28 years old and he’d hit .305/.395/.615 (156 wRC+) with 156 homers in his three years with Texas and was easily the best non-Barry Bonds player in baseball. Ken Griffey Jr. was still a star when he was traded from the Mariners to the Reds. Rickey Henderson was one of the very best players in the game when the Yankees got him from Oakland. Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Frank Robinson, Mark McGwire, Carlos Beltran, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Gary Carter, Joe Morgan … all star players traded in their primes.

Many of those trades (especially the A-Rod trade) were financially motivated, either because the player was making too much or was due to become a free agent soon. Neither applies to Trout. He’s three years from free agency and the Angels can afford his $34M salary the next three seasons. I feel like, if the Angels are going to trade Trout, they have to get MLB pieces back, not prospects, not matter how good they are. You need players who know will make an impact. Ask the Yankees for Aaron Judge. Ask the Red Sox for Mookie Betts. Ask the Blue Jays for, uh, nevermind. Can’t trade Trout for prospects and risk getting nothing out of it.

Michael asks: On a scale of 1-10, how worried should we be right now about Aaron Judge for next season after his shoulder surgery?

A two, maybe? Every surgery comes with some sort of risk, that’s the nature of the beast, but Judge’s surgery was a fairly routine arthroscopic procedure and he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training. I’d be much more worried if they had to cut his shoulder open to repair his labrum or rotator cuff or something like that. Scope out a loose body? Not a major procedure or overly invasive. There’s always some level of concern whenever a player has surgery. Given the nature of his procedure, my concern is pretty minimal. (As for why they waited until a month after the season ended to do the surgery, it’s very likely they were waiting for some inflammation to clear out.)

Adam asks: I was looking at other teams Rule 5 eligible catchers when I saw that the Blue Jays did not protect First round draft pick Max Pentecost. He didn’t play particularly well in the AFL this year and is often injured, but he got me thinking: what happens if a rule 5 player hits the disabled list and how does that effect their “sticking” in the majors. Also are there any other rule 5 eligible catchers who the Yankees might want to pop?

Players have to spend 90 days on the active roster to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft rules, and if they don’t, the Rule 5 Draft rules carry over to the next season. That’s what happened with Cesar Cabral. The Yankees got him in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft, he broke his elbow in Spring Training 2012 and missed the season, then the Rule 5 Draft rules carried over to 2013. Ninety days on the active roster, meaning not on the disabled list, is needed to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft rules.

Pentecost, a 2014 first rounder, played only 171 games from 2014-17 because he’s been hurt so much. He wasn’t much of a catcher to start with anyway. I wouldn’t take him in the Rule 5 Draft for any role. Jonathan Mayo put together a list of the top players available in the Rule 5 Draft this year and the only catcher is Rays prospect Nick Ciuffo, who hit .245/.319/.385 (102 wRC+) at Double-A this year. Meh. The Yankees don’t have enough 40-man roster space for their own prospects. They’re not going to take some other team’s fringe player in the Rule 5 Draft this year.

Michael asks: Hey Mike, who would be on your Hall Of Fame ballot this year if you had a vote?

This was my third season in the BBWAA, so I am still seven years away from a Hall of Fame vote. Still have to wait a while before I get my say. Anyway, here is the Hall of Fame ballot, which runs 33 players deep this year. I’d vote for ten players (listed alphabetically): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vlad Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Larry Walker.

If you’ve read RAB long enough you know I am pretty blasé about performance-enhancing drugs. As far as I’m concerned, Manny was punished in accordance with the Joint Drug Agreement and served his suspension. Why people feel it is necessary to punish him beyond that, I have no idea. Andruw had a nine-year run as one of the best players in baseball and he was one of the very best defensive outfielders in history. If he’d had his peak from, say, ages 25-33 instead of 21-29, no one would think twice about his candidacy. Everyone else is pretty self-explanatory, right? I think so.

Chris asks: If the Yankees aren’t going to sign any high priced free agents, how about Joe Smith for something like 2 years 8-10 million? Could add depth in the pen in case Betances doesn’t bounce back or Green winds up in the rotation.

I like it. Smith is boring and reliable. He’s good for 50-60 solid innings year in and year out, and this season he posted a career-high strikeout rate (by far) by throwing more elevated four-seam fastballs rather than simply continuing to pepper the bottom of the zone with sinkers. The Blue Jays got him to do that and it worked wonders.

joe-smith-strikeouts-and-fastballs

Smith is a funky sidearmer who has generally pitched well against lefties, which is pretty rare for guys with his arm slot, and he’s done everything in his career. He’s been a setup man, a middle reliever, a part-time closer, you name it. He’s one of those “just use me whenever” guys. As I said in the Jake McGee post, I don’t think the Yankees are going to spend money on a reliever this winter because the bullpen is already stacked and the luxury tax plan looms. If they do decide to spend on a reliever, throwing $4M annually at Smith for a year or two would be a fine move.

Jeff asks: While I know its likely Ohtani eventually will be a full time SP or hitter, can you give us a little more insight on how MLB teams (or Japan in the past) would manage Ohtani’s workload when he first arrives? We know he pitches on 6 days’ rest instead of 4, and wants AB’s between starts. Would he keep this unorthodox pitching schedule, and have a day off after he starts, then DH/OF on rest days 3-6 or what?

Starters pitch once a week in Japan, not every five days like they do here. That’s always a big talking point whenever someone comes over. How will Daisuke Matsuzaka/Yu Darvish/Masahiro Tanaka handle starting every fifth day? Ohtani had a set schedule in Japan:

  • Sunday: Pitch
  • Monday: Rest day (most Mondays are off-days in Japan anyway)
  • Tuesday through Thursday: DH
  • Friday and Saturday: Rest days

Whichever team signs Ohtani is going to have to work with him to find a schedule that provides him enough rest. Pitching is inherently risky. Pitching while fatigued is even riskier. Could he rest the day before and after starts, then DH the other two days? That’d be ideal, but you need to see how he feels. I get the feeling whichever team signs him will go to a six-man rotation, allowing them to squeeze one more DH day (or rest day) in there. Figuring out a schedule for the whole two-way player thing will be a top priority, and Ohtani will need to have input.

Anonymous asks: Agents can have a big impact on steering players to certain clubs. What’s the Yanks relationship with CAA?

Nez Balelo, Ohtani’s agent and one of the top agents at CAA Sports, has experience representing other Japanese players (Nori Aoki, Junichi Tazawa) as well as big name stars (Adam Jones, Ryan Braun), so he knows what he’s doing. Ohtani is in good hands. According to the MLBTR Agency Database, no current Yankees are Balelo clients, and the only former Yankee represented by Balelo is Phil Hughes. That said, CAA Sports is freaking massive. Aaron Hicks, Todd Frazier, Dillon Tate, Chris Young, Boone Logan, and Sean Henn (!) are all CAA Sports clients. They have relationships with every team, including the Yanks.

Paul asks: If Ohtani end up being a slightly above average pitcher and a slightly above average hitter, would he be an MVP candidate?

I think so. He’d be an MVP candidate among statheads, no doubt. Would the actual MVP voters vote for a player who was merely good but not great on both sides of the ball? What if Ohtani hits, say, .250/.315/.440 with 16 homers in 300 plate appearances and throws 145 innings with a 3.60 ERA? That’s basically Kendrys Morales at the plate and Alex Cobb on the mound. Would voters really go with Ohtani over a typical Mike Trout or Jose Altuve (or Aaron Judge!) season? Maybe the narrative would be strong enough to get Ohtani the MVP.

Richard asks: In your Jake McGee scouting post, you noted that Tommy Kahnle has trouble with lefties. The numbers were much worse than I realized: In 2017, LHB hit .315/.360/.370 vs. Kahnle, but with a .475 BABIP in only 101 PA. In 2016, they managed a .143/.318/.257 line with a .148 BABIP in 44 PA. Do you think there was a reason (lefties making harder contact?) for the sky-high BABIP this season, or is it just small sample size noise?

I think it is small sample size noise more than anything. Kahnle prefers his split-changeup thing to his slider, and he did get beat on that pitch several times against the Red Sox, though we later found out the BoSox were dirty sign-stealing cheaters, so I’m not sure how much those outings really tell us. Kahnle was pretty damn great at getting lefties out with that split-change in the postseason.

The real Kahnle against lefties has to be somewhere between 2016 (.143/.318/.257) and 2017 (.315/.360/.370), right? Kahnle doesn’t have much of a track record. He’s only been this good for one year. The Yankees have such a deep bullpen that they can shelter Kahnle against lefties a bit early next season, see how he fares, then adjust accordingly. If he’s getting lefties out, great. If the postseason was a mirage and the split-change isn’t good enough to get lefties out consistently, then stay away from him against left-handers.

Mailbag: Braves Prospects, Rule 5 Draft, Kinsler, Appel, Judge

No, it’s not Friday, but it is Thanksgiving week and I have family obligations the next few days. It was either post the mailbag today or not at all this week, so today it is. We’ve got eleven questions this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Maitan. (Getty)
Maitan. (Getty)

Many asked: Will the Yankees sign any of the international prospects the Braves just lost?

MLB wrapped up their investigation into the Braves and their shady international dealings under former GM John Coppolella yesterday, and they hammered them. Absolutely hammered them. Among other things, the Braves will be limited to $10,000 bonuses during the 2019-20 international signing period, and their 2020-21 signing period hard cap will be reduced by 50%. Oh, and a dozen players they signed last year are now free agents. Among them:

  • SS Kevin Maitan (No. 2 international prospect per MLB.com)
  • C Abraham Gutierrez (No. 25)
  • SS Yunior Severino (No. 26)
  • 3B Yenci Pena (No. 29)

All told, the 12 players who became free agents yesterday cost the Braves around $20M, and they’re gone now. (The players get to keep the money.) Commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement said “the signing process (for these players) will be communicated to MLB Clubs under separate cover,” and there are some restrictions. Ben Badler has the details:

The players will have restrictions on their free agency. They will be eligible to sign with another club for another signing bonus beginning on Dec. 5 up until Jan. 15. After Jan. 15, the player is still allowed to sign but cannot receive an additional signing bonus. Only the amount of the signing bonus beyond $200,000 will count toward a team’s signing bonus pool. Players are allowed to re-sign with the Braves, but if they choose to do so, they must wait until May 1 to sign with them and can’t receive an additional signing bonus.

Maitan is the big name here. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 38th best prospect in baseball and their scouting report says “his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones.” Maitan is only 17, and he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball during his pro debut this summer — he hit .241/.290/.340 (72 wRC+) with a 27.8% strikeout rate in 42 rookie ball games — but still, talent is talent.

There are conflicting reports out there, though it seems the Yankees have somewhere between $3.5M and $3.7M in international bonus money available right now. That’s after getting another $250,000 in the Marlins trade the other day. As far I’m concerned, the Yankees should prioritize Shohei Ohtani with that money, because he’s a potential impact player who is ready to help the Yankees win right now. These international kids are all teenagers.

Now, if the Yankees don’t land Ohtani, they should absolutely turn around and try to sign Maitan and any other top international prospects still on the market. (Raimfer Salinas and Antonio Cabello are the top two 2017-18 kids still available.) The Yankees traded for all that international bonus money for a reason. They’re going to spend it. Hopefully on Ohtani or Maitan. Or Ohtani and Maitan! That’d be cool. I’d focus on Ohtani, and if that doesn’t happen, shift gears to Maitan and everyone else.

Paul asks: Who do you think the Yankees are likely to lose in next month’s Rule 5 draft? And, if it was up to you, are there any changes you would make regarding who the Yankees did and did not protect?

They’ll likely lose some pitchers, with J.P. Feyereisen, Anyelo Gomez, and Nestor Cortes the top candidates to get picked. Feyereisen and Gomez can bring it in relief, and at some point Nasty Nestor’s numbers will earn him a look. I could see him throwing like 120 innings for his hometown Marlins next year. I would be surprised if Mike Ford got popped. Only three first basemen have been picked in the Rule 5 Draft the last 20 years and none stuck. Teams stick to pitching and the skill positions in the Rule 5 Draft. Heck, established big league first basemen have a hard time finding jobs in free agency (Chris Carter last year, etc.). Ford has only played 25 games at Triple-A. I wouldn’t change anything the Yankees did as far as their protection. I didn’t expect them to protect Jonathan Loaisiga given his injury history and general lack of experience, but hey, if they think he would’ve been taken, it’s worth trading Garrett Cooper or Ronald Herrera or whoever to make room for him.

Paul asks: Following up on your “Thoughts Following the Rule 5 Protection Day Deadline” article, what changes would you make to the Rule 5 Draft to prevent teams from selecting talented players who are clearly not ready for MLB and then hanging onto them all season (i.e., Cordoba and Torrens)? It doesn’t seem right that teams can do this. It surely can’t be the best option for the player to ride the bench much of the season when they are in their peak development period.

To me, the biggest issue with the Rule 5 Draft is the way it sets different deadlines for “readiness” based on the way the player was acquired. Drafted out of college? You’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible at 24. Drafted out of high school? Rule 5 Draft eligible at 22. Sign as an international free agent? Rule 5 Draft eligible at 21. How is that fair? It’s not only unfair, it actively hurts players who turn pro as a teenager by expecting to be MLB ready at such a young age. Gleyber Torres will be out of minor league options by time he’s 24. A college draftee won’t run out of options until he’s 27. I’d like to see a uniform Rule 5 Draft eligibility age. Set it at 23. If you’re not on the 40-man roster by time your age 23 season comes around, you’re Rule 5 Draft eligible, no matter how or when you’re acquired. That ensures players who turn pro as a teenager have plenty of time to develop. That’ll lead to fewer Luis Torrens and Allen Cordoba (and Loaisiga) situations.

Middle infielder Todd Frazier. (Presswire)
Middle infielder Todd Frazier. (Presswire)

Alex asks: Why when employing the shift would DiDi and Frazier swap positions with 2 strikes? I noticed this during the playoffs, not sure if the same was true during the regular season.

The Yankees have been doing that for years. They did it when Chase Headley was playing third base as well. When the Yankees employ the infield shift, Gregorius stays on the shortstop side of the second base and the third baseman moves over to the second base side. With two strikes, they switch. Girardi explained that’s because of the bunt. Hitters are less likely to bunt against the shift with two strikes. When the hitter does not have two strikes, the Yankees want Gregorius on the left side of the infield because he can cover more ground and is better able to come in on the bunt. When the batter has two strikes, they put the third baseman over there because the hitter is going to swing away, and is more likely to pull it to the right side of the infield (given his hitting tendencies), so they want Gregorius over there. Got all that?

Jason asks: Are we moving towards a time where a Manager and GM are the same person, a la Bill Parcells wanting to buy the groceries and cook the dinner? It feels like this Yankees manager search is simply finding a mouthpiece for Cashman’s voice.

No way. Each job is too big of a commitment and comes with too much responsibility to give it to one person. There’s a reason GMs have multiple assistants and managers have all sorts of coaches. It’s impossible for one person to do the job. One person doing both jobs? No. And I wouldn’t want that even if it were possible. Managers and players can get pretty close, and that emotional tie can skew decisions. It’s good to have the GM at a distance making decisions without any personal relationships getting in the way. All this stuff about Brian Cashman wanting a manager who will be his mouthpiece is really overblown. Every front office gives the manager information and expects him to digest it and disseminate it to the players in a way they can understand. The Yankees want someone who can do it better than Joe Girardi.

Eric asks: What would you say the new bottom 5 or so players of the 40 man roster are? Based on your thoughts column are Mitchell and Shreve the first two to go should the Yankees make a move?

Hmmm. Right now, I’d say Gio Gallegos, Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Austin Romine, and Jake Cave are the bottom five players on the 40-man roster, in some order. I’d unload Romine first, though I suspect Gallegos would be the first to go given the team’s right-handed pitching depth. Mitchell or Shreve could be traded before then. The Yankees could get something for them, I’m sure. They got something for Herrera. They’ll get something for Mitchell or Shreve. Also, I’m not sure how eager the Yankees are to find a new backup catcher. Romine’s chances of sticking on the 40-man roster all winter and coming to camp as the favorite to back up Gary Sanchez are annoyingly high.

Robert asks: Any interest in Ian Kinsler for Yankees?

Nah. Not now. Kinsler is 35 and he just had the worst offensive season of his career, which is usually a bad combination. Could he bounce back next season? Sure. Am I willing to take on his $11M salary and trade a prospect(s) to find out if he’ll bounce back? Nope. Kinsler has played second base his entire career aside from an emergency two-inning stint at third base back in 2012, so I don’t think you can expect him to step right into a utility role and thrive. Maybe DH? Okay, but I’d want more than a .236/.313/.412 (91 wRC+) line from my DH. I don’t see a fit here.

Appel. (Presswire)
Appel. (Presswire)

John asks: Mark Appel, worth a minor league deal or even a 40-man spot?

Minor league deal? Yes. A 40-man roster spot? No. Should the Phillies put Mark Appel on waivers, I’d claim him and then immediately designate him for assignment, hoping he’d clear waivers and stay in the organization as a non-40-man player. Appel was terrible again this past season, throwing 82 Triple-A innings with a 5.27 ERA (5.42 FIP) around a shoulder injury. He has a career 5.06 ERA (4.41 FIP) in 375.1 career minor league innings. Yuck.

I know Appel was the No. 1 pick in 2013 — and the No. 8 pick in 2012! — but he is not that guy anymore. Hasn’t been for a while. His stuff has taken a step back and his command just isn’t good. You’re banking on the pedigree, basically. Who will be a more valuable player the next five years, Appel or Bryan Mitchell? I’d take Mitchell. If you can stash Appel in the system as a non-40-man roster player, great. I wouldn’t sweat missing out on him at all.

Dana asks: Some Yankees offseason previews are saying they need to replace Holliday at DH. With Clint Frazier and possibly Andujar and even Ellsbury fighting for at-bats, can’t they just leave the DH spot open and rotate guys into it?

I think that’s where the Yankees are heading. A rotating DH. That allows them to get their fourth outfielder regular playing time, which will come in handy if they trade Jacoby Ellsbury and carry Frazier on the roster. Also, a rotating DH potentially opens playing time for Miguel Andujar and Torres down the line. And regular rest for Aaron Judge (and his surgically repaired shoulder) and Sanchez and Greg Bird. There is definitely value in having that big bat and a set DH, and that’s what I’d prefer, honestly. I think the Yankees are going for a rotating DH, however, at least next year, when they’re still looking to get their young guys regular at-bats.

Sam asks: I’m curious your thoughts on what would’ve happened if Judge played in the NL. Do you think he would’ve won MVP over Stanton? He is still on the Yankees, but imagine if they played in the NL. I’ve never been a big believer in the anti-Yankee bias when it comes to awards, but as you’ve said a few times, this year more than ever it seemed like writers were finding reasons not to vote for Judge.

Interesting! The NL MVP race was extremely close. Giancarlo Stanton edged out Joey Votto by two points. Two points! Paul Goldschmidt was a distant third. Their seasons head-to-head, with Jose Altuve added for good measure:

aaron-judge-giancarlo-stanton-joey-votto-paul-goldschmidt-jose-altuve

Both Judge and Altuve were quite a bit better than any of the three NL MVP finalists, plus their teams made the postseason. Goldschmidt was only NL MVP finalist from a postseason team.

I think, with Altuve out of the way, Judge would’ve beat out the three NL MVP finalists to win the award. No, he didn’t chase 60 homers like Stanton, but going deep 52 times is nothing to sneeze at either. I think Judge’s advantage in OBP and the fact he played for a postseason team would overcome his slump, and land him the NL MVP award.

Jerome asks: What would be a reasonable leash for the new manager in regards to job security? Now that expectations are raised, how many years will he last without bringing home a World Series title?

It’s difficult to say. Are the Yankees not winning the World Series because winning the World Series is hard, or are they underperforming each year with certain players falling short of expectations? There’s a big difference between underperforming and just getting beat in a short series. I mean, yes, at some point the new manager has to win. But if the Yankees are competitive each year and falling short, it’ll probably buy him more time than a disappointing team with young players going backwards, that sort of thing. I don’t think Cashman and the Yankees want to get in the habit of changing managers every two or three years if they’re not winning the World Series. I think the new manager gets at least four years as long as the Yankees are a great team that isn’t winning the World Series because weird stuff happens in short playoff series.

Mailbag: Gordon, Ohtani, Andujar, Iglesias, Tillman, Pena

We’ve got eleven questions in this week’s mailbag. The email address to send us any questions or comments is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We get a lot of submissions each week and I get to as many as I can. Don’t give up if your question didn’t get picked this week.

Dee. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Dee. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Doug asks: The RAB comment section has caught full blown Giancarlo Stanton fever but given the Marlins’ fire sale, his smaller contract, contact rate at the plate, his Gold Gloves and the fact that it would be easier to move the player currently playing his position (the 27 year old Starlin Castro) then the player holding down a corner outfield position (the 34 year old Brett Gardner), what about trading for Dee Gordon? Given the other sources of right handed pop in the Yankee line-up, it seems like Gordon might be a better fit for this roster right now then Castro.

Gordon turns 30 in April. Did you know that? I had no idea. I would’ve guessed he was still 27 or 28. Anyway, Gordon hit .308/.341/.375 (92 wRC+) with two homers and 60 steals in 76 attempts (79%) this season. That’s right in line with his career .293/.329/.367 (92 wRC+) line. Gordon doesn’t walk (3.6%) or strike out (13.4%), and is an elite baserunner. (It’s not just steals, he’s an extra base taking machine.) Also, his defense at second base keeps getting better as he gains more experience.

I do believe Gordon is a better all-around player than Castro. He won’t have as much impact at the plate, but the edges in baserunning and defense are significant. Plus he’s a lefty contact guy who would balance the lineup a bit. I wouldn’t bat Gordon leadoff. I’d bat him ninth and let him raise hell at the bottom of the order. The downside here is the $38M owned to him from 2018-20. As soon as Gordon starts to lose a step, forget it, his value will crater. I think I’d rather stick it out with the younger and cheaper Castro than bet on the age 30-32 seasons of a pure speed guy. (A Dee and Didi double play combination would be pretty cool though. D & DD.)

Tom asks: Say Otani gets the go ahead to come over fairly soon and the Yankees sign him, do you think they pass on signing Sabathia? That’s at least another $10 million under the tax, maybe they can use that to extend Didi.

Nope. The more pitching, the better. There’s a pretty good chance whichever team signs Shohei Ohtani will use a six-man rotation — that’s an idea worth its own post at some point — plus there’s no such thing as too much pitching. If the Yankees sign Ohtani and CC Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery has to start the season in Triple-A, so be it. He’ll be back in the big leagues soon enough. Keep in mind Ohtani’s career highs are 24 starts and 160.2 innings, and he’s a few months younger than Luis Severino. Gotta keep an eye on his workload, so get the pitching. The Yankees shouldn’t pass on doing anything if they get Ohtani, especially adding pitching.

Erick asks: It seems to me that teams can argue with Otani about him running the bases. His ankle injury occurred running, it might give headway for teams to reduce his potential plate appearances no?

Teams are probably going to say and do whatever it takes to sign Ohtani, and if that means promising him regular at-bats, so be it. The ankle injury was fluky — Ohtani rolled his ankle running through first base — though it was bad enough that it hampered him all season and required surgery last month. Ohtani has already started hitting off a tee as part of his rehab, according to the Kyodo News, so he’s expected to be ready in time for Spring Training.

The ankle surgery could justify limiting Ohtani’s plate appearances, especially early in the season, but ultimately I think this will come down to performance. If he hits, it’ll be hard to keep him out of the lineup. I’m with Grant Brisbee on this. Ohtani will get a chance to hit and pitch right away because that’s probably what it’ll take to sign him. Within two years though, he’ll be hitting or pitching. Not both. This’ll work itself out.

Mathieu asks: I’ve been a longtime believer in Miguel Andujar. I also think it’s clear that Castro, while serviceable, is merely a placeholder until someone better comes along. Am I wrong to think that the best future infield is Andujar at 3B and Torres at 2B? If so, why is there such a push to have Torres play the hot corner?

I like Andujar as well and think he’ll be a starting third baseman within a year or two. The beauty of all this is the Yankees have plenty of options. They could go Andujar at third and Gleyber Torres at second if that’s best. Or Torres at third and Castro at second. Or Andujar at third and Tyler Wade at second. Who knows? These things have a way of sorting themselves out. I really like Andujar and think he’ll be a sneaky good player in time. The Yankees will make room for him when that time comes. Gleyber isn’t being pushed into anything right now. Second and third (and short) are all potential long-term positions for him.

Oops. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
Oops. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

Chris asks: Would you make a deal for Raisel Iglesias for Dellin Betances & Tyler Wade? Raisel is a few years younger than Dellin, the Reds need a SS and a closer if they trade Iglesias and Dellin needs a change of scenery. And the Reds and Yankees seem to have a trade pipeline set up.

Chris, I’m going to hit you with a your trade proposal sucks here. The rebuilding Reds aren’t trading their borderline elite (and affordable!) closer for a broken setup man making similar money and a good but not great prospect. They could get lots more for Iglesias. Lots more.

As for pursuing Iglesias himself, sure, go for it. He’s really good. He’s only 27 and he had a 2.49 ERA (2.70 FIP) with 30.1% strikeouts and 8.8% walks in 76 innings this year, and he’s owed only $14.5M from 2018-20. Also, Iglesias has proven the last two years that he can go multiple innings, which is always nice. I don’t think the Yankees will trade prospects for relievers this offseason because the bullpen isn’t much of a priority. Iglesias is good though, and hey, if the Reds want Betances and Wade for him, do it.

Mary asks: What about Chris Tillman on a one-year rebound contract? Worth it for the Yankees? Would he be willing to sit in AAA until needed (maybe with a June 1 opt-out)?

Gosh, the Yankees have been pounding on Tillman for almost a decade now. He made his big league debut in 2009. Has it really been nine seasons already? Tillman has a career 5.54 ERA with a .307/.372/.494 opponent’s batting line in 112 career innings against the Yankees. Seems like they hammer him every single time.

In all seriousness, the 29-year-old Tillman has not been the same guy since he hurt his shoulder last year. There has been no life on his pitches at all since then. Tillman threw 93 innings with a 7.84 ERA (6.93 FIP) this season, though I suppose he could be better next year, as he gets further away from the injury. That’s what you’d be banking on. Given how bad he looked this year, I wouldn’t give Tillman a guaranteed deal. A minor league deal? Sure. Why not. No harm in those. One-year prove yourself contracts usually don’t happen in Yankee Stadium. Not for pitchers. Tillman will try to rebuild his value in a more pitcher friendly park.

Michael asks: Are there any rules prohibiting active players from full or partial ownership of an MLB team? If not, do you foresee a situation in MLB where a player contract includes partial ownership of the team?

Yes, there is a rule against that. It would be a massive conflict of interest if the player ever gets traded or changes teams. The rule was put in place because Rogers Hornsby had an ownership stake in the Cardinals when he played, then they traded him to the Giants. MLB forced him to sell his stake and St. Louis lowballed the hell out of him because he had no leverage. They knew he had to sell. Giving players an ownership stake is never ever ever going to happen again, and it shouldn’t. I’m surprised MLB is okay with Billy Beane having an ownership stake in the Athletics.

Thomas asks: Do you think the Yankees history policy of not renegotiating deals hurts them at all in the Ohtani sweepstakes? Either because Ohtani wouldn’t like to sign with a team that has a policy like that or because MLB will look at any extension deal they (potentially) do extra carefully?

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. The Yankees supposedly did away with the no extensions policy a few years ago, when they signed Gardner long-term, though it wasn’t until recently that they had more 20-somethings worth extending. The Yankees have extended players before. Gardner and Robinson Cano are the notable examples. They signed Derek Jeter to a massive extension back in the day. The no extensions thing could be a red flag for Ohtani, but ultimately, the Yankees have a history of paying their players top dollar, and I think that’ll make up for it.

No one ever takes pictures of the first base coach. (Elsa/Getty)
No one ever takes photos of the first base coach. (Elsa/Getty)

Todd asks: With the Yankees saying they will cap it at 5-6 interviews for manager, what do you see in Tony Pena’s future?

Pena interviewed for the managerial opening last time around, though that was just for show. The Yankees wanted Joe Girardi, but MLB’s rules say each team must interview a minority candidate, so Pena was that candidate. This time around Hensley Meulens is that candidate. (I don’t mean Muelens is the token minority candidate. He’s a legitimate managerial candidate.) As far as we know, Pena won’t interview for the job. Rob Thomson said he wants to come back even if he doesn’t get the manager’s job, but we have no idea how Pena feels about things. He might not want to come back with Girardi gone. Or it could be up to the new manager. If the new manager wants Pena, they could offer him a position. If the new manager wants to bring in his own guys, Pena might be a goner. I’m not really sure what’s next for him. I like Tony. Hopefully he gets to stick around.

RJ asks: Mike, what do you think about the Twins voiding the 3 million dollar contract with Jelfry Marte over a vision problem? Coincidentally there’s a superstar from Japan that just so happens to being posted this offseason. Now 3 teams can offer 3+ million.

Eh, it’s just a coincidence. A few international (and draft) signings get voided each year due to physical issues. The Twins knew Ohtani was likely to be posted back when they signed Marte, and now there’s a really good chance the Twins don’t get either guy, Ohtani or Marte. And if the Twins were trying to weasel out of the Marte deal to free up money for Ohtani, Marte’s people would make a big stink and file a grievance with MLB. Backing out of a $3M contract is not something that gets taken lightly.

Dan asks: The Chad Green situation got me thinking. C.J. Wilson was exclusively a reliever for 4 straight years, never going over 73 IP. They made the switch, and he averaged 204 IP and 34 starts for the next 5 years. Was he a 1 in a million anomaly, or is this something that teams are missing out on?

Wilson is a big time outlier. He had a ton of arm injuries earlier in his career too, when he was a reliever, yet he stayed completely healthy for a few years as a starter. It was pretty incredible. A lot of guys have done the reliever-to-starter thing early in their careers (Chris Sale, Zack Greinke, etc.), but that late in their careers? No. Wilson did it at age 29. Guys like Danny Graves and Braden Looper tried it late and got knocked around as starters.

Are there some relievers out there who could be successful starters? Yeah, probably. I think Adam Warren could be a league average starter if given the chance. Or at least could’ve been earlier in his career. Most guys are in the bullpen for a reason though. They don’t have a third pitch, or they have crummy command, or they can’t stay healthy, something like that. Wilson is definitely an outlier. Going from career reliever to five straight seasons of 31+ starts and 170+ innings in your early-30s just doesn’t happen.

Mailbag: Otani, Luxury Tax, Pineda, Castro, Lind, Lucroy, Torres

A dozen questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send all your questions throughout the week.

Otani. (AP)
Otani. (AP)

John asks: Considering the money limits placed on signing Otani, I imagine teams will get creative. What can they do? Can they throw in all the lifestyle perks stars get like flying family around and whatever else they throw in? Can they informally agree to an extension that will get him paid for real as soon as possible? Or will his decision have to come down to hitting and comfort level?

Keith asks: Are there any rules or guidelines that dictate how long Otani’s contract must be? Can he come over and sign a one year deal and then break the bank the following winter?

Going to lump these two together. The international spending rules, which apply to Otani, strictly prohibit perks and non-monetary payments. You can’t promise to call a player up by a certain date, or to sign him to an extension by a certain date, or provide travel/housing for the player and his family, things like that. Ben Badler has the breakdown. I suspect MLB will be on high alert with Otani too. Anything that looks fishy will get flagged. He gets a standard rate minor league contract like everyone else. No multi-year deals or anything.

I suppose the two sides could agree to an extension under the table, though given everything going on with the Braves right now, I don’t think anyone will risk it. Reports indicate MLB wants Otani treated like any other rookie, and if he signs an extension at some point, they want it to be in line with the established market. The largest extension given to a player with one year of service time is seven years and $58M. That went to Andrelton Simmons. Want to sign Otani long-term after Year One? That’s the benchmark.

Here’s the thing though: Simmons signed his contract four years ago. The market has changed since then. Inflation exists. Last year Indians GM Mike Cherboff’s young son spilled the beans that the team was trying to give Francisco Lindor a $100M extension, when he had one year of service time. Shouldn’t that be the benchmark for Otani? If he goes out and, say, hits .250/.330/.450 with 20 homers and throws 140 innings with a 3.75 ERA in 2017, how in the world could MLB argue he’s not a $100M or even a $150M player?

Brandon asks: Have the Yankees publicly indicated that they are willing to go over the luxury threshold after getting under the limit? It is clear that they want to get under, but who’s to say they will go back to their free spending ways afterward? I recall Hal saying something to the effect of you can field a WS team under the threshold. This could be justification for getting under the cap or justification on staying under the cap. Thoughts?

Hal Steinbrenner‘s standard line is “you don’t need a $200M payroll to win the World Series.” The Yankees haven’t said anything indicating they will go back over the luxury tax threshold in the future after getting under and resetting their tax rate next year, though I wouldn’t expect them to say that anyway. It could only hurt them during contract negotiations.

The general assumption seems to be the Yankees will go back over the luxury tax threshold as soon as 2019, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper become free agents, though I’m not convinced it’ll happen. Hal seems pretty dead set on getting under the threshold and not going wild with a $250M or so payroll. Then again, isn’t that the point? To give yourself some leverage by giving the appearance of holding a hard line? I’m not entirely convinced the Yankees will go go back over the threshold in the future. Everything Hal says is calculated though. He’s no dummy.

Mark asks: Do you think the Yankees sign Michael Pineda to a low risk two-year contract? Something like Lindgren and Eovaldi signed with other teams? Or is he old news?

I don’t see it happening. It’ll chew up payroll space under the luxury tax threshold for a pitcher who won’t pitch in 2018. Or at least won’t pitch until late in the season. The Rays gave Nathan Eovaldi a one-year deal worth $2M with a club option for a second year, so that’s the going rate for a guy like Pineda. Problem is, that’s $2M you can’t spend elsewhere on the roster given the luxury tax plan. In principle, I’m totally cool with giving Pineda an Eovaldi contract and rehabbing him. I just don’t see the Yankees spending finite luxury tax payroll dollars on a guy who won’t pitch much, if at all, next year.

Gary & Greg. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Gary & Greg. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Bart asks: How many home runs combined do you think Judge, Sanchez, and Bird will hit in 2018? Is your over/under number 105? 115? 120? What number would be good, great, or in-your-wildest-dreams? What great 3-player home run combos can you think of?

As much as I love Aaron Judge, and as great as he is, I don’t think it’s fair to expect any player to hit 50+ home runs in back-to-back years. Fifty is a huge number. The last player to hit 50+ in back-to-back years was Alex Rodriguez in 2001 (52) and 2002 (57). Sammy Sosa did it in 2000 (50) and 2001 (64). Barry Bonds hit 50 once in his career. Jim Thome only did it once. Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols have zero combined 50-homer seasons.

Realistically, if Judge hits 40-45 homers next season, I’ll be thrilled. Hitting 35-40 would be awesome even if it would represent a big step down from his 2017 output. How about this for their 2018 homer totals?

That gives us a range of 90-105. Super optimistic scenario has them hitting what, 120 dingers combined? That means Bird has to stay healthy, of course. Only 17 trios of teammates in history have combined to hit 120+ homers in a season. Jermaine Dye (44), Thome (42), and Paul Konerko (35) combined for 121 with the 2006 White Sox, the most recent team to do it. Here are the top four homer hitting trio of teammates in history:

  1. 1961 Yankees (143): Roger Maris (61), Mickey Mantle (54), Moose Skowron (28)
  2. 2001 Giants (132): Bonds (73), Rich Aurilia (37), Jeff Kent (22)
  3. 1997 Rockies (130): Larry Walker (49), Andres Galarraga (41), Vinny Castilla (40)
  4. 1996 Mariners (129): Ken Griffey Jr. (49), Jay Buhner (44), A-Rod (36)

Four teams are tied for fifth with three players combining to his 127 homers in a season (1996 Rockies, 1997 Mariners, 1998 Cardinals, 1998 Mariners). The Yankees got 110 homers out of their top three homer hitters in 2017 (Judge, Sanchez, Didi Gregorius), and that’s with Judge hitting 53. Getting 110 from Judge, Sanchez, and Bird next season would be pretty awesome in my book.

Steve asks: You’re Yankee GM and have 2 offers sitting in front of you for Starlin Castro. One is a package of MLB ready low ceiling depth guys that can solve some problems for the 2018 Yankees. The other offer is a package of lower level high ceiling prospects that could restock the farm system. Given the state of the Yankee 40 man roster, which offer do you choose?

High ceiling guys for sure. The Yankees, even after all the trades and graduations, still have a deep farm system with a lot of lower ceiling guys on the cusp of helping at the MLB level, like Billy McKinney and Thairo Estrada and Nick Solak. They don’t need more of them. Give me the upside guys in the lower levels. Shoot for the moon. The Yankees have been much better at developing players the last few years — maybe that will no longer be the case with Gary Denbo gone, but who knows — so show faith in your people and go for the high ceilings.

Now, that said, I’m not sure Castro has a ton of trade value right now. He is now closer to free agency and more expensive than when the Yankees got him two years ago. And he’s the same damn player.

  • Last two years with Cubs: .278/.318/.406 (98 wRC+) and +1.9 WAR per 600 PA
  • First two years with Yankees: .283/.317/.442 (101 wRC+) and +1.6 WAR per 600 PA

Surely the Yankees acquired Castro hoping he’d take his game to another level as he entered what should be the prime years of his career, but it hasn’t really happened. Starlin’s not a bad player. He’s not a great player either. He’s … okay. Ideally he’s the seventh or eighth best hitter in your lineup, not one of the top three. The Yankees got Castro for Adam Warren two years ago. Realistically, is he worth more than that now?

Seth asks: Since we already have big money committed to the bullpen in Chapman and Robertson, can you see Cashman trading for a cost-controlled lefty reliever instead of signing one like Jake McGee and Mike Minor? I feel like those guys could cost too much for their worth. Someone with years of control like the Orioles’ Donnie Hart or the Diamondbacks’ Andrew Chafin would probably cost a lot but it might be worth it in the long run.

Finding a long-term left-on-left reliever shouldn’t be much of a priority. Those guys generally have such a short MLB shelf life. Very few lefty relievers — relievers in general, really — get through their six years of team control before breaking down and/or losing effectiveness. Lefties like McGee and Jerry Blevins are the exception. Minor was a starter all those years, remember. This was his first season as a full-time reliever. Two years ago Chasen Shreve looked like a potential long-term keeper. Before him it was Phil Coke. Heck, look at Justin Wilson. He just stopped throwing strikes one day. When it goes, it goes quick. Finding a young controllable lefty reliever would be swell. I wouldn’t prioritize it though. Seems like a fool’s errand looking someone like that.

Lind. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)
Lind. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Adam Lind as DH/1B insurance?

Eh. I’m not sure carrying two left-handed hitting first base/DH only guys on the roster makes sense. Bird is already holding down one spot. I know DH is open, but I don’t love tying that down with one player. At the same time, it would be smart to bring in some first base insurance given Bird’s injury history. I’m just not sure you can squeeze him and Lind onto the same roster. A right-handed first baseman would make more sense, or a lefty hitter who could play the outfield or maybe even some third base would be a better fit. With a four-man bench — it’s a three-man bench a lot of times during the season — having two so similarly limited players doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Robert asks: Writers sometimes use the year after effect to refer to pitchers experiencing a slump or even injury the year after their workload jumps drastically. I know Sevi had a large jump in workload and innings this past season. I was honestly surprised by how much the Yankees allowed his workload to increase. Is this something to worry about with him this coming season?

Yes in that every pitcher is a risk to get hurt, and young pitchers who increased their workloads from one year to the next are more at risk (in theory). Luis Severino went from 151.1 innings in 2016 to 209.1 innings in 2017. That’s a 58-inning increase. It’s an increase of 47.2 innings from 2015, his previous career high. Among the pitchers who, like Severino, threw 190+ innings at age 23 are Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw, who became workhorses. The list also includes Patrick Corbin and Jair Jurrjens, who broke down the very next year.

Pitcher injuries are not really something you can predict or 100% prevent. All you can do is take precautions and hope for the best. The Yankees aren’t dumb. They are one of the most analytical teams in baseball. I’m sure they kept an eye on Severino throughout the season for signs of fatigue, including monitoring his spin rates and things like that, and made the best decision they could. And, to be fair, it wasn’t until his very last start that I thought Severino looked worn down. He looked good in the ALDS. The Yankees didn’t throw caution to the wind. They kept an eye on Severino and did what they thought was best. That’s all you can do. That and hope you get a little lucky.

RJ asks: Mike, what are your thoughts about bringing in Jonathan Lucroy as a backup/DH/1B/mentor to the Kraken and what looks like a young pitching staff? He was an elite pitch framer and was very good offensively a few years ago, but obviously if agreed to such role. Take the savings from Holiday and pay Lucroy a little extra or incentives in the contract if he becomes the starter. Still only 31. He can be our David Ross.

Any half-decent free agent catcher is going to look for more playing time elsewhere before settling for sporadic playing time as Sanchez’s backup. Lucroy is only 31 and as recently as 2016 he hit .292/.355/.500 (123 wRC+). He was awful in 2017 (82 wRC+), but he’s not old and you don’t need to look far back to see his last great season. I have to think Lucroy will look for a starting job somewhere before considering backup catcher opportunities. Adding Lucroy as an extremely overqualified backup would be great. I’d love it. Lucroy is a fit for the Yankees. The Yankees aren’t a fit for Lucroy though. Someone will give him a chance to start.

Jon asks: Do you think the Yankees would consider just releasing Ellsbury if they can’t find a trade partner (even with covering most of his salary)? It seems like opening a spot for Frazier, Hicks, etc. would still outweigh keeping him on the roster simply because he’s making a salary.

No. Not with three years left on the contract. Maybe if there was only one year left on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract, they’d think about releasing him. Not with three. If they can’t move him this winter, the Yankees will just keep Ellsbury and go into the season with him as the fourth outfielder. One injury and he’s starting again, and hopefully he goes on a hot streak at some point and carries the team for a bit. Eating money to move Ellsbury and open a roster spot makes sense. It’s probably a little too soon to consider eating every last dollar and flat out releasing him though. Surely some team would give the Yankees a prospect if they were willing to eat the entire contract, right?

Jonathan asks: I have been hearing how Gleyber Torres is amazing. Number one prospect in baseball, 65 on the 20 to 80 scale, perennial all star potential, etc. But publications are projecting him to be a 270 hitter with 20-25 home runs and solid defense. That’s good but how is that an all star? I thought with a 65 hit tool and 55 power, we would be looking at a 300-325 with 25-30 home runs. Which one is true? My version is worth the hype of the number one prospect in baseball, the others seem not to be. Please explain.

I can’t remember seeing any reports that call Torres a .270 hitter with 20-25 homer power. At least not recent reports. MLB.com has Gleyber at 65 hit and 55 power, which projects out to .290-.300 AVG and 20-ish homers. (Maybe that’s 25+ homers with the juiced ball?) Keep in mind these grades are almost always conservative and undersell the player. They had Judge with 60 power coming into the season. No. Just … no. Between his approach, his bat-to-ball skills, and his ability to make adjustments, Torres absolutely projects to a .300 hitter in my opinion. At his peak, anyway. He might not hit .300 as a 21-year-old in the big leagues in 2018. Long-term, Gleyber has legit .300/.380/.500 potential in my book, not to mention the skills to play very good defense. That is top five prospect in the game worthy.

Mailbag: Carpenter, Ellsbury, Gregorius, Judge, Healy, Carroll

Got a dozen questions and eleven answers this week, in the first mailbag of the official offseason. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send all your questions throughout the week.

Carpenter. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Carpenter. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

David asks (short version): What about Matt Carpenter?

The Cardinals are a difficult to figure out, aren’t they? They seem to be stuck in the middle. Not really good enough to be a World Series contender and not bad enough to tear it down and rebuild. That’s not a good place. Carpenter would be one of their better trade chips, if they decided to shake things up. He hit .241/.384/.451 (123 wRC+) with 23 homers and nearly as many walks (17.5%) as strikeouts (20.1%) in 2017.

Carpenter, who turns 32 later this month, appears to fit the Yankees for a few reasons. One, he’s a left-handed hitter with power and patience, two Yankees trademarks. Two, he’s versatile. He can play both corner infield spots as well as second base, and he even has some outfield experience. And three, he’s signed affordably. His contract calls for $13.5M in 2018 and $14.5M in 2019, with an $18.5M club option for 2020.

The downside here is Carpenter is not a good defender anywhere. His best position is first base. And he’s really slow. Shockingly slow, really. These days Carpenter is a +3 WAR player or thereabouts, yet I fell like the Cardinals would ask for a king’s ransom should you ask about him in a trade. Yes, Carpenter would make sense for the Yankees. I wouldn’t trade Clint Frazier or Justus Sheffield for him though. Chance Adams plus secondary stuff? Sure, but that won’t happen.

Michael asks: I’d love it if Hal spent $400MM a year on payroll, but given that he doesn’t, would it be worth it to attach a couple prospects to Ellsbury to aid in dumping salary? Every dollar that goes to him is a dollar not going to signing Tanaka or someone else who can help the team win, and prospects have a certain volatility to their value – Billy McKinney, for instance, might be at a high point from which his value only sinks going forward.

Reuvy asks: Would including Betances in a trade be enough of an incentive for other teams to take Ellsbury off of the Yankees hands? Would the Yankees be willing to part with Betances for virtually nothing if it means getting rid of Ellsbury’s contract?

Going to lump these two questions together. I do not at all like the idea of attaching a prospect or Dellin Betances to Jacoby Ellsbury as a way to unload salary. I’d rather see the Yankees keep the prospect/Betances and use their greatest resource (money) to get rid of Ellsbury. Yes, the Yankees want to unload as much of Ellsbury’s contract as possible given the luxury tax plan. But the goal should be opening a roster spot and retaining talent. The Ellsbury contract is a sunk cost. The Yankees owe him that money no matter what and his salary is already earmarked for the 2018 payroll under the luxury tax threshold. Save what you can in a salary dump and move on from the mistake signing. Don’t compound problems by giving away talent on top of it.

Noa asks: I have never understood this and was wondering your thoughts on it. Why do managers always tell the media (especially in playoff games) that Pitcher So-and So is unavailable or that they’d be surprised if a certain pitcher got into a game for workload reasons. Even if its 100% true, it seems that it only gives the opponent an advantage in knowing that certain pitchers aren’t available. Thoughts?

This used to annoy me too, but it’s really not that a big a deal. Teams keep tabs on the workload of the opposing pitching staff, especially in the postseason, so it’s not like this is a surprise. We mention the status of the other’s team bullpen in our series previews. If we’re keeping tabs on it, the other team is keeping tabs on it. The other day Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Kenley Jansen was only available for three outs, then he got a six-out save that night. Did that catch the Astros off-guard? Probably not. And besides, it’s not like the other team can’t see who’s warming up in the bullpen. Announcing who and who isn’t available used to bother me. It’s not worth the energy though. Teams keep tabs on their opponents, including their potential bullpen options.

Travis asks: True or false: If McKinney succeeds at 1B in the AFL, Austin will likely lose his 40 man spot? They are redundant players with McKinney having options and a brighter future at this point.

False. Tyler Austin might lose his 40-man roster spot this offseason, but not because McKinney played 15 or so games at first base in the Arizona Fall League. If Austin loses his 40-man spot, it’ll be because the Yankees consider Garrett Cooper the better right-handed first base depth option. I’m not sure the Yankees need both. McKinney is still an outfielder, first and foremost. That’s his best position. The Yankees are trying to find a way to make him more versatile, and first base is pretty much the only option. There’s room for both Austin and McKinney on the 40-man. Probably not enough for Austin, McKinney, and Cooper, however. Either Austin or Cooper is likely to go at some point because they are redundant.

Air Didi. (Abbie Parr/Getty)
Air Didi. (Abbie Parr/Getty)

Dana asks: Should the Yankees sell high on Didi if he can headline a deal for a young, controllable starting pitcher? Gleyber is just about ready and his defensive value would be wasted at third or second. Even if Torres isn’t ready at the beginning of the season, the Yanks could play Toe or Wade there as a stop gap.

No! I mean, maybe. Always be willing to listen because you never know what offers will come along, but no, don’t actively shop Didi Gregorius. Keep him. Even if 2017 was a career season, Didi is still a very productive player in the prime of his career. He’s part of the solution. As long as third base remains unsolved long-term and the replaceable Starlin Castro mans second base, keep Gregorius. There’s room for both on the infield. Did you see Alex Bregman this postseason? He’s a natural shortstop playing third base, and his defensive value sure as heck isn’t being wasted at the hot corner. Didi and Gleyber is better than Didi or Gleyber.

Dan asks: What should the Yankees be willing to give up for Schwarber? He seems like a good fit as a buy low candidate with really good upside.

There is no such thing as buying low on Kyle Schwarber. Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office love him. Love love love him. Would they trade him? Yeah, probably, in the right deal. I can’t see them selling low on him, however. I’m not a big Schwarber fan. Never have been. He was healthy all season and he hit .211/.315/.467 (102 wRC+) with 30 homers, 30.9% strikeouts, and 12.1% walks. The power and walks are nice, but geez, the way this guy’s been hyped you’d think he’s a potential MVP candidate. Bad defense, no position, massive platoon split. The Cubs should be very open to trading Schwarber, especially given their pitching staff. I just don’t see them selling low on him. If the Yankees want him, they’d have to pay full price, which is way too much in my book considering how Chicago reportedly turned down Andrew Miller for injured Schwarber last year.

Ben asks: Curious your take on this; why was it so frowned upon that A-Rod opted out from his contract during the 2007 World Series? Everyone reported that it was (yet another) unwritten rule that no major news should come out during, and potentially upstage, the World Series. Now Yankees make the Girardi announcement during the World Series, and no one has a problem with it. Seems to be a double standard to me. It isn’t like the Yankees HAD to decide (or announce) this week. Thoughts?

Alex Rodriguez opted out literally in the middle of a World Series game. I can’t find the clip on YouTube, but I remember seeing Ken Rosenthal in the photographers’ well at Coors Field during the 2007 World Series, breaking the news. MLB does not want teams announcing news during the World Series because it draws attention away from the World Series itself. Rosenthal is not an MLB employee though. He got a huge scoop and had a chance to break the news on national television, so he took it, as he should have.

News still leaks and gets reported during the World Series. That’s unavoidable. MLB wants to limit it though, so the league prohibits teams from formally announcing anything during the World Series without their permission, and the teams comply. The Yankees had to receive an okay from MLB to announce they parted away with Girardi last Thursday, which was a World Series off-day. The A-Rod news broke in the middle of a World Series game and that was all anyone talked about the rest of the night. You can understand why MLB would be annoyed.

Toshiki asks: Let’s pretend Otani signs with an American League team. Can he pitch and bat DH in the same game?

No. Players can only do one or the other, pitch or be the DH. Can’t do both in the same game. The Yankees or any other AL team that signs Shohei Otani could let him hit for himself on the days he pitches, though they’d be forfeiting the DH. You couldn’t, say, start Otani and let him hit for himself, then keep him in the batting lineup after a reliever replaces him on the mound. They be playing with NL rules, basically. Once he’s out of the game as a pitcher, he’s out of the game as a hitter.

Nico asks: Judge’s big strike zone. I know this is a little crazy, but do you think the fact that Judge wears high socks contributes? The high sock ends below the knee, but it creates a kind of visual cue that might make the knee look lower than it is. The umps might be calling his zone as the “top of the sock”, when really it should be a couple inches higher than that.

It might! That’s a good question. It’s too bad Statcast doesn’t have a socks option so we could see whether there’s a strike zone difference between players who wear low socks and high socks. Judge should go with the old Bobby Murcer mid-calf stirrup look next season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Anything to help the guy get a fair strike zone. All those strikes below the knees this season were ridiculous.

Fernando asks: The A’s have made Ryon Healy available. Dh and sometime 1b with good power but not much defense. Is he worth pursuing? A’s have interest in relievers and Yankees have surplus there with Shreve, Holder, Gallegos, Mitchell, Rumbelow, Heller, Feyereisen, Mesa, Tarpley, etc. Some of these guys are going to be roster casualties for Rule 5 purposes.

Nah. I don’t really see it. Healy’s not even that good of a hitter. He hit .271/.300/.451 (100 wRC+) with 25 homers in 605 plate appearances this season. The power is nice, but he never walks (3.5% in 2017) and is a negative in the field and on the bases. A player who is a league average hitter and contributes nothing else whatsoever isn’t all that appealing to me. Healy turns 26 in January, so it’s not like he super young and you could reasonably expect a lot of improvement going forward. He’s the rich man’s Tyler Austin, basically. Maybe Healy’s worth it if you can get him for one of those fringe 40-man roster players. Something tells me the Athletics would just keep him if that’s all you’re offering though.

Dennis asks: Thoughts on Cody Carroll? He’s huge and throws in the upper 90’s. Sounds like a Betances style guy. Misses bats but walks people. At 25 and was in AA, do you think he can be anything or just a career AAA/injury replacement guy?

Carroll is a little too well known right now to be considered a sleeper. The Yankees drafted him out of Southern Mississippi (22nd round in 2015), where he worked as a starting pitcher, and moved him to relief. Suddenly his fastball went from 90-92 mph to 96-98 mph. This season he had a 2.54 ERA (3.04 FIP) with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.8% walks in 67.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A.

The biggest knocks on Carroll are his general lack of command and his good but not great breaking ball, a hard mid-80s slider. The Yankees have him out in the Arizona Fall League right now just to get more reps. You don’t need perfect command to be a very effective reliever (e.g. Betances), but it sure does help. Right now I think Carroll is more of an up-and-down depth arm than a true bullpen prospect. If he can begin to locate better going forward — the lack of command is a career long thing — then he’d become real interesting real quick. There are lots of dudes who throw hard but have no idea where it’s going down in Double-A.