Mailbag: Cashman, Teixeira, Torres, Darvish, Sheffield

Got 15 questions for you in this week’s mailbag, though I tried to keep the answers short. Didn’t always succeed. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions. The email address is perpetually sitting in the sidebar in case you ever forget.

The Judge and the GM. (Presswire)
The Judge and the GM. (Presswire)

Daniel asks: What do you think Brian Cashman‘s legacy will be, and how much will it ultimately depend on this “transition” period carrying the Yankees to another championship?

Man, I have no idea. Cashman is very underrated as a GM. He gets overlooked because of the team’s payroll, and any success the Yankees have had under him has been written off as a product of the budget (or because someone else built the team). We’re not idiots. We know money doesn’t guarantee success. Look at the Phillies and the Angels. Or even the Red Sox. How many times have they finished in last place the last few years? Money helps, but it ain’t everything.

This rebuild may define Cashman’s legacy more than anything that’s happened over the last 20 years. If it succeeds, he’ll finally get some recognition as one of the game’s most successful executives. If it fails, well then it’ll only reinforce the notion he needs a big payroll to win. Cashman has been, by a pretty big margin, the most consistently successful big market GM. His worst teams have won 84 games, and he was able to field those clubs while still building the farm system into what it is today. Cashman’s legacy is complicated. Personally, I think he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves.

Ross asks: I feel like the Yankees minor league pitching isn’t getting enough love. Here are top 6 teams in ERA in full-season ball for all leagues.

minor-league-era

The top 6 teams came from 6 different leagues (which surprised me), but all four of the Yankees full-season teams finished in the top 6 of 120 full-season teams. This is with their top 2 pitching prospects (Sheffield and Kaprielian) barely pitching for the Yankees in 2016.  What do you think the state of the Yankee minor league pitching is and if the stats are misleading?

The stats are misleading a bit. I definitely wouldn’t use ERA, either on the team level or individual level, to gauge prospect status. A Diamondbacks affiliate is third on that list and their system is terrible. The Yankees did have a ton of great individual performers this year — they had two of the top four and five of the top 17 minor leaguers in ERA, not counting the Mexican League (min. 100 IP) — and that’s awesome. Let’s not confuse great performance for great prospects though.

Also, keep in mind New York’s four full season affiliates all play in pitcher friendly home ballparks. Every one of them. George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is the closest to a neutral park. Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton can be brutal for hitters, especially lefties, at night when the breeze is blowing in from the Delaware River beyond right field. That’s why what Greg Bird did there (.256/.366/.484 with 13 homers in 76 games) was so impressive.

Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees do have a lot of really good pitching prospects. James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield are the headliners, but others like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams are future big leaguers too. Domingo Acevedo and Albert Abreu are the high upside plays. The low team ERAs in 2016 probably speaks to the farm system’s pitching depth to some degree, but I wouldn’t glance at that leaderboard and confuse it for prospect status. The Yankees have some good pitching prospects, but the team ERAs would lead you to believe they’re deep in top arms, and they’re not.

Chris asks: There are many reports about the Rangers and the Cubs being the leading suitors for Tyson Ross. Shouldn’t the Yankees be in that group as well? I know he was injured most of last year, but assuming he comes back to full strength (big assumption), he fits the bill of a young starter who would be controlled for more than a year to slot into the rotation, right?

Ross isn’t under control for more than a year. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. And he’s not that young either. He turns 30 in April. That said, of course the Yankees should be in the mix for him. They could use more pitching and Ross theoretically offers more upside than the Jon Nieses and Doug Fisters of the world. Chances are these guys are all low cost one-year contract candidates. Ross can potentially bring the greatest reward.

Personally, I’ve never been a huge Tyson Ross fan, so if the Yankees miss out, I’m not going to lose much sleep over it. He walks a ton of batters, he throws an extreme amount of sliders, and his delivery is ugly as sin. A breakdown felt inevitable. Last year’s shoulder injury — the injury that sidelined him after Opening Day, not the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery he had in October — may have been the beginning of that breakdown. If he’s willing to come to New York on a one-year deal, cool. If not, eh, there are other fish in the sea.

Greg asks: Do you think Mark Teixeira gets no. 25 retired for him or a plaque in Monument Park?

Nah. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees reissue No. 25 as soon as this year. Maybe they’ll give it to Clint Frazier in Spring Training. I know Teixeira was part of a World Series team, but if No. 25 wasn’t retired for Jason Giambi, it sure as heck won’t be for Teixeira. Teixeira was a good player and a fun dude for several years. I’m guessing he’ll have a blast at Old Timers’ Day. He’s not Monument Park worthy in my opinion though. Good Yankee, for sure, but not an all-time great.

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Rubaiyat asks: Would it be a better idea to move Gleyber Torres to 3b or another position and keep Didi? Or keep him at short and trade Didi for prospects?

I’m going to take the easy way out and say “worry about this when the time comes.” Who knows what the landscape will be when Torres is actually ready to help the Yankees. That’s at least one year away, possibly two. Manny Machado could be a Yankee by then, in which case putting Gleyber at short and trading Didi Gregorius makes sense. Or maybe Gregorius continues to refine his offensive game and blossoms into a .290/.330/.450 hitter with 25+ homers annually, in which case Torres becomes the trade bait. Patience. This isn’t worth thinking about now.

Greg asks: A lot of prospect lists have Blake Rutherford as a top 5 prospect in the org. Does he have enough perceived value to headline a trade for an ace? I don’t necessarily want to see him go, I’m just curious how prospect ratings correspond with trade value.

I learned a while ago that prospect rankings and trade value rankings are not the same thing. Rutherford is a great-looking prospect, but I can’t remember the last time a rookie ball kid was the headliner in a trade for an impact big leaguer. Prospects closer to the big leagues have more trade value than the kids in the low minors. Does that mean Dietrich Enns has more trade value than Rutherford? Of course not. Talent matters. Prospect rankings are a measure of potential. Trade value is real world value, and teams have to consider the risk of a prospect not making it. Rutherford has a ton of ability, but he’s so far away from MLB and there’s still so much time for things to go wrong. That risk likely prevents him headlining a package for, say, Jose Quintana.

Jacob asks: What would Gleybar Torres have to become for the Cubs to regret the trade? Or does the ring mean they will never regret it?

I can’t pretend to know what last season was like for a Cubs fan. I’m spoiled as hell. I grew up with my favorite team winning championships left and right. So many Cubs fans waited their entire lives to see not just a World Series win, but a pennant. Just a pennant. Hopefully we’ll be able to look back at some point and determine this was a lopsided trade in favor of the Yankees according to WAR or whatever. I’m guessing the vast majority of Cubs fans don’t care one bit. This has a chance to be the mother of all win-win trades.

Alex asks: Unless the Yankees are in serious contention by the 2017 trade deadline, do you think Betances is all but a goner? It seems silly to keep him when you already have Chapman and could get another Frazier/Torres like prospect and more in return.

It’s going to depend on a lot of things. How far out of the race are the Yankees? How are the kids looking? Are we seeing progress, enough that serious contention in 2018 looks likely, or are they all crashing and burning? How does Dellin Betances himself look? I’m guessing one of the reasons the Yankees went ahead with their deadline sell-off last year was the fact they knew they’d have a chance to sign a top reliever in the offseason. Wade Davis is far and away the best reliever slated to hit free agency next year. After him it’s, uh, Addison Reed? And is spending huge for another reliever a smart move anyway given the luxury tax situation?

I am in no way opposed to trading Betances (or pretty much anyone on the roster at this point). The Yankees very clearly value having multiple dominant relievers in the bullpen though, and if they don’t feel confident in their ability to replace Betances in some way prior to 2018 — remember, they tried to sign Chapman to an extension before trading him! — they might not be willing to part with Dellin at the deadline. A lot of factors are going to go into any decision to trade Betances, either at the deadline or at some point after that.

Frederick asks: Any chance the Yanks go for someone like Brandon McCarthy or Anibal Sanchez in a salary dump type of move?

I think they’d just sign a free agent instead. You’ll end up with similar expected production and the cost figures to be lower too. Why taken on Sanchez and his ZiPS projected 4.77 ERA (4.33 FIP) at $16.8M when you could sign, say, Doug Fister and his ZiPS projected 4.53 ERA (4.73 FIP) for something like $6M? Unless the Tigers eat a ton of money and take a non-prospect in return, I wouldn’t bother. (And why would they do that?) Just sign a free agent. Same thing with McCarthy, who has two years left on the deal. I wrote a Scouting The Market post about him earlier this winter, before it became clear all these iffy reclamation project starters would still be looking for jobs in mid-January.

Bird. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Bird. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Jonathan asks: We hear all about catchers, pitchers, middle infielders, and well, Andujar…but very little about first base beyond Bird/Austin. Is it just a PR thing or are the lower level 1B prospects not as good relative to the prospects at other positions?

First base prospects are a weird group. Most first basemen land at the position because they couldn’t play elsewhere. Joey Votto was a catcher. Miguel Cabrera was a shortstop. Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Davis were third basemen. So was Teixeira. Greg Bird was a catcher and so was Tyler Austin back in the day. MLB.com’s top 100 list includes only four pure first basemen at the moment, which is pretty normal. That’s not an unusually low number.

As for the Yankees, their best first base prospect beyond Bird (technically no longer a prospect) and Austin (still qualifies as a prospect) is, uh, Mike Ford? Maybe Miguel Flames if he can’t hack it behind the plate. Or Dermis Garcia if the hot corner doesn’t work out. The Yankees, like every other team, focus on up-the-middle talent because those positions are hardest to fill. There’s always a Chris Carter (former third baseman) or Mike Napoli (former catcher) sitting in free agency these days. There aren’t many middle infielders or top notch catchers though. The Yankees aren’t deep in first base prospects at all and in no way is that a problem in my opinion.

Seth asks: Which baby bomber do you personally think will outperform their expectations in 2017?

Aaron Judge seems obvious to me. For some reason I feel like most people expect him to hit .175 with about 275 strikeouts in 2016. Judge doesn’t get enough credit for his pure hit tool. Yeah, he’s going to strike out, that kinda happens when you’re 6-foot-7 with a huge strike zone and long arms, but I could totally see Judge hitting .230 or so with 25+ bombs in 2017. People will complain about that, I’m sure, but for a dude in his first full season in the show? Sign me up. Judge will be a good litmus test for the rebuild. Let’s see how patient fans really are willing to be.

Bob asks: In light of the Yankees need for starting pitching in 2018 and thereafter, wouldn’t it be better to force the development of several young pitchers in 2017 as opposed to signing a one year retread who only delays the inevitable?

Nope. You can’t force development. That’s when bad things happen. Running a young pitcher who clearly isn’t ready to be successful at the MLB level out there every fifth day is counterproductive. Maybe the Yankees won’t run into this problem with any of their young starters next season. That would be amazing. And if that’s the case, the Yankees aren’t going to let some veteran starter on a one-year contract stand in the way. There’s no such thing as too much pitching, especially when you’re trying to break in several young starters at once. I’d rather have the depth and not need it than need it and not have it.

Erick asks: What are your thoughts on Yu Darvish a year from now? He has been pretty good since coming over. We don’t what will happen with Tanaka, could we have two Japanese pitchers in 2018? Even three if you go completely crazy and imagine Otani getting posted.

I have a hard time thinking the Rangers will actually let Darvish leave when he becomes a free agent next year. If they do, it would kinda worry me. What do they know that we don’t? Also, I wouldn’t get my hopes up expecting the Yankees to spend big on a free agent next offseason, not with the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold looming. The time to get Darvish was five years ago when he was in his mid-20s. He’ll be 31 when he hits free agency next year, and have Tommy John surgery in his not too distant past. Meh. Call me crazy, but I’d rather spend that money on Masahiro Tanaka.

Haven't used this one in a while. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Haven’t used this one in a while. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Luiz asks: Can we compare Sheffield with Banuelos? Both are southpaw pitchers listed at 5-foot-10, with big stuff, clean medical history, etc.

Manny Banuelos was a better prospect than Justus Sheffield at the same age. The key differences were their changeups and command. Banuelos had a phenomenal changeup and his command was big league caliber when he was a 20-year-old. For whatever reason that command disappeared when Banuelos reached Double-A in 2011 and it never came back. And he got hurt. A lot. Banuelos hurt his back and his elbow in 2012 and he hasn’t stopped getting hurt since. Sheffield and Banuelos are similar in that they’re short lefties, but there aren’t too many similarities beyond that. Banuelos was much more advanced as a prospect at the same age.

Michael asks: Among the contenders for the 4/5 spot in the rotation, who in your opinion needs more time at Triple-A? I agree that a de La Rosa or a Brett Anderson would do the team good, but I’m wondering if they might really need a guy like that, or if they’re at a stage where they can let Cessa/Green/Mitchell figure it out in the majors.

Probably Luis Severino. His changeup vanished last year and his command was pretty bad most of the summer. Luis Cessa seems most MLB ready to me. He has four pitches (and actually uses them) and is willing to pound the zone (4.9% walk rate in 2016). He might throw too many strikes. Cessa could possibly benefit from expanding the zone when he’s ahead in the count. That could help his strikeout and homer rates. I’m not really sure what more Bryan Mitchell can take from Triple-A at this point. I think his chances of landing the bullpen long-term are pretty high because he just hasn’t been able to develop a changeup, but he should be pretty good there given his fastball/curveball combo.

Mailbag: Untouchable Prospects, Santana, Bautista, HOF

Welcome to the first RAB mailbag of the new year. We’ve got 14 questions for you this week. As always, the place to send your questions is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Andujar. (Not No. 79.) (Leon Halip/Getty)
Andujar. (Not No. 79.) (Leon Halip/Getty)

Dan asks: They say a team needs to know which prospects to trade and which to hold onto when making deals. Who would you say are the top 5 prospects we should try to hold on to and who are the top 5 who you could cope with losing if they were dealt? Just to clarify, I’m not talking about organizational players, I’m talking about actual prospects who you think are less likely to work out.

I’ve written this a few times myself. The Yankees have a great farm system right now, arguably the best in baseball, but of course everyone won’t work out. That’s baseball. In a perfect world you keep the good ones and trade the bad ones before they have a chance to show they’re not going to make it. Sell high, as they say.

Of course, it’s damn near impossible to tell which guys are going to work out and which ones will bust. Being able to predict the future would make life boring. Personally, I’d be most willing to part with position players with contact issues and/or defensive questions, and most pitchers (due to injury risk). So, based on that, here are my lists:

I’d put Justus Sheffield in the keeper pile because among of the Yankees’ best pitching prospects, he’s the healthiest and most advanced. A healthy Kaprielian would be an easy call over Sheffield, but Kaprielian missed almost the entire 2016 season with an elbow issue, and that’s scary.

Mateo is a difficult one because he didn’t have a great 2016 season and he did strike out a fair amount in High-A (21.3%), especially for a guy whose game is going to be putting the ball in play and running like hell. The tools are incredible though, probably the best in the system, and he still is only 21. He’s a keeper for me.

I should make it clear that just because I have those five players listed in the “trade” category, it doesn’t mean I want them gone. I’d prefer to hold on to Frazier and Judge because they’re potential middle of the order bats close to MLB. I’m just saying that in a potential blockbuster trade, say for Jose Quintana, I’d prefer to trade them before the others.

Frank asks: I just finished reading an article on FanGraphs and noticed that Michael Pineda had a 3.2 fWAR and Jake Arrieta had a 3.8 fWAR in 2016. Can you explain how this even remotely makes sense?

It’s good to slap together a quick WAR primer every now and then. There are two major versions of WAR: FanGraphs (fWAR) and Baseball Reference (bWAR). For pitchers, fWAR is based on FIP, which only looks at strikeouts, walks, and home runs. It eliminates balls in play based on the assumption the pitcher has no control over whether his defense makes the play. Nowadays we know some pitchers are better at limiting hard contact than others, which affects whether the defense can make the play, so FIP is a bit outdated.

bWAR is based on actual runs allowed, not FIP. That’s why Pineda (4.82 ERA) had +1.2 bWAR in 2016 while Arrieta (3.10 ERA) was at +3.4 bWAR. Pineda has always had incredible strikeout and walk rates, so his FIP is consistently lower than his ERA. fWAR overrates Pineda. Anyone who’s watched him the last three years knows he’s prone to fat mistake pitches and is far more hittable than the strikeout and walk numbers would lead you to believe. I use bWAR almost exclusively for pitchers. Tell me what happened, not what theoretically should have happened.

Lucas asks: B-Ref says Ellsbury had the 2nd best Defensive season of his career last year. Just from watching him he seemed to have really fallen off last year. What gives?

The defensive metrics were all over the place with Jacoby Ellsbury last year for whatever reason. Here are the numbers:

  • DRS: +8 (third best season out of ten)
  • UZR: +0.7 (seventh best season)
  • FRAA: -14.5 (worst season)
  • Total Zone: +1 (sixth best season)
  • Defensive WAR: +1.2 (second best)

Yeah, I don’t know either. My eyes told me Ellsbury was still a solid defensive center fielder last season, though not as good as he was two or three years ago. That’s normal. He turned 33 in September and guys tend to slow down at that age. Johnny Damon‘s transition to left field started at age 33 and he was there full-time within a year. Ellsbury figures to make a similar transition soon enough, which is another reason Brett Gardner almost has to be traded.

P.J. asks: I realize it’s premature since 2017 hasn’t even started but jumping ahead to next winter’s FA class. Do you think the Yankees would have any interest in Carlos Santana as a DH on say a 3 or 4 year deal @ $15MM per? The roster spot would be open and he really isn’t blocking any Yankee player.

I love Santana. One of my favorite hitters in the game. Last season he hit .259/.366/.498 (132 wRC+) with 34 home runs and exactly as many walks as strikeouts (99 each, or 14.4% of his plate appearances). Santana will turn 31 shortly after Opening Day and he’s been a consistent 20+ homer/90+ walk player. And he switch-hits. That’s cool. Matt Holliday is on a one-year contract, so the Yankees have an opening at DH going forward, and Santana could also spent time at first base as well. He’d be a nice caddy for Greg Bird going forward.

Slamtana. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Slamtana. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Next winter’s free agent class is loaded with power corner bats again and I wonder if Santana will get stuck waiting for a contract a la Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Chris Carter this year. The qualifying offer will approach $18M next year and I’m not sure the Indians will risk it, especially since there’s a chance Santana won’t sign a $50M+ contract. In that case Cleveland would only get a supplemental third round draft pick, not a first rounder. I definitely have interest in Santana though. Dude can rake.

Al asks: If the Dodgers are willing to trade a premium prospect for a RH second baseman, why don’t the Yankees gauge their interest in Castro? I’m not down on Castro, but if the Yankees could get De Leon or Bellinger, that might be a smart move. We could live with Refsnyder or Utley for a year until one of the middle infield prospects is ready.

The Yankees aren’t getting a premium prospect for Starlin Castro. They traded Adam Warren to get him last year. What did Castro do in 2016 to raise his stock from Warren to someone like Jose De Leon? He hit a career high 21 homers and that’s about it. His (lack of) approach will still drive you nuts, and now he’s more expensive and another year closer to free agency. The Dodgers are willing to trade De Leon (and others) for Brian Dozier because Dozier is a considerably better player than Castro. Castro’s not worth a premium prospect at all. If a team offers one, the Yankees should trade him immediately. It’d be a great one-year flip.

Brady asks: I’m reading reports that Bautista would sign a 1 year deal at or above the QO threshold (~$17M). That’s a very good player on a short term contract. I know the outfield is crowded, but how do you not make a 1/17 offer? What are the draft ramifications?

The free agent compensation rules are the same this offseason, so the Yankees would have to surrender their first round pick (16th overall) to sign Bautista. I don’t want the Yankees anywhere near him, even on a one-year contract. That’s a move you make when you’re ready to win the World Series right now, not when you’re trying to develop your next young core. Signing the 36-year-old Bautista means the 24-year-old Judge has to go back to Triple-A, and that’s not something a smart rebuilding team does. And you know what else? Not many people like Bautista either, especially around these parts. Let’s stick with the young, exciting, likable players. Could be cool.

Dave asks (short version): Am I crazy to think that adding Robertson & Quintana makes us a solid Wild Card contender?

They very well might. Jose Quintana could be as much as a five-win upgrade over whichever young kid he replaces in the rotation, and David Robertson over the last guy in the bullpen could be another win as well. Maybe two. Assuming the Yankees don’t give up anything off their MLB roster in the trade, Quintana and Robertson could represent an additional 5-7 wins in 2017. I think the Yankees are somewhere in the 82-84 win range right now. Add those two, and suddenly the Yankees are looking at a win total in the 87-91 win range, which means postseason contention.

Mark asks: If Sabathia pitches to the tune of 10-12 wins and a 4.00 era in 2017, is it worth offering him $8m 1 year deal for 2018? I picture him being the sort of Kuroda/Pettitte type to keep signing 1 year deals if he is feeling well and continues to master the art of pitching. Or do you think he has made enough money that there isn’t enough incentive to keep playing? He doesn’t seem like the David Cone type, pitch until they take the jersey away.

If CC Sabathia pitches effectively in 2017 and is open to returning on a one-year contract in 2018, the Yankees should totally bring him back. They’re going to need the pitching, and Sabathia would be the perfect one-year contract candidate. The Yankees know him and vice versa, so there would be no adjustment period, and Sabathia would be a pretty great clubhouse guy to have around the kids. He’s basically Andy Pettitte at this point. If he wants to keep pitching and is effective, then keep putting those one-year contracts in front of him. There will always be room in the rotation for a solid veteran starter, especially a lefty in Yankee Stadium.

Kenny asks: Mike, you have mentioned a lefty reliever as a small priority (even though I think Layne is more than fine, remember the Toronto game?)but what about Charlie Furbush? Converted starter with AL experience and a funky delivery who would probably come cheap off of a season where he didn’t pitch because of rotator cuff issues.

The Mariners traded Pineda, Cliff Lee, and Doug Fister all within 18 months of each other, and pretty much all they had to show for those trades was Furbush. Brutal. Furbush was pretty darn good for Seattle from 2012-15, pitching to a 3.23 ERA (3.02 FIP) with 27.9% strikeouts and 8.2% walks in 175.1 innings, but he missed the entire 2016 season with shoulder problems and was non-tendered last month. He’s worth a minor league contract, sure, but the Yankees aren’t in position to guarantee him a roster spot. Not after the shoulder injury and not with 40-man roster space at a premium. Aside from Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, healthy Charlie Furbush is probably the best lefty reliever in free agency right now, but is healthy?

Furbush. (Joe Sargent/Getty)
Furbush. (Joe Sargent/Getty)

Joe asks: These days it seems that pitching prospects don’t get taken seriously unless they throw 95. Is there anyone coming up through the Yankee system who has the potential to be another Jimmy Key- meaning someone who may turn into a quality starter without lighting up any radar guns?

Not really. Ian Clarkin and Dietrich Enns are probably the closest thing to a Jimmy Key type in the system right now. Depending which scouting report you read, Clarkin’s fastball hovers around 90 mph these days, down a few ticks from before his elbow injury in 2015. Enns has never been a hard-thrower. He’ll top out at 91 mph on his best days. Neither Clarkin nor Enns has Key’s pinpoint control and dead fish changeup, so don’t expect them to match his success. Teams look for prospects who throw hard because a) you can’t teach it, b) velocity gives you more margin for error, and c) pitchers lose velocity as they age, so the guys who are sitting in the upper-80s in their early-20s might not have much staying power in the show.

Paul asks: What kind of year would Holliday have to have for the Yankees to consider offering him a qualifying offer?

I don’t think it’s possible. I mean, yeah, I suppose Holliday could have a freak .330/.500/.750 season like Barry Bonds or something, but that won’t happen. The Yankees are going to pay luxury tax in 2017, and per the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they will only be able to receive a draft pick after the fourth round for any qualifying free agent. The upside of getting a draft pick after the fourth round (140th overall range) isn’t nearly great enough to risk having a soon-to-be 38-year-old Holliday accept the $18M or so qualifying offer next winter. Way too much risk, not enough reward. Even a bounceback to his 2014 levels (.272/.370/.441/132 wRC+) wouldn’t make him qualifying offer worthy.

Mark asks: I wanted to ask a question regarding former top prospects who seemingly have fallen out favor, namely Mason Williams and guys like Jake Cave, etc. Do guys like these have any trade value left? Or, are they a wait and hold to see if they can gain value in the future? Another Yankees blog (sorry I’ve been seeing other blogs on the side) suggested that they move Mason Williams for some pitching which seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

They have close to zero trade value. Cave just went unpicked in the Rule 5 Draft. Any team could have had him and kept him — as a two-time Rule 5 Draft guy, he could have elected free agency rather be returned to the Yankees, at which point his new team could have just re-signed him with no strings attached — and yet no one did. Williams is going to be 26 in August and his track record of excellence is very short. He’s got a major shoulder injury in his recent history too. Who is giving up a pitcher for him? I mean a decent pitcher, not a similar busted prospect. Williams is more valuable to the Yankees as a depth option than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade. It’s not 2012 anymore. Guys like Williams and Cave have a negligible amount of trade value.

P.J. asks: Is there a reason 20 year old Thairo Estrada might have been complete ignored by MLB Pipeline when they ranked the Yankees Top 30 Prospects back in August? And is there a chance he could make the list when they update their list in the next month or so?

Estrada was a victim of the system’s depth. MLB.com ranked him 28th in the system before 2016, so he was on the bubble anyway, then the Yankees went and made all those trades to bolster the system. I’m a huge Thairo fan, yet when I sketched out the first draft of my annual preseason top 30 prospects list, he didn’t make the cut. There’s just so much depth in the system right now. Estrada could definitely make it back into the top 30 at some point. Maybe not in Spring Training, but later in the season or next winter, once more prospects graduate and the system inevitably thins out a bit.

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
Javy. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Mike asks (short version): Why are some retired players left off the Hall of Fame ballot? I noticed Javier Vazquez is not on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot and believe it or not, he had a career 53.9 fWAR which is 65th all time, but Tim Wakefield Is on it and his career fWAR was just 27.4. Both finished their careers in 2011. Of course I am not saying Vazquez is a HOFer or anything, but I’m wondering why he was left off but someone like Wakefield was put on.

First a player needs to spend ten years in the big leagues to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Then they need to pass through a six-person screening committee (all BBWAA members) to actually be placed on the ballot. The screening committee determined Vazquez did not deserve to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, which was egregious. Vazquez is, by a huge margin, the greatest Puerto Rican born pitcher in MLB history. It’s not close. Some numbers:

  • Wins: 165 (Juan Pizarro is second with 131)
  • Innings: 2,840 (Jaime Navarro is second with 2,055.1)
  • Strikeouts: 2,536 (Pizarro is second with 1,522)
  • WAR: +43.3 (Roberto Hernandez is second with +18.5)

Vazquez isn’t a Hall of Famer, but holy crap how does the screening committee leave him off the ballot? Matt Stairs is on the ballot. Casey Blake is on the ballot. Arthur Rhodes is on the ballot. Vazquez belongs. So did Chan-Ho Park a few years ago. Park was the first Korean player in MLB history, yet he was left off the ballot. Hall of Famer? No. But at least deserving of being on the ballot. The screening committee generally does a good job. Vazquez and Park are the two major oversights in recent years.

Mailbag: Other top NPB players who could come to MLB

The mailbag inbox was pretty empty this week thanks to the holidays. That’s okay, because every so often we get a great question that is worth its own post, and that was the case this week. So, rather than the usual multi-question format, we’ve got one question and one big answer this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions.

Yamada. (Masterpress/Getty)
Yamada. (Masterpress/Getty)

Dan asks: Are there any other players on the Japanese market besides Otani that we can be excited about in the future?

There are definitely a few, but none come close to Shohei Otani in terms of potential big league impact. He is truly in a class all by himself right now. Otani is the best player in Japan and has the tools to be an ace-caliber pitcher in MLB, if not a reliable hitter as well. I’m curious to see if a team will let him hit and pitch when the time comes. That just might be what it takes to sign him.

Anyway, most of the top talent in Japan in terms of big league potential is on the mound right now. These things to tend to be cyclical, and right now there are more high-end arms than high-end bats. Check back in a few years and the opposite will probably be true. So, with that in mind, here are five non-Otani players in Nippon Pro Baseball who could interest MLB teams in the near future. This isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s just a few of the most notable. The players are listed alphabetically.

RHP Kohei Arihara

Arihara, 24, just finished his second season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, during which he had a 2.94 ERA with 103 strikeouts (16.1 K%) and 38 walks (5.9 BB%) in 22 starts and 156 innings. He runs his fastball up to 96 mph and uses a wide array of offspeed pitches, and while nothing he throws is a truly dominant offering, Arihara has good command and really knows how to pitch.

Arihara has gotten plenty of extra scouting exposure recently as Otani’s teammate. Once he gets some more experience under his belt — he missed time in college with elbow injury, which is obviously a red flag — Arihara will be a candidate to come over to MLB. His upside may be limited, but there’s a chance for mid-rotation production here.

RHP Shintaro Fujinami

Back in 2012, Otani and Fujinami were the top two prospects in the NPB draft, and plenty of folks at the time preferred Fujinami because his secondary pitchers were more advanced. Otani went first overall — Fujinami was selected by four teams in the first round, then was awarded to the Hanshin Tigers after a lottery drawing (the NPB draft is weird) — and has since developed into the better NPB player and MLB prospect, but Fujinami is damn good himself.

The 22-year-old Fujinami had a 3.25 ERA in 26 starts and 169 innings in 2016, striking out 176 (24.0 K%) and walking 70 (9.6 BB%). Control has been his biggest issue — he’s walked 9.2% of batters faced in his four NPB seasons — but he misses plenty of bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, a mid-80s splitter, and a low-80s slider. His 221 strikeouts a year ago were by far the most in the Central League, Japan’s non-DH league. Only one other player had more than 175 strikeouts. (Randy Messenger had 194.)

Fujinami is widely considered the second best MLB prospect in Japan, but he’s in the same boat as Otani. He’s only 22, which means he’ll be subject to the international hard cap for the next three years. Also, Fujinami is five years away from qualifying for international free agency, so he’ll have to go through the posting system to come over at any point before the 2021-22 offseason. It’s not only Otani who is getting screwed over by the hard cap.

LHP Yusei Kikuchi

A few years ago Kikuchi, now 25, was considering jumping to MLB straight out of high school, which would have been unprecedented. (Junichi Tazawa was undrafted out of high school, played one year in a Japanese independent league, then chose to forego NPB for MLB.) NPB doesn’t like the idea of the best young Japanese players not playing in Japan, so nowadays anyone who signs with an MLB team out of high school is banned from NPB for at least three years. Not surprisingly, no one has done it.

Anyway, Kikuchi has spent the last six seasons with the Seibu Lions and has career has been up and down, mostly due to shoulder problems. He had a 2.58 ERA with 127 strikeouts (21.3 K%) and 67 walks (11.3 K%) in 22 starts and 143 innings this past season, though the blazing mid-to-upper-90s fastball that made him such a hot commodity as a teenager now resides mostly in the low-90s. Kikuchi relies on his three offspeed pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) to get most of his outs these days.

It’s no secret Kikuchi wants to come over to MLB at some point — he met with several clubs, including the Yankees, back in 2009 when he considered coming over after high school — and since he’s 25, the international hard cap won’t apply to him. It’s up to Seibu to post him because he’s still three years from international free agency. Kikuchi is not the tippy top MLB prospect he was a few years ago, but lefties who can miss bats are always going to get a look.

RHP Takahiro Norimoto

Three years ago the 26-year-old Norimoto took over as staff ace of the Rakuten Golden Eagles after Masahiro Tanaka left via the posting system. His last two seasons have been eerily similar:

IP ERA Strikeouts Walks Homers
2015 194.2 2.91 215 (26.9%) 48 (6.0%) 14 (0.65 HR/9)
2016 195 2.91 216 (26.3%) 50 (6.1%) 12 (0.55 HR/9)

Freaky. Norimoto has big stuff but not big size. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 178 lbs., and fair or not, teams are always wary of undersized righties. Durability is a concern, and so is fastball plane. Teams worry short pitchers will be fly ball and home run prone because they can’t pitch downhill. Still, Norimoto has a mid-90s fastball and can miss bats with both his splitter and slider. That’ll play.

Norimoto signed a three-year extension worth $1.72M per season last month, so he’s not coming over to MLB anytime soon. That’s a shame. He wouldn’t have been subject to any international spending restrictions because of his age. Not the bonus pools this signing period or the hard cap that takes effect next signing period. Womp womp. Norimoto will be 29 before he’s eligible to come over to MLB.

IF Tetsuto Yamada

Over the last three years, and especially the last two, Yamada has established himself as one of the most dominant hitters in Japan. Last season he hit .329/.416/.610 with 38 home runs and 34 stolen bases en route to being named Central League MVP. He was the first player in NPB history to win both the home run and stolen base titles. Yamada also had a Reggie Jackson moment in the postseason, swatting three home runs in three consecutive plate appearances in Game Three of the Japan Series.

This past season the 24-year-old Yamada managed a .304/.425/.607 batting line with 38 homers and 30 stolen bases for the Yakult Swallows. He’s a right-handed hitter with tremendous bat speed and quick twitch athleticism, plus he knows how to control the strike zone (17.2 K% and 14.4 BB% from 2015-16). While going 30-30 in the big leagues might not happen, Yamada has 20-20 potential, which would be pretty damn valuable from a good defensive middle infielder. (Reports indicate he fits best at second.)

Yamada has supposedly expressed interest in coming over to MLB, and since he’ll turn 25 in July, he won’t be subject to the international hard cap next offseason. The Swallows can post him and Yamada can sign a contract of any size. Unless the posting agreement gets changed again, that is. MLB seems to like making it difficult for top overseas players to play in their league for whatever reason.

It’s worth noting most of the biggest busts among Japanese players in MLB have been infielders (Kaz Matsui, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, etc.), and I’ve seen speculation that the game is so much faster here that infielders have a tough time adjusting, and their defensive issues carry over at the plate. Who knows whether that’s true. There’s risk with every signing, and it is fair to wonder whether Yamada’s big leg kick will play over here. My guess is some team will bet millions on his power-speed combination.

* * *

The Yankees have shown they will get involved in the Japanese market if there’s a player they really like, though they’re going to do their homework first. They won’t rush into anything like they did with Kei Igawa again. Otani is clearly the best Japan has to offer for a few years. Others like Fujinami and Norimoto are intriguing, though they face obstacles coming over (hard cap for Fujinami, contract extension for Norimoto).

Yamada could end up being a very big deal next offseason, assuming the Swallows agree to post him for MLB teams, which is far from a given. Middle infielders in their mid-20s with power and speed are always in demand. Even with Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro up the middle, plus a ton of shortstop prospects in the system, the Yankees may get involved should Yamada be posted. Third base is a question long-term and Yamada could help solve that (Yamada at second, Castro to third?).

Mailbag: Gray, McCann, Bargains, Quintana, Ellsbury

No, it’s not Friday. It’s still only Thursday. Sorry if I got your hopes up. I’m posting the mailbag a day early because it’s a holiday weekend and I won’t be around much starting later this afternoon. So, the mailbag goes up a day early. I have seven questions this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send questions.

Gray. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Gray. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Chris asks: What would it take to trade for Sonny Gray? Coming off a bad year with injuries maybe his stock is a little low even though with 3 controllable years left.

My guess is the Athletics will want exactly what the White Sox got for Chris Sale. Why not ask for that? Sale is better than Gray, but they’re both excellent when healthy and under control another three years. You’re never going to get Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano if you don’t ask. Start by asking for a Sale package and negotiate down from there. One tippy top prospect and two or three strong secondary pieces feels like the minimum to me. Why trade Gray for something less? Then again, the A’s have made some terrible trades, so who knows.

I’m all in on Gray — he was the centerpiece of my silly offseason plan — and would be pretty thrilled if the Yankees acquired him, assuming he’s healthy. He missed time with trap and forearm problems in 2016. Gray’s not a conventional ace with huge strikeout numbers and a low FIP. He’s Hiroki Kuroda. A dude who knows how to pitch and is fearless on the mound. You could do a heck of a lot worse than handing the ball to Sonny Gray for a big game.

Ryan asks: When the Yankees agreed to eat $16.5 MM of McCann’s contact, could they have offered to pay his salary this year instead of over 5.5 for 2 years, and get any McCann money off the books early? Or would it all count the same for the luxury tax like A-Rod‘s front loaded contract?

When a player is traded and his former team retains salary, that salary is applied to the luxury tax payroll in terms of actual dollars, not average annual value. The Yankees made it easy with McCann. They’re paying him $5.5M next year and another $5.5M the year after. But, if they paid him all $11M in 2017 and $0 in 2018, he’d count $11M against the luxury tax in 2017 and nothing in 2018. At least that’s how the just expired Collective Bargaining Agreement worked. Not sure if the new one just changed things.

Remember though, there are two parties in this transaction. The Astros might not have wanted to be on the hook for McCann’s entire salary in 2018, which is understandable because they’re going to have some big arbitration cases to deal with (George Springer and Dallas Keuchel, most notably). The Yankees might not want to pay the full $11M in 2017 either. Yeah, it’d help them get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, but it may not have been the best big picture financial move.

Richard asks: Do you feel the Yankees will have a significant improvement in offense this year? I do, with the addition of Sanchez, Holliday, and Bird. And, I have a funny feeling that Hicks will be much better this year.

I do, actually. Mostly because I have a hard time believing Greg Bird (and Tyler Austin?) and Matt Holliday will be as bad as Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were this past season. Is it possible? Of course. But Teixeira and A-Rod gave the team 681 combined plate appearances of .203/.276/.358 (~68 OPS+) in 2016. Yuck. Getting even league average production from Bird and Holliday would be a big step up.

Simply put, the Yankees aren’t banking on older players as much as they were a year ago. Players over 35 have a ton of downside no matter how talented. What Carlos Beltran did this past season was an extreme outlier. It was a top 20 season all-time among 39-year-olds. The Yankees will have much more youth in the lineup next year, and with youth comes upside. Are they guaranteed to reach that upside? Of course not. But when the veterans were mostly bad in 2016, I can’t help but be optimistic about the kids in 2017.

Matt asks (short version): There are some really good values still on the free agent market, do you think the Yankees still might make a few moves to bolster the roster? Brett Anderson, Doug Fister, Jason Hammel, and CJ Wilson come to mind as buy-low candidates for the rotation. Greg Holland, Sergio Romo, Joe Smith, and Boone Logan could really deepen the bullpen as well.

The Yankees say they need to move money before making any more moves, though I have a hard time thinking Hal Steinbrenner would squash a low cost one-year deal if something worthwhile came along. I do like the idea of Anderson on an incentive-laden one-year contract, though aside from him, I’m not all that excited by any free agent starters. Fister and Hammel are okay and will probably end up getting more than I’d feel comfortable paying.

I can’t imagine Holland will come to the Yankees at this point. He’s going to go to a team where he’ll have a chance to close and soon. At best, he’d be the No. 3 closer option in New York. Other free agents who stand out as potential low cost, late offseason pickups include Jorge De La Rosa, Jon Niese, Joe Blanton, and Yusmeiro Petit. Blanton was really good with the Dodgers this past season and he might end up with a nice contract. The Yankees have been connected to De La Rosa for years, and I feel like they’ll swoop in to sign him super cheap in February.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Ryan asks (short version): How about a three-team trade that sends Masahiro Tanaka to Team X, prospects from Team X to the White Sox, and Jose Quintana to the Yankees?

Interesting! Team X would have to be a contending team, so maybe the Astros or Nationals? Also, I don’t think the trade would be that neat. The Yankees would have to send a prospect(s) to the White Sox as well to even things out because Quintana has more trade value than Tanaka. The differences in their contracts and injury history are too great to ignore. My trade proposal sucks, but:

  • To Yankees: Jose Quintana
  • To Astros: Masahiro Tanaka
  • To White Sox: Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker, Jorge Mateo

Obvious question: why wouldn’t the Astros just kick in another prospect to get Quintana instead of Tanaka? That’s the big obstacle here. A potential three-team trade might not get off the ground because the third team may decide to keep Quintana for themselves.

As far as the Yankees go, trading Tanaka would really suck, but if the team is convinced he’s going to opt-out next winter and they’re not planning to re-sign him, they have to trade him. Letting him go for a dinky draft pick would be a mistake. Quintana is every bit as good as Tanaka if not better, and he’s signed long-term. Ideally the Yankees would have Tanaka and Quintana, but, if it has to be one or the other, I’d prefer Quintana.

Matthew asks: So the Orioles are going to sign Colby Rasmus for 1 year and he’s going to lead the league in HRs, right?? Any interest from the Yankees perspective? I’ve long been enamored with his swing in Yankee Stadium.

Rasmus to the Orioles makes a lot of sense, actually. They need corner outfield help and he’d fit well in that ballpark. The Yankees don’t have much use for him though. They have a lot of young outfielders and signing Rasmus creates even more of a logjam. The Yankees are trying to trade Brett Gardner to clear space for the kids. Imagine signing Rasmus to block them further? I can’t see it.

Also, holy crap, I didn’t realize Rasmus was so bad in 2016. He hit .206/.286/.355 (75 wRC+) with 15 homers in 407 plate appearances. Eek.

Albert asks: Say the Yankees ate 32 Million dollars from Ellsbury’s contract, 8 million a year for 4 years. Wouldn’t they be able to get a solid prospect? And even if they didn’t get much of a return, wouldn’t paying the 8 million a year for the next 4 years help get them under the Luxury Tax threshold since they will be saving about 14 Million a year? Love the site, keep up the good work!

Including the $5M buyout of his $21M club option for 2021, there are four years and $89.5M left on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract. Eating $32M turns it into a four-year deal worth $57.5M. Would Ellsbury get that as a free agent this offseason? I don’t think so, but I suppose it’s possible in a world where Ian Desmond got five years and $70M. I feel like the Yankees would have to turn Ellsbury into a $13M a year player to drum up trade interest, which means eating nearly $10M a year.

Eating all that money would stink, but you know what? It’s probably worth it. Ellsbury’s contract is a sunk cost. The Yankees have to pay it anyway. Eating $10M a year still sheds $13M a season, which is roughly what the Yankees would save by trading away Gardner. Let’s do the math quick. Here’s the trade Gardner/keep Ellsbury scenario:

2017 2018 2019 2020
Gardner $0 $0 $0 $0
Ellsbury $21.85M $21.85M $21.85M $21.85M
Total $21.85M $21.85M $21.85M $21.85M

Trading Gardner and eating zero money is a dubious assumption, but I suppose it is possible. Let’s stick with that to make the math easy. Trading Gardner would clear an outfield spot for a young player and remove his $11.72M luxury tax hit. Now here’s the keep Gardner/eat $10M a year to trade Ellsbury scenario:

2017 2018 2019 2020
Gardner $11.72M $11.72M $0 $0
Ellsbury $10M $10M $10M $10M
Total $22.72M $22.72M $10M $10M

That’s better! The Yankees save more money long-term for a slight luxury tax payroll bump up front, and they’d also get to keep the homegrown Yankee. Now, the hard part: finding a team willing to take on Ellsbury at $13M a year for the next four years. I had a hard time coming up with potential landing spots for Gardner, who has two fewer years on his contract and has been the better player the last two or three years. What’s the market for Ellsbury going to look like? Nonexistent, basically.

Mailbag: Tanaka, Betances, Otani, A-Rod, Gardner, Top Ten

I’ve only got nine questions in the mailbag this week, mostly because I didn’t have time to answer any others. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions.

Who you gonna call? (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Who you gonna call? Ta-naka! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Many asked: If the Yankees can’t extend Masahiro Tanaka, why not trade him instead?

It seems my Tanaka extension post had a lot of folks thinking the same thing. I’m going to start with this: I think the chances of the Yankees actually trading Tanaka this offseason are zero. They’re not going to commit $86M to a closer only to turn around and trade their ace a few weeks later, even if it would be the smart thing to do long-term. Not happening.

Trading Tanaka at the 2017 trade deadline is a different story. For that to happen, two conditions must be met:

  1. The Yankees are out of the race and willing to sell again.
  2. The Yankees are convinced Tanaka will use his opt-out clause.

If that happens, then yes, the Yankees should absolutely trade him at the deadline. Perhaps they could swing a trade/re-sign a la Aroldis Chapman. Trade Tanaka for prospects at the deadline, then re-sign him a free agent. Boom! It does take two to tango, of course. Maybe it would work. Who knows?

Anyway, keep in mind the free agent compensation rules have changed. Since the Yankees are going to pay luxury tax in 2017, they’d get a compensation draft pick after the fourth round for Tanaka should he reject the qualifying offer and leave as a free agent. You can’t let this guy walk for a pick that late, especially if you’re out of the race at midseason. It would be negligent.

Should the Yankees trade Tanaka this offseason? Yeah, I think you could argue they should. The opt-out is looming and his value might never be higher than it is right now. Also, the free agent class stinks. Tanaka and Jose Quintana would be by far the available pitchers on the trade market, and there are no shortage of teams that need aces, so the Yankees should be able to get a nice haul even with the opt-out.

My guess is the Yankees start the 2017 season with Tanaka, see where they sit come July, then make a decision about his future. My preference would be an extension along the lines of the one I laid out earlier this week, but if the Yankees are only fringe contenders and they receive indications a contract that size isn’t doable, a trade is pretty much the only alternative.

Keith asks: Do you think keeping Tanaka on the team increases the Yankees’ chances of landing Otani? Is this potentially a reason not to trade Tanaka given that the Yankees won’t have a financial advantage over many teams in the league as they usually would?

It’s possible, sure. Thing is, we have no idea what kind of relationship Tanaka and Shohei Otani have. Yeah, they’ve played catch this offseason, but they might only be workout buddies. Based on everything we heard in 2014, Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda weren’t all that close. Just because two guys come from Japan doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to be best buds, you know?

I doubt having Tanaka on the roster would hurt the Yankees’ chances of signing Otani. The Yankees have to proceed with these two guys independent of each other though. The potential to woo Otani can’t be a factor in the decision to re-sign Tanaka next offseason, should he opt out. There are too many other more important factors in play. Ultimately, Otani is going to make the best decision for him and his family, and maybe that leads him to the Yankees.

Fernando asks: Rule 5 eligibility rules are confusing. Why is a guy like Ty Hensley taken in the Triple A Phase when a younger player like Luis Torrens is available in the Major League Phase?

The Rule 5 Draft is confusing. The most straightforward part is the eligibility rules. Players who signed their first pro contract at 18 or younger at least five years ago, and players who signed their first pro contract at 19 or older at least four years ago are Rule 5 Draft eligible each year. It’s possible to be eligible for the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft and not the Triple-A phase, but not vice versa.

There are multiple rosters in the offseason. In addition to the 40-man roster, there’s also the Triple-A reserve roster, which is 38 players deep. Players on the 40-man roster are protected from the Rule 5 Draft, period. Players on the Triple-A reserve roster are eligible for the Major League phase of Rule 5 Draft but not the Triple-A phase. There used to be a Double-A phase as well, but MLB got rid of that this year. Players on the 37-man Double-A reserve roster were eligible for the MLB and Triple-A phases of the Rule 5 Draft, but not the Double-A phase. Got that?

So, in the nutshell, the best players are on the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 Draft. The next tier of players are then put on the Triple-A reserve roster to be protected from the Triple-A phase. Hensley was eligible for the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year, but wasn’t selected. He was also left off the Triple-A reserve roster in favor of healthy players, and that’s when the Rays grabbed him. There are no roster rules to satisfy with the Triple-A phase. Hensley is Tampa’s to keep now.

The Yankees have a very deep farm system, so when time came to put together their 38-player Triple-A reserve roster, Hensley was left out. It was a no-brainer. I’m not sure he would have made the Double-A reserve roster either. The kid has thrown a little more than 40 innings in five years and is currently rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery. His status as a former first rounder is moot at this point. The Yankees had better and healthier players to protect, so Hensley was left exposed.

Former A's catcher Josh Donaldson. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Former A’s catcher Josh Donaldson. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Peter asks: Thinking about Yankees’ take from the Chapman and Miller trades, how have the A’s pieces from the Donaldson trade worked out?  Are there any legit parallels to draw regarding the assumption of the trade pieces both teams got in return for the star players?

These trades aren’t comparable at all. The only similarity is that each one involved a star being traded for four players. The Yankees were universally praised for their trades, in which they gave up a half-year of a great reliever (Chapman) and two and a half years of a great reliever (Andrew Miller). The Athletics were widely panned at the time of the Josh Donaldson trade. They traded four years of him for this:

  • Three years of Brett Lawrie: Hit .260/.299/.407 (97 wRC+) with +0.7 fWAR and +1.9 bWAR in his lone season with the A’s before being traded to the White Sox for two mid-range prospects.
  • Six years of Kendall Graveman: Has a 4.08 ERA (4.43 FIP) with +2.0 fWAR and +4.6 bWAR in two seasons with the Athletics.
  • Six years of Sean Nolin: Had a 5.28 ERA (5.13 FIP) in six starts and 29 innings with the A’s in 2015. Got hurt and hasn’t pitched since. The Brewers claimed him off waivers earlier this year.
  • Six years of Franklin Barreto: Oakland’s top prospect and currently the 43rd best prospect in baseball, per MLB.com.

The A’s need Barreto to work out for this trade to have a chance to be something less than a total disaster. Graveman is serviceable, and that’s about it. Until Barreto arrives, Graveman is all Oakland has to show for the Donaldson trade. And again, he was star with four years of control remaining. Four!

The Yankees might get absolutely nothing for Chapman and Miller. All the prospects could flame out. It’s entirely possible, in which case the franchise would be set back years. But at least the Yankees went for the best talent available. Had the A’s opened the bidding for Donaldson to all teams, they’d have beaten that offer. Instead, they went quantity over quality, and focused on a new third baseman and two young and cheap arms. Blah.

Joe asks: With the current market for back end bullpen arms going crazy wouldn’t it make sense to trade Betances now for some very valuable rebuilding pieces? By the time the yankees are really ready to compete again Betances will be a free agent and possibly more expensive than chapman is now.

I was open to trading Dellin Betances even before the Yankees signed Chapman. The bullpen market is insane right now. Why wouldn’t you make Betances available? It doesn’t cost anything to listen. I think the Yankees are going to do exactly what they did last year. Go into the season with what they feel is a very strong bullpen, see what happens through the first 100 or so games, then sell if necessary. Chapman has a no-trade clause, but Betances and Tyler Clippard don’t. They could be hot commodities come the deadline, especially Dellin.

Chase asks: Can you explain how arod counts towards the luxury tax, but Allen Craig from Boston does not since he was out-righted?

Craig (and Rusney Castillo, for that matter) are still in the Red Sox organization but not on the 40-man roster. They were outrighted off the 40-man at some point in the last few months. Only players on the 40-man count against the luxury tax, ditto former 40-man players who have been released from their contracts, like Alex Rodriguez.

The Yankees could have tried to outright A-Rod off the 40-man roster to rid themselves of his luxury tax hit, but there are two problems with that. One, he has enough service time to refuse the assignment (Craig and Castillo didn’t) and there was no way he’d agree to spend the next year and a half in the minors. And two, had A-Rod agreed to the outright before being released, thus removing his tax hit, I’m certain MLB would have considered that luxury tax circumvention and put an end to it.

Lou asks: Is there a risk in keeping Gardner in 2018 if Judge and Frazier are full time contributors in RF and LF and Hicks is the 4th OFer. 13 million is a lot for a 5th outfielder. With the constant need to hold on to 40 man ready prospects isn’t retaining Gardner closer and closer to contract expiration very risky business?

Not really. The Yankees had no problem reducing Brian McCann‘s and Mark Teixeira‘s (and Alex Rodriguez’s) playing time this past season when it came time to put young guys in the lineup. I don’t think they’d hesitate to do the same with Brett Gardner, regardless of his salary. Same with Chase Headley for that matter. The 2018 season is the last guaranteed year on Gardner’s (and Headley’s) contract, so it’s not like they’d be sitting a dude signed long-term. I’d worry more about this if the Yankees didn’t show a willingness to sit well-paid veterans in favor of younger players this summer.

Vincenzo asks: With the Yankees still looking for middle relief help, why didn’t the Yankees target Koji Uehara? 

The Yankees did check in with Uehara earlier this offseason. Considering the guy will soon turn 42 and just signed with the defending World Series champs — and a team that looks poised to contend again in 2017 — I’m going to venture a guess that signing with a winning team was a top priority for Uehara this offseason. The Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement and even the most optimistic of folks will admit they’re not no-doubt contenders right now. Uehara has had trouble staying healthy and he’s become really homer prone the last few years. A one-year deal would have been more than fine, but I’m not going to lose sleep over this one.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Anthony asks: Who do you think the top 10 players in the game right now? Thanks.

This is always a fun question and worth revisiting every offseason. I’m going to answer this two ways. First, here are my top ten players for the 2017 season only:

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Kris Bryant
  3. Manny Machado
  4. Nolan Arenado
  5. Josh Donaldson
  6. Bryce Harper
  7. Clayton Kershaw
  8. Francisco Lindor
  9. Corey Seager
  10. Jose Altuve

The next five would come from a group that includes Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Miguel Cabrera, Madison Bumgarner, and Corey Kluber.

Trout is on a level all by himself. You could stick the next six names in a hat and pick them out in any order, and it would defensible, I think. Those are my ten best players for the 2017 season. Now here are my ten best players for 2017-21. These are the ten guys I’d want for the next five years:

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Bryce Harper
  3. Francisco Lindor
  4. Kris Bryant
  5. Nolan Arenado
  6. Corey Seager
  7. Manny Machado
  8. Mookie Betts
  9. Christian Yelich
  10. Carlos Correa

I have a hard time putting a pitcher in my top ten for the next five years because they’re so damn fragile. Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard are my top two pitchers for the next five years. Bumgarner would probably be third. I’m not betting on any of them staying healthy though.

As for the Yankees, Gary Sanchez would be my top catcher for the next five seasons, rather easily too. Buster Posey is about to turn 30, and give me Sanchez from ages 24-28 over Posey from ages 30-34. Sanchez would probably crack my top 25 players for 2017-21 list. Maybe top 20. Or am I being too much of a raging homer here?

Mailbag: Choo, Duffy, Ventura, Solarte, Espinosa, Betances

Only eleven questions in the mailbag this week. I had a few lined up that were rendered moot by the Aroldis Chapman signing. What about getting this guy instead of Chapman? That sort of thing. So blame the Yankees and Chapman for the relatively short mailbag. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send your questions throughout the week.

Choo. (Elsa/Getty)
Choo. (Elsa/Getty)

Jim asks: Ellsbury for Shin-soo Choo?

You know, I don’t think this is completely impossible. Jacoby Ellsbury (four years, $89.6M) and Shin-Soo Choo (four years, $82M) have basically the same about of years and dollars left on their contracts, so it would be a wash financially. (Or at least the money is close enough that working it out shouldn’t be difficult.) The teams would be swapping players who provide different things and fill different needs. An actual baseball trade. How about that?

The Rangers were said to be looking for both a left fielder and center fielder this offseason, and re-signing Carlos Gomez addresses one of those spots. Gomez played left field in deference to Ian Desmond late last season (which was completely backwards, but I digress), after being released by the Astros and signing with Texas. The Rangers could play Gomez in left, Ellsbury in center, and rookie Nomar Mazara in right. See? Perfect.

The Yankees, on the other hand, would be replacing one of their low power lefty hitting leadoff types with a better offensive player. Choo battled injuries all season and still managed a .242/.357/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line. Ellsbury hasn’t had an OBP that good since 2011 or a wRC+ that good since 2014. Choo is a year removed from hitting .276/.375/.463 (129 wRC+) with 22 homers, remember.

It boils down to preference. Would the Yankees rather have the small bat/big glove player, or the big bat/small glove player? Choo is going to be a full-time DH before long and the Yankees do have an opening there going forward. No-trade clauses and things like that will complicate this, but if the Rangers are game, I think this would be worthwhile for the Yankees. They have center field alternatives and need the lefty offensive might.

Matt asks: You’ve recently said that you’d like to see Monument Park more prominently displayed at The Stadium and I 1000% agree. It should be the crown jewel of the ballpark. If they put you in charge of the project, how would you show off Monument Park?

I don’t see a great solution given the ballpark. I think the best possible solution would be creating a double decker bullpen — Citizens Bank Park, Progressive Field, and Camden Yards all have them — on one side of the restaurant in center field, with Monument Park in the other side where the other bullpen currently sits. The Yankees would have to rip out seats to make that happen, but they’re ripping out 2,000 seats this offseason anyway, so it doesn’t seem like that would be a deal-breaker. They’d be left with Monument Park on the left field side of the restaurant, a la the old Stadium, and the double decker bullpen on the right field side. (Road team gets the top bullpen so fans can heckle them, of course.) If anyone has a better solution, I’m all ears.

Ricky asks: I’ve read repeatedly that the Yankees need to sign a veteran catcher to mentor Gary Sanchez. They already have Joe Girardi, who, with Joe Torre mentored Jorge Posada, and Tony Pena, one of the top defensive catchers of his time, sitting on the bench. What am I missing? Aren’t these two more than capable of mentoring a young catcher?

Sure. I don’t think a veteran backup is necessary and I’m pretty sure I’ve never written that on RAB. I know I’ve said the Yankees might look into one, but it’s not necessary. Girardi and especially Pena do a ton of work with the catchers — Pena is always on the field with them before the game doing drills (blocking balls in the dirt, etc.) — and I’m not sure you could ask for a better catching coach tandem. Adding a veteran backstop would be about a) upgrading over Austin Romine, and b) having someone you’re comfortable running out there three or four days in a row should Sanchez need a little break at some point.

Duffman. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Duffman. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Ben asks: With the Royals looking to slash payroll, how about trading for Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura?

Hard pass on Ventura. For starters, he isn’t all that good and he’s actually getting worse. He’s gradually gone from a 3.20 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 2014 to a 4.45 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 2016. Also, Ventura is kinda crazy. He’s incited several benches clearing brawls over the years because he gets angry when things don’t go his way, so he starts throwing at people. If you pitch inside and accidentally hit dudes, fine. It happens. When you can’t handle failure and start taking it out on the other team, that’s bad. No thanks.

As for Duffy, he’s really good and the only issue is that he’ll be a free agent next offseason. He’s not the young arm with long-term control he Yankees are a) seeking, and b) need. Duffy started this past season in the bullpen before moving to the rotation, where he had a 3.56 ERA (3.99 FIP) with a 25.4% strikeout rate in 161.2 innings. His injury history is pretty scary, but generally speaking, I think that’s the real Duffy. A mid-3.00s ERA guy with a ton of strikeouts. I’m not quite sure what it’ll cost to acquire Duffy, though I’m sure it’ll be a lot. Holding off and signing him as a free agent next offseason is probably the smarter move right now.

John asks: Any interest in Scott Feldman as maybe a poor mans Rich Hill? Threw 180 pretty good innings in both 2013-2014. Has maybe fourth starter potential, innings eater, swing man if at the right price.?

I dunno, 2013-14 was a very long time ago. This past season Feldman had a 3.97 ERA (4.24 FIP) in 77 innings with the Astros and Blue Jays, almost all in relief, and I’m sure he’d perform worse as a full-time starter in Yankee Stadium. He might not be the worst free agent swingman option in the world, someone who could be your long man and also provide some spot starts whenever the kids get overwhelmed. Would he take, say, one year and $2M? The Yankees would have a hard time justifying spending more on such a player.

Michael asks (short version): To what extent does the Yankees FO prioritize a player’s marketability in their decision-making process? Chris Sale and Jose Quintana may deliver essentially similar value on the field, but Sale is one of the most exciting players in the game today, a legitimate superstar, whereas Quintana is merely quietly, reliably efficient (a perception not helped by pitching in Sale’s shadow).

This is impossible to answer but I have zero doubt the Yankees — and every other team in the league, for that matter — consider a player’s marketability and marquee value when acquiring him. That’s one of the reasons the Yankees gave Ichiro Suzuki two years back in the day. (Two years!) They were able to market the hell out of him. I saw as many ICHIRO 31 shirts around the ballpark from 2013-14 as I did JETER 2 and RODRIGUEZ 13. As good as Quintana is, he’s kinda boring. Sale is more recognizable and more of a star. He’ll put more butts in the seats, and that’s something teams consider. How much? It’s impossible to know exactly, but it is undoubtedly a consideration.

Dan asks: Based on everything I’ve read about the team’s leadership core, Gardner seems to be the only position player left (you alluded to this on 11/18 in a post). Should that be a reason against trading him? How important are veteran mentors and good veteran clubhouse presences for young teams? Would it be stupid to not have any veterans known to be good mentors/leaders?

Based on everything we’ve heard the last few years, CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner are the remaining members of the team’s recent leadership core. Others like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran are all done. Matt Holliday has long had a reputation for being a great clubhouse guy and I’m sure he’ll help fill some of the void. The Yankees are going to be a young team going forward, and they’ll need at least a few veterans to help show those kids the way.

That said, I don’t think leadership is something that stops a team from making moves. The Yankees have traded away McCann and Beltran (and Andrew Miller) and released A-Rod, so it’s obviously not a big concern. The Dodgers traded away A.J. Ellis, Clayton Kershaw’s good friend and personal catcher, in August. Leadership seems like one of those things teams want and need to have to some degree, but won’t go out of their way to acquire it in most cases. Talent comes first, or in the case of Gardner, shedding salary and clearing space for a younger player takes precedence over any clubhouse skills.

(Kent Horner/Getty)
(Kent Horner/Getty)

Joey asks: Any chance of the Solarte party returning to the Bronx?

The Padres have reportedly put Yangervis Solarte (and the rest of their roster) on the trade block, and a few teams have checked in. The Dodgers and Angels, most notably. The Yankees don’t have an obvious opening for him at this point. They’d have to trade Chase Headley — or Starlin Castro, I suppose, but that won’t happen — because trading for Solarte to be a bench player is pointless. You’re going to pay starting player prices for a bench guy. Nope.

The Yankees don’t have a long-term third baseman at the moment and Solarte would, if nothing else, buy them some more time to find one since he’s under control one more year than Headley. Salary dumping Headley in favor of Solarte would also save cash, which is a big deal given the luxury tax situation. So, to answer the question, is there any chance of a reunion? I’ll say yes, but it’s unlikely. Other clubs out there have a greater need for a second or third baseman, and will probably be more desperate. Solarte doesn’t change the Yankees’ long-term outlook much, if at all.

Adam asks: Is it worth pursuing Danny Espinosa of the Nationals to improve upon Torreyes and provide insurance for Didi and Castro?  If so, What might it take to get a deal done? 

Nah. He’s projected to make $5.3M through arbitration next year and that’s way, way too much for a utility infielder, especially since Espinosa was one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball in 2016. A few years ago I was on board with Espinosa, when he seemed to fall out of favor with the Nationals and the Yankees had no obvious long-term replacement for Robinson Cano or Derek Jeter, but those days are long gone. Ronald Torreyes is a perfectly fine utility infielder who costs nothing. Finding an upgrade there is very low on the offseason priority list.

Mark asks: Just a hypothetical, Reds select Torrens in Rule 5. Trade him to Padres. If he doesn’t stick, does he get offered back to the Reds or Yankees? Answer is probably obvious, but I’m curious. Y’all are AWESOME!

The Yankees. They’re still his original team. The Rule 5 Draft rules stick to Luis Torrens no matter how many times he’s traded or claimed on waivers next season.

I’m pretty confident Torrens will be offered back in Spring Training. Making the jump from Low-A to MLB as a 20-year-old catcher is basically impossible. The only real ramification for the Yankees is now they absolutely have to add Torrens to the 40-man roster next offseason. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible again, and if someone takes him, he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees. Can’t allow that to happen. The Yankees might have been able to get away with leaving him protected another year had he not been selected this year, but no luck.

Gene asks: What kind of return could Betances bring from the Dodgers ?

I don’t think the Dodgers want to spend big on a closer at all. They seem to be making just enough of an effort to retain Kenley Jansen so they can say “we tried” when he signs elsewhere. I imagine Andrew Friedman doesn’t want to trade a boatload of prospects for a reliever either, but who knows. He’ll surprise me one of these days.

Dellin Betances‘ trade value is basically the same as Miller’s was this summer. It’s three years of Dellin vs. two and a half of Miller, but the bottom line is you’re getting each guy for three postseason runs. Both are excellent, and Betances won’t make as much as Miller either because he’s still in his team control years. The Miller trade is my template: two top prospects and two others. Whether the Dodgers are willing to pay that is another matter. They seem content to go with the Louis Colemans and Luis Avilans of the world.

Mailbag: Carter, Granderson, Pineda, Arenado, Doolittle

The mailbag returns from the Thanksgiving break with eleven questions. I hadn’t checked the inbox in so long that there was a question asking whether the Nationals could have interest in Brian McCann. True story. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions.

Carter. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Carter. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

Many asked: What about Chris Carter?

The Brewers are planning to non-tender Carter later today unless they can trade him before the deadline, which seems unlikely. The 29-year-old right-handed hitter put up a .222/.321/.499 (122 wRC+) batting line this past season, during which he led the NL in home runs (41) and strikeouts (206). That’s Chris Carter. Dude is going to hit some bombs, draw walks (11.8%), and swing and miss a ton.

Milwaukee is opting to non-tender Carter rather than pay him a projected $8.1M salary through arbitration in 2017. Teams are unwilling to pay big for one-dimensional sluggers nowadays. That’s why Carter is getting non-tendered for the second straight offseason, why Mark Trumbo was traded for peanuts last year, and why Pedro Alvarez had to wait forever for a new contract last winter. Homers are cool, but you better be able to do other things too.

The Yankees have an opening at DH right now — I mean, they could use another young player there, but it seems unlikely right now — and Carter could certainly fill that role. He’d give the team some much needed power too. Carlos Beltran led the Yankees with 22 homers last season. Yikes. The last time the team leader had that few home runs was the strike-shortened 1995 season, when Paul O’Neill hit 22.

Carter can be had a cheap one-year contract — he made $2.5M this year and I don’t think he’ll get much of a raise even after leading the NL in dingers — so he fits what the Yankees need in that sense. I am hesitant because a) he can’t play defense, and b) he strikes out so much. The Yankees are probably going to have to put up with some deep Aaron Judge slumps next year. How many more strikeouts do you want in the lineup?

Right now, I’d have Carter third on the DH wish list at best. Beltran and Matt Holliday are my top two preferences. Carter is ahead of Mike Napoli and Brandon Moss for me though. All three guys will end up giving you the same production, and Carter will come the cheapest. He’s not a must sign for me at all. He’s a backup plan at DH.

Many asked: What about Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson?

Yes on Granderson, meh on Bruce. The Grandyman is forever cool with me. He’d fill that DH void and also provide extra depth in the outfield. Also, the Yankees are really short on left-handed power right now, and Granderson would help in that department for sure. There’s only one year left on his contract at $15M, and while that’s pricey, it’s not a deal-breaker. Among trade targets, Granderson is at the top of my DH list.

As for Bruce, he’d be an okay option at DH, I suppose. His numbers have really taken a nosedive the last few years for whatever reason. He would add left-handed pop and could also play the outfield (and even some first base), and heck, he’s six years younger than Granderson. And cheaper too (one year at $13M). In reality, it’s basically a toss up between the two. They’re similar. I prefer Granderson because a) he’ll get on base more, b) he’s been healthier the last few seasons, and c) he’s been here before and there will be no adjustment period, presumably. Just my preference.

Granderson. (Elsa/Getty)
Granderson. (Elsa/Getty)

Eric asks: Is there any chance that the Rockies, White Sox, Pirates, Marlins, Royals, or Astros sign any of the free agents who rejected qualifying offers, thus moving the Yankees up in the draft order? Assuming this isn’t affected by a new CBA.

It won’t be affected by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We know that now. The Astros are said to be in the mix for Edwin Encarnacion, and even if they don’t sign him, they could make a run at another qualified free agent like Jose Bautista or Ian Desmond to add offense. I wouldn’t call it 50/50. Maybe it’s more like 30/70 the Astros give up their first round pick to sign a free agent? I can’t see any of the other teams doing it though. They’re more likely to tear things down than make a real go-for-it move. The Yankees hold the 17th overall pick in the 2017 draft right now, and with any luck, the ‘Stros will give up their pick and New York will slide up to 16th. (Assuming the Yankees don’t give up their first round to sign a free agent.)

Frank asks (short version): With the free agent reliever market about to go insane, wouldn’t a Michael Pineda move to the bullpen be something to think about?

I think it’s worth considering at this point. Pineda’s about to enter his sixth year in the organization and he’s only thrown two full seasons because of various injuries. Both seasons were league average at best. Pineda has his pluses (misses bats) and minuses (far too hittable), and over a full season, the minuses seem to outweigh the pluses. I think he’d be pretty excellent in relief, to be honest. Airing out the cutter/slider combo for an inning at a time could be devastating.

There are two potential issues. One, Pineda would probably resist such a move in his contract year. His earning potential as a starter, even a league average one, would be pretty big. If he puts together a few strong months and finishes with, say, a 3.50 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 180 innings, he could be looking at a very nice contract. And two, the Yankees probably need him as a starter right now. Putting Pineda in the bullpen would almost certainly require adding a starter. I couldn’t imagine the Yankees going with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and three kids next year.

Steven asks: I’m not that interested in what we’d get back in return, I’m sure there’s some 19 yr old I never heard of who can throw 90+, but what teams could legit benefit/be interested in obtaining Brett Gardner?

Three teams immediately jumped to mind: the Nationals, Giants, and Cardinals. Washington needs a center fielder and Gardner would fill that role. (They don’t necessarily need a leadoff hitter anymore thanks to Trea Turner.) They’ve reportedly been talking to the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen, so they’re thinking big. The Giants need a left fielder but not a leadoff hitter because they have Denard Span. In that huge ballpark, they need a left fielder who can go get the ball, and Gardner can do that.

The Cardinals might be the best fit because they need both a center fielder and leadoff hitter. They’re moving Matt Carpenter down in the lineup to help replace Holliday, and they need someone atop the lineup who can get on base. St. Louis also doesn’t have a true center fielder on the roster. They’ve been playing Randal Grichuk out there and that can’t last. Gardner helps them offensively and defensively. The Indians are another possible suitor, I’d say. Depends on Michael Brantley’s shoulder as much as than anything.

Mike asks: The thought of having a prospect package large enough for Trout and the news the Yankees have given thought to trading Headley got me thinking, what about Nolan Arenado from the Rockies? What would a potential package look like and would the Rockies do it?

I don’t think they would trade him. The Rockies do have a history of locking up their star players. They signed both Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, two homegrown megastars, to massive contract back in the day. Carlos Gonzalez got a big extension too. Nolan Arenado is next in line for a Helton/Tulowitzki deal. He is so insanely good and I feel like people don’t realize it because he’s stuck on a crappy team and his numbers get discounted due to Coors Field.

If the Rockies did make Arenado available, oh yes, go get him. He’s a 25-year-old cornerstone player who does everything but steal bases. Will he hit .294/.362/.570 at sea level like did at altitude last year? No, but if you believe in the park factors, he’s still 25% better than average offensively and is just now entering his prime years. I think Arenado still has another level in him, and considering he’s already a +5 WAR player, there might be an MVP in his near future. (His teammates might cost him that MVP though.)

I can’t really answer what it would take to get a player like this, a bonafide star three years away from free agency. This is like the Paul Goldschmidt question three weeks ago. Guys like this almost never get traded. The Yankees would have to put Gleyber Torres on the table — if you’re the Rockies, why would you trade Arenado without getting Torres? — plus a bunch more. Good prospects, too. Not Torres and crap. And it’d be worth it. Arenado’s a top five player in my opinion.

Rich asks: Sean Doolittle. What do you think as a another LH option for the bullpen?

Doolittle is exactly the kind of reliever I don’t want the Yankees to acquire. He’s had some shoulder problems the last few years and he throws basically nothing but fastballs. That’s usually a bad combination. Doolittle had a fine 2016 season, pitching to a 3.23 ERA (3.45 FIP) with 29.0% strikeouts in 39 innings, though I feel like it’s all downhill from here. His contract is not prohibitive at all ($19.5M from 2017-20 if the club options are picked up) but the prospect cost might be given the state of the bullpen trade market. When there are better relievers available in free agency for nothing but money, go for them, not Doolittle.

Kenneth asks: What’s your thoughts on potentially a trade for Tony Watson. I live in Pittsburgh and he along with Cutch and J-Hey have been in trade rumors. Wondering if you think he could be an interesting guy to add to the back of the pen.

The Doolittle logic applies to Watson — just sign one of the top relievers and keep the prospects. Watson is one year away from free agency and for some reason his ground ball (43.8%) and home run (1.33 HR/9) rates really took a step back in 2016. I mean, everyone’s home run rate went up in 2016, but his was 0.52 HR/9 from 2013-15. That’s a big jump. Could just be a fluke for all I know. Watson would be worth a longer look in a non-mailbag setting if, you know, there weren’t so many good free agent relievers available.

Sam asks (short version): I get why people say you couldn’t use relievers the way Miller was used in the post-season over the course of a regular season, but what if you constructed your pitching staff to have a guy you planned on using 40-50 times, for 120 premium innings?

It’s a great idea, in theory. The player would have to a) buy into that role, and b) be someone you could extend three innings and remain effective. A lot of relievers are relievers because they couldn’t go multiple innings. If you find the right player, that’s definitely a bullpen role I’d like to see. He’d be someone you could count on to give your other relievers a rest every few nights, and when you do run into those tight games, you can use a quality reliever for more than one inning at a time. Everything in baseball is trending towards using pitchers less and less, so I’d be surprised if someone tried this nowadays, but it’d be awesome to see. It’s a great way to maximize a quality reliever and a roster spot.

Michael asks: If the Pirates are open to trading Josh Harrison (we know the Pirate-Yankee trading history), would it make sense to pursue him given his team control and club options?

Harrison is surprisingly expensive! I thought the Pirates got a better deal when they signed him long-term. They owe him $7.75M next year and $10.25M the year after before his club options kick in ($10.5M and $11.5M). That’s a decent chunk of change for a guy who hit .283/.311/.388 (87 wRC+) this year and has been a +1 WAR player for two years now.

I’m not sure how much versatility Harrison offers at this point — he’s been a full-time second baseman for two years now — and if his bat keeps going backwards, he’s suddenly an expensive platoon player. I’m not surprised the Pirates are looking to move him. Back when the Yankees had a seemingly limitless payroll, Harrison would make some sense. But with the luxury tax plan in effect, that’s a pricey roll of the dice.

Carlos asks: With the lifespan of most stadiums these days getting shorter and shorter, could you ever foresee a day when the Yankees move away from the Bronx?

No. Not out of the Bronx. I think they’re too ingrained in the city and the culture at this point. It’d be like moving the Cubs to the South Side or something. The Yankees may one day build a new ballpark elsewhere in the Bronx, but I’d be surprised if the team ever moved to Manhattan or even Brooklyn. Relocating the Bronx Bombers is not something that should happen.