Mailbag: Other top NPB players who could come to MLB

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

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

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

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

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

RHP Kohei Arihara

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

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

RHP Shintaro Fujinami

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

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

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

LHP Yusei Kikuchi

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

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

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

RHP Takahiro Norimoto

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

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

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

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

IF Tetsuto Yamada

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Mailbag: Gray, McCann, Bargains, Quintana, Ellsbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim asks: Ellsbury for Shin-soo Choo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Carter, Granderson, Pineda, Arenado, Doolittle

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

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

Many asked: What about Chris Carter?

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

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

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

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

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

Many asked: What about Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Gray, Archer, Holliday, Moustakas, Sheffield

Only eight questions in the mailbag this week. It was ten before the Brian McCann trade made two questions obsolete, but also I’ve been in a fewer questions/longer answers groove the last few weeks for some reason. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us anything.

Gray. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Gray. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Bryan asks: The Rockies always need pitching so I’m not betting on them dealing it away, but what would your interest level in Jon Gray be and what would you be willing to give up? Young, tall, hard throwing, and I’d assume they like him after trying to get him in the ’11 draft.

Interest level: Extremely high. Willing to give up: Lots. I’m all in Gray. The 4.61 ERA is ugly, I know it is, especially since it was actually worse on the road (4.91) than it was at Coors Field (4.30), but the guy had a 3.60 FIP with a 26.0% strikeout rate in his first full season as a big leaguer. That’s a good sign. He also had a better than average 88.7 mph exit velocity, which is on par with other weak contact pitchers like Justin Verlander (88.2), Jacob deGrom (88.7), and Jose Quintana (88.9).

(Amazingly, MLB.com doesn’t seem to have video of Gray’s 16-strikeout game in September.)

Gray turned 25 earlier this month and he comes with five years of team control. This is the kind of dude you go all out to acquire. Swing and miss power stuff — Gray had better than average swing-and-miss rates with his fastball and slider, and an average swing-and-miss rate with his changeup — and a half-decade of control. He might not be an ace right away because being an ace is hard, but the tools are there. He’s a rotation cornerstone going forward.

The Yankees did draft Gray out of junior college in 2011, though I don’t think that matters much. His dominance and potential is not some secret. There are 30 teams who want this guy. The Rockies actually have a good amount of young pitching these days (Gray, Tyler Anderson, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez), so while they might be in position to trade a starter, I’d be floored if it’s Gray. He’s their best pitcher and someone to build around. If they put him on the market and demand, say, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, plus some other stuff, how do you say no?

Jon asks: Any chance the Yanks could swing a trade for Chris Archer this offseason? What do you think it would cost them?

I’ll start out by saying no, I don’t think there’s a chance the Yankees could trade for Archer. Not because they don’t have the prospects to make the deal. They certain do. I just don’t think the Rays will trade him within the division. Archer had a down year in 2016 but there will still be plenty of interested teams if they put him on the market, enough that Tampa could get a great package without getting the Yankees involved.

That said, pursuing Archer would be worthwhile and a no-brainer for the Yankees. He just turned 28 — fun fact: Archer is 36 days older than Masahiro Tanaka — and he’s owed only $38.5M over the next five years when you include the club options.  That’s a bargain price for a pitcher of his caliber. Archer’s is a long-term rotation piece and the Yankees need a few of those going forward. The fact he’s already had success in the AL East is a plus.

Archer’s performance did take a step back this year — he had a 4.02 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 2016 after putting up a 3.23 ERA (2.90 FIP) last year and a 3.33 ERA (3.39 FIP) the year before — though the only significant change in his underlying performance was his home run rate, and everyone gave up more homers this year. The slider is still electric and the velocity is there. As long as Archer is healthy, I’m in.

My trade proposal sucks, but I’m thinking Tampa needs some combination of three top prospects or young players ready to step right into the MLB roster, plus some secondary stuff. Trading for a pitcher as good and affordable as Archer should hurt like hell.

Matt asks: With the Cubs possibly looking for a lefty swinging outfielder (if Dexter Fowler declines the QO), and the Yanks surplus of outfielders, would the Cubs have any interest in acquiring Brett Gardner? And if so, would Ian Happ be a possible trade target for the Yankees?

No on Happ. I can’t imagine the Cubs would give him up for Gardner. Way too good of a prospect. Gardner could be a fit for the Cubs though, considering they need a center fielder and leadoff hitter given Fowler’s impending departure. Perhaps they’d even have interest in Jacoby Ellsbury given Theo Epstein’s history with him from their Red Sox days. That’d be swell. Gardner seems more likely though given his far less painful contract. Too bad the Cubbies don’t have any real pitching to trade. I’m a Rob Zastryzny fan, but not enough to take him back as the centerpiece in a Gardner deal.

Holliday. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Holliday. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Reggie asks: Now that he’s a free agent , wouldn’t Matt Holiday make a good option as a DH/emergency outfielder? He might be a quality veteran bat to be had on a two-year deal.

Holliday turns 37 in January and is in clear decline — his wRC+ the last four years: 147, 132, 124, 109 — so I’d try to limit it to a one-year contract, but yes, I think he could be a good DH candidate. Holliday would have to be cool with playing some first base though. He played ten games there for the Cardinals this year, so I assume this won’t be a problem. He’s not very mobile in the outfield these days, and limiting him to first and DH may keep him healthier.

This past season Holliday hit .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+) around a broke thumb that was suffered on a hit-by-pitch. There are some worrisome trends in his underlying performance. His walk rate, which hadn’t been below 10.4% since 2007, dropped to 8.2% in 2016. When an older player stops walking, it usually stems from hunting fastballs early in the count because he knows can’t react to soft stuff as well as he once did. Also, Holliday’s ground ball rate has climbed from 45.6% to 48.1% to 50.0% the last three years. More balls on the ground is a classic sign of aging.

I’d target Carlos Beltran over Holliday as a one-year DH, but Holliday is probably option No. 2. I’d take him over Mike Napoli, who certainly has more power, but has extreme contact issues and gets chewed up by even decent righties. Holliday is what announcers like to call a “professional hitter.” He grinds out at-bats and is a right-handed hitter with a true all-fields approach (via Baseball Savant) …

Matt Holliday spray chart

… and I’d rather hitch my wagon to that guy than the grip it and rip it Napoli. I’m a little wary of hitters on the wrong side of 35 after watching Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez go from great to useless in an offseason, but if the Yankees are going to sign someone like that to be their DH next season, Holliday wouldn’t be a bad choice. I’d prefer Beltran because he’s a switch-hitter and there’d be less of an adjustment period, but Holliday would work too.

Ladislao asks: Hey quick question for mailbag, what do you think about Eric Thames who is playing out in the KBO? He has power and speed and wasn’t terrible when he last played in MLB. Could he be a productive cheaper OF/DH/1b option?

Thames, who you might remember from his time with the Blue Jays a few years ago, has spent the last three seasons in Korea and his numbers are insane. He hit .317/.425/.676 with 40 home runs this year, which is down from the .381/.497/.790 and 47 home runs he hit last year. Keep in mind the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league as a whole hit .290/.364/.438 overall this year. It’s an entire league of Buster Poseys (.288/.362/.434 in 2016).

Thames turned 30 earlier this month and he’s probably worth a deeper look outside a mailbag setting. My big question is this: how did he improve? Is he still the same guy he was in MLB, and he just spent the last few years feasting on inferior pitching? Or did he make legitimate progress in some way? Byung-Ho Park had huge numbers in KBO (.343/.436/.714 in 2015) but he fell flat on his face with the Twins (.191/.275/.409), which was a reminder not everyone makes the transition as easily as Jung-Ho Kang did with the Pirates last year.

Moose tacos. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Michael asks: If the Yankees did end up dealing Headley, how do you see them filling 3rd base?  Also what would it take to get Mistakes, ones year to free agency and coming if an injury?

Shout out to Michael for the A+ autocorrect. I’m assuming Mistakes is Moustakas, as in Mike, who is indeed one year from free agency and coming off a torn ACL. The Royals are at a crossroads right now. Basically their entire core will become free agents after 2017. I’m talking Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar, and Danny Duffy. They’re going to be left with Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Ian Kennedy. That’s about it.

Kansas City, who reportedly listened to offers for Davis at the deadline, has to decide whether to tear it all down now and begin a rebuild, or try to win one last time with the core in 2017. Personally, I think they should go for it, and if things aren’t looking good at midseason, tear it all down at the trade deadline. They might not get the best possible trade return that way, but they’d still get plenty. More than a bunch of draft picks, anyway.

Moustakas would certainly be a fine option at third base for the Yankees even after the injury. You get him for a year, and if he plays well, the Yankees could either re-sign him (he’s only 28) or make him the qualifying offer and get a draft pick. As always, it comes down to cost. If the Royals make Moustakas available, teams are going to flock to him before looking at Chase Headley, so he won’t come cheap.

Sam asks: Could the Yankees trade several lesser prospects (the ones they’d probably lose in the rule-5 draft, maybe others of that ilk) plus some money, along with ARod’s contract to a big-market team with small payroll (I’m thinking the Phillies)? The Phillies would, in effect, be buying some prospects.

In theory, yes, they could do this. The problem with this is lesser prospects who might get popped in the Rule 5 Draft don’t have much trade value. The Phillies are certainly in position to absorb Alex Rodriguez’s contract as a way to net some prospects, but Rule 5 Draft fodder ain’t gonna get it done. Guys like Gio Gallegos and Tyler Webb don’t move the needle a whole lot. If you want to unload A-Rod‘s contract on another team, it’s going to take real prospects to make it happen. Eating $21M in salary should net you a Jorge Mateo or an Aaron Judge, not random fringe players, and I’m not trading those guys to dump $21M. The Yankees can afford that dead money.

Dennis asks: What is your opinion on Justus Sheffield? Does he have top starter potential? And do you possibly see him splitting this upcoming season between AA and AAA and then coming to Spring Training 2 years from now with a chance to crack the rotation.

Yes I see him possibly splitting next season between Double-A and Triple-A. I think Sheffield is likely to spend most of the year in Double-A before a late season promotion to Triple-A rather than a true 50/50 split at the levels. He is still only a 20-year-old kid, remember. Getting to Double-A at age 20 is quite an accomplishment. Hopefully Sheffield doesn’t get the same “he had 60 good innings hurry let’s promote him!” treatment as Luis Severino. Patience, yo.

As for his long-term potential, Sheffield figures to be more a very good mid-rotation guy than a true No. 1 starter. Aces are rare. There’s like 12-15 of them in baseball at any given time. Sheffield has above-average velocity and an out-pitch curveball, as well as an improving changeup, and right now his biggest need is to improve his command of his secondary pitches. He’s looking more like a +3 or +4 WAR starter long-term rather than a +6 WAR guy. That’s really good!

Mailbag: Goldschmidt, Hammel, Cabrera, Zimmermann

Only nine questions in the mailbag this week, but they’re nine good ones, and some of the answers are longer than usual. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions and comments throughout the week.

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Goldy. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Nate asks: I’m hearing rumors that Goldschmidt could be traded. What kind of package would it take for the Yankees to land him?

They aren’t really rumors, it’s mostly just speculation. The Diamondbacks just hired Mike Hazen away from the Red Sox to be their new GM, and anytime a new GM is hired, the assumption seems to be he’ll tear it all down and rebuild. With Arizona, you could argue that rebuild is necessary. I think they might be a little closer to contention than the consensus though. Who knows.

If the D’Backs do put Paul Goldschmidt on the market — and assuming Hazen doesn’t trade him to Boston for a bunch of prospects he fell in love with while there — then yes, the Yankees should absolutely, 100% be in on him. Goldschmidt is a bonafide franchise player and MVP caliber performer. You open the farm system and make everyone available, even the Gleyber Torreses and Clint Fraziers.

The facts: Goldschmidt turned 29 in September and he hit .297/.411/.489 (134 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 32 steals in 37 attempts in 2016. That was his worst season since 2012. The guy hit .309/.412/.556 (158 wRC+) from 2013-15 and averaged 29 homers and 15 steals per season, and he’s maybe the smartest hitter in MLB in terms of making adjustments and reading pitchers. Goldschmidt is also a top notch defensive first baseman and an all-around swell guy. Assuming his club options are picked up, he’s owed only $34.475M from 2017-19. Peanuts.

I can’t think of a comparable player who’s been traded in recent years. Josh Donaldson? He was four years from free agency, not three, and the Athletics gave him away. Miguel Cabrera? He was two years from free agency and that was nearly a decade ago now. Hanley Ramirez? He was two and a half years from free agency when the Marlins sent him to the Dodgers, and the Marlins were sick of him. There’s no good trade benchmark.

If I were the D’Backs, I couldn’t trade Goldschmidt to the Yankees without getting Gary Sanchez in return. He’s a must have. Sanchez, Torres, and Greg Bird is my starting point, then I want another piece or two. I’m thinking one of the MLB ready starters (Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, etc.) and a lower profile prospect like Chance Adams. Sanchez, Bird, Torres, Adams, and say Cessa for Goldschmidt. Yay or nay? I think you could argue a) it’s not unreasonable for the D’Backs to demand that, and b) it doesn’t make sense for the Yankees to do that at this point in time.

Eugene asks: In the never gonna happen department, is someone like Andrew Cashner a candidate to become the next Miller-ian relief monster? He’s a tall semi-failed starter named Andrew with facial hair.

No. The big difference between Andrew Miller and all these “throws hard as a starter but still kind sucks anyway” guys like Cashner and Nathan Eovaldi is his slider. Miller has that devastating slider to go with his big fastball. (It also helps being 6-foot-7 with those long arms and long extension.) Cashner and Eovaldi don’t have that dominant secondary pitch. I do think those guys would be more effective in relief — almost everyone is more effective in relief — but not Miller-esque. Miller’s a different animal.

Matt asks: I know this is nitpicky but it’s been reported several places (including the BA Yankees top 10) that Cashman had the choice between Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez. I know what the rankings say and that decision like this should be about talent and not position but I’ve definitely been left wondering if this was a mistake. With the glut of SS prospects the Yankees have and the lack of power in the MLB, was passing on a guy like Jimenez, who has the pedigree, athleticism, and power to be come a middle of the order bat in favor of Torres a mistake?

That’s what was reported at the time of the trade. The Yankees had their pick of Torres and Jimenez, and opted for the shortstop over the corner outfielder even with their glut of shortstops. Why? Because shortstops tend to be the best athletes are most capable of moving to other positions. The Yankees have some quality corner outfield bats — to be fair, they hadn’t yet acquired Frazier at the time of the Aroldis Chapman/Torres trade — but not as many as they do shortstops.

Jimenez, 19, hit .329/.369/.432 (169 wRC+) with 14 homers in 464 plate appearances in Low-A ball this year. He really jumped into the national spotlight at the Futures Game this summer.

For what it’s worth, Baseball America ranked Torres and Jimenez as the 27th and 46th best prospects in baseball, respectively, in their midseason top 100, about three weeks before the trade deadline. Keith Law (subs. req’d) had Torres 26th and Jimenez 29th at midseason. MLB.com currently has Torres 17th and Jimenez 23rd. So they’re close. These are two very highly regarded teenage prospects.

There’s really no wrong answer here. The Yankees could have had the brute force corner outfield masher, or the more well-rounded shortstop. I would have gone with the shortstop as well. There are some plate discipline concerns with Jimenez, and he’s already playing a non-premium position. Gleyber projects to be a pretty damn good hitter himself, and he does more on the bases and in the field. I’d be happy with either guy. All other things being equal though, give me the shortstop and the better athlete. (And the guy who is a level closer to MLB too.)

P.J. asks: Assuming Jason Hammel is healthy and considering he’ll pitch most of 2017 at 34 years old is he worth it for the Yankees to make a serious run at this winter on a 2 or 3 year deal? Does he fit the bill as a #2 to slot in behind Tanaka and in front of Sabathia?

I was really surprised the Cubs declined Hammel’s $12M option. They had to pay him a $2M buyout anyway, so it was essentially a $10M decision. In this market $10M buys you about 120 league average innings, maybe less. For what it’s worth, Jesse Rogers says the Cubs let Hammel make the decision. He could either return to Chicago or test the market, so of course he picked free agency. Weird.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’d pencil Hammel in as a No. 2 starter, but I do think he’d be a solid addition to the rotation. He had a 3.83 ERA (4.48 FIP) in 30 starts and 166.2 innings this year, though his peripherals were pretty mediocre: 20.8% strikeouts, 7.7% walks, 42.1% grounders, and 1.35 HR/9. Hammel played in front of a historically great defense this season, something he probably won’t get to do next year regardless where he signs.

MLBTR projects three years and $42M for Hammel and that sounds about right to me. He just turned 34 in September, and it’s worth noting he ran out of gas the last two seasons. Hammel really limped to the finish, so much so that he wasn’t even on the Cubs’ postseason roster. I don’t think he’s a No. 2 at all, but I do think Hammel would be a nice add to the back of the rotation. He’d help, for sure.

Michael asks: Any interest in trading for Evan Longoria? His contract is not unreasonable and the Rays might be anxious to move him as they rebuild before his 10/5 rights kick in.

It would behoove the Rays to make him available, I think. Longoria just turned 31 and his best years are likely behind him. There’s also six years and $99M left on his contract, and for a small payroll club like Tampa, that could turn into a real albatross whenever his game slips for good. Chances are Longoria’s trade value is only going down from here, so this is their best chance to deal him and his remaining contract for a big prospect package.

As good as he is, I’m actually going to say pass on Longoria. I doubt the Rays would trade him to the Yankees anyway, but still. I’m totally cool with riding it out with Chase Headley for another two years, seeing what happens with Miguel Andujar, and leaving the door open for the Manny Machado (after 2018) and Nolan Arenado (after 2019) free agencies. Plus there’s a chance Torres winds up at third base in deference to Didi Gregorius too.

Jesse asks: Given the high trade value of elite relievers, does it make any sense to sign more than one of the top bullpen arms, then trade one at the deadline again?

Sure, in theory, but I imagine those guys are going to want a no-trade clause as part of their free agent contracts. They’re in position to demand it. Chapman was traded twice in the last year and Mark Melancon has been traded four times total. I doubt they want to go through that again. Kenley Jansen has never been traded, but he doesn’t need to experience it to know it can be hectic. These guys will get no-trades, I’m sure.

Also, one thing to keep in mind is potential damage to the team’s reputation. The Marlins have been signing players to big free agent contracts and trading them a year later for a while now. It doesn’t look good. A few players have turned down more money from the Marlins to sign elsewhere because of that. C.J. Wilson is the most notable. We can say “sign this free agent and just trade him,” but agents and other players around the league will notice, and you don’t want to develop a reputation for being player unfriendly.

Miggy. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Miggy. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Julian asks: I know we all want Greg Bird to fit in and immediately succeed as the new full time first basement, but with the Tigers apparently putting Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) on the table – should the Yankees look to him as another option? He’s expensive, but still only 33 and owed a ton of money for a long time but if the Tigers ate some (similar to Prince Fielder) would it be worth it?

Expensive is putting it mildly. There’s $212M (!) left on Cabrera’s contract through 2023. He turns 34 in April and is signed through age 40. Cabrera is still great! He hit .316/.393/.563 (152 wRC+) with 38 home runs this year and will go down as one of the ten best right-handed hitters in history when it’s all said and done. Maybe even one of the top five. I don’t want to undersell his greatness. Miggy is truly one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen.

Now, that said, this is the kind of contract the Yankees have been trying to get away from the last few years. Contracts with huge dollars committed to players over 30 whose best years are behind them. As good as Cabrera is, he’s not the hitter he was three or four years ago, and chances are he’s only going to get worse from here. Goldschmidt is in his prime and he’s signed dirt cheap. Cabrera isn’t. If the Yankees were a bonafide contender looking to get over the top, circumstances would be different. But they’re not. They’re a quasi-rebuilding team that needs more youth, not another albatross.

Chris asks: Any interest in Zimmermann with the Tigers? If so, what sort of haul would you expect it to take in terms of prospects?

Remember back in April when everyone was like “see I told you we should have signed Jordan Zimmermann, best contract of the offseason!” because he made three or four great starts? Good times. The guy finished the year with a 4.87 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 105.1 innings while visiting the disabled list a few times. The Tigers would probably love to unload this contract now.

The only way I’d trade for Zimmermann right now is in a bad contract-for-bad contract swap with Jacoby Ellsbury. There’s four years and $92M left on Zimmermann’s deal and four years and $89.5M left on Ellsbury’s deal. The Yankees need a starter more than they need an outfielder. I don’t see why the Tigers would want do that though. They’re trying to get younger and shed payroll. Zimmermann-for-Ellsbury does neither.

There are too many red flags for me to consider giving up actual prospects for Zimmermann and his contract. His strikeout rate (14.7%) was by far a career worst this year, and both his walk (5.8%) and homer (1.22 HR/9) rates were his worst since his rookie year way back when. There’s also this, via Brooks Baseball:

Jordan Zimmermann velocity

Hmmm. Ominous trend is ominous. Yeah, I’m going to say steer clear. I do think Zimmermann-for-Ellsbury would be worthwhile for the Yankees because it clears a logjam in the outfield and potentially addresses a need in the rotation. You’ve got to pay all that money anyway. You’d just be redistributing it to another part of the roster. But actual prospects with real value for Zimmermann? Nah. Not at this point of his career.

Steve asks: Classic hindsight question: given the SP “market”, was holding Nova and making a qualified offer the better route?

No way. Ivan Nova was so very far from a qualifying offer candidate when the Yankees traded him. The only reason he and his agent are talking about a $75M deal (!) right now are those eleven good starts with the Pirates, more than half of which were against the rebuilding Reds, Brewers, and Phillies. Could you imagine dropping a one-year deal worth $17.2M in front of Nova earlier this season? Not a chance. Someone’s going to pay big money to Nova assuming the Pirates version is the real him, and based on Ivan’s track record, they’re going to be disappointed.