Mailbag: Kendrick, Pirela, Pineda, Maris, All-Stars, Young

Got nine questions in the mailbag this week. You can send us questions via the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar at any time. There’s no confirmation page, I know, but your questions go through, trust me. It just looks like they don’t.

(Harry How/Getty)
Kendrick. (Harry How/Getty)

Owen asks: What do you think the Yankees chances are of singing Howie Kendrick to a deal in the upcoming off-season? He seems to fit the Yankees needs and current free agent policies fairly well; that is, he plays a position that the Yankees will need filled (I don’t believe in Rob Refsnyder‘s defense), and he’s the kind of guy who can be had for a somewhat large annual salary but without a long term commitment attached to it. What do you think a Kendrick deal would look like? Maybe 5 years 100M? I’d be on board.

Aside from the Robinson Cano outlier, the largest free agent contract given to a second baseman the last six years is the four-year, $30.25M deal the Royals gave Omar Infante last winter. Kendrick should clear that easily, I’m just not sure by how much. Five years and $100M seems like an awful lot for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who is consistently above-average but not truly great. That’s basically Jose Reyes money and Reyes was way more dynamic when he hit the market.

Johnny Peralta and Chase Headley signed nearly identical four-year contracts worth $52M-ish the last two offseasons and I think Kendrick’s in line for a bit more, but not a ton. Maybe he’s a $16M a year player rather than a $13M a year player like those two. Four years and $64M? I don’t think I would be comfortable offering more than that to a guy who turns 32 in July and is trending downward defensively.

Now, that said, yeah I think the Yankees would look into signing Kendrick and he would be a really great fit for the lineup if he continues to produce like he has the last few years. They could definitely use another high contact righty bat. Kendrick is off to a great start this year (136 wRC+) and I think he’ll finish the season close to his 2012-14 level (111 wRC+) when it’s all said and done. Second basemen usually don’t age all that well and Kendrick’s best years are almost certainly behind him. Maybe he will get five years and $100M after all. I’m not sure I’d want to be on the hook for that though.

Dan asks: Why should I give guys like A-Rod and Nelson Cruz the benefit of the doubt when it comes to PED use? Cruz is having a career year in a pitchers park, past his prime; A-Rod last hit this well when he was 32 years old (he’s 39 now). Am I just jaded?

You’re free to give whoever you want the benefit of the doubt. Those two guys cheated, they got caught, and they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt as far as I’m concerned. That’s just me. You’re welcome to feel however you want about them. Heck, I’ve already seen articles saying A-Rod is probably on PEDs again and others saying he’s clean. I’d like to think the testing system works and everyone’s clean, but that’s not the case and it never will be the case. That’s just the way it is. It would be nice if players didn’t cheat, yet they do and they always will as long as the sport exists.

Pirela. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Pirela. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Ethan asks: I know a lot can happen between now and when he’s healthy, but is it possible the team’s stronger with Jose Pirela instead of Brendan Ryan? It seems like his offensive floor is almost certainly higher, and we’ve already got two people who can play SS.

Yes, I definitely agree with that. Ryan can’t hit and his defense, while still solidly above-average, isn’t what it was a few years ago. Pirela might be able to hit, we don’t know that for sure yet, but most agree he’ll never be much of a defender. Ryan isn’t useless, the ability to play shortstop is a valuable skill. The Yankees already have what amounts to two defense first shortstops in Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew though, and they don’t need another. Pirela’s a better fit for the Yankees. That said, I think the difference between the two will be relatively small given sparse playing time.

Mark asks: As would be expected, the duo of Drew and Gregorius have considerably more range than Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts. Chase Headley also has much more range than anyone they had at 3rd base last year … what is the percentage of ground balls that are making it through this infield compared to last year?

I agree the infield range is much improved this year. It’s very obvious watching each night. I’m not sure ground balls are a great way to measure range though because, well, the Yankees kinda stink at shifting. Seems like they burned by it constantly. Here’s how the club has fared at preventing ground balls from turning into hits this year compared to the last few years:

2015 .251 .239
2014 .252 .247
2013 .255 .240
2012 .250 .238
2011 .250 .237

Consistently worse than the league average, so yeah, they stink at shifts. (Despite the widespread use of the infield shift, more ground balls are not being turned into outs in 2015, both by the Yankees and by MLB in general. The shift is definitely hurting some specific hitters, but league-wide there has been no real change.) The Yankees are converting ground balls into outs at the same basic rate as the last few years, but again, I’m not sure that’s a good measure of range. Positioning plays a huge role.

David asks: Who was the last pitcher to have more wins than walks over the course of a full season? I remember Curt Schilling accomplishing that at his peak. Think Pineda can do it this year?

More wins than walks has happened just four times in history among players who qualified for the ERA title. If we lower the innings minimum to 100 innings, it’s still only happened five times in history. If we drop the innings minimum all together, the list is 67 names long. Lots of guys came up, pitched in one game, got the win without walking anyone, then didn’t pitch again that season.

Here’s the list of guys who had more wins than walks while throwing at least 100 innings, via Baseball-Reference:

Rk Player Year W BB IP FIP ERA+
1 Bret Saberhagen 1994 14 13 177.1 2.76 153
2 Slim Sallee 1919 21 20 227.2 2.78 136
3 Christy Mathewson 1914 24 23 312.0 2.83 88
4 Christy Mathewson 1913 25 21 306.0 2.49 152
5 Deacon Phillippe 1910 14 9 121.2 2.55 138

Five times in history and just once in the last 96 (!) years. Crazy. Schilling is one of the greatest command pitchers in baseball history, but the closest he ever got was 2002, when he had 23 wins and 33 walks. Two pitchers are on pace to do the more wins than walks thing this year: Pineda (five wins, three walks) and ex-Yankee Bartolo Colon (six wins, one walk). My guess is neither gets there. It’s way too hard to go a full season walking that few hitters. At some point they’ll just have one of those days and walk four batters in a start, which will screw everything up.

Larry asks: Who was Roger Maris traded for when Yankees acquired him?

The Yankees acquired Maris from the Kansas City A’s in December 1959 in a seven-player trade. Maris, IF Joe DeMaestri, and 1B Kent Hadley came to the Yankees in exchange for RHP Don Larsen, OF Hank Bauer, 1B/OF Norm Siebern, and 1B/OF Marv Throneberry. Maris, Larsen, and Siebern were the principles. Bauer was a big name near the end of his career while the others were extra players.

Bauer had some great years in pinstripes, but he was 37 at the time of the trade and would only play 138 games with the A’s from 1960-61. Larsen threw his World Series perfect game at age 26 in 1956, but by 1959 he had a career 100 ERA+ in 1,049.2 innings. After the trade he had a 98 ERA+ in 498.1 innings from 1960-67. Siebern had some nice years in Kansas City, hitting .289/.381/.462 (126 OPS+) with 78 homers from 1960-63.

Maris was only 24 at the time, and was coming off a season in which he hit 16 homers and batted .273/.359/.464 (123 OPS+). He owned a career 107 OPS+ in three years at the time of the trade. Then, two years after the trade, he set the then-single-season home run record. Despite Siebern’s production and the name recognition of Bauer and Larsen, the Yankees won this deal easily. Maris hit .265/.356/.515 (139 OPS+) in seven seasons with New York.

P.J. asks: I know it’s early but who do you think on the Yankees stands the best chance to make the All-Star team, pitchers and position players?


Five players jump to mind: Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Pineda, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances. Brett Gardner‘s been awesome but the All-Star Game is a popularity contest and he’s not popular enough. It is what it is. Mark Teixeira‘s been great too but I don’t think he’ll get in over Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, or Jose Abreu, barring injury.

Ellsbury, Pineda, Miller, and Betances are pretty self explanatory. Just remember, it’s really hard for a non-closer reliever to get into the Midsummer Classic. Betances was the rare exception last year. A-Rod will be interesting, especially if the fans don’t vote him in as the starting DH. (Do that!) Will the players and coaches vote in someone not many people seem to like even if his production warrants it? A-Rod’s something of a pariah.

Adam asks: Is it too early to think that Chris Young might be a good qualifying offer candidate?

Oh no, he’s definitely not. Young has been awesome, but the qualifying offer is expected to be in the $16M range this offseason, and he’s not that kind of player. He’d accept the one-year, ~$16M offer in a heartbeat at this point of his career. Even if he kept up his current production all year. Young’s a part-time player these days. A good one, but still a part-time player. No way the Yankees risk giving him a qualifying offer.

Young, Garrett Jones, Stephen Drew, and Chris Capuano are the team’s notable free agents after the season, and none of them are qualifying offer candidates. Next year’s crop of free agents includes Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Ivan Nova, Brendan Ryan, and Esmil Rogers. Nova is the only one of those guys who could be worth a qualifying offer, and even then he’d have to bounce back from Tommy John surgery exceptionally well. Unless they hit it big with a one-year contract guy next season, the Yankees don’t have any extra draft picks coming their way anytime soon. Pineda’s the next no doubt qualifying offer guy on the roster and he’s three years from free agency.

Hank asks: Do you think A-Rod has a chance to get to 715 HR?

Yes I think he has a chance, albeit a small one. A-Rod is 52 homers away from passing Babe Ruth with his contract set to expire after the 2017 season. So he has two seasons and four and a half months to hit 52 homers. Keep in mind he hit only 41 homers from 2011-13 before getting suspended in 2014. Rodriguez has been mashing early this year, but will it last all summer? And into next year? And the year after that? For A-Rod to have a chance to pass Ruth and take over third place on the all-time list, he’s going to have to hit a ton of dingers this season and make up as much ground as possible. I have to think his power will continue to fade in his early-40s.

Mailbag: Harper, Harvey, Judge, Kazmir, 0.00 ERAs, Kuroda

Biggest mailbag in RAB history. I think it is, anyway. Sixteen questions. Sixteen! Some of the answers are short though. If you want to send us any questions, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. If you want to inquire about writing a guest post, email me directly at mike (at) riveraveblues (dot) com. I can’t answer you through the mailbag form.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Marc asks: It’s the 2018-2019 offseason. Who is more likely to end up a Yankee and why: Bryce Harper or Matt Harvey?

Obviously this is going to depend heavily on what the roster looks like in three and a half years. In a vacuum, I think the Yankees would pursue Harper before Harvey for a few reasons, most importantly their ages. Harper will turn 26 early in the 2018-19 offseason while Harvey will turn 30 in Spring Training 2019. You’d be buying Harper’s peak years — in theory, of course — while Harvey’s best seasons would likely be behind him. Huge contracts for pitchers near or beyond their 30th birthday are generally really bad investments. Harper is a transcendent talent and I’d have no trouble whatsoever giving him ten years at that age. Heck, given Giancarlo Stanton’s contract, Scott Boras might be able to get 12-14 years for Harper. Maybe 15 years. If they need pitching more than they need an outfielder — the Yankees do have a bunch of young outfielders in the system, after all — they might go Harvey instead. Me? I think Harper is way too special to pass up.

Ryan asks: Could you see a scenario where the Yankees draft Mike Matuella and Brady Aiken (assuming both were available at respective picks) and shoot for the moon on talent? If one worked out and became a top of the rotation starter, they would make out. They won’t have many chances to grab elite talent in the next few years, and if they are patient, they can land two in one draft.

No and I don’t think I’d advise it. That’s a very risky strategy, putting all your eggs in the injured prospect basket. The draft pool will another issue — I’m not sure the team’s $7.885M pool would be enough to sign both of those guys, and they aren’t worth exceeding the pool and forfeiting future picks. I believe Aiken is an elite talent when healthy and would be more willing to roll the dice on him. Matuella’s a fine prospect but not someone I’d pin my entire draft on. There has to be a balance between upside and probability, especially when that upside may be compromised by the ol’ zipper. If the Yankees want to roll the dice on one or the other, that works. Both is way too much risk for a team that will be really limited in its ability to add amateur talent the next few years.

Samantha asks: 15 of Mark Teixeira‘s 18 hits this year have gone for extra bases. What’s the highest percentage of hits that have gone for extra bases in a season?

Teixeira added two singles and a double since this question was sent in, so it’s 16 extra-base hits (six doubles, ten homers) out of 21 hits total this year. Before I looked this up, my guess was late-1990s Mark McGwire or early-2000s Barry Bonds held the record. I would have said McGwire if I was forced to pick one. Here are the top five extra-base hits-to-singles ratios in MLB history among players who qualified for the batting title:

XBH Singles XBH/H
2001 Barry Bonds 107 XBH (32 2B, 2 3B, 73 HR) 49 68.6%
2010 Jose Bautista 92 XBH (35 2B, 3 3B, 54 HR) 56 62.2%
2009 Carlos Pena 66 XBH (25 2B, 2 3B, 39 HR) 41 61.7%
1999 Mark McGwire 87 XBH (21 2B, 1 3B, 65 HR) 58 60.0%
1998 Mark McGwire 91 XBH (21 2B, 0 3B, 70 HR) 61 59.9%

The highest Yankee on the all-time leaderboard is 1921 Babe Ruth at 58.3%, which ranks eighth all-time. Teixeira is on pace to smash the all-time XBH/H record this year (he’s at 76.2%), but so are a few other players, including Bautista. My guess is Bonds’ record is safe for a while.

Casey asks: What are the chances Derek Jeter would have grown a mustache if he were on this year’s Yankees? I say slim to none.

Yeah I’d say close to zero. Maybe a 1% chance Jeter would grow a mustache. My guess is there would be a lot of “Jeter gets it, he’s all about winning, not mustaches” articles as well. The mustaches are fun. Team bonding is good. Whatever makes the 162-game grind easier.

Bubba asks: Is it possible to send David Carpenter to SWB? It appears that pitching by appointment isn’t helping. Maybe regular work where results won’t matter would help.

Nope, he’s out of minor league options, so he can’t go to Triple-A Scranton without passing through waivers. Given his performance with the Braves from 2013-14 (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP), low salary ($1.3M), and three remaining years of team control, my guess is Carpenter would get claimed in a hurry. The Yankees sorta painted themselves into a corner with Carpenter. It seems like he needs more work to get straightened out, but he hasn’t pitched well in his limited time so Girardi is hesitant to use him. I think the only solution is biting the bullet and getting him out there more than once a week, even if it means bringing him into the seventh inning of a one-run game once in a while. Carpenter can be a real weapon out of the bullpen and the Yankees have to help get him back to being good.

Ben asks: Similar to Stephen Drew, how long is Carlos Beltran‘s leash? He has clearly taken a step back, and looks very sluggish in the field and at the plate. Is it time to call up Ramon Flores to see what he can do?

I think Beltran is going to get at least the rest of this season and possibly the first half of next season to show he’s not done. His contract really complicates things because it’s not cheap — his $15M annual salary is really $22.5M because of the luxury tax — and they’re stuck paying him next year no matter what. The Yankees decided to ride it out with Alex Rodriguez this year (and have been rewarded so far!) and I have no reason to think they’ll cut bait with Beltran anytime soon. I think the best case scenario is Joe Girardi starts using Beltran in a straight platoon with Chris Young.

(Trenton Thunder)
(Trenton Thunder)

Johnny O. asks: What’s the over/under on when Aaron Judge will be moved up to AAA? That .402 wOBA is looking awesome. Only concern is K/BB, anything else?

Judge was promoted from Low-A to High-A in mid-June last year and that’s when I expect him to be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton this year. You have to give him a chance to go through the league a second time to see how pitchers adjust, and what he needs to do to adjust back. Judge’s strikeout rate (24.6%) is in line with last year’s rate (23.3%) but his walk rate has dropped considerably (5.3% after 15.8% last year). I’m actually not too concerned about that — minor league walk rates aren’t all that predictive because there are so many pitchers in the minors who have absolutely no idea where the ball is going, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they miss the plate, it also means they catch too much of it. I’d give him 60-70 games in Double-A and if he’s still mashing, bump him up. We go through this every year it seems. Twenty-five awesome games to start the season doesn’t necessarily mean a prospect is ready to be promoted.

Steve asks: Way too early obviously but would a guy like Scott Kazmir make sense for the Yankees to look into? No long term commitment, shouldn’t be as expensive prospect-wise as Johnny Cueto, others who might be available but he is also kind of a sneaky-solid pitcher.

Yes, I think Kazmir is a potential option for the Yankees. He has a 2.75 ERA (3.82 FIP) so far this year after pitching to a 3.77 ERA (3.42 FIP) in 348.1 innings from 2013-14. Kazmir is still only 31 and his comeback has been remarkable. He was out of baseball entirely due to arm problems a few years ago and worked his way back through an independent league and winter ball. The guy deserves a ton of credit not only for getting back to MLB, but having this much success in the second phase of his career.

Kazmir isn’t missing bats like he did in his prime but both his strikeout (22.8%) and walk (6.8%) rates have been a tick better than league average since resurfacing in 2013. He doesn’t get many grounders (42.4%) but his hard contact rate (28.4%) is basically identical to the league average (28.3%), so it’s not like all the fly balls are rockets. Kazmir is a rental, he’s making $13M this season, and I think the A’s would be willing to make him a qualifying offer after the season, so they’d presumably want something more valuable than a supplemental first round pick in a trade. Kazmir could definitely help the Yankees if they’re willing to pay what figures to be a high price.

CanGuest asks: First, what do you think of the Josh Hamilton trade? Seems like a great deal for the Rangers, with the Angels covering all but 7m of the deal. Second, one of the reasons I heard for the Angels for making the trade was for additional room under the luxury tax. I thought that if a team is paying a portion of a player’s salary, that amount counts toward their luxury tax. Am I wrong, or do the Angels only save like 2m/year in luxury tax room?

It’s a win-win-win trade, good for all three parties. The Angels get rid of a player they clearly didn’t want, Hamilton gets away from a toxic situation and back to an organization that knows him well, and the Rangers get a potentially productive player on the cheap. I’m not sure how the money is broken down in the trade, but as far as the luxury tax is concerned, the Angels save whatever the Rangers are playing him in a given year. So take Hamilton’s $25M luxury tax hit, then subtract whatever Texas is paying him that year. If they’re paying him $1M this year, he counts as $24M against the tax for the Angels. And if the Rangers pay him $5M next year, the Halos are stuck with a $20M luxury tax hit. Got it? Course you do.

George asks: If the Yankees don’t acknowledge A-Rod‘s 660th as a milestone, could he design and market his own merchandise? Possibly a generic A-Rod, not in Yankee garb with some reference to 660?

Yes with limitations. Alex can use his likeness on merchandise but he could not use any Yankees or MLB logos without a license, something I highly doubt they would be willing to negotiate given the circumstances. A-Rod’s camp could come up with a slogan or a logo like DJ3K (AROD660?) and sell that. A-Rod can design and sell merchandise with his likeness and the number 660 on it — MLB and the Yankees don’t hold the rights to that stuff — but there can’t be anything linking it to the team or the league without their approval. It would have to be a real generic design.

George asks: Why don’t the Yankees and A-Rod agree to give the $6M milestone bonus to a charity of their choice?

Knowing the Yankees and A-Rod, they’d probably end up in front of an arbitration panel fighting over who gets to claim the tax deduction.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Dan asks: So, is that Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius trade staring to look a little better for the Yankees? Or is it still too soon to tell?

It’s too soon to tell. It was too soon to tell last month, it’s too soon to tell this month, it’ll be too soon to tell next month. We just went through this — and still are, really — with the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade. When you’re talking about two players this young and this early in their careers, it’s going to take years before you can tell which team got the better end of the trade. Years. I know no one wants to hear that, we all want answers now, but that’s not possible. This trade was never about instant gratification.

Bailey asks: Michael Pineda has only pitched over a 100 innings once in his MLB career, and that was four years ago (171). Do we need to worry about him hitting a IP limit/cap? Assuming he stays healthy.

Definitely. Worry maybe isn’t the right word. It’s just something the team has to monitor. There’s a natural concern Pineda may get hurt again given his history, I’m not sure how that couldn’t be in the back of anyone’s mind, but what if he simply runs out of gas in August or September after throwing 124.2 total innings from 2012-14? I think the Yankees are smart to use a sixth starter every once in a while to give Pineda and others the extra rest. I’d like to see them shuffle the rotation around the All-Star break to give Pineda a nice long 10-12 day break if possible too.

Bavarian Yankee asks: I just realized that both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had a 0 ERA in April. Was this the first time the Yankees had their two best relievers start the season with a 0 ERA during the first month?

Betances and Miller threw 12.1 and 11.1 innings in April, respectively, so let’s use ten innings as our minimum. Here is the full list of Yankees pitchers who threw at least ten innings with a 0.00 ERA in March/April (via Baseball Reference):

1 Dellin Betances 11 2015 0.00 0 0 12.1 5 1 0 7 19 49 0.973 13.9 2.71 8
2 Andrew Miller 10 2015 0.00 0 8 11.1 3 0 0 4 20 43 0.618 15.9 5.00 -6
3 David Robertson 11 2012 0.00 0 0 11.0 7 0 0 3 18 42 0.909 14.7 6.00 27
4 Mariano Rivera 10 2008 0.00 0 8 11.0 4 0 0 0 11 37 0.364 9.0 -40
5 Lee Guetterman 10 1989 0.00 0 3 14.2 12 0 0 3 6 53 1.023 3.7 2.00 56
6 Dooley Womack 7 1967 0.00 0 0 11.0 7 1 0 5 7 43 1.091 5.7 1.40 85
7 Hal Reniff 5 1967 0.00 0 0 10.2 9 1 0 1 8 43 0.938 6.8 8.00 58
8 Bob Turley 2 1958 0.00 2 0 18.0 5 0 0 11 13 70 0.889 6.5 1.18 -11
9 Don Larsen 2 1958 0.00 2 0 14.0 11 0 0 6 10 57 1.214 6.4 1.67 45
10 Hank Thormahlen 2 1920 0.00 1 0 11.2 10 2 0 3 2 47 1.114 1.5 0.67 77
11 Ray Fisher 2 1914 0.00 2 0 17.0 13 2 0 4 5 66 1.000 2.6 1.25 13

That’s it. Only eleven times in history has a pitcher — starter or reliever — thrown at least ten innings in March/April with a 0.00 ERA for the Yankees. Dellin and Miller are the third set of teammates to do it, joining Womack and Reniff in 1967 and Turley and Larsen in 1958. I’m surprised Rivera only did it once in all those years of excellence. Then again, there always seemed to be a What’s Wrong With Mo Week™ every April. So yeah, what we watched Betances and Miller do last month hadn’t been done in nearly 50 years.

Paco asks: NYY 2B has a higher OPS than the Seattle 2B. Is Robinson Cano already in decline, or too early in the season to tell?

It’s too early to tell. Robbie is hitting .263/.306/.377 (92 wRC+) in 121 plate appearances this year. He hit .255/.303/.355 (75 wRC+) in his first 119 plate appearances as recently as 2012. He also hit .269/.319/.352 (76 wRC+) in his first 119 plate appearances back in 2007 as well. As great as Cano is, getting off to a slow start isn’t unprecedented. This slow start could be considered more of red flag given the fact he’ll turn 33 later this year, but hey, that’s not the Yankees problem anymore. If anything, Robbie is struggling because I went big on offense in fantasy this year and paid way more than I was comfortable paying to get him in my auction. Blame me.

Dan asks: How is Hiroki Kuroda doing in Japan?

Kuroda has made six starts for the Hiroshima Carp so far this season and is 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. He’s struck out 24 and walked eight in 31 innings. Kuroda is also 2-for-15 (.133) with eight strikeouts at the plate. In his six starts, Hiroshima has scored two, zero, seven, two, eleven, and four runs for an average of 4.33 runs of support per game. The Yankees gave Kuroda an average of 3.74 runs of support per game from 2012-14, so at least his new team is taking care of him offensively. The Carp are 13-18 and in last place in the Central Division, which stinks. I’m hoping Kuroda goes out a champ. Dude deserves it.

Mailbag: Hamels, Gardner, Sabathia, Defense, Severino

Got a dozen questions for you this week and some of them have long answers too. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Many asked: What about Cole Hamels?

So this was inevitable after Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm injury. Lots and lots of people asked about trading for Hamels. As I’ve said several times in recent months, the 31-year-old Hamels is a bonafide ace with a favorable contract — he makes $23.5M per year but is only signed through 2018, so you’re not stuck with him into his late-30s — who would be a multi-win upgrade for any team, including the Yankees. He’s a significant difference-maker.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently told Bob Nightengale the Phillies are willing to eat some of the money owed to Hamels to facilitate a trade as long as they get higher quality players in return. As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant to the Yankees. They should be willing to take on the entire contract to keep the prospect package down. Flex those financial muscles, baby. Use them to get the ace and keep the prospects.

The Phillies are reportedly holding out for top prospects and I totally get it. Hamels is by far their best trade chip and this deal will be an important part of their rebuild. The team isn’t poor, they’re not desperate to get rid of the contract, so they want top prospects. I’d have zero trouble including Luis Severino or Aaron Judge in a trade for Hamels. Including both would be tough to swallow but it shouldn’t be off the table. Ultimately I think it’ll take three or four prospects, at least two of whom are very, very good.

As I said the other day, the Yankees are not the type of team to rush out and make a knee-jerk trade in response to Tanaka’s injury. That said, Hamels is the type of pitcher every team tries to add at any time, regardless of what’s going on elsewhere with the roster. If even if Tanaka was perfectly healthy it would make sense to pursue Hamels. I don’t think the Yankees will trade for Hamels — I expect another club (Dodgers? Red Sox?) to eventually step in and make an offer New York can’t beat — but if it’s doable, yes, bring him aboard.

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Travis asks: I’m a Brett Gardner fan, but with a large group of outfielders in AAA/AA becoming more and more major league ready (ie: Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Aaron Judge, Jake Cave), will/should the Yankees look into trade partners after the 2015 season? Keeping in mind that Gardner has been one of the most productive Yankees in the last 3-4 years.

Sure. I don’t think they should actively shop him, but they should certainly listen to offers. It would not only pave the way for a young outfielder, it would also save some money and allow the Yankees to get pieces to plug another hole on the roster. If they could get, say, a young middle infielder and a pitcher for Gardner, wouldn’t they have to consider it? As good as Gardner is, the Yankees have the same exact player in Jacoby Ellsbury. Freeing up an outfield spot would give them a chance to add a player with more offensive ability, especially in what would be the later years of Gardner’s contract. I love Gardner, but the Yankees have a lot of young outfielders and may be able to use him to improve the team elsewhere. Trading him can’t be off the table, right?

Chris asks: Do you think CC Sabathia‘s declining arm speed has hurt his slider more than his fastball? It used to be his best pitch and now it’s loopy like a slurve and hittable.

Yes, I think that’s very possible. Sabathia’s slider was once one of the best in the game, among baseball’s elite pitches, but its swing-and-miss rate has fallen from roughly 22% when he first to joined the Yankees to 13% or so since the start of 2013. Also, opponents have been hitting it harder and harder each year. Here is the SLG against CC’s slider, via Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia slider

Fastball velocity gets the most attention but Sabathia’s declining arm strength hurts all his pitches, including his slider and changeup. That same is true for every pitcher as they get older. Pitches will be less effective when you can’t throw them the way you did at your peak. Sabathia seems to lack a go-to pitch these days — his changeup was excellent in his start against the Tigers, for what it’s worth — and unless the Yankees can somehow reverse the pitcher aging process, I’m not sure CC will ever have one of those pitches again.

Asher asks: Who are your “Franchise Four?”

MLB is doing this “Franchise Four” thing, where fans vote for the four “most impactful players who best represent the history of each franchise.” Here’s the ballot and here are the eight candidates for the Yankees:Franchise FourMy four would be Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio. The best player ever, the best first baseman ever, the best switch-hitter ever, and the owner of the longest hitting streak in MLB history. All no-doubt Hall of Famers. The only change I would even consider is Derek Jeter over DiMaggio. I love Mariano Rivera, but I can’t consider a reliever to be one of the four most “impact” players in the history of this franchise. I’m certain my “backup” foursome of Jeter, Rivera, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra is better than the Franchise Four of several other teams. All those guys are Hall of Famers too.

Sam asks: I know the stats say the Yankees are horrible at the infield shift, But what about outfield positioning? Are they just as bad? My eyes tell me they take a lot of hits away out there, but when I look at advanced stats Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury don’t rate very well.

The MLB average BABIP on fly balls and line drives this year are .072 and .617 , respectively. The Yankees are at .065 and .598, respectively, so they’re a touch better than the rest of the league despite Carlos Beltran having the range of a sunflower blowing in the wind. BABIP on fly balls and line drives isn’t a great way to measure outfield positioning, but until people smarter than me start breaking down StatCast data, this is the best we have.

Anecdotally, the Yankees tend to shade Ellsbury toward right field and Gardner toward left-center to help cover for Beltran. Ever notice how they always make great running/sliding catches going to their left but not so much to their right? That’s because they’re already shaded towards right field to help Beltran. Defensive stats for Yankees’ outfielders always seem to be wonky — they say they’ve never had a good defensive center fielder in a year when Gardner was playing left, and, uh, no, look at Ellsbury last season — and I trust them less and less with each passing year. I’m greatly looking forward to the StatCast revolution.

Dan asks: If an MLB team were to go to a six man rotation, would those six starters be able to throw 115 pitches instead of 100 and still get a health benefit? Considering that’s what they do in Japan and are apparently healthier.

In theory, yes, pitchers would be able to throw more pitches in a six-man rotation than they would in a five-man rotation. But, as I’ve been saying for years now, everything in baseball is trending towards using pitchers less and less. My guess is a six-man rotation would result in no substantial change in the average number of pitches per start. Managers might be more willing to let a guy get up to 115-120 pitches on occasion if he’s cruising, but I don’t think it would be an every start thing. Baseball keeps using pitchers less and less. I don’t think it’ll be too long (within ten years?) before a six-man rotation is pretty standard around MLB.

Luke asks: It seems like the Yankees are going to great lengths to limit the number of innings their starters are pitching, using a 6th starter for a spot start and taking guys out with under 100 pitches all the time. Do you think this is something they’ve been forced into because of all the injury concerns in the rotation, or is this a glimpse of the pitching staff of the future?

Both! The Yankees came into the season with several starters who had injury concerns and they’re trying to do all they can to keep these guys healthy. It’s completely understandable why they’ve taken it easy on these guys early this season. (Of course, Tanaka got hurt anyway.) But, as I just said, everything in baseball says teams are using pitchers less and less. My guess is we’ll see fewer 100+ pitch starts throughout baseball going forward — the Yankees have only had three 100+ pitch starts in 22 games this year (one each by Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Adam Warren) — and eventually a six-man rotation will become the norm as well.

William asks: Rotation depth past the number six starter gets talked about a lot. We know Chase Whitley is the number 6, or at least I hope so considering he’s getting a spot start. Who would you rank from 7-10 after Whitley in order of who would come up next (ignoring pitching issues like starting in AAA on Monday so unavailable Tuesday for spot start)?

Right now the next starter in line to be called up is Bryan Mitchell, who’s in the Triple-A rotation, and the next guy after that might be Esmil Rogers. I think the Yankees would pull Rogers out of the bullpen and make him a starter before turning to another Triple-A option like Matt Tracy, Kyle Davies, or Jaron Long. One of those guys might get the call to be the long man in the case, but I think Rogers is ahead of them on the rotation depth chart. If they need another starter beyond Mitchell and Rogers … yikes. Let’s hope Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova come back soon, mmmkay?

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Mike asks: In your opinion, what would be the best way for the Yankees to handle Luis Severino? What lessons have we learned about how to handle top arms?

That learning on the fly at the MLB level is hard and the Yankees should try to reduce that as much as possible. Severino needs to improve his breaking ball first and foremost. The Yankees shouldn’t call him up as a fastball/changeup pitcher with a show-me slider and expect instant results. He just turned 21, remember, and like it or not, he’s not some kind of pitching prodigy like Felix Hernandez or Jose Fernandez, the type of guy who has it all figured out at a young age and is ready to dominate big leaguers now. I think patience is the key. Severino has some very obvious things to work on — command and delivery are the big ones in addition to the breaking ball — and he should be given lots of time to work on them in the minors, where results don’t matter. Get as much development done in non-competitive environments as possible, basically. If that means Severino doesn’t make his MLB debut until the second half of next season, so be it.

JonS asks: How many players have thrown exactly ONE pitch for the Yankees?

Pitch count data at Baseball-Reference only goes back to 2000, so I can’t give a complete answer. I’m sure someone at some point from 1913-99 threw exactly one pitch for the Yankees, then never pitched for them again. No player has thrown just one pitch for the Yankees since 2000 though. Here’s the fewest pitches thrown as a Yankee since the turn of the century (via B-Ref):

1 Alberto Gonzalez 5 1 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 3.05
2 Dewayne Wise 7 1 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 3.10
3 Steve Garrison 9 1 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 3.03
4 Mike Zagurski 10 1 0.1 1 2 2 0 0 54.00 12.05
5 Dean Anna 17 1 1.0 3 2 2 0 0 18.00 3.13
6 Wade LeBlanc 20 1 1.0 2 2 2 1 0 18.00 9.13
7 Nick Swisher 22 1 1.0 1 0 0 1 1 0.00 4.10
8 Sam Marsonek 23 1 1.1 2 0 0 0 0 0.00 3.05
9 David Aardsma 24 1 1.0 1 1 1 1 1 9.00 17.10
10 Jeff Francis 27 2 1.2 2 1 1 0 1 5.40 9.73

Four of those guys (Gonzalez, Wise, Anna, Swisher) are position players, so Garrison has the distinction of throwing the fewest pitches as a Yankee this century among actual pitchers. The team claimed Garrison off waivers from the Padres in 2010 and that one game in pinstripes is the only MLB game he’s ever appeared in. He’s only 28 though and is currently pitching in an independent league. Still time to make it back.

Bob asks: Can you list the Yankee players whose contracts will end in 2015, 2016, and 2017?

Sure, but you can find this information at any time at Cot’s Baseball Contracts, you don’t have to ask me. Here’s a real quick rundown:

The Yankees only have about $17.5M coming off the books after the season, assuming Ryan picks up his no-brainer $1M player option. Most of that money is going to go right to arbitration raises for Nova, Eovaldi, and Pineda. The big contracts don’t start coming off the books until after next season.

Tom asks: Why can’t money hungry MLB players honorably retire when they are no longer an asset to their team, instead of hanging around until the end of their contract? (I’m thinking about CC and Beltran)

Rant time: The only reason players are called “money hungry” is because fans have no idea how much the owners make. If anything, players are underpaid. MLB is setting a new revenue record every year yet the players are getting a smaller piece of the pie — as Nathaniel Grow wrote last month, players were getting 56% of revenue in 2002 but now it’s only 40%. The players generate the revenue. They’re the reason the sport exists and they deserve more money. A player declined at the end of a big money contract? Tough. No one complained when he was playing for a fraction of his market value early in his career. Honorably retire? Get real. How about owners honor their side of the contract and not try to weasel out of it like the Angels and Josh Hamilton or this A-Rod home run milestone bonus nonsense. I hope Sabathia and Beltran get every penny they’re owed. Teams are not victims. They’re more “money hungry” than the players will ever be.

Mailbag: Hamilton, Young, Relievers, Infante, Spending

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag and some of the answers are longer than usual. Please use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions. I know the form sucks, there’s no confirmation message or anything like that, but trust me, your questions go through.

(Jonathan Moore/Getty)
(Jonathan Moore/Getty)

Many asked: What about Josh Hamilton?

Lots of questions about Hamilton this week for whatever reason, so I’ll try to cover all the bases. First, no I don’t think the Yankees should look into trading for Hamilton even though the Angels are so clearly down on him. A contract like that — big bucks for a player in his mid-30s who is already declining and has injury issues — is exactly the kind of contract the Yankees need to avoid. Hamilton is owed $90.2M (!) through 2017. Nope.

Second, if the Angels release Hamilton, it’s a different story. They’d be on the hook for all that money and the Yankees or any other team could sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees don’t need another left-handed hitting outfielder/DH type, so he doesn’t make sense for the roster, but, in a vacuum, the idea of going after Hamilton in that case is fine. The Angels have treated him like crap and the Yankees won’t do that. They didn’t even treat Alex Rodriguez as poorly as the Angels have treated Hamilton.

Third, I actually wouldn’t trade A-Rod for Hamilton right now. Forget about A-Rod’s hot start. We’ve got two declining players with off-the-field baggage (Hamilton’s is much more severe) signed through 2017, except one is owed $64M and the other is owed $90.2M. Alex is also a better fit for the roster as a righty hitting corner infielder. There are very few players in MLB who I wouldn’t take in a trade for A-Rod. Hamilton is one of them. Make no mistake, the Yankees want A-Rod gone, but not enough to take on Hamilton’s contract.

Jamie asks: Chris Young might not be an everyday caliber player, but would he be an everyday upgrade over Carlos Beltran? Or is best situation platooning them? (Assuming Beltran coming back to life is an impossibility!)

Well if Beltran coming back is an impossibility, then Young is definitely the better everyday option. In reality, a Young/Beltran platoon is probably the best short-term option, and I would be surprised if the Yankees committed to that. At least right now, maybe later in the season if Beltran doesn’t start hitting. A Ramon Flores/Young platoon could probably out-produce Beltran at the moment, especially if we count defense, though the club owes Beltran a lot of money and they aren’t prone to knee-jerk moves. Look how long Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Brian Roberts lasted in recent years.

Aaron asks: Obviously this is a little ways off, but could you see Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino forming a new Core Four? Assuming they all stay in the Yankees system of course.

No. Let’s stop it with the next Core Four stuff. It’s never happening again. We’re talking about two no-doubt Hall of Famers and two borderline Hall of Famers (and a third borderline Hall of Famer!) all coming up with one team at the same time and spending nearly two decades playing together. That’s an impossible scenario to replicate. Let’s just let Judge, Bird, and whoever else be themselves. I strongly feel the “next ______” line of thinking is tired. These guys are all human beings and they’re all unique. Just let their careers play out without worrying whose shoes they will fill.

Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)
Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)

Bob asks: Seeing the numbers Vanderbilt players Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer are putting up is there any chance the Yankees could get one of those players at the 16th pick?

No on Swanson, yes on Fulmer. Swanson is the best all-around college position player in the draft (he’s hitting .354/.455/.628 this spring) and a true shortstop — he’s playing short now but played second as a freshman and sophomore in deference to Vince Conde, who the Yankees selected in the ninth round last year — and guys like that tend to come off the board very early. Swanson is a projected top ten pick right now and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he comes off the board in the top five.

Fulmer came into the spring as more of a mid-to-late first rounder, but he’s climbed draft boards these last few weeks because he’s been untouchable (1.69 ERA and 90/24 K/BB in 64 IP). Fulmer is a short righty (listed at 5-foot-11) and there’s still a bias against short righties throughout baseball, which may work against him come draft day. Either way, he sits mid-90s with a power breaking ball and off-the-charts competitiveness. Fulmer is far more likely to be available when the Yankees pick 16th overall than Swanson, though I would be shocked if Fulmer is still on the board by time their second pick comes around (30th).

JonS asks: Why are relievers so volatile compared to starters?

Lots of reasons. First and foremost, they inherently work in small sample sizes, so if a guy struggles for a few weeks at some point, there won’t always be enough time to even things out. Think about all the guys who have a brutal outing early in April — say, six runs in an inning — and are still trying to work it off their ERA in August. Clubs are quick to pull the trigger and replace a struggling reliever too. Just about all relievers are pitchers who couldn’t start for one reason or another. Injuries, bad command, herky jerky delivery, lack of a third pitch, stuff like that forces them out of the rotation and are reasons why relievers tend to be unpredictable — they all have some kind of serious flaw to start with.

Mark asks: As a swap of ugly contracts, would you trade Beltran for Omar Infante? Garbage for more versatile garbage.

No. Beltran is owed more money but is under contract one fewer year — the Yankees owe him $30M through next season while the Royals owe Infante a total of $25.75M through 2018. I’d rather just get rid of the dead weight sooner. Infante’s versatility doesn’t really exist anymore either. He’s been a full-time second baseman since 2011. The last time he did the super-utility player thing everyone seems to love was 2010, when he was 28 years old. He’s now 33, can’t hit (75 wRC+ since the start of last year), and has lingering back and shoulder issues. I’d probably do the deal if the contracts were equal length. But yeah, I just want the awful contracts gone as soon as possible. I’m not sure how Beltran for Infante helps the Yankees aside from saving $5M spread across three years.

Joe asks: But seriously, IF A-Rod continues to hit like this and the Yanks make the playoffs, what are the chances he wins MVP? (My dream BTW)

I don’t think he would get enough support, so very small. Let’s say … 2%. It’s hard enough for a Yankees player to win a major award as it is — a Yankee needs a monster season far better than anyone else to win an award (think 2007 A-Rod), been that way for a few decades now — and I’m not sure A-Rod is capable of doing that at this point. He’s been awesome! But it was hard for peak Alex to win an MVP in pinstripes. Voters have shown they generally won’t support players suspended for PED ties for awards as well. Look at Melky Cabrera in 2012. He absolutely deserved MVP votes but didn’t get a single one.

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Anonymous asks: In the event Didi Gregorius completely falls on his face this year do the Yankees sign Ian Desmond? I’m very scared of his defense, more so that Didi’s offense and mental errors.

That would be the ultimate “if the Boss was alive!” move, wouldn’t it? Young player flops, replace him with the biggest available name. Desmond’s off to a strong start at the plate (122 wRC+) but he’s been a total disaster in the field. Errors are far from the best way to evaluate defense but his MLB leading eight errors do accurately represent his terrible play. Desmond hasn’t been able to make routine plays — he’s pulled the first baseman off the bag with throws, booted grounders, the works. Routine plays a Triple-A caliber shortstop needs to make. Desmond turns 30 in September so he’s not old, but he’s not going to be a shortstop much longer and his swing-and-miss tendencies have gradually gotten worse the last few years, which is a red flag. If the Yankees decide to replace Didi this offseason, I’d hope they’d steer clear of a huge contract for Desmond. That’s not something they need right now.

Tom asks: Do you think if Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano come back healthy and somewhat effective it would be smart for the Yanks to maybe trade Adam Warren + Justin Wilson + another minor piece for offensive help or even prospects? They can call up Jacob Lindgren and will still have 6 big league SP’s. What do you think that package can net?

I’m inclined to say keep the pitching depth, especially since Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are hardly guaranteed to make it through this season (or next!) in one piece. But, if they did look to trade Warren and Wilson for an upgrade elsewhere, I don’t think they would get a ton in return. We know what Wilson is worth on the trade market: Frankie Cervelli. An oft-injured yet sorta interesting part-time player with two years of control remaining.

I try to find similar players when gauging a player’s trade value but Warren is tough because he has four years of team control remaining (counting 2015) and is a starter now after spending two years in the bullpen. Cesar Ramos kinda works but he was traded in a salary dump — the Rays took a bad control Double-A reliever in return for shedding his $1.3M salary. Maybe Tyson Ross? He was similar to Warren before his career took off with the Padres, and all he netted the A’s was a utility infielder (Andy Parrino) and a Triple-A depth arm (Andrew Werner).

A Warren plus Wilson package might net the Yankees something useful, but if you’re hoping they can get a top prospect or someone they could plug into their MLB lineup right away, you’ll probably be disappointed. Wilson and Warren are solid big leaguers but not stars, and many teams have players just like them in the organization. If the Yankees throw in a prospect, it might be worthwhile. Me? I say hang on to the depth.

Ian asks: I’m confused a bit by some of your analysis. On the one hand, you suggest that by not spending money the Yankees are negating their primary advantage. In the same chat you say they can’t keep overpaying for veterans. What gives? Moreover, if the Yankees do reset the luxury tax, they aren’t only saving money for themselves, but they are giving much much less money to other teams. Who are, after all, their competition. Thoughts?

I probably haven’t been clear enough. I absolutely think the Yankees should pay high salaries and have a top payroll. They’re in the biggest market in the game with a brand new stadium and their own television network. They print money. I understand the benefits of getting under the luxury tax threshold — in addition to resetting the tax rate, the Yankees would also be eligible for a revenue sharing rebate — but cutting payroll to get under the threshold doesn’t sit well with me at all.

That said, they have to spend smarter, specifically by steering clear of super long contracts that buy decline years in bulk. The years are the problem, not the dollars. Players don’t age differently just because you give them more money. These contracts limit flexibility and leave the Yankees with a bunch of unproductive players in their late-30s. Remember this past offseason, when it was reported the Yankees were willing to tack on the fourth year to get Andrew Miller and Chase Headley as long as the average annual value of the contract was lower? That’s completely backwards to me. The Yankees should be willing to pay a higher annual salary in order to keep the contract shorter. They shouldn’t use their financial might to absorb decline years. They should use it to avoid them.

Andrew asks: With Lucius Fox just being declared a FA and free to sign, should Yanks be all over him? 18 y.o. SS who probably would be a top 50 pick in the draft.

Fox, who shares a name with Morgan Freeman’s character in the various Batman movies, has a bit of a weird backstory. He was born in the Bahamas, attended high school in Florida (and did the whole high school draft showcase thing), then moved back to the Bahamas. There was some debate over whether he would be draft-eligible or considered an international free agent. MLB chose the latter and recently declared him a free agent, according to Kiley McDaniel.

McDaniel called Fox a “plus plus runner … (who) now projects to stick at shortstop with feel to hit from both sides of the plate,” and says he would have been a projected top 50 pick had he been draft-eligible. McDaniel also says Fox may not sign until after July 2nd, which means the Yankees would only be able to offer him $300,000 as part of the penalties for last summer’s international spending. In general, my stance is this: quality middle infielders are very hard to find, so any time the Yankees can scoop up a good middle infield prospect for nothing but cash, they should absolutely break out the checkbook. This is where they should go the extra mile, not for 37-year-old DHs.

Mailbag: Trades, Ellsbury, Beltran, Shreve, O’Brien, Bailey

Got nine questions for you in this week’s mailbag. I’m trying to shorten the mailbag up a bit because the season started and there’s so much other stuff going on, but I’m mostly failing. Anyway, use the For The Mailbag form in the sidebar to send us any questions.

The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)
The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)

Chris asks: I hear all the time “Yanks are trading their young guys” and they do … But to be fair, who was the last young player they traded that turned out to be better than the guy they got in the Brian Cashman era? Does the fact they CAN trade for people or buy players change how the Yankees view player development in general and thus didn’t take it as seriously as they should have?

Hmmm, Danny Farquhar? He wasn’t a homegrown guy or particularly young though. The Yankees plucked him off waivers then traded him for Ichiro Suzuki, who helped the team get to the 2012 postseason. Farquhar might not be the best example. Looking through MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, I think the last trade involving a young player that the Yankees clearly lost was Mark Melancon (and Jimmy Paredes) for Lance Berkman back in 2010. Melancon’s become one of the best relievers in the game and while Berkman’s time in pinstripes was underrated (.359 OBP!), that’s one New York would like to do over. Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo is the gold standard for awful Brian Cashman trades. That was a total dud. Young players and prospects don’t work out more often than not. Everyone seems so willing to overlook that. And nah, I wouldn’t change how I feel about the team’s player development in general. They always seem to have just enough trade chips to get what they need but not enough to be in the mix for any big names, like Cole Hamels or David Price.

Rob asks: With the emergence of Ramon Flores, Jake Cave, Tyler Austin and even Mark Payton, do you think the Yankees regret giving Jacoby Ellsbury a long term deal? Do you think at any point his contract becomes tradeable?

Teams come to regret the vast majority of long-term contracts within the first two or three years it seems, even if they won’t admit it. So yes, I think the Yankees either already regret signing Ellsbury or will in a year or two. I’ve been critical of the signing since the start because it was elite dollars for a non-elite player (Ellsbury’s good! just not a $153M player) so if the Yankees can trade him at some point, I absolutely think they should. When a top Scott Boras client signs the week before the Winter Meetings, it means you blew them away with the offer. It’s a bad sign when Boras is that quick to take a deal. Anyway, even if the Yankees do regret signing Ellsbury, I don’t expect them to be able to trade him anyway. He has a full no-trade clause because, you know, the $153M wasn’t enough to get it done.

Johnny asks: If any of the minor leaguers push for a place on the MLB team — example: Tyler Austin continues to rake at AAA — do you see the Yankees benching Carlos Beltran?

I really doubt it. They only kinda sorta benched Alfonso Soriano last year when it was clear he was cooked. They’re still batting Beltran third in the lineup and he’s signed for next year too. Beltran’s leash is going to be really, really long. Best case scenario if he doesn’t start hitting is he gets bumped lower in the order. For someone like Austin or Flores to get a chance, it’ll take a long-term injury to a starting outfielder. Maybe two long-term injuries given Chris Young‘s start to the season. Benching Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, or whoever just isn’t something the Yankees have indicated they are willing to do. Their contracts keep their jobs safe.

Chasin’ Shreve. (Presswire)

Dan asks: How much does it stink for Chasen Shreve that he won the job in Spring Training, and got sent to the minor leagues just because he had a long outing?

It stinks but that’s baseball. My guess is Shreve was happy to get the opportunity — he capitalized on that opportunity too, he showed the Yankees he’s a big leaguer — after spending so much time as an afterthought in the minors. Remember, Shreve was a non-prospect who had to reinvent himself last year to get on the radar. This is life for young relievers. They go up and down a bunch of times early in their careers and wait until they get enough innings to show what they can do. Shreve will be back and fairly soon, I suspect. (His ten days are up Tuesday.)

Tom asks: Obviously, very hypothetical, but say the Yankees made the Nathan Eovaldi trade before acquiring Didi Gregorius, do you think the Tigers would have accepted Eovaldi instead of Shane Greene? Who would you rather have?

I don’t think the Tigers  would have taken Eovaldi over Greene. GM Dave Dombrowski had reportedly been trying to get Greene for a while — Cashman told Chad Jennings that Dombrowski inquired about Greene multiple times — and it seems like he was their guy, not Eovaldi. Dombrowski’s been known to fall in love with certain player and go after them, hence the surprising Doug Fister for Robbie Ray trade. He just really liked Robbie Ray. I’d prefer Greene to Eovaldi mostly because he’s under control an extra three years. Eovaldi’s way ahead of where Greene was at his age though. Like, waaay ahead.

Steve asks: Is Peter O’Brien a successful draft pick? Including everything.

Oh yes, absolutely. The Yankees took O’Brien in the second round of the 2012 draft and used him to get Martin Prado, who they then flipped to the Marlins for Eovaldi & Co. They drafted him with the 94th overall pick and less than three years later they turned him into a young power arm like Eovaldi, who is only five months older than O’Brien. Regardless of what O’Brien does from here on out — he’s in a different organization now with different coaches and everything, the Yankees have no influence — the Yankees turned that pick into a quality young player on their MLB roster in less than three years. It would be nice if more picks in the second round were that productive.

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

Conor asks: Does CC Sabathia now have a problem pitching out of the stretch?

It’s too early to say. Believe it or not, Sabathia has actually been more effective with men on base in his two starts this season than with the bases empty. Here are the super duper small sample size numbers from Baseball-Reference:

2 28 1 8 0 1 1 1 10 .296 .321 .481 .803 .438 138
Men On 2 25 8 7 0 0 0 0 5 .304 .280 .304 .584 .350 61

For what it’s worth, Sabathia was less effective with men on base than with the bases empty back in 2013, his last full and healthy-ish season. Most pitchers are less effective from the stretch — batters hit .245/.303/.379 with the bases empty and .259/.327/.397 with men on base last year — because they’re sacrificing some stuff in order to be quicker to the plate. I’m sure that will be true with Sabathia this year, but it’s too early to know how precisely much less effective he really is from the stretch.

Paul asks: Any news about Andrew Bailey?

Actually, yes. Bailey threw one inning and 13 pitches for High-A Tampa on Tuesday and George King says he followed that by throwing live batting practice Wednesday, so while he hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games yet, he has thrown on back-to-back days. He’s getting there. I think the earliest we’ll see Bailey — if we see him at all, he’s coming back from a major injury remember — is early-to-mid-May. Hopefully he can stay healthy and contribute. Another quality reliever is never a bad thing.

Mike asks: Heard John Kruk and Curt Schilling discussing the idea that rosters should be expanded in April, not September. I’ve never really considered this. What do you think of their idea of a 35-man roster in April and regular 25-man limit in September?

I’m not a fan of expanding rosters in April, I like the extra players in September. Players are most fatigued and in need of rest later in the season, so it’s good to have the extra bodies in September, plus it gives teams an opportunity to reward minor leaguers who had good seasons. Maybe there’s a compromise to be made and rosters can be expanded in both April and September. Keep the September rules as they are, but let teams carry 27-28 players instead of 25 in April, when pitchers are still getting stretched out and stuff. That work? If it’s either/or, give me expanded rosters in September over April, all day every day.

Mailbag: First Round Picks, Mussina, Tanaka, Extensions

I was planning to make this a shorter than usual mailbag because the regular season has started and there are game recaps and DotF to worry about, yet I still managed to answer eleven questions. Go figure. The “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar is the best way to send us questions each week. We get to as many as we can.

The "G" face mask is so boss. (Presswire)
The “G” face mask is so boss. (Presswire)

Jeff asks: Your first round pick analysis got me thinking. Can you provide some players that were drafted after the Yankees’ picks that would have been a better choice knowing what we know now?

Sure, but let me be clear: this is no kind of serious analysis. “They took this guy when they should have taken that guy,” is the worst kind of “analysis” you’ll find. It’s pure hindsight and it foolishly assumes the player would have developed the same exact way in a different organization. They’re almost always going to be someone better. We can do this for just about any team, any year.

Alright, so anyway, let’s just look back at the star players the Yankees passed on in the draft in recent years. I’m only going to look at the five-year stretch from 2005-09 because a) this is a lot of work, and b) we don’t have as much information on players drafted more recently. The 2005-09 crop includes players who should be in MLB by now. Here’s the table:

NYY top pick Shoulda took!
2005 C.J. Henry (17th pick) Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox, 23rd)
2006 Ian Kennedy (21st) Jeff Samardzija (Cubs, 149th)
2007 Andrew Brackman (30th) Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins, 76th)
2008 Gerrit Cole (28th) Craig Kimbrel (Braves, 96th)
2009 Slade Heathcott (29th) Kyle Seager (Mariners, 82nd)

That 2006 draft is debatable because you could argue Kennedy was (gasp!) the right pick there considering how long it took Samardzija to figure things out. Chris Tillman (Mariners, 49th) and Jon Jay (Cardinals, 74th) are other non-Kennedy options.

The 2007 draft really stood out. In addition to Stanton, some other players picked after Brackman include Todd Frazier (Reds, 34th), Josh Donaldson (Cubs, 48th), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals, 67th), Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers, 101st), and Corey Kluber (Padres, 134th). That group shows just how unpredictable this player development thing can be. Donaldson and Kluber both changed organizations before breaking out and Donaldson had to move from catcher to third base for his bat to blossom. Stanton was a high school first baseman with major swing-and-miss issues. Hindsight is great though, isn’t it?

Rob asks: Two related questions about Ty Hensley. Do you think because he’s a pitcher he’d be less hurt by all that lost development time than a position player? Second, how will this impact the timing of the Yankees decision on if they have to add him to the 40 man roster? Do they get any time back from him being on the DL?

I’ll answer the second question first: no. The injuries don’t change his Rule 5 Draft timetable at all. Hensley will be Rule 5 Draft eligible following next season, and unless he comes back from Tommy John surgery and looks like Matt Harvey, I don’t think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster. He’s missed way too much development to think he can stick at the MLB level in 2016. This is a decision that is two years away though, so who knows.

As for the lost development time question, yes I think his chances of coming back are better than they would be if he were a position player. Historically, coming back from a long break as a hitter is very tough because hitting is so repetition based. Swings can be lost easily but not as easily found. That’s why most conversions are hitters who become pitchers, not the other way around. Rick Ankiel wasn’t particularly good in the second phase of his career (92 OPS+), but to do what he did was remarkable.

Tom asks: Did the Red Sox spend $95 Million for the worst 3rd baseman in the AL East?

Maybe! But you have to cherry-pick the stats to make it work. Here are four, you pick which ones you like the most. These cover the 2012-14 season:

2015 Season Age OPS+ wRC+ bWAR fWAR
Josh Donaldson 29 127 129 16.9 15.6
Chase Headley 31 123 123 13.6 15.3
Evan Longoria 29 125 125 12.6 12.3
Manny Machado 22 104 104 10.4 9.8
Pablo Sandoval 28 116 115 8.2 7.6

So Sandoval has been the worst of the five over the last three seasons. Does that mean he will be the worst over the next four years too? Who in the world knows. He’s a unique player because of his offensive profile — contact-oriented switch-hitter who’s much weaker from the right side — and his physique. You don’t see players his size all that often, and certainly not playing a position like third base. Sandoval’s really good! But the AL East is full of good third basemen and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask if he’s the worst of the five.


Rich asks: Looking back at the 2008 off-season, if Mike Mussina had not retired and made 30-34 starts in 2009, how would the Yankee’s rotation have looked? Would they have signed A.J. Burnett? Plus, how would the post-season rotation look?

I think they would have signed Burnett anyway, but that’s just me. Joba Chamberlain was the fifth starter to start 2008 and I think he would have wound up either in the bullpen or in Triple-A had Moose returned. Chien-Ming Wang went down pretty quickly with injury that year and the Yankees never did have a fifth starter after that — they cycled through Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre, and Chad Gaudin for most of the year. Assuming Mussina pitched the way he did in 2008 (a big assumption, but let’s roll with it), I think they would have gone with a four-man rotation in the postseason with Moose as the fourth starter. Who knows how that would changed things. As much as I love Moose, it’s hard to see how bringing him back in 2009 would have made things better given how that season played out.

Mark asks: How do the Yankees claim such pride over having a hard throwing bullpen when at the same time they say velocity is not important when it comes to Masahiro Tanaka/CC Sabathia?

Have they said velocity is not important for Tanaka and Sabathia? I don’t think they did. They’ve said they feel those two can be successful without mid-90s gas. Either way, throwing hard is better than not throwing hard. No one will argue otherwise. The harder you throw, the fewer runs you’re likely to allow. The Yankees had the opportunity to rebuild their bullpen this winter, so they loaded up on hard-throwers. If they could have dumped Tanaka and Sabathia for healthier hard-throwers, they would have. But they couldn’t, so they’re stuck talking about how they can be successful without mid-90s velocity.

Joe A. asks: If Tanaka’s new style proves to be ineffective 2 or so months into season, do you see them scrapping new style and just telling him to throw, elbow be damned?

Sure, but it’s not really their choice. Ultimately Tanaka is throwing the pitches and he’ll decide whether he really cuts it loose or not. I’m hopeful this is just a comfort thing, and as the season progresses and Tanaka and gets more comfortable with his elbow, he’ll start letting it loose a little more. That’s a process Tommy John surgery guys go through during their rehab, getting over that fear of throwing like they used to before surgery. There’s a mental wall to break through. I don’t know if that’s the case with Tanaka, I just hope it is.

P.J. asks: How long before one or two of these extensions for players that still are under team control for years come back to bit the team on the butt?

They already have! Several pitcher deals haven’t gone so well, which isn’t surprising because pitchers break. That’s part of the risk. Brett Anderson’s deal with the Athletics and Scott Kazmir’s deal with the Rays stand out. They didn’t work out too well. Nick Blackburn’s deal with the Twins was a total disaster, same with Ricky Romero and the Blue Jays.

On the position player side, the Elvis Andrus contract — which just started this year, by the way — looks pretty bad. He’s gone backwards the last two years. The Vernon Wells and Alex Rios extensions didn’t go as hoped for the Blue Jays and Nick Markakis just stopped developing and plateaued soon after signing long-term with the Orioles. Core guys are the ones I think you focus on signing, not complementary players. Sign Stanton but not Adeiny Hechavarria if you’re the Marlins, know what I mean?

Nathan asks: With Yordano Ventura and Kluber getting locked up long term, should the Yankees look into extending Pineda this season and if he looks good, Nova?

Pineda. (Presswire)
Pineda. (Presswire)

I don’t think the Ventura and Kluber deals change anything for the Yankees*. Neither of those guys was due to hit free agency anytime soon and they didn’t change the market all that much, if at all. If anything, the Rick Porcello contract changed the market. I like him, but I don’t see him as a $20M+ a year pitcher. I think I said this in a mailbag a few weeks ago: if the Yankees want to go long-term with Michael Pineda, they have the flexibility to wait another year to see how he holds up physically. He’s already had major shoulder surgery and he’s under control through 2017, and the Yankees can afford to pay him anything. Unless he’s willing to take a total sweetheart deal (five years, $35M?), I say wait another year and see where he’s at.

* The Ventura deal is one of the few I really love. He has legitimate ace upside and the Royals got him for roughly the same guaranteed money the Phillies paid Kyle Kendrick through arbitration for the same five years of his career.

Brian asks: It seemed like Joe Girardi was heading toward choosing a closer then backed off. Is it likely that he had chosen Dellin Betances before the Spring, but he effectively lost the job based on performance? (Props to Girardi for handling the Spring if that’s the case… it comes off looking like less of a stumble by Betances).

Girardi was talking about using co-closers even before the start of Spring Training and I don’t think he dropped any hints about leaning one way or the other during camp, so this isn’t something that came out of the blue. Dellin’s rough spring could have absolutely played a role in not naming a closer, but the Yankees have shown they aren’t a team that obsesses over spring results all that much. If Girardi was really concerned about Betances, I don’t think he’d be willing to use him in close game early this season, which he’s done already. My guess is they were planning to go co-closers all along unless either guy got hurt.

John asks: Do you think Hal Steinbrenner’s patience is wearing thin with Brian Cashman and do you think a change in that position will occur if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs for a third straight year?

Cashman just signed a new contract this offseason, so no, I don’t think Hal’s patience is wearing thin. If it was, he wouldn’t have re-signed him. Now, does that mean Cashman will be safe if the Yankees miss the postseason again? Of course not. Someone will take the fall, and this stuff usually goes up the ladder. The hitting coach was fired last year, so the manager is next in line to go, then the GM is next to go after that. That’s just how it usually works; I’m not saying that’s what will happen. Unless the Yankees have a disaster season, like 70-92 or something, I expect Cashman to be back next year.

Steven asks: Obviously Rob Refsnyder‘s fielding is a legitimate enough concern to send him to the minors, but could another factor be service time, a la Kris Bryant? Also, would the Yankees do the same thing if in the Cubs’ situation?

I think every team in baseball would do the same thing if they were in the Cubs’ shoes. It’s a no-brainer. You get an extra year of Bryant’s peak and, even if he falls short of expectations and is merely good instead of great, that age 29 season is really valuable. Trading two weeks of Bryant now for a full year of him down the road is an easy choice. I hate the system, but the system is the system, and teams have to do what’s best. It’s a easy call.

As for Refsnyder, manipulating his service time could be a factor, though I think it’s just a fringe benefit more than anything. The Yankees truly seem committed to giving Stephen Drew a chance to show last year was an anomaly, plus Refnsyder obviously needs more seasoning defensively, so Drew it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I see Refsnyder’s career starting like Brett Gardner‘s, meaning he goes up and down a few times before sticking for good. In that case, his service time it what it is.

Mailbag: Refsnyder, Harper, Lineup, Farm System, Aiken

Eleven questions and ten answers for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. Also, the more succinct your question, the better. I find myself steering clear of the wordy ones for whatever reason.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

Frank asks: Rob Refsynder’s bat looks legit, so, in your opinion, how long do the Yanks give him at 2b before he is moved back to the OF?

I’d say at least two more years of regular playing time, more if he makes some real improvement and is moving in the right direction. Refsnyder would lose a lot of his appeal if he has to move to a corner outfield spot. His bat is just ordinary there, not above-average like it would be at second base. He’s just another guy in right or left field. Refsnyder has only been a second baseman for two years, remember. I don’t think the Yankees should pull the plug after only two or three years.

Eric asks: What do you think of all these articles from NY writers about the Mets taking back New York? Not sure what that really means except the casual fan will favor one team or the other given how well they are doing — is it a mindless exercise by tabloid sportswriters?

Yeah, mostly. The media seems more obsessed with it than the players and we’ve been hearing this is the year the Mets take over New York for a few years now. Remember when the Mets swept the Yankees in the Subway Series two years ago and that was supposed to be some kind of statement? Yeah, no. The Mets might have a better record than the Yankees this season, but what does it matter? Aare more people going to walk around New York with Mets hats or something? I really doubt that. If the media (and Mets fans) want to focus on “taking New York” from the Yankees, whatever. Let them. It means nothing.

M. Greene asks: Do you think that a combination of Ramon Flores/Chris Young/Carlos Beltran is stronger than Beltran/AROD in RF and at DH?

Yeah probably, but not substantially so. The Flores/Young duo will be a million times better defensively in right field than Beltran, but I’m not sure they could match Alex Rodriguez offensively right now, as skeptical I am of Alex’s bat at this point of his career. (Yeah, he’s looked good in camp, but let’s see what happens during the regular season.) Young is a guy who can get exposed pretty quickly at the plate if he plays too much, and while Flores has looked impressive in camp, it’s still just Spring Training. I’m not going to pencil him for league average production just yet.

Daniel asks: Thinking ahead a few years, what do you think about the chances the Yankees make necessary preparations to sign Bryce Harper? Bryce has made it clear the Yankees are his favorite non-Nats team, and there will certainly be a need in a couple years for a plays of his caliber and position. It may be another obstacle between the Yankees and 189 but what do we care.

Harper. (Presswire)
Harper. (Presswire)

There should be no “necessary preparations” to sign someone like Harper, who will hit free agency at age 26 following the 2018 season. These are the Yankees. They have the money to sign absolutely anyone. If Harper develops as expected, he’s going to be a superstar and a guy the Yankees should go all out to sign. He might even be the first $400M player in history. (That seems unlikely in only four years, but who knows.) I totally understand wanting to avoid long-term contracts for players over 30, but Harper will be 26. He’s the kind of guy the Yankees can and should go absolutely bonkers to sign. There’s no such thing as bad $/WAR with players of that caliber, whose value to the franchise transcends what they do on the field.

Vinny asks: Joe Girardi will defer to the veterans, but if Chase Headley‘s hot spring continues into the season and Beltran/Mark Teixeira struggles, do you see Joe putting Headley into the 3rd spot in the lineup?

Vinny asks: If A-Rod somehow manages to be the best hitter on the team as the season moves along, do you think Girardi would move him up in the batting order?

Might as well lump Vinny’s questions together. Yes, I definitely see Girardi moving Headley or A-Rod or whoever up in the lineup if they’re producing and the regular middle of the order guys are not. He moved Robinson Cano up and Teixeira down when the time came. He moved Brett Gardner up when he forced the issue. I don’t think he’d hesitate to move A-Rod or Headley up either. The Derek Jeter situation last year was a special case. If a player needs to be moved down in the lineup and there is someone deserving to replace him, Girardi has shown he will make the move.

Dan asks: Do you think that Montreal will ever get a MLB club again? Why or why not?

Yes but not anytime soon. Montreal showed very recently it is not a baseball town, and no, attendance for two dinky little exhibition games each March is not evidence the city will support an MLB franchise year round. The Expos stunk in their final season (2004) but were in the race for much of the summer in 2002 and 2003, yet they averaged less than 13,000 fans per game. Maybe down the line Montreal would make sense. In a decade or three. Right now though, I have no reason to think the city will support a team. They had their chance and didn’t.

Paul asks: With a fair amount of development of the Int’l signings, could the Yankees minor leagues break the top 10 next year?

Absolutely. You can say that about most teams — “if their young low level guys develop, they’ll be a top system” — but I think the Yankees have more growth potential than most other clubs because of last summer’s international spending spree. They don’t figure to graduate any of their top prospects to MLB this season either, guys like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, so the system won’t take a hit that way. (They might graduate guys like Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren, who won’t drastically change the farm system ranking.) With some strong pro debuts from last year’s international class as well as continued development from guys like Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, and Ian Clarkin, the system could take a very big step forward this year.

Miller. (Presswire)
Miller. (Presswire)

Dan asks: Is there any significant downside to having 3 or 4 lefty relievers in a bullpen if those guys are the best that you have?

Nope. The best pitchers are the best pitchers, regardless of what arm they throw with. It looks like the Yankees will have three left-handers in their Opening Day bullpen but at least two of them (Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson) can face both righties and lefties without an issue. Chasen Shreve might be able to do that as well. Now, if you have three lefty specialists in your bullpen, that’s a problem. Not much flexibility there. Though I guess if three of your seven best relievers are lefty specialists, you’ve got much bigger roster issues.

Gus asks: Do you think that if Hal Steinbrenner could get a do-over, he’d have signed Yoan Moncada as to make his narrative appeal more authentic?

I think Steinbrenner and the Yankees would do it over because they realize losing out on such a talented player over such a relatively small amount of money was a really terrible decision. The spin on this has been incredible — everyone in the organization seems to be blaming someone else for missing out on Moncada — and I think it kind of dawned on them that they really screwed up and missed an opportunity. I honestly don’t think Hal cares about sounding authentic (when does he?) or getting ripped in the media. I think he cares about having talented young players and realizes having Moncada would give the team a better chance of achieving his precious goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold in two years.

Gerry asks: With Brady Aiken undergoing TJS, would this put him in play for the Yanks at either 16 or 30 in the upcoming draft (should he decide to declare)? This is definitely the type of talent the Yankees often don’t get a chance to pick up (albeit with the risk involved).

Yes, Aiken should be in the play for the Yankees. They have the draft pool space ($7.885M) to pay him a substantial overslot bonus — Aiken reportedly turned down a last minute $5M offer from the Astros last year, but would he take the same amount from the Yankees, would won’t treat him like garbage? — though they’d have to go cheap elsewhere in the draft. That’s fine though. They could do what the Royals did in 2013, when they took Hunter Dozier eighth overall and the injured Sean Manaea 34th overall. Dozier signed below-slot to give them money for Manaea, though by taking him first and Manaea second, they would have lost much less draft pool space had Manaea decided not to sign. Maybe the Yankees take someone they know they can sign cheap with the 16th pick then roll the dice on Aiken (or Duke RHP Mike Matuella, another top draft prospect who recently had Tommy John surgery) with the 30th pick.