Mailbag: Betances, Bird, Ellsbury, Judge, Kaprielian, Machado

Got eleven questions for you in the mailbag this week, the final mailbag before the start of the regular season. I’m excited. Are you? Hope so. This should be a fun year. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can email us your questions throughout the week.

Also, don’t forget to vote for the 2017 Prospect Watch! Voting closes at 12pm ET.

Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)
Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)

Seamus asks: I know Dellin Betances doesn’t really ramp up his velocity until the end of spring training/beginning of the regular season. I think he topped out at 95 today. I was wondering what his velocity was during the World Baseball Classic? Did he up it to his normal velocity for the tournament?

This question was sent in last Friday, following Dellin’s first appearance with the Yankees after returning from the World Baseball Classic. There’s no PitchFX in the Grapefruit League, so any velocity readings for Betances in Florida are based on the scoreboard or a scout’s gun, if that information is available. Here are the fastball velocity numbers from his five WBC appearances, per PitchFX since the games were in MLB ballparks:

  • March 9th: 97.1 mph average and 97.8 mph max
  • March 12th: 97.6 mph average and 98.5 mph max
  • March 14th: 96.7 mph average and 98.3 mph max
  • March 16th: 97.6 mph average and 99.2 mph max
  • March 18th: 98.1 mph average and 99.2 mph max

Last season Betances averaged 98.4 mph and topped out at 102.0 mph (!) during the regular season, so while he’s been a little below that this spring, keep in mind Dellin has been a slow starter in the velocity department the last few seasons. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-velocity

April has always been Betances’ worst month of the season in terms of average velocity. He, like many other pitchers, tend to ramp it up in the summer months, when it’s hot and they can really get loose and air it out. Having watched each of Dellin’s televised outings this spring, both with the Yankees and in the WBC, I can tell you he looks pretty much exactly like Dellin Betances. No worries for me here. That 95 mph reading last Friday was probably the result of a lack of a reliable radar gun.

Anonymous: The Yankees have won a lot of spring training games this year, but how much of this exhibition game success is due to the superiority of the team’s minor league talent vs the milb talent of other teams? Can this success be quantified by throwing out late-inning scores, concentrating on innings in which major leaguers play against major leaguers (e.g., starting pitching in AWAY games), or some other method? Would any of these exercises be more predictive of regular season success than the uselessness of raw ST records?

The Yankees have had a lot of late-inning comeback wins this spring — they’re 25-8-1 overall (counting the exhibition game against Team Canada) and have already clinched the best record in all of Spring Training — which suggests the prospects and minor leaguers are doing most of the heavy lifting in those games. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Number of games leading after six innings: 18 (18-0 record in those games, though on one occasion they blew the lead, then rallied to win anyway)
  • Number of games tied after six innings: 6 (3-2-1 record in those games, and in the tie they rallied in the ninth to tie the game after the other team took the lead in the late innings)
  • Number of games trailing after six innings: 10 (4-6 record in those games)

Yup, there have definitely been a few late inning comebacks this spring, especially over the last week or so. The Yankees have a couple of walk-off wins last week, and a few other games in which they rallied late for a win. That wasn’t happening all spring though. Early on the Yankees were bludgeoning teams. They’d take the lead early and hold it the rest of the game. There’s some recency bias to the whole “the kids keeps coming back and that’s why they’re winning” idea.

I don’t think this means much of anything anyway. Yeah, the Yankees have a great farm system, so having the extra talent helps, but that in and of itself doesn’t guarantee success. Craig Gentry, a light hitting journeyman speedster, is hitting .333/.443/.549 in 62 plate appearances for the Orioles this spring. Does that mean anything? No. It just means weird stuff happens in small samples, especially when you throw in the noise of Spring Training.

I would absolutely love it if the Yankees’ spring record meant something, be it their ability to contend this year or their ability to contend down the road, when some of the prospects arrive. It doesn’t though. Spring Training is meaningless because it’s always been meaningless. The Cubs have as much young talent as anyone and they went 11-19 last spring. They’re 12-17 this spring. It doesn’t mean anything. Just enjoy the spring for what it is, silly stress-free baseball.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Daryl: Can you talk about Bird’s defense compared to league average? When Bird played 1st, I thought he handled it well over that, what? 1/3rd of the season? I think Mark Teixeira was one of the best 1st basemen defensively during his career- Is bird’s defense terrible bad, mediocre, or just bad when comparing him to a perennial gold glover?

There’s no good way to evaluate first base defense. The stats have a hard time at first base because it’s not really a range-based position. No team is looking for a first baseman who can cover a lot of ground. They’re looking at how someone moves around the first base bag, how he receives throws from other infielders, and how well he can throw home and to second base for force plays. That’s pretty much it.

Both DRS (-3) and UZR (-1.2) say Greg Bird cost the Yankees runs in his 379.2 innings at first base in 2015, and while those specific numbers mean nothing, in this case they do match the scouting reports. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called Bird “average around the bag” prior to that 2015 season. MLB.com said he has “adequate range and arm strength at first base, though he gets credit for working hard on his defense.” Keith Law (subs. req’d) said Bird “still needs work on fielding ground balls.”

Bird has made some nice scoops at first base this spring, though that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Every first baseman makes a nice scoop now and then. Jason Giambi was a pretty good scooper despite being a pretty terrible defensive first baseman overall. Based on what I’ve seen, which admittedly isn’t much, I’d say Bird’s defense is average or slightly below. Not a disaster but not a guy who will save you a ton of runs either. He’s a bat first player and that is perfectly fine.

Nico asks: Is there anything legally prohibiting “loan” trades? Eg you have a young star closer but are out of contention in July, so you loan him to a contender for the rest of the year, but he comes back to you for the rest of his contract starting next season. Could you ever see it??

There’s nothing against that in the rules as far as I know. And besides, even if there was, it seems like it would be easy to circumvent. The question is what’s appropriate compensation? The Yankees aren’t going to, say, lend Betances to the Nationals for August, September, and the postseason out of the kindness of their heart. They’re going to want something in return, even if they know they’ll get Betances back following the season. I sure as hell wouldn’t risk my player getting hurt while with another team and accept nothing in return.

Perhaps the Yankees and Nationals could agree to a fair value trade like Betances for four prospects, something along those lines, and if Betances gets hurt while with Washington, the Yankees keep the prospects. If not, they return three of the four prospects and get Dellin back after the season. Eh? The team loaning the player would have to get something out of the deal, otherwise there’s no reason to agree to it. It’s all downside.

Mark asks: If an MiLB player is suspended for a PED offense, what happens to his roster spot? Is the team forced to play short-handed?

Oh no, definitely not. It works the same was as an MLB player getting suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. He is placed on the restricted list and the team can bring in another player to fill in the roster spot. Playing shorthanded isn’t safe. The MLBPA is pushing for a 26th roster spot so players can get more rest and pitchers won’t be overworked. Forcing a team, especially a minor league team given all the bus rides and pitchers on innings limits, to play with 24 players because one guy got busted for PEDs wouldn’t be right.

Thomas asks: Just wondering about the retention bonuses that certain players can receive, depending on their roster status – we’ve seen a bunch of teams cut and re-sign a player to avoid paying these bonuses (such as Jon Niese, potentially), but why is there never any controversy about this? Couldn’t it be seen as similar to messing with a player’s service time, or trying to get around luxury tax requirements?

The $100,000 retention bonus is written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any player with at least six years of big league service time who signs a minor league contract gets the retention bonus if he’s not on the 40-man roster by a certain date and an automatic June 1st opt-out if he’s not on the roster. The Yankees released Niese on March 26th then re-signed him on March 28th, allowing them to avoid paying him the $100,000. Other teams like the Diamondbacks (Gregor Blanco) and Orioles (Chris Johnson) did the same thing this year. The Dodgers opted to pay Brandon Morrow the retention bonus.

I’m honestly not sure why the MLBPA hasn’t made a bigger stink about this, though I suspect it has something to do with the player requesting his release. Niese, for example, could have told the Yankees he wants to see whether another team would carry him on their Opening Day roster, so they granted him his release so he could go look for work. And when nothing panned out, he returned. Niese has banked over $26M in his career to date, so he might not be sweating that $100,000 much. That sound possible? The release/re-sign move happens multiple times every year and no one complains or files a grievance, and the rule wasn’t changed in the latest CBA. Could it really be this easy to circumvent?

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Daniel asks: If a team (say, the Astros) offered to take Jacoby Ellsbury and every penny of his contract, would that be enough to entice the Yankees to accept lesser prospects in a trade for Tanaka? Kind of makes sense from a business perspective.

It only makes sense if the goal is to save money, not maximize your talent base. Other teams have made similar trades because they don’t have the same financial resources as the Yankees. The Braves attached Craig Kimbrel to Melvin Upton in order to unload his contract, for example. The Pirates attached prospects to Francisco Liriano to get rid of his contract. The Yankees have the money to absorb Ellsbury’s contract. Attaching him to a player as good as Masahiro Tanaka simply to save a few bucks doesn’t sit well with me at all. If you’re going to trade Tanaka, trade him for prospects, not salary relief. It’s bad enough the Yankees are caving to MLB and throwing away their financial advantage by getting under the luxury tax threshold. Imagine trading actual good players simply to get rid of a bad player’s contract. Good grief.

Jon asks: Hey Mike, if Judge is sent down to SWB to start the year how many days approx. would he have to stay down to buy back a full year of ML time?

This question was sent in before we learned Aaron Judge would be the starting right fielder. Of course, that doesn’t mean Judge will stay in the big leagues all season. He could struggle and wind up back in Triple-A, similar to Luis Severino last season. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it is definitely possible. Anyway, 63 days is the magic number here. Judge has 51 days of service time, so add the 12 days necessary to delay free agency and you’re at 63 days. Two months, basically. (Teams usually wait a little longer than 12 days just to a) play it safe, and b) be less obvious about it.) Keep in mind Judge is going to turn 25 in April, so delaying free agency means we’re talking about capturing his age 31 season in 2023. I’m not so worried about that. This isn’t like delaying Gary Sanchez‘s free agency last year to capture his age 29 season. Service time shouldn’t be a consideration for Judge. Let the kid play.

Daniel asks (short version): If the Yankees are buyers at the deadline and the Orioles are near last place, could you see the Yankees trading for Machado? If so, do you think they would go over the luxury tax cap in order to work out a long-term deal?

You know, it’s not crazy to think the O’s may have to trade Manny Machado at some point. If they determine they won’t be able to re-sign him following the 2018 season, trading him for a godfather package makes way more sense than letting him walk for a dinky draft pick. I suppose it depends on where they are in the standings and all that, but yeah, a Machado trade at some point in the next 16 months or so doesn’t seem insane.

A few things about the Yankees and a Machado trade. One, the chances of a Yankees-Orioles trade of this magnitude are tiny. The O’s don’t want to see Machado thrive in New York and the Yankees don’t want to see their prospects thrive in Baltimore. There’s a reason blockbuster intradivision trades are so rare. Two, a lot will depend on where the Yankees are in the standings. If they’re contending, I think they’d be more open to a Machado trade. If not, forget it. They’ll keep the prospects.

And third, do the Yankees think it’s possible to sign Machado to an extension, or is he dead set on testing free agency? If there are any doubts about being able to sign him, I think the Yankees will pass. I don’t think the luxury tax situation will be a big concern because that is workable, but I don’t think they want to give up a boatload of prospects for Machado knowing he’s definitely going to become a free agent after next season, even if they’re in the race at the trade deadline. Ultimately, I think the Yankees-Orioles intradivision dynamic means a trade won’t happen. The O’s won’t have any problem finding other suitors with great prospects to offer.

Andrew asks: I feel like we didn’t hear anything about Kap during spring training. What’s his status?

Healthy and ready to go. The Yankees took is slow with James Kaprielian early in Spring Training following last year’s elbow injury, though they did let him make one Grapefruit League appearance two weeks ago. He struck out three in two scoreless innings. Kaprielian was sent to minor league camp later that day and he’s been pitching on the other side of the street since. He struck out six in four innings and change this past Sunday, according to Josh Norris. Kaprielian will start the season with High-A Tampa, and while the Yankees figure to keep him on some sort of pitch/workload limit early on, he’s good to go. Elbow is good and he’s thrown well this spring.

Aleesandro asks: This is hard to quantify, but how much would the Yankees retaining Robinson Cano have affected the team’s current farm system? If they had kept him, how much longer would they have pushed to be a contender?

Yeah, that’s pretty much impossible to answer. The Yankees would be a better team right now with Cano because he’s better than Starlin Castro and Ellsbury (combined), and that’s effectively who replaced him. Ellsbury got the big contract the Yankees were going to give Cano, and Castro has taken over at second base. Robbie would have likely helped the Yankees win a few more games these last three years, which means a worse draft slot (no Kaprielian? no Blake Rutherford?) and perhaps no fire sale at the 2016 trade deadline.

Then again, who’s to say the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to draft Kaprielian and Rutherford anyway, and that Cano himself wouldn’t have been traded for even more prospects at last year’s deadline? Chances are the farm system wouldn’t be as good as it is right now because so much had to go right to get it where it is. Rutherford had to fall for bonus reasons, for example, and both the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades were perfect storms. Re-signing Cano would have changed everything. The payroll situation, the team-building strategy, everything.

Mailbag: Pineda, Carter, Wade, Tanaka, Chapman, 60-Day DL

I’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. As always, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We gets lots each week, so don’t take it personally if you’re doesn’t get picked.

Pineda. (Presswire)
Pineda. (Presswire)

Justin asks: Considering the 2018 free agent market and the Yankee’s current situation with starting pitchers after this season, how much does Michael Pineda need to improve before becoming a Qualifying Offer candidate after this season?

I’m not sure there’s anything Pineda can realistically do this season to get a qualifying offer. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement completely changed everything. The Yankees will pay luxury tax this season, and because of that, they can only receive a pick after the fourth round (!) for a qualified free agent. The qualifying offer will be worth over $18M this coming winter. That’s a lot of money to risk for such a low draft pick.

To become a qualifying offer candidate, Pineda would have to do something similar to his 2011 rookie season with the Mariners, and even that might not be enough. He had a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 171 innings that year. If Pineda does that again, the Yankees would probably think about making him the qualifying offer because getting him back on an expensive one-year contract wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Still, I don’t have high hopes for Pineda putting it all together this season. He is what he is. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Bob asks: So far Pineda has had an impressive spring, which could mean nothing, but it got me thinking. Suppose Pineda, in his contract year, puts together a great first half. Maybe that puts the Yankees in the hunt for a play-off spot. When you get to the trading deadline, do you deal Pineda because you believe some team will over-pay for him? Or do you keep him in order to keep your play-off hopes alive?

This question was sent in before Pineda’s tough start last time out. I am generally a “go for it” guy. The entire point of playing the game is to win, and if the Yankees are in the race at midseason — I mean really in the race, not five or six games back and “well if we win 20 of our next 25 we’ll have a chance” in the race — they should keep him and go for it. We’re all getting to be a little starved for October baseball, no? The postseason would be cool.

The best answer to this question is: let’s see what’s going in July. Pineda’s situation is similar to Ivan Nova‘s situation last year. The Yankees probably won’t make him the qualifying offer, which means it makes sense to move him at the deadline if he’s still sputtering along and not living up to the potential that is oh so obvious. And if Pineda is pitching well and the team isn’t winning, it would make sense to at least kick the tires on an extension, I think. It never hurts to ask.

Andrew asks: Do you think that Cashman’s contract status might result in him choosing a high floor pitcher like Warren rather then a high ceiling pitcher like Severino for the 4th or 5th starter job?

Nah. I don’t think Brian Cashman‘s contract situation will influence any roster decisions. We’ve seen countless other general managers (in every sport) make big splashy moves in an effort to save their jobs when they’re on the hot seat — Jack Zduriencik throwing all that money at Robinson Cano stands out — but Cashman seems very comfortable with his place with the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner loves him and I think Cashman will be given the opportunity to see this rebuild transition through. I can’t see Cashman making decisions designed to scratch out a few extra wins in an effort to secure a new contract after the season.

Yogi asks (short version): With Bird officially being named the everyday 1B, where does that leave Carter? I find it difficult to believe he is willing to be the backup for the full year. Assuming they can’t trade him, what’s your over/under on Carter being on the roster on May 1?

Definitely over on May 1st. They’re not going to cut the guy 24 games into the season, especially with his primary replacement (Tyler Austin) starting the year on the disabled list. I bet Chris Carter ends up getting a heck of a lot more playing time than we expect. I could see him starting three times a week between first base and designated hitter, especially with all those lefties in the AL East. Greg Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery and Matt Holliday is 37. The Yankees will give them regular rest, I’m sure.

Carter has been dreadful this spring — he’s hitting .122/.234/.195 with 22 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances — but who cares? It’s Spring Training. That just means he’s going to come out of the gate and mash in the regular season. That’s usually how it works out, right? Garrett Jones managed to stick around until the trade deadline and I’m guessing Carter will get similarly long leash. The Yankees won’t cut a dude with this much power a few weeks into the season, nor should they. Not unless you want to see more Rob Refsnyder or Ji-Man Choi.

Carter. (Presswire)
Carter. (Presswire)

Andrew asks: Presuming they are used only as starters, what do you think the innings limits for Warren, Mitchell and Kaprielian would be this season? My theory is that low innings limits for Warren and Mitchell make it more likely they start in the rotation and then get moved to the pen in June, rather then risk having to waste innings stretching them out.

I don’t think Adam Warren will have an innings limit this year. He’s going to turn 30 in August. If he does start the season in the rotation, the Yankees will keep an eye on him and look for signs of fatigue, but I don’t think they’re going to say, “okay, Warren has 140 innings max this year” or anything like that. He’s no kid who needs to be babied. Give him an extra day here and there, otherwise let him pitch.

Bryan Mitchell and James Kaprielian are different stories, obviously. Both missed a bunch of time with injuries last season and need to be handled a little more carefully. Mitchell’s career high is 145.1 innings back in 2013 and I think the Yankees would push him back to 150 innings again this year. Maybe they’d even push him to 175 innings or so if he’s pitching well and looks strong. It’s not like Mitchell hurt his arm last year.

Kaprielian’s career high is 119 innings between college and pro ball in 2015, and we already know the Yankees are going to handle him carefully. He didn’t appear in his first Spring Training game until last week, and the team plans to bring him along slowly once the regular season begins. I wonder if the Yankees targeted 150 innings or so for Kaprielian last year. If so, that might be the target again this year, albeit with a little more caution along the way.

Nathaniel asks: What are you impressions of Tyler Wade so far this Spring Training, and what kind of future does he have? Yankees or trade bait.

This question was sent in before the Didi Gregorius injury thrust Wade into the starting shortstop mix. I’m glad he’s opened some eyes this spring and people are seeing just how good he really is. I’ve been a Wade fan for years now — there have been plenty of “I’m not seeing it/he’s ranked too high in the top 30” comments and emails over the years — and have always though he’s good enough to be someone’s starting shortstop down the road. Didi’s injury means it could be with the Yankees this year.

It seems the Yankees have made their intentions clear with Wade: they want to keep him, and they’re trying to figure out ways to get him playing time. Hence the whole super utility thing. Gregorius isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so shortstop isn’t an option. Same with second base and Starlin Castro, so that’s why they’ve been moving Wade around. He’s not a top prospect, so you can’t rule out the possibility of a trade, but I think the Yankees intend to keep Wade and figure out where he’ll play when the time comes.

Nick asks: I am interested in seeing a “wear and tear” comparison between Tanaka and CC. The knee-jerk reaction following another productive season would be “we must re-sign him” but would the Yankees be risking again paying premium dollars for the back end of a pitcher’s career?

Masahiro Tanaka turned 28 in November and the Yankees signed CC Sabathia six months after his 28th birthday. So this coming offseason Tanaka will essentially be six months older than Sabathia was when the Yankees first signed him, back during the 2008-09 offseason. Here are their career workloads through their age 27 seasons:

  • Sabathia: 1,684.1 innings including postseason.
  • Tanaka: 1,810 innings including MLB postseason (can find postseason stats for Japan).

That surprised me. I would have thought Sabathia threw more innings than Tanaka through their age 27 seasons, but nope. Tanaka made 28 starts and threw 186.1 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles at age 18 (!) and he’s been a full-time starter ever since. Geez.

Sabathia had another four high-quality seasons after signing his contract, but every pitcher is different, and that doesn’t mean Tanaka will hold up another four years as well. Pitchers get hurt all the time, especially older pitchers with thousands of innings on their arm, and it’s fair to say Tanaka is a greater risk than most given his elbow situation. The Yankees know him and his elbow better than anyone. All they can do is make the best decision based on the available information.

Adam asks: Given that Tanaka has his opt-out available after this year and there’s a possibility that the Yankees could have three pitchers leave town if he does opt out, would it make sense for the Yankees to offer to move up a couple of million from the back years of his contract in exchange for deferring the opt-out for a year?

It’s a nice idea, but there’s no way Tanaka and his agent would go for that. Not unless we’re talking tens of millions of dollars. He’d be walking away from three years and $67M by using the opt-out, which he should clear easily in free agency. Tanaka will probably be able to add $40M in guaranteed money after the season. Maybe $60M. Asking him to push back the opt-out clause means delaying that huge payday and assuming a ton of risk. It’s close to all downside for Tanaka. It would have to be huge amount of money to get him to agree to that. It’s not realistic. I wish it was.

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Tom asks: Where would the prospects traded in the Chapman deal to the Reds rank in the farm system today (Rookie Davis etc). Haven’t followed to see how they’ve panned out thus far and based on getting back Torres plus, it was obviously a worthwhile deal anyway. Just curious to see what those guys are up to these days.

The trade looked ridiculously lopsided the day it was made and it looks even more lopsided now, and you don’t even need to factor in the Gleyber Torres stuff. Here’s an update on the four players the Yankees sent to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman last offseason:

  • Rookie Davis: Had a 3.71 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. He’s allowed five runs (four earned) in eleven innings this spring. Pretty good chance Davis will make his MLB debut at some point this season. MLB.com ranks him the 17th best prospect in the team’s farm system.
  • Eric Jagielo: Hit .205/.305/.310 (83 wRC+) with a 30.5% strikeout rate in 111 Double-A games last year. I have no idea what happened to him. Jagielo was not picked in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter and he didn’t get a non-roster invite to camp this year. He also didn’t rank among MLB.com’s top 30 Reds prospects.
  • Tony Renda: Made his MLB debut late last year and went 11-for-60 (.183) in 32 games as a bench player. He has an interesting first hit story. Renda was outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter and is in camp as a non-roster player.
  • Caleb Cotham: Had a 7.40 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 24.1 innings last season before going down with a knee injury. Cotham announced his retirement earlier this month.

Yeah, not great. Maybe Jagielo figures it out and maybe Renda carves out a niche as a bench player, otherwise the Chapman trade is going to boil down to Davis for the Reds. If he turns into a decent mid-rotation starter, Cincinnati will probably come out ahead in the “add up the WAR” game, but yeah. Pretty much a disaster. They sold Chapman for pennies on the dollar. Pennies.

As for the question, Jagielo and Renda definitely would not have made my top 30 list. Jagielo might not have made a top 50 list at this point. He was always a bat first guy with questionable defense, and if the bat is gone, he’s a non-prospect. Davis is a legitimate prospect and I would have had him in the top 30. Somewhere in the 19-22 range seems about right, alongside guys like Chad Green and Tyler Austin.

Ryan asks: Do the Yankees have any 60 Day DL candidates when the time comes they can put players on the DL? This could pave the way for a Wade to SS scenario. Thank you.

Gregorius and Austin. That’s it. As best I can tell, the first day teams were able to place players on the 60-day DL was February 14th, and Austin broke his foot on February 17th. Backdating the 60-day DL stint would still allow the Yankees to activate Austin as early as April 18th, so maybe that’s how they’ll make room on the 40-man roster for whoever needs to be added before Opening Day (Wade, Ernesto Frieri, Ruben Tejada, etc.).

The Gregorius situation is different. Putting him on the 60-day DL would mean the Yankees couldn’t activate him until May 19th, and from the sound of things, he could be back much sooner than that. So for now Austin is the only real 60-day DL candidate. (Remember: Teams can only use the 60-day DL when the 40-man roster is full, and someone has to be added to the 40-man right away. You can’t put someone on the 60-day DL and sit on the open 40-man spot.)

David asks: Would there be any benefit to the teams in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues playing one another during spring training? Obviously you want to reduce unneeded travel during the spring, but what about a quick one week swing through a couple teams in the other league to break up the monotony of playing the same teams.

Interesting idea! I think this would be pretty darn cool, though I doubt the clubs would go along with it because it means more travel and all that. Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Yankees spend, say, three days going through the Cactus League? I’m sure the fans there would love it. A Yankees fan in Phoenix doesn’t get to see their team play all that often. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every team that makes the trip. Maybe they could send the Yankees and Red Sox to Arizona for a few days, and the Cubs and Dodgers to Florida for a few days. Seems like it would be pretty neat and exciting, which means it definitely won’t happen. So it goes.

Adam asks: What are your predictions for the 2017 season for the following?

We’re going to post our annual season predictions at CBS at some point soon. Next week, I think. And I’m always wrong. Last year I picked the Mets to beat the Rangers in the World Series, and Aaron Hicks to be the AL’s breakout player. Whoops. Here’s what I’m thinking for this season:

  • World Series: Dodgers over Mariners. Why the hell not?
  • MVPs: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. I’m boring, I know, but they’re the best players.
  • Cy Youngs: Contract year Masahiro Tanaka and Noah Syndergaard.
  • Rookies of the Year: Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson. Too easy.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery to the division races this year, huh? The Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers are all the clear cut favorites in their divisions, I think. The wildcard races are where it’ll be at. Then again, nothing ever goes according to plan. Perhaps the Cubs and Indians will be hit with a huge World Series hangover a la the Royals last year.

Mailbag: Lineup, Velocity, Rookie of the Year, Torres, Norris

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the penultimate mailbag before Opening Day. As always, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything.

Reggie and Holliday. (Presswire)
Reggie and Holliday. (Presswire)

Zachary asks: I used Baseball Musings lineup tool and ZiPS/Steamer/ATC projections to try to find the best 2017 lineup for the Yankees. No matter the numbers I used, the tool insisted that Matt Holliday leading off would produce the best run-scoring lineup in 2017. Thoughts on that? Is it something you would do as manager? Can you see Joe doing something that radical?

The lineup tool is a bit outdated — the model is based on research from 2006 — and all it does it put the highest OBP player in the leadoff spot. If two players are within a few OBP points of each other, it’ll give the higher SLG player more at-bats. When I put together the All-RAB Era Team a few weeks back, the lineup analysis tool stuck 2007 Jorge Posada in the leadoff spot because he led those players in OBP. Just about every projection system has Holliday leading the Yankees in OBP by a point or two over Brett Gardner.

There’s no chance Joe Girardi will bat Holliday leadoff. He’s a veteran middle of the order guy and that’s where Girardi will hit him. If I were manager, I wouldn’t bat Holliday leadoff either. For starters, I don’t think Holliday will actually out-OBP Gardner. Secondly, that’s a waste of Holliday’s pop. If you have two players with similar OBPs, I say bat the guy with power a little lower in the order so there are more men on base when he hits. The Cubs are planning to bat Kyle Schwarber leadoff and Ben Zobrist cleanup. That seems completely backwards to me. If you think Schwarber is a 30-homer guy, you’re setting him up to hit a lot of solo homers by batting him behind the pitcher.

Paul asks: There are several examples of prospects who have seen their mph tick up with the Yankees. Is this normal for other teams? Is it just kids’ bodies maturing, or do the Yankees have some advantage in their training program that maximizes fastball speed?

This does happen elsewhere, but it happens so often with the Yankees that I don’t think we can wave it off as a fluke at this point. James Kaprielian, Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Taylor Widener, and Chad Green are among those who gained velocity after joining the organization. It must be something with the Yankees’ throwing program or training regimen, right? For what it’s worth, here’s what Eric Longenhagen said in his weekly chat this week:

John: are you able to tell how the yankees’ development team is getting velocity boosts out of so many college arms? change in delivery, selective drafting, conditioning, or something else?

Eric A Longenhagen: There seems to be a common arm action so I’d guess they have a way to teach it. It’s pretty cool. We’ll start talking about the Dodgers like this soon, I’m guessing. Like half a dozen of their guys were touching 95+ yesterday on Day 1 of minor league spring training games.

That’s about the best answer I can give. When one or two guys add velocity, maybe it’s just a fluke. When five or six or seven (or more) do it, there’s probably something to it. Ever since Gary Denbo replaced Mark Newman as the farm system head in October 2014, the team’s player development seems to have taken a big step forward. It’s only been two seasons, but the top prospects aren’t stalling out and several lower profile guys are making big gains. It’s exciting.

Robert asks (short version): Hindsight is always 20/20 and I trust the front office (especially with cash almost fully in charge) but do you think there’s some regret from within trading solarte a few years back? He’s developed into a nice little player who can play multiple positions teams now seek.

Oh sure. I’m guessing the Yankees would like to take that trade back given what they know now. Yangervis Solarte isn’t a star or anything, but he’s hit .275/.330/.428 (110 wRC+) with +4.7 fWAR and +4.8 bWAR since the trade. Chase Headley has hit .256/.333/.379 (97 wRC+) with +6.9 fWAR and +5.9 bWAR during that time. The difference in their salaries are pretty substantial too. I do think Headley’s advantage in defense outweighs the difference in offense, but ultimately, it’s similar production at very different prices.

Remember though, at the time of the trade Solarte was a career minor league journeyman who hit well the first 40 games of the season (.336/.414/.521) before completely falling off (.180/.264/.256 the next 41 games) and having to be sent to the minors. There was reason to think the clock had struck midnight. What can you do? You win some and you lose some, and when your biggest trade mistake over the last three or four years is trading away Yangervis Solarte, you’ll be fine.

Anonymous asks: According to Baseball America, the Yankees had the 27th best prospects ranking in 2004. The following year Robinson Cano would have his rookie season, the first in a career that currently has him easily as one of the top 20 2B of all time, and likely top 5 by the time he retires. The system produced little else (CM Wang, Melky Cabrera, Tyler Clippard, Dioner Navarro.) Would you rather take that 2004 prospect group or the current one?

Oh man, that’s tough. On one hand you have a Hall of Fame caliber second baseman (Cano), an elite reliever (previous versions of Clippard), and a solid everyday outfielder (Melky) in addition to Chien-Ming Wang‘s two excellent years before his injuries. On the other hand you have everything guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Aaron Judge and Kaprielian can become. They won’t all work out. We know that. But the sheer volume of prospects suggests the Yankees will get several quality players out of this group.

It’s hard for me to say no to a likely Hall of Famer, so I’ll take the 2004 group thanks to Cano. But! Keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible. New York’s best non-prospect eligible young big leaguer in 2004 was, uh, Travis Lee? Seriously, try to find a quality young player on that roster. Sanchez and Bird are two pretty significant bats, and if you add them to the current farm system, I’d take it over the 2004 group. Otherwise I’ll hitch my wagon to Robbie Cano.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Seth asks: Which Yankee rookie could you possibly see winning ROY? What would need to happen or what kind of stat line do you think they would need to put up to win? Are there any early ROY favorites in the AL right now?

There are really only two candidates for 2017: Judge and Green. Others like Torres and Frazier probably won’t spend enough time in the big leagues to be serious Rookie of the Year candidates. (If Sanchez couldn’t win Rookie of the Year doing what he did last year, how could Gleyber or Frazier?) Judge and Green could very well spend the entire season in the big leagues and in prominent roles. Judge as the starting right fielder and Green as a starting pitcher. Playing time is important.

The Rookie of the Year award tends to skew towards position players — Michael Fulmer, Jacob deGrom, Jose Fernandez, and Jeremy Hellickson are the only starters to win the award since 2007 — so I think Judge’s chances of winning the award are better than Green’s. He’ll be in the race if he gets his strikeouts under control and smacks, say, 25 dingers or so. When it’s all said and done, the power numbers will get Judge votes, not WAR. (Sanchez, Bird, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell aren’t Rookie of the Year eligible anymore. Too many at-bats and innings.)

That said, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is the odds on favorite to be the AL Rookie of the Year right now. He’s got a full-time lineup spot and he’s annoyingly good. I suppose White Sox righty Lucas Giolito should be considered a Rookie of the Year candidate, though he hasn’t looked very good since being called up. My sleeper pick: Athletics righty Jharel Cotton, who has a rotation spot locked up. I could see him putting up nice numbers in that ballpark.

Ethan asks: Hey Mike! I was looking back at the old Top 30 Prospects lists from MLB.com, and saw that Refsnyder hit his peak at #4 in the Yankees’ system in 2015 when they had only 2 players in the Top 100. Just wondering with the current system having 7 Top-100 players, where do you think Refsnyder would be placed if he was at his prospect peak?

Those were the days, eh? When a good but not great prospect like Rob Refsnyder was among the five best prospects in the system. For the record, the highest Refsnyder ever ranked on my top 30 lists was No. 6 in 2016. That ranking was based more on his probability of being a solid big leaguer than pure upside. Refsnyder at his prospect peak would have ranked no higher than 15th on this year’s top 30. Way too many players with more upside in the system to rank him any higher. I think there’s a chance Refsnyder will still be able to carve out a career as a righty platoon bat, but he’s going to have to start hitting for power. Below-average defenders who only hit singles aren’t a hot commodity, you know?

Elliot asks: For the first time since following you guys, Gary Sanchez isn’t even a candidate for the minor league spotlight (sidebar) this season. With all of the deadline moves and graduations last lear, who gets your vote? Torres? Frazier? Kaprielian? Mateo? What options!!!

I’ll post the annual Prospect Watch poll a few days before Opening Day. I don’t want to post it early and have someone get hurt or traded, and have to do it all over again. And like you said, there are a ton of good candidates this year. Torres, Frazier, Kaprielian, Blake Rutherford, Justus Sheffield, Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, on and on it goes. In most years someone like Adams or Dustin Fowler would be prime Prospect Watch fodder. I’m not even sure I’ll include them in the poll at this point. No, I don’t believe in the Prospect Watch curse — the little pixels in the RAB sidebar don’t have those kind of powers — so it’ll again be a choice among the top prospects, and gosh the Yankees sure do have lots of them.

Nico asks: Sorry if I missed this, but does Spring Training offensive performance appear to correlate at all with regular season offensive performance? I know it won’t be a exact correlation, but still – would be good to know how much stock to put into the yankees’ ST dominance.

Alas, there’s very little correlation between Spring Training performance and regular season performance. And that applies to everything. Team record, offense, pitching, the whole nine. Lance Rinker and Neil Paine ran the numbers and found a tiny little correlation between spring and regular season offensive performance. So tiny that it’s basically insignificant. Bird probably won’t have a 1.500 OPS during the regular season, sadly.

There have also been a ton of studies (like this one, this one, and this one) showing spring win-loss records don’t mean much either. My go to example: the 2001 Mariners had the second worst Spring Training record among AL teams (13-19), and then went 116-49 during the regular season. The only AL team with a worst spring record that year? The Yankees, who went 9-20 in the spring, won 95 games during the regular season, then beat the Mariners in the ALCS. The Yankees are hitting well and winning games this spring and that’s cool. It doesn’t tell us much about the upcoming season, unfortunately.

Headley and Gleyber. (Presswire)
Headley and Gleyber. (Presswire)

John asks: The “problem” of too many shortstops has been talked about a lot here on RAB. Are the yankees showing their hand this spring in terms of where the expect Torres to wind up? It seems that with Didi gone at the WBC Torres has been getting way more action at second than at short. If Torres plays well this season in the minors at second, what are the chances he’s starting at second for the yanks on opening day in 2018?

Torres has played many more innings at short (42.1) than at second (16) this spring, and I don’t think it’s a secret what the Yankees are doing with their shortstops. They want to increase their versatility because a) versatility is good, and b) it’ll allow them to get everyone into the lineup at once. Chances are the best Yankees teams in 2018 and beyond feature both Torres and Didi Gregorius, and, well, how are you supposed to get them into the same lineup? The same goes for Mateo (center field) and Tyler Wade (outfield). I do think there’s a chance Gleyber will reach MLB in 2017, which would presumably set him up to be on the 2018 Opening Day roster. At which position? Who knows. The Yankees seem to be trying to figure that out themselves.

Nathan asks: How interesting or uninteresting, or competitive, would this team be? Sanchez at C, Bird at 1b, Wade at 2nd, Didi at SS, Gleyber at 3b, Frazier in LF. Fowler in CF and Judge in RF. On personal level, I don’t know if they’d be good, but I think they’d be fun as heck to watch, and easy to cheer for.

Very interesting and not terribly competitive, I don’t think. You’ve got five rookies in the lineup plus two non-rookies playing their first full MLB season, and history (and common sense) tells us there will be growing pains. Even Mike Trout struggled in his first attempt at the big leagues (.220/.281/.390 in 40 games in 2011). They would be fun to watch though. That’s for sure. The lineup includes lots of exciting young guys who play with a ton of energy and you’re right, they’d be easy to root for. Chances are that lineup wouldn’t be very good in 2017, but they sure would be entertaining.

Andrew asks: I know backup catcher isn’t that big of a deal. But with Derek Norris being released by Washington, he’s better than Romine right? Worth it to sign him to a league minimum deal since Washington already on the hook for the rest?

I wouldn’t be a league minimum deal. Like every other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible player, Norris was on a non-guaranteed contract. The Nationals released Norris earlier this week on the last day teams could release players with non-guaranteed contracts and only pay them 30 days termination pay. Norris will receive roughly $688,000 of his $4.2M salary, and he can now sign a contract of any size with any team. Players who have been released from guaranteed contracts and are still being paid are the guys you can sign for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. That doesn’t apply to Norris.

As for the question, yes I’d absolutely prefer Norris to Austin Romine for the backup catcher spot. Is that the job Norris wants though? Hard to think he wants to spend his age 28 season stuck behind Sanchez when several clubs could offer more playing time behind the plate. The White Sox, Angels, Rays, Diamondbacks, and Brewers could all offer Norris their starting catcher job. Perhaps the job market will be so dry Norris would be willing to sign a cheap deal with the Yankees to back up Sanchez, but I can’t see it. These seems like one of those “he makes sense for the Yankees but the Yankees don’t make sense for him” deals.

Brian asks: Last year Billy Butler beat out Brian McCann in a footrace. Who wins in Chris Carter vs. Matt Holliday?

I haven’t seen either guy run enough this spring to form a solid opinion. I’ll go with Carter because he has youth on his side. I’ll roll the dice with the 30-year-old over the 37-year-old. Neither Carter nor Holliday will be in the lineup for their speed though. They’re there to sock dingers. I wonder who’d win a footrace between Sanchez and Bird? They’re both young and in shape, though neither is fleet of foot. Make it happen, Yankees.

Mailbag: Rotation Candidates, McKinney, Higashioka, Rule 5

I’ve got a dozen questions for you in the mailbag this week. Only thee more mailbags until the regular season begins, you know. As always, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Christian asks: Based on the first two weeks of games, who of the candidates for the 4th and 5th rotation spots have the upper hand?

Joe Girardi said earlier this week it’s still pretty even, which was nothing more than a diplomatic answer in early-March. Why say someone is ahead of everyone else with more than three weeks to go in camp? I’m not sure that benefits anyone. Here are the spring stats:

Yeah, good luck picking a favorite out of that group right now. Based on what we’ve seen, I think Mitchell has looked the best, but that doesn’t mean much of anything. This still seems very wide open to me, so I’m going to stand by my initial prediction: Cessa and Severino in the rotation, Mitchell in the bullpen, and Green in Triple-A to start the season. And by the end of the season, Cessa will emerge as the best long-term rotation option of the four.

Update: I forgot about Adam Warren. His spring line: 8 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3 HR. He’s looked exactly like Adam Warren has always looked. As I’ve said several times over the last several weeks, I’ll be very surprised if Warren ends up in the rotation. It seems the Yankees prefer him in the bullpen. Maybe they’ll surprise me.

Bob asks: In Spring Training, the pitchers throw bullpen sessions, throw live batting practice, and pitch in simulated games before pitching in spring training games. What exactly is involved in pitching simulated games and why would the team assign a pitcher to simulated games rather than Spring Training games which is a real game situation?

In a simulated game, typically two batters (one righty and one lefty) alternate at-bats against the pitcher with a coach calling balls and strikes, usually from behind a screen behind the mound. There are no fielders or runners or anything like that. The pitcher pitches, and if the ball is put in play, the coach determines whether it was a hit or an out or whatever. It’s a way to simulate actual at-bats with counts and game situations (runner on second, etc.).

Simulated games are much more controlled than actual games. If a pitcher gets hit around and loads the bases with no outs in a simulate game, they can shut the inning down so he doesn’t throw too many pitches and risk injury, then start with a fresh inning after a resting for 10-15 minutes. Can’t do that with a real game. This is especially useful when you’re bringing a pitcher along slowly, like James Kaprielian following last year’s elbow injury.

Ron asks: Why should the playing time be between Hicks and Judge? As you’ve said before that Hicks is better with more playing time. He should be challenging for the left field job as both Gardner and Ellsbury are basically the same type of player as both are lead off hitters. Wouldn’t it be more to the Yanks benefit to rotate those two in center field and see what Hicks can do with more at bats?

If the choice is between Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks, give me Judge all day, every day. Now, if it were Hicks or either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury, I’d go with Hicks, but we all know that’s not going to happen. Right now, it seems the only path Hicks has to regular playing time is a) one of the regular outfielders gets hurt, b) Judge struggles so much he has to go back to Triple-A, or c) Gardner is traded. I’m not really sure what the Yankees can do with Hicks, who isn’t all that young anymore (27) and hasn’t done nearly enough in his career to warrant more playing time. A switch-hitting outfielder with some power and speed is a nice asset, but where is he supposed to play? How do you justify playing him over Gardner, Ellsbury, or Judge?

Justin asks: Why is Ben Heller not included on any of the prospect lists? He’s only pitched 7 MLB innings. His upside is that of a solid major league reliever. Probably more than you can say for some of the other right handers lower down on the prospect list.

Heller nearly made my top 30 prospects list. He’s the best relief prospect in the system in my opinion. Heller’s fastball is ridiculous and his slider is pretty good too. I expect him to ride the shuttle this year and emerge as a full-time bullpener by the end of next season. Generally speaking though, it’s really tough to rank a reliever among the best prospects in a farm system this deep. The Yankees have so many everyday position player and starting pitcher candidates that ranking a reliever requires an awful lot of faith in his ability to carve out an MLB role. I’ve done this long enough to know bullpen prospects are more unpredictable than any other type of prospect.

Hand. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Hand. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Brandon asks: First time long time hello, would love to hear one player not currently in the Yankees organization that will play at least 30 games for the Yankees this season?

The Yankees weirdly did not have anyone like this last year. Here are the leaders in games played for the 2016 Yankees among players who were not in the organization on Opening Day:

  1. Adam Warren, Tommy Layne, and Tyler Clippard — 29 games each
  2. Blake Parker — 16
  3. Billy Butler — 12
  4. Ben Heller — 10
  5. Ike Davis — 8
  6. Eric Young Jr. — 6
  7. Phil Coke — 3

Billy Butler, man. Remember when people were talking about re-signing that guy? What the heck was that about? Anyway, as for the question, the smart money is on a pitcher because the Yankees have internal position player options at nearly every position thanks to the farm system. Teams always need pitchers though.

A few weeks ago I said I had a hunch the Yankees would trade for Carter Capps this summer, though his delivery has since been made illegal (in theory), so I’m calling an audible. The 30-game minimum rules out a starting pitcher. I’m going to say … Brad Hand. How’s that for a weird one? Hand was pretty good last year, throwing 89.1 relief innings with a 2.92 ERA (3.07 FIP) and 30.5% strikeouts for the Padres. San Diego is in full blown tear it down mode and the Yankees are said to be looking for another lefty reliever. (Sorry, Jon Niese.) I guess you could say the pinstriped glove fits the Hand. Dammit. Sorry. I’m so sorry.

Mark asks (short version): Sanchez was supposed to be good but he blew way past anyone’s expectations. He was in the 30s to 50s on most prospect boards. He wasn’t a top 10 or even top 25 on most if any prospect boards. Gut feeling which Yankee prospect do you think can blow past expectations?

Gary Sanchez was a classic example of prospect fatigue. He was around for so long — the Yankees signed him in July 2009 and it wasn’t until August 2016 that he stuck in MLB for good — that people got tired of waiting and were bored of following him as a prospect. Check out where Sanchez ranked on Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospects list through the years, via Baseball Reference:

gary-sanchez-bp-rankings

Amazing. That isn’t to say we should have expected Sanchez to do what he did last year, that was an unreal pace, but the idea his prospect status was falling had more to do with the folks ranking him than Sanchez himself. He was never not an excellent catching prospect.

As for the question, Justus Sheffield definitely seems like someone who could exceed expectations to me. MLB.com’s free scouting report says he “has the upside of a No. 3 starter,” and the other major scouting publications have written similar things. I dunno, I see a lefty with three really good pitches and a ton of athleticism. Yes, Sheffield needs to throw more strikes, but his clean delivery and athleticism suggest it should happen in time. I think Sheffield has a chance to be a top 25-30 pitcher in baseball at his peak.

Judge is another one, if only because so many people seem to be down on him following his big league cameo last year. The innate hitting ability is there and he has more than enough power. It’s just a matter of recognizing how pitchers are attacking him. The road may be bumpy, but Judge’s offensively upside is ridiculously high. Want a lower ranked prospect? Domingo German. He’s healthy now and has a mid-90s sinker with a great changeup, and his slider showed more promise than, say, Domingo Acevedo’s prior to his Tommy John surgery.

Brent asks: Are we being unfair and undervaluing Castro? He strikes out a ton, low on base, and somewhat shaky defense at a new position. However, he hit 270 with 20 bombs. We’ve had Brendan Ryan, Drew, and Brian Roberts play second. Give me Castro all day.

Well yeah, give me Starlin Castro over guys like Ryan, Roberts, and Stephen Drew. That’s not really who we should be comparing him to though. Twenty-one second basemen qualified for the batting title last year and Castro ranked 17th in wRC (94 wRC+), 17th in bWAR (+1.2), and 19th in fWAR (+1.1). Castro is among the worst everyday second basemen in baseball right now. He has two things going for him. One, his contract. He’s owed $30M from 2017-19 and that will continue to buy him opportunities. And two, the idea that he is still young and could, in theory, get better. That said, Castro has nearly 4,400 big league plate appearances under his belt and he’s made basically zero adjustments to his approach. He still hacks and hacks and hacks. Starlin isn’t good enough to be a key contributor to a winning team and he’s not bad enough replace, which is pretty much the worst place to be.

Mike asks: Does McKinney have enough bat/athleticism to play first? I love Bird, but shoulders are tricky. If McKinney isn’t an alternative and Bird’s shoulder is a long term issue, is there anyone in the system?

I think Billy McKinney could handle first base defensively once he gets some experience under his belt. There’s nothing in his physical tools to suggest he can’t handle first. Will he hit enough though? The offensive bar at first base is quite high and right now McKinney’s bat is a question. I know he has a pretty swing and has had a great Grapefruit League season, and that’s encouraging, but I’m going to need to see lots more than a dozen Spring Training at-bats to think he’s turned the corner after a tough 2016 season. I say keep McKinney in the outfield for the time being. Let him force the issue with his bat before worrying about changing his position as a way to get him in the lineup.

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Greg asks: Lets just say McKinney keeps hitting and regains his old prospect shine. Assuming he does, what kind of prospect are we dealing with? on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being Ben Gamel and 5 being Clint Frazier)

On that scale … a three? Yeah, a three. In this scenario Dustin Fowler would be a four for me. He and McKinney have similar offensive upside but Fowler offers so much more on defense. A two would be someone like Mason Williams or Tyler Austin, I guess. A former top prospect who has been trying to regain their old prospect shine for a period of several years, not one year like McKinney. The thing with McKinney is he doesn’t offer a ton of defense, so he’s going to have to hit and hit big to be an above-average big leaguer. He has the talent to do that, but there’s a reason this guy was the third piece in a trade for a reliever. His stock is down and he has quite a way to go to build it back up. This spring is a nice start.

Jason asks: Is it at all possible for Higashioka to win the backup job this spring? And if not, what’s a realistic time we might see him in the majors?

Possible? Yes. Likely? No. I know Kyle Higashioka has smashed some dingers (against minor league pitchers) this spring and that’s cool, but I have a hard thinking the Yankees will dump Austin Romine, go with Higashioka as the backup, and leave Wilkin Castillo as the third catcher in Triple-A. We’ll see Higashioka in the bigs this year. Don’t worry. At worst he’ll be a September call-up. Chances are he’ll have to come up as an injury replacement for a few weeks before that. Catchers have a way of getting banged up. I’d bet on Higashioka being the primary backup catcher in 2018. Just not on Opening Day 2017.

Mike asks: Going into camp it looked for certain Romine would be the backup and Higashioka would be depth in AAA – I know camp numbers are not to be trusted, but it’s hard to ignore Higashioka’s bat, especially considering the 68 wRC+ Romine put up last year. Who has more (any) trade value? Romine or Higashioka? Who has more value to the Yankees? Romine or Higashioka?

Higashioka has more trade value because he hasn’t had the same opportunity to fail at the MLB level as Romine. That’s usually how it works. The prospect always feels more valuable than the big leaguer because you can dream on the prospect whereas the big league has already slapped you in the face with the reality that hey, MLB is hard. Higashioka undeniably has more power than Romine and he might be a better defender. I do think he’s the better long-term asset. Remember though, there is no Higashioka in MLB and Romine in Triple-A. That scenario doesn’t exist. Romine is out of options, and even if he clears waivers, he’s likely to elect free agency to look for a better opportunity elsewhere, like every other fringe player who has cleared waivers.

Anthony asks: I was looking at San Diego’s ST stats and noticed Torrens hasn’t gotten into any games so far, which made me wonder if you think any of the four we lost in this years Rule V draft are going to be coming back?

Torrens has played a handful of games since this question was sent in. The Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter, and here’s an update on their spring performance:

  • RHP Tyler Jones, Diamondbacks: 4 G, 3.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 0 HR
  • LHP Caleb Smith, Cubs: 2 G, 3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3 HR
  • C Luis Torrens, Padres: 6 G, 0-8, 1 BB, 2 K
  • LHP Tyler Webb, Pirates: 3 G, 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR

I still expect Torrens to come back even though he is second in innings caught among Padres catchers this spring. The track record of Rule 5 Draft catchers sticking is so terrible, and Torrens will be trying to make the jump from Low-A at age 20 after missing all of 2015 and the first half of 2016 to shoulder surgery. San Diego has two veteran backup catcher candidates in camp (Tony Cruz and Hector Santiago, plus two-way player Christian Bethancourt can catch) and all that leads me to believe Torrens is coming back.

There’s basically no way Smith sticks with the Cubs, and that was true even before the whole three homers in three innings thing. Chicago has a small army of bullpen candidates in camp, many of them with big league time, and it’s not often you see a legitimate World Series contender (favorite?) carry a Rule 5 Draft guy on the roster. Jones has a good chance to stick with the D-Backs because they stink. Based on their depth chart, Webb is on the outside of Pittsburgh’s bullpen looking in, though that could change in a hurry.

My guess is Torrens and Smith come back at the end of the camp, Jones sticks with Arizona, and Webb opens the season with the Pirates before bouncing around on waivers a bit, then eventually comes back to New York during the summer.

Mailbag: Mitchell, Sanchez, Andujar, Garcia, CarGo, Banuelos

We have eleven questions in the mailbag this week. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us any questions throughout the week. We get a lot of submissions and I can only answer so many, so don’t take it personally if yours doesn’t get picked.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Mike asks: I think we all have high hopes for Bryan Mitchell to be an important part of the rotation this year and based on his velocity, love his stuff. However, according to Eno Sarris on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast, he expressed concerns about his spin rate. Can you put those numbers into context? Are they fair concerns?

Spin rate is exactly what it sounds like: how fast does the ball rotate? Spin rate isn’t everything the same way velocity isn’t everything. It’s one tool in the shed. There’s been a lot written about spin rate recently (like this, this, this, and this) and, with fastballs, a high spin rate correlates well to swings and misses while a low spin rate correlates well to ground balls. That is not necessarily true for breaking balls or offspeed pitches though.

We don’t have a ton of data for Mitchell given his limited time in the big leagues. Here’s what we do have have on him, as well as the relevant league averages via Baseball Savant:

% Thrown Mitchell’s 2016 Spin Rate 2016 MLB AVG Spin Rate
Four-Seamer 51.5% 2,268 2,264
Cutter 23.7% 2,352 2,313
Curveball 21.4% 2,800 2,471
Changeup 3.4% 1,862 1,753

Spin rate is measured in revolutions per minute even though it takes less than a second for a pitch to reach the plate. Last year Mitchell had almost perfectly league average spin rates on his four-seamer and cutter. That’s not great, but it’s not automatically a bad thing either. It just means his fastball isn’t particularly conducive to whiffs or grounders. The pitch can still be effective through location, pitching sequencing, etc.

Mitchell’s curveball had a very high spin rate last year — among the 439 pitchers to throw at least 50 curveballs in 2016, Mitchell had the 30th highest average spin rate — and unlike fastballs, a high spin rate for curveballs correlates well to swings and misses and grounders. The curveball has always been Mitchell’s bread and butter pitch and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. His fastball spin rate isn’t great, but his curveball’s is, and having a dominant offering like that gives him a chance to be successful.

Mark asks: Are the Yanks a better all around team with Carter at DH, Holliday in LF and Gardy in CF and Ellsbury on the bench?

I don’t think so. Matt Holliday is really bad defensively, we’re talking Ibanez-esque, and I think that would more than negate any offensive advantage gained by replacing Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bat with Chris Carter‘s bat. Also, Holliday is 37 years old now, so playing him regularly in the outfield is a good way to wear him down during the season. Chances are he won’t hit as well as a result of the extra fatigue. Given the available options, I’m totally cool with Brett Gardner and Ellsbury in the outfield, Holliday at DH, and Carter getting spot starts at first base and DH.

Kris asks: I know that the chances of every top prospect panning out is slim, but in a perfect world, if Judge/Frazier/Torres/Andujar all seem like solid starting options in the next couple of seasons could you see a scenario where the Yankees pass on the 2018 FA’s like Machado and Harper who they’re so often linked to?

Oh sure. I don’t think the Yankees want to sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in two years. I think they will sign one of those guys if necessary — and if they get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 — but Plan A is the kids. Cheap and productive Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier in the corner outfield spots, not Harper at $35M+ a year. Cheap and productive Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar at third base, not Machado on a ten-year contract with three opt-outs. The fact Harper and Machado are still so young — they’ll both hit free agency at 26 — makes me think the Yankees will be more open-minded about signing them to huge dollars. It’s not like they’re 31. But yeah, Plan A is the kids.

Jonathan asks (short version): If Gary Sanchez hits lets say 25-30 homers, has about a 280/350/500 slash and plays solid defense. Do you think he would be be a top 10 asset in baseball after this year? Like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are top 10 players easily but not type 10 assets since they will be a free agents in a year.

Yes, absolutely. A good defensive catcher who hits .280/.350/.500 with 25+ homers is an MVP candidate. Add in all the team control — remember how much we talked about Sanchez’s service time and keeping him down for 35 days and all that last year? Sanchez still has six years of team control remaining, and he won’t qualify as a Super Two either — and Sanchez would easily be a top ten asset in baseball. That level of production for a catcher is incredible.

No one asked me, but here is my really quick list of the top ten assets in baseball right now. Again, these aren’t necessarily the ten best players. These are the ten most valuable assets based on production, team control, etc.

  1. Mike Trout
  2. Francisco Lindor
  3. Kris Bryant
  4. Corey Seager
  5. Carlos Correa
  6. Mookie Betts
  7. Anthony Rizzo
  8. Christian Yelich
  9. Starling Marte
  10. Noah Syndergaard

I feel like I’m missing someone obvious. Keep in mind players like Nolan Arenado, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgarner will all be free agents within three years. Everyone in the top ten has at least five years of contractual control remaining except Trout, who has four. He’s still No. 1 because he’s just that damn good. Sanchez doing what Jonathan suggested in the question would without a doubt make him a top ten asset at this time next year.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Bart asks (short version): In the 2002 Yankees article you mentioned “Ideally, that’d mean they’d face the AL’s worst playoff team (the 94-win Twins) in the ALDS, but instead they got the wild card winners, the 99-win Anaheim Angels.” Why did they play the Angels instead of the Twins?

The 2002 AL postseason picture was slightly complicated. Here are the records of the four AL playoff teams:

  • Yankees: 103-58
  • Athletics: 103-59
  • Angels: 99-63 (wildcard team)
  • Twins: 94-67

Notice the Yankees only played 161 games that season. That’s because they had a game against the (Devil) Rays rained out in September that they never made up. The Yankees won the season series over the Athletics, so even if the Yankees played that makeup game against Tampa and lost, they still held the tiebreaker over the A’s and would have been considered the league’s top seed going into the postseason. Because of that, MLB never made them play the makeup game.

The team with the best record in the league plays the wildcard team, so the Yankees were matched up with the 99-win Angels. But! Even if the A’s had gone, say, 104-58 to finish with the best record in the league, the Yankees still would have played the Angels in the ALDS. Back then two teams in the same division weren’t allowed to meet in the LDS, so an Athletics-Angels ALDS was impossible. Nowadays two teams in the same division can play in the ALDS. That rule changed when the second wildcard was added, hence the Yankees-Orioles ALDS in 2012.

Marc asks: Mike mentioned the idea of trading a few potential 40-man guys to acquire competitive balance picks which made me wonder if the Yanks could explore the same for international free agency bonus money. Not sure how the new CBA treats this and how beneficial it could be (i.e. likely not enough money to lure Otani).

The text of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has not yet been released, though from all the reports we’ve seen over the last few months, teams can still trade their international bonus money. Teams can only acquire an additional 50% of their bonus pool, however. The Yankees have $4.75M in cap space this year, so add in the extra 50% and their max pool is $7.125M.

Over the last few years trades involving international bonus money have been really minor. Two years ago the Braves traded four fringe prospects (in three separate trades) for $1.1M in bonus money. The Yankees might be able to deal someone like, say, Kyle Haynes for $200,000 or so in international money. These deals are rarely significant, and remember, we’re talking about money that gets spent on 16-year-old kids who are far away from MLB. I don’t love the idea of trading any of the Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects for a few hundred grand in international money. A Competitive Balance draft pick is much more valuable.

Brian asks: While the popular Yankee beat narrative has focused on breaking up Gardner and Ellsbury at the top of the order (please be Gardner 1 Ellsbury 8 or 9) I haven’t heard any discussion about pushing both of them further down in the lineup against lefties. Do you think they should? Last year Gardner had a .313 OBP vs lefties and Ellsbury .292. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put righties at the top of the lineup vs a lefty? Perhaps Hicks could lead off?

Well, Aaron Hicks was pretty bad against lefties last year. He hit .161/.213/.271 (25 wRC+) against them last season, and while his career numbers against southpaws are better (.234/.314/.387, 92 wRC+), he’s not someone you want to give more at-bats than anyone else on the team right now. I’m not sure who the Yankees could hit leadoff other than Gardner or Ellsbury. Starlin Castro? He doesn’t get on base nearly enough (.308 OBP vs. LHP in 2016). Didi Gregorius? Same problem. I can’t see Joe Girardi hitting Judge leadoff. For better or worse, Gardner is the best leadoff option on the team, even against lefties. He gets on base more than anyone.

Michael asks: I have a fallacious comparison for Miguel Andujar…is he not the mirror of Robbie Cano at the same age? The lack of plate discipline and polish, but the raw power and cannon arm. I know that most prospects the caliber of 2005 Cano were failures and he doesn’t have that beautiful swing, but let me dream will ya!!

That’s not fair to Andujar. When Robinson Cano was Andujar’s age, he hit .297/.320/.458 (105 wRC+) with 14 homers in the big leagues. Andujar just got to Double-A and set a career high with 12 homers. Cano’s bat-to-ball skills are truly elite, they’re the reason the guy is knocking on the door of the Hall of Fame, and while Andujar is really talented, he’s not a magician with the bat like Robbie. Let’s just let Miguel Andujar be Miguel Andujar. Comparing him to a guy like Cano does nothing but create unrealistic expectations.

Andujar. (Presswire)
Andujar. (Presswire)

Mike asks: In your opinion who has the higher ceiling – Miguel Andujar or Dermis Garcia? And then what percentage discount is that higher ceiling from Manny Machado’s ceiling?

Dermis has the higher ceiling, pretty clearly I think. He legitimately might have the highest offensive ceiling of any player in the farm system. We’re talking about a potential 30+ homer bat with high OBPs. Garcia is just so far away from the show that the likelihood of him reaching that ceiling is tiny. Andujar has a chance to be a pretty darn good player himself, and he’s much closer to the big leagues.

Machado is one of the what, five best players in the world? He’s right there with Trout, Bryant, and Harper. Machado is a legitimate +7 WAR player. Dermis and/or Andujar turning into a +4 WAR player would be an amazing outcome, yet they’d still lag so far behind Machado’s production. Similar to what I said with Andujar and Cano earlier, comparing Andujar and Garcia to Machado is unrealistic and unfair. It’s not particularly close.

Andrew asks: Any interest in Carlos Gonzalez next winter?  He wouldn’t exactly fit with the youth movement/rebuild/transition, but he’s a talented player and might not get a massive payday at 32. Would your interest be heavier if, say, Judge looks very poor this year?

I don’t think CarGo gets enough credit for being as good as he is because of the Coors Field stigma, though I don’t love the idea of pursuing him as a free agent. The Yankees are trying to trade one of their veteran outfielders (Gardner) and likely have to demote the other lower in the lineup with four years left on his contract (Ellsbury). Do they really want to add another big money veteran on top of that group, even if they trade Gardner? Even if Judge has a tough year, the Yankees still have others like Frazier, Dustin Fowler, and Tyler Austin to try in the outfield. Maybe Billy McKinney too. The time to get CarGo was a few years ago, when he was clearly in his prime. Now, with the Yankees in transition, signing him in his early-to-mid-30s probably isn’t the smartest move.

Daniel asks: Manny Banuelos‘ career obviously has not played out the way any of us had hoped. Looking backwards, were there any significant deals that did not happen, in part because the Yankees refused to trade him?

Like every other big name Yankees prospect, Banuelos was mentioned in plenty of trade rumors over the years, mostly because other teams kept asking for him. Here, via Manny’s MLB Trade Rumors archive, are the rumors over the years:

  • Summer 2011: Mentioned constantly in Ubaldo Jimenez trade talks with the Rockies.
  • December 2011: White Sox wanted Banuelos and Jesus Montero for John Danks or Gavin Floyd.
  • January 2012: Cubs wanted two of Banuelos, Montero, and Dellin Betances for Matt Garza.

That’s pretty much it. The archive jumps from the Garza rumor in 2012 to the actual Banuelos trade in January 2015. Nothing too exciting there, though I was all about trading for Ubaldo back in 2011. I thought he had legitimately turned a corner with his command and was poised to be an ace caliber starter for another few years. Whoops. Shows what I know.

Mailbag: Tanaka, Kaprielian, Sterling, Gardner, Pujols, Ellsbury

There are 13 questions in this week’s Grapefruit League opening mailbag. Hooray for real live baseball. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com are where you can send us questions.

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Ryan asks: So Tanaka has come over and done VERY well in the majors. In comparison, Daisuke Matsuzaka was heralded as highly and did not have a great career. Also, Yu Darvish has been good as well. Compared to other Japanese pitchers, where does Tanaka rank as far as success in the MLB?

I’d say Dice-K came over with far more hype than Tanaka or Darvish. The hype for that guy was out of control. Off the top of my head, I’d say Tanaka has been the fourth most successful Japanese-born pitcher in MLB behind Darvish, Hideo Nomo, and Hiroki Kuroda. Thankfully WAR exists, and it’s perfect for a question like this one. Here are the top ten Japanese-born players in MLB history by WAR:

  1. Ichiro Suzuki (+59.9 WAR)
  2. Hideo Nomo (+21.8 WAR)
  3. Hiroki Kuroda (+21.7 WAR)
  4. Hideki Matsui (+21.3 WAR)
  5. Hisashi Iwakuma (+16.5 WAR)
  6. Yu Darvish (+15.8 WAR)
  7. Koji Uehara (+13.6 WAR)
  8. Tomo Ohka (+11.9 WAR)
  9. Masahiro Tanaka (+11.7 WAR)
  10. Shigetoshi Hasegawa (+11.6 WAR)

I completely forgot about Iwakuma, so my bad on that. Tanaka has thrown more MLB innings than Uehara (490 to 437.2), though we’re comparing a reliever to a starter. Ohka has a +0.2 WAR edge on Tanaka in 580 more innings. At this point I’d say Tanaka is no worse than the sixth best Japanese-born pitcher in MLB history behind Nomo, Kuroda, Iwakuma, Darvish, and Uehara. There’s a pretty good chance Tanaka will pass Uehara on the WAR leaderboard this year too.

(With all due respect to Nomo, who was truly a pioneer for Japanese baseball players, Kuroda has an essentially identical WAR in 657.1 fewer innings. Also, Shigetoshi Hasegawa was an all-time great Bob Sheppard voice name.)

Mike asks: Can you put in perspective where 2012 (#1 Ranked) Mason Williams would fall in the 2017 top 30?

It was 2013, not 2012 when Williams was at the peak of his prospect-dom. Baseball America ranked him as the Yankees’ best prospect and the 32nd best prospect in baseball that year. Meanwhile, both RAB and MLB.com ranked Williams as the team’s No. 2 prospect behind Gary Sanchez. Either way, Williams or Sanchez, the Yankees had a very good top prospect back in 2013 and both would have rated highly in this year’s top 30. I would have ranked them like so:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Clint Frazier
  3. 2013 Gary Sanchez
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. 2013 Mason Williams
  6. Blake Rutherford
  7. James Kaprielian
  8. Justus Sheffield
  9. Jorge Mateo
  10. Miguel Andujar

Sanchez finished the 2012 season at High-A Tampa and both his power and rocket arm were already on full display. Williams had the better statistical season in 2012, hitting .298/.346/.474 (125 wRC+) between Low-A and High-A, though the power hitting catcher won out for me. Given how things have played out since then, I feel validated.

Chris asks: My question is, what’s the soonest you could possibly see Kaprielian going to double-A? Assuming his first starts are limited to five innings. Is 15 lights outs inning over three starts enough? 25 over 5? It took Sev 8 GS over 32 IP in 2015 at Trenton before they moved him to Scranton.

Pretty soon, I think. Mid-May or so. The main reason for sending Kaprielian to High-A to start the season rather than Double-A is the weather. It’s a heck of a lot warmer in Tampa in April than it is in Trenton, and you don’t want the kid from Southern California pitching in cold weather for the first time immediately after a pretty serious elbow injury. Unless he gets rocked in April, which is unlikely to happen given his stuff and pedigree, I think Kaprielian will be at Double-A before the end of May, for sure. Six or seven starts in Tampa, thereabouts.

John asks: Which Yankee ZiPS projections would you “take” right now for 2017? Judge (30 homers) seems the most obvious, who else?

Yeah, Judge is the big one. ZiPS projects him as a .229/.301/.479 (112 OPS+) hitter with 30 homers and +2.2 WAR right now. First full season in the big leagues? I’d sign up for that right now. Most promising ZiPS projections are on the pitching side for me. Getting 156.2 innings of 3.96 ERA (3.38 FIP) ball from Michael Pineda would be pretty rad after the last two seasons. Same thing with Luis Severino and his 4.20 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 152 innings projection. Jonathan Holder throwing 67 innings with a 3.63 ERA (3.42 FIP) and great strikeout (27.1%) and walk (5.4%) rates would be a hell of a thing. The bullpen could really use someone like that for the middle innings.

Dellin and Larry Rothschild. (Presswire)
Dellin and Larry Rothschild. (Presswire)

Michael asks: If the Yankees’ relationship with Dellin Betances has been greatly damaged by Randy Levine’s (stupid) comments, wouldn’t a trade sooner rather than later make the most sense?

Nope. The Yankees are not going to make roster decisions, especially one involving a great player, based on someone’s hurt feelings. Dellin is a pro and he’s gone about his business since the arbitration ruling. The Yankees will trade Betances only if it makes sense for the organization, not because the two sides aren’t BFFs anymore. And when Betances becomes a free agent in three years, he’s going to make the best decision for him and his family. That was always the case. The Betances-Levine stuff was unfortunate, but a war of words won’t lead to a knee-jerk trade, at least not as long as Brian Cashman calls the shots. If Levine and ownership get involved like they have in the past though, all bets are off.

Paul asks: Looking back, do you think it was better with A-Rod at 3B and Jeter at SS or would it have been better the other way around?

At the time of the trade Alex Rodriguez was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball while Derek Jeter was one of the worst, so yeah, the Yankees would have been better off with A-Rod at short and Jeter at third. I’m not sure how that would have worked long-term. By 2010 or 2011, Rodriguez’s mobility was pretty far gone due to his hip problems. Would A-Rod with bad hips have been a better defensive shortstop than Jeter? Probably not. In the short-term they would have been better off with Rodriguez at short. No doubt about it. I’m not quite sure what it would have meant long-term. Maybe the Yankees would have never re-signing an aging shortstop to a ten-year deal after 2007. And, in that case, maybe they don’t win the 2009 World Series. Hmmm.

Michael asks: Last week there was a question on whether Brian Cashman deserves a plaque in Monument Park. Is there a possibility John Sterling and/or Michael Kay get one after all their years of doing Yankee broadcasting? Certainly they are no Mel Allen, but then again, Paul O’Neill and others were no Babe Ruth.

Oh man, Sterling is definitely getting a plaque in Monument Park, isn’t he? He’s been calling Yankees games for almost 30 years now, and he hasn’t missed one since 1989. Based on this Jim Baumbach article, Sterling’s streak is currently at 4,493 consecutive games called, and he’s given no indication retirement is in his near future. He’s the MC for the team’s on-field ceremonies and he hosts Yankeeography and all that on YES as well. Sterling is the voice of the Yankees at this point.

Kay still has a ways to go, I think. He was splitting time between the Yankees and Knicks as recently as 1999, so he hasn’t been full-time with the Yankees that long. Not long enough to get a plaque in Monument Park, anyway. Kay has been the team’s primary television play-by-play man since YES launched in 2002 and there’s no reason to think that will change anytime soon. He’ll have to keep at it a while longer to get Monument Park consideration, I think. Sterling might be there already.

Dan asks: Does Brett Gardner have 10 and 5 rights after this season? Does this affect the Yankees desire to move him?

Let’s start with a real quick primer on 10-and-5 rights for anyone not familiar with baseball’s quirky rules. From MLB.com:

Players who have accrued 10 years of Major League service time and spent the past five consecutive years with the same team are awarded 10-and-5 rights. Under these circumstances, a player can veto any trade scenario that is proposed. In essence, 10-and-5 rights function as a full no-trade clause.

As for Gardner, he will start the 2017 season with eight years and 72 days of service time. In the world of baseball 172 days equals a year, so Gardner needs another year and 100 days to get his 10-and-5 rights. That will put him on target to get them sometime in July 2018. The Yankees have been shopping Gardner since last offseason and while I’m sure they’re aware of his 10-and-5 situation, it’s not a pressing matter. They still have time before those become a concern.

(Gardner doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract. Not even a limited one. He will receive a $1M bonus each time he’s traded, however.)

RJ asks: Mike, how does the union generate revenue? Do players contribute a percentage of their salaries or maybe get a percentage from MLB endorsements/ TV contracts? Can they choose whether they want to be in or out of the union?

Yep, the players pay union dues. I have no idea what they are, but I assume they’re pretty substantial given their salaries. Also, the union negotiates licensing deals for baseball cards and video games and all that. They get a piece of that pie as well. Same goes for the national television contracts. A chunk of that goes to the players. And yes, players can opt out of the union, or just parts of it. Barry Bonds opted out of the licensing agreement, which is why he was never in any video games. He was Reggie Stocker in The Show and Jon Dowd in MVP Baseball. Good times, good times.

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

P.J. asks: Back on January 9th you published a piece about the Yankees Rule 5 eligible players for next winter. Of that list of about 23 players including the potential Minor League FA’s how many and which ones do you think the Yankees absolutely need to protect?

Here is the list of players from that post. This isn’t comprehensive, just the most notable names:

Catchers: None
Infielders: Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade
Outfielders: Jake Cave, Rashad Crawford, Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Leonardo Molina, Tito Polo
Pitchers: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Daniel Camarena, Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, J.P. Feyereisen, Zack Littell, Jordan Montgomery, Nick Rumbelow, Eric Swanson, Stephen Tarpley

I count seven absolute must-protect players: Abreu, Acevedo, Fowler, Frazier, Montgomery, Torres, and Wade. McKinney, Camarena, Clarkin, and Littell could also receive serious consideration based on their 2017 seasons. There’s a pretty good chance Frazier and Montgomery (and Feyereisen) will make their MLB debuts this summer, so they figure to already be on the 40-man roster by time Rule 5 Draft decision time comes.

The Yankees currently have five impending free agents on the 40-man roster: Chris Carter, Tyler Clippard, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia. Tanaka can opt-out as well. They’ll need to clear two spots at a minimum, but keep in mind there will inevitably be players on the 60-day disabled list who have to be activated the end of the season. The Yankees had to clear five 40-man spots to make room for Rule 5 Draft eligible players this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if they need to do the same after this season.

Erick asks: Mike, non-Yankee related, Albert Pujols and 700 homeruns. He has 591 career homers, five more years in his contract, hit 31 last year, can he average 22 for the remaining part of his contract?

Geez, still five years left on his deal? That’s a humdinger of a contract. I don’t think he’s going to get to 700. Pujols’ feet are a wreck at this point. He’s had foot surgery each of the last two offseasons as well as back in 2012. Hitting starts from the ground up, and if you don’t have a good base underneath you, it’ll compromise your power. Also, this will be his age 37 season. Pujols needs 109 homers to get to 700, and only eleven players have hit that many after their age 36 season. As we saw with A-Rod and Mark Teixeira last year, and Alfonso Soriano in 2014, when it goes, it can go quick. Asking a player, even one as great as Pujols, to average 22 homers a season from 37-41 is an awful lot. I think he’ll fall short of 700 and have to “settle” for being fifth or sixth on the all-time home run list.

Brent asks: I know it’s easy for couch GM’s to second guess things but the Jacoby Ellsbury signing seemed bad from the jump. At least from the informed baseball fan group. I believe Cashman’s a smart guy and the signing was more of a Hal thing. Was this a miserable attempt at re-igniting the rivalry between Boston and trying to make a run with one of their better players?

I don’t remember where I read this — I think it was a Joel Sherman article shortly after the signing — but I remember reading a report that said everyone was on board with the Ellsbury signing. Cashman, Steinbrenner, the rest of the front office and ownership, everyone. I think the deal was the result of the Yankees overestimating …

  1. Ellsbury’s ability to do something close to his 2011 season again.
  2. Ellsbury’s durability on the basis that several of his previous injuries were flukes.
  3. The value of thriving in a similar high-pressure market like Boston.
  4. The impact of taking Ellsbury away from the Red Sox and adding him to their roster.

That last one never made sense to me, yet it was a common argument in favor of the signing. It only works if the Red Sox were trying to bring Ellsbury back, which they very clearly weren’t. They were going to lose him anyway. Adding him to your roster doesn’t make it hurt twice as much.

I don’t think the signing had anything to do with re-igniting the rivalry. I think the Yankees overvalued Ellsbury because he had success with the Red Sox, the team that plays in the closest environment to the New York market. It was a terrible contract the day it was signed — how much did they overpay if Scott Boras was willing to let his top client sign before the Winter Meetings? — and the Yankees deserve what they’ve gotten.

Dan asks: I know that we can know only as much as the media tells us, but after reporting yesterday that Derek Jeter took some of the Yankees top prospects to dinner it got me thinking. How much do you really think the Captains Camp helps the prospects? Also, obviously there not many other teams that have the same history as the Yankees, but do you think other teams take as much time as the Yankees do for their young kids?

I don’t see how it could hurt, do you? I know other clubs have some sort of mini-camp or rookie development program, but I don’t know if anyone does anything as extensive as Captain’s Camp, which is a six-week program. From what I understand, Captain’s Camp is more about developing their off-the-field skills than anything. They teach the kids to be accountable, how to handle the media, all that. Basically how to represent the Yankees in a positive way. The players get to bond and develop relationships, and I see that as nothing but a positive.

Mailbag: Home Opener, Didi, Sanchez, Carter, Mateo, Reeves

I’ve got 13 questions in the mailbag this week, the first of Spring Training. Just think, when next week’s mailbag is posted, we’ll be only a few hours away from the Yankees playing their first Grapefruit League game. Good times. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Sabathia. (Presswire)
Sabathia. (Presswire)

Christian asks (short version): Girardi named Tanaka as the starting pitcher on Opening Day, which is an honor. The home opener is Game No. 7 this year. Do the Yankees consider that when lining up their rotation?

I’m not sure, honestly. The home opener is the seventh game of the season this year, though the Yankees have two off-days in the first week. They could, conceivably, line up their rotation in such a way that Masahiro Tanaka starts both Opening Day and the home opener. The off-days give them a lot of flexibility early on. I’m not sure how much of a consideration this is, however.

Here are the Opening Day and home opener starters during each year of the Joe Girardi era (an asterisk indicates the Yankees opened at home that year):

Opening Day Home Opener
2008 Chien-Ming Wang Chien-Ming Wang*
2009 CC Sabathia CC Sabathia
2010 CC Sabathia Andy Pettitte
2011 CC Sabathia CC Sabathia*
2012 CC Sabathia Hiroki Kuroda
2013 CC Sabathia CC Sabathia*
2014 CC Sabathia Hiroki Kuroda
2015 Masahiro Tanaka Masahiro Tanaka*
2016 Masahiro Tanaka Masahiro Tanaka*

In 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Yankees did not do anything fancy with their rotation. They opened on the road those years and used five starters right out of the gate, so the home opener start went to whoever happened to line up that day. In 2009, the Yankees opened the season with a nine-game road trip. They use an off-day to skip their fifth starter the first time around, then stayed on turn. That allowed Sabathia to start Opening Day and the home opener, which was the tenth game of the season.

These days the Yankees are pretty obsessive about giving their starters extra rest whenever possible, so while those two off-days in the first week give them a chance to do something creative, I think they’ll stay on turn and use all five starters right away. That means Tanaka on Opening Day and the No. 2 starter for the home opener. I’d put money on Sabathia being that guy, not Michael Pineda.

Matt asks: When it’s all said and done, does Cashman get a plaque in Monument Park?

That’s an interesting question. Brian Cashman was the general manager for the most recent Yankees dynasty, plus he built another championship team in 2009. Hopefully this rebuild leads to a few more titles as well. Right now there are 37 honorees in Monument Park, 28 of them players. The other nine include one broadcaster (Mel Allen), one general manager (Ed Barrow), one public address announcer (Bob Sheppard), two owners (Jacob Ruppert, George Steinbrenner), and four managers (Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Joe Torre).

If Cashman retired today, I’d say he belongs in Monument Park. And you know what? I think he’ll get a plaque eventually as well. Maybe not right away, especially if he leaves to join another team, but down the line. Remember, Cashman has been with the Yankees since the 1980s. He was based in Tampa and worked in player development when the Yankees drafted and developed guys like Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. That should count for something.

Dan asks: Seeing as how Didi almost definitely won’t start at SS for the Netherlands, what defensive position would it be better for the Yanks if he played (and learned)? I think third base. The yanks have a ton of MI depth, but could really benefit if Didi shows he can be an option there at all.

Probably third base. Didi Gregorius has a little second base experience in both the minors (349.1 innings) and majors (79.2 innings), and basically none at third (ten innings total). That said, we’re only talking about a handful of World Baseball Classic games here. The Netherlands should be able to make it out of the first round — they’re in a pool with South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Israel — but getting out of the second round is a tall order. They’ll play maybe six or seven games total. That’s not enough time to learn a new position, is it? I don’t think so. Gregorius is a very good defender at short and he should remain there. I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which it makes sense for the Yankees to move him around.

De La Rosa. (Joe Mahoney/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Joe Mahoney/Getty)

Joseph asks: I was looking for your take on Jorge de la Rosa. I feel he would be a good fit for the multi-inning swingman out of the bullpen role. The Yankees will be needing some innings out of their bullpen with the likes of Pineda, the #4 starter and the #5 starter. de la Rosa pitched well in relief, albeit in a limited 8 innings last year, so could be worth a flyer. Helps that he is a lefty as well, not having too much depth in that department.

I wouldn’t mind him. The Yankees have been connected to De La Rosa a few times over the years, both when he was a free agent and on the trade block. He had a rough 2016 season overall (5.51 ERA and 5.36 FIP), which was spent mostly as a starter. De La Rosa made three relief appearances, threw eight total innings, and allowed one run on a solo homer. He struck out ten, walked none, and allowed three hits. I’m not sure whether the information is useful in any way.

If the Yankees can bring De La Rosa, who will turn 36 in April, to camp as a non-roster player, then by all means, go for it. There’s no such thing as too many pitchers. Keep in mind De La Rosa is on Mexico’s WBC roster though, so he’s going to be gone for a few weeks. (Mexico has a solid team and could advance pretty deep in the tournament.) De La Rosa is a lefty with a history of missing bats, and he’s spent the last nine years pitching for the Rockies in Coors Field. He’s used to pitching in tough environments. That’s a plus to me.

John asks: If Gary Sanchez keeps putting up David Ortiz, Miggy type numbers, our best offense weapon is one foul tip away from a DL trip. The wear and tear of a long season also slows catchers down in the second half. A 2019 move to LF or 3b have to be considered?

This is a definite concern. Several teams have moved their top young hitters out from behind the plate in recent years to avoid injuries and general wear and tear. The Nationals and Bryce Harper are the best example. Wil Myers was also a catcher before moving to the outfield. Harper and Myers didn’t move for defensive reasons. They moved because their teams deemed their bats too special to put them at such a demanding position.

Sanchez is not nearly as athletic as Harper and Myers, which presents a problem. If he changes positions, he’s going to first base, not the outfield or third base. He doesn’t have the mobility for those positions. I wrote a post about the possibility of moving Sanchez out from behind the plate to protect his bat last September, and I came to the conclusion the Yankees are best off leaving him at catcher. His arm makes him an asset defensively, and having a top hitting catcher is such a huge advantage. Enough of an advantage that I think it outweighs the risk.

Nico asks: I was watching the Carter highlight reel you posted the other day (love his nice & easy swing!), I noticed that it seemed like a lot of his bombs were on offspeed stuff. Of course I didn’t keep a tally or anything, but is that true? More broadly, what’s Carter’s power profile? (eg types of pitches he hits out, areas of the zone he likes, fields he likes to hit to, etc)

Chris Carter hit 41 home runs last season, and here is the pitch type breakdown, via Baseball Savant:

  • Fastballs: 26 (16 four-seamers, seven two-seamers, two sinkers, one cutter)
  • Sliders: nine
  • Curveballs: four
  • Changeups: two

Twenty-six of the 41 came on some kind of fastball, or 63%, which seems normal since last year 61% of all pitches were fastballs. Carter pulled 16 of his 41 homers last year. The rest were to center and right fields. Similar to what I did with the rest of the Yankees a few weeks ago, here is a strike zone plot of Carter’s 100+ mph line drives and fly balls:

chris-carter-100-mph-ldfb

Carter’s best contact, meaning a well-struck ball in the air, tends to come on pitches in the bottom half of the strike zone. Below the belt, basically. So, generally speaking, Carter hit home runs against all types of pitches last year, pulled fewer than half of them, and did the most damage on pitches over the middle plate and in the lower half of the strike zone. That’s his power profile, I guess you could call it.

Nic asks: Kyle Higashioka — I feel like he’s been lost in the shuffle a little bit. Obviously, he’s outside your top 30, but where would he have fallen? Also, any possibility he overtakes Romine for the backup C roster spot?

Higashioka wasn’t a serious top 30 consideration. He’s going to turn 27 shortly after Opening Day, he has an ugly injury history, and he has only one season performing at this level. In this farm system, that guy isn’t particularly close to a top 30 prospect. I mentioned I had about 15 players I was seriously considering the final few spots of the top 30, and Higashioka was not one of them. He was outside the top 50.

As for winning the backup catcher’s job, it’s always possible, but I think it’s very unlikely. Beating out Austin Romine means Romine is out of the organization — he’s out of minor league options and would almost certainly elect free agency before accepting an outright assignment — and your third catcher in Triple-A is, uh, Wilkin Castillo? Yikes. The only way I see Sanchez and Romine not being the Opening Day catching tandem is injury.

Stephen asks: Is there some way to calculate maximum value when balancing positional scarcity vs. defensive quality? Specifically in a case like Jorge Mateo‘s, where we know he can handle the toughest position of shortstop – how many more runs would he need to save as a centerfielder to justify the move down the defensive ladder?

The positional adjustments used in the various versions of WAR can help us here. A league average hitting (100 wRC+) and fielding (0.0 runs saved) shortstop is more valuable than a league average hitting and fielding first baseman because of position scarcity, right? Right. The positional adjustments account for that. Each version of WAR uses different positional adjustments. Here are a few:

bWAR fWAR Zimm 2015 Update Average
C +9.0 +12.5 +7.75 +9.8
1B -9.5 -12.5 -9.25 -10.4
2B +3.0 +2.5 +1.75 +2.4
SS +7.0 +7.5 +4.75 +6.4
3B +2.0 +2.5 +1.75 +2.1
LF -7.0 -7.5 -4.25 -6.3
CF +2.5 +2.5 +1.75 +2.3
RF -7.0 -7.5 -4.25 -6.3
DH -15 -17.5 -9.25 -13.9

So, based on the average positional adjustments, the gap between the most valuable position (catcher at +9.8) and least valuable position (DH at -13.9) is a whopping 23.7 runs. That’s a difference of more than +2 WAR just based on position scarcity. (Roughly ten runs equals one win.)

Using the average values, the positional adjustments tell us a shortstop is worth 4.1 more runs than a center fielder (+6.4 minus +2.3). Mateo would have to save four more runs as a center fielder than he would has a shortstop just to break even, essentially. He very well might be able to do that! It’s definitely doable. His speed in center field could be a real weapon. We’ve seen other track stars like Billy Hamilton move to center and put up insane defensive numbers. (Whether those numbers reflect reality is another matter.)

Bob asks: The Yankees worked out Jorge Mateo in CF, and you are a fan, but isn’t his hit tool a little weak for CF? His bat would seem to work better at SS or 2B. Your thoughts please.

That’s the big question. Mateo’s ultimate position isn’t going to matter much if he doesn’t hit. He can be a bit of a hacker and it leads to a lot of soft contact, and as fast as he is, he’s not going to beat out that many infield singles. Mateo needs to be a bit more disciplined and also get a little stronger so he can drive the ball more consistently. He’s still only 21, remember. The kid is far from a finished product.

As for the question, here are the league averages at the various up-the-middle positions in 2016:

  • Second Base: .270/.329/.425 (101 wRC+)
  • Shortstop: .262/.319/.407 (92 wRC+)
  • Center Field: .259/.324/.407 (96 wRC+)

Second basemen are providing more offense than ever before right now. Short and center are still glove over bat positions, and based on last season, the offensive bar is basically the same. Maybe Mateo will be so much more comfortable in center that his offense will blossom. That’d be cool. Relative to the positional standards, Mateo’s bat will play the same at short and center. The question is whether a move to center allows him to save more runs with the glove.

P.J. asks: Just saw where the Yankees invited James Reeves to ST as a NRI. Looking at his numbers why haven’t were heard more about this kid? Am I missing something, here.

Reeves, 23, was a senior sign as New York’s tenth round pick in 2015. They gave him a well-below-slot $50,000 bonus and used the pool savings elsewhere. Since signing, Reeves has thrown 124.2 minor league innings with a 2.60 ERA (2.89 FIP) and good strikeout (29.1%) and okay walk (8.5%) numbers. Most of those innings have come in relief and at High-A. Reeves did make a short late-season cameo at Double-A last summer.

Long-term, Reeves has some sleeper potential as a future left-on-left matchup reliever. He throws from a true sidearm angle (here’s some not great video) with an upper-80s fastball and a big sweepy slider. The Yankees like Reeves enough that they added him to their non-roster list earlier this week, and he figures to start this season at Double-A, so he’s getting close. Reeves wasn’t close to making my top 30 prospects list and I like Tyler Webb more because he has more fastball and better control. That said, as a funky lefty with a bat-missing slider, Reeves could be a big league option at some point, even if he’s only an up-and-down guy.

Tamir asks: Has a player ever qualified in a season with a higher AVG than OBP?

Nope, never. You can have a higher AVG than OBP due to sac flies. Go 2-for-3 with a sac fly and you’re hitting .667 with a .500 OBP, for example. We see players with a higher AVG than OBP for the first few weeks of the regular season, but it never lasts. As best I can tell, the closest anyone with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title has come finishing a season with a higher AVG than OBP is Ozzie Guillen, who hit .263 with a .273 OBP in 528 plate appearances in 1996. That’s what drawing ten walks and hitting seven sac flies in a single season with do for you.

John asks: I am wondering if there are any updates on Henderson Alvarez. He showed a lot of promise when on the Marlins even making an all star game before having arm trouble. Last I saw he got shoulder surgery in September and was released by Oakland. He seems to be someone worth taking a shot on to see how his rehab goes since he isn’t even 27 yet.

Alvarez missed a bunch of time with shoulder trouble in 2015 and eventually had surgery that July. He rehabbed last year, it didn’t go well, and he needed another surgery on both his shoulder and biceps in September. The last update I can find on Alvarez came from Jon Heyman on January 29th. Heyman says Big Hendo should be game ready by May and that teams are reviewing his medicals. Game ready by May seems optimistic, but we’ll see.

When he was healthy with the Marlins from 2013-14, Alvarez was really good, throwing 289.2 innings with a 2.98 ERA (3.44 FIP). He’s a fun player too and I am pro-fun. Alvarez has a novelty windup he uses for the first pitch of each start …

… and he uses a wide array of offspeed stuff, including a 60-something mile an hour curveball, and it’s just very entertaining to watch. Alvarez had shoulder problems earlier in his career, so this is a recurring thing and that’s kinda scary. But, if he’ll take a minor league deal, sure, bring him aboard. You can’t guarantee him anything after two shoulder surgeries though. The A’s paid Alvarez $4.25M last year and all they got out of it was more medical bills.

Danny asks: Assuming they have similar seasons this year as last (performance and health), which of Tanaka and Sabathia is more likely to be on the team next year?

Hmmm, I’d say Sabathia. Tanaka would put himself in position for a pretty large contract with another strong season, and the Yankees might not want to go that far given a) the elbow, and b) their commitment to getting under the luxury tax threshold. Sabathia, if he comes back, figures to do so on a one-year deal with a much smaller base salary than what he’s making right now. Obviously Tanaka is the better pitcher and the Yankees would be dealt a major blow if he leaves. Sabathia’s terms figure to be so much more friendly that I think a reunion is inevitable as long as he stays healthy. I think there’s a better chance Tanaka leaves than Sabathia, basically.