Mailbag: Zach McAllister

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Travis asks: Zach McAllister throws hard and did well in a short stint in relief with Cleveland. If they don’t believe in him anymore, could the Yankees take a shot at hoping he is a failed starter who can be a weapon out of the bullpen?

The 27-year-old McAllister was New York’s third round pick in their tremendously productive 2006 draft class, though they traded him to the Indians as the player to be named later for Austin Kearns at the 2010 deadline. McAllister has been an up-and-down arm with the Tribe the last four years, pitching to a 4.38 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 363.1 big league innings, almost all as a starter.

McAllister really struggled in the rotation this year, posting a 5.67 ERA (3.80 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (7.40 K/9 and 18.5 K%) and walk (3.21 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%) rates. Cleveland stuck him in the bullpen late in the season and he was much better, pitching to a 2.77 ERA (1.44 FIP) with excellent strikeout (9.69 K/9 and 26.9 K%) and walk (1.38 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%) numbers in 13 innings, so small sample alert. His ground ball rate (42.1% overall) was about the same in both roles.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but a few years ago I read an article detailing traits that helped identify middling starters who would be good bullpen candidates. I don’t remember all of the traits, but I do remember one of them was effectiveness early in starts — the first time through the order, etc. — before a big drop off later on. Here’s how McAllister has done each time through the order and within his first 25 pitches of a start throughout his career (via Baseball Reference):

Split PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 585 42 117 28 3 11 39 127 3.26 .217 .271 .341 .612 .262 62
2nd PA in G, as SP 562 85 148 42 2 10 50 93 1.86 .295 .357 .447 .804 .341 113
3rd PA in G, as SP 374 64 107 26 1 18 30 64 2.13 .316 .374 .558 .932 .344 144
4th+ PA in G, as SP 10 1 4 0 0 1 1 1 1.00 .444 .500 .778 1.278 .429 233
Split PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
Pitch 1-25 423 28 88 21 3 7 18 93 5.17 .220 .255 .340 .595 .267 57
Pitch 26-50 428 52 98 27 0 7 46 81 1.76 .260 .338 .387 .725 .312 93
Pitch 51-75 389 60 109 26 3 8 33 60 1.82 .314 .371 .476 .847 .354 124
Pitch 76-100 298 52 83 19 0 17 20 54 2.70 .303 .356 .558 .914 .324 138
Pitch 101+ 45 2 11 4 0 1 5 11 2.20 .275 .356 .450 .806 .357 113

Those are some pretty significant splits, no? McAllister has been considerably better the first time through the order and within his first 25 pitches throughout his career. It’s a big, big drop off the second time through the lineup and after pitch 25. That suggests he might be best used as a short reliever who doesn’t have to turn the lineup over multiple times.

Furthermore, while McAllister does throw four pitches, he is very fastball heavy. He threw 64.5% four-seam fastballs back in 2011, and that has gradually increased to 69.7% in 2012, 73.1% in 2013, and 73.6% in 2014. McAllister’s thrown his changeup, cutter, and slider roughly 8-10% of the time each over the years. Unsurprisingly, his velocity ticked up noticeably in relief this past September (via Brooks Baseball):

Zach McAllister velocity

During his 13 innings in relief, McAllister scrapped his changeup and cutter and became a fastball-slider pitcher. The swing-and-miss rates for his fastball and slider went from ~8% and ~10% as a starter to ~11% and ~27% as a reliever, respectively. That’s a really big jump. But, of course, we are talking about only 13 innings, so we have to take it with a grain of salt. The velocity uptick definitely makes sense though, and there’s a pretty strong correlation between velocity and whiffs.

McAllister hasn’t showed a platoon split in the big leagues — .332 wOBA and 3.96 FIP against lefties, .329 wOBA and 3.90 FIP against righties — so he’s not someone who has to be hidden against lefties. (I’m pretty sure one of the traits that suggested a starter would be better off in the bullpen was a big platoon split.) If he were to go straight fastball-slider as a reliever, his platoon split might grow because sliders are typically reserved for same-side hitters. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but it could.

The increased effectiveness early in outings, the uptick in velocity, and his performance as a reliever in September (albeit in a small sample) all suggest McAllister would be much better off in the bullpen going forward. It would be better for him — above-average reliever pays better than disposable back-end starter, or at least it pays comparably with more job security — and better for his team as well. Now here’s a really fun comparison:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
Wade Davis as a SP
4.57 4.49 16.1 8.5 38.2 9.7
McAllister as a SP 4.44 4.03 18.6 7.8 39.6 9.1

Those two pitchers are really similar! Davis moved into the bullpen and became an absolute monster, basically a Dellin Betances who doesn’t give up homers. (Davis allowed zero homers in 2014.) That little table doesn’t mean McAllister will turn into an otherworldly reliever because Davis did, I just thought it was interesting. Some guys are just better off in the bullpen like Davis and Betances. McAllister might be one of those guys.

Based on all of this, I really like the idea of the Yankees bringing McAllister back and sticking him in relief. He is out of minor league options but New York does have two open bullpen spots, so there’s room on the roster for him. McAllister will be in his final pre-arbitration year in 2015, so he’ll be cheap, and he’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018. Obviously the team knows him too, so there’s some familiarity there.

The Indians have plenty of starters — McAllister is eighth on their rotation depth chart — so he might be considered expendable. I’m not quite sure what it would take to acquire him, but Ross Detwiler cost the Rangers two okay prospects a few weeks ago, guys in the 20-30 range on a prospect list. It’s not a perfect comparison — Detwiler’s a year away from free agency and was a former top prospect (sixth overall in 2007) — but it’s what we have. I’m very intrigued by McAllister as a reliever. If all it takes is two 20-30 range prospects to get him, I’d pull the trigger and see what he can do in a one-inning role.

Mailbag: Chad Billingsley

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Nick asks: Do you have any interest in Chad Billingsley?

Even if they go out and surprisingly sign Max Scherzer or James Shields, I think the Yankees have a place for a reclamation project arm like Billingsley. Nathan Eovaldi added some innings to the rotation but CC Sabathia (knee) and Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) are still major injury risks, so much so that they might not even make it through Spring Training healthy. Ivan Nova will be back eventually, but perhaps not until June.

The 30-year-old Billingsley made two starts in April 2013 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He made two minor league rehab starts this summer before suffering a setback and having surgery to repair his flexor tendon in June. At the time of the surgery, Ken Gurnick reported Billingsley would resume throwing in December and was expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. I haven’t been able to find a more recent update other than agent Steve Hilliard telling Jack Magruder his client is in no hurry to sign.

Because he barely pitched these last two years, the Dodgers declined their $14M club option for Billingsley after the season and instead paid him a $3M buyout. At this point the only club said to have interest in him is the Diamondbacks, who are now run by GM Dave Stewart, Billingsley’s former agent. (Stewart had to unload his clients once he joined a team.) I could have sworn the Yankees had interest in trading for Billingsley once upon a time, but apparently not. It must have been speculation.

During the 2012 season, his last full season before his elbow gave out, Billingsley pitched to a 3.55 ERA (3.34 FIP) with okay strikeout (7.70 K/9 and 20.2 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), and ground ball (45.4%) rates in 149.2 innings. (He missed some time with elbow trouble.) He’s been a guy who has consistently underperformed his peripheral stats in recent years — Billingsley had a 3.86 ERA and 3.53 FIP in 725.2 innings from 2009-12. After that many innings, that’s just who he is.

As with any major surgery, there’s no real way of knowing how Billingsley will perform next season. He’s still reasonably young and you’d like to assume he’d return to his pre-Tommy John surgery form, but that’s not a guarantee. Plus the flexor tendon injury complicates things. If projections are your thing, Steamer pegs Billingsley for a 4.32 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 125 innings next year. That seems … reasonable? I guess so. It’s considerably worse than his career rates (3.65 ERA and 3.67 FIP), which reflects the injury risk.

The reclamation project starter market has already been set this offseason, giving us plenty of comparable deals. Here’s the list of contracts relevant to Billingsley:

  • Kris Medlen, Royals: Two years, $8.5M plus $10M in incentives and a $10M mutual option ($1M) after missing all of 2014 following his second career Tommy John surgery.
  • Gavin Floyd, Indians: One year, $4M plus $6M in incentives after throwing only 54.1 innings in 2014. He returned from Tommy John surgery then broke his elbow and needed surgery.
  • Brandon Morrow, Padres: One year, $2.5M plus $2.5M in incentives after throwing only 27.1 innings in 2014 due to a tendon sheath injury in his right index finger.
  • Josh Johnson, Padres: One year, $1M plus $6.25M in incentives after missing all of 2014 following his second career Tommy John surgery.

Brett Anderson could also be included here (one year, $10M with the Dodgers), but he’s significantly younger than all of these guys and the consensus seems to be that he got more money than expected. He’s a bit of an outlier. Medlen is also an outlier by virtue of getting two guaranteed years, then again he was the damn near ace-like in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training earlier this year.

The Floyd, Morrow, and Johnson contracts seem most applicable to Billingsley, and those contracts average $2.5M guaranteed with about $5M in incentives. That seems more than reasonable to me. The Yankees have some nice depth rotation arms in Bryan Mitchell, Jose DePaula, and maybe Manny Banuelos, but there’s always room for a reclamation project guy like Billingsley. Remember though, the team has a full 40-man roster and would need to cut someone to accommodate a new player. (Eury Perez seems most likely to go.)

So, to the answer the question, yes I have interest in Billingsley at our $2.5M+$5M guesstimate. The real question is whether Billingsley has interest in the Yankees. Yankee Stadium isn’t the best place in the world for a pitcher to rebuild value, and that could work against them. One NL team is said to have interest in Billingsley (D’Backs) and I’m sure more will pop up in the coming weeks. The Phillies, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies could all use another starter, for example. Aside from Colorado, those are better destinations for a reclamation starter than New York.

Doubling down on rotation injury risk might not seem like the best idea for the Yankees, but, at this point, the only safe bets left in free agency are Scherzer and Shields. Bringing in someone like Billingsley — or Paul Maholm or Felipe Paulino or one of many other reclamation project starters — to add some depth is never a bad move, especially since it only costs a little bit of money. I’d be in favor of the Yankees signing him if he’s willing to come to New York.

Mailbag: Hamels, Wilson, A-Rod, Prado, Jagielo, Tulowitzki

Another big mailbag this week. Thirteen questions. Use the “For The Mailbag” widget in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. I know it doesn’t look like the question gets submitted, but trust me, it does.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Alex asks: Which trade would you rather make: 2 of the top 3 Yankees prospects, plus another from the 4-10 range, and another from the 11-30 range for Cole Hamels, or that same deal plus another non top-30 prospect for Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon (including his entire contract)?

I am anti-Papelbon on principle, so give me the first package. The four prospects for Hamels. And I don’t think that is unreasonable at all. That’s a package of, let’s say, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, Eric Jagielo, and Ty Hensley. I like all four of those guys but Hamels is a bonafide ace and a difference-maker. When Jon Lester get six years and $155M, Hamels with four years and $94M left on his contract (plus a vesting option for a fifth year) is a damn bargain. Lester and Hamels are almost the exact same age (they were born eleven days apart), and at worst they’re the same exact pitcher, though Hamels is a touch better. Yeah, I’d do that trade in the heartbeat (if the Yankees were willing to take on the money). The upgrade from David Phelps or Bryan Mitchell or whoever to Hamels is massive. Just no Papelbon.

Liam asks: In the wake of Matt Kemp’s failed physical revealing he has arthritis in both hips, it got me thinking: What’s the deal with doctor/patient confidentiality with players and teams? Do players waive their right to confidentiality when seeing a team doctor? I’ve never heard of an undisclosed injury to a player before (we’re told for example, Player A has a Grade I Hamstring Strain). Does that violate any privacy?

Here’s what the Collective Bargaining Agreement says about disclosing injury information:

(4) For public relations purposes, a Club may disclose the following general information about employment-related injuries: (a) the nature of a Player’s injury, (b) the prognosis and the anticipated length of recovery from the injury, and (c) the treatment and surgical procedures undertaken or anticipated in regard to the injury. For any other medical condition that prevents a Player from rendering services to his Club, a Club may disclose only the fact that a medical condition is preventing the Player from rendering services to the Club and the anticipated length of the Player’s absence from the Club. A Club physician or certified athletic trainer treating a Player pursuant to Regulation 2 of his UPC and any other physician or medical professional treating or consulting with a Player pursuant to Regulation 2 or Article XIII(D) shall be prohibited from making any public disclosure of a Player’s medical information absent a separate, specific written authorization from the Player authorizing such public disclosure.

So the team can announce the nature and severity of the injury, the expected timetable for the player’s return, and what kind of treatment he is receiving. The Kemp stuff is different because the Padres leaked the info about his bad hips even though he’s not their player. He was still technically a Dodger at the time. Imagine if Brett Gardner pulled him hamstring running out a grounder in Fenway Park, the Red Sox team doctor looks him over and says he has a Grade II hamstring strain, then tells the media about it. That’s wouldn’t go over well. The Red Sox doctor has no business talking to the media about another team’s player. Same with Kemp and the Padres.

Rooting for U.S. Steel: When a team’s offer includes an invitation to spring training, what is the team’s obligation? To merely allow the player in the gates? To guarantee the player will have at least one plate appearance or inning in the field? Varied by agreement with an individual player? Other?

I suppose it could vary by player, though the Collective Bargaining Agreement does have guidelines for Spring Training. Players don’t receive salary in Spring Training, but the team must provide the player with a place to stay during camp (hotel room) and pay them a weekly allowance (it was $291.50 in 2012 but has since gone up due to cost of living adjustments). If they don’t give the player a place to stay, they instead have to pay them a housing allowance ($51.50 base per week plus $40 per day back in 2012). Players also get per diem for food ($82.50 in 2012) unless the team provides meals. There’s some stuff in the Collective Bargaining Agreement about allowing access to facilities for rehab in case of an injury, but I don’t see anything about guaranteeing playing time during Spring Training.

(Justin Edmonds/Getty)
(Justin Edmonds/Getty)

Jarrah asks: Brian Wilson was just DFA’d by the Dodgers this week. Any interest? A solid late-inning guy and he could be the closer we’re looking for.

Wilson was pretty bad this past season. He had a 4.66 ERA (4.29 FIP) with a 13.0% walk rate while throwing nearly 60% sliders. The Dodgers are on the hook for his $9.5M salary in 2015, so any team will be able to sign him for the league minimum once Los Angeles releases him. I think Wilson’s definitely worth a shot at that point, just to see if he improves as he gets further away from his second Tommy John surgery. He’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so who knows, maybe you stick him in the ninth inning and he dominates while Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller handle setup work. He’s so low risk because of the salary. That said, the Yankees looked into signing Wilson last winter, but he said he was unwilling to shave that stupid beard. Maybe that will change this offseason if he has trouble finding work.

Jack asks: Do any of the higher salary players NOT have a no-trade clause such that the Yanks COULD trade them (while eating a bunch of their salary) such as the Dodgers did with Kemp, even if it means getting very little in return other than salary relief?

Among players on the roster with guaranteed contracts (meaning not arbitration-eligible or pre-arbitration players), only Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, Martin Prado, Andrew Miller, Chris Capuano, and Brendan Ryan do not have any kind of no-trade protection. (Headley and Gardner both receive a $1M bonus if traded.) All the other players with guaranteed contracts either have a no-trade clause or ten-and-five rights. Keeping in mind that Kemp as well as other big money guys who were traded (Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez) were actually good at the time of the trade. Good and no older than 30. Teams actually wanted them. No one wants broken down 34-year-olds like Mark Teixeira or CC Sabathia. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann are the only huge money players on the Yankees’ roster other teams might actually want. Maybe Masahiro Tanaka too if they’re confident in the elbow.

Don asks: It seems as though the Yankees are legitimately refusing to give Rob Refsnyder a chance to show that he can play everyday or at least make the varsity as a bench piece. Is there something that the Yanks know that we don’t? According to the numbers, the guy can rake and there’s always room for a big league bat on the team … so what gives?

Come on now. First of all, of course the team knows something the fans don’t. Believe it or not, teams generally have a better idea of when their own prospects are ready for MLB than fans like us. Be careful not to fall in love with the numbers. They aren’t everything. Signing Headley, who is one of only like 13 above-average third basemen on the planet, doesn’t qualify as “legitimately refusing” to give Refsnyder a chance. Minor league slash lines aren’t everything — it amazes me how everyone is so willing to overlook that Refsnyder went from an 82/84 K/BB in 2013 to a 105/55 K/BB in 2014, that should sound some alarms — Refsnyder has to work on his defense because he isn’t a Major League quality infielder yet. There is nothing the Yankees would love more than to have Refsnyder come up and become an impact player right away, but that is so very unlikely. Giving him more time to work on his defense in Triple-A before calling him whenever someone inevitably gets hurt is a perfectly reasonable development approach for 2015. Let’s not act like he’s been in Triple-A for three years now. This isn’t a Johnny Giovatella situation.

Steve asks: How do you pronounce “Axisa?”

Ax-ee-sa.

Joe asks: Assuming the last two 40-man spots go to FA Pitchers; a) Who & How many players start on the 60 day DL? (Nova for ex)  b) Who is likely to be added to 40-man (Refsynder?)? Thanks.

This was sent in early this week, so Capuano has since claimed one of those last two open 40-man spots. I’m guessing the Yankees will sign another pitcher at some point to fill that last spot. Nova is the only player right now who will definitely start next season on the DL, but remember, teams can only use the 60-day DL when they need it. They have to call a player up right away to fill the spot, and there’s no sense in filling the spot before you have too (Nova will go on the 15-day DL for the time being). Refsnyder will presumably need a 40-man spot at some point next season but there’s no reason to give it to him in April and waste an option year when he starts back in Triple-A. Refsnyder and relievers like Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb are the obvious non-40-man candidates to come up at some point in 2015, but they won’t be added to the 40-man until they absolutely have to. Once a player is on the 40-man, there is no painless way to get him off. It’s a commitment.

(Marc Serota/Getty)
(Marc Serota/Getty)
Paul asks: With Didi Gregorius and Headley wrapped up, who has the best ground ball rate currently on the market? Do you think having them on the left side will help in getting a ground ball pitcher?

Among unsigned starters (min. 300 innings), the best ground ball rates from 2012-14 belong to Paul Maholm (51.5%), Roberto Hernandez (51.2%), Hiroki Kuroda (48.7%), Kyle Kendrick (47.1%), and Joe Saunders (47.1%). James Shields (46.3%) is next. Among relievers (min. 120 innings), the leaders are Scott Downs (62.2%), Ronald Belisario (61.6%), the injured Matt Albers (59.4%), the perpetually solid Jamey Wright (58.4%), and Burke Badenhop (55.3%). Of all those guys, the only ones I would be happy to see in pinstripes are Kuroda, Shields, Wright, and Badenhop. I’m pretty sure free agent pitchers will focus on the money and not infield defense when picking a new team, so no, I don’t think having Headley and Gregorius will lure ground-ballers to the Bronx.

Sandeep asks: A-Rod hits .500 in spring training. What happens? A-Rod hits .100 in spring training. What happens?

If he hits .500, he goes into the regular season as the regular DH and everyone writes articles saying he must be taking PEDs again. If he hits .100, he goes into the regular season as the regular DH and everyone writes articles saying he sucks because he isn’t taking PEDs. That’s about it.

Larry asks: With the lack of 3B available, what is Prado’s trade value? Could he return a 4 or 5 starter?

Pete O’Brien. That’s Prado’s trade value. I doubt any clubs changed their evaluation of him after 37 good games with the Yankees. Maybe he can fetch an okay-ish fourth or fifth starter, but I think he’s more valuable to the team in the lineup than as a trade chip. I know the rotation is shaky right now, but remember, the offense flat out stunk last year and they need Prado’s bat.

Vinny asks: What does the Headley deal mean for Eric Jagielo?

I think it makes Jagielo more available in a trade, definitely. It shouldn’t change anything as far as his development path — Jagielo should still go into next season as the regular third baseman for Double-A Trenton, and if he mashes, a midseason promotion to Triple-A Scranton could be in order. Jagielo’s defense at the hot corner isn’t great and there have been rumblings a move to the outfield or even first base could be in the cards, but he’s not there just yet. But yeah, I definitely think the team will be more open to trading him now that Headley’s locked up.

@NYYFan14 asks: Needed your opinion on this. What would Troy Tulowitzki get on the Open Market today? I’d give him 8/200 in a heartbeat. Am I crazy?

Yes, I do think eight years and $200M is crazy because of his injuries, especially the hip labrum surgery he just had. At the same time, I do think Tulowitzki would get a lot more than the six years and $118M left on his contract though. Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153M would be the starting point, right? So maybe he would get eight years and $200M in this market then. What do I know. Either way, Tulo’d get much more than what’s left on his contract right now. Yes, he’s injury prone, but he’s also by far the best shortstop in baseball when he’s on the field.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Kazmir, Chapman, Valbuena, Murphy

Massive mailbag this week. Maybe the biggest in RAB history. Thirteen questions total, so I tried (and mostly succeeded) to keep the answers short. You can send us questions via the “For the Mailbag” form in the sidebar. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.

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

Vinny asks: Alex Rodriguez: hitting coach. Discuss.

It’ll never ever ever ever happen for a million different reasons, but I think A-Rod would make a pretty good hitting coach. The guy was put on this planet to play baseball. He knows as much about baseball as one person could possibly know and has worked tirelessly on his swing throughout his career. I’m sure he can help players with their offense. The real question is whether his communication skills are good enough. Coaching is as much about communication as it is knowing the ins and outs of the craft. But, like I said, it’ll never happen. The Yankees would sooner not have a hitting coach than hire A-Rod in any kind of authority role.

Daniel asks: Alex Rodriguez currently sits at 2,939 career hits. He will very likely reach 3,000 hits in 2015 even with a bad season. The media will be unbearable. The Yankees front office will be so awkward. Barry Bonds set the HR record after his BALCO scandal, and he was still celebrated. But that was uncharted territory and so much has happened since. How do you think this all gets handled?

I wouldn’t say it’s “very likely” Alex will get those 61 hits next year, but it is definitely possible. He’s way to much of an injury risk to count on him staying on the field that long. Anyway, it’ll be incredibly weird whenever A-Rod gets to 3,000 hits. Bonds was absolutely loved in San Francisco, which is part of the reason why his homer chase was celebrated. Everyone hates Rodriguez, even Yankees fans. Also, unlike Bonds, Alex has actually admitted and been suspended for his PED stuff, which changes the equation. My guess is the accomplishment will be downplayed as much as possible and we’ll get another round of articles saying it is morally wrong to take PEDs. But the Yankees will probably still sell some A-Rod3K merchandise. Cash, as the kids say, rules everything around me.

Bhavin asks: It seems like every time the Yankees are interested in a player there are other teams involved and “raising the price” to sign a free agent. How come Brian Cashman doesn’t do the same for other teams? Would it be a smart strategy to make your competitors spend more money than they are comfortable for the same player even if NYY are not interested?

Oh the Yankees definitely do this. Heck, earlier this week Cashman said the only reason they said they were still interested in re-signing Robertson was to drive up the price. (That was much as thank you to Robertson as it was trying to get a competitor to spend more.) Even when the Yankees aren’t involved, agents float rumors saying the Yankees are interested in their clients too because it helps inflate the market. That’s why they’re connected to almost every big free agent each winter. The Yankees absolutely 100% do this.

Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Hunter asks: Since the Yankees need some starting pitching, what are the chances that they trade for Scott Kazmir? Billy Beane seems apt to trade him considering he’s in his walk year. Would it be a good move for New York, and who do you think it would take to get him?

For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says the Athletics aren’t looking to move Kazmir. The A’s do still need someone to pitch innings and he’s both effective (3.35 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 2014) and reasonably priced ($13M in 2015). The fact that he’s faded big time in the second half the last two years and is a fly ball pitcher scares me, but let’s roll with it.

Three pitchers with one year of control were just traded in Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos, and Rick Porcello. Of those three, Kazmir is most similar to Latos in my opinion. Latos fetched a good MLB ready pitching prospect (Anthony DeSclafani) and a good Single-A catching prospect (Chad Wallach). Not great prospects, not fringy prospects, good prospects. I guess the Yankees equivalent would be Bryan Mitchell and Luis Torrens, though that’s not a perfect match because Torrens is five years younger than Wallach. Of course, Kazmir is somehow the healthier of the two between him and Latos.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean Mitchell and Torrens will be enough to get Latos. Different teams have different demands and different player valuations, and Oakland seems to be prioritizing quantity over quality in their deals so far this winter, with the caveat that most of the quantity be MLB ready. Maybe that means they would want Mitchell, Ramon Flores, and Jose Pirela instead? I dunno. Kazmir’s not a perfect fit for the Yankees but he would be an upgrade for the rotation for the one year they’d have him.

Peter asks: Is a C.J. Wilson trade worth a shot? Lots of available pitching out there and if the Angels refuse to eat salary, maybe Cashman get him without giving up much. Do the Yanks and Angels even match up anywhere?

Wilson had a rough 2014 season, with a 4.51 ERA (4.31 FIP) and an AL-leading 85 walks in 175.2 innings. He’s owed $18M in 2015 and $20M in 2016 as well, so it’s no surprise the Halos are reportedly looking to deal him. Wilson was very good in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.51 FIP) and he had a run of four straight 200+ inning seasons from 2010-13 before an ankle sprain sidelined him for three weeks this summer. If the Angels eat enough money to make Wilson, say, an $8M per year pitcher these next two seasons, isn’t it worth at least exploring? (I wouldn’t touch him if I had to pay all that money.) He eats innings, gets grounders (47.8% in 2014), has some rebound potential (.306 BABIP in 2014 after .286 from 2010-13), and should some cheap. Maybe it can be similar to the A.J. Burnett trade, only with the Yankees playing the role of the Pirates.

Brad asks: I know the Yankees are a business and don’t place a high premium on fielding a “likable” team, but the 2014 team was joyless and terrible. And Derek Jeter was still around. Shouldn’t the Yankees have placed a higher priority on retaining David Robertson?

You answered your own question there. The Yankees can’t worry about likeability, they have to focus on putting the best team on the field. Letting Robertson walk so you can replace him with a cheaper Andrew Miller and get a draft pick is a perfectly sensible baseball move, albeit an unpopular one with the locals. These Yankees are pretty bland and unlikeable though, you’re right. At least that’s how I feel. The only players on the roster I won’t actively hate next year are Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Brett Gardner, maybe Didi Gregorius, and CC Sabathia whenever he isn’t hurt. (I may or may not be joking.)

Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Ward asks: With rumors that the Reds may be trying to trade some of their pitchers to save money, what could the Yankees give up to get Chapman?

The Reds cleared some salary yesterday with the Mat Latos — by the way, Mat Latos has a cat named Cat Latos — and Alfredo Simon trades, though it’s unclear if they hit their payroll target or still have work to do. Chapman isn’t all that expensive (owed $5M in 2015 and will probably make $10M+ through arbitration in 2016 before becoming a free agent) but he would bring back a major haul. He’s no worse than the second best reliever in baseball right now and a true difference maker. Lesser relievers like Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were traded for decent hauls a few years before free agency and I assume Chapman would blow those deals out of the water. My hunch is it would take one very good young MLB player, one top of the line prospect, plus a third lesser piece. For the Yankees, I guess that means … Pineda, Luis Severino, and maybe John Ryan Murphy? That feels light. I’m not sure they could put together a package good enough to bring Chapman to New York.

Sam asks: With the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, will the Yankees still go after Yoan Moncada? If they do, does he work at short or third in the Minors?

I don’t think the Gregorius trade will change anything with the team’s pursuit of Moncada. It shouldn’t, anyway. Moncada is still just a 19-year-old kid who is expected to start his pro career in Single-A. He’s not someone you worry about when building your MLB roster. Just about everything I’ve seen says Moncada has the potential to play just about anywhere on the field other than shortstop, though I suspect whichever team signs him will keep here there for a little while. If that doesn’t work, second base seems like the next logical spot.

Richard asks: Why didn’t the Yankees go after Josh Donaldson?

How do you know they didn’t? The Indians asked about Donaldson but the Athletics said they weren’t seriously considering moving him, according to Terry Pluto. This Donaldson deal is reminiscent of last year’s Doug Fister trade; there seem to be a lot of people wondering why the A’s didn’t shop around and get a better deal. Seems like they just really wanted the guys they got from the Blue Jays. Besides, the Yankees don’t have a player on par with Brett Lawrie they could have offered as a center piece.

Alex asks: Knowing that trades with the Mets are rare, what about trading for Daniel Murphy to fill in 1B/2B/3B? Power numbers should go up. If you can lock him up, trading Gardner for him could work for both NY teams.

Murphy would make a lot of sense for the Yankees, who could use him at every non-shortstop infield position if necessary. He might hit a few more homers in Yankee Stadium but his offensive game is more about spray line drives to left field, so I wouldn’t expect a huge boost in power. That said, he’s consistently been a .285+ AVG, .330+ OBP, 10+ homer, 10+ steals guy these last few years. The Yankees could definitely use someone like that, even if his defense stinks. I wouldn’t trade Gardner for him — Murphy will be a free agent next winter and there’s no sense in paying the Mets for the right to extend him (the “right to extend” is inherently included in every trade ever)  — but I do think Murphy’s a fit.

Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)
Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss on Chase Headley, would trading for Luis Valbuena be a good move? Or would you prefer starting Martin Prado and Rob Refsnyder?

Valbuena is probably the best third base option on the trade market. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Chris Johnson but he hit .249/.341/.435 (116 wRC+) with 16 homers and an 11.6% walk rate last year. That’s pretty damn good. Valbuena just turned 29, has gotten better at the plate every year since breaking into the show five years ago, and the various stats say he’s a passable defender at second and third. He’s a nice little underrated player who’s cheap (projected to make $3.1M in 2015) and under team control through 2016. I’d prefer Prado/Valbuena to Prado/Refsnyder this coming season — it’s not really an either or because Refsnyder is still in the organization — and if the Yankees miss out on Headley, I hope their next call would be to Chicago about Valbuena. Even if he is only a league average hitter in 2015 (as the projections project), that’s still a nice upgrade for New York.

Evan asks: Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce are both great fits. Brandon Phillips isn’t because he’s declining and his brutal contract.  But assuming you had to take Phillips to get Bruce or Frazier what would that deal look like?

I wouldn’t take on Phillips to facilitate a trade for either of the other two. I hate the idea of taking a bad contract to get a discount for another player — the bad contract negates the discount and, if you’re only trading prospects, there’s at least a chance they won’t come back to bite you whereas the bad contract will definitely hurt. I’d rather just pay full price for Frazier or Bruce than get saddled with more dead weight in Phillips.

Bruce is a nice rebound candidate coming off knee surgery and Frazier is just a perfect fit for the Yankees — right-handed power, quality hitter, can play the two corner infield positions plus left field, under control through 2017, super high character guy, and he’s a local dude from New Jersey. What’s not to like? It’ll take a haul to get him after the year he just had though. Unless the Yankees are willing to talk about Severino or Aaron Judge, I don’t think they have the pieces to make it worth Cincinnati’s while. Man would Frazier be a great though.

P.J. asks: Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely don’t want this to happen. That said, what would Dellin Betances be worth on the trade market? What if he was a FA (non-QO)?

If he was a free agent, he’d probably get Andrew Miller/David Robertson money. He was awesome in 2014 but has no track record whatsoever. In a trade … that’s really tough to answer. When was the last time a player like Betances traded? An elite reliever with five years of team control remaining? The Athletics traded pre-shoulder mush Andrew Bailey when he had three years of control remaining and they received an adequate everyday player (Josh Reddick) and two nondescript minor leaguers. Do the two extra years of team control mean Betances fetches better prospects in addition to the okay regular? It’s really tough to gauge his trade value. I don’t think he can be a centerpiece in a blockbuster because, at the end of the day, he’s still a reliever, but maybe he can be the number two piece in a deal for an ace or a young, above-average everyday player. If that is the case, he is worth more to the 2015 and beyond Yankees as a trade chip, or in their bullpen?

Mailbag: Non-tenders, Rule 5 Draft, Harper, Niese, Lineup

Seven questions in this week’s mailbag, which feels pretty damn long by mailbag standards. Lots of wordy answers this week. As a reminder, we now have a “For The Mailbag” widget in the sidebar that you can use to send us questions each week. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does. We’re working on that.

That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Many asked: What about Kris Medlen? Any other interesting players among this year’s non-tenders?

Medlen is definitely the most interesting non-tender. He’s rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years and the Braves opted to cut him loose rather than pay him a projected $5.8M in 2015. Medlen, 29, had a 2.45 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 337.1 innings across 43 starts and 41 relief appearances between elbow reconstructions from 2011-13. That includes a 3.11 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 197 innings as a full-time starter in 2013.

The second Tommy John surgery has a much lower success rate than the first — Chris Capuano is pretty much the only guy who had the procedure twice and both stayed healthy and returned to his previous level of performance. Medlen has shown he can be effective as both a starter and a reliever, though there’s also the possibility of getting zero return, especially in 2015 since he’s still rehabbing. Chances are he won’t be ready until midseason. I’d still like to see the Yankees sign him, obviously to something with a low-base salary and incentives. Maybe Brian McCann can talk him into coming to New York or something.

I wrote about this at CBS the other day: I like the idea of signing Medlen to a Josh Johnson-esque contract, meaning a contract with a club option that kicks in only if he makes fewer than a certain number of appearances. (Johnson’s contract including a $4M option the Padres could only exercise if he made fewer than seven starts.) That would allow Medlen to hit the market again next winter if he stays healthy and contributes, and allow the team to keep him and try again in 2016 if he doesn’t. Both sides get some protection.

As for the rest of the non-tenders … there’s not much to see there. We already discussed Everth Cabrera yesterday. John Mayberry Jr. would have been interesting had the Yankees not already re-signed Chris Young. We now have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Gordon Beckham can’t hit (career 83 wRC+), but I’d probably still give him $750k and see what happens. Alexi Ogando and Brandon Beachy are both coming off elbow injuries (Beachy had his second Tommy John surgery in the span of three years). I like them considerably less than Medlen.

J. Wong asks: A few years ago as I recall the Yankees “traded up” to pick up someone they liked in the Rule 5 draft. Since they now have officially 2 spots open to make selections, do you think they have anyone specific in mind they want to take, and if it’s necessary to move to one of the top slots what it’ll take in terms of talent to pick earlier?

They actually have four spots open right now, but they won’t take four players in the Rule 5 Draft. Two is a stretch. Four would be ridiculous. The Yankees “traded up” to get the first overall pick in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft (Jamie Hoffmann) and again to get the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft (Cesar Cabral). Technically they were trades for players to be named later — they sent Brian Bruney to the Nationals in 2009 and $100,000 to the Royals in 2012, then those teams took the players New York wanted and sent them to the Yankees as the player to be named. You can’t trade the actual Rule 5 Draft pick.

So, if the Yankees do want to move up again this year, it won’t cost very much to do it. Some cash or a fringe big leaguer (out of options Austin Romine?). J.J. Cooper put together an excellent Rule 5 Draft preview and, as usual, the vast majority of the players available are relievers and extra outfielders. The Yankees could use a shortstop but the best shortstop available in the Rule 5 Draft is probably Cito Culver. I’m not joking. Rockies shortstop prospect Taylor Featherston is available — “Featherston isn’t the traditional utility infielder. But he can play on either side of second base and he has the arm to play third base if needed as well,” wrote Cooper — after hitting .260/.322/.439 (116 wRC+) and 16 homers as a 25-year-old in Double-A last year. Meh.

If the Yankees do take a player(s) in the Rule 5 Draft next week, chances are it’ll be a bullpen arm(s). Relievers represent like 95% of the players taken in the Rule 5 Draft. I made that up but it feels like it could be true. Looking over Cooper’s list, Tigers righty Edgar De La Rosa (“The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable changeup”) and Marlins righty Jake Esch (“Esch has a plus fastball  (91-95 mph) and a hard slider that sometimes looks more like a cutter as well as a downer curveball … with excellent athleticism and steady development, he’s turning into something interesting”) seem most intriguing to me. The Yankees do love their super tall pitchers. De La Rosa seems like someone they might target.

Jonathan asks: It seems like every offseason everyone waits to see when/where one particular FA lands before everyone else starts signing. This year that player seems to be Jon Lester. Why is that? And who’s signing first, Lester or Max Scherzer?

I’ll answer the second question first: I think Lester will sign first simply because there are many more rumors about him going around right now. The Scherzer market has been very quiet and that is not uncommon for a top Scott Boras client at this point of the offseason. As for the first question, I think it’s because no one wants to set the market. Boras and Scherzer want to see what Lester gets, because then they can ask for more than that because a) Scherzer is better, and b) there’s one fewer high-end starter on the market to compete against. That’s why Chase Headley didn’t sign before Pablo Sandoval — now that Sandoval is off the board, he is clearly the number one third baseman available.

In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, players sign as soon as possible because they’re salary cap leagues and no one wants to be left unsigned when everyone runs out of cap space. In MLB, with no cap, it seems like the top free agents are willing to wait for a GM (or an owner) to get desperate later in the offseason.

Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

New Guy asks: With recent rumors that there may be dissention between Bryce Harper and the Nationals, any chance Yankees try to put something together to bring him to the Bronx? Do they even have enough to get it done?

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals and Harper are likely to go to a grievance hearing later this month because of a dispute over an opt-out clause in his contract. The Nationals say there is no opt-out, Harper (and Boras, his agent) say there is supposed to be. The opt-out would allow Harper to forego the final year of the five-year Major League contract and instead file for salary arbitration. His contract says he will earn $2.25M in 2015, but MLBTR’s projections say he could earn $2.5M through arbitration in his first year as a Super Two. That doesn’t sound like much, but it carries over into future years and boosts his future salaries. The difference could be millions over his four years of arbitration-eligibility.

Anyway, I don’t think the Yankees have enough to swing a trade for Harper. He just turned 22 — fun fact: Harper has never faced a pitcher younger than him in a professional game, Majors or minors — and he’s a career .272/.351/.465 (125 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,500 big league plate appearances who also happens to have a rocket arm and play strong defense. Also, he can do this:

Harper’s biggest problem is that he plays too hard. I don’t mean that in a cutesy “my biggest fault is that I work too hard” kinda way. Harper runs into walls and slides into bases aggressively, and it’s landed him on the DL more than a few times. He hurt his knee and shoulder running into walls — the knee required offseason surgery a year ago — and torn ligaments in his thumb sliding into third on a triple. Harper’s aggressive play puts him at risk of injury in a Slade Heathcott kinda way and it’s a problem. He needs to not play with the dialed turned to eleven all the time.

Even with the injury concerns, Harper would command a massive haul because of his age, production, and four remaining years of team contract. Would you really say no to, say, Masahiro Tanaka plus Luis Severino and Aaron Judge for Harper? I sure as hell wouldn’t. (Judge is six months older than Harper, by the way.) Outside of his stupid haircut, Harper’s a franchise player in every way. Incredibly productive and marketable. Stick him in the middle of the lineup and in every commercial for the next decade. I don’t think the Nationals are open to moving him even with this recent contract dispute and I don’t think the Yankees have enough to get him even if he was available. Other clubs would surely outbid them.

Dustin asks: Ken Davidoff is saying the Mets  Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee or Jon Niese. The first 2 do nothing for me, but wouldn’t Niese be a good guy to go after?

I liked Niese a few years ago, but he’s had a lot of nagging arm injuries the last two or three years. Both shoulder and elbow. Nothing major, but some inflammation here, some soreness there, stuff like that. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he blows out completely. That said, he just turned 28 in October and he has a 3.49 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 521 innings over the last three years, so he’s a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter. His contract isn’t onerous either — Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016, with $10M and $11M club options for 2017 and 2018, respectively. I’m not quite sure what the Mets want in return — they need a shortstop but the Yankees don’t have one to give — but if it’s just a salary dump situation where they’re willing to take some prospects to clear money, then I think Niese would make sense for the Yankees. Risky, sure, but he’s a quality MLB starter when on the mound.

Liam asks: Who is batting fourth if the season started today?

I would think McCann. If the season did start today, I’m guessing the regular lineups would look something like this:

vs. RHP vs. LHP
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2. LF Brett Gardner 2. 3B Martin Prado
3. RF Carlos Beltran 3. RF Carlos Beltran
4. C Brian McCann 4. 1B Mark Teixeira
5. 1B Mark Teixeira 5. DH Alex Rodriguez
6. 3B Martin Prado 6. C Brian McCann
7. DH Alex Rodriguez 7. LF Chris Young
8. 2B Rob Refsnyder 8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
9. SS Brendan Ryan 9. SS Brendan Ryan

That’s just what I think the lineups would be given the current roster, not the lineup I would use. Based on his platoon splits the last few years, Beltran should be the one sitting in favor of Young against lefties, not Gardner. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Pirela started the year at second instead of Refsnyder either. If the Yankees go into Spring Training with those two competing for the second base job, I do think it would be a true competition, not a fake competition rigged in favor of someone, which the Yankees have been known to do in the past.

Mark S. asks: Derek Jeter will still probably have the most jerseys sold in 2015. What active Yankee player do you think will have the most sold?

Yeah I think it’s a safe bet Jeter will still lead the team in merchandise sales next year, especially if they bring him back for some kind of number retirement ceremony. Among active players, I think Tanaka would probably sell the most jerseys. He’s the biggest star on the team in terms of name value, plus he’ll tap into the Japanese market. Ellsbury and Beltran and whoever else can’t do that. So Tanaka’s my guess.

Weekend Mailbag and Open Thread

We’ve been getting a ton of submissions through our new mailbag form, which you can find in the right sidebar. Keep ‘em coming. The more questions, the more mailbag features we’ll do. They’re pretty fun for everyone, aren’t they?

Again, we open with a couple of housekeeping items:

1. Remember, when you’re buying Yankees stuff this holiday season, click through the RAB Shop links. It’s a huge boost for us. We have some items displayed on that page, too — like a Jeter replica jersey that doesn’t have his name on the back. You don’t see those every day.

2. The first RAB Daily Digest will hit mailboxes on Monday morning. You can read about the RAB Daily Digest, or sign up using the form below. We’re at 850 subscribers right now, and would love to have this hit 1,000 inboxes for the inaugural run.



And now…

Zac asks: At first glance, the A’s seemed to get an uninspiring haul for Donaldson. What would the comparable package of Yankees players/prospects have been?

CanGuest asks: With regards to the Donaldson/Lawrie trade, it doesn’t seem like the Jays gave up too much in the way of prospects. Do you think we could have made a similar deal to get Donaldson, and how surprising is it that he was traded? Was he on anybody’s radar at all?

In case you missed it last night, the A’s traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects: RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto.

It does not seem as though the Jays gave up much. Donaldson is not only light years better than Lawrie, but he also has less service time — he’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, while Lawrie will be free after 2017. The move seems even stranger coming on the heels of the A’s signing Billy Butler, a seemingly win-now move. Why sign Butler and then trade your best hitter?

Getting back Barreto is nice for Oakland, since they traded away their top shortstop prospect, but he’s just 18 and so has years before reaching the bigs. Billy Beane has to be banking to a decent degree on Lawrie delivering more on his considerable promise. He’s been perfectly average since a breakout performance in 2011, and has missed 100 games in the last two seasons due to injury.

That said, Beane clearly isn’t done. There are already rumblings of a Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox (which would be huge for them), and Brandon Moss could be next. This clearly isn’t a rebuild, but, as one reporter put it (can’t find the link), Beane is reworking the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Jaso and Josh Reddick traded as well this off-season.

Was this a surprise? Sure, in that most of Beane’s moves are surprises. I don’t think anyone really saw him giving up Addison Russell for Samardzija, nor did we see him trading Cespedes for Lester. So, surprising, but kinda not since Beane never operates in a way we expect.

In terms of comparable Yankees prospects, there’s really not much there. They don’t have anyone like Lawrie, a cost-controlled MLB player the A’s can plug into Donaldson’s old position, or perhaps 2B. Martin Prado fits that bill, but he’s older, more expensive, and has fewer years remaining of team control.

Looking at the top 30 prospects, you have to think Clarkin would be in there. Jagielo? Torrens? I’m not sure. It’s tough to piece these things together from another team’s perspective. Sometimes a GM will have his eyes on a few prospects from one team, and that’s the end of that.

Ken asks: Would it make more sense for the Yankees to let Robertson go and hope that Betances’s 2014 was not a fluke (as opposed to what they saw from him previously) and go for a veteran to handle the eighth or ninth inning and sign/trade for a “marquee” shortstop or to go four years with Robertson and go for a lesser shortstop?

Tom asks: Any idea on potential arbitration savings on Betances (2016-2019) by signing a closer who racks up the saves (which pays in arbitration).

I’m not sure trading for a “marquee” shortstop is in the cards (there are none on the FA market) regardless of what they do with Robertson. I picked this question, because there is an obvious parallel in recent Yankee history: letting John Wetteland walk to make Mariano Rivera closer after the 1996 season.

Plenty is different in that scenario, mainly the success of the team at the time. Rivera’s 1996 and Betances’s 2014 were very similar. While that doesn’t make Betances the next Rivera, it is an encouraging sign, perhaps one that will allow the Yankees to save some bucks on Robertson, which they can allocate to offense. Because they need offense.

As for signing a closer to keep down Betances’s arbitration costs, that’s going to cost money, too. Even then, the market is full of question marks. The Yanks have reportedly talked about making Jason Grilli an offer, but he’s not exactly reliable. Francisco Rodriguez has declined, as has Rafael Soriano. Maybe they try to get one of them on a sweetheart deal and move Betances into the closer role if they falter.

(I do not think they’re signing Robertson, for what it’s worth.)

James asks: Could A-Rod be the hitting coach?

It might sound like a silly question, but the man does know the game. I remember him talking about specific things he works on with hitting coaches. Younger players also seem to love him. It’ll never happen, not in a million years, but I do think A-Rod could help out kids at the plate.

Rich asks: How good a chance does Severino have make the opening day rotation?

Zero. Negative, possibly. The kid has potential, but certainly isn’t on tap for the majors quite yet. Give him time. Maybe he slots in later in the season. But realistically we’re talking 2016 at the very earliest.

Mailbag: Lowrie/Cabrera, Zobrist, Roller, Frazier

Just a few shopkeeping items before we dive into the questions:

1. If you’re giving Yankees/baseball gear as gifts this year, You can also give a gift to RAB at the same time, free of charge. When you buy from the MLB Shop, Fanatics, or Amazon using our links at the RAB Shop we get a little cut. Same price for you, a little cash in our pockets.

Here are some deals at the MLB Shop today:

Those deals last through Sunday.

2. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re experimenting with a new mailbag submission form. It’s in the sidebar. You only have to hit Send once — it might not look like it goes through, but it does. We’re working on slightly better functionality on that. You can still email us questions if you prefer, but this form seems to work for more people.

3. Starting Monday morning we’re sending out a daily digest email. You can read more about the daily digest here. You can also sign up there, or you can just enter your email address into the field above.

And now, onto the questions.

Ben Zobrist
(CHRIS O’MEARA/AP)

Mark L. asks: Do you see signing two of Lowrie / Drew / Cabrera to mix and match with Prado as a cost-effective alternative to big bucks Headley?

No, I cannot see that. It seems increasingly probable that some team offers Chase Headley a four-year deal. Since the Yankees are willing to give only three, they’ll have to find help elsewhere.

Would it cost them less to sign Lowrie or Cabrera? Maybe a little, but maybe not. If Headley signs elsewhere I think they allocate that money to other positions and use Refsnyder or Pirela at second with Prado at third.

JR asks: With the Rays appearing to be in rebuilding mode, What would the cost be to get Zobrist be?

I’m not sure the Rays are in complete rebuild mode. Maybe they’re not looking for win-right-now pieces, but they’re not doing some three-year project. That said, Ben Zobrist has just one year left on his contract, for a super reasonable $7.5 million (well, $7.75 really, because he gets $.25 million if traded).

It’s hard to find a reasonable value here, though. How much is one year of Zobrist worth to you? I’m guessing the Rays want something like Greg Bird and a pitcher, and I don’t think I’d go that far. Not where the Yankees stand right now.

If they’re on the brink of greatness — if they have three guys with power who you can count on in addition to the table setters, and a great pitching staff — then maybe I consider mortgaging a decent prospect for one year of a player as versatile as Zobrist. But right now? The roster is too weak right now to make a move like that.

Hmmm asks: Would it be in the Yankees best interest, for the overall future of the team, if they do not sign anyone to over a 4 or 5 year contract until they are a legitimate contender to win? I understand that those contracts can help them become a contender, but I feel like if they don’t have the young talent that will make them perennial contenders that those contracts will just prove to be a waste.

I don’t understand this mentality at all. What does young talent have to do with being perennial contenders? Look at the 1996 Yankees. They had one starting pitcher under 30, and a lineup of mostly imported veterans. That’s not to say that the 2015 Yankees have a Jeter or a Bernie, but the idea that young talent creates perennial winners is a bit off.

You can only work with the players available to you, whether that’s on the roster or available to you in trade or free agency. Cutting yourself off from that talent because of years in a reasonable range is silly. Avoiding 10-year deals? Sure, that’s something you might want to avoid in general. But 4-5 years deals are pretty standard.

nycsportzfan asks: Why did the Yanks not protect Kyle Roller?

Roller did rake last season, mostly in AAA, so it seems as though he’s knocking on the door. That said, he turns 27 before the season starts, so it’s not as though he’s some prime prospect that they just didn’t protect.

There’s a lot going on with Rule 5 protection. You have to take into account the roster implications. A few years ago Brian Cashman said something about sometimes the best way to protect a player is to not add him to the 40-man roster. Wish I could find the exact quote. His point was that because of roster crunch issues, sometimes you protect guys and later have to make some tough DFA choices.

Say you protect someone on the fringe, but have to DFA him in June for some roster crunch reason. A team might not have taken him in the Rule 5, because they didn’t see a way to keep him on the MLB roster all year. But on waivers he doesn’t have that restriction. You can stash him in the minors for a few years. So a team that wouldn’t have made a Rule 5 pick might jump in with a waiver claim.

The Yanks have plenty of needs this off-season, and they’ll need roster spots. They can’t afford to have one of those spots taken up by a 27-year-old first baseman. Also, Roller didn’t even make this enormous list of Rule 5 possibilities.

Elfi asks: Why would the Yankees sign Headley for 3B when they have a solid and capable player in Prado who could do it? Prado I’m sure can at least match Headley’s numbers. This would pave the way for Refsnyder to be the 2B and of course A-Rod at DH

It’s all about depth. If you go into the season with Prado at 3B, you’re stuck with the rookies as your first option at 2B. If they fail, then what? By creating some depth, they can react to injuries and failures. If Prado gets hurt, Pierla or Refsnyder steps in. If they fail as a depth option, that’s one thing. But to rely on them, and have no real backup option, would hurt quite a lot.

Chris R. asks: Doesn’t a run at Todd Frazier make a ton of sense? 28 year old that can play 1st & 3rd. Entering his arb years so he will start to cost Cincy some money now.

Cincinnati is in a tough spot right now, with the poor season they had combined with a number of their pitchers hitting free agency after 2015. They’re locked into a couple of huge contracts, so they could seem inflexible at this point.

That said, he’s one of their only weapons on offense. Unless they go into rebuild mode — and I’m talking trade-Votto rebuild mode — I can’t see them entertaining offers for Frazier.

That said, a Jersey-raised kid who went to Rutgers and walks up to “Fly Me to the Moon” Frazier sounds like a Yankee to me.

Lightning Round

Kenny asks: With the Yankees looking for a new shortstop, do you think Ruben Tejada is on their radar?

The Mets also need a shortstop, so that should answer the question right there.

Daniel asks: Assuming no major changes to the current rotation, who would be the opening day starter?

Have to imagine that’s CC’s job for at least one more season, if he’s healthy.

Matt asks: The Rays are reportedly listening on offers for Yunel Escobar, should the Yankees be interested?

He doesn’t seem like the Yanks kind of player. The Braves traded him for peanuts because they couldn’t stand his attitude. Plus, he’s not a very good SS, even if he can hit a little.

Dustin asks: Dave Martinez for 1B coach or hitting coach?

He’s as good a candidate as any. I have a feeling that the Yankees are more interested in Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, though. But maybe they bring in both, given that they have two coaching openings.