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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
Nova. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RABRetroWeek Mailbag: The Decades Yankees Team

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

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

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

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

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

1920s

Right Field – Babe Ruth

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

1930s

First Base – Lou Gehrig

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

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

1940s

Center Field – Joe DiMaggio

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

1950s

Pitcher – Whitey Ford

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

1960s

Left Field – Tom Tresh

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

1970s

Catcher – Thurman Munson

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

1980s

DH – Dave Winfield

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

1990s

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

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

2000s

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

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

2010s

Second Base – Robinson Cano

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

Offensive WAR Ranks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Strasburg, Kendrick, Shields, Moncada, Lee

There are 14 questions and 13 answers in this week’s mailbag. I feel like these things get longer and longer each week. Send us questions via the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar at any time.

(Jonathan Ernst/Getty)
(Jonathan Ernst/Getty)

Lonnie asks: Any chance the Yankees could go after Strasburg? The Nats would want proven stars … would a package built around Betances and Sanchez/Murphy get it done? Maybe throw in Refsnyder as well?

Oh I’m certain the Yankees will at least make a call about Stephen Strasburg (and all of the Nationals starters) if they haven’t already. Aside from not being nine feet tall, Strasburg fits everything the Yankees look for in a starter — velocity, strikeouts, control of the strike zone, and ground balls. I mean, every team looks for that in a pitcher, but the Yankees really seem to emphasize the velocity and control part. They didn’t just randomly target Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi on a whim, you know.

Anyway, I think Lonnie answered his own question. The Nationals are the ultimate win now team and they’re going to want proven players in return, not a reliever and a handful of prospects. As good as Dellin Betances is and as promising as Gary Sanchez/John Ryan Murphy and Rob Refsnyder look, that’s not even close to what it’ll take to get two years of a 26-year-old ace. The Yankees would do that in a heartbeat. A half-season season and a half of David Price got a young big league starter, a young big league infielder, and a very good shortstop prospect, for example. I’m not sure the Yankees have the pieces to get Strasburg. They don’t have that potential star young MLB ready player to give up.

Will asks: Would Marco Scutaro make any sense for the Yankees?

Not at this point, no. Scutaro, who I just learned has the same birthday as me (different years!), was designated for assignment by the Giants earlier this week. He played only five games last year due to back problems and had another pretty serious back surgery last month — they had to fuse two vertebrae together — which will keep him out for roughly six months. So Scutaro won’t even be able to play until June at the earliest. Since he is 39 and we’re talking about a serious procedure, chances are his rehab will extend longer than that. There’s a chance he’s already played his final MLB game.

Adam asks: Does Kyle Kendrick make sense for the Yanks? If no … why?

The Yankees do need pitching but I’m not sure they’re desperate enough to outbid teams for Kendrick. The 30-year-old had almost identical 2013 and 2014 seasons resulting in a 4.65 ERA (4.31 FIP) with good walk (2.46 BB/9 and 6.3%) and ground ball (46.9%) rates but an awful strikeout rate (5.46 K/9 and 13.9 K%). If you remove opposing pitchers, Kendrick has struck out only 13.0% of batters faced these last two years. That’s really, really bad. He has no out pitch. The only thing Kendrick has to offer is innings, but they aren’t quality innings. People like to talk about guys being NL pitchers, well Kendrick is the classic example.

Sam asks: It is FanFest season around the Majors and I always wonder why the Yankees don’t hold one. Is it cost or are there too many fans to accommodate? Does the club feel it’s unnecessary? I’d like the chance to meet some present and future players. I need a Greg Bird autograph now — so what gives?

I honestly have no idea why the Yankees don’t do anything like this. They’re a blast and I’m sure teams make a decent amount of money from them. (If they didn’t make money, they probably wouldn’t do it.) The Yankees don’t do a whole lot to cultivate young fans and maybe that’s because they think the Yankees #brand speaks for itself. I doubt the marketing folks think like that though. The Yankees aren’t the only team to not do some kind of caravan or FanFest event, but it would be really cool if they did. They draw nothing but positive reviews around the league.

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Kevin asks: If James Shields really is in the 4-year, $80 million range shouldn’t the Yankees jump all over that?

I haven’t heard he’s come down that far just yet. I think the Yankees are concerned not so much by the total dollars or years or anything like that, but with buying too much decline. A seven-year deal for 30-year-old Max Scherzer and a four-year deal for 33-year-old James Shields takes you through their age 37 seasons, except with Scherzer you’re getting more peak years. Shields is very good and I think he’ll age better than Scherzer (I base that on nothing tangible, just a hunch, really), though if you give a 33-year-old with that many miles on his arm four years, you’re buying nothing but downside. If the Yankees were a no doubt contender looking to put themselves over the top, I think signing Shields would make more sense.

Vinny asks: Regarding Scherzer’s contract: do the deferred payments affect the luxury tax hit in any way?

No, Scherzer’s luxury tax hit is based on the average annual value of his contract, not when the money is actually paid out. So his seven-year, $210M contract comes with a $30M tax hit even though he will really make $15M for the next 14 years (!). According to Cot’s, the Nats are up around $160M in payroll for luxury tax purposes with Scherzer on board, so they aren’t close to the $189M luxury tax threshold. (They have a freaking ton of money coming off the books after the season.) If deferring money reduced how much a player counts against the luxury tax, everyone would be doing it. MLB won’t let teams get off that easy.

Ian asks: If you had to guess, what would A Rod, CC, and Teixeira have gotten on the free agent market this winter?

I’ll start with A-Rod because he’s the easiest: nothing. I don’t think anyone would sign a 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips coming off close to two lost seasons. Not even a token minor league contract from his hometown Marlins. Alex would be pushed right out of baseball if he was a free agent this winter. Teams want no part of that baggage.

The standard contract for a “veteran starter we aren’t quite sure about” these days seems to be two years and $20M or so, and that’s what I think Sabathia would get. Jason Hammel, Bartolo Colon, Edinson Volquez, and Scott Kazmir have all signed contracts like that recently. Maybe Sabathia would get less because he missed the end of the year following knee surgery, or maybe he would get more due to his reputation and name value. Teams are still absolutely guilty of paying players for past performance.

Teixeira’s the most difficult one to me. Adam LaRoche just got two years and $25M and he’s both the same age (approximately) as Teixeira and a better player at this point of his career. At the same time, Kendrys Morales just got two years and $17M and is a far inferior player to Teixeira. So does that put Tex in the two years, $20M to $22M range? Maybe Morales isn’t the best player to use as a basis of comparison. I’m not sure what Teixeira would have gotten as a free agent at all.

Alex asks: Would the Yanks have any interest in Cliff Lee still? Short term commitment and likely cheaper to acquire than Hamels?

Yeah, possibly, but I think they want to see him healthy first. Lee is owed $25M this coming season with a $27.5M vesting option ($12.5M buyout!) that will kick in if he throws 200 innings in 2015. He dealt with a lot of elbow problems last season and although he has been throwing this winter, I think the Yankees would still want to see him on a big league mound before pulling the trigger. If you get him now and his elbow gives out, you’d get absolutely nothing from the trade. Let’s see him healthy first.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hit .268/.399/.441 (123 OPS+) in his career. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

John asks: I saw an article recently on the retired Adam Dunn and how 49% of his plate appearances ended in a guaranteed outcome (walk, k or HR). Wondering where this ranks and if any Yankees would make the top ten of the list, like Nick Johnson or Jason Giambi. Thanks and keep up the great work.

Since 1910, a total of 1,577 players have accumulated at least 3,000 career plate appearances. (Strikeout data isn’t all that reliable prior to 1910.) Here are the ten players with the highest (and, for fun, the lowest as well) career percentages of the three true outcomes, meaning walks, strikeouts, and home runs:

Ten Highest Rates Ten Lowest Rates
Player TTO% Player TTO%
Russell Branyan 50.47% Emil Verban 5.88%
Adam Dunn 49.93% Stuffy McInnis 6.84%
Rob Deer 49.06% Bill Killefer 7.21%
Mark Reynolds 48.58% Lloyd Waner 7.45%
Jim Thome 47.58% Ivy Olson 7.84%
Mark McGwire 45.64% Eddie Brown 8.06%
Ryan Howard 45.53% Homer Santana 8.20%
Carlos Pena 45.48% Charlie Deal 8.22%
Mike Napoli 44.09% Nap Lajoie 8.23%
Mickey Tettleton 43.53% Don Mueller 8.23%

Unsurprisingly, all of the guys on the lowest three true outcome rate (TTO%) list all played a very, very long time ago, back when no one hit dingers and everyone put the first pitch in play. You can see the full 1,577-player spreadsheet right here. (Use Ctrl + f to search through it for any specific names.)

Nick Johnson ranks 99th all-time at 35.86% and Jason Giambi ranks 56th at 37.92%, so no, they aren’t close to the top ten. Mickey Mantle is the highest notable Yankees player on the list — he ranks 19th all-time with a 40.16% three true outcome rate. Reggie Jackson isn’t far behind at 23rd overall (39.72%). Derek Jeter is 576th (25.25%), Jorge Posada is 73rd (37.26%), Bernie Williams is 374th (28.37%), and A-Rod is 126th (34.99%).

Jonathan asks: So what exactly is the holdup with the OFAC and Moncada? Is it just government bureaucracy or is there more to it? Seems like we’ve been waiting for him to be unblocked longer than other international FA.

Mike asks: How will Yoan Moncada’s contract work? I have read it will be a bonus since he has less than 5 years professional experience. Is he on the books for league minimum for the first 3 years? What happens when he is arbitration eligible?

Going to lump these two together. From what I understand, the OFAC hold-up is all bureaucracy. Moncada didn’t defect from Cuba — the Cuban government gave him a visa and let him leave — and apparently that’s slowing down the process. I don’t understand it at all. All I know is that the Yankees can’t sign him until the OFAC signs off.

Moncada is like every other international free agent teams sign out of Latin America each summer. He gets his bonus up front and goes into the farm system like everyone else. When he reaches MLB, Moncada will make near the league minimum during his three years of pre-arbitration and then go through three years of arbitration before qualifying for free agency. Aside from the massive bonus, he’s just like every other draft pick or international signing.

Dan asks: Why are some players given 4th options – how does that process work? I know Dellin received one last year, and it would certainly be nice if Romine got one this year.

Fourth options are confusing. There are several ways a player can qualify for one, but the only one I actually understand is when the player burns all three options within his first five full professional seasons. So if the Yankees call up Rob Refsnyder — a 2012 draftee with two full pro seasons under his belt — this year and wind up optioning him in 2015, 2016, and 2017, he’d get a fourth option for 2018. That doesn’t apply to Betances. I have no idea why he qualified for a fourth option. It would have been very nice if Austin Romine had a fourth option for this year, but Brian Cashman confirmed that is not the case.

Brad asks: If he retired today, would Brian Cashman be honored with a plaque in Monument Park?

I think the answer is no right now. The only GM in Monument Park at the moment is Ed Barrow, who called the shots from 1921-46. The Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, first half of Joe DiMaggio’s career era. His plaque was dedicated in 1954. Cashman is entering his 17th season as GM and he’s still eight years behind Barrow. If the Yankees win another World Series or three before the end of Cashman’s tenure, then yeah, I think he might get a plaque. Otherwise the answer is no.

Dan asks: If the Yankees wanted to, could they consider exploring a trade of Brian McCann to the Braves, now that they have parted with Gattis?

The Braves can’t afford McCann — their payroll has held steady at $90M or so since 2001, and Cot’s says they have $81M on the books for 2015 with Mike Minor’s arbitration case still pending. The team filed for $5.1M, so even if they win the hearing, their payroll is over $86M, which leaves them no wiggle room. I don’t see any reason why the Yankees should pay McCann to play for another team. Even trading him for Craig Kimbrel — the salaries aren’t a wash but they’re the closest the Yankees and Braves can get — wouldn’t make sense for the current roster. The Yankees need a starting catcher more than they need a closer. Don’t see it at all.

Mailbag: Ackley, Elias, Beachy, D’Backs, Desmond, Mauer

Thirteen questions this week. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us questions at any time. As I say every week, I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Matt asks: Would you trade Brett Gardner for Dustin Ackley and Roenis Elias?

Yes, I would. I think the Mariners would say no though. Ackley isn’t as good as Gardner, either at the plate or in the field, but he is only 26 and his offense has improved the last three years, going from a 75 wRC+ in 2012 to 87 in 2013 to 97 in 2014. His defense in left is average at worst too, based on the numbers and the eye test. Elias is also 26 and he’s as generic as generic lefties get. Okay strikeout rate (7.86 K/9 and 20.6 K%), okay walk rate (3.52 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%), okay ground ball rate (45.4%), okay velocity (averaged 91.8 mph), slightly better than league average swing-and-miss rates on the changeup (17.7%) and curveball (14.9%). His season ended two weeks early due to a flexor strain in his elbow, but supposedly he’s healthy now. In a nutshell, Elias can eat innings and has at least a little bit of upside. It would be four years of Gardner for three of Ackley and five of Elias, so I think the Yankees would have to kick in a prospect. A decent one ready to help at the MLB level too. Seattle asked for Bryan Mitchell in exchange for Ackley last year, so I think it would have to be someone like that. I love Gardner, but I would definitely trade him for Ackley and Elias in a straight one-for-two deal.

Dustin asks: Can you recall the last time the Yankees had a defense as good as they have right now? Outside of Beltran, the worst you can say about any fielder is that they are above average.

I think you could argue Stephen Drew is only average at second because of his inexperience there, though Dustin’s point stands. Carlos Beltran is the team’s only well-below-average defender right now and it’s been a long time since the Yankees had a defense this good. The Yankees have had a below-average Defensive Efficiency in each of the last years, and last season it was a .702 DE — that basically means they turned 70.2% of batted balls into outs — while the league average was .705. The 2010 team had a .719 DE and the 1998 team had a .723 DE, which is easily the franchise’s best mark over the last 25 years. As long as everyone stays healthy, I think the Yankees will be among the best defensive teams in baseball in 2015. They’ll have to be if they want to contend.

Tom asks: Rank these in order of importance and then in probability: Tanaka’s health, Pineda’s health, Sabathia’s effectiveness, McCann hits like he did in September, A-rod hits 17 homers.

This is totally subjective, of course. Here’s my list based on importance:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka‘s health
  2. Michael Pineda‘s health
  3. Brian McCann hitting like he did late in the season
  4. CC Sabathia being effective
  5. Alex Rodriguez doing anything

And now my list based on probability:

  1. McCann hitting like he did late in the season
  2. Pineda staying healthy
  3. Sabathia being effective
  4. Tanaka staying healthy
  5. A-Rod doing anything

As it stands, I think the Yankees have just enough offense to get by, which is why I have the two pitchers at the top of the importance list. I think you could argue that, when healthy, Tanaka and Pineda are the two best pitchers in the AL East. Getting 350 innings out of them instead of 150 could easily be the difference between going to the postseason or not.

Paul asks: How would it change the game if, while sticking to a 25 man roster, teams were allowed to put any 9 guys in the lineup and any 9 guys in the field? Basically, infinite DH’s.

Since you’re sticking with a 25-man roster, you’re still limited to 13 position players. Actually, in this case, I’d go with 14 position players and a six-man bullpen, emphasizing multi-inning relievers. I think having one extra DH would be more beneficial than having one extra reliever. So with 14 position players, you could “platoon” five, meaning one player hits and the other plays the field. You’d still need four guys to both hit and play the field, and I’d stick those four guys at the corner positions while platooning good defenders and good hitters in center, at shortstop, at second base, at catcher, and at pitcher. Make sense? Those are the positions where the offensive bar is the lowest and the defensive demands are high. Have a dedicated fielder at each position, then just let someone who can mash hit for them. Even with the extra hitters I think the result would be more less in baseball overall because there are many more good defenders than good hitters right now. A Double-A player like Mason Williams, who is a top notch defensive center fielder, could be your CF defense guy, for example.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Jeff asks: Is Jose Ramirez a full reliever now, or is there still the idea that he may be a starter in the organization? 

Nope, he’s a full-time reliever. They moved him last year. Ramirez couldn’t stay healthy as a starter — he couldn’t even stay healthy as a reliever last season — and it got to the point where they were either going to have to try to get something out of him as a reliever or get nothing out of him as a starter. Ramirez has had so many arm injuries over the years that it seems like only a matter of time before he blows out completely. The Yankees are trying to get what they can out of him at the MLB level before that happens because Ramirez does have nasty stuff. He could have a real impact in relief if he ever stays on the field.

Neaks asks: It’s clear from your post on closers that the Yanks are going to have an abundance of good arms in the bullpen next year. Because of that, is there a chance that the Yankees will encourage starters to “air it out” more and only shoot for ~6 innings max? It would theoretically improve their performance in those innings, and it’s not like the bullpen only has one or two guys you could go to with a small lead. Thoughts?

It’s possible, though they would have to be careful not to burn out their best relievers. Just because Dellin Betances can go out and get you six outs in one game doesn’t mean you want him to do it every other day. The Yankees do have enough bullpen arms to keep guys fresh, but it’s not like they’ll send down Betances or Andrew Miller when they need a breather and the team needs a fresh arm. Joe Girardi‘s been very good at managing his relievers’ workloads and I’m sure that will be the case next year. If anything, the Yankees might try the “air it out” approach with one or two starters, not all five.

Travis L. asks: Do you have any idea which 2014 IFA signees are destined for the states and which start at the DSL level? Some were more polished than other, right?

I have no idea and there’s a good chance the Yankees haven’t decided yet either. The team has been pretty aggressive with their top international prospects in recent years (Miguel Andujar, Luis Torrens, Leonardo Molina, etc.), skipping them right over the Dominican Summer League and bringing them to the rookie Gulf Coast League, and I’m sure that’ll happen this year. The best prospects they signed last summer (according to the consensus rankings) were SS Dermis Garcia, 3B Nelson Gomez, and OF Juan De Leon, and I think all three will come stateside this season. Everyone else might have to wait a year or two, like most international prospects. Remember we’re talking about 16-year-old kids here. Developing them into big leaguers (and trade chips!) will be a long process. International free agency is not about instant gratification.

Vinny asks: What’s the hold up with the Stephen Drew signing?  Think the Yankees are trying to move Brendan Ryan rather than removing someone off the 40 man roster?

That’s possible. The Yankees moved very quickly with all of their other deals this offseason — the Didi Gregorius trade, the Nathan Eovaldi trade, the Andrew Miller signing, and the Chase Headley signing all went from rumor to agreement to press release within about four hours — but the Drew thing has been hanging for ten days now. It could be that they’re trying to make a trade to clear a 40-man roster spot rather than simply designating someone for assignment, or it could just be that Drew is vacationing with his family on some remote desert island right now and hasn’t been able to take his physical yet. Not really sure.

Zach asks: Brandon Beachy is still out there. I know he is recovering from TJ for the 2nd time, but would he be worth a look, even if he is not ready until mid-season?

Depends on the cost, as always. It was reported last week that he has six offers and was planning to pick a new team by the weekend, but that didn’t happen. Beachy is attractive because he is only 28, has a 3.23 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 267.2 career innings, and will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016, but there’s really no way to know how he will come back from his second Tommy John surgery in the span of 21 months. And remember, if he wants a 40-man roster spot, the Yankees would have to cut a healthy, ready to play player to make room for him. I’m inclined to say “pass” if he wants more than a minor league deal.

Desmond. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Desmond. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Frank M. asks: If Ian Desmond is potentially on the block wouldn’t trading Didi and another mid tier prospect make sense? Last year on contract for Desmond. Opposite players as Desmond’s defense is sub-par but his bat is above average.

Desmond is one of those guys who is better defensively than the numbers indicate. He’s not elite or anything, but the eye test suggests he’s better than the numbers say. Anyway, I suppose Didi Gregorius plus a prospect for Desmond would make sense for the Yankees, but the Nationals aren’t going to trade no worse than their fourth best player for Gregorius and a prospect. They’re a win now team and want MLB impact. Besides, Washington just acquired Yunel Escobar (Frank sent the question in before the Yunel trade), who figures to replace Desmond at short until prospect Trea Turner is ready. The Yankees could trade for Desmond and would be better in 2015, then give him $150M for his decline years next offseason, or they could actually give Gregorius a shot to see what he can do. What are the odds age 25-29 Didi can match age 29-33 Desmond for a fraction of the cost, especially given the latter’s scary strikeout trend? Better than most people think, I’d say.

Rob asks: With Arizona needing a catcher what would they they give up for either Murphy or Sanchez? Would it be crazy to ask for Braden Shipley or Brandon Drury?

I love John Ryan Murphy and think Gary Sanchez has gone overlooked recently, but yes, it would be crazy to ask for Shipley, who I feel is underrated in the pantheon of the game’s best pitching prospects. I’ll bet on a guy with a mid-90s fastball, two above-average second pitches, and elite athleticism all day, every day. D’Backs GM Dave Stewart recently said the price is too high for catching and I assume Shipley is beyond their comfort zone. Arizona has been trying to add young arms this offseason, not subtract them. They might be more open to moving Drury, who is more or less the third base version of Rob Refsnyder. I think the Yankees should hang onto Sanchez and Murphy for the time being, unless a team comes offering something more than the D’Backs seem willing to give up.

Justin asks: With G Jones on board is he the automatic back up 1B or will we see McCann and possibly ARod get spring training reps there? 

Girardi and Brian Cashman both said the team has spoken to A-Rod about trying first base in Spring Training, but there’s no word on whether that will actually happen. I assume Jones will be the backup first baseman next year, though McCann could always get some reps there. He played first last season basically as an emergency option and it was rough. He wasn’t good, which isn’t surprising considering he’d never played there before. Jones is the logical choice to back up Teixeira at first in 2015.

Tucker asks: Who would you rather have for the rest of his contract: Brian McCann or Joe Mauer. Mauer has more money left, and has already moved out from behind the plate. However, McCann is sure to follow suit soon, and is not as productive a hitter. I would probably say McCann because of the added value of his pitch framing. Thoughts?

It has to be McCann. They’re both signed through 2018, but Mauer is one year older and is owed $92M while McCann is owed $68M. Mauer is definitely the better hitter — his down year in 2014 was a .277/.361/.371 (106 wRC+) line — but he’s no longer a catcher, so his value took a huge hit. I understand why the Twins did it, Mauer has had some concussion issues and they’re trying to protect him, but he’s less valuable on the field nonetheless. McCann is still a well-above-average defensive catcher with enough power to remain a threat at the plate. I expect both Mauer and McCann to rebound with the bat this year, but the difference in money and position means I would rather have McCann going forward. And that’s coming from a guy who thinks Mauer will in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.

Mailbag: Mets, Smoltz, Nova, Jagielo, Bullpen, Banuelos

Got a nice big 15-question mailbag for you this week. Send us stuff through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. Trust me, the question goes through even though it doesn’t look like it.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Stu asks: If the Yankees offered Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius to the Mets, which starting pitcher(s) could they reasonably expect to receive in return? Would either team pull the trigger?

The Mets have six starters for five rotation spots — seven if you count Rafael Montero, who is MLB ready — and they’ve been shopping a few of them hard this winter, specifically Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon. Gee seems most likely to go. For Gregorius and Betances, I think the Yankees would have to ask for Zack Wheeler, and the Mets would say no. It’s weird, the Mets have six starters, but three have little value (Niese, Gee, Colon) and three have a ton of value (Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey). There’s no one in the middle who’d be a more appropriate return for Didi and Dellin. I really liked Niese a few years ago, before his recent arm problems, and I wonder if the Yankees could get him for a good not great prospect at this point, someone like Eric Jagielo maybe.

Jim asks: Did Hall of Fame voters overrate John Smoltz while underrating Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling? They both out-WAR him by a sizable number of wins, and Schilling also has a very decorated postseason resume. What was it about Smoltz that made him a first-ballot guy and for Moose and Schilling to not even get half of the vote?

Yeah I think he was overrated a bit. I wrote our Smoltz Hall of Fame profile at CBS and was a bit surprised — I thought his case was much stronger than it actually was. (For the record, I do think he’s a Hall of Famer.) I think playing with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine boosted Smoltz’s case — for more than a decade we heard Atlanta had three future Hall of Famers in the rotation, and as good as Smoltz was, he rode Maddux’s and Glavine’s coattails a bit — and also for some reason people love the fact that he was both a starter and a closer. For what it’s worth, JAWS ranks Schilling 27th and Mussina 28th all-time among starters. Smoltz is 58th after adjusting for his time as a reliever. I don’t understand why there was a such a big voting disparity but at the same time I do. Know what I mean? Smoltz was awesome, and when you play with two no-doubt Hall of Famers for so long, people start calling you a no-doubt Hall of Famer too. (Ben Lindbergh gave a longer answer to this very question last week, so check that out too.)

Steve asks: Isn’t Daniel Murphy the perfect comp for Refsnyder?

Aside from Murphy being a left-handed hitter and Refsnyder being a right-handed hitter, yeah I think that is a pretty good comparison. I would hope Refsnyder could develop into a better defender than Murphy, who remains comfortably below-average, but it might not happen. Second base is hard. One big difference between the two is strikeouts — Refsnyder struck out 105 times in 577 plate appearances last year between Double-A and Triple-A while Murphy’s career-high is 95 strikeouts in 697 plate appearances back in 2013. If Refsnyder turned into a right-handed Murphy, I’d be very happy with that.

Mark asks: Is it just me or don’t you find it a little odd we’re now 42 days away from spring training and the Yanks still haven’t hired a hitting coach (not to mention a 1B coach too)?  You would think after last year’s feeble offensive output, Brian Cashman would have not only hired a hitting coach but also the team’s first ever assistant hitting coach by now!

Yep! Surprisingly, the knee-jerk reaction of firing the old hitting coach– I thought it was pretty obvious someone was going to take the fall after the Yankees missed the postseason for the second straight year, and once Cashman re-signed, Kevin Long was the obvious candidate to fall on the sword — may not be working out as well as expected. Just about every team has filled their coaching vacancies already. The pickin’s are slim. I’m of the belief that hitting coaches, while important, do not have nearly as much impact as everyone seems to think. The Yankees will hire someone eventually and everyone will blame him when the offense stinks again in 2015. Circle of life.

Eric asks: Why don’t the Yankees know what they’re going to get from A-Rod this year? He’s no longer suspended – why hasn’t he been checked out medically and put on the field to see what he has left? Thx.

Alex has been working out according to his Instagram account (journalism!), but what are the Yankees going to learn about him on a bunch of backfields against minor leaguers in the middle of the offseason anyway? Not a whole lot. If he rakes, they’d have to take it a grain of salt. If he stinks, they’d feel exactly the same way they do right now. The Yankees clearly expect nothing from A-Rod next year. That’s why they re-signed both Stephen Drew and Chase Headley and added Garrett Jones.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Bobby P. asks: Now that it’s been over a year since Robinson Cano signed with Seattle, and the Yanks are clearly moving in a different direction, has your evaluation of the club not matching the M’s huge offer changed? I realize how much money they would have been committing at the end of the deal but I can’t help but I just would have loved the chance to rebuild around Robbie moving forward.

Rebuilding around a 32-year-old middle infielder making $24M a year doesn’t really sound all that appealing. Don’t get me wrong, Cano is still an elite player, but his best years are very likely behind him, and that’s not someone you build around. Robbie is a “win now” player at this point of his career. You have him on your roster because you’re ready to win this year, not two or three years down the line. The Yankees desperately lack a star player and top notch hitter like Cano, but my opinion of his contract hasn’t changed at all. Love Robbie forever, but I’m glad the Yankees didn’t re-sign him at that price.

Dave asks: It seems like all but a handful of teams are trying to be competitive this year. Surely though, some of them will be out of the race by the trade deadline. Which top-of-the-rotation pitchers do you see becoming available mid-season?

The first name that jumped to mind was Johnny Cueto. Jon Morosi said the two sides haven’t make any progress in extension talks and Cueto’s agent told Mark Sheldon they won’t talk contract after the season starts. The Reds aren’t any good and they’ll get a haul for Cueto at the trade deadline. Much more than a silly draft pick after the season. Cueto is two years younger than Max Scherzer and every bit as good. He’s going to get a massive contract when he hits the market next winter. Other high-end starters who could become available are Cole Hamels (if he isn’t traded these next few weeks) and Andrew Cashner (who’s never healthy), though that’s just my speculation. I could see the Tigers shopping David Price if they fall out of the race as well.

Matt asks I know he’s really young, and not even in A ball, but what’s up with this Leonardo Molina kid? I never hear much about him, though I think he was pointed out recently as a young kid to keep an eye on somewhere.

The 17-year-old Molina received a $1.4M bonus as New York’s top international signing during the 2012-13 signing period. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called him an “an explosive, quick-twitch player” and “the most athletic prospect in Latin America” at the time of the signing. Molina had a rough pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks last summer (58 wRC+) but he played most of the season at age 16. He was a high school sophomore in pro ball. Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) ranked Molina as the team’s eighth best prospect a few weeks ago and called him a potential “first-division player/occasional all-star.” I think that ranking was pretty aggressive but Molina is definitely one of the top lower level prospects in the system. I expect him to return to the GCL this year simply because he’s so young.

Tim asks: Do you think the Yankees will move Jagielo to the OF now that Headley is here long-term and Miguel Andujar appears to be a more viable option and will be in Tampa this year?

Not yet even though the reports on his defense were pretty terrible last year. Jagielo is still two levels away from MLB and there’s no reason to move him off third right now. I think it’s more likely he gets traded now — probably to a team that still believes him at the hot corner — than moved to another position as the club tries to fit him in the roster puzzle. As bad as his defense supposedly looked a year ago, I think you have to give Jagielo more than one full year at third base. Worry about where he fits later, when he’s actually MLB ready. Same with Andujar.

Samantha asks: At the end of last season we heard a lot about the potential for a 6-man rotation. Right now it will be a struggle to fill even a 5-man rotation, but if a guy like Adam Warren does get stretched out and do well in Spring Training, will a 6-man rotation be legitimately considered?

I hadn’t really thought about it but it could be possible. Based on the roster right now, the Yankees will have a four-man bench, which means a six-man rotation and six-man bullpen. Betances and Esmil Rogers could both go multiple innings, Justin Wilson too, so that would make it easier to carry one less reliever. A six-man rotation would allow the Yankees to take it easy on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, all of whom have some injury concerns. A six-man rotation is possible but I don’t think it’s likely. Let’s see if they get through Spring Training with everyone in one piece first.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

P.J. asks: Let’s assume Ivan Nova comes back in mid June and pitches decently upon his return. He will be under team control for only one more season, 2016. With Luis Severino and Ian Clarkin ready do the Yankees look to trade Nova at end of the 2015 season and try and get something for him before he becomes a FA at the end of the 2016 season?

Severino and Clarkin shouldn’t have any impact on Nova. (Also, it’s unlikely Clarkin will be ready by 2016. Severino might be though.) Pitching depth is a good thing, and even if they were ready, Severino and Clarkin are no sure things. That isn’t to say the Yankees shouldn’t be open to trading Nova, they should be open to trading anyone and everyone for the right return, but they probably shouldn’t actively shop him either. At this point in time, I say keep Nova for 2016 and maybe even try to sign him to a little extension, say three years and $24M. Something like that. Nova didn’t get a big bonus as an amateur ($80,000), he just might be open to it.

Calvin asks: Are they finding a market inefficiency in bullpen depth that helps consistently out perform their Pythag?

Eh, I’m not sure I would call having a deep bullpen a market inefficiency, I’m pretty sure every team knows that’s a good thing to have. But I do think that’s part of the Yankees’ plan. A few months ago a user at reddit did a real nice quick and dirty analysis showing bullpen strength had a small correlation with outperforming (and underperforming) run differential, though there was a correlation nonetheless. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by 13 wins (!) the last two years and by 17 wins since 2008, and I think Joe Girardi‘s bullpen management is a big reason why. He has more weapons to work with right now than at any other point during his tenure.

Nic asks: What are the chances David Carpenter gets a shot at closing? That way Betances and Andrew Miller are saved for the more high leverage innings.

It’s possible, but he’ll probably have to pitch his way into that role. I think it’s more likely Betances closes and Carpenter takes over as the team’s primary right-handed setup man alongside Miller. Of course, Miller could also close since guys like Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve will be available for the lefty setup work. I’m not really concerned about who will close — the Yankees have plenty of options and will have a strong closer and a deep setup crew regardless. I’m just curious to see who ends up in the ninth. Betances dominated last year but Miller has the big closer worthy contract.

Nick asks: Now that Manny Banuelos has officially been traded, who was the best player that he was ever rumored to be in a package for? Who could the Yankees have gotten for him way back when?

According to the RAB and MLBTR archives, Banuelos was mentioned in trade rumors for Ubaldo Jimenez (when he was good), John Danks (when he was good), and Matt Garza back in the day, mostly from 2011-12. That’s all we’ve got. I’m certain Banuelos was involved in more trade talk, a lot more, but that’s all that was reported. Garza is the best of that bunch by default — Jimenez has been a disaster since 2011 aside from the second half of 2013 and Danks hasn’t been the same since blowing out his shoulder. Garza had two more years of team control at the time of the trade rumors and was worth 2.7 bWAR total during those two years, which ain’t much. Is it weird that I’d rather have three years of David Carpenter and six years of Chasen Shreve now than two years of Garza then? I don’t think that’s weird.

Dustin asks: With the Yankees not in a position to get rid of rotation depth, do you think giving up on Manny Banuelos is a sign they are going to get another starting pitcher? Or are they really that down on Manny that they don’t even view him as a starter?

I expected them to go after more pitching depth even before the Banuelos trade. I think the trade means they were down on Banuelos and didn’t consider him a starting option in 2015. They probably didn’t have particularly high hopes of him turning into an option for 2016 either. The results weren’t encouraging last summer and Banuelos has essentially lost three years of development. He was hurt most of 2012, all of 2013, and spent 2014 shaking off rust. That’s a lot of development time lost at a critical age. It’s the kind of stuff that derails careers. It happens all the time. Such is life. Pitching prospects, man.