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

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

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andujar. (Presswire)
Andujar. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabathia. (Presswire)
Sabathia. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chris-carter-100-mph-ldfb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Carter, Austin, Torreyes, Otani, Castro, MVPs, Frazier

We’ve got 16 questions in the mailbag this weekend. I didn’t realize it was so many while I was writing it up. Send all your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

Steve asks: $3M/1 for Carter vs $37M/3 for Trumbo. Compare and contrast.

Mark Trumbo is a better player and hitter than Chris Carter, but he’s not two years and $34M better. Some quick numbers:

Carter 2016: .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+), 41 HR, 32.0 K%, 11.8 BB%, +0.9 fWAR
Trumbo 2016: .256/.316/.533 (123 wRC+), 47 HR, 25.5 K%, 7.6 BB%, +2.2 fWAR

Carter 2014-16: .218/.313/.477 (114 wRC+), 102 HR, 32.2 K%, 11.3 BB%, +3.3 fWAR
Trumbo 2014-16: .253/.309/.477 (110 wRC+), 83 HR, 24.8 K%, 7.3 BB%, +2.0 fWAR

Carter 2017 ZiPS: .211/.311/.484 (115 OPS+), 35 HR, 35.6 K%, 11.7 BB%, +1.2 WAR
Trumbo 2017 ZiPS: .251/.307/.491 (111 OPS+), 32 HR, 25.3 K%, 7.4 BB%, +1.4 WAR

Trumbo is going to hit for a considerably higher average, we’re talking as much as 30-40 points, and I think those extra hits more than make up for the difference in walk rate. Walks are good. Hits are better. Carter is almost a full year younger, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Trumbo came close to repeating his 2016 season in 2017. He’s made some real improvements with his plate discipline over the years.

That said, give me Carter at one year and $3.5M over Trumbo at three years and $37M all day, every day. Especially since Trumbo was attached to draft pick compensation.

Matt asks: Aaron Judge, Chris Carter, Gary Sanchez, or the field: Who hits the longest HR for the Yankees this season? Who hit the longest out of that trio last year? (I would assume Carter, but I know the kids hit some moonshots themselves.)

Carter did have the longest home run of the three last season. He mashed this 465 foot bomb off former Yankee Wade LeBlanc in August:

That was easily the longest homer hit by those three last season. Carter also had the second longest at 449 feet. Aaron Judge’s first career homer, the one of the top of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field, went 446 feet and was the third longest. Gary Sanchez’s longest were a pair of 437 foot dingers.

The easy answer for the longest homer this coming season is Carter because the dude has so much power. I’ll take Judge though. I bet he’ll hit one over both bullpens at Camden Yards. How’s that sound?

Dan asks: Do the signings of Holliday and Carter mean that Tyler Austin is probably not in the Yankees plans going forward?

I don’t think so. Matt Holliday and Carter are on one-year contracts. Keep in mind that at this time last year, Austin was a complete non-factor. He had been dropped from the 40-man roster and no team bothered to claim him on waivers. It’s entirely possible Austin has turned a new leaf and last season was the real him. I don’t blame the Yankees for bringing in a little extra depth just in case though. Personally, I probably would have passed on Carter and given Austin the playing time, but I don’t think it’s an egregious move. (Also, we have no idea what’s going with Greg Bird‘s shoulder, and I’m sure that factored into the decision to sign Carter.) Austin was always going to have to prove he belongs in the long-term plans. Nothing has changed.

Matthew asks: In basketball a lot of the talk these days is about height vs. wingspan, so a guy like Draymond Green can effectively play way bigger than he is due to a relatively large wingspan. Why don’t we talk about this with pitchers? Like if a pitcher in your system is 5’10” but has a 6’4” wingspan wouldn’t he essentially be releasing the ball at a similar spot to a taller guy? On top of that wouldn’t having longer arms allow a guy to get more torque and therefore more velocity on his pitches?

That’s interesting. This could be something that shows up in a pitcher’s extension, right? How far away from the plate he releases the ball? Part of what makes Dellin Betances so hard to hit is not just the sheer quality of his stuff, but he’s also so tall and his arms are so long that he’s releasing the ball that much closer to the plate, which gives hitters even less time to react. There are no stats on extension as far as I know, which is also tied to stride length and would be an imperfect measure of the effect of wingspan, as far as I know.

It does stand to reason the guy with longer arms would generate more force on the ball since he’s using a longer level, though there would also be more resistance from the air during his arm swing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about a pitcher’s wingspan before, let alone do research to see what kind of benefits it offers. Perhaps the impact is negligible, or not large enough to justify seeking out pitchers with long arms. I wish I had a better answer, but this is definitely something I’d be interested in learning more about.

Geoffrey asks: What was Torreyes’ story when he was a prospect? I know he’s bounced around to a number of different teams in the last couple years, but he’s still quite young, I believe 23 for all of last season, and as you pointed out, filled the backup infielder role admirably. Is this really as good as teams think he’ll get though? No one really seemed to want him before the Yankees, but a 22/23 yr old infielder capable of hacking it in the big leagues, even just as a back up, doesn’t seem like the kind of player a team should give up on.

Ronald Torreyes was never a top prospect but he was a legitimate prospect. Last offseason, in their 2016 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked him as the 26th best prospect in a stacked Dodgers system. (The Prospect Handbook went to print before the trade.) Torreyes is pretty well traveled, and here is where Baseball America has ranked him in his various organizations over the years:

ronald-torreyes-prospect-rankings

Never a top prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. Baseball America’s scouting report last offseason dubbed Torreyes a future utility infielder. The year before, when he ranked 24th in the Astros system, their scouting report said he “profiles as a utilityman.” Go back to 2011 and Baseball America’s scouting report says “some scouts think he could handle the position as a utilityman.”

Torreyes has profiled as a bench player for a long time, mostly because he has no power and doesn’t walk a ton. He’s a rock solid reserve player because he makes contact easily and can handle the three non-first base infield positions well. Torreyes is listed at 5-foot-10, but having stood next to the guy, there’s no way that’s correct. He’s closer to 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8. Unless he grows a few inches and adds more muscle, he’s not going to hit for more power, so I don’t see how he can improve his long-term outlook.

I’m not sure “teams gave up on Torreyes” is the best way to look at it. It seems like lots of teams wanted him, which is why every time he hit waivers, he was claimed. I mean, if you need to open a 40-man roster spot, isn’t the prospect who projects to be a utility infielder usually among the first to get cut? That’s usually how it works. Torreyes is a quality reserve infielder and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll make a heck of a living that way. I’m glad the Yankees have him.

Alex asks: Will the team have a problem finding enough innings for all of their SP Prospects, or is this something that usually works itself out, namely with injuries? If everyone stays healthy, are they more likely to go with six-man rotations, or opt for tandem starters?

Oh no. They won’t have any problem finding innings. No no no. If, by some miracle there aren’t enough innings, then the Yankees will probably be right in the thick of the AL East race. The Yankees will need all their pitchers and more throughout the season. That’s just the way it goes. Hopefully everyone makes it through camp healthy and the pitching staffs are clogged at the upper levels of the minors on Opening Day. That would take care of itself before long. Having too many pitchers is not something I will ever worry about.

Paul asks: Love the prediction post on the SWB starting roster. How accurate was last year’s prediction?

Here is last year’s post and here is the 2016 Triple-A Opening Day roster. I cheated a bit and gave more of a broad overview of the pitching staff, so it’s hard to say how accurate I was last year. I also took the easy way out and said the two catchers will come from this group of four players. I’m so lame. Four players I didn’t mention in last year’s post wound up on the Triple-A Scranton Opening Day roster: Tyler Cloyd, Diego Moreno, Chris Parmelee, and Deibinson Romero. Last year’s post went up before Greg Bird’s injury, so Parmelee wasn’t even in the organization at the time. This year’s post was a little more rigorous. We’ll get a better idea of how accurate it was come April.

Frankee asks: Could Otani be signed with a say, a seven year contract, with the first three years fitting under new international hard cap, and then balloon payments years four through seven with a player opt out to make up for the salary hit he’d take on the front end?

Nope. Players subject to the international spending rules can only sign minor league contracts. He gets his bonus and a minor league deal. That’s it. In theory, whichever team signs Otani could sign him to a massive long-term contract after his first big league season, though something tells me MLB would make a stink about that. The owners seem pretty dead set on suppressing salaries, and I’m guessing they’d want Otani to go through three pre-arbitration years like everyone else. That sets a precedent going forward.

Daniel asks: What, if anything, do you take away from the Yankees having Starlin Castro attending the recent events with some of the team’s top prospects? Between the panel discussion, and the senior citizen kitchen, I’ve noticed him a couple times with the young guys.

I don’t think it means anything. Chances are Castro was involved because he was available, that’s all. Didi Gregorius was away at the time in New Zealand, where he was promoting baseball and holding camps for kids, that sort of thing. Had Gregorius not been on the other side of the world, I’m sure he would have been involved in the Winter Warm-Up too. CC Sabathia, Chase Headley, and Holliday were involved along with Castro. Does it mean anything that Betances wasn’t involved? Probably not, despite his upcoming arbitration hearing. He’s one of the most popular players on the team and someone the Yankees would want involved in the Warm-Up. Betances probably wasn’t in town though. These things usually have as much to do with who is available at the time as who the team wants there.

Harper. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Harper. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Miguel asks: What are your early predictions for AL MVP and NL MVP, and why?

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, because they are the most talented players in each league. A boring answer? Yes. But they’re both pretty strong bets. Trout managed to break through and win MVP last year despite being on a terrible team, and he did it in a year there was a trendy alternative on a contender (Mookie Betts). I hope that’s a sign of things to come. Voters had gotten to the point where they were looking for reasons to not give him the MVP. Same with Clayton Kershaw and the NL Cy Young. He’s so damn good and the obvious answer each year that it gets boring talking about it.

As for Harper, I think his down season — imagine hitting .243/.373/.441 (112 wRC+) at age 23 and having people call it down a season, but that’s the standard Harper has set — has more to do with the nagging shoulder injury he reportedly played through most of the year. Here’s a fun game: how high could you go before you say there’s no way Harper could do that next year? .330/.470/.680? Maybe even .340/.480/.700? Remember, he hit .330/.460/.649 as a 22-year-old in 2015. There’s no need to overthink things with preseason awards picks. Who is the most talented player in the league? That’s who I’ll take for MVP.

Chris asks: Any Eovaldi updates? Until he signs with someone, he has access Yankee facilities correct? Do they assist with his recovery at all?

No new updates on Nathan Eovaldi since we heard the Yankees had talked to him about a reunion. And yes, the Yankees have to assist him during his rehab. For rehab purposes, it’s like he’s still on the roster. He has access to the team facilities and all that. Eovaldi doesn’t have to use them, he could rehab on his own, but the Yankees have to make their facilities available to him. That’s true until he signs with a new team. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eovaldi went unsigned all summer a la Greg Holland, especially since this is his second Tommy John surgery. Not too many of these “give this injured guy a two-year deal and hope he helps in a year” deals have worked out. Seems now teams are saying forget it, we’ll wait until he’s almost done rehabbing before getting involved.

Anthony asks: Assuming there is no trade market for Ellsbury and they have to pay him anyway, do you think he will eventually get the A-Rod treatment, i,e. benching –> release? Is there any other way to free up a spot for one of the young outfielders?

Not anytime soon. Not with four years left on his contract. Brian Cashman said the Yankees have talked about breaking up Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury atop the lineup, and while that sounds great, I can’t help but feel it’ll be Gardner who gets demoted to the bottom of the order. We’ll see. If there was one or two years left on Ellsbury’s contract, then maybe they’d be more open to reducing his playing time or even releasing him. He has four years left though. Four. They’re going to spend the next two or three years trying to make him more productive, not reducing his role.

Anonymous asks: You’ve got a time machine that’ll take you back a couple of months. A Deleon for Didi swap is up for discussion. Who hangs up first (assuming Didi agrees to a position change) Yankees or Dodgers?

Both teams, probably. The Dodgers wanted a right-handed batter at second base because they were so dreadful against lefties a year ago (.213/.290/.332!) and Didi Gregorius wouldn’t have helped them. I mean, yeah, he had a great year against southpaws in 2016, but it’s a little too early to dub him a lefty masher at this point. Also, I don’t think the Yankees would take De Leon for their starting shortstop. De Leon comes with some real red flags (shoulder injury in 2016, average fastball, fly ball and home run prone, etc.) that seem to get ignored because because OMG Friedman is a genius!, but they’re real red flags nonetheless. There are valid reasons to think De Leon is a terrible fit for Yankee Stadium and the AL East in general.

(How the heck does six years of De Leon for two years of Logan Forsythe get more hate than six years of Andrew Heaney for one year of Howie Kendrick? Heaney then > De Leon now.)

Frazier. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Frazier. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Adam asks: It’s possible I’m making the connection simply because they seem like large personality outfielders, but does Clint Frazier remind you of a better defensive Nick Swisher?

Swisher was a pretty good defender during his prime, you know. There are definitely similarities in their games and Frazier turning into Swisher 2.0 would be a really good outcome. Swisher had his ups and down during his first full season in the show (105 wRC+), then from ages 25-31, he hit .258/.365/.471 (122 wRC+) overall and averaged 27 homers and +3.4 fWAR per season. That’s really good! Frazier has the talent to hit for a higher average, though I’d be shocked if he drew as many walks (Swisher had a 13.7% walk rate from ages 25-31), so their on-base percentages may be similar, though they’ll get there in different ways. I know Swisher got on some people’s nerves, but he was a really good hitter for a seven-year stretch there. Swisher 2.0 would be a great outcome for Frazier. (Don’t forget Swisher was a switch-hitter. Always having the platoon advantage is a nice luxury.)

Brent asks: Who is the most important player for the rebuild to be successful.

Good question! I’m not sure there’s a correct answer. Sanchez seems like an obvious choice because having a great catcher is such a huge advantage. Maybe it’s James Kaprielian? The Yankees need arms going forward and he offers the best combination of present stuff and MLB readiness in the system. What about Gleyber Torres? A star up-the-middle player is crucial too. Then again, the Yankees have so many bats in the farm system that maybe they don’t need Sanchez or Torres or Judge to hit. They have enough offensive depth to cover. I’m going to go with Sanchez. Look at pretty much any team that has sustained success over several years and chances are they had a high-end catcher on the roster.

Bob asks: I noticed that Luis Torrens is only the 23rd ranked prospect with the Padres. How can he possibly stick with the ML team all year? Are the Padres that stacked? Where do you think he would rank with the Yankees now?

Torrens did not make San Diego’s top 30 in Baseball America’s shiny new 2017 Prospect Handbook, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) said Torrens “at one point was a serious prospect behind the plate, but after shoulder surgery his arm really hasn’t come back” in his recent Padres top ten list. Law ranked 22 prospects and Torrens was outside the top 22. MLB.com has Torrens ranked 23rd on their end-of-season 2016 list. When they release their 2017 rankings in the coming weeks, he’ll probably rank lower.

The Padres have a phenomenal farm system right now, on par with the Yankees and Braves. (Law had San Diego third behind the Braves and Yankees in his recent farm system rankings.) I have a really hard time thinking Torrens can stick in the big leagues all year. So very few Rule 5 Draft catchers stick, even the veteran-ish guys who have Triple-A time. Torrens is going to be making the jump from Low-A. Yikes. The Padres are going to be so bad that maybe they just don’t care and will keep him all season anyway. Hopefully not, but we’ll see.

As for where Torrens would rank with the Yankees right now, you’re just going to have to wait until I post my annual Top 30 Prospects List later today. I answered that question within the post. Intrigue!

Mailbag: Sabathia, Montgomery, Ellsbury, Wood, Pineda

I’ve got 14 questions for you this week, in the penultimate mailbag before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Feels good. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us your questions, comments, links, guest post proposals, whatever.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Ben asks: Is CC Sabathia a Hall of Famer and does he go in as a Yankee?

Right now, no on the Hall of Fame. Sabathia was on a Hall of Fame track earlier in his career, but those dreadful 2013-15 seasons really threw a wrench into things. Sabathia is sitting on 223 wins and getting over 250 feels like a must — heck, Mike Mussina can’t get in and he has 270 wins, how long until someone does that again? — and he probably can’t afford to let his career ERA climb any more. It was 3.50 (125 ERA+) prior to 2013. Now it’s 3.70 (117 ERA+). Also, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system says Sabathia is well below the established Hall of Fame standards for starting pitchers.

Now, should Sabathia actually get into the Hall of Fame at some point, it’s possible he could go in as a Yankee. He did come up with the Indians and win his Cy Young with Cleveland, but he has more top five Cy Young finishes with New York (three to two) and the same number of All-Star Games with each team (three). And Sabathia also won his World Series with the Yankees. Here are the side-by-side stats:

GS W-L IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
Indians 237 106-71 1,528.2 3.83 115 3.72 27.5 30.2
Yankees 228 106-68 1,509 3.75 114 3.72 25.6 28.6

Holy cow that’s close! Barring injury, Sabathia will have made more starts and thrown more innings with the Yankees than the Indians by the end of the upcoming season. He could have more bWAR and fWAR too. Crazy.

Sabathia has said he wants to keep pitching as long as he’s healthy. If he spends a few more years with the Yankees, preferably on perpetual one-year contracts a la late career Andy Pettitte, he could very well wind up with the interlocking NY on his Hall of Fame bust. I never would have guessed it. Then again, Sabathia has to get into the Hall of Fame first, and right now it appears his case is borderline at the absolute best.

Several asked: Is Jordan Montgomery comparable to Andy Pettitte?

A few people asked this after the Montgomery prospect profile went up earlier this week. Montgomery and Pettitte are similar in that they’re tall fastball/cutter/changeup/curveball left-handers, and that’s really about it. I get why Yankees fans are eager to see the next Pettitte, but he’s a borderline Hall of Famer, and it’s not fair to Montgomery to compare him to Andy. Let Jordan Montgomery be Jordan Montgomery.

The differences between the two are the quality of their cutter and curveball, and their overall command. Pettitte was a master at busting righties in on the hands with the cutter, a pitch Montgomery only learned two summers ago. Pettitte also had a true out-pitch curveball, and better command across the board. Montgomery has a chance to be a rock solid big league starter for a long time! Pettitte was a borderline ace for a while and an above-average starter for close to two decades though. It’s hard to compare any prospect to him.

Jaremy asks: Since Ellsbury broke the record for catcher’s interference last year – if it was factored into batting statistics (I believe it isn’t a factor for OBP), would it be enough to make Ellsbury a league average hitter?

It’s not factored into batting stats at all. A catcher’s interference goes into the books as an error on the catcher and the hitter is not charged with an at-bat, so, if anything, it helps the hitter’s AVG and SLG by removing an at-bat. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .263/.330/.374 last season. If we count his 12 catcher’s interferences as a time on base equal to a walk or hit-by-pitch, his batting line jumps to .263/.340/.374. Ten extra points of OBP. Ellsbury’s OPS+ goes from 88 to 94 — calculating wRC+ is way too complicated, so we’ll stick with OPS+ — so no, they wouldn’t have been enough to make him a league average hitter.

Andrew asks: Are you surprised that Travis Wood hasn’t latched on anywhere yet? We know he’d be a pretty good fit with us, but do you think there’s any chance he winds up here?

Based on my experience following baseball far too closely for far too long, when a potentially useful player is unsigned this late into the offseason, there’s usually a reason. Maybe Wood’s medicals don’t check out or teams are unwilling to bet on him repeating his success against lefties from a year ago. Or maybe he just wants a ton of money. Wood is not attached to draft pick compensation, so that’s not an issue. If the Yankees could scoop him up as a potential swingman, say on a one-year deal worth $3M or so, it would probably be worthwhile. Would any other club top that offer and/or give Wood a clearer path to the rotation? So far the answer seems to be no.

Wood. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Wood. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Jonathan asks: As a fan its frustrating to watch the Yankees try to “contend” when everyone knows they have no chance of getting anywhere past the wild card. If you were the GM would you have traded Tanaka and Dellin last year, essentially punting until 2018? They could really use a couple of top 25/50 pitching prospects. The system may be loaded but no one projects as higher then a 2 starter even in the best case scenario, and those are ridiculously expensive (and risky) in free agency.

Who’s to say they have no chance of getting past the wildcard? You mean to tell me the Yankees, with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman backing up Masahiro Tanaka, don’t have a chance to win a wildcard game? Come on now. Get to the postseason and you have a chance to win the World Series. ( I have no idea why people continue to say the wildcard isn’t really the postseason. It’s so silly. The players get postseason shares and everything.)

As for the question, I’ve said repeatedly I’d be open to trading anyone on the roster, including Tanaka and Betances. In fact, if they’re not going to sign Tanaka to an extension soon, trading him is probably the smart move. I also appreciate the team’s attempts to remain competitive rather than tank. Everyone loves the idea of a tear down because you can dream on the future, but that’s all you have, dreams about the future. The current club in that scenario is a disaster and no fun to watch. You could argue the Yankees should have torn things down after, say, 2013. And if they had, maybe they’d have a farm system as good as the one they have right now? Yeah, no complaints here.

Dan asks: Assuming expansion, what are the chances MLB moves to an East/West conference format like NBA, NHL & MLS? You could keep the existing divisions intact, just reorganize each league geographically. (e.g., NL East joins the American League and AL West to National League.) Plus, going back to only playing teams in your league should mean less jet lag, fewer 10pm starts and meaningful interleague play. And, just maybe, we finally get DH in both leagues!

I can’t see it. The National League and American League are too ingrained in the sport to change now. And besides, how much will switching to an East-West format help anyway? Teams only play two series a year against clubs in the other two divisions in their league these days, so it wouldn’t reduce travel that much. The AL-NL format has been in existence for over a century now and it’s one of those things that defines baseball. Old school fans are freaking out about the possibility of adding the DH to the NL even though it would, unquestionably, increase scoring and add more excitement. Imagine how much of an uproar there would be if the league tried to eliminate the AL and NL to go with an East-West format? Gosh.

Andrew asks: If we define a successful major league starting pitcher as someone who is league average of better for at least four years, do you think Jordan Montgomery or Chance Adams is more likely to succeed?

This is an interesting question. Adams is the better prospect in my opinion, but I’d go with Montgomery as being more likely to put together four league average or better big league seasons. He’s a safer bet to remain in the rotation long-term. Adams, on the hand, has the higher ceiling, though it also comes with a little more risk because he’s on the short side and his fastball is pretty straight. He could end up fly ball and home run prone in the big leagues. I’m more confident in Montgomery remaining a starter, even if he has a lower ceiling than Adams.

Ryan asks: Yankees get 90 home runs and 9.5 WAR from Sanchez, Judge and Bird (ZiPS has them at 7 WAR) And 25+ starts from four of their starters, how many games do they win and do they make the playoffs?

I suppose that depends on the quality of those 25+ starts from each guy, right? If Tanaka is Tanaka, Sabathia and Michael Pineda repeat what they did last year, and one of the kids gives the team 25 average or better starts, I could see the Yankees winning 89 or so games, which would put them right on the postseason bubble. Maybe I’m underselling the Yankees in this case since they always seem to be a few wins better than everyone projects. Either way, the club’s ability to contend this year will depend heavily on the kids. If they can limit the growing pains, the Yankees have a real chance to contend.

Sam asks: Have you heard about the new type of TJ surgery some injured pitchers qualify for, that cuts recovery time down dramatically? Early evidence shows it might even have a better percentage of full recovery outcomes. Seth Maness is looking to be the first MLB pitcher to have had the surgery & return to the big leagues. You should research this if you haven’t heard about it. It’s definitely worth a post on RAB.

Yeah, I’ve heard about it. Not every player is a candidate for the new procedure. It only works with a tear near the bone, not in the middle of the ligament. Derrick Goold has some details:

The “UCL repair with internal brace construction” – its full clunky name – begins with repairing the ligament and anchoring to the bone. A bracing system is then constructed out of tape to help promote healing in the area. That’s the recent advancement, one made possible by Arthrex tape. Paletta said he and others are borrowing from procedures used to repair ankles and knees to address an injury in the elbow. The clear benefit of this “primary repair” is that it addresses the native ligament, and thus doesn’t require a graft and the time that takes for a rebuilt ligament to assimilate.

Dr. George Paletta, who performed the surgery on Maness, told Goold he’s performed roughly 150 of these surgeries, and so far it has a 100% success rate. Thirty-two of those pitchers have pitched two full seasons since their surgery. These days of a 12-month rehab for Tommy John surgery are basically over. It’s a 14-16 month rehab now. Teams are being extra cautious. This new procedure can get players in game action in about seven months, according to Paletta.

I don’t know whether anyone with the Yankees has had this procedure or is a candidate for it — Tanaka has a partial tear, but we don’t know where that tear is in the ligament, exactly — but the important thing is that this seems to be a legitimate alternative to Tommy John surgery, assuming the conditions are right. That’s exciting. The more we can keep the best arms on the field, the better.

David asks: After looking over your preseason top prospects from 2016 I started looking for information on Austin DeCarr and Jeff Degano but found very little. Can you tell what’s happened to them?

DeCarr, 21, returned from his Tommy John surgery last June, and pitched to a 4.12 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 9.6% walks in 39.1 innings with Short Season Staten Island. I’m not sure where he’ll begin 2017. It could be back in Extended Spring Training, or maybe the Yankees think he’s ready for full season ball and send him to Low-A Charleston. We’ll find out in April. The important thing is he’s healthy.

Degano, on the other hand, is a mess. He has the yips. It was odd when the 24-year-old wasn’t assigned to a full season team to begin 2016, then, when he showed up to Rookie Pulaski in June and walked 25 batters (with ten wild pitches) in only 5.2 innings, it made sense. He faced 47 batters with Pulaski, so that’s a 53.2% walk rate. Yikes. He’s broken. The yips are a tough thing to overcome and I have no idea where Degano is right now in trying to get back to normal. Hopefully he can right the ship. He has a promising arm.

Ryan asks: Mike, were you surprised by the lack of veteran or reclamation project SPs/ RPs on the non-roster invites to Spring Training? I thought a few minor league deals would have been dealt out. Only real surprise was that Pete Kozma is back.

Yes and no. When I put together my little non-roster preview, I had the Yankees signing as many as four extra pitchers. Then, once I laid out the Triple-A Scranton roster situation, I saw the Yankees have basically no room for guys like that. They’re going to have to send Triple-A caliber arms to Double-A to start the season because there’s simply no room for them in Scranton. These things have a way of working themselves out, of course, but the Yankees are pretty deep on the mound. I’m so used to teams scooping up depth arms that I never bothered to notice the Yankees don’t really need them.

Also, keep in mind free agency is a two-way street. Free agent pitchers and their agents are surely looking at New York’s depth chart and wondering where the heck they would fit in. You could guarantee, say, Travis Wood a big league spot as a swingman. What about guy looking to hang on who is willing to start in Triple-A in exchange for a potential call-up down the road, like Anthony Swarzak last year? That guy may look at the club’s pitching depth and say forget it, I’ll have a better shot elsewhere. The Yankees have sneaky good pitching depth right now, so good they don’t really need a veteran reclamation project guy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Daniel asks: How does payroll work for Spring Training? Is it a huge deal for the NRI guys, financially speaking?

Players don’t get paid in Spring Training. Or in the offseason or postseason, for that matter. They get paid during the regular season only. (I remember Sabathia had it put into his contract that he gets paid year-round, but I can’t remember hearing anyone else doing that.) Teams have to provide players a place to stay and meals during Spring Training, and I’m pretty sure transportation to and from the park too.

For most big leaguers, that’s no big deal. They pass on the housing the team provides and rent their own condo for the spring, drive their own cars to the park, whatever. For rookies, that stuff is a little more important. Much like the regular season, big league camp accommodations are way better than minor league camp accommodations. Players don’t get paid, so they’re not getting a higher salary as a non-roster player, but they get a nicer place to live and better meals/more meal money.

Yogi asks: We’re starting to hear about the results of arbitration hearings, but I can’t seem to find the date for Dellin’s hearing. Has a date been set? Any chance the hearing doesn’t happen until after pitchers report? I would think both parties would want to get it finished and get to work.

I haven’t seen anything. I’m sure it’s been set though. We just don’t know about it. The way these things usually work is one day we hear the player and the team had their hearing that day, and the next day the panel’s decision is announced. That’s what happened with Fernando Abad. On Monday it was reported Abad and the Red Sox had their hearing that day, then Tuesday morning the ruling was announced. (The Red Sox beat Abad and will pay him $2M instead of $2.7M.) The hearings have started, so I assume Betances’ is any day now. Chances are we’ll hear they had their hearing that day at some point, with the decision coming the following morning.

Rich asks: So if Yanks repeat last year’s results leading up to the deadline, besides the obvious guys (Clippard, CC, etc.), wouldn’t moving Pineda make the most sense?  And if so, what type of prospect package could he yield?  Has to be more than Nova did, right?  Also, any rumblings on an Eovaldi reunion on a multi-year incentive deal like they’ve done in the past?

I answered a similar question last week and completely forgot about Pineda. Yes, trading Pineda at the deadline would be a smart move if the Yankees are out of it. He’s an impending free agent and it’s hard to think he’ll be a qualifying offer candidate. Remember, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the most the Yankees could get for any qualified free agent next winter is a pick after the fourth round. Not nearly enough of a reward to be worth the risk.

Pineda’s value at the trade deadline is going to depend entirely on how he actually pitches. If he repeats what he did last year, could he get any more than what the Yankees acquired for Ivan Nova? The best case scenario would be the Andrew Cashner trade. He was an enigmatic impending free agent like Pineda last summer, when the Marlins traded arguably their best prospect (Josh Naylor) to get him. Then again, Miami has a history of paying big in trades. Hey, maybe that works for the Yankees. The Marlins were said to have interest in Pineda last trade deadline, and they could have interest again this year. Either way, yes, trading Pineda would be a no-brainer if the Yankees are out of it.

Mailbag: Expansion, Hall of Fame, Traded Prospects, Draft

There are 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. For some reason there were a lot of “couldn’t the Yankees trade Starlin Castro for Jose De Leon???” questions in the inbox this week and … no. Just no. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions throughout the week.

bobby-abreu-expansion
Traded to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker later that day. (@RaysBaseball on Twitter)

Drew asks: It seems like there is enough ML talent that the league could institute an expansion draft. When do you think MLB could see an expansion draft, and how would the process work?

Commissioner Rob Manfred insists the Rays and Athletics need new parks before MLB expands again, and I get that. You’ve got to take care of the teams already in the league before adding two more. MLB could probably expand right now though. The game is flush with cash, there are plenty of viable cities (San Antonio? Portland? Las Vegas?), and MLBPA will happily take all the extra jobs.

The expansion draft rules have been a little different each time MLB has expanded. Back in 1997, when the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks joined the league, each existing team was allowed to protect 15 players from the expansion draft. That covered both 40-man and non-40-man roster players. Players selected in the two most recent amateur drafts (1995 and 1996) were exempt from the expansion draft, and players set to become free agents after 1997 didn’t have to be protected. There were three rounds to the expansion draft, and each team could only lose one player per round. Also, they could protect three additional players after each round. Got all that? Good.

So, based on those rules, these are the I would protect if I were running the Yankees and MLB held an expansion draft this year:

I feel like I might be missing someone obvious, but that seems to be it. Blake Rutherford, James Kaprielian, and Chance Adams are all exempt because they were acquired in the two most recent amateur drafts. Also, I assume players with no-trade clauses have to be protected. Technically a no-trade clause is a no-assignment clause, and being selected in the expansion draft is an assignment. CC Sabathia has a no-trade clause but will be a free agent after the season, so he doesn’t need to be protected.

Historically, teams have loaded up on pitching during the expansion draft, which is why I’m opting to protect Montgomery over Andujar in the first round. As a near MLB ready southpaw, Montgomery would be a goner in the expansion draft. No doubt about it. There’s at least a chance of keeping Andujar through the first round. My guess is the Yankees would lose Cessa or Green in the first round. I have no idea who I’d leave out of the original 15 to protect them, however. There’s no reason to protect Brett Gardner and Chase Headley. Losing them for nothing would suck, but expansion teams traditionally don’t take veterans on big contracts in the draft.

I think (hope) we’ll see MLB expand and add two teams within the next ten years. It would even out the leagues at 16 teams apiece and eliminate the need for constant interleague play. Also, as someone who writes about baseball, I think covering an expansion draft would be fun as hell.

Michael asks: Last year the Yankees hosted an orientation type meeting for highly regarded prospects. They called it the “Captain’s … something”. Sorry but I do not remember the actual name. It seemed like a good idea last year but I have not seen anything to indicate they are repeating it this year. Have you seen anything yet?

Captain’s Camp, and they’ve done it a few years in a row now. I haven’t seen anything about it this year, though in the past we didn’t hear about the event until it was over, so who knows. Players are starting to head to Tampa — Rutherford, Austin, and Ben Heller are already there, based on their Twitter feeds — so it’s possible Captain’s Camp will begin fairly soon.

I have no reason to think the Yankees have shelved Captain’s Camp. They just had their Winter Warm-Up event last week, which featured many top prospects, plus MLB’s rookie development program was the week before that — Torres was there, not sure who else though — so the kids have been pretty busy. With Spring Training now fewer than three weeks away, I’m guessing Captain’s Camp will start fairly soon. I’m sure we’ll hear about it when the time comes.

Update: Severino, Sheffield, Adams, Dermis Garcia, and Wilkerman Garcia are also among those already in Tampa, reports Erik Boland.

Mark asks: Mailbag question for you – who is your biggest surprise comeback/break out player on the Yanks for 2017?

Severino is an easy call for comeback player, isn’t he? Maybe not in the entire league, but for the Yankees. He was terrible as a starter last season, truly awful, so performing like a league average starter in 2017 would qualify as a huge improvement and a comeback in my eyes. As for the breakout player, I’ll pass on taking the easy way out with Judge and instead say Cessa. I’m a fan. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He throws four pitches and he throws strikes, and I’ll take my chances with that. With fewer meatballs over the plate to curb the home run problem going forward, the Yankees could really have something there.

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Marc asks: All the HOF talk has me thinking, does Robinson Cano make it into the HOF and if he does, does he go in as a Yankee?

Yes and yes. Cano just turned 34 in October and he’s well on his way to 3,000 hits (2,210 at the moment), 600 doubles (479), 400 homers (278), a lifetime .300 average (.307), and +75 WAR (+62.4). Seven All-Star Games and five top six finishes in the MVP voting helps too. I think Robbie is about 95% of the way to the Hall of Fame. He’s already built an excellent foundation and now just needs to hang around and compile a little more, and since there are still seven years left on his contract, he’ll get plenty of opportunity to do so.

There’s a chance Cano will retire having played more games as a Mariner than as a Yankee — he needs to average 129 games per season over the final seven years of his contract for that to happen — though he had his best years in pinstripes and emerged as a true star as a Yankee. He also won his World Series ring in New York. Barring something crazy, like two MVPs and a few World Series titles these next seven years, Cano should go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.

(For what it’s worth, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system says Cano is just short of the established Hall of Fame standards for second basemen. With another good year or two, he’ll get over the threshold.)

Dan asks (short version): I was thinking about the 2017 trade deadline. If the team is not doing good by July, what Yankees players could you see on the move for the July trade deadline and for what kind of packages?. Personally, I can see Betances, Holliday, Clippard, and probably Tanaka as well.

Brian Cashman was asked about the possibility of selling again this summer at the team’s town hall last week. It was a typically long and wordy Cashman answer, so I’m not going to transcribe it, but you can see his answer at the 27:30 mark of this video. The short version of his answer is: “It was really hard for Hal Steinbrenner to sell at the trade deadline and he might not be willing to do it again. I’ll recommend selling if I feel it’s necessary though.”

If they are out of the race and decide to sell, Matt Holliday and Tyler Clippard are the two obvious trade candidates as veterans approaching free agency. I don’t think Clippard will fetch much (remember what the Yankees gave up for him?), though maybe Holliday rakes and gets them a Carlos Beltran caliber return. Sabathia could be another candidate as an impending free agent. Maybe he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause to join a contender, assuming he repeats his 2016 success in 2017.

Remember, the Yankees tried to sign Chapman to an extension last season, and Hal only agreed to trade him after he declined an extension and said he wanted to become a free agent. Selling at the deadline was not necessarily Plan A. I’m not convinced the Yankees will do it again if they’re out of the race. If they do, Tanaka and Betances are obviously the top trade chips. I think it’s more likely guys like Holliday and Clippard would go.

Jackson asks: Comparing the trades the Yanks made at the deadline with the ones made recently this off season (e.g., Forsythe for Deleon), is there any doubt now that the best returns, if you’re a seller, are gotten during a pennant race? That being the case, don’t expect trades of any consequence by Cash, for e.g., BG, Headley, Dellin or Tank until the end of July, right?

That seems to be the case, though I can’t help but wonder whether this past trade deadline was just an anomaly. The Yankees got far more for a half-season of Chapman than the Royals got for a full season of Wade Davis or the Rays got for two seasons of Logan Forsythe. The Yankees were dealing with a desperate Cubs team, a team clearly built to win right now with a 108-year-old monkey on its back. Same with the Indians and Andrew Miller. They haven’t won a title since 1948. The pressure was on.

Things really fell into place for the Yankees last July. They had two extremely valuable assets in Chapman and Miller, and two very motivated buyers in the Cubs and Indians. Yes, I definitely think teams have more urgency to improve midseason than they do in the offseason — clubs seem much more willing to be patient in December and January, when everyone is 0-0, but things change when the standings are staring you in the face — but I don’t think we can expect Chapman/Miller caliber trades every year. Those seem to be special cases.

Bruce asks: When a player is added to the 40 man roster does the 6 year period of control before free agency start at that point, or when added to 25 man roster…or when? If 40 man roster, a player in low minors like Mateo might spend 3 more years in minors, meaning only 3 years of team control at Major league level.

Nope, it’s six years of service time, and players only accrue service time while on the MLB active roster or MLB disabled list. Mateo was added to the 40-man this offseason, so his time in the minors in 2017 won’t count as service time. It’s six full years in the big leagues before free agency. Betances was added to the 40-man roster in November 2010, spent the next three years in the minors before finally sticking in the show for good in 2014, and now he’s halfway through his six years of MLB control.

A.J. asks: If social media was around in the ’90s when the Yankees traded a ton of high-ranking prospects, which player traded would have caused the most outrage from fans? I’m thinking Eric Milton, Russ Davis, or Ed Yarnall. Thoughts?

The first name that jumped to mind is Ruben Rivera. The Yankees traded him to the Padres for Hideki Irabu in April 1997 — San Diego won Irabu’s rights through the posting system, but he refused to pitch for them — and from 1995-97, Baseball America ranked Rivera no worse than the ninth best prospect in baseball. And, in 1996, he hit .284/.381/.443 (107 OPS+) in 46 games, his first extended taste of the show. The Yankees had a revolving door in left field and a budding megastar, then they traded him. The internet would have broken.

Milton and Davis are two other really good candidates. Milton was New York’s first round pick in 1996 (20th overall). He pitched very well in the minors in 1997 and was ranked the 25th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America following the season. Then the Yankees traded him for Chuck Knoblauch, who went from a 143 OPS+ in 1996 to a 110 OPS+ in 1997 with the Twins. I don’t think that would have gone over well at the time.

Davis went to the Mariners in the Tino Martinez trade. The Yankees traded Davis, a three-time top 100 prospect per Baseball America, and Sterling Hitchcock, a two-time top 100 prospect, for Martinez, who was a year away from free agency. The team had late career Wade Boggs at the hot corner and they had just traded Davis, their long awaited third basemen of the future, for Tino. Imagine how the internet would have reacted to that nowadays. Teams definitely value prospects much more highly than they did in the 1990s. That’s for sure.

Anonymous asks: How about Jake Peavy as a low risk signing?

Not a bad idea, though the Padres are reportedly trying to bring Peavy back, and I think he’d return to San Diego before subjecting himself to Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Peavy is nearing the end of the line. He’ll turn 36 in May and last summer his fastball averaged 88.9 mph, and he had a 5.54 ERA (4.36 FIP) in 118.2 innings. He’s never been much of a ground ball guy, and when you combine a lack of grounders (36.4% in 2016) with an upper-80s fastball, you get a lot of homers (1.37 HR/9 in 2016) even in an extreme non-homer stadium like AT&T Park. Now that Brett Anderson is with the Cubs, I really don’t like any of the available free agent starters. Jon Niese seems most appealing.

(Keith Allison on Flickr via Creative Commons license)
(Keith Allison on Flickr via Creative Commons license)

Michael asks: Talk is always about the Yanks signing Harper or Machado in 2019, but is there any chance (assuming they get under the luxury tax in 2018) that they could sign both?

Is there a chance? Sure. I’d never rule it out. That said, if Bryce Harper and Manny Machado stay on their current trajectories, they’re probably going to be $400M players in two offseasons, and I’d bet against any team handing out two $400M contracts in one offseason. Then again, I never expected the Yankees to sign Sabathia and Mark Teixeira back in the day, when $150M contracts were still rare. If the kids like Sanchez and Torres and Judge develop into the players we hope, giving the Yankees a strong young (and cheap) core, I could see them splurging for both Harper and Machado, especially since they’ll both be in their mid-20s. That would be fun, huh?

Lou asks: With HOF voters limited to 10 votes, has voting option of “reserve for future consideration” been considered? So guys like Posada don’t get squeezed by the 10 vote limit? It would seem to me to smooth the voting out, and allow writers some time to contemplate a candidate.

Nothing like that has been considered as far as I know. The BBWAA tried to get the ballot expanded to a maximum of 12 votes a year or two ago, but the Hall of Fame said no, so the rule of ten remains. John Harper recently suggested a three-year minimum stay on the ballot and I like that idea. That would have given Jorge Posada a chance to stick around a little longer and possibly build momentum. (Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, and Kevin Brown were all undeserving one-and-dones in recent years too.) It’s going to be a few years until the ballot starts to unclog, so this will remain an issue a little while longer. Voters will essentially have to choose their ten “most deserving” players until then, which is absurd.

Rubaiyat asks: Is there a chance for Jorge to still make the HOF? I know he’s dropped off the ballot, but could one of the new subcommittees elect him in?

Yes, there’s still a chance, but it’s a slim one. Last year the Hall of Fame revamped the Veterans Committee into four subcommittees. Posada falls under the Today’s Game Era Committee, which covers players from 1988 to the present. The committee met last month and doesn’t meet again until December 2018. It’s a 16-person committee and 12 votes are needed for induction. There’s no guarantee Posada will even be on the next Today’s Game ballot — he has to pass through a screening committee first, which will determine whether he’s even worthy of further Hall of Fame consideration — but it’s his only shot at induction at this point. (Aside from getting in as a manager.) I don’t expect Posada to get in either way. An appearance on the Today’s Game ballot would be cool though.

Adam asks: Fully understanding that it’s way too early to start thinking about the 2017 draft, as a fun exercise do you have any early predictions of who we might hear about the Yanks being connected to at No. 16.

Bet on Southern California kids. I’m not joking. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer is a SoCal guy and he goes back to that well often. Four of New York’s last six first round picks have been SoCal kids (Rutherford, Kaprielian, Kyle Holder, Ian Clarkin) and one of the other two was from Central California (Judge), which should count as half-credit or something. This goes back to the days of Ian Kennedy and Gerrit Cole too. When in doubt, bet on the prospect from Southern California.

MLB.com released their top 50 prospects for the 2017 draft a few weeks ago, and among the 50 are 12 kids from Southern California: HS RHP/SS Hunter Greene (No. 1 on MLB.com’s list), HS SS/OF Royce Lewis (No. 3), HS RHP Hans Crouse (No. 20), HS OF Calvin Mitchell (No. 21), HS SS Francis Parker (No. 26), HS RHP/C Hagen Danner (No. 27), HS OF Garrett Mitchell (No. 31), UC Irvine 2B/OF Keston Hiura (No. 37), UCLA RHP Griffin Canning (No. 39), HS LHP/1B Nick Pratto (No. 42), HS RHP Jeremiah Estrada (No. 43), and HS RHP Kyle Hurt (No. 48). Wondering who the Yankees will draft with the 16th overall pick this summer? Those 12 names are as good a place to start as any.

Mailbag: Depth Chart, German, Bird, Farm System, Straily

Only five more weeks until the first Grapefruit League game. Almost there, folks. Anyway, we’ve got eleven questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us any questions.

Torreyes is set to back up a few positions in 2017. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Torreyes is set to back up a few positions in 2017. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Michael asks: Injuries always happen. Seems like there are a few places we’re vulnerable. What’s your opinion of what will happen if injuries happen in spring training this year – a DL stint, not out for the season – to, Chase Headley, Gary Sanchez or more than one member of our three ‘for-sure’ starters in the rotation (seems like one always gets hurt)? (re; possible Sanchez injury, would Higashioka back up for a month?)

I think the Yankees would respond to any short-term injury — in this case, I’m thinking six weeks or less qualifies as short-term — by going with internal options. Long-term injuries are another matter. The Yankees might pounce and sign Luis Valbuena should Headley blow out his knee during an offseason workout, for example.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s lay out the Yankees’ depth chart at each position and go four deep. This pretty much answers the “who would play if _________ gets hurt?” question. There’s quite a bit of overlap at some positions.

Starter Backup Third String Fourth String
Catcher Gary Sanchez Austin Romine Kyle Higashioka Wilkin Castillo?
First Base Greg Bird Tyler Austin Rob Refsnyder Ji-Man Choi
Second Base Starlin Castro Ronald Torreyes Ruben Tejada Donovan Solano
Shortstop Didi Gregorius Ronald Torreyes Ruben Tejada Donovan Solano
Third Base Chase Headley Ronald Torreyes Ruben Tejada Donovan Solano
Left Field Brett Gardner Aaron Hicks Tyler Austin Rob Refsnyder
Center Field Jacoby Ellsbury Aaron Hicks Brett Gardner* Mason Williams
Right Field Aaron Judge Aaron Hicks Tyler Austin Rob Refsnyder

* Last year Joe Girardi showed he’d prefer to keep Gardner in left field whenever possible, so if Ellsbury were to go down with an injury, I think Hicks would take over in center field.

I’m leaving out designated hitter because that’s a unique position. Should Matt Holliday get hurt — or worse, play the outfield regularly — I think the Yankees would rotate players in and out at DH, with Austin and Hicks seeing increased playing time. Otherwise the depth chart is pretty straight forward until you get the fourth string, and I don’t think anyone has a great fourth string option at any position.

As for the rotation, well, you just start going down the depth chart and calling up kids. There are the three veterans (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda), the four kids (Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green), the two Triple-A top prospects (Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams), and two Triple-A non-top prospects (Ronald Herrera, Dietrich Enns). I don’t think the Yankees will put Adam Warren in their Opening Day rotation, but he’s an option too. Whenever there’s an injury to a starter, you just go right down the list and pick the next in line.

Chase asks: My question is a bit morbid, but does a Tanaka elbow pop early in the season completely change the season goals for the yanks. I think it makes a wildcard unattainable, which allows full attention on young player development and could signal a sell off of everything not nailed down. I guess the short version is Tanaka is the yanks MVP.

Yes, absolutely. Tanaka is the Yankees’ best and most important player. Any realistic path to the 2017 postseason involves him having another ace-caliber season. Without that, it’ll take a minor miracle for the Yankees to contend. So yes, if Tanaka’s elbow gives out in Spring Training, it changes the season outlook dramatically. I can’t speak for everyone, but my focus going into the season is on the kids anyway. Should Tanaka go down, I’m guessing more than a few folks will shift gears from “can they win?” to “let’s see how the kids develop.” Tanaka is far and away the team MVP. No doubt about it.

Sal asks: Domingo Acevedo gets a lot of the press, but what about Domingo German? Any news on him? He was old for his level, but decent results first 50 innings back from TJ.

German was the prospect the Yankees received in the ill-fated Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade. He blew out his elbow in Spring Training 2015, so it wasn’t until June 2016 that he took the mound for the Yankees in an official game. German, 24, had a 3.29 ERA (3.82 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 54.2 innings split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Baseball America says he hit 100 mph with his fastball, so that’s encouraging.

Last offseason the Yankees non-tendered German and re-signed him to a minor league contract while he rehabbed from his Tommy John surgery. They were impressed enough with what they saw in those 54.2 innings last season that they re-added him to the 40-man roster to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. German has two great pitches in his fastball and changeup, though his slider is a work in progress.

It’s entirely possible German will never figure out a reliable breaking ball, and if that happens, he’s likely headed for the bullpen full-time. He still has two minor league options remaining, so the Yankees can afford to be patient and let German work as a starter both this coming season and next. My guess is he’ll start back with High-A Tampa and receive a quick promotion to Double-A Trenton. German is kind of a forgotten arm in the system. Kid can bring it.

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

John asks: With the Yankee farm system being highly regarded these days it got me wondering about the success of other clubs with high ranking systems in the past. Do teams that have the best farm systems generally turn out to be winning teams? And how long does it historically take for a stacked farm system to pay dividends at the MLB level on a wins basis?

There have been several studies about this over the years — Sky Andrechek’s is one of the best, though it’s a bit old now (Matt Swartz did one too) — and they’ve almost all found top farm systems correlate extremely well to big league success in subsequent seasons. A great farm system doesn’t guarantee success because there are other factors at play, like veterans on the roster and whatnot, but generally speaking, a top tier farm system bodes extremely well going forward. The top systems tend to have top prospects and depth, so the odds of producing several quality big leaguers are quite good. That frees up to money to do other things and improve the roster even more. Farm system rankings are completely subjective, remember. The consensus says the Yankees have one of the best systems in the game though, if not the best, which suggests they’re in great shape moving forward.

Chip asks: Looking at the list of MLB Free Agents, who do you think could be this year’s Eric Chavez? The once really good player who just randomly appears on the list of Yankees non-roster players at Spring Training. It can’t be Ruben Tejada, because he was never really that good. I’m thinking someone like Ryan Howard or maybe CJ Wilson would qualify.

The first year the Yankees signed Chavez, he basically just showed up to camp. There were no rumors at all, and on the day position players reported to Spring Training, the team announced he was in camp as a non-roster player. It was a complete surprise. I remember thinking Jimmy Rollins would be that player last year, but then the White Sox signed him in late-February.

This year, if the Yankees pull a stealth signing like that, I think it’ll be a pitcher. C.J. Wilson is a good candidate, though I think the Yankees would go after a healthy pitcher who could step on the mound right away. Wilson is coming off elbow and shoulder surgeries. I keep coming back to this name, but Jorge De La Rosa seems like the guy to me. The Yankees were connected to him numerous times over the years, and a veteran lefty used to pitching in a tough environment (Coors Field) seems like a solid bet for a minor league deal. Edwin Jackson, Chris Johnson, and (gasp!) Stephen Drew could be other candidates.

Ross asks: Given that Greg Bird might need more time to get his timing back, it had me wondering, how long would he need to be in the minors next season for the Yankees to get that year of service time back?

Bird picked up 53 days of service time in 2015 — and a full year of service time last year while on the big league disabled list, but that’s besides the point — which means he’ll need to spend about 65 days in the minors to delay free agency another year. Two months, basically. It might be worthwhile, you know. If Bird still looks rusty in Spring Training, sending him down until June to “buy back” the year the team lost to the injury last season wouldn’t be a terrible idea. It gives Austin two months of regular at-bats in the big leagues and allows Bird to get back on track in a low-pressure environment.

The Yankees kept Severino in the minors just long enough to delay his free agency last year, though they had to send him down at midseason because he stunk. Bird is coming off an injury, and sending him down on Opening Day to regain his timing may be their only opportunity to send him to the minors. If he’s healthy and rakes, they can’t send him down. I mean, they could, but it would look fishy. The Yankees have the money to pay Bird when the time comes, so maybe this isn’t a big deal. But, if he winds up in the minors again for whatever reason, 65 days is the magic number.

Michael asks: Gary Sanchez for Jose Quintana straight up. Who says no?

Both teams. I think the Yankees would sooner trade minor league prospects like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres than Sanchez, who plays an extremely valuable position and has had big league success, albeit in a limited sample. At the same time, the White Sox are not wrong to demand more for Quintana than just Sanchez. How much more? Well, that depends. But I don’t think asking for more is unreasonable. I think both teams would pass on this one. The Yankees want to keep the high-end catcher and the White Sox want more than one player for by far the best available starting pitcher on the trade market.

Craig asks: How is it that the White Sox can get 2 top 20 pitching prospects for Adam Eaton? I like him as much as the next guy, but he doesn’t seem like a game changer. I know Gardner is older and more expensive, but they seem like very comparable players. If we threw in money could we have landed even one of these guys for Brett Gardner?

Nah, Eaton is quite a bit better than Gardner. It’s not just the age and production, it’s the contract too. Here are their stats over the last two years (this makes Gardner look better and Eaton look worse):

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ XBH HR SB-CS fWAR bWAR
Eaton 1,395 .286/.362/.430 117 103 28 32-13 +9.7 +10.2
Gardner 1,290 .260/.347/.381 102 80 23 36-9 +5.1 +6.7

Gardner turns 34 in August and is owed $23M over the next two seasons with a $12.5M club option for a third year. Eaton turned 28 last month and is owed $18.4M over the next three seasons with $9.5M and $10.5M club options for an additional two seasons. Pretty huge difference there, especially when you consider their on-field performance.

Personally, I think the White Sox did extremely well for Eaton, and I’m not a big Lucas Giolito fan. They sold as high as possible on Eaton — his WAR jumped last year because he moved to right field, and now that he’s going back to center, his good but not great glove will cost him some — and turned him into three good arms. If the Yankees could have one of those young arms for Gardner, I’m sure they would have jumped all over it.

Paul asks: I asked a version of this in last week’s chat. I keep hearing that the Yankees have a very deep farm, but I don’t know how deep that is. There are 30 teams, and let’s talk about each team’s top 30 prospects. That’s 900 total prospects. How many of the top 900 prospects in baseball are in the Yankees’ system? Anything over 30 is good. Is it 35? 45?

I’m not sure I can answer this, though keep in mind the top 30 prospects in each system do not automatically equal the top 900 prospects in baseball. Right now players like Ben Heller and the Holders (Jonathan and Kyle) are just outside my top 30 Yankees prospects — that’s subject to change before I post the final list, I always go through multiple iterations — but I’m certain they’d be in the top 30 for most other teams.

Look at the Angels, for example. MLB.com says Nate Smith, their fifth best prospect, has a ceiling of a fourth or fifth starter. That’s their fifth best prospect. Smith might not crack New York’s top 30. This is nothing more than a guess, but ballpark figure, I’d bet something like 50-55 of the top 900 prospects in baseball are Yankees right now. Maybe even a little more. The system is crazy deep with players who project to be average or better big leaguers, and those types of dudes are more valuable than they great credit for.

Stan Draily. (John Sommers II/Getty)
Stan Draily. (John Sommers II/Getty)

Joe asks: For months was hoping Yankees would pursue Straily from Cincinnati. Now he’s been traded to Miami. What would’ve been a similar comp trade wise that cash could’ve put together? Thoughts on him as a pitcher?

I both can and can not believe the Marlins gave up that much — three of their top ten prospects, per MLB.com! — to get Dan Straily. Dan Straily! I can believe it because Miami always seems to pay big in trades. I can’t believe it because, well, it’s Dan Straily. He was bouncing around waivers last offseason.

Straily, who turned 28 last month and comes with four years of team control, had a fine season for the rebuilding Reds last year, pitching to a 3.76 ERA (4.88 FIP) in 191.1 innings. Look under the hood and you’ve got a pitcher who:

  1. Averaged 89.2 mph with his fastball.
  2. Walked 9.2% of batters faced last season and 9.3% in his career.
  3. Doesn’t keep the ball on the ground or in the park (32.0 GB% and 1.46 HR/9 in 2016).

That is not someone I would be looking to bring to Yankee Stadium and the AL East. If he were on waivers again, fine, scoop him up as depth. But trade three legitimate prospects for him? Not a chance. Luis Castillo and Austin Brice, the two best prospects going to Cincinnati, are on par with Acevedo and Heller, I’d say.

The goal should be finding the next Dan Straily via waivers or free agency or whatever, not trade actual prospects for the real Dan Straily. The Marlins have a history of doing that, paying big to acquire some other team’s random older breakout player. It’s too bad Miami has like no prospects left. The Yankees could hook them up with a shiny new Austin Romine or Ronald Torreyes or something.

Rich asks: To me, Tyler Austin looks like he is physically built and has the offensive profile to play third base. Do you think a) you could agree with that analysis and b) Girardi would give him some reps in the hot corner this spring if they’re still not comfortable with Castro as the back up 3B?

He has the offensive profile for third base, for sure, but he can’t play third. Teams, especially the Yankees, do not hesitate to move prospects to more valuable positions if they think the player can handle it. That’s why Refsnyder was moved from right field to second base, and why Adams went from reliever to starter. Heck, they even tried Peter O’Brien at third base. If they think it’s possible, they’ll try it in the minors.

Austin did play some third base in the minors. Thirty-five total games, in fact, with 24 of the 35 coming back in 2011, when he was in rookie ball. He played three games at the hot corner in Triple-A last year because the roster was thinned out due to injuries and promotions, and they really didn’t have anyone else. Austin doesn’t have the defensive tools for third. His reactions aren’t quick enough and his arm isn’t accurate enough. The Yankees could stick Austin at third in an emergency, but as far as playing there regularly, it won’t happen. He doesn’t have the tools for it.