Mailbag: Betances, Pineda, Eovaldi, Sanchez, 26th Spot

I’ve got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.


Dan asks: With all the talk about Dellin Betances‘ poor spring results, do you think it has anything to do with the fact that they’ve essentially put him on the Mariano Rivera spring routine, as if he’s a veteran who’s been doing this for years and only needs 6-7 appearances to get ready for the season, as opposed to a young pitcher with only one real year of experience?

I think that is very possible. Betances moved to the bullpen full-time in May 2013, so last year was his first Spring Training as a reliever, and he was trying to make the team. It wasn’t a normal “just get ready for the season” spring for him. The Yankees scaled back his in-game workload considerably this year — he’s thrown 5.1 innings with a week to go this spring after throwing 12.1 innings last spring, including four outings of multiple innings. Dellin had the same number of Grapefruit League innings on March 5th last year that he has on March 27th this year. He’s used to being a starter in Spring Training and getting a lot of work. That hasn’t happened this year and it could explain his velocity and command issues. We can’t say that for certain, but I do think it is potentially a factor.

P.J. asks: If Michael Pineda remains healthy all season and pitches even something close to the way he did in 2014 after he came back from the injury do you think the Yankees will talk early extension for him? Also is Nathan Eovaldi a candidate for an early extension at the end of the 2015 season?

I think teams are starting to go overboard with long-term contract extensions, specifically by locking up non-core players based on the concept of “protecting against a breakout.” (Looking at you, Adam Eaton. Gotta lock up those injury prone singles hitters who are under team control through 2018 as soon as possible!) Both Pineda and Eovaldi are scheduled to become free agents after the 2017 season, so the Yankees have some time to evaluate them, especially Pineda given his shoulder issues. I liked the idea of signing both to short bridge deals this past offseason, though I think I would hold off on a longer term deal until after 2016, with Pineda in particular. If he makes it through 2015 in one piece, great. Let’s see how that workload affects his shoulder in 2016 before committing. The Yankees can afford to pay these guys whatever they’re worth in a few years. They have the luxury of sitting back and waiting another year to minimize risk.

Vinny asks: Other than the gregarious Nick Swisher, what Yankees of recent vintage do you think we’ll see as analysts on the YES Network someday?

Swisher might be able to pull it off in Eric Byrnes way, but he did some television work during the postseason last year (I think it was TBS?) and was pretty bad. The first name that jumped to my mind was Curtis Granderson because he’s so charismatic and well-spoken, though Andrew Marchand disagrees and thinks he would be boring. Mark Teixeira showed his comedic side with Foul Territory last year and I think he’d be a good candidate for a more serious analyst role too. Brandon McCarthy comes off as smart on Twitter and that’s what I want in an analyst, but I have no idea how he is in front of a camera.

I crowdsourced this question on Twitter yesterday and a lot of people said Alex Rodriguez. (Mike Mussina was also mentioned.) I think A-Rod would be able to talk about the game and break it down at an incredibly high level — he gave Ken Rosenthal a must read scouting report on Didi Gregorius recently, for example — but he seems completely incapable of normal human interaction, which probably won’t work well on television. If you stuck a microphone in front of his face in a studio and asked him to break down tape, he’d be great. Ask him to sit in a booth and talk to a play-by-play guy about the game? Probably not going to go as well.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Carl asks: Chad Jennings brought up an interesting thing the other day regarding Gary Sanchez. He noted that Sanchez had been optioned to Double-A, and was legitimately playing with them, and also that Trenton added Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere to the coaching staff, two former catchers. If Sanchez opens the season in Double-A, do you think this could mean that John Ryan Murphy opens in Triple-A, and the Yankees keep Austin Romine as the backup? Whatever the outcome regarding Murphy/Romine, do you see Sanchez opening the season in Trenton?

Matt Kardos says he’s heard Sanchez is likely to start the season back in Double-A as well for what it’s worth, and Brian Cashman told George King that Romine being out of options “will be a factor” in the backup catcher decision. I thought that was typical GM speak at first, Cashman not wanting to show his cards to teams looking to trade for Romine, though it’s starting to seem like there’s a chance Sanchez will remain in Double-A, Murphy will go back to Triple-A, and Romine will be Brian McCann‘s backup, at least to start the year.

If it’s a short-term thing, fine. But I wouldn’t like that to be a long-term situation this year. I’m not sure what Sanchez and Murphy stand to gain by spending even more time at Double-A and Triple-A, respectively — the Yankees could have easily brought in some catching coaches for Triple-A rather than leaving Sanchez in Double-A to work with Hernandez and Pilittere — and Romine hasn’t done anything to earn the backup catcher’s job. I understand wanting to keep catching depth, but not at the expense of holding back the development of two good prospects. Romine is far from irreplaceable.

Jerome asks: If the Yankees could somehow trade their owners and/or GM for anyone else in the league, who would you trade for?

This is tough to answer because how do we judge a good owner? Willingness to spend? How can we gauge that with small market owners like, say, Lew Wolff of the A’s? I’m sure he’d love to spend more money but simply can’t. Anyway, I think being a GM in a huge market is way more difficult than people realize, so the list is surprisingly short. Assuming I can’t mix and match owners and GMs from different teams, I think the only combos I would take over Hal Steinbrenner/Brian Cashman are Ted Lerner/Mike Rizzo (Nationals), Mike Ilitch/Dave Dombrowski (Tigers), and Bill DeWitt/John Mozeliak (Cardinals). I’d prefer the Dodgers and Red Sox owners to Hal but not the GMs. That’s about it.

Luke asks: In past years, at some point during the spring Joe Girardi has had a “fun day” of sorts (billiards, bowling, etc). Have I missed that this spring or has it just not happened yet?

No, it hasn’t happened this year and hasn’t in a while. Girardi surprised the team and took them to a pool hall in 2009 and then to an arcade in 2010, but as best I can tell the Yankees haven’t done anything like that since. I’m sure there’s a reason, I just don’t know what it is.

Joe asks: Why do you think the Yankees were not more involve with Hector Olivero? Seems he would be a valuable 2nd baseman.

Passing on Olivera at that price (six years, $62.5M) seems like a pretty easy call to me, especially since he has a small tear in the elbow ligament and will need eventually Tommy John surgery at some point. (If he has surgery, the Dodgers get a seventh year added on to his contract for only $1M, but it’s his age 37 season.) He could be a valuable second baseman, but what if he can’t hack it there? The Yankees couldn’t play him over Chase Headley at third base, meaning they’d have yet another DH on their hands. If the Yankees were going to give a six-year contract to a 30-year-old, they would have just signed Jon Lester. The annual salary doesn’t scare them, it’s the years.

Paul asks: Is this the first time the Yankee rotation (assuming Chris Capuano is healthy) last names all end in a vowel?

Nope! They not only had an “all last names end in a vowel” rotation just last season, they had an “all last names end in the same vowel” rotation last season with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and Pineda. Last year Diane at VORG did some research on rotations with pitchers whose names end in the same letter, vowel or otherwise, if you’re interested.

The good Upton. (Presswire)
The good Upton. (Presswire)

Adam asks: There are several elite free agents after this season (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto). If you could only pick one, who would it be and why?

Obligatory I’d be happy with any of those guys comment. But if you’re making me pick just one, I’d go Upton because the Yankees need a big bat more than they need another starter or defense first outfielder. I reserve the right to change my answer to Heyward if he has a monster 2015 season, though Upton is the superior hitter right now — it helps that he’s a righty too — and as bad as his defense is, he’d be an upgrade in right over Carlos Beltran. How do you fit Upton on the roster with Beltran and A-Rod still under contract? Beats me, though chances are one of them will get hurt before long. Upton is who I’d pick today, ten days before Opening Day 2015.

Mike asks: Do you think with the spring Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams have had that the Yankees can look at them as legit prospects again?

No, it’s only Spring Training. They’ve performed well, yes, but they’ve had something like 50 plate appearances combined. I do buy Heathcott being healthier right now that he has been at any point in the last two or three years, and that sort of raises his prospect stock, but the spring performance is meaningless. Let’s see Heathcott get a full healthy season under his belt and Williams not mope his way through another summer before we consider their prospect status repaired. Three weeks in Spring Training don’t erase those problems.

Ethan asks: If the 25 man roster were expanded to 26, how do you think most teams would use the extra spot?

I think most teams, including the Yankees, would use it for an extra reliever. I could see a team like the Athletics, who have a deep pitching staff and love platoons, using it on an extra position player though. The Red Sox might do that too since they have a million outfielders. I think the 26th roster spot would help usher in the age of six-man rotations over a period of several years. Some teams could swing a six-man rotation this year, the Nationals most notably and possibly the Yankees too if Adam Warren pitches well and Capuano gets healthy, though I think it’ll take a few years for all 30 clubs to buy in. Baseball has been gradually progressing towards using pitchers less and less for decades now. I think the 26th roster spot would make it even easier for teams to do that.

Mailbag: Tanaka, Bryant, Tommy John Surgery, Hamels

I’ve got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. As always, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions, comments, links, or complaints at any time.


Dan asks: I know the Yankees are saying that Masahiro Tanaka is a fully healthy player, for whatever that is worth. But can you see Joe Girardi holding him back to the 7th inning in games that he might have otherwise have gone into the 8th or 9th, simply to cover his own backside out of abundance of caution?

Yes, I think that’s very possible. We recently heard the Yankees are hoping to start Tanaka every sixth day instead of every fifth day, at least early in the season, so I’m sure they’ll do other things to try to keep him healthy. Going back out for the eighth inning after cruising through the first seven on 95 pitches might not happen, for example. (Especially with the bullpen they’ve built.) The Yankees can afford to cap Tanaka at, say, 100 pitches per start and turn it over to their relief crew afterwards. At the very least, I expect Girardi to have a quicker than usual hook with his ace righty in April, though I don’t necessarily think he would be doing it to cover for himself. I think he’d do it because it’s the best thing for Tanaka and the Yankees in general. Girardi’s not managing for his job. (Or at least he shouldn’t be.)

Dohson asks: Taking health and money out of the equation, would you rather have Tanaka/Pineda or Harvey/deGrom at the top of your rotation?

There’s really no wrong answer here, but I’m going to go with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom over Tanaka and Michael Pineda. I’d rank those four pitchers in this order: Harvey (small gap) Tanaka (moderate gap) deGrom (moderate gap) Pineda. Harvey is just outstanding when healthy, probably a top five pitcher in the game, and deGrom has more weapons than Pineda. He’s got the big fastball, the overwhelming slider, a reliable changeup, and a useable curveball. Pineda’s basically fastball/slider with a nascent changeup. I’d be thrilled with either duo, but right now, heading into the 2015 season, give me healthy Harvey/deGrom over healthy Tanaka/Pineda.

Old Yanks Fan asks: From Tanaka’s preview: “Others like Chad Billingsley, Drew Hutchison, Matt Harvey, Francisco Liriano, Bronson Arroyo, Cory Luebke, and Pat Neshek are recent of examples of pitchers who tried to rehab their damaged ligament only to need surgery a handful of innings later.” Can you tell us how long each guy pitched before he broke down again?

Sure, but “a handful of innings later” was a really poor choice of words on my part, in retrospect:

UCL Tear Diagnosis Tommy John Date Innings Between Diagnosis & TJS
Billingsley 8/25/12 4/25/13 19.2
Hutchison 6/22/12 8/8/12  0
Harvey 8/25/13 10/22/13  0
Liriano 8/8/06 11/6/06  0
Arroyo 6/17/14 7/15/14  0
Luebke 5/4/12 5/23/12  0
Neshek 5/8/08 11/11/08  0

Those zeroes don’t really tell the whole story. All seven of those pitchers attempted to rehab their partial ligament tears but only Billingsley made it back to the mound in any sort of official setting (7.2 innings in Spring Training and 12 in the regular season). The other six guys didn’t complete their rehab and were on throwing programs when their elbows gave out completely. Remember, no one chooses to have Tommy John surgery. They only have it when it is necessary, and for those guys it wasn’t necessary until a few weeks or months after the original diagnosis.

Between his starts last September and this spring, Tanaka has thrown 12.2 innings in official games since completing his rehab. That doesn’t include the simulated games he threw last year in lieu of going out on a minor league rehab assignment before returning at the end of the year. Tanaka’s already way ahead of where those six non-Billingsley pitchers were in their attempt to rehab their damaged elbow. Does that mean Tanaka will stay healthy going forward? Of course not. But I guess this shows how difficult it is to rehab this injury, something the doctors say Tanaka has done successfully.


Mike asks: In the media storm that is Kris Bryant, his agent, Scott Boras, is pressuring the Cubs to put Bryant on the Opening Day roster. If Bryant isn’t on the roster 12 days after the start of the season, then he is under team until he is 30 instead of 29. What determines how long can a player be under team control?

First of all, yes Bryant absolutely deserves to be on the Opening Day roster, but he won’t. (Their starting third baseman otherwise is the sub-replacement level Mike Olt.) Getting that extra year of Bryant’s peak in exchange for sacrificing two weeks early in 2015 is a no-brainer for Chicago even though there’s basically no scenario in which they won’t be able to afford him down the road.

As for the team control question, players need six full years of service time to qualify for free agency. The MLB season runs 183 days, but 172 days of service time counts as a full year. Every day on the active roster (or DL) equals one day of service time. There are some catches — a player who is sent down but recalled less than ten days later gets service time credit for the days he was in the minors, for example — but that’s the gist of it. So by sending Bryant down for 12 days in April, he’ll accrue only 171 days of service time in 2015, meaning he won’t be a free agent until after 2021 instead of 2020. Rick Porcello and David Price were only two and eight days shy of qualifying for free agency last year, respectively. Ouch. This system needs to be fixed.

Drew asks: According to this article the Yankees have had 4 major league players undergo TJ Surgery since 2005. Obviously Ivan Nova is one but I can’t seem to remember the others. I know they signed guys like Jon Lieber/Octavio Dotel who were recovering for TJ. Who are the others?

Nova had his surgery last year, Joba Chamberlain had his in June 2011, and Carl Pavano had his in June 2007. The fourth player wasn’t a pitcher, it was an outfielder: Xavier Nady in July 2009. Jon Roegele has created a log of Tommy John surgeries dating back to the very first procedure performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on Tommy John in 1974. His list is far from complete, of course, though it’s certainly not for a lack of effort on Roegele’s part. The Yankees have had 25 players undergo elbow reconstruction according to Roegele research (eight MLB players and 17 minor leaguers), the fourth fewest in baseball. Only the Astros (20), Giants (23), and Rockies (24) have had fewer. The Rangers (48), Braves (47), and Dodgers (44) have had the most. No other team is over 40 (or 37, for that matter).

Brian asks: Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be in favor of an international draft. I can see how that could have hurt the Yankees a couple years ago, since they were always top spenders on IFA talent, but now with the cap system, doesn’t it improve their chances of “premium” talent making it to later picks in the upper rounds? Also, would they go back to like 30 rounds of the draft?

It depends how they structure it. If there are separate domestic and international drafts, the Yankees won’t have access to the top players in either talent pool unless they really stink and get a high pick. If it’s a combined draft, domestic players and amateurs, then the Yankees will have a better chance of landing a top talent because the talent pool will be deeper. That make sense? I’d prefer a combined draft to two separate drafts — why should the worst teams get first dibs on both the best U.S. born and internationally born players? — if an international draft happens, which I think it will. Eventually. The amateur draft is 40 rounds now and that’s plenty, even if they add international players. They could probably chop it down to 25-30 rounds and have teams fill out minor league rosters with undrafted free agents, really.

Rob asks: I don’t know if it’s just the irrational exuberance of spring, but I feel really excited about these Yankees. Especially the pitching. Tanaka seems ok (for now). Pineda seems poised to have a dominant year. Nathan Eovaldi is intriguing. Couple that with some bounce-back years from veteran position players, and we could have something here. Or am I out of my mind?

Rob, if you’re excited right now, then what’s the point of it all? The Yankees are healthy right now. Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi are throwing the snot out of the ball. Didi Gregorius is making two or three web gems a day. The bullpen is striking everyone out, even the minor league relievers. It’s a long season. There will be plenty of time to bitch about the Yankees stranding a runner at third or Girardi bringing someone other than Dellin Betances out of the bullpen in a few weeks. Right now, the only negative in camp has been Chris Capuano‘s injury. Everything else has gone as good as we could have possibly hoped. Get excited. Enjoy it. Baseball’s fun.


Brad asks: Does the Cliff Lee injury make Philly more or less likely to deal Cole Hamels?

I don’t think Lee’s injury will change the likelihood of Hamels being dealt. It might raise the price for Hamels since there is one fewer starter on the trade market now, but I’m not sure how many teams realistically viewed Lee as a viable alternative to Hamels considering Lee’s elbow trouble started last year. Hamels is an elite starter owed a big annual salary but on a short-term contract by elite starter standards, so his market and trade value is unique. If the Phillies are going to trade him, it’ll be because they think they’re getting the best possible package and are setting themselves up for long-term success. That’s it. Or at least that should be it. The Phillies are going to stink either way and Hamels is too great a trade chip to let other factors dictate their willingness to move him.

Peter asks: My two least favorite things the Yankees have done in the past two years are (1) sign Carlos Beltran, and (2) not sign Brandon McCarthy. Signing Beltran was such a legacy Yankee move at his age and $45M. I can’t help but think there’s causation between that and not signing McCarthy. Am I out of line here?

Other than Beltran theoretically making money the Yankees could have given to McCarthy, I’m not sure there’s much of a relationship there. One way or another, the team was going to spend money to add another bat last offseason, it just so happened to be Beltran. McCarthy clearly wanted to return to New York, though it seems the Yankees never seriously engaged him in contract talks. Maybe they’re worried about his long history of shoulder injuries. That’s not unreasonable. I think the four-year deal the Dodgers gave McCarthy is bonkers and I’m happy the Yankees passed in this case. If they could have gotten him for three years, fine, I would have taken it but still been a bit nervous. Either way, I’m not sure there’s any sort of relationship between signing Beltran and letting McCarthy go, same way I don’t think there’s a relationship between, say, signing Brian McCann and letting David Robertson walk.

Steve asks: What are the percentage of players who stay on the 25-man roster for the entire year? That means no injury, option to the minors, trade, etc. Not sure if bereavement list or paternity leave would count in this theoretical situation.

I have absolutely not idea, and I’m not even sure how to look this up. We can work up a rough estimate, but that’s about it. Last year 1,187 players appeared in at least one MLB game, which is an average of 39.57 players per team. Since every team needed at least one spot to be a revolving door for call-ups, the absolute highest number of players who could have stayed on the 25-man roster all season is 720 (24 players times 30 teams). That would be 60.6% of all players. In reality, the percentage is way lower. Way, way lower. The Yankees used 58 players last year and only 19 (32.8%) stayed on the 25-man active roster or DL from Opening Day through Game 162. Only eight were on the active roster (non-DL) all season (McCann, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda, Betances, Adam Warren), or 13.8%. That seems like a decent ballpark number to me. Roughly 14% of players stay on the active 25-man roster all season.

Chuck asks: I read RAB because I’m a Yankee fan, but as I was reading your “Thoughts Following Two Weeks of Grapefruit League Play,” particularly the Chasen Shreve part, I was thinking I could sure use this kind of insight for other teams during my Fantasy Baseball prep. While I know there is no equal to RAB, would you be able to recommend the closest equivalent for the other 29 teams?

Our Team Blogs page is woefully outdated. I’ve had overhauling that thing on my to-do list for like two years now. I’ll make a point of getting to it before Opening Day. In general, the SB Nation team sites are very good, so I recommend those. My personal favorites are, in no particular order, Athletics Nation (A’s), Lookout Landing (Mariners), South Side Sox (White Sox), DRays Bay (Rays), Fish Stripes (Marlins), Amazin’ Avenue (Mets), and, of course, the holy blog grail that is McCovey Chronicles (Giants). Other non-Yankees favorites include The Process Report (Rays), Dodgers Digest (Dodgers), Pirates Prospects (Pirates), Bleacher Nation (Cubs), Disciples of Uecker (Brewers), The DiaTribe (Indians), and Andrew Stoeten (Blue Jays). Once I get the Team Blogs page in order, I’ll post an updated link.

Mailbag: Erasmo, A-Rod, Judge, Spring Training, Payroll

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag. Send us anything — mailbag questions, complaints, links, whatever — at any time using the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

Erasmo. (Presswire)
Erasmo. (Presswire)

Dan asks: You recently made a post about out of options potential targets for the Yankees, but did not mention Erasmo Ramirez. Could he fit as a depth acquisition?

Erasmo is younger than I realized — he doesn’t turn 25 until early-May. He’s out of minor league options and the Mariners don’t really have any room for him either in the rotation or bullpen, so chances are he will be moved at the end of camp. Ramirez has a 4.62 ERA (4.66 FIP) in 206.2 career MLB innings with okay strikeout (7.19 K/9 and 18.4 K%) and walk (3.14 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%) rates. He isn’t much of a ground ball guy (40.2%).

Despite playing his home games in Safeco Field, Ramirez has an alarming home run rate (1.35 HR/9 and 12.6 HR/FB%) in his career. It’s even higher the last two years (1.52 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB%). Erasmo is a changeup pitcher, that’s his money pitch, and it seems like changeup pitchers are the most homer prone. I guess when you throw that many changeups, you occasionally leave one up in the zone, and a high changeup is a batting practice fastball. I don’t really have anything to prove that though. Just seems like that is the case.

Ramirez sits in the low-90s with his fastball and the swing-and-miss rate on his changeup (~19.5%) is well-above the league average (14.5%), but he doesn’t have a reliable breaking ball. He’s also listed at 5-foot-11, which further explains the homer issues. Short pitchers can’t get good downhill plane on their fastballs. I know he’s only 24 and that’s exciting, but age isn’t a get out of jail free card. Erasmo is very homer prone and he’s basically a one-trick pony with the changeup. If the Yankees are really desperate for pitching, Ramirez is probably the best they can get at the end of camp. I’m just not sure he’s someone an AL team wants to run out there every fifth day though.

Ethan asks: It’s obviously still very early but who has impressed you so far in Spring Training? What are your thoughts on A-Rod so far?

I think Alex Rodriguez has looked pretty good considering he didn’t play at all last year and is pushing 40. He still knows the strike zone, that seems obvious, and the homer the other day shows that, if nothing else, he can still put a charge into the meatball pitches a hitter is expected to crush. A-Rod also poked an outer half breaking to right field for a single to beat the shift a few days ago and that was pretty neat (video). He hasn’t forgotten how to hit.

As for the other guys, it’s still pretty early in camp, so the minor league position players have stood out the most. The veterans are still going through the motions and getting ready while the young guys are playing out of their minds trying to impress people. Slade Heathcott looks healthy and seems to be running well after two knee surgeries in the last 18 months or so. Jose Pirela‘s driving everything, even his outs. It’s hard to not be impressed by Greg Bird too. He’s got this Joey Votto-esque calmness at the plate, like he’s the one in control of the at-bat, not the pitcher. (Note: I am not saying Bird will be Votto.)

Eric asks: We have seen a lot of Aaron Judge during Spring Training. What is the soonest Judge will be a contributor to the Major League club?

I’d say the first half of next season if his time with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year goes as well as his time with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa did last year. Judge would probably be the first in line for a call-up when an outfielder is needed next year in that case, and that could be pretty early given Carlos Beltran‘s (and A-Rod’s) age and frailty. There is a clear path for Judge and Bird to join the MLB team in 2016, assuming they take care of business in 2015. That’s exciting.


Vinny asks: The Post’s Kevin Kernan’s article reveals that Aaron Judge is adopted. Not that it matters, but has this come out before? I think it would be pretty neat that the Yankees could have two adopted players in Judge and Rob Refsnyder.

No, that’s new information as far I know. I certainly hadn’t heard that before. It was no secret Refsnyder was adopted — he was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Southern California when he was three months old, and he used to get heckled about his nationality and upbringing during his college days — but I had no idea Judge was as well. It doesn’t change anything of course. He’s still Aaron Judge. The internet tells me about 2% of the population is adopted, so I’m sure there are several MLB players out there who were adopted that we don’t know about.

Ariel asks: Hey guys, a few weeks ago Mike had mentioned that the young guys on the team, such as Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, would get to their peak performances at the same time that the top minor league prospects were coming up to the ML roster. What year do you think this will happen?

Well, that’s the plan, for Gregorius and Eovaldi to hit their peak and have their best seasons in pinstripes while others like Judge and Bird and Luis Severino come up from the farm system to bolster the roster. This is baseball though. At least one of those guys is going to fall well short of expectations. Heck, just one will fall short if the Yankees are lucky. But, if things do break New York’s way, I would expect all this to happen sometime in 2017 or so. Judge and Bird might reach MLB in 2016, but chances are it’ll be a year or two before they become impact players.

Tom asks: How secure is Chris Young‘s roster spot? Is it possible for a young outfielder to Solarte him?

I don’t see it. The only real threat to that roster spot in camp is Pirela, and right now Brendan Ryan is the one who has to worry about losing his roster spot to Pirela, not Young. The Yankees aren’t going to carry Judge or Tyler Austin on the bench to start the season and Heathcott needs to play everyday to make up for all the at-bats he’s lost to injury. That’s really it. Ramon Flores hasn’t forced the issue and neither Jake Cave nor Mason Williams is MLB ready. Young’s spot is safe and he fills an important role as the primary right-handed pinch-hitter and late-innings defensive replacement for Beltran.

Kevin asks: What direction do you see the Yankees going when the albatross contracts come off the books? Mix/match like always or will they lean heavily toward their minor league system or the FA class at the time. Way too early to tell, I know, but can’t help but look to the future.

The Yankees are going to have to lean more on their farm system going forward because it’s much harder to build a team through free agency these days. There aren’t nearly as many top players on the market each winter because teams are locking up their young stars to extensions. The Yankees are still the Yankees and I definitely expect them to get back into the huge free agent market once some of the dead payroll clears up, though free agency is now a way to build a supporting cast, not the core of a team.


Steve asks: What do you think Adam Warren could hypothetically do over 30 starts in 2015?

Gosh, I don’t know. David Phelps has a 4.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) in his career as a starter and I would like to think Warren could match that while taking a regular turn in the rotation. Warren does throw five different pitches — he did even last year in relief — but I’m not sure how much different it’ll be when he’s throwing 90-92 as a starter instead of 93-95 out of the bullpen. There’s also the fatigue factor too. What happens when he gets over, say, 150 innings after throwing 158.2 innings total the last few years? He might simply run out of gas. I’d be happy with a 4.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) out of Warren as a starter, though I suspect he’d perform a bit worse than that.

Williams asks: I know this would/could/should never happen but what would stop the Yankees from moving Spring Training from Florida to Arizona? I know the stadium is there, the minor league facilities are there, but look at the maps of the locations of the teams and it would make much more sense to move to Arizona where all the teams are in fairly close proximity as opposed to Florida where the teams are spread and the travel prevents some of the older players from going on road games.

As best I can tell, the Yankees’ lease with the Tampa Sports Authority for George M. Steinbrenner Field doesn’t expire for another 12 years, so that’s the main reason they can’t move to Arizona. There’s no reason they can’t move once the lease is expired though. No reason other than the fan base they’ve built in Florida. (Tons of New Yorkers retire to Florida. Tons.) Both the Reds and Dodgers moved to Arizona in recent years after extended stays in Florida, so the Yankees wouldn’t be the first team to make the move. The travel in Arizona is much easier and the weather is generally better (less rain). It’s just more convenient. The Yankees are stuck in Tampa for now. We’ll see what happens when their lease gets closer to expiring.

Dan asks: I’ve generally thought that all of the comments this offseason that the Yankees are “cheap” are pretty ridiculous, but Craig Edwards of FanGraphs just released an article calculating each team’s “expected payroll” based on attendance and team valuation, and found that the Yankees are actually spending significantly less than expected based on their market. Should this effect the way we view the front office?

Edwards had the team’s payroll at $37M-ish less than expected, but even he says that is “somewhat of an overstatement.” He doesn’t include the $20-something million the Yankees are going to end up paying in luxury tax. Also, his estimates are based in part on Forbes’ franchise valuations, which are also estimates. It’s an estimate based off an estimate, which is far from exact. The gap between actual payroll — the dollars the Yankees will actually pay this year — and the expected payroll is $17M or so when you factor in the luxury tax, and that’s not much at all considering how inexact this analysis is. I’m certain the Yankees (and the other 29 teams) could support a larger payroll. Baseball teams definitely have payroll limits, they just like to act that they are a lot lower than they really are.

Mailbag: Bailey, Teixeira, Tanaka, Guerrero, Opening Day

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag, which means it’s a small mailbag these days. Send us any questions through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. And yes, we know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but it absolutely does. I promise. We’re working on that.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Marc asks: If healthy, do you see the Yankees making Andrew Bailey the closer, allowing Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to mix-and-match the 7th and 8th?

I think it’s possible but very unlikely. Bailey will not only have to show he’s healthy, he’ll also have to show he’s effective, and that’s not always a guarantee following shoulder capsule surgery. I don’t think that’s something he can prove in a handful of Spring Training innings either. If Bailey does take over as the closer at some point, it’ll probably be a few weeks into the regular season. And the problem with that is Betances or Miller might have a firm hold on the job by then. Teams tend to not take guys out of the closer’s role if they’re dominating.

Ralph asks: If Mark Teixeira has a bounce back year, and stays healthy thru the balance of his contract, and Greg Bird takes the reins at first, could Teixeira be an “Ortiz-Like” option at DH for the Yankees, playing occasional 1st and being a mentor for Bird?

This is another “possible but unlikely” for me. Teixeira’s contract is up in two years and so is Carlos Beltran‘s, but Alex Rodriguez will still have a year left on his contract and Brian McCann will need to see more time at DH by then. Maybe Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury too. The DH logjam isn’t going to clear up anytime soon, so bringing Teixeira back in what amounts to the Garrett Jones role might not make sense. McCann might be the part-time first baseman/part-time DH/mentor by then. I just get the feeling that as soon as Teixeira’s contract is up, the Yankees are going to move on.

Chris asks: Suppose Masahiro Tanaka manages to go to his opt-out season effectively. Knowing what we do about his elbow, does he opt out?

I think he would. Tanaka will only be 28 when he opts out (he turns 29 that offseason), and if he stays healthy between now and then, he’ll be pretty damn good. A 28-year-old ace, even one with a questionable elbow, will be able to command (way) more than the three years and $66M he’d be passed up. Besides, if he stays healthy these next few years, the concerns about Tanaka’s elbow won’t be as great as they are right now. It’ll be in the back of everyone’s mind but the concern will naturally subside some if he goes the next three years without a problem.

Jordan asks: Listening to the first spring training game on MLB At-Bat, the Philly announcer said “I’m not so sure the Yankees will finish ahead of the Phillies (in the standings).” What would have to happen to the Yankees for such a season?


The projected standings at FanGraphs have the Yankees at 82 wins and the Phillies at 70 wins this year (the Phillies are projected to have three fewer wins then everyone else, actually), so somehow the Yankees would have to lose a dozen wins off the roster. Both Tanaka and Michael Pineda would have to get hurt and miss the entire season, and I think they’d also have to lose two of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Chase Headley as well. They’d have to lose four of their five best players to injury, basically. Based on ZiPS, losing Tanaka, Pineda, Ellsbury, and Headley for the year would be a loss of 12.5 wins, and we’d have to assume the will Yankees replace them with replacement level (or worse players). I think the Phillies are more likely to win fewer than 70 games than the Yankees are to win more than 82, but either way, I would be pretty surprised if the Phillies finished within even ten games of New York this year.

Ethan asks: Do you think the shift will naturally lose value in 10-15 years, as younger players will have been taught from the ground up the increased value of hitting to all fields?

No, I don’t. The shift — specifically the idea of putting defenders where the hitter is most likely to hit the ball — is here to stay. Hitting to all fields isn’t easy! The shift is similar to the curveball when it was first introduced. Did the curveball eventually lose value because hitters were taught to hit them? No! Because hitting curveballs is hard, just like hitting to all fields is hard. I am certain teams will emphasize hitting to all fields going forward — this really starts at the high school and college level, but MLB clubs have no control over that — but that doesn’t mean an army of all-fields hitters will arrive in MLB in 10-15 years. There’s only so much “gym work” that can be done to improve hitting to all fields. Ultimately it boils down to natural ability.

Jonathan asks: With ST in full swing could you maybe explain just what exactly “live batting practice” is? And how does it differ from “simulated games” pitchers throw?

Live batting practice is, simply put, batting practice. But instead of a pitching machine, a real pitcher pitches to the batter, usually telling him whether a fastball or breaking ball is coming. A simulated game has actual game situations. They keep track of balls and strikes, the number of outs, the runners on base, etc. Sometimes the pitcher will be expected to field his position as well. Live batting practice is just a pitcher pitching to a batter over and over, with no one keeping track of balls and strikes or anything like that. That explain it?

Joe asks: How is the competitive balance order determined? The Yankees got the 4th pick (30th overall) for losing David Robertson but the Rockies got 1st for Michael Cuddyer and Tigers 8th (34th overall) for losing Max Scherzer — is there any rhyme or reason on this? Thanks.

The two competitive balance rounds are selected via lottery for small market teams depending on market size and revenue sharing status. The supplemental first round is the one with compensation picks for free agents and that goes in reverse order of last year’s standings. The Rockies had the worst record among teams to lose a qualified free agent so they received the first pick in the supplemental round for losing Cuddyer. The Orioles had the best record among those teams and thus received the last pick in the supplemental round for Nelson Cruz. Ten teams received a compensation pick this winter and the Yankees had the fourth worst record of those ten, so they got the fourth pick of the round. Here’s the full draft order.

Guerrero. (Presswire)
Guerrero. (Presswire)

Dustin asks: Alex Guerrero refused to go to the minors for the Dodgers. I have zero clue if he is the player the Dodgers thought he would be. If the Dodgers trade him, should the Yankees be interested?

The Dodgers put a clause in Guerrero’s contract allowing him to refuse to go to the minors this year and he’s already made it known he won’t go back to Triple-A. He’s staying in MLB. The 28-year-old had a .329/.364/.613 (148 wRC+) batting line in 65 Triple-A games around having his ear bitten off by Miguel Olivo last summer — he went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts in his brief MLB cameo — but he’s not expected to be anywhere close to that kind of hitter at the big league level. (Los Angeles’ Triple-A affiliate was in Albuquerque last year and that’s one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball.)

Baseball America ranked Guerrero as the team’s 21st best prospect coming into the season in their 2015 Baseball Handbook and said “he’s a pull-oriented hitter with holes in his swing” and “lacks the first step quickness for shortstop and has trouble at second base, where he has an average arm but lacks natural infield actions.” There’s also the issue of the three years and $21.5M left on his contract, which is really $32.25M to the Yankees due to the luxury tax. What are they supposed to do with an expensive utility infielder with holes in his swing and shaky defense? That’s an easy pass for me. Stick with guys in house. Even Brendan Ryan.

Brian asks: It doesn’t appear as though the Yankees have had an organizing principle over the last few years. Is there any evidence that the Yankees have had a consistent vision for the team? Or are they working year-to-year?

It sure seems like they’re going year-to-year, doesn’t it? I understand that plans have to be flexible, but the club has gone from trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold to spending huge to avoiding long-term deals the last three offseasons. As Joe has said, they went about the luxury tax thing all wrong. They tried to cram four or five years of work into two and it blew up in their faces. The response? Spend like crazy. And when that didn’t work, they scaled back spending. I definitely think the Yankees are going to try to get under the luxury tax again in the near future — Hal Steinbrenner spent so much time talking about it that I can’t imagine he’s given up on the idea entirely — likely when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2016 and the threshold presumably goes up. The plan seems to be “stay competitive while moving towards getting under the luxury tax,” except no one has any idea how to actually do that.

Michael asks: Assuming all the starting pitchers are healthy at the end of ST who is most likely to be the Opening Day starter?

Rumor has it Tanaka will make his Grapefruit League debut next Thursday, and if that’s true, he’d be lined up to start Opening Day assuming he sticks to a normal five-day scheduled for the rest of camp. The Yankees have made it clear they want to ease him into things though, so I’m guessing Tanaka will get a few extra days of rest along the way. Either way, the Opening Day starter is not that big a deal. At least not as big as people make it. If everyone stays healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Girardi gives the ball to CC Sabathia to start the season because he’s the grizzled vet, with Tanaka following in the second game and Pineda in the third. You could make a case any of those three deserve to start Opening Day, really.

Mailbag: Spending, Pitchers, Warren, Alvarez, Pirela

I’ve got 13 questions for you in this week’s massive mailbag. The best way to send us questions is with the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.


DJ asks: From the fans’ perspective, are the Yankees in a lose-lose situation when it comes to spending money? If they splurge, the team is accused of buying championships. If they don’t spend $30+ million on a teenager, their fans accuse them of being penny pinchers.

I think that’s accurate. The Yankees don’t really care if people say they bought a championship and the fans shouldn’t either. It’s a silly thing to say. The “lose” component of spending big is that the vast majority of massive contracts go bad. Maybe not at first, but eventually. Everyone likes to say teams are paying for the elite years up front and will live with the bad years at the end, yet that never really seems to happen. Teams never seem to get as many elite years as expected.

At the same time, if the Yankees don’t spend, they’re accused of being cheap. It is a no win situation for the team and that’s just life in a big market. The Yankees deserve every bit of criticism they get for losing out on Yoan Moncada — you can’t talk about getting younger all winter then miss out on him for what fans perceive as a small amount and expect no backlash — but he is a special case as a 19-year-old potential star. Missing out on older free agents, even good ones like Robinson Cano or Max Scherzer, will draw the “they’re cheap!” comments when it’s really a blessing in disguise. But yeah, you’re right, the Yankees are in a no-win situation. Everything they do will be deemed wrong somehow.

Steve asks: Which pitchers from the Yankee farm system are most likely to join the team during the season?

Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, and Jacob Lindgren are the most obvious ones. It feels inevitable that Mitchell will wind up making a bunch of starts, maybe ten or more. Shreve came over in a trade this offseason and really isn’t a “from the farm system” guy, but he’ll probably start the year in Triple-A. Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder are two other candidates. I wouldn’t rule out Luis Severino, though if he does come up, it’ll likely be in the second half of the season. I think he’s an emergency option more than anything. Someone like Matt Tracy or Zach Nuding might sneak in an emergency spot start at some point as well. Mitchell, Lindgren, and Shreve are the “definitely going to be in MLB at some point in 2015″ pitching prospects for now.

Steven asks: It seems everyone and their mama is under control through 2017. Do the Yankees have any roster flexibility after the season?

Nope. The only contracts coming off the books after this season are the guys the Yankees signed to one-year deals —  Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Stephen Drew — and Garrett Jones. Esmil Rogers could be non-tendered too, but that’s really it. Well, I suppose a miracle could happen and Brendan Ryan will decline his $1M player option, but that seems unlikely. The Yankees are locked in to the bulk of their current roster through the 2016 season, when Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and maybe CC Sabathia come off the books. No real flexibility until then whatsoever.

Johnny asks: I read that Zack Greinke had a preventative elbow lubrication this week and Sabathia had 3 PRP Injections before the season. How does MLB differentiate these types of treatments from PED’s like HGH? The lines seem kinda blurry/gray. Am I missing something about preventative treatments?

The short answer is that neither Greinke nor Sabathia received a substance on MLB’s banned substance list. I’m no doctor or chemist, I have no idea why some substances are banned and others aren’t beyond what I’ve picked up as layman over the years, but I do know MLB allows HGH use under direction of a doctor. The lines are very blurry to me but again, I’m no doctor. A few years ago MLB and the MLBPA sat down, presumably with a team of doctors, determined what should be banned and what shouldn’t, and moved forward with that. That’s a dumb answer but that’s all I have. The lines are indeed blurry to folks like me.

Matt asks: There seems to be nothing but glowing reports on Yadier Alvarez. There also doesn’t seem to be too much public interest on the Yankees part. If they miss out on Moncada, do they go hard after this kid? Any chance to sign them both?

Obviously this was sent in before Moncada signed with the Red Sox. Alvarez is an 18-year-old right-hander who didn’t play at all in the Cuban league before defecting. Here’s a quick scouting report from Jesse Sanchez, who notes scouts believe Alvarez has “the potential to be at least a No. 2 pitcher because of his stuff and ceiling.”

Alvarez has a fastball that touches 98 mph with plus-slider and an above-average changeup … Alvarez is raw and could use some polish, particularly with his command, but he’s young and has time on his side. Given his age, position and potential price tag, one international scouting director said he prefers Alvarez over Moncada. Alvarez will likely start in the lower levels in the Minor Leagues and is a few years away from making his big league debut.

Sanchez lists ten teams with interest in Alvarez and one of them is not the Yankees. Ultimately, it’s not going to matter. Alvarez recently defected and has not yet even established residency in a foreign country, so he’s very early in the process of being declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

In all likelihood, Alvarez won’t be cleared to sign until after June 25th, meaning the Yankees will be unable to offer him more than $300,000 due to the penalties for last year’s international spending spree. If the unexpected happens and Alvarez is cleared to sign before June 25th, then yeah, I expect the Yankees to pursue him. But that’s not going to happen. The Yankees won’t be able to make Alvarez a competitive offer because of the international penalties.

Update: According to Ben Badler, Alvarez is not allowed to sign until July 2nd because he did not register with the commissioner’s office before the deadline to be included in the 2014-15 signing period. So the Yankees have no shot at him.

David asks: Given the hype surrounding Rob Refsnyder, do you think he’s at his peak trade value? And do you think the Yankees should cash in? If so, what do you think they can get?

Yeah, chances are Refsnyder’s trade value will never be higher than it is right now. There are only two ways his trade value can go up from here: 1) his defense improves tremendously in a short period of time, or 2) he gets called up to MLB and mashes for a few hundred plate appearances. Tommy La Stella is a pretty good comp for Refsnyder — both mashed in the minors but La Stella is the superior defender — and La Stella was traded for ex-Yankees farmhand Arodys Vizcaino this offseason, a relief prospect with major injury issues. If that’s the type of trade return the Yankees can expect, just keep Refsnyder. They need a potential second base solution more than another lottery ticket arm.

Dan A. asks: Are complete tear downs and rebuilds worth it for the high draft picks? What should be the Yankees approach for beyond this season?

First things first, the Yankees can’t tear it all down even if they wanted. Most of their contracts are untradeable. Pretty much the pieces they could move in a potential fire sale are Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and a bunch of middle relievers. Maybe someone would take Masahiro Tanaka despite the elbow issue, but that’s about it.

Secondly, there is no right answer as to whether complete tear downs and rebuilds are worth it. The Cubs seem to have done a good job but it’s way too early to say that for certain. The Astros have been intentionally awful for nearly a half-decade now and they only had the tenth best farm system in the game according to Baseball America’s organizational rankings in their 2015 Prospect Handbook. Imagine being that bad for that long and only having the tenth best system to show for it. Yikes. Anyway, I am generally against being intentionally awful, so I’ll say no, I don’t think it’s worth it. Rebuilding and not being an embarrassment at the same time is difficult but possible.

Rick asks: I keep seeing Jose Pirela mentioned as a possible 2015 bench player, or maybe even starting second baseman, yet I’ve never seen him listed in any top prospect rankings. Why not?

Pirela is a stats before scouting report prospect. He’s put up some nice numbers the last three years at Double-A and Triple-A but he doesn’t have any sort of carrying tool. Pirela can play several positions but none of them particularly well. He doesn’t have much power and isn’t a speed guy either. There’s nothing that jumps out at you other than the stats. Pirela is an Andy Phillips type. He puts up numbers so you can’t ignore him, but otherwise there really isn’t much to fall in love with. I’m sure we’ll see him plenty in the Bronx this year in a utility role and that’s his realistic ceiling.

Geno asks: At what point will all of the recently signed, young, international free agents be subject to the Rule 5 draft? Isn’t it usually around 6 years when they need to be protected or added to the 40-man. Are the rules different for international free agents? With all of these players they have signed recently at the same time eventually lead to a major roster crunch?

Last year’s international signees all signed 2015 contracts. That’s standard. International guys who sign in July sign contracts that start the following season. Just about all of them are under 18, so they’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible in five years, meaning during the 2019-20 offseason. That’s a very long ways away. By then half these kids will have flamed out in the minors — half if the Yankees are lucky, really, the attrition rate for international signees is so high because these kids are so young — and I’m sure a few others will have been traded away. If there’s a roster crunch in five years, the Yankees will be very happy. That means many of them panned out and they’ll happily deal with the consequences. It’s waaay too early to worry about that.


Ralph asks: Girardi has mentioned Adam Warren as a closer option, but I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he beats out Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller. Could he be pumping his value up for a possible trade chip down the line?

Maybe, but teams won’t change their evaluation of Warren based on anything Girardi says. Now if Warren does somehow win the closer’s job and dominates for half a season, then yeah, his trade value will go up. Teams do still absolutely pay for saves. Girardi was just expressing some confidence in one of his players. That’s all. Every manager does it every spring.

Adam asks: Why do you think there have been so many 2 year mini extensions with arbitration guys this winter? What is the upside/downside?

According to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, Eric Hosmer, Kelvin Herrera, Todd Frazier, and Bryce Harper all signed two-year contracts this offseason that buy out their first two years arbitration-eligibility but not their last. (Harper is a Super Two, so he’ll still have two years of arbitration after this deal expires.) The upside for the player is the security. They’re getting a nice payday relatively early in their career and don’t have to worry about being non-tendered after the season if they get catastrophically hurt or something like that. The downside is they don’t get rewarded if they have a huge breakout season in the first year of the contract.

The upside for the team is cost certainty for two years. And since arbitration salaries use the previous year’s salary as a base, the player’s salary in their final year of arbitration will be a little lower than expected if they have that big breakout season. The downside is the risk that the player suddenly forgets how to play baseball or gets seriously hurt at some point in the next year. I thought the Yankees might try to sign Eovaldi and/or Pineda to one of these two-year bridge deals earlier in the winter but that didn’t happen. It seems like these have become popular because they aren’t long-term commitments but still offer some of the benefits of an extension to both parties.

Simon asks: Is it just me or has the one number the Yankees have never issued is the number 0?

You are indeed correct. The Yankees have never issued No. 0 (or No. 00 for that matter) according to Baseball Reference. The only other numbers the Yankees have never issued are all high: 73-76, 78-87, 89, 90, and 92-98. Most of the high numbers that have been issued were issued fairly recently too. George Kontos and Brett Marshall wore No. 70 in recent years, Austin Romine wore No. 71 when he was first called up in 2011, Juan Miranda wore No. 72 from 2008-09, Humberto Sanchez wore No. 78 during his cup of coffee, Jose Outman wore No. 88 last year, Alfredo Aceves wore No. 91, and Brian Bruney briefly wore No. 99 a few years back. I get the feeling we won’t ever see a player wear No. 0 (or 00) in pinstripes.

Greg asks: Congrats to RAB on 8 years! What are your personal favorite Yankee moments from the past 8 years?

Obviously the 2009 World Series tops the list. A-Rod‘s absurd 2007 season was also a ton of fun. I went to about 25 games that year and I feel like I saw him hit 25 homers, including this walk-off grand slam. That game was fun. Bitterly cold, but fun. The Teixeira signing was really fun too. That was before Twitter, and I remember refreshing MLB Trade Rumors every minute waiting for the inevitable “Red Sox sign Teixeira” post. It was like …

11:30am: Red Sox progressing towards deal with Teixeira

12:00pm: Red Sox close to signing Teixeira

12:05pm: Red Sox on verge of deal with Teixeira

12:06pm: Yankees sign Teixeira

I have no idea if the time stamps are correct, I’m just trying to show how quickly it was (or felt like it was) coming together before it changed course and Teixeira was a Yankee. The contract hasn’t worked out as expected, but man, the signing itself was something else.

Phil Hughes‘ near no-hitter was pretty memorable. I don’t know if I’d call it a favorite moment, but I won’t forget it. He was dominating in his second big league start then bam, he blew out his hamstring. Andy Pettitte‘s return from retirement was pretty awesome as well. Joe and I were literally in the middle of recording a podcast when he news broke and we were both speechless. And, of course, saying goodbye to Andy, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter is way up the list as well. All tremendous moments I won’t ever forget.

Mailbag: Heyward, Upton, Commissioner, Jeter, Moncada

Happy pitchers and catchers day, everyone. Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form to send us any questions throughout the week.

Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Vinny asks: Do you see a scenario next offseason where the Yankees sign one of Jason Heyward or Justin Upton and deal Brett Gardner?

Sure, it’s definitely possible. Both Heyward and Upton are going to get $100M+ rather easily — Heyward could get $200M+ if he has that big breakout year offensively everyone is waiting for — and the Yankees might go for it because they’re both so young. Upton turns 28 in August and Heyward turns 26 in August, so they’d be getting multiple prime years, not just decline years. Upton’s a much better hitter than Heyward and the Yankees do need an impact bat (especially a right-handed one) more than they need another defense first outfielder. Sign Upton to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s deal (seven years, $153M), then flip Gardner for a pitcher? I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I do think it’s possible.

Jerome asks: If you were elected commissioner, what changes to the game would you try to impose?

Prior to last year, I would have said instant replay was my number one priority, but baseball has that now. The system is imperfect but it’s good enough for me. I would love to get the strike zone automated with lasers or radar or however the hell they would do it, but the umpires’ union wouldn’t go for that. Calling balls and strikes is their baby. They’re not giving that up.

So, instead, I would look at speeding up the game by having hitters keep one foot in the box at all times — I don’t think pace of play is a major issue but I do think it is something that can be improved — and figure out how to get the Mets some real owners. What’s going on in Flushing can’t continue. It’s an embarrassment to the league. I’m sure that will be a legal mess but it’s something I consider important. I’d also look into expanding and adding two teams. (Interleague play is too popular among casual fans to eliminate it.) The game appears to be healthy enough financially to support two new franchises, so let’s do it. It’ll spark interest. Those would be my major points.

Dan asks: If you can only attend one of the scheduled retirement ceremonies, which one would you attend?

I think I would go to Jorge Posada‘s. I would rank my favorite dynasty era Yankees 1) Mariano Rivera, 2) Posada, 3) Bernie Williams, 4) Andy Pettitte, and 5) Derek Jeter. (Note: This doesn’t mean I hate Jeter.) I would absolutely love to go to all four ceremonies this year and I’m going to try to do that, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Posada’s. Switch-hitting catchers with power, patience, and a fiery attitude are my jam.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Christian asks: Will Jeter get a monument in Monument Park? And if so, when will that happen?

I actually answered this question in a previous mailbag but it is worth revisiting in the wake of the recent retired numbers news. Here’s what I said on September 26th of last year:

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

All of that still stands. My opinion hasn’t changed since September. I do think Jeter is worthy of a monument but is he going to be the first guy to have one dedicated while still alive? That’s the real question.

Douglas asks: Is there any chance one of the “core four” or Bernie pop up at spring training as a “special guest instructor?”

Oh absolutely. Bernie, Posada, and Pettitte have all already been to camp as guest instructors in previous years, I’m pretty sure multiple times too. Rivera recently told the Associated Press he will not be in camp as a guest instructor this spring but is open to doing it in the future. “It’s too early. I have a lot of other things to do besides that. I’m focusing right now on the church,” he said. As for Jeter, I’m guessing he will spend some time away from baseball so early into his retirement, especially since he seems to have all this other business stuff going on. That said, he does live in Tampa, so he might pop by this year. Eventually he’ll be back as a guest instructor. I’m pretty sure of it.

Joe asks: Will 2015 be the first season since 1992 that the Yankees did not have a future Hall of Famer on the roster?

Yeah it looks like it. The Yankees have had at least one future Hall of Famer on the roster every year from 1993-2014 thanks mostly to Wade Boggs and Jeter, but there were other notables like Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki along the way. Alex Rodriguez has had a Hall of Fame career but there’s no way he’ll get voted in at this point. The players on the projected Opening Day roster with the best chance to get into Cooperstown are Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame track until these last two years, and Beltran’s right on the bubble. JAWS says Beltran is just short and I think his case will be better if he gets over 400 homers (he’s at 373). Right now, I get the feeling Beltran’s going to fall short of Cooperstown.

Andrew asks: What kind of free agent contract do you think Chase Headley would have gotten if it weren’t for his ridiculously good 2012 season?

Headley’s monster 2012 season was so obviously a career year. He’s not going to do that again and I don’t think the Yankees or any other team expects him to. It definitely helped him this offseason though, the same way Ellsbury’s career year helped him last offseason. Teams still absolutely pay for past performance, just not as much as they once did. Headley signed for four years and $13M annually this winter. Without that career year, I think he’d end up with something like four years and $10M annually, or maybe even three years and $10M annually. Jed Lowrie got three years and $7.6M per year this winter and Headley’s clearly a better player. The gap is bigger than $2.4M per year. So my guess is four years and $40M total without that huge year.

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Nicolai asks: Wouldn’t every team that signs Yoan Moncada trade him under almost no circumstances for several years? I mean, how could you get even close to equal value in a trade considering his signing bonus?

Yeah pretty much. I mean, sure, there’s always a chance he could end up in a blockbuster for someone like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in a year, but the chances of that happening are remote. Whoever spends all that money to sign Moncada is going to hold onto him as long as possible and tout him as the future of the franchise — their Trout or Harper, basically — until they’re blue in the face. The team that signs Moncada is paying all that money because they really want him. Not to trade him in a year or two.

DJ asks: Are we seeing a “golden age” of Cuban talent? Scouts seem to be especially high on Yoan Moncada, Yoan Lopez and now Yadier Alvarez. Are these prospects really this great or are their agents/handlers just doing a great job of selling them to the baseball world?

It sure seems like a golden age, doesn’t it? Every year there’s one or two top guys — like top top guys, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, etc. — becoming available and eventually the well will dry up. The island isn’t that big. I don’t know when that will happen, but eventually all the top (top) players will be off the island and Cuba will become something like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, when the best players available each year are 16-17 year old kids. That shift might be happening right now with the 19-year-old Moncada and 18-year-old Alvarez being the current top available position player and pitcher, respectively. It may seem like it now, but Cuba’s not going to keep spitting out 20-something superstars forever.

James asks: How long does a team control a player after they sign them as an international free agent? In other words, how many years are you getting Moncada for by giving him a signing bonus of $30-40 million dollars?

Players get six full years in the minors before becoming eligible for minor league free agency. That goes for drafted players and international free agents. The team could then add the player to the 40-man roster after the sixth year to prevent them from becoming a minor league free agent — the Yankees did this with Melky Mesa in 2010 — which means they could then spend another three years in the minors, their three option years. And then on top of that, there’s the player’s six years of team control at the MLB level. So we’re potentially talking about 15 years of team control. But that never really happens. If a guy’s not on the 40-man roster before becoming eligible for minor league free agency, there’s usually a reason.

Bryan asks: Who are the longest tenured MLB players? With A-Rod debuting in 1994, I’m curious how many other current active players (if any?) have been around since the strike.

Now that his suspension is over, A-Rod is the longest tenured active player in MLB. He made his big league debut on July 8th, 1994, 19 days before his 19th birthday. He is the only active player who played during the 1994 season, so he’s the only guy left from the strike year. Here are the next five longest tenured active players:

  • LaTroy Hawkins: Debuted at age 22 on April 29th, 1995. He said he’s planning to retire after 2015.
  • Jamey Wright: Debuted at age 21 on July 3rd, 1996. Just signed a minor league deal with Texas.
  • Bartolo Colon: Debuted at age 23 on April 4th, 1997.
  • Torii Hunter: Debuted at age 22 on August 22nd, 1997.
  • David Ortiz: Debuted at age 21 on September 2nd, 1997.

A bunch of players debuted in 1998, including Beltran, Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Pierzynski, Bruce Chen, and Adrian Beltre. Joe Nathan, Tim Hudson, Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jose Molina all debuted in 1999. Farnsworth and Molina are currently free agents who appear to be getting pushed into a forced retirement, so I guess they’re not really active. Anyway, that’s it. Only 16 players who played in the 1990s are still active today if you count Farnsworth and Molina.

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.

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.