Mailbag: Hitter/Pitcher Combos, Gossage, Ackley, Olson

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything. Questions, comments, links, money, whatever.

... okay. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
… okay. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

J.J. asks: Which team has the best pitcher/hitter combo? I’m talking one pitcher and one hitter. Am I crazy to think Chicago might dominate, with both the White Sox, with Abreu and Sale, and the Cubs, with Arrieta and Bryant, as frontrunners? Maybe Keuchel/Correa? King Felix/Cano? What do you think? Also, what is the answer for the Yankees – Chapman/Teixeira?

The first pairing that jumped to my mind was Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. I’d probably go with Anthony Rizzo over Kris Bryant with Jake Arrieta, but Bryant works too. Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel’s another good one. How does this look for a top ten ranking?

  1. Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer
  2. Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke
  3. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner
  4. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole
  5. Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta
  6. Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel
  7. Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez
  8. Mike Trout and Garrett Richards
  9. Jose Abreu and Chris Sale
  10. Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber

I’m not missing anyone obvious, am I? I also considered Yoenis Cespedes/Matt Harvey and Robinson Cano/Felix Hernandez. A year ago Cano/Felix would have been right near the top, but both showed signs of slowing down last year, enough to scare me away long-term. For what it’s worth, ZiPS has Harper/Scherzer as the best at +12.9 WAR in 2016. Corey Seager/Clayton Kershaw is a distant second at +11.4 WAR. (ZiPS loves Seager.)

Who would the Yankees submit for this list? I can’t in good conscience put a reliever in a best hitter/best pitcher combination. That’s just sad. Mark Teixeira and Masahiro Tanaka? Jacoby Ellsbury and Luis Severino? I’d go with Teixeira/Tanaka.

Sal asks: Mike, Regarding a question you answered today about Aaron Judge (and Swisher) and possible move to 1B due to Bird Injury, you mentioned moving to a more or less valuable position. Could you rank the 8 defense positions from Most Value to Least Value?

Bill James did a ton of work on the defensive spectrum back in the 1980s. The general consensus is the positions are ranked like so, from most valuable to least valuable:

  1. Catcher
  2. Shortstop
  3. Second Base
  4. Center Field
  5. Third Base
  6. Right Field
  7. Left Field
  8. First Base

There’s room for debate here. I tend to think first base is more important than left field, for example. Historically, the first baseman handles the ball approximately six times more often than the left fielder over the course of the season. Catcher is kind of in its own little world too. It’s not like the other positions where you wait for the ball to be hit to you. Otherwise it’s pretty straight forward, right? Up the middle positions first, corner positions with long throws next, corner positions with short throws after that.

Chris asks: What are your thoughts on Harper’s comment baseball is ‘Tired’? And shouldn’t Gossage go play golf instead of judging today’s players?

I thought Harper’s comments were on point. The game is evolving, and these days MLB is filled by young players and players from all around the globe. Expecting them to act the way players acted 30, 40, 50 years ago is not realistic. MLB wants to grow the game among younger fans and the way to do that is by letting players be themselves. Let them bat flip, let them pump their first. This is baseball and it should be fun.

As for Gossage, his rant(s) came straight out of the “the game was so much better when I played” textbook. Nerds? Check. Bat flips? Check. Instant replay? Check. He hit on all of it. Gossage was teammates with Reggie Jackson. Did he have a problem with his showmanship? He was teammates with Rickey Henderson too.

Rickey Henderson

Gossage is entitled to his opinion and we all know he’s not the only ex-player who hates bat flips and stats and all that other stuff. He’s from a different generation and this is what Harper was talking about when he said the game is tired. That way of thinking is outdated. Baseball can either continue to embrace the old school mentality and lose younger fans to other sports, or they can get with the times. No sport clutches its pearls quite like baseball.

Matt asks: What is your reaction to Chris Sale apparently “ripping into” Ken Williams over the LaRoche debacle?

That seems very bad. First and foremost, a player shouldn’t be chewing out the team president. That shows a lack of control on the team’s part. Secondly, Sale is the most irreplaceable player in the White Sox organization, even morso than Williams, so when he’s this upset about something, it’s a problem. I do wonder if some players privately complained to Williams about Adam LaRoche’s kid and that’s what brought this all about, because otherwise it makes no sense.

Does the team change their policy if LaRoche hits 30 homers last year? Why change the policy in the middle of March? Players consider the clubhouse their space. They don’t like others getting involved in what happens there, so the Sale incident is a symptom of a larger problem. The White Sox have a very unhappy clubhouse right now — by all accounts LaRoche was super popular and a beloved teammate — and it’s up to manager Robin Ventura to smooth things over.

Brian asks (short version): I appreciated your lineup analysis piece and I don’t understand Girardi’s fascination with platooning Gardner. Hicks should absolutely play against every lefty, but shouldn’t it be at the expense of either Beltran (wRC+ (2015-2012): 99, 51, 100, 129)) or Ellsbury (83, 131, 77, 75) over Gardner (112, 97, 102, 446(SSA!))?

There’s more to this than the platoon splits. Ellsbury is on a huge contract and Carlos Beltran‘s a borderline Hall of Famer, so they’ve received the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing time against left-handed pitchers. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I also think Joe Girardi likes to give Brett Gardner regular rest because he always seems to be banged up. That’s just his style of play.

Benching Ellsbury in the wildcard game could be a sign Girardi will be more open to sitting him against lefties, but remember, that came after three terrible months, and even then Girardi said he had to think hard about it. I’m not going to hold my breath. I expect Aaron Hicks to play a lot this year. This could be a situation where Ellsbury and Gardner each start only three out of every four games, with Hicks picking up the slack. Gardner shouldn’t automatically sit against lefties, though Girardi has leaned that way over the last few years.

Keith asks: Are you aware of any scientific or enlightened approach by front offices or players to figure out what size/weight bat should be used? Obviously the goal is to maximize bat speed and bat weight but of course the the two don’t go hand in hand.

I am not but that sounds pretty interesting. That would be highly specialized — each player is different, you can’t have a one size fits all approach with something as important as the bat — and require a lot of research. Players are very particular about their bats too. They find a model they like and stick with it pretty much their entire career. Convincing them to change would be tough. I suspect it would be like most new ideas. Some players would be interested while others wouldn’t want to hear it.

Anonymous asks: I know it would never happen because you have to appease your stars, but would Baltimore be better off with Trumbo at first and Chris Davis in RF? After all, he played 30 games there last year, and Boras DID market him as a ‘potential corner outfielder’. (wink, wink)

Yes, I do think so. I even mentioned that when I whipped up our CBS post on the Alvarez signing. Davis has been stereotyped as a lumbering one-dimensional slugger, but that’s not the case. He’s a surprisingly good athlete for his size and he’s a very good defender at first base. Over the last few years he’s shown he can handle right field with no problem. Is Davis the rangiest outfielder? No. But he can make all the routine plays. Mark Trumbo can’t do that. Trumbo at first with Davis in right and Alvarez at DH is the best defensive alignment for the O’s. Instead, they’re going to play Trumbo in right and Davis at first, and that’s good for the Yankees given their lefty pull hitters and Baltimore’s all-righty rotation.

Rich asks (short version): With the recent talks about the DH being implemented in both leagues, and the absurd uproar about losing the double switch as a strategic tactic, why can’t MLB just amend the double switch rule to incorporate the DH?

I like it. The idea would be to treat the DH spot as the pitcher’s spot, so the Yankees could start Alex Rodriguez at DH and Beltran in right field, then double switch Hicks into A-Rod‘s lineup spot as the right fielder and slide Beltran to DH. I like the idea. It would maintain some of the “strategy” old school folks love — hopefully my simple DH loving brain will be able to grasp the immense complexity of the double switch — and give managers another tool. I’ve never really understand why the DH isn’t treated like every other position, allowing managers to move players in and out throughout the game. I would be surprised if MLB went for something like this. It just seems like someone would fight it for some reason.


Bart asks: If CC Sabathia continues with the same poor results, shouldn’t the Yankees propose a buy-out of his current contract with possibly a deferral of some of the salary to future years? Would CC consider this rather than continuing to perform poorly for another year (or 2)?

They could try, but why would Sabathia agree? Unless you think Sabathia is willing to just walk away from baseball — Michael Cuddyer and LaRoche just did it, so it’s not impossible — there’s no reason for him to agree to a buyout. Sabathia is a top notch competitor and baseball is the only thing he’s known his entire adult life. I have a hard time thinking he’ll just walk away. He’s going to do whatever he can to help his team even though he’s a shell of his former self.

Mike asks: Why does Ackley’s name never seem to come up in conversations about backup third basemen? Does he not have the arm for it?

Right. Dustin Ackley does not have the arm for third base. He barely has the arm for second base at this point. Ackley never had a strong arm to start with, but he had Tommy John surgery in college, and since then it’s been lob city. Considering the Yankees were willing to try both Starlin Castro and Rob Refsnyder at third base this spring, I’m guessing they would have given Ackley a shot there as well if they thought it was possible. The arm strength just isn’t there. That’s too bad. Ackley would be really useful if he could play the right side of the infield.

Julian asks: Does Tyler Olsen have a legit chance to make the Opening Day bullpen?

I’m starting to think he might. Olson has allowed two hits and three walks in 5.2 scoreless innings this spring, and two of the three walks were in his first outing. He’s struck out four overall and lefties are 0-for-8 against him. Olson is a pure lefty specialist with an upper-80s heater and a sweepy slider, so his usefulness is limited. Also, he had a phenomenal spring for the Mariners last year (12.2 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 15 K) then got destroyed in the regular season after making the Opening Day roster (5.40 ERA and 6.36 FIP), so beware Grapefruit League numbers. Right now I think Olson is on the outside looking in, but if he pitches well these next two weeks, he might just sneak onto the roster.

Mailbag: Qualifying Offer, Judge, Teixeira, Mateo, Romine

There are 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions throughout the week.

Qualifying offer getter. (Presswire)
Qualifying offer getter Jason Heyward. (Presswire)

Troy asks: What would you think of a proposal where you had different levels of qualifying offers? Perhaps something as simple as to get a first round draft pick the Qualifying Offer has to be a two or even three year offer at an AAV equal to the current requirement. A one year contract could result in a second or even third round pick. This would seem to distinguish between the top players and the middle of the road guys that get really hurt by the current system.

I like the idea. It certainly seems like it would work better than the current system. How’s this quick two tier proposal sound?

  • Tier One: Three-year contract with the average annual value set at the average of the top 75 salaries in MLB ($18.3M in 2015). Signing team gives up a first rounder and the losing team gets a supplemental first rounder.
  • Tier Two: One-year contract with the average annual value set at the average of the top 200 salaries in MLB ($13.1M in 2015). Signing team doesn’t give up a pick and losing team gets a supplemental second rounder.

That sound good? It’s similar to the old Type-A and Type-B system in that there’s two ways to get a draft pick but only one requires the signing team to surrender a pick. Only a handful of Tier One qualifying offers would be made each offseason. The elite guys would get them. That’s it.

I like this idea. Why should Ian Kennedy and Daniel Murphy get the same qualified offer as David Price and Jason Heyward? With this system the mid-range free agents wouldn’t having their market depressed by draft pick compensation, and their former teams would still get a pick, albeit one a round later. This could work.

Andrew asks: Do we have any stats on which Yankee position players (so everyone besides A-Rod and the pitchers basically) fare better when given a “1/2 day off” at DH? And does this, or if not should it, impact Girardi’s decision making when it comes to allocating which players to give these 1/2 days off.

We have stats for almost everything these days. Here are how the Yankees’ non-Alex Rodriguez hitters have performed as a DH over the last three seasons:

Carlos Beltran 359 73 17 0 12 40 31 69 .227 .298 .393 .691
Brian McCann 84 21 1 0 5 8 3 22 .266 .310 .468 .778
Mark Teixeira 38 7 1 0 1 5 6 7 .219 .342 .344 .686
Dustin Ackley 24 4 1 0 0 5 2 6 .182 .250 .227 .477
Jacoby Ellsbury 18 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 .111 .111 .111 .222
Brett Gardner 10 1 1 0 0 1 1 3 .111 .200 .222 .422
Chase Headley 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 .111 .200 .222 .422

Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks have not played a game as the DH at all over the last three years. Aside from Beltran, we’re talking about only a handful of plate appearances spread across several years, so I would just ignore the stats all together. Teixeira hitting .219 in his last 38 plate appearances as a DH doesn’t tell us much of anything.

Most of Beltran’s DH plate appearances came in 2014 (312 of the 359, to be exact), when he couldn’t throw because of the bone spur in his elbow. He’s on the record saying he doesn’t like to DH, and while the numbers back that up, we have to remember he was playing with the bone spur most of those plate appearances. The numbers are skewed because he wasn’t healthy.

When it comes to giving players a half-day off as the DH, I’m not sure looking at these numbers is all that helpful. The pitcher on the mound is going to impact things in any individual game more than the player’s DH history. I wouldn’t think about it too much. The sample sizes are too small to tell us anything useful.

Manuel asks: I think it is a bad idea to put young players in a lefty-righty-platoon. In my opinion they have to face their weaker split situation so they can improve. What do you think?

This is a decision that should be made on a case by case basis. You can’t have a blanket policy that covers all players because each player is different. Gregorius, for example, is someone you’d like to develop into a complete all-around player, so giving him reps against lefty pitching makes sense. On the other hand, if you have a corner outfielder who is no great shakes defensively, it might not be worth the effort to give them the at-bats against pitchers of the same hand. The reward’s just not that great. Take Tyler Austin for example. If he shows he can contribute as a platoon bat, that’s a good outcome at this point. It all depends on the player.

Dave asks: After Greg Bird went down, I was wondering if it might make sense to give Aaron Judge a shot at 1B. Given the backlog of outfield talent, if he starts mashing AAA early in the season, wouldn’t he be a valuable platoon at 1B? It seems he’s pretty athletic for his size, and would be a huge target with a ton of range. Seems like a fair number of OF (a la Nick Swisher) have done it. Any thoughts?

I don’t think you can change Judge’s development path — or any top prospect’s development path for that matter — because of an injury to another player. He’s physically enormous but he’s a surprisingly good athlete for his size, so he’s a solid outfielder defensively. Judge is no liability in the field. There’s no reason to make this move just yet. I’m sure it’ll happen in time though, as he gets older and slows down. It sucks Bird is going to lose a year to injury. It would suck even more if the Yankees moved Judge to less valuable position as a result.

(Also, Swisher was a first baseman in college who moved to the outfield in pro ball. He moved to the more valuable position, not the other way around.)

Patrick asks (short version): Mike, on Saturday I saw Teixeira hitting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher. I don’t know if it was discussed here or on TV, but is there a reason for this?

Steven Wright was pitching for the Red Sox that day and Teixeira hits from the same side of the plate against knuckleball pitchers. Teixeira also bats righty against R.A. Dickey and he actually hit a home run against Wright from the right side of the plate last year:

A few switch-hitters bat from the same side of the plate against knuckleball pitchers for whatever reason. I guess they see the ball better from that angle. Not every switch-hitter does it — Beltran hit a home run against Wright left-handed last year (video) — but some do. There was nothing special about Saturday. Teixeira’s not working on his righty swing or abandoning the left side of the plate. Nothing like that. He just always bats from the same side against knuckleball pitchers.

James asks: Have you heard any updates on people being able to purchase for only a single team at a reduced price?

Yes, you can buy single-team packages this year. Here’s the link. It’s $84.99 for the season, which is just high enough to get you to say “might as well buy the full package for $109.99.” The single-team subscriptions are still subject to local blackouts, so you can’t buy it in New York and expect to watch the Yankees or Mets. It’s for out-of-market fans only.

Sam asks (short version): Every Met starter but Thor has already had TJS … I’d be leery of long-term deals with these guys. If I were the Mets, I’d wait until each is 2 years from free agency, then begin negotiations. Even if you pay more year-to-year that way, you lessen the risk of big money tied to a blown-out elbow. Your thoughts?

I understand that sentiment and ultimately it comes down to the contract size and the team’s comfort in the player’s medicals. Risk vs. reward. All pitchers are an injury risk and some are riskier than others, including guys who have already had Tommy John surgery. Is the extra risk worth it for a pitcher of Matt Harvey’s caliber? Maybe! The Mets know his elbow better than anyone, remember. Given the team’s situation, I think it’s important for the Mets to gain cost certainty over their rotation for the next few seasons so their salaries don’t explode through arbitration. Buying out free agent years is a bonus. Guys who have Tommy John surgery do scare me. At the same time, if Nathan Eovaldi went to the Yankees tomorrow and said he’s take four years at $10M per season, would I want them to sign him? Hell yes.

Dan asks: Small Sample Size alert – last year Mateo hit 2 HRs total, and so far this spring he’s already hit one and another that just missed in 2 games. Was wondering if you have noticed any material changes to his swing or build? Wasn’t sure if there were any reports about him tweaking anything in the off-season.

He almost hit another homer Wednesday too, but it sailed foul. Jorge Mateo hit two home runs in exactly 500 plate appearances last year, and one of them was an inside-the-park homer (video), so he really only hit one ball out of the park. I haven’t heard anything about changes to his swing this spring, but he is a 20-year-old kid, so could have gotten stronger in the offseason. Also, Mateo has shown power in batting price — Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he has “above-average raw power evaluators see” in BP — so it’s in there. He just needs to refine his approach to tap into it. I haven’t heard anything about swing changes and I would tend to ignore the outcome of two random spring at-bats. Needless to say though, Mateo’s power output is worth monitoring going forward. If he starts mashing taters, good gravy.

Leah asks (short version): With infield shifts becoming much more prevalent in the game, it seems to me that the ability to play out of position is becoming a much more important skill. Going forward, will this sea-change impact prospect development and assessment in any significant way?

Teams have always looked at athleticism and the potential for a player to play elsewhere on the field, so I don’t think evaluation will change much. I do think it will impact development strategies though. The Yankees had Mateo work out at second base in Instructional League last year just so he could become familiar with the right side of the infield for shifts. A guy like Rob Refsnyder, who is learning third but has experience on the right side of the infield, could take to the shift well and that’s valuable. The Blue Jays used to put third baseman Brett Lawrie in short right field when using a shift because he was a former second baseman and familiar with that territory. The ability to play all over the field is more valuable than ever, and I think teams will begin putting in more time to teach players how to handle different parts of the field because of the shift.

Jason asks (short version): Assuming Didi keeps playing well or at least doesn’t regress over the next few years and Mateo progresses as he’s expected to, is there a scenario where Didi moves to third to make way for Mateo?

Sure, it could happen. I’d be more inclined to keep both Gregorius and Mateo on the middle infield to take advantage of their athleticism and defense, but if second base is not available, third is another option. Didi’s bat is probably a little light compared to what you would normally want from a third baseman, so I’m not sure if the Yankees will go for that. This is a question for another time, really. We’re a long way away from figuring out how Gregorius and Mateo can co-exist on the same roster.

Marc asks: Would it make the most sense to let Refsnyder begin the season in AAA where he can play regularly at 3B and 2B, with a little OF sprinkled in, for a month or so until he hits his way onto the ML roster? He could get some seasoning and develop into pretty valuable utility guy.

Ref. (Presswire)
Ref. (Presswire)

I don’t think Refsnyder has anything left to prove at Triple-A from an offensive standpoint. We know he can hit Triple-A pitching and it’s time to find out if he can hit MLB pitching. The third base experiment has thrown a wrinkle into this because you’d like to give him a few weeks of regular play at the position. That said, I think he’s ready to help the Yankees right now. It’s not like he’s going to play third base often anyway. I could go either way with this. I would understand if the Yankees wanted to send him to Triple-A for more third base work, and I would understand if they took him north and made him learn on the fly.

Eric asks: So I agree with your post saying the Yankees should go with Romine as the back up catcher and leave Gary Sanchez in AAA for 35 days for the sake of service time manipulation. I think it’s also fair to assume since Romine can become a free agent and catching depth in the league is so hard to come by that the Yankees will try and trade him. So without throwing any names out there (My Trade Proposal Sucks) what teams make sense for him, and what does the potential return look like?

The potential return would be close to nothing. The best case scenario seems like a George Kontos type — the Yankees traded Kontos to the Giants for Chris Stewart in 2012 — and I do mean the best case. In all likelihood it would be much less. Teams know Romine can elect free agency and they may decide to wait it out. As for teams that could need catching help, the Cardinals (if Yadier Molina’s thumb isn’t ready for Opening Day), Mets (if they decide to let Kevin Plawecki play regularly in Triple-A), and Brewers (if Jonathan Lucroy is traded) jump to mind pending those ifs. Catcher is a brutal position and it’s possible an injury will open up another landing spot for Romine, and that includes staying with the Yankees.

Sandeep asks (short version): If you could change the result of one play in Yankees history, what would it be?

Three plays immediately jumped to mind. One, Edgar Martinez’s double in 1995. Two, Luis Gonzalez’s single in 2001. And three, Dave Roberts’ steal in 2004. Those all happened in my lifetime, so they hit closer to home than, say, Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series. Let’s talk those three plays out one at a time really quick.

Martinez double: If Edgar makes an out there, the Mariners are still down one run with runners on the corners and one out in the 11th inning. The next batter (A-Rod!) could have still tied the game with a fly ball. And even if the Yankees win that game, they only would have advanced to the ALCS, where they might get steamrolled by the Albert Belle led 100-44 (!) Indians. The Edgar double was the first time baseball crushed my soul.

Gonzalez single: The game was already tied at this point, so best case scenario is Mariano Rivera gets out of the inning — the D’Backs would have still had the bases loaded with two outs had Gonzalez struck out or popped out or whatever — and the game goes to extras with Randy Johnson on the mound and Rivera having already thrown two innings. (Mike Stanton pitched earlier in the game. I think Mike Mussina, who started Game Five three days earlier, would have been next out of the bullpen.) Maybe Mo’s error on Damien Miller’s bunt earlier in the inning is the play to change since it had all the look of a potential 1-6-3 double play:

Instead of having runners at first and second with no outs, Arizona would have had the bases empty with two outs. Even if Rivera only gets the force out at second — Miller was a 31-year-old catcher at the time, so he wasn’t flying down the line, a double play was a very real possibility — it’s still runner on first with one out instead of first and second with no outs.

Roberts steal: If Jorge Posada throws out Roberts, the Red Sox would have been down by one with the bases empty and one out in the ninth. Bill Mueller and Doug Mientkiewicz were due up. Rivera likely closes it out, the Yankees go to the World Series, and who knows what happens against the Cardinals.

Out of those plays, I have to go with Mo’s error in 2001. That’s the one I would change. Turn that error into a 1-6-3 double play and the Yankees are one out away — with the bases empty and the best reliever in the history of the universe on the mound, remember — from their fourth straight World Series title and fifth in six years. Yep, that’s the play. Someone go back in time and change that.

Mailbag: Refsnyder, Gardner, Teixeira, Mateo, A-Rod, Otani

Fifteen questions in the mailbag this week. As always, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything throughout the week. Mailbag questions, comments, links, whatever.

Gardy. (Presswire)
Gardy. (Presswire)

Jacob asks: How similar is Rob Refsnyder to Brett Gardner offensively? Would it make sense to put Ref in left if Gardy is traded or Hicks?

Refsnyder and Gardner might actually be pretty comparable offensively, at least on a rate basis. Refsnyder won’t be the same kind of weapon on the bases — even though he’s no longer a 40+ steal guy, Gardner still runs well and adds value with his legs — but the slash lines could be similar. Check out their 2016 ZiPS projections:

Gardner: .256/.330/.405 (104 OPS+)
Refsnyder: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+)

Refsnyder’s not that far off from Gardner in the eyes of the objective computer algorithm. You’re not getting the same speed though, and you’re definitely not getting the same level of defense either, even with Gardner’s glovework beginning to slip with age.

The Yankees have so many quality young outfielders right now — if not Aaron Hicks, then Slade Heathcott or Ben Gamel, or Aaron Judge, or Mason Williams once healthy — that I don’t see the point in putting Refsnyder in left field full-time. I say try to make him a utility guy who can play second, third, and some corner outfield in a pinch. It seems like Refsnyder would be most valuable in that role, not as a full-time corner outfielder.

Brian asks: Besides the obvious platoon of Hicks/Beltran/Ells/Gardy, is there another platoon you think could develop?

I think one could develop at shortstop, with Starlin Castro playing short and Refsnyder playing second against left-handed pitchers. That would depend on a) Refsnyder actually being on the roster, and b) Didi Gregorius struggling against lefties so much that it’s impossible to ignore. Gregorius did hit .308/.368/.397 against lefties in the second half last season, so if nothing else, that’s a reason not to platoon him. You want Didi to improve against lefties and sitting on the bench is no way to do that.

Aside from shortstop, I suppose we could see some kind of platoon behind the plate as well, assuming Gary Sanchez is on the roster. There’s no sense in platooning Austin Romine or Carlos Corporan. No offense, but they’re not worth the trouble. McCann has actually hit lefties quite well with the Yankees (124 wRC+), though a platoon would put Sanchez is a good position to succeed, and also get McCann off his feet with some regularity. He just turned 32 and the Yankees don’t want him turning into a pumpkin with three years left on his contract.

Dylan asks: Doesn’t a two year deal for Teixeira make total sense right now? Next year he can start at 1B while we learn how Bird will respond to the injury and if he is still a long term solution. The year after, in a perfect world, Bird will slide in to starting at first, while Tex can spell Bird at first, and primarily DH. It seems like a great transition plan to me. What would it take to get it done? Mike Morse-ish? 2 years $16 million? Maybe 2/$20?

Oh come on, Mark Teixeira‘s no Mike Morse. Adam LaRoche got two years and $25M last offseason and Teixeira should get at least that if he repeats his 2015 season in 2016. I wouldn’t sign Teixeira right now. Let the season play out and see what happens first. I wouldn’t want to lock myself into the 38-year-old version of Teixeira in 2018 without first seeing what the 36-year-old version in 2016 looks like. Re-signing him should be Plan A if it appears Greg Bird won’t be ready to take over as the starting first baseman next year, and it might take a two-year contract to get it done, but I wouldn’t jump on it just yet. I’m comfortable letting this one play out in a few months.

Anonymous asks: We’ve heard endless much ado about trading Brett Gardner. Is he basically untradeable at the moment (wrist)?

I’ve come to realize no player is truly untradeable these days, but no, Gardner is not untradeable. He’s still a solid player signed to a fair contract, and those guys will always have a market. Gardner’s wrist injury doesn’t seem serious — he’s hitting and going through all the normal drills — and while I’m sure teams would try to use it to drive down the price, I doubt it’s a deal-breaker. I don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner during the season anyway. Maybe they’ll try again next offseason should Hicks, Judge, or any of the other Triple-A outfielders really force the issue.

Brad asks: Since the Yanks have young up-the-middle talent under team control for a while, do you think they will give Mateo a shot in CF any time soon? We haven’t had a real CF (Ellsbury is nothing more than a 7 year mistake) since (the perpetually underrated and more HOF-worthy than the voters gave him credit for) Bernie Williams.

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Yes to center field, no to anytime soon. There’s no reason to make that move until it’s absolutely clear shortstop (and second base) is locked up at the MLB level long-term. Jorge Mateo‘s a really good defender at short, and while I’m sure he’d be a fantastic center fielder thanks to his speed, you’d hate to push aside those shortstop defense skills too soon. He’s only 20 and he’s still in Single-A ball. I say keep him at shortstop until a position change is truly necessary. I do think Mateo could handle center defensively though. This is more of a “he’s more valuable at short” situation than a “he can’t play center” situation.

Chris asks: There’s been a lot of proposed ideas for the new CBA to eliminate or change the qualifying offer. And some have just as many questions as answers, but how about this: push the picks back to the second round. Teams would be less wary of giving up a second rounder, while teams offering the QO wouldn’t be quite as willing to do so for a second round pick. Less draft pool money is lost for the signing team as well but there is certainly still value in a second round pick. What do you think?

I like the idea. I actually mentioned it as a possible fix in a CBS post I wrote a few weeks ago. The team that loses the free agent would still get the same supplemental first round pick, but the signing team would only give up their second rounder, not their first. Teams would be far more willing to give up a second rounder (and the associated draft pool money) to sign a qualified free agent, even middling ones like Ian Desmond and Ian Kennedy.

I do wonder if this plan would be viewed as not enough of a punishment for the signing team, however. The signing team would get the big free agent and still have access to the top talent in the draft. That’s the whole point of the free agent compensation system, to spread the talent around. In theory, teams would get either the big free agents or the top amateurs, not both. Giving up a second rounder is basically a slap on the wrist. Clubs won’t think twice about losing it.

Andrew asks: Do you have more confidence as a fan heading into this season than last year?

I do, for sure. I was not sold on Gregorius as an everyday shortstop last year, I didn’t expect much from Alex Rodriguez (suspension), Teixeira (terrible second half), or Carlos Beltran (offseason elbow surgery), and I was much more concerned about the health of Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Granted, those two are still injury risks, but they each threw 150+ innings in 2015. That’s more than I would have guessed.

This year I’m much more confident in Gregorius, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Beltran being able to produce, and in Tanaka and Pineda being able to stay on the mound. Add in what could be a substantial upgrade at second base, 132 games of Aroldis friggin’ Chapman, plus a full season of Luis Severino, and I’m feeling pretty darn good about the 2016 Yankees. Are they world beaters? Nope. But I think they’re a better team today than they were a year ago.

Paul asks: Even though his days in the field are done, does A-Rod help in coaching someone like Rob Refsnyder at 3b? Or Sir Didi at SS?

Yep. He worked with Gregorius at shortstop last season, and a few days ago Rod told Erik Boland he plans to work with Starlin Castro at third base. I assume he’ll do the same with Refsnyder. Lots and lots of young players have said Rodriguez has helped them over the years. A-Rod’s no saint, that’s very clear, but he’s always had a great reputation for helping teammates, particularly young guys.

Simon asks: Chances are as close to zero as you can possibly get but what do you think it would take to get A-Rod into Monument Park either via plaque or number retirement?

Something huge. The Yankees would need to win the 2016 and 2017 World Series with Rod being the World Series MVP. Something crazy like that. I don’t think there’s any chance the Yankees will put Rodriguez in Monument Park given all the headaches over the years even though he’s unquestionably one of the best players in franchise history. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put No. 13 right back into circulation after he leaves, the same way they gave Scott Sizemore No. 24 right after Robinson Cano left. I think A-Rod deserves a plaque and his number retired. I have zero confidence in it actually happening.

Nicholas asks: I saw on MLBTR that Tejada could be waived by the Mets, should the Yankees be interested in him as a utility infielder? Or is he JAG?

I have no idea what JAG means, but Ruben Tejada is a pretty good backup infielder. He’s managed a wRC+ in the 89-99 range in four of the last five years, and he’s a fine defender at short and second. (His third base experience is limited.) I would greatly prefer Tejada to Pete Kozma or Donovan Solano or any of the other scrap heap infielders the Yankees signed this offseason. I’m not sure who the Mets would carry on the bench instead of Tejada (Eric Campbell? Dilson Herrera?), but if they do waive him, I’d like to see the Yankees pick him up even with the $3M salary. Middle infield depth is good.

Tejada. (Presswire)
Tejada. (Presswire)

Rocco asks: Maybe you know the answer to this: Posting system notwithstanding, is there anything preventing a team from trading a prospect/player and cash to a Japanese team to pry free a player they would not otherwise post? Like, say, a prospect and $20mil for Otani?

The posting system eliminated trades between MLB and NPB teams. It’s all because of Hideki Irabu. The Chiba Lotte Marines traded Irabu to the Padres (for a big pile of cash) and he was upset, so he refused to report. Irabu said he would play for the Yankees, so the Padres flipped him to New York. The transfer agreement between MLB and NPB was revised after the Irabu stuff, so trades aren’t possible anymore. The player has to initiate the transaction between teams in the two leagues now.

Vidhath asks: Regarding Otani’s posting, I thought I read that when he first decided to stay in the NPB instead of coming to the MLB right out of high school, they had a handshake agreement that they would post him whenever he asked. Is that still the case?

That is widely believed to be the case. Shohei Otani wanted to forego the NPB draft and sign with an MLB team out of high school a few years back, but the Nippon Ham Fighters drafted him anyway. He agreed to sign with them and play a few years (giving them a star to replace Yu Darvish) in exchange for the team not standing in his way when he asks to be posted. That’s the rumor, anyway. Who knows if it’s true. Otani’s been very open about his desire to play in MLB. It’s only a matter of time until he’s made available to MLB teams.

Erik asks: Hypothetically, if Shohei Otani were posted as a free agent now at 21 years old, is he not subject to International draft pool limits and exemptions for players 23 and under? Would this apply for KBO players as well? Thanks!

The bonus pools cover amateur players only. Otani and everyone else playing in Japan and Korea are professional players, so they’re not subject to the international bonus pools. Also, Otani would not be a true free agent under the posting system. He’d be free to negotiate with any team during the posting process, but the (Ham) Fighters would still control his rights. Those rights would then be transferred to the signing team. He’d never actually be a free agent, in that no one controlled his rights.

Evan asks: So apparently in-market streaming is going to be available this year but not through mlbtv? Do you have any details on exactly how I go about streaming in market games (is it available for spring training games).

Spring Training games are available on regular old with no blackouts. I watched Wednesday’s game on As for regular season in-market streaming, I assume it will run through, and you’ll just have to sign up and pay an extra fee for the service. YES actually had an in-market service a few years ago that was great, and that’s exactly how it worked. Sign up through, then watch on like any other game. You need to subscribe to YES to get the in-market streaming this year, so I assume when you sign up, you’ll be asked for your cable provider info. Whenever I get more concrete information, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

Eric asks: Is Aroldis Chapman eligible for a qualifying offer? My original understanding of the rule was that as long as a player wasn’t traded in season he was eligible to receive a QO. However, last year I remember reading Yoenis Cespedes wasn’t eligible to get a QO from the Tigers if he wasn’t traded which was what pushed Detroit to trade him. So whats the deal with the QO system with Chapman?

Cespedes had a unique contract. In his original four-year contract with the Athletics, it explicitly said the team had to non-tender him after the fourth year to make him a free agent. (Otherwise he would have remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player.) The non-tender deadline is after the qualifying offer deadline, which is why Cespedes couldn’t get a qualifying offer. Chapman’s eligible for the qualifying offer. The suspension doesn’t change anything. Now, if the Yankees trade Chapman at the deadline, he will no longer be eligible for the qualifying offer. The player has to spend the full season with the team and Chapman will do that in 2016. Right now there’s no reason to think the Yankees won’t make him the qualifying offer.

Mailbag: Kaprielian, Injuries, Bird, Ellsbury, Teixeira, Nova

We’ve got 16 questions this week, which might be a mailbag record. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is where you can send us questions.

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

Eric asks: Since Kaprielian is on the roster and was invited to spring does that mean he will see action in any games, or was this more so the big league staff could work with him/see him first hand?

Yeah, we should see James Kaprielian pitch in some Grapefruit League games. Luis Severino appeared in two games and threw 2.2 innings with the big league team last spring before being reassigned to minor league camp, and Kaprielian figures to be on a similar plan this year. Last year the Phillies had 2014 first rounder Aaron Nola throw three innings in camp, and he was a quick moving college starter like Kaprielian. (Nola was in the big leagues by July.) A handful of innings is pretty standard, so it won’t be much of a look, but it’ll be something.

Mike asks: You mentioned in a post this week that the biggest predictor of future injury is past injury – have there been any studies/examinations of data around injury causation/correlation? Wondering if data such as previous season PA/Innings pitched, previous injury history, SB attempts, etc. would line up with conventional wisdom about injuries?

Jeff Zimmerman has done a ton of research on injuries (mostly pitcher injuries) over the years and I can’t point you to any one specific post or series of posts. The only things I can recommend are his FanGraphs archive and Hardball Times archive. There’s a lot of posts and they go back years and years. He’s found evidence throwing a lot of breaking balls is bad (curveballs are worse than sliders, apparently), and there’s also strong correlation between high walk rates and injuries. The theory is pitchers with high walk rates have bad mechanics, making them prone to injury. Zimmerman’s work is top notch and it can be overwhelming because there’s so much of it.

Paul asks: Do you think if/when there are 2 teams added, interleague games will go back to being a couple of thematic weeks since they’ll no longer mathematically be required year-long? And how do you think it would impact divisions since there would now be 16 teams/league that 2 8-team divisions might surface?

Interleague play definitely isn’t going anywhere but I do think they’d bunch it together in the span of two or three weeks like they did back in the day, assuming the league expands at some point. Maybe they’ll bunch most of it together and give some high-profile geographic rivalries (Yankees vs. Mets, Dodgers vs. Angels, Giants vs. Angels, Orioles vs. Nationals, etc.) their own weekend later in the season.

I have to think two expansion teams would even the leagues out at 16 teams apiece, and two eight-team divisions would make the playoffs nice and neat too. Top two teams from each division get in, first place plays second place in the LDS, then the LCS features one team from each division. Easy, right? I don’t think MLB is going to want to get rid of the wildcard game though. It’s done very well for the league.

Shaya asks: The Ian Kennedy signing got me thinking out of the 6 pitchers from “The Big Three” and the “Killer B’s” has the most valuable one been Betances, or is a middling SP (IPK, Hughes) more valuable?

Phil Hughes leads the six pitchers in fWAR by a decent margin — he’s at 17.6 fWAR in 1,145.2 innings and Ian Kennedy is at 14.4 fWAR in 1,234.2 innings — and I’d agree he has had the best career of those guys to date. He’s had one year as a great reliever (2009) and a couple years as a good (2010, 2012) to great (2014) starter. Kennedy’s had some solid years too (2010-12). Starters are generally more valuable than relievers, but Dellin Betances is no ordinary reliever, and if he keeps this up, he’s going to go down as the best of the Big Three/Killer Bs pitchers. Dellin is at 5.6 fWAR in 181.2 innings and I’m one of those guys who thinks WAR underrates late-inning relievers by quite a bit.

Will asks: How exactly does dipping under the luxury tax and resetting a team’s tax rate work? Does a team have to begin, end, or play an entire season at a payroll figure below the $189M rate? If the payroll dips below the threshold as contracts expire after the season, could the Yankees spend their way back above that offseason or do they have to play the following season below that mark to qualify for a reset?

The end of season payroll has to be under the $189M threshold, so they have to stay under from Opening Day through Game 162. The expiring contracts at the end of the season don’t factor into the 2016 luxury tax payroll calculation. There’s no way the Yankees can get under the luxury tax this year. They’d have to shed close to $60M in payroll and that’s just not realistic. They should be able to get under in 2017 as long as the threshold rises with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. Once they spend a season under the threshold, the luxury tax rate resets, and the Yankees are free to spend whatever they please the following year.

Bird. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Bird. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Dan asks: I am definitely a glass half empty Yankees fan. Be honest with us: how bad is Greg Bird‘s shoulder surgery? Career derailing? Minor blimp? Somewhere in between?

I don’t think a player can have surgery, miss an entire season, and have the injury qualify as a “minor blip.” Bird had a very serious procedure. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Could it derail his career? I mean, possibly. Any time you’re talking about an injury to a major joint like the shoulder, it’s always possible it won’t ever work the same way again. Bird is not a pitcher but he still needs the shoulder to hit. It’s his front shoulder, his power shoulder, so it’s an important part of his swing. This is definitely somewhere between minor blip and career-threatening, closer to minor blip, I’d say. There’s always a chance the worst case scenario happens. That’s just the way it is.

(Also, I was a glass half empty fan once upon a time. It’s not worth it. I can’t control anything on the field so there’s no point in getting worried or upset. Zen baseball.)

P.J. asks: I’d like to jump ahead to the FA class next winter. We’ve all read over and over this past winter the rumors of Brett Gardner. But in reality wouldn’t moving him next winter be much more likely with a better return? There are a lot of FA outfielders available BUT quantity doesn’t equal quality and the FA outfield class next winter seems to be short on quality.

It’s possible if he has a typical Gardner season in 2016, meaning offense that is roughly 5% or so above league average and defense that is solid if not spectacular. The free agent outfield class is surprisingly strong next offseason — it’s Carlos Gomez, Dexter Fowler, Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Yoenis Cespedes — assuming Bautista doesn’t re-up with the Blue Jays and Cespedes opts out. If that doesn’t happen, the market will be thinner and there could be more interest in Gardner. I don’t know if the Yankees will get a better return — they’d be trading two years of Gardner instead of three, and the extra year of control matters — but they should still be able to drum up interest in him next winter. Their willingness to trade Gardner is going to depend a lot on the development of Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge.

Dave asks: Ellsbury was recently on Dan Szymborski’s ESPN Insider list of worst contracts; not surprising considering he has 5 years and $110.7M remaining. What kind of contact would he have gotten if he had been a free agent at the start of this offseason? He turned 32 last September.

That’s a good question. No way would he get five years and $110.7M after the season he had. Cespedes and Justin Upton didn’t sign until January, and I have to think Jacoby Ellsbury would have been right there waiting for a contract with them. I wonder if he would have been one of those guys who got hung out to dry by the qualifying offer, like Fowler and Ian Desmond. Two years ago I thought a five-year contract worth $85M or so was appropriate for Ellsbury. Knock two years off that and it’s three years and $51M. Would Ellsbury have gotten that this offseason? Cespedes had that monster 2015 season and only got three years and $75M.

Andrew asks: Is it possible to let Tex walk for a year? Assuming he gets a 1 or 2 year contract from another team, could he be signed in a DH role for his 38/39 year seasons if he shows he can still produce?

Of course. When he said he wanted to play until he was 40, Mark Teixeira specifically mentioned spending the last few seasons of his career as a DH, and we know he loves New York, so I’m sure he’d be open to it. The only issue is if he spends 2017 (and possibly 2018 as well) with another team, he might fall in love with that club and that city even more than he loves New York. Once Alex Rodriguez is off the books, I think the Yankees are going to want to rotate players in and out of the DH spot, so I’m not sure bringing Teixeira back at that point of his career is realistic. I’d be open to it. I don’t think the Yankees would.

Frank asks: Let’s dream for a minute and visualize Kaprielian improving his command dramatically. Considering the quality of his stuff, what is the absolute ceiling he can achieve in your opinion?

Well, if he improves his command considerably, Kaprielian has an ace ceiling. He added velocity last year and is now more 93-96 mph rather than 88-91 mph, and he has three average or better offspeed pitches, including a wipeout slider. Kaprielian has stuff, and if he can improve to the point where he has above-average command, then forget it. He’s going to be awesome, possibly a top 20 pitcher in MLB. With even average command he should be very good, and there’s nothing wrong with very good.

Michael asks: Cashman has said that Ackley would be the backup 1B. Do you see anyone else being a backup 1B, such as a right handed hitter, in case Ackley would have to play OF (or IF)?

I guess it depends how that last bench spot shakes out. If Starlin Castro can’t hack it at third base and the Yankees need to carry a true backup third baseman, that guy (Donovan Solano? Deibinson Romero?) could also see some action at first base. Gary Sanchez has some first base experience in winter ball but not much. I think the Yankees would sooner put Brian McCann at first and Sanchez behind the plate in that situation. I don’t believe a backup backup first baseman who hits right-handed is much of a priority. They have Teixeira and Dustin Ackley. That’s enough. If someone gets hurt, they’ll deal with it when the time comes. That’s going to be bad news either way.

Edward asks: Given that Ivan Nova has had good periods, though he’s more often been bad, how good of a season would he have to have for you to consider him for a new deal?

Ideally Nova would pitch his way into qualifying offer territory and decline it so he can go out and get Ian Kennedy money. As for bringing him back, I think something like a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in a good 150 innings would do the trick. That’s basically his 2011 season. If Nova stays healthy, shows good stuff, and gets decent enough results, I think the Yankees might consider bringing him back given their need for pitching beyond 2017. Hughes signed a three-year deal worth $24M with the Twins a few years back. Would that be a reasonable contract for Nova? It might be. Nova needs to have a good season first. If he’s mediocre and inconsistent again, then he’s a goner.

Dietrich. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Dietrich. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Joe asks: What is your take on Joel Sherman’s list of possible trade candidates or roster cuts: “I suspect their scouts will be armed with a list of likely available guys who are out of options or have no real roles on their current teams — players such as Philadelphia’s Cody Asche, Milwaukee’s Hernan Perez, Cleveland’s Giovanny Urshela, Miami’s Derek Dietrich, Oakland’s Danny Valencia and Philadelphia’s Andrew Blanco.”

Dietrich and Valencia are by far the best of the bunch and there’s no reason to think they’ll be available. Dietrich had a 119 wRC+ last season and is the Marlins main bench guy who backs up everywhere. Valencia is even better; he had a 135 wRC+ last year and is the A’s starting third baseman. Andres (not Andrew) Blanco had an out of nowhere 136 wRC+ in 2015 — he’s never hit like that before — and going after him now is the definition of buying high. I feel he’s destined to disappoint whoever trades for him. Urshela isn’t out of options; the Indians added him to the 40-man roster just an offseason ago. They’re probably going to keep him for 2017 and beyond even after signing Juan Uribe. Assuming Dietrich and Valencia are off limits, none of these guys excite me much. They’d be useful and fill a roster hole, sure. I don’t think there are any hidden gems. Just warm bodies.

John asks: The top prospects seem to be mostly from the 2015 draft and the 2014-15 international signing spree. What would you attribute that to: the farm just plainly not producing for a while or the scouting overhaul that took place a few years ago?

I don’t think that’s the case at all. I had five 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Drew Finley, Jeff Degano, Kyle Holder, Chance Adams) and two 2014-15 international signees (Wilkerman Garcia, Hoy Jun Park) in my Top 30 Prospects List. Baseball America had five 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Finley, Holder, Degano, Jhalan Jackson) and two 2014-15 IFAs (Wilkerman, Park) in their Yankees top 30 in the 2016 Prospect Handbook. went a little overboard with seven 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Finley, Degano, Holder, Adams, Donny Sands, Trey Amburgey) in their top 30, though they only had one 2014-15 IFA (Wilkerman). That seems like a normal amount of recent acquisitions to me. Most of New York’s very best prospects — Sanchez, Judge, Jorge Mateo, Ian Clarkin, etc. — were all acquired other years. The 2014-15 IFA class is going to dominate the top 30 for the next few seasons, though I do also think the Yankees have done a very good job in the middle rounds of the draft recently. They’re digging up quality under the radar guys like Jackson and Adams and Sands and Amburgey.

Julian asks: I know this isn’t Yankee’s related, but the Orioles must really be scaring away free agents these days, no? Between their constant issues over physicals and now Dexter Fowler backing off, they have to be a destination of last resort (at least in terms of Major league deals) for free agents it would seem.

Yeah I can’t imagine too many free agents are eager to sign with the Orioles given the medical shenanigans. Chris Davis and Darren O’Day had been there already and knew the deal, and they were comfortable going back. But if you were coming from another team, knowing they’re such sticklers with the medicals, wouldn’t you pause a bit? Yovani Gallardo didn’t sign with the O’s because he thought it was a good fit. He signed with the O’s because they were the only team willing to pay him late in the offseason. Same thing with Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez two years ago. It does seem like they’re becoming something of a last resort team for a lot of free agents.

Chip asks: Give me 5 prospects not on the Yankees top 30 who you think will be on there by midseason and the 5 who are going to come off either because they’ve played badly or graduated to the majors?

Would it be too much of a cop out if I just linked to my Not Top 30 Prospects List for the five guys I think will be on the list come midseason? That’s kinda why I put that post together each year. We can include Estevan Florial in that group since he’s the new hotness. As for five who drop off the list, I’ll say Sanchez and Jacob Lindgren graduate to MLB, and Slade Heathcott (injury), Leonardo Molina (performance), and Abi Avelino (performance) are most at risk for dropping off for not good reasons.

Mailbag: Otani, Gardner, Warren, Judge, Hensley, Gurriel

Got 13 questions in the mailbag this week. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything at any time.

Otani. (Presswire)
Otani. (Presswire)

Toshiki asks: I’m Japanese and the Japanese media this week reported that Yankees are prepared to commit around $300m for Shohei Otani. I’m not concerned about the authenticity of the report but my questions are: 1. do you think the Yankees would be interested in signing him (depends on when he’ll get posted) and 2. if he does sign, do you think Yankees would spend THAT much money on him?

Yes, I do think the Yankees would be interested in signing Otani. Like you said though, he has to be posted, and I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. Otani is only 21 and he is still six years from international free agency. Thanks to the posting system, the Nippon Ham Fighters are getting the same $20M release fee regardless of whether they post him next offseason or four offseasons from now. Might as well hang onto him a little longer.

As for the $300M question, no way. I don’t think any team would go that high. We’re just now getting the point of $200M contracts for pitchers, and those are going to Cy Young winners in the prime of their careers. Otani is very young and that’s very appealing, but man, I don’t think we’re at the point of $300M for pitchers yet. Would, say, Noah Syndergaard get $300M if he became a free agent tomorrow? I doubt it.

Otani is a two-way player for the (Ham) Fighters, often playing the outfield on the days he doesn’t pitch. He does own a career .245/.300/.429 batting line with 18 homers in 557 plate appearances, but his future clearly lies on the mound. Otani’s a potential MLB ace with a triple digit fastball and a dizzying array of offseason stuff. To the action footage:

By all accounts Otani is the best pitcher in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He had a 2.25 ERA with 196 strikeouts and only 33 unintentional walks in 160.2 innings last season. Whenever he gets posted, I expect the bidding to be fierce, and it’s very possible he will end up with a $200M+ contract. I would be floored if he broke the $300M barrier though. I feel like we’re still a good eight or ten years from that happening. Maybe longer.

Keith asks: You’ve mentioned the Yanks adding two new minor league affiliates recently. Is there a cap on how many minor league teams an MLB club can own or use? Could the yanks have a dozen or more minor league teams in their stable?

Technically, no, there is no cap on the number of minor league affiliates an MLB team can have. (MLB teams don’t own all of their affiliates. They usually form player a development partnerships with independent minor league franchises.) The issue is minor league baseball is a zero sum game. There are only so many affiliates to go around. Adding an affiliate means another team loses an affiliate, and teams usually don’t shortchange themselves in the minors.

The Yankees were able to pick up their second Gulf Coast League team a few years ago because the Mets shut down their GCL affiliate in a cost cutting move. (Not joking.) They added their Pulaski affiliate last year because the Mariners pulled out of the Appalachian League. The Yankees had to wait for another team to drop one of their affiliates before they could add another. Player development contracts are usually long multi-year deals, so it’s not like a bunch expire each winter either.

Right now the Yankees have ten minor league affiliates (Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston. Short Season Staten Island, Rookie Pulaski, two GCL teams, two Dominican Summer League teams) and that’s a ton. Most teams have six or seven. I’m not sure if adding any more is practical.

Warren. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Warren. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Ross asks: Knowing that the Cubs were just as interested in trading for Brett Gardner as they were for Adam Warren in the Castro trade, which player would you have rather traded at that time? Has your opinion changed with the way the rest of the offseason played out?

This is an interesting question. Gardner is the more valuable player in my opinion, but the Yankees have a greater need for a Warren type. They have plenty of outfielders. The Yankees could have plugged Aaron Hicks into left field, or Dustin Ackley, or some combination of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams and Ben Gamel. At the same time, the Yankees also have a ton of bullpen arms they can stick in Warren’s spot, but not all of those guys can start. Bryan Mitchell, Brady Lail, and Luis Cessa are the only true rotation candidates of the bunch. At the time I much preferred trading Warren to trading Gardner. Now I wonder if sending Gardner would have been the better move from an organizational depth standpoint. (Of course, I didn’t love the idea of trading either for Starlin Castro, but it is what it is.)

Alex asks: Assuming that none of the presumed starters get hurt in spring training, could/should the Yankees send Nova to Scranton for the dual purpose of keeping him stretched out and also manipulating his service time? His service time is 5.024 (according to Cots) so it’s close enough where the team could delay free agency for a year if he stayed in the minors for a month plus.

They can’t. Ivan Nova is out of options, so they’d have to pass him through waivers to send him to Triple-A, and I don’t think they’d do that. There’s a decent chance Nova would get claimed even with his $4.1M salary, and they couldn’t risk losing the depth. Also, players with more than five years of service time can decline minor league assignments. So even if Nova had an option, he could refuse the assignment and force the Yankees to keep him in MLB. If possible, yeah, of course it would be worth it to send Nova down for a month (36 days to be exact) to delay free agency. It won’t happen though. Nova would refuse the assignment.

Tom asks: You did not have Ty Hensley in your top 30. Do you think there is any hope to regain his status as a prospect and what should we look for in 2016 to consider it a success?

Hensley has thrown 42.1 innings since being the 30th overall pick in the 2012 draft, so we’re talking about three and a half pro seasons here. That is a ton of missed development at a crucial age. History suggests most pitchers are unable to make it back after a layoff that significant and those who do often come back as much less than what they were before getting hurt. (Steven Matz is the most notable recent exception.) Given his history, simply staying on the field and throwing 80-something innings in 2016 would qualify as a success for Hensley in my book. I like Hensley and I’m rooting like hell for him, but man, it’s hard to expect him to develop into a big league pitcher at this point.

Vince asks: Am I misremembering (thanks roger) or did judge’s aaa struggles begin after an ankle(?) injury?

It was a lower back issue, apparently. Aaron Judge did not play from July 17th to July 26th last year, and he told Shane Hennigan at the time he wasn’t hurt, just “tight.” Hennigan said he saw Judge in the clubhouse with his lower back wrapped, for what it’s worth. Judge had been in Triple-A for barely a month at the time. He hit .275/.358/.388 (117 wRC+) with an 18.9% strikeout rate in 95 plate appearances with the RailRiders before the injury and .208/.288/.365 (90 wRC+) with a 32.2% strikeout rate in 177 plate appearances after returning. The back injury certainly could have played a role in his Triple-A struggles, though most scouting reports indicate it was an approach issue more than a physical issue.

Adam asks: No one in the minors close or anyone on the current roster that can actually play third and he’s signed for 3 more years. Is there anyone Yankee on the current roster that has more job security than Chase Headley?

Yeah, the veteran players with huge contracts, especially those who have been great players in the past. CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, guys like that. The Yankees have shown they’ll stick with those guys no matter how poorly they perform, even when they have viable alternatives. That’s real job security. When there are potentially better options and the team sticks with you anyway. There’s no one to push Headley for playing time at third, but if there were, I think the Yankees would go with their best option.

Yangervis. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Yangervis. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Samuel asks: In 20/20 hindsight, assuming Solarte posted identical stats in pinstripes over the last year and a half as he did with the Padres, would the Yankees have been better off keeping him?

Well yeah, in hindsight they should have kept him, except there was no reason to think Yangervis Solarte was anything more than a fringy Major Leaguer who got hot for a few weeks at the time of the trade. He hit .180/.264/.256 (49 RC+) in the two months leading up to the trade and had to be sent to the minors for a few weeks. Solarte looked like a journeyman who had a few good weeks and reverted back to being a career Triple-A type. He deserves a ton of credit for getting where he is right now. Based on what we knew at the time, I still make that trade every day of the week. Guys like Solarte are found money and you flip them for some more established players every chance you get.

Paul asks: What’s the highest uniform number ever worn by a Yankee in the regular or post season? With the revolving door of the bullpen and 25th-man expected this year, do you see that number going higher?

Brian Bruney wore No. 99 for a little while back in 2009. So did Charlie Keller back in 1952. The highest number worn by a Yankee for multiple years is No. 91 by Al Aceves, though he had only one full season in pinstripes (2009) and several partial seasons (2008, 2010, 2014). The highest number worn by a regular player for multiple years are No. 65 (Phil Hughes) and No. 68 (Dellin Betances). It’s No. 55 for position players (Hideki Matsui and some others). Here’s the team’s full uniform number history. Between the shuttle and retired numbers and whatnot, it seems like we’re seeing more and more players with numbers in the 60s and above these days. I can’t imagine that’ll change anytime soon.

Michael asks: The Rangers are exploring the market for Outfielders. Obviously Brett Gardner’s name has come up quite a bit during the offseason. Would you trade Gardner for a Texas starter such as Chi Chi Gonzalez? Yes, I know, MTPS.

I don’t think the Yankees would do that. Gonzalez is not their type of pitcher. They love their hard-throwing strikeout guys and he’s kind of a generic low-90s fastball guy who fanned only 17.5% of batters face in Double-A and Triple-A the last two years. The idea is good, trading Gardner for a young starter, though I don’t think Gonzalez is that starter.

Also, I don’t think the Rangers would go for Gardner either. They’re said to be looking for outfield depth in the wake of Josh Hamilton’s latest knee issue — he had knee surgeries in September and October, and reported some discomfort the other day — but are looking at scrap heap guys like Will Venable. Gardner has a hefty contract and I don’t get the sense Texas is looking for that kind of commitment. I still think the Angels are the best bet for a Gardner trade.

Travis asks: Since Bird’s health cant be counted on for 2017 (or beyond), I was wondering if Yulieski Gurriel could be an option for first base? I don’t think he has experience there, but he seems like a good athlete and he has experience at second and third base, which COULD translate to first base.

Gurriel has played mostly second and third bases in his career — he also played some center field years and years ago — so I suppose he has the hands for first base, but there’s no real way to know. As we’ve learned the last few years, first base is tougher than it looks, especially if you’ve never played it before. I thought Alex Rodriguez was going to pick up first base super quick last year and that didn’t happen even though A-Rod is a baseball playing robot. I’m a Gurriel fan and would like to see the Yankees sign him to play … somewhere. Make it work. If that includes first, so be it.

Michael asks: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Yankees to look at extending a few of their young players (specifically Gregorius, Pineda and/or Eovaldi), especially given their emphasis on getting under the luxury tax in an upcoming year?

Eovaldi. (Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

Yes, I think so. I’ve written about possibly signing Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi long-term because they’re young, they’re theoretically getting better, and they’re only under team control another two years. The Yankees lack controllable pitching beyond 2017 — it’s Luis Severino and, uh, James Kaprielian maybe? — and neither of those two are in position to command a huge contract right now. Seems like a good opportunity to lock them in at affordable rates.

As for Gregorius, I think it’s a question worth asking, though going year to year with him might not be a terrible idea. Unless his offense really takes off, Didi’s not going to get huge arbitration raises because defense still doesn’t pay. He’s going to make only $2.425M this year, so he might end up pulling down something like $25M total during his four arbitration years. (That’s a $2.5M per year raise.) Is it worth the risk to sign Gregorius to, say, a five-year contract worth $30M or so? Doing so actually hurts the luxury tax situation the next two years since the average annual value is higher than his projected salaries.

Given their financial situation, I tend to think the Yankees should only focus on signing their budding stars long-term, like they did with Robinson Cano. He was a young player who had yet to blossom but clearly had big time ability. Does Gregorius have that? I don’t think so. Extending Eovaldi or Pineda would make sense because the Yankees are short on pitching. It might be worth waiting another year with Didi to mitigate the risk.

Dan asks: I think it’s pretty clear that, aside from Jeter, no additional players deserve retired numbers. What other players do you see the Yankees honoring with plaques. Graig Nettles’ name seems to get mentioned a lot as a candidate for a plaque. How about Matsui and Moose?

Nettles is the big one, I think, especially since he’s in the “hey maybe this guy’s number should be retired” conversation. The problem with the plaques is I feel like if Tino Martinez got one, a lot of people deserve one, including Nettles, Matsui, Mike Mussina, and David Cone. That’s not a great way to look at it, I know, but that’s the established standard for a plaque. A-Rod should absolutely get one. But will he? I doubt it. Couldn’t you make a case for CC Sabathia getting a plaque since he was the ace on a World Series winning team and the club’s best pitcher for a half-decade? Nettles definitely deserves one in my opinion. So does A-Rod, and I think Cone as well. After them, I’d be okay with no plaque for Matsui or Moose, even though they were both awesome.

Mailbag: Roark, Badenhop, Tanaka, Kaprielian, Guerrero

Eleven questions in the mailbag this week. I’ve gotta say, there weren’t many great questions in the inbox this week. Hopefully pitchers and catchers reporting next week will inspire everyone. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send any mailbag questions.

Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Brooks asks: What would it take for the Yankees to get Tanner Roark from the Nationals?  He seems like a great young pitcher who just doesn’t have a spot with that team, plus with Lucas Giolito eventually coming up you would think they might want to move him.  Thanks!

Roark is already 29, so he’s not that young. He was a late blooper who didn’t reach MLB until age 26. Roark had a very good season in 2014 (2.85 ERA and 3.47 FIP) then got knocked back down to Earth a bit last year (4.38 ERA and 4.70 FIP) as the Nationals shuffled him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen.

I’d expect something closer to the 2015 version of Roark going forward, especially in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. He’s neither a big ground ball (career 44.6%) nor strikeout (16.9%) guy, and he lacks a true put-away pitch. Roark is a three-pitch guy (two-seamer, slider, curve) who locates well enough. He is what he is at this point, and that’s a perfectly servicable MLB pitcher.

Right now Washington has Roark penciled in as their No. 4 starter behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, so he’s fairly high on their depth chart. The Nationals could use another starter, a depth outfielder, and bullpen help. Unless they’re going to take something like Ben Gamel and one of the Triple-A relievers, I don’t see a match. The Yankees shouldn’t give up Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller to get a guy like Roark, who I see as a lesser version of Adam Warren.

Dan asks: In 2018, when Harper is a FA, what kind of opt-out do you think he’s going to get? I wouldn’t be comfortable dealing out a $400-500m contract with it being after 2 years (unless the contract was backloaded by a lot). I think I’d be comfortable doing it after year 5, when he’d be 31 years old. You’d think for half a billion dollars, he’d be up for sticking around.

Jason Heyward’s contract with the Cubs includes two opt-outs, but with a catch. He can opt-out after the third year, and if he doesn’t, he can opt-out after the fourth year as long as he reaches a certain number of plate appearances. I have to think Bryce Harper is getting at least ten guaranteed years when he hits free agency, and Scott Boras will surely push for multiple opt-outs. Maybe after years three and five?

These days teams are giving opt-outs to almost everyone, not just the elite free agents — Scott Kazmir and Wei-Yin Chen got opt-outs, for example — so they’re a normal part of the free agent landscape now. To get Harper in three years you’re either going to have to include an opt-out(s) or pay an absurd premium to buy away that right to go back out onto the market. At this point I have a hard time thinking Harper and Boras will take a deal without an opt-out. That’s the cost of doing business nowadays.

Barry asks: Hi Mike, after reading about the Gurriels trying to establish residency in a different country, I started wondering what it would take for a US born player to become eligible as an international player and avoid the draft? Say someone like Bryce Harper realizes how good he is at around the age of 15, could he theoretically establish residency elsewhere or would he need to renounce his citizenship for that to work?

The player would have to renounced their U.S. citizenship. Shortstop Lucius Fox was born in the Bahamas, moved to the United States as a kid and went to high school in Florida, then last year he moved back to the Bahamas so he’d be an international free agent and not draft-eligible. (The Giants gave him a $6.5M bonus.) Fox had Bahamanian citizenship, so this was a special case, not a loophole any player can use. Trust me, if there was a relatively easy way for guys to avoid the draft and become international free agents, Boras and other agents would have figured it out already.

Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

dfed87 asks: The Yankees have a deadly back end of the bullpen, but I think the way the pitching is constructed, they need more pitchers so they don’t get over worked like they were last season. Wouldn’t Burke Badenhop or Ryan Webb make sense for the Yankees? They aren’t the sexiest names, but both are ground ball pitchers who limit walks, and they shouldn’t be expensive. Webb could probably even be had for a minor league contract.

A year or two ago I would have said yes to both, and while I’d bring in almost anyone on a minor league contract, I don’t see Badenhop or Webb as clear middle innings upgrades at this point. Badenhop lost some velocity last year and his ground ball rate plummeted from 61.0% to 46.7%, which is no good when your career strikeout rate is 16.1% (12.6% in 2015).

Webb is very similar to prime Badenhop. He gets a lot of grounders (59.2% in 2015) and limits walks (5.9%), but doesn’t miss bats (15.2 K%), and lefties have historically hit him pretty hard. If the Yankees want to bring one or both guys in for depth, sure. I wouldn’t guarantee them a big league roster spot though. They’ve got to compete for a job in camp. I’m ready to see what these young prospect relievers can do.

John asks: I’m a Comcast subscriber living in NJ and I’m starting to panic about not having a way to watch my team. Is there any new news about a deal? I know MLB has changed the app. Will I be able to watch games from there without a blackout restriction? Any info would be appreciated. Thanks.

I have nothing to pass along, sorry. If I ever come across any updates on the YES-Comcast dispute, they’ll be posted right here at RAB. You’ll be able to steam Yankees games in-market on this season, but you need to subscribe to YES through your cable provider, so that’s not a work-around for the Comcast situation. Hopefully the two sides get this resolved and soon. I wouldn’t wish no Yankees on my worst enemy.

Liam asks: Hey Mike, what do you think the Yankee will do about Tanaka’s opt out after 2017? Hiro will be coming off his age 28 season, and barring any disastrous injuries, he could probably beat the 3/67 remaining on his current contract. With the Yankees seemingly not committing any big money over the next couple years, do you think they will push to re-sign Ma-Kun?

As I’ve been saying since he signed the contract, Masahiro Tanaka will opt-out as long as he’s healthy. Ian Kennedy got five years and $70M this offseason. What’s 28-year-old Tanaka going to get on the open market if he’s healthy? Lots more than the $67M he’d be walking away from, that’s for sure. It’s a no-brainer. As long as his arm is sound — and it might not be in two years — opting out is an easy call.

Right now I’ll say the Yankees will walk away from Tanaka if he opts out. Obviously these next two years will bring important information the Yankees will use to make their final decision, but right now I think they’ll walk away. They will have gotten his age 25-28 seasons and would be in position to redirect the money elsewhere. The Yankees have given out two huge opt-out related contracts in recent years (Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia) and were burned both times. (Don’t forget they signed A.J. Burnett after he opted out of his Blue Jays contract!) I can’t imagine they’re eager to go something like that again.

Ed asks: How can the Yankees best use their financial might without affecting the MLB Payroll and luxury cap?

They’re doing it already. They spent huge internationally two years ago, they’ve added two new minor league affiliates in recent years (the second GCL team and Pulaski), they’ve renovated and upgraded the minor league complex in Tampa, and they’ve beefed up their pro and amateur scouting departments. The facilities at Yankee Stadium are state of the art — video equipment, workout equipment, etc. — so they’re doing what they can behind the scenes. I’m not sure what else the team could do, realistically. The Yankees have indeed pumped a ton of cash into the farm and player development systems the last few seasons while the MLB payroll had held steady.

Eric asks: Under what circumstances, if any, do we see James Kaprielian make a big league start this year? Another way of looking at this question would be to ask what is the major league depth chart at starter? Ie where are we after Nova at 6 right now?

After Ivan Nova the Yankees have Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Cloyd, and Chad Green as rotation depth in some order. I know that doesn’t sound great, but very few clubs have legit MLB caliber starters in the 7-11 slots of their rotation depth chart. I don’t think the Yankees will rush Kaprielian if there’s a need at the MLB level but I do think we could see him this year. He could end up doing something like six starts in High-A, ten starts in Double-A, four starts in Triple-A, then the big leagues if necessary. If Kaprielian does that in the minors and succeeds, I think we’ll see him in September. Surely the team will be able to find a way to squeeze him onto the roster.

Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Alex asks: Any interest in Alex Guerrero?

Only if he comes super cheap. The Dodgers would have to take little in return and pay him down to a $1M a year player. Something along those lines. Guerrero’s really bad. He hit .233/.261/.434 (89 wRC+) last year, but it was a 303 wRC+ in April and a 60 wRC+ (and a .238 OBP) the rest of the way. Guerrero has been a productive big leaguer for basically 28 plate appearances in his career, all last April. He’s a disaster defensively who can’t play anywhere at even a below-average rate, and he’s owed $15M over the next two years. (Guerrero can opt-out of his contract if traded, but he’s not walking away from $15M at this point.) The Dodgers are trying to trade him, but who’s going to take him on? Eventually they’ll just release him and eat the contract. Give Guerrero a minor league deal then. No way would I give up anything of value for him.

Simon asks: Is there a list of recent prospects the Yankees traded that became perennial all-stars?

No, because there aren’t any. The last was … Mike Lowell? I guess Tyler Clippard and Mark Melancon. Both went to two All-Star Games, though that doesn’t qualify as perennial. I’m not going to be heartbroken over trading two great relievers when the Yankees produced David Robertson and Dellin Betances in recent years. Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy became good players, not perennial All-Stars.

The best prospect turned MLB player the Yankees let go in recent years is Jose Quintana, who wasn’t traded. He was allowed to leave as a minor league free agent. I don’t think Quintana would have developed into what he has become away from White Sox pitching coach/cutter guru Don Cooper, but the Yankees clearly mis-evaluated him. They let Quintana walk to keep guys like Kevin Whelan and Brandon Laird and Melky Mesa on the 40-man roster. Hindsight is 20-20, but yeah, the Yankees goofed there. The Yankees haven’t traded many prospects they truly regret the last 15 years or so. I’m not missing anyone obvious, am I?

Ryan asks: If Sanchez makes the team, what do you think the workload will be like for McCann? I see him being behind the plate for maybe 110 games and then some games at 1st and DH.

I don’t think Brian McCann‘s workload will change at all. It might have had the Yankees held onto John Ryan Murphy, who showed last year he’s an MLB caliber player perhaps capable of handling more playing time. The Yankees don’t know exactly what they have in Gary Sanchez yet and they’re not going to figure that out in Spring Training or the first few weeks of the regular season. It takes time. McCann started 119 games behind the plate last year and that’s right in line with his career average (117.5). I think he’ll start another 115-120 games behind the plate again, leaving 42-47 for Sanchez. The 2017 season is when Sanchez could start stealing more starts from McCann.

Mailbag: Hall of Famers, Judge, Kendrick, Maddux, Bonds

Got 15 questions in the mailbag this week. They’re a mix of Retro Week questions and regular ol’ 2016 Yankees questions. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything.

Miggy. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Miggy. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Steve asks: I had this conversation with a friend the other day but how many active players would you say are locks to go in the Hall of Fame? And would you say that number is less than the typical number?

I’m not sure what you mean by typical number. I count three slam dunk, no doubt about it future Hall of Famers who are still active: Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, and Miguel Cabrera. Those guys get in if they retire tomorrow. Alex Rodriguez would be in that group too, he has inner circle Hall of Famer credentials, but it seems unlikely he’ll ever get in due to the performance-enhancing drug stuff.

Adrian Beltre is a “very likely to get in” guy for me but not a no-doubter. Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz are a notch below that. Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Andrew McCutchen, and Bryce Harper are all on the Hall of Fame track, I’d say. They still have some more compiling to do. Did I miss anyone obvious? I feel like I’m missing someone obvious.

Chris asks: Any interest in the freshly DFA’d Christian Friedrich?

I was surprised to see Friedrich is already 28. It feels like just yesterday he was slipping in the draft and I was hoping he’d get to the Yankees but holy crap he was drafted back in 2008 (25th overall). Friedrich was in the bullpen full-time last year with the Rockies and had a 5.25 ERA (4.04 FIP) with bad strikeout (16.7%) and walk (9.3%) numbers. Righties hammered him (.409 wOBA) but he held his own against lefties (.292 wOBA), so maybe he still has some lefty specialist potential. He’s out of options, so you can’t send him to the minors without slipping him through waivers. Meh. There’s not much to see here now. A few years back he would have been a nice reclamation project. Now he’s back-end of the 40-man roster fodder. I say pass.

Glenn asks: I realize the Yankees need Nova as a sixth starter, but is there anything in his record that suggests he could excel when concentrating on just two pitches as a short reliever?

Ivan Nova is a two-pitch pitcher as a starter, basically. He’s switched between a slider and a curveball a few times in recent years, but he’s generally a fastball-breaking ball guy who rarely throws a changeup. (During his full seasons from 2011-13, the most he threw his changeup was 4.4% in 2011.) The two-pitch approach has historically worked better in relief because you don’t have to turn a lineup over multiple times. Nova has good stuff. His command isn’t very good and he has a reputation for making it easy to pick the ball up out of his hand, so it plays down. Nova might excel as a one-inning reliever. That applies to lots of guys.

Richard asks: Mike, the MLB Top 100 scouting report said Aaron Judge “could be a higher-average hitter with 20 or so homers per season or more of a masher who delivers 30-plus long balls” depending on how he balances power and discipline. Can you think of a comp for each outcome, and which is ideal for 1) the Yankees and 2) Judge with respect to career outlook? Dingers are great, but a higher BA also means a higher OBP and SLG. Thanks!

The comps part is difficult. Over the last few seasons the only high-average, 20-homer right-handed hitting outfielder is Andrew McCutchen. Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, and Buster Posey have done it at other positions, and then you have the superhuman high-average, 30-homer guys like Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Cabrera. A lot of players will have a random .300+ AVG, 20+ homer season, but very few do it consistently. Hitting for average is very hard nowadays. There are more mediocre-average, 30-homer guys out there. Adam Jones, Justin Upton, Giancarlo Stanton, etc. Assuming everything else is equal, I’d take the high-average, 20-homer version of Judge because it’s a more well-rounded player. Batting average is underrated.

John asks: After hearing that Howie Kendrick signed for only 2 years $20 million with the Dodgers, do you think the Yankees made a mistake in going after Castro so early?

I would so much rather have Kendrick at two years and $20M plus Adam Warren than Starlin Castro plus a first round pick. Easy call in my opinion. There was no indication Kendrick would take such a sweetheart deal earlier in the offseason though. And besides, who’s to say the Yankees could get him so cheaply anyway? Kendrick’s played in Southern California his entire career, so I assume he has some roots there, and going back was appealing to him.

If it was known Kendrick would take two years and $20M, lots of teams would have been after him, including the Nationals, who gave up their first rounder to give Daniel Murphy three years and $37.5M. The qualifying offer hurt Kendrick’s market badly and no one could foresee that. I don’t blame the Yankees at all for jumping on Castro in December.

Bird. (Al Bello/Getty)
Bird. (Al Bello/Getty)

Michael asks: Will Bird’s year be in the MLB dl or the MiLB DL? He was on the mlb roster at the end of the season, but was slated to start the season in AAA. Seems the Yankees are going to get burned on a year of service time.

Bird will be on the MLB DL this year and burn a year of service time. He’s a big league player — he played 46 games with the Yankees last season plus the wildcard game — and when big league players get hurt, they go on the big league DL. It doesn’t matter that Bird was likely to start 2016 in Triple-A. If it were that simple, teams would be claiming all of their injured young players were going to start the year in the minors to prevent them from accruing service time. It sucks, but that’s the system. Bird was on the MLB roster for the final third of last season and he deserves the big league pay and service time coming his way after getting hurt.

Many asks: Does Bird’s injury mean Mark Teixeira will get the qualifying offer?

No automatically, no. There’s still an entire season to play out first. Teixeira could hit .210/.280/.350 with nine home runs this season for all we know. Ideally, the decision would be made independent of Bird’s status, right? Either Teixeira is worth the QO or he is not. That’s not really the case though. If the Yankees are on the fence about the QO, Bird’s status could sway them one way or the other. If he’s strong and healthy, they might not think it’s worth the risk. If Bird’s rehab is slow, they might decide to roll the dice. The chances of Teixeira returning in 2017 are greater now than they were before Bird’s injury, but remember, the Yankees will want to keep the average annual value of any contract down for luxury tax purposes. The QO figures to be over $16M next year.

Andrew asks: Any idea on how the qualifying offers will work this upcoming offseason? With all the Teix QO discussion, QO’s need to be offered 5 days after World Series is over and players have 7 days to accept after that. CBA up Dec. 1st, so all of these decisions will be made prior to knowing what will happen?

When the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was struck the Type-A/B system was still in place, then the QO system was part of the new CBA. Last time around they stuck with the Type-A/B system for the rest of the offseason — they did however change the system so teams wouldn’t give up picks for Type-A relievers, I remember everyone laughing at the Phillies for this because they signed Jonathan Papelbon so early and gave up their pick — then switched to the QO system the following year. I assume that will happen again. They’ll ride out the current system next offseason and then implement any changes the following offseason.

Robert asks: So this got shot down in the last mailbag but with the awful Bird news today is there a need now for a backup first baseman? I admit this is mostly nostalgia driven obviously but lefties have remained a problem and Montero could help in that department.

Yeah it makes more sense to bring Jesus Montero back now because the Triple-A first base job is wide open. He is out of options though, so he has to go through waivers to go to the minors. So either you have to trade for him and slip him through waivers yourself, or claim him on waivers and try to pass him through yourself. (Or make a deal with the Mariners contingent on him passing through waivers first.) It seems more likely the Yankees will just sign a minor league free agent. Ike Davis or Chris Parmelee could work. Maybe a Quad-A guy like Matt Clark or Neftali Soto. Montero would be wonderful for nostalgia purposes. The mechanics of getting him are a bit complicated though.

Jonathan asks: Most of us know the fact that Maddux and Bonds turned us down in the ’92 offseason, and then we signed basically anyone we wanted until Cliff Lee, but what do you think our main roster and results of their tenures in NY would have looked like if we signed both back then? Hard to believe we could have done better than we did, but it’s also hard to believe the best pitcher and best hitter of their generation would have made us worse.

Yeah this is an interesting one. The Yankees went hard after both Bonds and Maddux during the 1992-93 offseason but didn’t land either. (They settled for Jimmy Key because they couldn’t get their Plan B, C, or D either.) The 1993 Yankees finished seven games out of a postseason spot even though Key (139 ERA+ in 236.2 IP) and primary left field Dion James (133 OPS+) were really awesome. Do Bonds and Maddux make up the seven-game difference? Maybe! They were that good.

The 1994 Yankees were awesome before the strike. That 1995 season is the big question for me. Do the Yankees beat the Mariners with Bonds in left and Maddux making two starts in the ALDS? (They won Game One, remember.) Signing Maddux probably means no David Cone trade that season. This is a fun thought exercise. It’s hard to think adding two historically great players like Bonds and Maddux would have hurt. At the same time, it’s hard to complain about the way things turned out.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Dan asks: Over the years the Yankees have pulled off some crazy big trades: Roger Clemens, David Justice, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, just to name a few. Thinking back on your Yankees fandom do you have a favorite one? Thanks!

I remember hating the Clemens trade because I loved David Wells. I guess that answers the opposite of your question. The Alex Rodriguez trade is something of a baseball JFK moment for me (and probably a bunch of others). I remember exactly where I was and who I was with and what I was doing when I found out it happened.

I was still in college and I was out at dinner with the girl I was dating at the time. We were at Applebee’s with some other friends because, you know, we were classy like that. I saw the trade scroll across the screen on the ESPN ticker at the bar. There were no details. It was just “Yankees get A-Rod.” I remember thinking the Yankees were going to have to move Derek Jeter to second base and Alfonso Soriano to third to make it work. I guess that’s my favorite trade. It was a foregone conclusion A-Rod was going to the Red Sox at the time, then bam, he was a Yankee. It was awesome.

Daniel asks: This ‘Core Four’ moniker completely cuts out the contributions of Bernie Williams. The guy was a 5-time All-Star, 4-Time Gold Glover, and starting center fielder on four World Series championship teams! Why does he get lost in the shuffle?

Because Core Five doesn’t rhyme. I’m dead serious. If someone had been able to come up with a cute nickname for a group of five, Bernie would be included in that group. It’s too late now though. The Core Four is established. I’ve heard people say Bernie is not in the Core Four because he wasn’t there for all five World Series titles from 1996-2009, which is true, but also disingenuous. Jorge Posada played eight games for the 1996 Yankees as a September call-up. He was hardly a key contributor. Bernie is part of the Core Four as far as I’m concerned.

Elliot asks: Which Yankee Pitcher had the highest game score to clinch a world series?  Game 7?

This was shockingly easy to look up with the Play Index. They have options for series clinching games and everything. Who knew? Here are the five best World Series clinching games by a Yankee (full list):

Rk Player Date Gm# Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO GSc
1 Ralph Terry 1962-10-16 7 SFG W 1-0 SHO9, W 9.0 4 0 0 0 4 83
2 Bob Turley 1956-10-09 6 BRO L 0-1 CG 10, L 9.2 4 1 1 8 11 80
3 Johnny Kucks 1956-10-10 7 BRO W 9-0 SHO9, W 9.0 3 0 0 3 1 79
4 Tiny Bonham 1941-10-06 5 BRO W 3-1 CG 9, W 9.0 4 1 1 2 2 75
5 Whitey Ford 1950-10-07 4 PHI W 5-2 GS-9, W 8.2 7 2 0 1 7 72

1999 Roger Clemens and 1998 Andy Pettitte are tied for eighth with a 69 Game Score. Imagine being Turley and losing that game in 1956. Woof. The top five all came long before most of us were born, because that’s when the Yankees did most of their World Series winning. Here are the best World Series Game Seven performances. There’s some overlap with the best clinching games list (full list):

Rk Player Date Gm# Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO GSc
1 Ralph Terry 1962-10-16 7 SFG W 1-0 SHO9, W 9.0 4 0 0 0 4 83
2 Johnny Kucks 1956-10-10 7 BRO W 9-0 SHO9, W 9.0 3 0 0 3 1 79
3 Carl Mays 1921-10-12 7 NYG L 1-2 CG 8, L 8.0 6 2 1 0 7 71
4 Roger Clemens 2001-11-04 7 ARI L 2-3 GS-7 6.1 7 1 1 1 10 64
5 Waite Hoyt 1926-10-10 7 STL L 2-3 GS-6, L 6.0 5 3 0 0 2 58

Look at that. The Yankees lost three of their five best pitching performances in a Game Seven of a World Series. Crazy. I ran a query for the best pitched games by a Yankee in a series clincher regardless of round (full list), and it was identical to the top table with one exception: CC Sabathia‘s performance in Game Five of the 2012 ALDS slots in at No. 2 with an 82 Game Score. What a game that was.

Marc asks: The 1996 Yankees had 3 players (Boggs, O’Neill, Williams) with over 500 PA that walked more than they struck out.  In the last 20 years, how many other times has that happened, if at all?

There are a handful of players each year who walk more than they strike out. Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Michael Brantley, Buster Posey, and Ben Zobrist were the only guys to do it last year. The last team with multiple players who qualified for the batting title with more walks than strikeouts is the 2009 Cardinals with Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols. Here are the last four teams with three such players:

  • 2000 Cubs: Mark Grace, Ricky Gutierrez, Eric Young
  • 2000 Mariners: Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Mark McLemore
  • 1999 Rangers: Rusty Greer, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McLemore
  • 1996 Yankees: Wade Boggs, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams

The last team with four such players? The 1995 Yankees, who had five: Boggs, Bernie, O’Neill, Don Mattingly, and Luis Polonia all did it that year. As you keep going further back in history there are more and more teams with multiple players who had more walks than strikeouts. Baseball was a much different game back in the day. In 1962 Sandy Koufax had a 10.5 K/9 when the league average was 5.6 K/9, so yeah.

Rick asks: When does it make sense to add a guy like Ian Desmond to the roster and figure the rest out? If Desmond at resembles the player of two or three years ago, he’s well worth the draft pick attached. He can play multiple positions across the infield.

It comes down to the size of the contract. If you’re going to give up the draft pick, I think you’d prefer to keep the player more than one year. That’s just me. Would Desmond take the Kendrick contract (two years, $20M) to be what amounts to a super utility guy, someone who gets 400+ plate appearances at second, short, third, and left field? My guess is if he were willing to do that, several other teams would have interest as well. Desmond’s going to look at the Yankees and wonder where he’ll play. The White Sox, for example, could offer him the same money and the starting shortstop job. It takes two to tango, and besides, I’m pretty sure the Yankees aren’t giving up their first round pick to sign a free agent at this point.