Mailbag: Bailey, Teixeira, Tanaka, Guerrero, Opening Day

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag, which means it’s a small mailbag these days. Send us any questions through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. And yes, we know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but it absolutely does. I promise. We’re working on that.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Marc asks: If healthy, do you see the Yankees making Andrew Bailey the closer, allowing Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to mix-and-match the 7th and 8th?

I think it’s possible but very unlikely. Bailey will not only have to show he’s healthy, he’ll also have to show he’s effective, and that’s not always a guarantee following shoulder capsule surgery. I don’t think that’s something he can prove in a handful of Spring Training innings either. If Bailey does take over as the closer at some point, it’ll probably be a few weeks into the regular season. And the problem with that is Betances or Miller might have a firm hold on the job by then. Teams tend to not take guys out of the closer’s role if they’re dominating.

Ralph asks: If Mark Teixeira has a bounce back year, and stays healthy thru the balance of his contract, and Greg Bird takes the reins at first, could Teixeira be an “Ortiz-Like” option at DH for the Yankees, playing occasional 1st and being a mentor for Bird?

This is another “possible but unlikely” for me. Teixeira’s contract is up in two years and so is Carlos Beltran‘s, but Alex Rodriguez will still have a year left on his contract and Brian McCann will need to see more time at DH by then. Maybe Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury too. The DH logjam isn’t going to clear up anytime soon, so bringing Teixeira back in what amounts to the Garrett Jones role might not make sense. McCann might be the part-time first baseman/part-time DH/mentor by then. I just get the feeling that as soon as Teixeira’s contract is up, the Yankees are going to move on.

Chris asks: Suppose Masahiro Tanaka manages to go to his opt-out season effectively. Knowing what we do about his elbow, does he opt out?

I think he would. Tanaka will only be 28 when he opts out (he turns 29 that offseason), and if he stays healthy between now and then, he’ll be pretty damn good. A 28-year-old ace, even one with a questionable elbow, will be able to command (way) more than the three years and $66M he’d be passed up. Besides, if he stays healthy these next few years, the concerns about Tanaka’s elbow won’t be as great as they are right now. It’ll be in the back of everyone’s mind but the concern will naturally subside some if he goes the next three years without a problem.

Jordan asks: Listening to the first spring training game on MLB At-Bat, the Philly announcer said “I’m not so sure the Yankees will finish ahead of the Phillies (in the standings).” What would have to happen to the Yankees for such a season?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The projected standings at FanGraphs have the Yankees at 82 wins and the Phillies at 70 wins this year (the Phillies are projected to have three fewer wins then everyone else, actually), so somehow the Yankees would have to lose a dozen wins off the roster. Both Tanaka and Michael Pineda would have to get hurt and miss the entire season, and I think they’d also have to lose two of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Chase Headley as well. They’d have to lose four of their five best players to injury, basically. Based on ZiPS, losing Tanaka, Pineda, Ellsbury, and Headley for the year would be a loss of 12.5 wins, and we’d have to assume the will Yankees replace them with replacement level (or worse players). I think the Phillies are more likely to win fewer than 70 games than the Yankees are to win more than 82, but either way, I would be pretty surprised if the Phillies finished within even ten games of New York this year.

Ethan asks: Do you think the shift will naturally lose value in 10-15 years, as younger players will have been taught from the ground up the increased value of hitting to all fields?

No, I don’t. The shift — specifically the idea of putting defenders where the hitter is most likely to hit the ball — is here to stay. Hitting to all fields isn’t easy! The shift is similar to the curveball when it was first introduced. Did the curveball eventually lose value because hitters were taught to hit them? No! Because hitting curveballs is hard, just like hitting to all fields is hard. I am certain teams will emphasize hitting to all fields going forward — this really starts at the high school and college level, but MLB clubs have no control over that — but that doesn’t mean an army of all-fields hitters will arrive in MLB in 10-15 years. There’s only so much “gym work” that can be done to improve hitting to all fields. Ultimately it boils down to natural ability.

Jonathan asks: With ST in full swing could you maybe explain just what exactly “live batting practice” is? And how does it differ from “simulated games” pitchers throw?

Live batting practice is, simply put, batting practice. But instead of a pitching machine, a real pitcher pitches to the batter, usually telling him whether a fastball or breaking ball is coming. A simulated game has actual game situations. They keep track of balls and strikes, the number of outs, the runners on base, etc. Sometimes the pitcher will be expected to field his position as well. Live batting practice is just a pitcher pitching to a batter over and over, with no one keeping track of balls and strikes or anything like that. That explain it?

Joe asks: How is the competitive balance order determined? The Yankees got the 4th pick (30th overall) for losing David Robertson but the Rockies got 1st for Michael Cuddyer and Tigers 8th (34th overall) for losing Max Scherzer — is there any rhyme or reason on this? Thanks.

The two competitive balance rounds are selected via lottery for small market teams depending on market size and revenue sharing status. The supplemental first round is the one with compensation picks for free agents and that goes in reverse order of last year’s standings. The Rockies had the worst record among teams to lose a qualified free agent so they received the first pick in the supplemental round for losing Cuddyer. The Orioles had the best record among those teams and thus received the last pick in the supplemental round for Nelson Cruz. Ten teams received a compensation pick this winter and the Yankees had the fourth worst record of those ten, so they got the fourth pick of the round. Here’s the full draft order.

Guerrero. (Presswire)
Guerrero. (Presswire)

Dustin asks: Alex Guerrero refused to go to the minors for the Dodgers. I have zero clue if he is the player the Dodgers thought he would be. If the Dodgers trade him, should the Yankees be interested?

The Dodgers put a clause in Guerrero’s contract allowing him to refuse to go to the minors this year and he’s already made it known he won’t go back to Triple-A. He’s staying in MLB. The 28-year-old had a .329/.364/.613 (148 wRC+) batting line in 65 Triple-A games around having his ear bitten off by Miguel Olivo last summer — he went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts in his brief MLB cameo — but he’s not expected to be anywhere close to that kind of hitter at the big league level. (Los Angeles’ Triple-A affiliate was in Albuquerque last year and that’s one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball.)

Baseball America ranked Guerrero as the team’s 21st best prospect coming into the season in their 2015 Baseball Handbook and said “he’s a pull-oriented hitter with holes in his swing” and “lacks the first step quickness for shortstop and has trouble at second base, where he has an average arm but lacks natural infield actions.” There’s also the issue of the three years and $21.5M left on his contract, which is really $32.25M to the Yankees due to the luxury tax. What are they supposed to do with an expensive utility infielder with holes in his swing and shaky defense? That’s an easy pass for me. Stick with guys in house. Even Brendan Ryan.

Brian asks: It doesn’t appear as though the Yankees have had an organizing principle over the last few years. Is there any evidence that the Yankees have had a consistent vision for the team? Or are they working year-to-year?

It sure seems like they’re going year-to-year, doesn’t it? I understand that plans have to be flexible, but the club has gone from trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold to spending huge to avoiding long-term deals the last three offseasons. As Joe has said, they went about the luxury tax thing all wrong. They tried to cram four or five years of work into two and it blew up in their faces. The response? Spend like crazy. And when that didn’t work, they scaled back spending. I definitely think the Yankees are going to try to get under the luxury tax again in the near future — Hal Steinbrenner spent so much time talking about it that I can’t imagine he’s given up on the idea entirely — likely when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2016 and the threshold presumably goes up. The plan seems to be “stay competitive while moving towards getting under the luxury tax,” except no one has any idea how to actually do that.

Michael asks: Assuming all the starting pitchers are healthy at the end of ST who is most likely to be the Opening Day starter?

Rumor has it Tanaka will make his Grapefruit League debut next Thursday, and if that’s true, he’d be lined up to start Opening Day assuming he sticks to a normal five-day scheduled for the rest of camp. The Yankees have made it clear they want to ease him into things though, so I’m guessing Tanaka will get a few extra days of rest along the way. Either way, the Opening Day starter is not that big a deal. At least not as big as people make it. If everyone stays healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Girardi gives the ball to CC Sabathia to start the season because he’s the grizzled vet, with Tanaka following in the second game and Pineda in the third. You could make a case any of those three deserve to start Opening Day, really.

Mailbag: Spending, Pitchers, Warren, Alvarez, Pirela

I’ve got 13 questions for you in this week’s massive mailbag. The best way to send us questions is with the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

DJ asks: From the fans’ perspective, are the Yankees in a lose-lose situation when it comes to spending money? If they splurge, the team is accused of buying championships. If they don’t spend $30+ million on a teenager, their fans accuse them of being penny pinchers.

I think that’s accurate. The Yankees don’t really care if people say they bought a championship and the fans shouldn’t either. It’s a silly thing to say. The “lose” component of spending big is that the vast majority of massive contracts go bad. Maybe not at first, but eventually. Everyone likes to say teams are paying for the elite years up front and will live with the bad years at the end, yet that never really seems to happen. Teams never seem to get as many elite years as expected.

At the same time, if the Yankees don’t spend, they’re accused of being cheap. It is a no win situation for the team and that’s just life in a big market. The Yankees deserve every bit of criticism they get for losing out on Yoan Moncada — you can’t talk about getting younger all winter then miss out on him for what fans perceive as a small amount and expect no backlash — but he is a special case as a 19-year-old potential star. Missing out on older free agents, even good ones like Robinson Cano or Max Scherzer, will draw the “they’re cheap!” comments when it’s really a blessing in disguise. But yeah, you’re right, the Yankees are in a no-win situation. Everything they do will be deemed wrong somehow.

Steve asks: Which pitchers from the Yankee farm system are most likely to join the team during the season?

Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, and Jacob Lindgren are the most obvious ones. It feels inevitable that Mitchell will wind up making a bunch of starts, maybe ten or more. Shreve came over in a trade this offseason and really isn’t a “from the farm system” guy, but he’ll probably start the year in Triple-A. Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder are two other candidates. I wouldn’t rule out Luis Severino, though if he does come up, it’ll likely be in the second half of the season. I think he’s an emergency option more than anything. Someone like Matt Tracy or Zach Nuding might sneak in an emergency spot start at some point as well. Mitchell, Lindgren, and Shreve are the “definitely going to be in MLB at some point in 2015″ pitching prospects for now.

Steven asks: It seems everyone and their mama is under control through 2017. Do the Yankees have any roster flexibility after the season?

Nope. The only contracts coming off the books after this season are the guys the Yankees signed to one-year deals —  Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Stephen Drew — and Garrett Jones. Esmil Rogers could be non-tendered too, but that’s really it. Well, I suppose a miracle could happen and Brendan Ryan will decline his $1M player option, but that seems unlikely. The Yankees are locked in to the bulk of their current roster through the 2016 season, when Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and maybe CC Sabathia come off the books. No real flexibility until then whatsoever.

Johnny asks: I read that Zack Greinke had a preventative elbow lubrication this week and Sabathia had 3 PRP Injections before the season. How does MLB differentiate these types of treatments from PED’s like HGH? The lines seem kinda blurry/gray. Am I missing something about preventative treatments?

The short answer is that neither Greinke nor Sabathia received a substance on MLB’s banned substance list. I’m no doctor or chemist, I have no idea why some substances are banned and others aren’t beyond what I’ve picked up as layman over the years, but I do know MLB allows HGH use under direction of a doctor. The lines are very blurry to me but again, I’m no doctor. A few years ago MLB and the MLBPA sat down, presumably with a team of doctors, determined what should be banned and what shouldn’t, and moved forward with that. That’s a dumb answer but that’s all I have. The lines are indeed blurry to folks like me.

Matt asks: There seems to be nothing but glowing reports on Yadier Alvarez. There also doesn’t seem to be too much public interest on the Yankees part. If they miss out on Moncada, do they go hard after this kid? Any chance to sign them both?

Obviously this was sent in before Moncada signed with the Red Sox. Alvarez is an 18-year-old right-hander who didn’t play at all in the Cuban league before defecting. Here’s a quick scouting report from Jesse Sanchez, who notes scouts believe Alvarez has “the potential to be at least a No. 2 pitcher because of his stuff and ceiling.”

Alvarez has a fastball that touches 98 mph with plus-slider and an above-average changeup … Alvarez is raw and could use some polish, particularly with his command, but he’s young and has time on his side. Given his age, position and potential price tag, one international scouting director said he prefers Alvarez over Moncada. Alvarez will likely start in the lower levels in the Minor Leagues and is a few years away from making his big league debut.

Sanchez lists ten teams with interest in Alvarez and one of them is not the Yankees. Ultimately, it’s not going to matter. Alvarez recently defected and has not yet even established residency in a foreign country, so he’s very early in the process of being declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

In all likelihood, Alvarez won’t be cleared to sign until after June 25th, meaning the Yankees will be unable to offer him more than $300,000 due to the penalties for last year’s international spending spree. If the unexpected happens and Alvarez is cleared to sign before June 25th, then yeah, I expect the Yankees to pursue him. But that’s not going to happen. The Yankees won’t be able to make Alvarez a competitive offer because of the international penalties.

Update: According to Ben Badler, Alvarez is not allowed to sign until July 2nd because he did not register with the commissioner’s office before the deadline to be included in the 2014-15 signing period. So the Yankees have no shot at him.

David asks: Given the hype surrounding Rob Refsnyder, do you think he’s at his peak trade value? And do you think the Yankees should cash in? If so, what do you think they can get?

Yeah, chances are Refsnyder’s trade value will never be higher than it is right now. There are only two ways his trade value can go up from here: 1) his defense improves tremendously in a short period of time, or 2) he gets called up to MLB and mashes for a few hundred plate appearances. Tommy La Stella is a pretty good comp for Refsnyder — both mashed in the minors but La Stella is the superior defender — and La Stella was traded for ex-Yankees farmhand Arodys Vizcaino this offseason, a relief prospect with major injury issues. If that’s the type of trade return the Yankees can expect, just keep Refsnyder. They need a potential second base solution more than another lottery ticket arm.

Dan A. asks: Are complete tear downs and rebuilds worth it for the high draft picks? What should be the Yankees approach for beyond this season?

First things first, the Yankees can’t tear it all down even if they wanted. Most of their contracts are untradeable. Pretty much the pieces they could move in a potential fire sale are Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and a bunch of middle relievers. Maybe someone would take Masahiro Tanaka despite the elbow issue, but that’s about it.

Secondly, there is no right answer as to whether complete tear downs and rebuilds are worth it. The Cubs seem to have done a good job but it’s way too early to say that for certain. The Astros have been intentionally awful for nearly a half-decade now and they only had the tenth best farm system in the game according to Baseball America’s organizational rankings in their 2015 Prospect Handbook. Imagine being that bad for that long and only having the tenth best system to show for it. Yikes. Anyway, I am generally against being intentionally awful, so I’ll say no, I don’t think it’s worth it. Rebuilding and not being an embarrassment at the same time is difficult but possible.

Rick asks: I keep seeing Jose Pirela mentioned as a possible 2015 bench player, or maybe even starting second baseman, yet I’ve never seen him listed in any top prospect rankings. Why not?

Pirela is a stats before scouting report prospect. He’s put up some nice numbers the last three years at Double-A and Triple-A but he doesn’t have any sort of carrying tool. Pirela can play several positions but none of them particularly well. He doesn’t have much power and isn’t a speed guy either. There’s nothing that jumps out at you other than the stats. Pirela is an Andy Phillips type. He puts up numbers so you can’t ignore him, but otherwise there really isn’t much to fall in love with. I’m sure we’ll see him plenty in the Bronx this year in a utility role and that’s his realistic ceiling.

Geno asks: At what point will all of the recently signed, young, international free agents be subject to the Rule 5 draft? Isn’t it usually around 6 years when they need to be protected or added to the 40-man. Are the rules different for international free agents? With all of these players they have signed recently at the same time eventually lead to a major roster crunch?

Last year’s international signees all signed 2015 contracts. That’s standard. International guys who sign in July sign contracts that start the following season. Just about all of them are under 18, so they’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible in five years, meaning during the 2019-20 offseason. That’s a very long ways away. By then half these kids will have flamed out in the minors — half if the Yankees are lucky, really, the attrition rate for international signees is so high because these kids are so young — and I’m sure a few others will have been traded away. If there’s a roster crunch in five years, the Yankees will be very happy. That means many of them panned out and they’ll happily deal with the consequences. It’s waaay too early to worry about that.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ralph asks: Girardi has mentioned Adam Warren as a closer option, but I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he beats out Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller. Could he be pumping his value up for a possible trade chip down the line?

Maybe, but teams won’t change their evaluation of Warren based on anything Girardi says. Now if Warren does somehow win the closer’s job and dominates for half a season, then yeah, his trade value will go up. Teams do still absolutely pay for saves. Girardi was just expressing some confidence in one of his players. That’s all. Every manager does it every spring.

Adam asks: Why do you think there have been so many 2 year mini extensions with arbitration guys this winter? What is the upside/downside?

According to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, Eric Hosmer, Kelvin Herrera, Todd Frazier, and Bryce Harper all signed two-year contracts this offseason that buy out their first two years arbitration-eligibility but not their last. (Harper is a Super Two, so he’ll still have two years of arbitration after this deal expires.) The upside for the player is the security. They’re getting a nice payday relatively early in their career and don’t have to worry about being non-tendered after the season if they get catastrophically hurt or something like that. The downside is they don’t get rewarded if they have a huge breakout season in the first year of the contract.

The upside for the team is cost certainty for two years. And since arbitration salaries use the previous year’s salary as a base, the player’s salary in their final year of arbitration will be a little lower than expected if they have that big breakout season. The downside is the risk that the player suddenly forgets how to play baseball or gets seriously hurt at some point in the next year. I thought the Yankees might try to sign Eovaldi and/or Pineda to one of these two-year bridge deals earlier in the winter but that didn’t happen. It seems like these have become popular because they aren’t long-term commitments but still offer some of the benefits of an extension to both parties.

Simon asks: Is it just me or has the one number the Yankees have never issued is the number 0?

You are indeed correct. The Yankees have never issued No. 0 (or No. 00 for that matter) according to Baseball Reference. The only other numbers the Yankees have never issued are all high: 73-76, 78-87, 89, 90, and 92-98. Most of the high numbers that have been issued were issued fairly recently too. George Kontos and Brett Marshall wore No. 70 in recent years, Austin Romine wore No. 71 when he was first called up in 2011, Juan Miranda wore No. 72 from 2008-09, Humberto Sanchez wore No. 78 during his cup of coffee, Jose Outman wore No. 88 last year, Alfredo Aceves wore No. 91, and Brian Bruney briefly wore No. 99 a few years back. I get the feeling we won’t ever see a player wear No. 0 (or 00) in pinstripes.

Greg asks: Congrats to RAB on 8 years! What are your personal favorite Yankee moments from the past 8 years?

Obviously the 2009 World Series tops the list. A-Rod‘s absurd 2007 season was also a ton of fun. I went to about 25 games that year and I feel like I saw him hit 25 homers, including this walk-off grand slam. That game was fun. Bitterly cold, but fun. The Teixeira signing was really fun too. That was before Twitter, and I remember refreshing MLB Trade Rumors every minute waiting for the inevitable “Red Sox sign Teixeira” post. It was like …

11:30am: Red Sox progressing towards deal with Teixeira

12:00pm: Red Sox close to signing Teixeira

12:05pm: Red Sox on verge of deal with Teixeira

12:06pm: Yankees sign Teixeira

I have no idea if the time stamps are correct, I’m just trying to show how quickly it was (or felt like it was) coming together before it changed course and Teixeira was a Yankee. The contract hasn’t worked out as expected, but man, the signing itself was something else.

Phil Hughes‘ near no-hitter was pretty memorable. I don’t know if I’d call it a favorite moment, but I won’t forget it. He was dominating in his second big league start then bam, he blew out his hamstring. Andy Pettitte‘s return from retirement was pretty awesome as well. Joe and I were literally in the middle of recording a podcast when he news broke and we were both speechless. And, of course, saying goodbye to Andy, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter is way up the list as well. All tremendous moments I won’t ever forget.

Mailbag: Heyward, Upton, Commissioner, Jeter, Moncada

Happy pitchers and catchers day, everyone. Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form to send us any questions throughout the week.

Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Vinny asks: Do you see a scenario next offseason where the Yankees sign one of Jason Heyward or Justin Upton and deal Brett Gardner?

Sure, it’s definitely possible. Both Heyward and Upton are going to get $100M+ rather easily — Heyward could get $200M+ if he has that big breakout year offensively everyone is waiting for — and the Yankees might go for it because they’re both so young. Upton turns 28 in August and Heyward turns 26 in August, so they’d be getting multiple prime years, not just decline years. Upton’s a much better hitter than Heyward and the Yankees do need an impact bat (especially a right-handed one) more than they need another defense first outfielder. Sign Upton to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s deal (seven years, $153M), then flip Gardner for a pitcher? I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I do think it’s possible.

Jerome asks: If you were elected commissioner, what changes to the game would you try to impose?

Prior to last year, I would have said instant replay was my number one priority, but baseball has that now. The system is imperfect but it’s good enough for me. I would love to get the strike zone automated with lasers or radar or however the hell they would do it, but the umpires’ union wouldn’t go for that. Calling balls and strikes is their baby. They’re not giving that up.

So, instead, I would look at speeding up the game by having hitters keep one foot in the box at all times — I don’t think pace of play is a major issue but I do think it is something that can be improved — and figure out how to get the Mets some real owners. What’s going on in Flushing can’t continue. It’s an embarrassment to the league. I’m sure that will be a legal mess but it’s something I consider important. I’d also look into expanding and adding two teams. (Interleague play is too popular among casual fans to eliminate it.) The game appears to be healthy enough financially to support two new franchises, so let’s do it. It’ll spark interest. Those would be my major points.

Dan asks: If you can only attend one of the scheduled retirement ceremonies, which one would you attend?

I think I would go to Jorge Posada‘s. I would rank my favorite dynasty era Yankees 1) Mariano Rivera, 2) Posada, 3) Bernie Williams, 4) Andy Pettitte, and 5) Derek Jeter. (Note: This doesn’t mean I hate Jeter.) I would absolutely love to go to all four ceremonies this year and I’m going to try to do that, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Posada’s. Switch-hitting catchers with power, patience, and a fiery attitude are my jam.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Christian asks: Will Jeter get a monument in Monument Park? And if so, when will that happen?

I actually answered this question in a previous mailbag but it is worth revisiting in the wake of the recent retired numbers news. Here’s what I said on September 26th of last year:

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

All of that still stands. My opinion hasn’t changed since September. I do think Jeter is worthy of a monument but is he going to be the first guy to have one dedicated while still alive? That’s the real question.

Douglas asks: Is there any chance one of the “core four” or Bernie pop up at spring training as a “special guest instructor?”

Oh absolutely. Bernie, Posada, and Pettitte have all already been to camp as guest instructors in previous years, I’m pretty sure multiple times too. Rivera recently told the Associated Press he will not be in camp as a guest instructor this spring but is open to doing it in the future. “It’s too early. I have a lot of other things to do besides that. I’m focusing right now on the church,” he said. As for Jeter, I’m guessing he will spend some time away from baseball so early into his retirement, especially since he seems to have all this other business stuff going on. That said, he does live in Tampa, so he might pop by this year. Eventually he’ll be back as a guest instructor. I’m pretty sure of it.

Joe asks: Will 2015 be the first season since 1992 that the Yankees did not have a future Hall of Famer on the roster?

Yeah it looks like it. The Yankees have had at least one future Hall of Famer on the roster every year from 1993-2014 thanks mostly to Wade Boggs and Jeter, but there were other notables like Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki along the way. Alex Rodriguez has had a Hall of Fame career but there’s no way he’ll get voted in at this point. The players on the projected Opening Day roster with the best chance to get into Cooperstown are Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame track until these last two years, and Beltran’s right on the bubble. JAWS says Beltran is just short and I think his case will be better if he gets over 400 homers (he’s at 373). Right now, I get the feeling Beltran’s going to fall short of Cooperstown.

Andrew asks: What kind of free agent contract do you think Chase Headley would have gotten if it weren’t for his ridiculously good 2012 season?

Headley’s monster 2012 season was so obviously a career year. He’s not going to do that again and I don’t think the Yankees or any other team expects him to. It definitely helped him this offseason though, the same way Ellsbury’s career year helped him last offseason. Teams still absolutely pay for past performance, just not as much as they once did. Headley signed for four years and $13M annually this winter. Without that career year, I think he’d end up with something like four years and $10M annually, or maybe even three years and $10M annually. Jed Lowrie got three years and $7.6M per year this winter and Headley’s clearly a better player. The gap is bigger than $2.4M per year. So my guess is four years and $40M total without that huge year.

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Nicolai asks: Wouldn’t every team that signs Yoan Moncada trade him under almost no circumstances for several years? I mean, how could you get even close to equal value in a trade considering his signing bonus?

Yeah pretty much. I mean, sure, there’s always a chance he could end up in a blockbuster for someone like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in a year, but the chances of that happening are remote. Whoever spends all that money to sign Moncada is going to hold onto him as long as possible and tout him as the future of the franchise — their Trout or Harper, basically — until they’re blue in the face. The team that signs Moncada is paying all that money because they really want him. Not to trade him in a year or two.

DJ asks: Are we seeing a “golden age” of Cuban talent? Scouts seem to be especially high on Yoan Moncada, Yoan Lopez and now Yadier Alvarez. Are these prospects really this great or are their agents/handlers just doing a great job of selling them to the baseball world?

It sure seems like a golden age, doesn’t it? Every year there’s one or two top guys — like top top guys, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, etc. — becoming available and eventually the well will dry up. The island isn’t that big. I don’t know when that will happen, but eventually all the top (top) players will be off the island and Cuba will become something like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, when the best players available each year are 16-17 year old kids. That shift might be happening right now with the 19-year-old Moncada and 18-year-old Alvarez being the current top available position player and pitcher, respectively. It may seem like it now, but Cuba’s not going to keep spitting out 20-something superstars forever.

James asks: How long does a team control a player after they sign them as an international free agent? In other words, how many years are you getting Moncada for by giving him a signing bonus of $30-40 million dollars?

Players get six full years in the minors before becoming eligible for minor league free agency. That goes for drafted players and international free agents. The team could then add the player to the 40-man roster after the sixth year to prevent them from becoming a minor league free agent — the Yankees did this with Melky Mesa in 2010 — which means they could then spend another three years in the minors, their three option years. And then on top of that, there’s the player’s six years of team control at the MLB level. So we’re potentially talking about 15 years of team control. But that never really happens. If a guy’s not on the 40-man roster before becoming eligible for minor league free agency, there’s usually a reason.

Bryan asks: Who are the longest tenured MLB players? With A-Rod debuting in 1994, I’m curious how many other current active players (if any?) have been around since the strike.

Now that his suspension is over, A-Rod is the longest tenured active player in MLB. He made his big league debut on July 8th, 1994, 19 days before his 19th birthday. He is the only active player who played during the 1994 season, so he’s the only guy left from the strike year. Here are the next five longest tenured active players:

  • LaTroy Hawkins: Debuted at age 22 on April 29th, 1995. He said he’s planning to retire after 2015.
  • Jamey Wright: Debuted at age 21 on July 3rd, 1996. Just signed a minor league deal with Texas.
  • Bartolo Colon: Debuted at age 23 on April 4th, 1997.
  • Torii Hunter: Debuted at age 22 on August 22nd, 1997.
  • David Ortiz: Debuted at age 21 on September 2nd, 1997.

A bunch of players debuted in 1998, including Beltran, Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Pierzynski, Bruce Chen, and Adrian Beltre. Joe Nathan, Tim Hudson, Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jose Molina all debuted in 1999. Farnsworth and Molina are currently free agents who appear to be getting pushed into a forced retirement, so I guess they’re not really active. Anyway, that’s it. Only 16 players who played in the 1990s are still active today if you count Farnsworth and Molina.

Mailbag: Olivera, Draft, Nova, Greinke, Mets, Bird, A-Rod

Big mailbag this week. Thirteen questions in all. You can send us a question any time using the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)
Olivera. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

Kevin asks: If Hector Olivera is really ready to step in as an everyday second baseman, isn’t there some value in signing him even if they deal him away at the deadline or next winter? He isn’t exactly young but if he has 3-4 years left of starter production, the Yankees could get a useful piece or a good prospect or two for him if he shows good numbers for a season.

Olivera held his final open showcase earlier this week and is now expected to hold some private workouts as he waits for MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control to declare him a free agent. Ben Badler says that could happen any day now. Here’s more from Badler’s must read report on the open workout:

Yet, on talent alone, Olivera was a better player than (Rusney) Castillo and (Yasmany) Tomas when they were in Cuba. Olivera is 29 while Castillo is 27 and Tomas 24, so that works against him, but Olivera is the same age as most major league free agents. But if I had my choice of one of those three players, assuming the team doctors give him a thumbs up, I would take Olivera over Castillo or Tomas. From talking with several scouts about it, I’m not alone in that opinion, either.

Olivera turns 30 in April and he hasn’t played much recently because a blood clot forced him to miss the 2012-13 season Cuba before defecting. He’s played only 73 games since 2011. Olivera’s numbers in Cuba were very good and he consensus seems to be that he’s an immediate MLB contributor at second base (or third base, which he’s played in the past). Assuming he is cleared to sign relatively soon, he’ll be a big leaguer in 2015.

The Yankees need a long-term second baseman and do have a candidate in Rob Refsnyder, but there’s no such thing as too many good players. Olivera would make Brendan Ryan or Stephen Drew expendable and be a viable backup to Chase Headley at third. Badler says Olivera wants Castillo money (six years, $72M), if not in total value than at least in average annual value ($12M). The Yankees would have to guarantee him regular playing time — why would he sign with New York to be a part-timer when other teams will surely offer a regular lineup spot? — and pay luxury tax on the contract, which isn’t insignificant. Olivera does make some sense for the Yankees since he can play second, but, at best, he should be the second priority behind Yoan Moncada.

A.J. asks: Would Moncada really get this much money if all draft prospects were free agents? Right now, Moncada’s price is a function of high demand and low supply but if every draft prospect was a FA, then the supply would be much higher.

I think he would. We’re not talking about some run of the mill prospect here, he’s an elite young player and a potential franchise cornerstone. Those players are in very low supply and very high demand. If every draft prospect was a free agent, guys like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg would still command top dollars. Teams would go all out to get those players. It’s the mid and bottom tier guys that would be hurt the most. Someone like Ian Clarkin, for example. There are multiple Ian Clarkins in every draft. There’s only one Moncada though. One Harper, one Strasburg, the very top of the line so clearly better than everyone else guys. The supply for those types of players is one. There’s one available. I think they’d still get massive bonuses. (In fact, I bet Harper and Strasburg would have gotten more than Moncada because teams had more scouting history.)

Jim asks: What are the chances Refsnyder is no better than a guy like David Adams? Adams didn’t have quite the same gaudy minor league stats that Refsnyder had last year, but it was hoped he could hold down a big league job and was pretty terrible. Are the scouts and the Yankees higher on Refsnyder than they were on Adams?

Pre-ankle injury Adams was a pretty damn good prospect, but I do think Refsnyder now is better than Adams then. Refsnyder’s a much better pure hitter with a better chance to hit for power long-term, and although he’s a really poor defensive second baseman, Adams was just okay in the field himself. Adams suffered a catastrophic ankle injury in a freak accident sliding into a base in 2010 and that was it. He never had the same mobility or athleticism after that. This is an imperfect measure, but Refnsyder has consistently been ranked as one of New York’s top 12 prospects these last few weeks. Adams topped out as the team’s 22nd best prospect in 2009 and 2010 according to Baseball America, and they put their rankings together by talking to scouts. There’s always a chance Refsnyder will stink in MLB like Adams, that’s just baseball, but he’s a better prospect right now than Adams ever was.

Allen asks: How important is the 2015 draft going to be for the Yankees moving forward? The team made that huge international free agency push but also has one of the highest pools available to them to pursue some top prospects?

Mike Matuella, a candidate to go first overall in 2015. (Duke)
Mike Matuella, a candidate to go first overall in 2015. (Duke)

Let’s start with the obvious: the draft is always important. I do think it is more important in some years than others, like when a team has multiple first round picks (like the Yankees this year) or an awful farm system in need of talent. The Yankees will be shut out of the top international players the next two years because of the penalties stemming from last summer’s spending spree, so the draft will be their only avenue to add high-end impact talent.

The team has nearly $8M to spend on the draft this year and they can turn that into multiple top prospects even though talent tends to come off the board more linearly now. There’s always one or two guys who slip through the cracks. The Yankees won’t have any extra draft picks the next few years — they don’t have anyone coming off the roster worthy of a qualifying offer anytime soon — so between that and the international free agency penalties, this is their last chance to add multiple top prospects at once. I’m not going to call it a critical draft year for the Yankees, but it is important. They won’t have access to much top talent after the draft through 2017.

Tom asks: Would you rather have the 26, 32, and 33 picks in the draft or 16 and 30?

I’d definitely rather than 26/32/33 than 16/30. (The Yankees had 26/32/33 two years ago and have 16/30 this year.) There has been a ton of studies looking at the projected value of draft slots — here’s one by Matthew Murphy — and they’ve all shown there really isn’t a ton of difference between picks 11-40 or so. There’s a substantial drop-off after the top five picks and another big (but not as big) drop-off after the tenth pick. Yes, you have a much better chance of getting the guy you want at 16 than you do with 26, but I’d prefer three picks in that 11-40 range to two. I would totally understand the argument for going 16/30 over 26/32/33, don’t get me wrong, but in that portion of the draft, I’ll go with quantity.

Travis asks: Looking at the farm system, and considering the last couple of drafts, do you think the Yankees will focus on position players or pitchers and will they be college or prep? I’m talking the first two rounds here (3 picks).

Under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees have gone from college heavy (2006-07) to high school heavy (2008-12) to back to college heavy (2013-14) in the draft. They took 39 players last year and 32 were college kids, and it’s not a coincidence either. Here’s what Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings following last summer’s draft:

“It seems like we’re getting some college guys up there a little quicker and through the system a little quicker,” amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said. “So, if all’s equal right now, we’re kind of looking at it that we might lean toward the college guy.”

Because of that recent shift, I do expect the Yankees to focus on college players again this year. As for position players vs. pitchers, I don’t think the team will focus on one specific area with their top picks. I think they’re going to use those 16th and 30th overall picks (and 57th overall in the second round) to get the best possible players they can.

The farm system is position player heavy right now, so pitching would make sense, but if the Yankees think the best available player is a bat, I think they’ll take a bat. The middle to late rounds are where they seem to start addressing specific needs in the system. This upcoming draft appears to be very pitcher heavy — both high school and college — so the smart money is on the Yankees nabbing a college pitcher or two with their top two picks.

Jeb asks: How would you feel about trading some of the IFA slot money for a competitive balance pick? Is that allowed straight up or would a player have to be involved as well?

It is allowed and I’d be completely in favor of it. The Yankees are still going to have a full-size international bonus pool but won’t be able to give out any bonuses more than $300,000 — based on last year, their pool will be $2.3M or so — so they can definitely spare some in a trade. The eleven competitive balance picks are Nos. 37-42 and 71-75, and that first group will come with considerable slot values, $1.5M or so. The second group will be in the high six figures.

Here’s where it gets tricky: teams can only trade half their international bonus money in a given year, so of that $2.3M, the Yankees can only trade $1.15M. On top of that, they have to find common ground with a trade partner. Would it be a straight straight swap, X draft dollars for X international dollars? I’m guessing no since international free agency is much riskier than the draft. Maybe it’s more like X draft dollars for 1.5*X international dollars? Since they’re limited internationally this year, the Yankees absolutely should see if a club would flip one of those competitive balance picks (likely the 71-75 range) for international money.

(Presswire)
Nova. (Presswire)

Stan asks: Looking forward at the Yankee free agents to be, do you think the Yankees re-sign Ivan Nova long term in 2017 if he bounces back from surgery to have a typical Nova year? I am guessing that Eovaldi and Pineda will be re-signed if they pitch as expected but Nova seems to win games despite not pitching particularly well (statistically) all the time which has to count for something. Also if they do what do you think the years/money would be?

Here’s the problem: what is a typical Nova year? We still don’t know. Here are his three full seasons in MLB:

  • 2011: 3.70 ERA (116 ERA+) and 4.00 FIP
  • 2012: 5.02 ERA (84 ERA+) and 4.60 FIP
  • 2013: 3.10 ERA (129 ERA+) and 3.47 FIP

So which one is the real Nova? In his two good years he started out poorly, got sent to Triple-A, then came up in the second half and dominated. Next year is not going to tell us anything useful because Nova will miss the first half of the season and spend the second half shaking off the usual post-Tommy John surgery rust. So any re-signing decisions are going to be based mostly on his 2017 season and that’s sort of scary.

In parts of five MLB seasons, Nova has been perfectly league average overall: 4.20 ERA (100 ERA+) and 4.19 FIP in 537.2 innings. It’s been a bumpy ride of course, but the end result is average. Average is good! Average players have value. In recent years some average free agent pitchers include Edwin Jackson (four years, $52M), Jason Hammel (two years, $20M), Scott Feldman (three years, $30M), and Jason Vargas (four years, $32M). The average of those four deals is something like three years and $10M per season. Would three years and $30M be appropriate for Nova? I guess that depends on what happens in 2017.

Joe asks: If Zack Greinke decides to opt out this coming offseason, can he get a contract like Max Scherzer’s? If he only wants 6/140, what is Yankees going to do?

I expect Greinke to opt-out after the season and I don’t think he’ll get Scherzer money mostly because he’s nearly two full years older than Scherzer. Scherzer hit the market at 30. Greinke will be 32 next offseason. Scherzer is also the better pitcher right now even though Greinke is really damn good himself. He reminds me so much of Mike Mussina, from his pitching style to his stuff to his delivery to his humorously crabby demeanor. There’s a lot of high-end pitching scheduled to hit the market next winter and Greinke will be the oldest of the bunch, so maybe he’s going to end up getting James Shields’d. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to pursue him. I get the sense from the last time he was a free agent that they don’t think he’d fit well in a big market (obviously he’s fared well in Los Angeles, but zomg New York is so much tougher), and besides, they don’t seem to be in a rush to sign guys ready to hit their decline years.

Vinny asks: Any chance the Mets would take Ryan in a deal for one of their pitchers?

I joked about a Ryan for Bartolo Colon trade after the Yankees re-signed Drew but I don’t see why the Mets would do that. They said all winter that they’re comfortable with Wilmer Flores at short and Ruben Tejada backing him up, and if they’re going to blow up that plan, it wouldn’t be for someone like Ryan. I’m sure the Mets would be happy to send Colon and his $11M salary to the Bronx. I just think they’d rather than some Single-A or Double-A prospect than Ryan, who doesn’t really fix their shortstop situation.

Brian asks: What is the difference between minor leagues who are invited to Spring Training and the random minor leaguers who play the 8th inning of Spring Training games? They’re not on the invite list but are able to get into games so what is different about them and the Aaron Judges?

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Players invited to big league camp get big league meal money, big league lodging, that sort of stuff. The guys in minor league camp don’t have it nearly as good. Judge and the 26 other non-roster players the Yankees are bringing to camp this year will be treated like players on the 40-man and get all those perks. The random players brought over from minor league camp for a day to make a long road trip or play in a split squad game only get those perks for the day they are called up, from what I understand. No one gets paid for Spring Training — players get paid during the season only — but the perks and accommodations are way different between big league camp and minor league camp.

Gene asks: Will Bird get a chance to play before Teixeira’s contract is up or will he need to wait?

Mark Teixeira‘s contract expires after the 2016 season and I do think Greg Bird will get a chance with the Yankees before then. I’ve written about this before. Teixeira gets hurt a few times each year and that will create an opportunity for Bird, especially if it’s an extended absence. That said, I don’t think Bird will get an opportunity in New York this coming season. He’s played only 27 games above High Class-A and there’s still some development that needs to happen. This season Garrett Jones will backup Teixeira. But 2016? That’s when Bird figures to get a chance.

Ross asks: How much goodwill would it be if A-Rod announced that when he hits his 6th home run this year he will donate the entirety of the $6 million he’ll get to charity? It would make it extremely hard for the Yankees to fight him getting the money and would be a rare A-Rod move that is almost impossible to criticize.

Hah, you underestimate the fans and media (and Yankees). Here is some sample outrage we could see should A-Rod in fact donate the $6M bonus to charity:

  • “He’s made $400M in his career, why does he need to wait until he gets this bonus to donate $6M?”
  • “How dare he donate tainted bonus money!”
  • “Only $6M? Really?”
  • “Classic A-Rod trying to distract from a good deed and draw attention to himself.”
  • “A-Rod is trying to embarrass the organization by donating it himself rather than letting the team do it.”

Trust me, it’s A-Rod. If he donates the bonus money to charity, people will somehow make it out to be a bad thing. I promise. Just sit back and enjoy the silliness.

#RABRetroWeek Mailbag: The Decades Yankees Team

A Daily Digest reader sent in such a phenomenal question that I had to answer it for everyone. It’s the perfect end to Retro Week.

(P.S.: Sign up for the Daily Digest now, so you can get Monday’s edition. We’re nearing 2,000 subscribers, so don’t be left out.)

Jimmy asks: If you had to build a team choosing one player from each decade (e.g. one from the 1920’s, one from the 1930’s, etc.) to fill out all 9 fielding positions plus a DH, who would you pick?

The problem is that there are 10 decades (including the current one, which I’m using) and only 9 starting positions. So I’m going to throw in one starter here.

Let’s start out with the obvious ones, shall we?

1920s

Right Field – Babe Ruth

I don’t have to spend time justifying this one, do I? This and the next one were the slam dunkiest of picks.

1930s

First Base – Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was actually better in the 30s (181 OPS+) than he was in the 20s (174 OPS+). His 1934 through 1937 seasons are one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history (187 OPS+), during which he led the league in OBP all four years, led in OPS three out of the four, led the league in homers twice, and won a batting title. In 1934 he led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS (naturally), HR, and RBI, yet finished fifth in the MVP voting because…no, seriously, someone find the 1934 voters. We need an explanation. Even teammate Lefty Gomez got more first place votes, which is just bizarre.

Anyway, Gehrig was probably the most dominant player of the 1930s. He led the way in Offensive WAR (because there is no way you’re getting me to factor defense into analyzing the 30s), trailed closely by Jimmie Foxx. I suppose you could make an argument that Foxx was the most dominant player, but it’s really him or Gehrig.

1940s

Center Field – Joe DiMaggio

At this point I had to start making a graph of who I was picking where. Do I go with DiMaggio as the CF in the 40s, or Mantle as the CF in the 50s? As it turns out, the 50s was a crowded time. If I wanted to use Mantle in CF, I’d pretty much have to use Charlie Keller as my 40s guy in LF. After mapping it out, I stuck with DiMaggio.

1950s

Pitcher – Whitey Ford

Originally I had Yogi here, and there wasn’t much thought in my mind to change it. Then I realized that pitcher would be the toughest position to fill. Sorry to say, but it was easier to flip out Yogi for Whitey than it was to flip out Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio for Ruffing, Gomez, or Hoyt. I still think it all works out for the better.

1960s

Left Field – Tom Tresh

Probably my weakest pick, but for good reason. For a while I had Roy White as LF in the 70s and Elston Howard as C in the 60s, but the difference in production is just too great. I love Howard, but Thurman Munson just dominated in the 70s. Tresh held his own in the 60s though, so he’s a fine pick, if not the flashiest.

1970s

Catcher – Thurman Munson

I did not know this: White has the most Offensive WAR of any Yankee who has played at least 50 percent of his time in left field. It was tempting to go with him here, but Munson was just a powerhouse in the 70s. He led the team in WAR, and is right with Posada, behind Berra and Dickey, as the one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history.

1980s

DH – Dave Winfield

We now reach the most fudged selection of the group. My initial inclination was to go with Giambi in the 2000s as DH, but then I realized that was stupid. A-Rod is the best-hitting 3B in Yankee history by no small margin. Again, could have gone Nettles in the 70s, but then I have to go with a lesser LF from the 80s. And, well, there were no Yankees with 1,500 PA who got half their time at LF in the 80s. Seriously, zero. Winfield qualified for DH in that he got more than 25 percent of his at-bats there in the 80s. I’m not particularly proud of this pick, but it’s what works.

1990s

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

By this point you can see what positions and decades remain and guess my three picks. So I’ll just list them.

2000s

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

Hate him? Fine. But he won two MVPs and led the team to its first World Series in nearly a decade. Wah wah Graig Nettles wah wah.

2010s

Second Base – Robinson Cano

Cano took a huge step forward in 2010, which is convenient for this list. He is 10 Offensive WAR against the next-best Yankee hitter from the decade (Curtis Granderson), which makes me really depressed about the 2010s Yankees.

Offensive WAR Ranks

How did I do? Let’s look at the Yankees Offensive WAR leaders by decade to see how many wins they produced. Before looking I’m pretty sure I got near the top guy in each decade.

Note, this is the WAR produced with the Yankees in that decade only.

Decade Player WAR Rank
1920s Ruth 95.7 1
1930s Gehrig 75.0 1
1940s DiMaggio 42.2 1
1950s Ford 26.6 1
1960s Tresh 22.4 3
1970s Munson 42.6 1
1980s Winfield 33.6 1
1990s Jeter 25.9 3
2000s Rodriguez 41.8 2
2010 Cano 25.8 1

Note: Jeter actually produced more WAR, almost double, in the 00s (the most on the Yankees), but that creates a problem in the 90s. Only Bernie and O’Neill ranked ahead of him in Offensive WAR. O’Neill is right out, and to swap out Bernie would be to pick Keller in the 40s. That leaves 3B to the 60s, which means Clete Boyer, which is just not happening. This is a balancing act. Going Bernie-Jeter in 90s-00s makes the team weaker elsewhere.

If you think you can produce more than the 431.6 cumulative Offensive WAR of this squad, be my guest. But I’m pretty sure this is the best team, under the given circumstances, that you could create.

Mailbag: Shields, Moncada, Rotation, O’Brien, Tanaka

I know it’s Retro Week, but nothing gets in the way of the weekly mailbag. I’ve got a dozen questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Many asked: Is it time for the Yankees to jump in on James Shields?

Yes, I think so. They passed on Max Scherzer because they don’t want another never-ending big money long-term contract, but, at this point, Shields’ market seems to be slow and there’s a chance he’ll come at a relative discount. As I wrote in our Scouting the Market post, the only concern with Shields is his age and workload. His performance continues to be excellent. He had been asking for five years and $110M earlier this offseason, but what if he’s willing to take something like three years and $54M now? Or even one year at $20M so he can try again next offseason? I don’t think that will happen — multiple reports indicate Shields will sign soon and I still think he’s going to get four or maybe even five years — but Spring Training is right around the corner and his agent is presumably feeling the heat. The Yankees have to at least check in. They could end up getting a very good pitcher on very favorable terms.

Mark asks: What are your thoughts on the current and future state of the franchise if the Yanks either elect not to pursue Yoan Moncada or end up losing him to another team? I would also be curious to get your thoughts as to whether this likely means the Yanks are not in on any major free agent for the foreseeable future?

My thoughts on the state of the franchise wouldn’t change all that much regardless of whether the Yankees sign Moncada. It would improve slightly if they sign him but not a substantial amount. We are still talking about a 19-year-old kid here who, in the best case scenario, is two years away from being an impact player. It would be great if the Yankees sign him, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a franchise-altering decision.

Moncada isn’t a major free agent in the traditional sense — he’s going to cost a massive amount of money up front, not some kind of multi-year contract. I do think the Yankees are looking to avoid big money long-term contracts right now, at least until guys like Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran start coming off the books following the 2016 season. That could always change in an instant, plans have to be flexible (e.g. Shields), but I definitely think the team is trying to avoid those pricey contracts that buy decline years in bulk for the time being. It’s about time, really.

Chris asks: Do the Yankees have an advantage in the Moncada situation because they have already burned their next two years of international spending? It would seem like other teams would be hesitant to do so without also having signed a huge IFA class like the Yankees did this past year.

If they do have an advantage, it’s a very small one. Whoever signs Moncada is going to blow through their international spending pool and get stuck with the 100% tax, so it’s an even playing field in that regard. I don’t think many clubs will hesitate to pursue a player of this caliber because international free agency is such a crapshoot each summer. Every MLB club can afford an ~$80M up front payment — say $40M bonus and $40M tax — it’s just a question of which owners are most willing to be aggressive. It’s hard to believe anyone would pass on Moncada based on talent. This feels like something that will come down to ownership’s approval.

Will asks: With regard to the international spending penalties in 2016-2017, is there a hard cap on total spending, or just the $300K player cap?

This is important: the Yankees spending pool for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods will not change. They’re still going to get the same amount to spend as they normally would — based on last year’s pools the team will have $2.3M or so to spend in 2015-16 — but won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000. So, instead of a few big bonuses, they just have to hand out a lot of small bonuses. The Yankees are quite good at finding quality Latin American prospects on the cheap (Luis Severino signed for $225,000, for example), so they’ll still be able to do some damage, they’re just going to have no shot at the top talent.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Dan asks: In your opinion, do the Yankees have enough starting pitching depth to compensate for the major injury risks to their rotation?

Right now, no. I like Bryan Mitchell but I don’t think he’s as ready to step into a big league rotation as Shane Greene was last season. That said, I’m pretty confident — perhaps foolishly confident — the Yankees will be able to patch the rotation in-season. Remember, they were without Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova for big chunks of last season too, and they still got by. I think Brian Cashman & Co. will be able to cobble things together again if necessary. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of rumors about impending free agents like Ian Kennedy, Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, Bartolo Colon, and Kyle Lohse being rental candidates as the season progresses.

Bill asks: Loved the series “Ranking the 40 man roster,” but it got me thinking … What if you had to rank the 40 most important players in the organization regardless if they are on the 40 man roster or not? What about Moncada?

I’m glad someone liked that series. If we opened it up to every player in the organization, the top of my list wouldn’t have changed all that much. The highest ranked non-40-man player would have been Aaron Judge and I would have had him tenth, behind Chase Headley and ahead of Andrew Miller. Judge is the Yankees’ best prospect, but, at the end of the day, he’s still a prospect who has yet to play above Single-A. Moncada is a different story because he’s supposedly so damn good. I would have had him fourth behind Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Pineda. The back-half of the list, the 20-40 range, is where there would have been a ton of change. Guys like Severino and Greg Bird and Rob Refsnyder all would have ranked ahead of big leaguers like Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson.

A.J.R. asks: Not sure if anything is different, but this offseason, the writing has been excellent regarding the historical articles. Has this been a decision bought on by the current state of the Yankees, or have I just underestimated the past few winters’ writing sprees?

Nah, it has nothing to do with the state of the team. We did a Retro Week two or three years ago and people liked it, so we decided to do it again. These last few weeks of the offseason in late-January and early-February really drag and it’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been written about a bunch of times earlier in the offseason. It’s a good time to do something different and Retro Week is a change of pace from the usual.

Ethan asks: What the heck is Arizona thinking with Peter O’Brien? Do you really think he’ll be on their 25 man on opening day?

The D’Backs traded Miguel Montero to the Cubs earlier this winter and the only catchers on their 40-man roster are journeyman Tuffy Gosewich and Rule 5 Draft pick Oscar Hernandez. They also just signed Gerald Laird to a minor league contract. GM Dave Stewart, manager Chip Hale, and bench coach Glenn Sherlock all mentioned O’Brien as a MLB catcher candidate to Nick Piecoro and that seem so very far-fetched. Basically no one outside the D’Backs organization thinks he can catch. I’m rooting for him, I hope he makes the Opening Day roster, but it’s tough to see him hacking it as a big league catcher. The Yankees seem to know catcher defense as well as any organization in baseball and they were relatively quick to cut him loose.

Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)
Pete and the pitch clock. (Presswire)

Anthony asks: Outside of fewer pitching changes or a pitch clock, how else could MLB make the game more appealing to the younger generation?

I think pace of play is incorrectly being blamed for MLB losing out on younger viewers. Shaving 10-15 minutes off the average won’t make much of a difference reeling in young fans. I think the easy answer is better marketing and more outreach programs. MLB finally got around to putting together a player-specific commercial last year (Clayton Kershaw) and needs to do more of that. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Felix Hernandez, Tanaka … plaster these guys on billboards and stick them in commercials and internet ads. The stars need to be promoted. More FanFest or caravan events would help too. Maybe mandate that each team has to do at least one event each offseason, and/or that every player on the 40-man has to be available for autographs at some point in the offseason? I’m not sure. The closer the kids get to the players, the more appealing baseball will be to them.

Bobby asks: Is it just me or is the offense and defense bound to be better than last season?

No, it’s not just you. I’m apparently one of the few people who think the Yankees are better than last season. The left side of the infield has been upgraded tremendously, on both sides of the ball too. (I love Derek Jeter, but c’mon, he was pretty terrible last year.) The worst case scenario at second base is what, that Stephen Drew repeats what Brian Roberts did last season? In that case he’d be cast aside and Refsnyder would get a chance. The bullpen is much better and deeper as well. I also think the farm system is in much better position to provide help, both in terms of calling guys up and using them as trade chips. Are the Yankees substantially better than they were in 2014? No, but I do think they’re a handful of wins better, mostly because the run prevention is improved.

Doge asks: So I get that four doctors told Tanaka to hold off on getting surgery. But do you think there’s a risk to him staying healthy for a year or so, only to fully tear the ligament when the team is finally in as spot to make a WS run and needs him the most? Would it have made sense for the team to get the surgery out of the way now, when they don’t have the best shot at making the playoffs? Conversely, do you think that the timing of his inevitable surgery could have an impact on whether or not he exercises his opt out clause?

Oh sure, I totally get it. There’s a very good chance Tanaka will need Tommy John surgery at some point in the future, and he could need it at a very inopportune time. Right before the postseason, after all the top free agent pitchers sign next offseason, right before his opt-out clause, something like that. If he blows out his elbow and is unable to show he’s back to being the awesome version of Tanaka before the opt-out, I think he’d stay with the Yankees and take the guaranteed money.

That said, what are the Yankees supposed to do? When four world-renowned doctors tell you to rehab your $175M investment, you rehab him. Surgery is always a last resort, remember. There’s always a chance Tanaka will come back like, say, Ryan Madson, which is to say he wouldn’t come back at all. This is a really sucky and unfortunate situation. There’s really nothing more we or the Yankees can do other than hope for the best.

Stan asks: Who are your choices for greatest Yankees at their positions ever, and that you have seen play?

What better way to close out the Retro Week mailbag post than with this question? Here are my picks:

Position Best Ever Best I’ve Seen
C Yogi Berra Jorge Posada
1B Lou Gehrig Don Mattingly
2B Robinson Cano Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez Alex Rodriguez
OF Babe Ruth Bernie Williams
OF Mickey Mantle Rickey Henderson
OF Joe DiMaggio Dave Winfield
RHSP Red Ruffing Mike Mussina
LHSP Whitey Ford Andy Pettitte
RHRP Mariano Rivera Mariano Rivera
LHRP Dave Righetti Dave Righetti

I skipped DH because it’s just a weird position. (The team’s all-time WAR leader at DH is Danny Tartabull with 7.9.) Otherwise most of this is straight forward, yes? You could nitpick a few spots — Dave Winfield over Hideki Matsui, etc. — but I think this is in the right ballpark. I suppose you could argue Graig Nettles was the best third baseman in franchise history if you really detest A-Rod for the off-field stuff, but in terms of on-field production, it’s not close. And I know I just wrote about Willie Randolph’s awesomeness, but Cano is far and away the best hitting second baseman in franchise history, so I’m going with him. So what do you think?

Mailbag: Cano, Ford, Viciedo, Offense, Mo, Tanaka, NL

Got ten questions for you in this week’s mailbag. You can send us a question at any time via the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. We can’t get to all of them, but we’ll do our best.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Arnav: Which cap do you expect Robbie to wear if he makes the HoF?

Robinson Cano will actually spend more years with the Mariners (ten) than the Yankees (nine) when it’s all said and done. That said, I’m assuming the last few years of his current contract will be ugly, and he will have compiled most of his numbers in pinstripes. Even if he gets to 3,000 hits — a very real possibility at this point — more than 1,600 came with New York. He racked up 45 WAR with the Yankees and could finish his career with 70 WAR or so, putting him in Ron Santo, Alan Trammell, and Barry Larkin territory. More than anything, Cano became Cano in New York. That’s where he made his name and that’s the team I think most people associate him with. That could change if his next nine years are insane, but right now, before the 2015 season, I’ll say a Yankees hat.

Ralph asks: I love this site, but I’m feeling a little old school. Can you explain these new acronyms (wRC+, LOOGY, etc)?

Of course. Here’s a real quick primer on some of the acronyms we commonly use here at RAB. If there are any others you’d like to know, leave ‘em in the comments and I’ll add as many as I can to the post.

  • wRC+: Weighted runs created. It’s a measure of total offense relative to league average. Doubles really aren’t the same as two singles (which they are according to slugging percentage), for example, and wRC+ sorts all of that out while adding adjustments for ballpark and other stuff. 100 means league average. The bigger the number, the better.
  • LOOGY: Lefty One Out GuY. A lefty specialist reliever. A Clay Rapada/Mike Myers type.
  • FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching. A measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness based on strikeouts, walks, and homers only. The things he can control without the help of his defense, basically. FIP is scaled to ERA (so a 5.00 FIP is just as bad as a 5.00 ERA, etc.) and more predictive going forward.
  • K% and BB%: Strikeout and walk rates. Instead of the more common K/9 and BB/9 — strikeouts and walks per nine innings — it’s just strikeouts and walks per batters faced. In 2014, the league averages were 20.4 K% and 7.6 BB%.
  • GB%: Ground ball rate. Unlike K% and BB%, GB% is percentage of ground balls per ball in play, not per batters faced. The MLB average in 2014 was 44.8 GB%. So if I face 100 batters, strike out 30, walk ten, and get 30 ground balls, I have a 30 K%, a 10 BB%, and a 50 GB% (half the 60 balls in play). Got it? Good.

Like I said, if there’s anything else you want to see, let me know in the comments.

Frank asks: Mike Ford got a pretty positive write-up in McDaniel’s prospect piece. Is there a reason(s) why Ford doesn’t get more “prospect” love?

I think it’s the stigma of being an undrafted free agent — those guys very rarely amount to anything — and the general lack of information about him. Ford was both the Ivy League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year at Princeton in 2013, yet it’s still hard to find a reliable scouting report on him. Ford is two months younger than Aaron Judge though, and he had a monster 2014 season, hitting .292/.383/.458 (138 wRC+) with 13 homers and more walks (52) than strikeouts (46) between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Given his status as a former unknown, Ford is going to have to prove himself at every level as he climbs the ladder. He’s an interesting guy to watch, but not any sort of top prospect. Not yet, anyway.

Viciedo'h. (Jason Miller/Getty)
VicieD’OH. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Chris R. asks: Any thoughts on the recently released Dayan Viciedo?  He is only 25 so there is some potential there for improvement.

The White Sox designated Viciedo for assignment earlier this week and if he winds up getting released, I’d be fine with him on a minor league contract. The Yankees don’t have anywhere else to put him, really. Viciedo is a DH who’s hit .250/.294/.425 (94 wRC+) in his three full MLB seasons. That includes a .274/.318/.487 (115 wRC+) line against lefties, but “right-handed platoon DH” is hardly a guy worth a roster spot. Besides, the Yankees already Alex Rodriguez for that role anyway. I know he’s only 25, but age isn’t a get out of jail free card. Viciedo has been pretty bad the last three years and shown no improvement (he’s actually gotten worse each year). A minor league deal is fine, but I’m not giving him a 25-man roster spot.

Dan asks: We have heard a lot about declining offense in MLB. Are there similar trends taking place in the minors and foreign baseball leagues?

Let’s start with the hard data. Here is average runs-per-game total (for one team, not both teams in a game combined) in the five best pro baseball leagues in the world over the last five seasons.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
MLB 4.38 4.28 4.32 4.17 4.07
NPB (Japan) 4.32 3.28 3.26 3.99 4.12
KBO (Korea) 5.08 4.62 4.24 4.74 5.62
IL (AAA) 4.51 4.34 4.30 4.23 4.36
PCL (AAA) 5.22 5.56 5.13 4.83 5.03

MLB offense is trending down. We knew that. The Triple-A International League has held fairly steady the last four years and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League has had some pretty big year-to-year fluctuations while still staying close to that overall five runs per game rate. I’m not sure how useful the Triple-A data is though because there is so much roster turnover each year.

The Japan numbers are crazy. NPB started using a new ball in 2011 — they wanted to use something closer to the MLB ball, which is slicker and has higher seams — and it took a huge bite out of their offense. They went through a mini-Deadball Era until they switched back to a livelier ball for 2013. The problem? The league never told the players’ union they changed the balls in 2013 and eventually the commissioner had to resign as a result. KBO also switched to a livelier ball for the 2014 season and offense shot up.

The two main leagues overseas decided to fix their offensive issues by changing the baseball itself and that seems like the easiest and quickest fix. I don’t know if it’s the best fix, but I like it more than eliminating shifts. Embrace creativity! Besides, I don’t think an extra seeing eye ground ball single or two per game is going to put much of a dent in the league-wide offensive numbers overall anyway.

Gus asks: Everyone always talks about Jeter potentially wanting to own a team but we never hear anything about Mariano Rivera‘s future with relation to MLB.  Do you think that he may ever come back to the Yankees on either a full-time or even limited basis and in what capacity?

I’m sure he’ll be back as a guest instructor in Spring Training at some point, but I’ve never thought of Rivera as someone who would return to baseball full-time after his playing days are over. Either as a coach or a special advisor to the GM or anything like that. I’ve always thought Rivera was more likely to dedicate his post-playing career life to building churches and charity work, that sort of stuff. I’m sure Mo will eventually be a regular Spring Training guest instructor, and I’m sure he’ll be involved in outreach programs for the Yankees and MLB, but a full-time baseball man? I would be surprised. That’s just my opinion.

Rob asks: Rumor is the Yankees are looking to fight A-Rod‘s home run bonuses based on his steroids suspension. Couldn’t teams write that sort of thing into contracts? That parts or all of a contract is void if there’s a positive test for PED’s? Wouldn’t it make sense since PED use is a risk for the teams as well?

Nope. All PED-related discipline is handled by the collectively bargained Joint Drug Agreement. I think voiding a contract for PED reasons is a zero tolerance item for the players’ union. I think they’d go on strike before allowing that to happen. Making contract more easily voidable is not a precedent the union wants to set. MLB and the MLBPA agreed to beef up PED suspensions last year — first and second offenses went from 50 and 100 games, respectively, to 80 and 162 games — and the JDA is by far the best and toughest PED system in the four major sports. Letting teams void contracts for a failed test is a can of worms I do not expect the MLBPA to allow to open. Not unless MLB agrees to let players opt out of their contracts if they feel underpaid, of course.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Dan asks: How do you think the clubhouse is going to receive A-Rod.  The only guys who are still on this team from the last time he played are CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, John Ryan Murphy (for about a month), Ivan Nova (who will miss at least 2 months) and Brett Gardner.  It seems like it would have been better for him to come back to a team where the guys know him for more than just his reputation.

Don’t forget Brendan Ryan! He played with A-Rod a bit too in 2013. Dellin Betances too, I think. Anyway, I really have no idea how Alex will be received in he clubhouse. Some days I think it think he’ll fit right back and other days I wonder if the new guys will be uncomfortable. A-Rod has always been really good with young players though, both on the field and off the field, so maybe his presence in the clubhouse won’t be a big deal. A-Rod is a gym and baseball rat and he’s worked with a lot of young players — Robbie Cano took his game to another level after Alex got him to work harder, most notably — in addition to taking them out to dinner or buying them suits, that sort of stuff. The ol’ mentor thing. I’d like to think he would be accepted after serving his time, but who really knows. I don’t think there will be outright mutiny or anything like that though.

Daniel asks: What do you think are the percentage probabilities that Tanaka will be the same pitcher he was in the first half of last year for a whole year, succumb to Tommy John, and stay on the field but not be the same pitcher?

I’ll say … 20% he stays healthy and is the same guy, 60% he has his elbow rebuilt, and 20% he stays healthy but is not the same pitcher. Tanaka was insanely good last year — he had a 1.99 ERA (2.74 FIP) in his first 14 starts before the elbow started to become an issue — and I’m not sure we can realistically expect that over a full season. He had a 2.47 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 19 starts before that disaster in Fenway Park to close out the season, so maybe that’s the best realistic case scenario for 2015. As for the elbow, I’m just not very optimistic right now. I think it’ll give out at some point and soon. Not sure how anyone could expect differently.

D.J. asks: What series with a National League team are you looking most forward to watching?

Definitely the four-game home and home series with the Marlins from June 15-18. I love their outfield — it’s not just Giancarlo Stanton; Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are two of the best young outfielders in baseball as well —  and I irrationally love Henderson Alvarez. He throws in the mid-90s with nasty offspeed stuff, couldn’t miss a bat to save his life, and still dominates. I enjoy it because it’s so unconventional. Their bullpen is really fun too, they’ve got a lot of different arm angles (Steve Cishek), big velocity (Bryan Morris), and big breaking balls (A.J. Ramos). Jose Fernandez might be back by time that series against the Yankees rolls around as well. Miami has themselves a fun up and coming roster this year.