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.

Mailbag: Trout, A-Rod, Montero, Teixeira, Latos, OF Defense

Got 15 questions in this week’s mailbag. If you want to send us anything throughout the week, send it to the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address.

(Jonathan Moore/Getty)
Trout. (Jonathan Moore/Getty)

Anthony asks: If you had to engineer a hypothetical trade for Mike Trout, which team/system would come the closest to actually putting together a reasonable package? Which players change hands?

My first thought was the Nationals with Bryce Harper plus Anthony Rendon or Lucas Giolito, but it’s three years of Harper for five of Trout. Giancarlo Stanton plus Jose Fernandez for Trout would be fun as hell, wouldn’t it? Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole? Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner? Point is, the Angels would need immediate impact pieces. Trout is the best player in the world, he’s only 24, and he’s signed below market through 2020. His trade value goes beyond WAR.

Think about it. The Red Sox could offer Mookie Betts, Yoan Moncada, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Blake Swihart for Trout and it’s still a no because there’s only one clearly above-average big leaguer in that group. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard? No, pitchers are way too risky. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo? That … might actually be in the ballpark. I’d rather have the +10 WAR up the middle star than the two +6 WAR corner infielders though.

Trout is insanely valuable because of his age, contract, and production. If the Angels trade him, it would need to be a massive franchise-altering deal that is simply way too good to pass up. You can’t trade Trout’s historic greatness and leave yourself saying “if these two young players work out, it’ll be a great deal for us.” No. The guys you get have to be impact players right away. Looking around the league, I don’t think a reasonable package for Trout exists. He’s way too good.

Sean asks: Fair to say the Diamondbacks traded the wrong shortstop (Didi)? He looks to be the better than Owings or Ahmed.

I was a really big Chris Owings guy a year or two ago. Coming up as a prospect who looked like someone who could play above-average defense at short and actually hit. There was some J.J. Hardy in his game. He was dreadful last year though, hitting .227/.264/.322 (52 wRC+) in 552 plate appearances, and the defensive stats hated him at second. Nick Ahmed is a very good gloveman at short and he was slightly less of a disaster at the plate (67 wRC+). Didi had an 89 wRC+ last year and he played the hell out of short. Plus he’s less than a month older than Ahmed, so it’s not like there’s a huge age difference either. (Owings is 18 months younger.) Yeah, it’s fair to say Didi is the best of the bunch right now.

J.J. asks: Not that I’d complain about it, but if the Yankees do have Sanchez and Severino on the 25-man roster for most/all of the year, and if Bird or Judge (or both) spend some time on the MLB roster as well, does the farm system ranking take a hit? It would seem the team has graduated most of its top prospects, other than Mateo, and the ranking would again plummet.

Of course. When you graduate talent like that — Greg Bird and Luis Severino both graduated last year, Gary Sanchez will this year, maybe Aaron Judge too — the farm system definitely takes a hit. I know everyone wants a high ranking farm system, but if you’re graduating talent to the big leagues, who cares if the system is ranked 5th or 25th? The MLB level is what matters most. Even after those graduations, the Yankees will still have Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian, hopefully a healthy Ian Clarkin, the entire 2014 international class, plus whoever they draft in June. The system will go on. Graduating talent to MLB is fun. Enjoy it and don’t worry about farm system rankings.

Paul asks: What kind of send off do you think Alex will get? Gifts and ceremonies from each team at every stop? Nothing at all? Something in between?

Gosh, I don’t know. I get the feeling Alex Rodriguez won’t announce his retirement beforehand. His contract is up after the 2017 season and he might just play that out, and see what happens in the offseason. A-Rod loves baseball and let’s face it, he’s very narcissistic, so he might think he still has something left in the tank after 2017. It would be pretty awkward if he announced his plan to retire in Spring Training and then went the season with no recognition of his career whatsoever. It would be embarrassing. I don’t think he’ll make an early announcement. So nothing at all is my answer.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Montero. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Kyle asks: What would it take to get Jesus Montero back? I know he’s busted and positionless (and the Yanks have no spot for him), but man, I wish the Yankees had a chance to develop him, and they love reclamation projects.

Should be very little. There is no interest in fellow busted prospect Domonic Brown and he’s a free agent. All he costs is cash. No one’s going to give up something of value for Montero. The best case for Seattle seems to be the Dustin Ackley trade, meaning two possibly useful depth pieces. Montero is 26 now, he’s a first baseman/DH, and he hasn’t hit at the MLB level since September 2011 with the Yankees. And he’s out of options too, so you can’t stash him in Triple-A. I have Montero nostalgia too, 2008-11 was a great time for prospect watchers, but the Yankees have no use for him at all. Even if it clicks, where do they play him?

Paul asks: I don’t understand the Yankees reasoning for not trying Greg Bird or even Rob Refsnyder at 3rd base. They both seem to be athletic enough. Since Bird was a catcher and Refsnyder an OF they should have the arm strength.

I strongly disagree about Bird having the athleticism for third — remember how stiff he looked at first base? — and Refsnyder having the arm. Second and third bases are very different. You have more time to make the play at second given the proximity to first base. I understand why people are wondering why Bird and Refsnyder aren’t trying third, but if there was any tiny little reason to believe they could handle the hot corner, they’d be trying it in the minors. The Yankees had Tyler Austin and Pete O’Brien try third. They stuck with Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. at third. Bird and Refsnyder are below-average defenders at less reaction-based positions. Trying them at third means ignoring their current defensive limitations and basically hoping and praying it works. That’s no way to make decisions.

Greg asks: On the assumption he is not re-signed, what is Mark Teixeira‘s Yankee legacy like?

I’ve been thinking about stuff like this a lot recently now that all the long-term contracts are getting closer to ending. I don’t know what Teixeira’s legacy in pinstripes is. He was a key piece of a World Series team and he’s had very productive years in pinstripes, but he’s also had some injury plagued and disappointing years too. The 2016 season will be a factor here, but overall, I think Teixeira’s time in New York won’t be remembered as fondly as it should be. He’s been a good player for a long time in pinstripes. When it’s all said and he done, Teixeira is going to be over 200 homers and +22 WAR with the Yankees. And yet I feel like he’ll be remembered as a disappointment. That’s a shame.

Noel asks: As the game evolves, and the emphasis on younger players gets stronger could we see upcoming soon a whole crop of free agents in their primes?

Yes, I think so. Especially the pitchers, because nowadays teams seem to be in a rush to get their top young arms to MLB, perhaps to get as much out of them before they blow out their arms. Clubs will try to lock up their best young players to long-term contracts, but they won’t sign all of them, especially not the Scott Boras clients. The much anticipated 2018-19 free agent class is scheduled to have a lot of mid-20s stars — Harper, Fernandez, Manny Machado, etc. — but who knows who will actually hit the market. I do think we’ll see more prime-age free agents in the coming years. It might be five or six instead of one or two though. Not substantially more.

Rich asks: When it comes to outfield defense, do you consider it to be something that’s often overrated or underrated (and why)?

Overrated. Strikeout rates are at an all-time high and ground ball rates are as high as they’ve been at any point since batted ball data started being recorded back in 2002. Some teams have low strikeout (Twins) or fly ball heavy (Rays) pitching staffs, but, generally speaking, fewer batted balls are traveling to the outfield in the air than at any point in baseball history. Outfielders are seeing less defensive action.

Also, as fans, I think we do a crummy job evaluating outfield defense. I seems like the concept of one year of defensive stats meaning little goes out the window with young center fielders. We’ve seen a lot of young center fielders come up, post an insane UZR in years one and two, then crash back to Earth. Peter Bourjos. Franklin Gutierrez. Juan Lagares. Ben Revere. (Let’s see what happens with Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar in the coming years.) Outfield defense is really important. You can get away with bad outfielder defenders more easily now than you did a few years back though.

Sean asks: Whatever happened to Luis Sojo?

He’s been coaching for the Yankees since his playing career ended in 2003. Sojo was the Yankees third base coach in 2004-05, High-A Tampa manager from 2006-09 and 2011-13, and Triple-A Scranton third base coach in 2014. He’s still in the organization as an assistant field coordinator, whatever that is. Sojo also managed the Venezuelan team in the three World Baseball Classics.

(Jamie Sabau/Getty)
Vote for (some other team to sign) Pedro. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Sam asks: Pedro Alvarez. Hear me out. He’s still relatively young, former 2nd pick overall, and it wasn’t too long ago that he was actually an average to above average 3b (2013). Kind of pedigree the Yankees have been attracted to. I know you’ll say he’s just a platoon DH at this point, but if got in better shape could he be a passable backup 3b/1b? Allow Greg Bird more time in AAA.

Alvarez is not and has never been even an average defender. He’s very much a butcher in the field. I don’t know why the defensive stats rated him as above-average at third in 2013, but that year is a huge outlier compared to the rest of his career.

Pedro Alvarez defense

I don’t think this is a matter of getting in better shape. Alvarez lacks the reflexes and athleticism for third. This is not new either. There have been big questions about his defense dating back to college. Alvarez is close to a full-time DH now — the Pirates used him at first base last year, and while we should cut him some slack due to inexperience, it was a disaster — and he needs a platoon partner too. Teams are steering clear of one-dimensional sluggers these days.

Alvarez grew up in Washington Heights and homecomings are always cool, but I don’t see him as a fit for the Yankees. Bird has the same skill set. Give him the roster spot, if anything.

Dan asks: I always see for pitching prospects that their peak is a number two starter. Are there any pitching prospects in recent history that have been projected as number 1 starters?

Oh sure. There are very few though. No. 1 starters are rare and usually you can see them coming a mile away as prospects. Guys like Dallas Keuchel and Corey Kluber, who went from middling prospects to true aces, are extremely rare. They’re the exceptions. Then again, maybe we’ll see more out of nowhere aces as teams improve their scouting and coaching methods.

The only prospects in the minors right now who have true ace ceilings are Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito and Dodgers LHP Julio Urias. They have the stuff, the command, the athleticism, and the makeup. Usually young pitchers only have one or two of the four and teams hope to develop the rest. Going back through the last few years, I’d put Fernandez, Syndergaard, Cole, Dylan Bundy, and Stephen Strasburg in the ace prospect group. The term “ace” gets thrown around way too often. “Future ace” gets thrown around even more.

Michael asks: How low would the price have to drop before the Yankees would pounce on Mat Latos?

I assume the price is pretty low right now. Latos is still pretty young — he turned 28 last month– but he stunk last season (4.95 ERA and 3.72 FIP) and has had ongoing elbow and knee issues the last two years. That said, Latos was pretty good around the injuries in 2014 (3.25 ERA and 3.65 FIP). I think the Yankees would be thrilled to get Latos on a minor league contract for depth, though the same is true for 29 other teams. I don’t think the Yankees would or should sign him to an MLB deal and guarantee him a rotation spot. I’m not sure the reward is there after how bad he looked down the stretch last year. His stuff was clearly down.

Mark asks: With the Yankees acquiring Corporan do you get concerned the Yankees will trade Sanchez for a young starter? Unfortunately it seems the Yankees have zero trust in what they used to call organizational depth. I’m having trouble remembering a catcher not named Jorge that the Yankees didn’t trade away over the last 5 years. No 10 years. No 15 years. No 20 years. 25….. Ehhh.

Well you kinda started to answer your own question. The Yankees had Jorge Posada all those years, so trading young catchers like Dioner Navarro made sense. Montero could not catch, so they traded him. Same with O’Brien. You could argue the Yankees should have traded Austin Romine a few years back. Last year the Yankees had Frankie Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy behind Brian McCann, so something had to give. The same was true this year with Murphy and Sanchez.

The Yankees didn’t give these guys away — Navarro, Montero, O’Brien, and Cervelli were all traded for above-average players (the jury is still out on Murphy and Aaron Hicks) — they recognized a surplus and used it to address other needs. That said, I don’t think Sanchez is going to be traded because McCann is getting up there in catcher age and they need a good Plan B. Also, the catching pipeline has dried up. Luis Torrens is the only notable non-Sanchez catching prospect in the organization and he’s in Single-A coming off shoulder surgery.

Tony asks: I just read an article on NY Daily News website that mentioned the contracts coming off the books after this season. They mentioned CC Sabathia has a 25 million dollar vesting option for 2017 “that will kick in if he enjoys strong health in his left shoulder and stays off the disabled list and in the rotation.” My question is, is that a literal explanation?

Sabathia’s option for 2017 will vest unless any one of these three things happen:

  • Sabathia finishes 2016 on the DL with a left shoulder injury.
  • Sabathia spends more than 45 days on the DL in 2016 due to a left shoulder injury.
  • Sabathia makes more than six relief appearances in 2016 due to a left shoulder injury.

To date, Sabathia has never had any kind of shoulder injury in his career. His right knee is a wreck and three years ago he had a bone spur removed from his elbow. He also had some oblique issues way back in the day with the Indians. Sabathia’s shoulder is healthy, as far as we know. Will that be the case in 2016? Who knows. Pitchers break.

Mailbag: Johnson, Mateo, AL East Shortstops, Hellickson

I’ve got 13 questions in the mailbag this week. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything throughout the week. Also, the shorter the question, the better.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
Johnson. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Stephen asks: What about a trade for Erik Johnson of the White Sox?

(This is the short version of Stephen’s question.)

I like the idea of Johnson as a trade target. He had some shoulder trouble in 2014 and was dreadful, pitching to a 6.73 ERA (5.19 FIP) in 105.2 Triple-A innings. Johnson was healthy last season though, and he had a 2.37 ERA (2.57 FIP) in 132.2 Triple-A innings. (He spoke to Tom Verducci about his mechanical improvements.)

Johnson just turned 26 and PitchFX clocked him at 91.3 mph during his September call-up, up from 89.6 mph during his limited MLB time in early 2014. He also throws a slider and a changeup, and sometimes a curveball. Here’s some video:

Johnson still has six years of control remaining, which is nice. He is currently penciled in as Chicago’s fifth starter and they have close to zero rotation depth, so they might not be too keen on trading him.

Stephen mentioned Brett Gardner and Ivan Nova for Johnson, which would give the ChiSox a replacement starter and the outfielder they seem to be craving. Two potential problems: 1) Nova kinda sucks, and 2) they seem to want a big outfield bat because Adam Eaton already fills the speedy leadoff role. Johnson’s a nice target. I’m not sure if the Yankees match up well with the White Sox though.

Bob asks: Would it make sense for the Yankees to use Jorge Mateo as their September pinch-runner in 2016? Is there any way the Yankees can use him without giving up team control?

(That’s the short version of Bob’s question.)

Mateo would pick up a month of service time if the Yankees called him up to be their pinch-runner in September. They wouldn’t lose a full year of team control. Mateo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the Yankees could call him in September and it wouldn’t complicate the 40-man roster situation. If Mateo was not Rule 5 Draft eligible, I don’t think the Yankees would call him up because they wouldn’t want to put him on the 40-man before they have to. One month of service time is generally no big deal. It doesn’t change his arbitration or free agency timetable at all.

Gene asks: Should the Yankees manipulate service time for Sanchez? How many days would he have to stay down to gain an extra year of control?

I think there’s a good argument to be made they should. They could certainly justify sending Gary Sanchez down to Triple-A for a few weeks to work on his defense. Sanchez picked up 23 days of service time last year — he wasn’t called up right away in September because of a minor hamstring injury — so add 12 days to that, and the Yankees would need to keep him down for 35 days to delay free agency. They’d have to send him down for about four months to avoid Super Two.

Sending Sanchez down for five or six weeks might not be a bad idea. He’d get a little more time to work on his defense and the Yankees would pick up an extra year of control. Realistically, how much big league playing time would Sanchez get in those six weeks? Six, seven starts? All the early-season off-days would make it easy to keep Brian McCann in the lineup.

David asks: Can you explain options. With the Yankees considering a revolving 25th roster spot how does options work? Each time you are called up and subsequently sent down is considered an option or each year you are called up is considered an option (thus you can be sent up and down as many times as the team wants that year).

Players use one option per year. They can go up and down as many times as the team wants in each individual season while using the only one minor league option. Each player gets three option years, though some qualify for a fourth under certain circumstances that seem to change all the time. (I still have no idea why Dellin Betances qualified for a fourth option.) Once the player burns his three option years, he has to clear waivers to go to the minors.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Sam asks: What do you think every starting shortstop in the AL East would get in the open market if they were free agents this offseason?

That’s a fun question. Here are my best guesses:

  • Xander Bogaerts, age 23: Ten years, $180M. Had a great year in 2015 and looks like he has room to get even better. He doesn’t have a long track record though, which is why I think he would fall short of $200M.
  • Troy Tulowitzki, age 31: Five years, $100M. There’s five years and $98M left on his current contract and I think he’d get a tiny bit more than that. He’s still very good and plays a premium position, but man, those injuries.
  • Didi Gregorius, age 25: Six years, $72M. That’s $12M per season. Maybe that’s high, but I think Didi’s age and defense will get him paid. Look at what it took to get Andrelton Simmons in a trade.
  • Brad Miller, age 26: Four years, $32M. Roughly the Omar Infante contract. Miller has shown signs of being an above-average hitter, but his defense is really shaky. He might not be a shortstop much longer.
  • J.J. Hardy, age 33: Two years, $20M. Hardy was hurt and awful last season (49 wRC+), and it could be a sign his days as an above-average player are over. He hasn’t topped a 100 wRC+ since 2011.

Do those seem even remotely correct? Guesstimating contracts for players as young as Bogaerts and Gregorius is really tough. Guys never hit free agency at that age so it’s hard to get a feel for how teams value them. Perhaps Bogaerts could get $200M+ despite the lack of track record. Maybe $72M is way too much for Didi.

Ruby asks: If Gary Sanchez proves himself to be an MLB ready catcher this year, do you see the Yanks trying to shop McCann next offseason (possibly in a package for a controllable pitcher), in order to try and get under the luxury tax a year earlier while also accelerating their on the fly rebuild?

They could try, but I don’t think there will be a huge market for soon-to-be 33-year-old catcher making $17M a year. Plus he has a full no-trade clause. I think McCann is worth keeping around though. He’d allow them to gradually ease Sanchez into the starting role, and besides, McCann is still one of the most productive catchers in the game despite no longer being he hitter he once was. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be gone next winter and Alex Rodriguez the winter after that. There will be more DH at-bats available to McCann down the road. I think keeping a quality catcher around is a good idea.

Pounder asks: Would the Yanks consider trading for the recently signed Hellickson (by the Phillies)? A package of Nova, Refsnyder and some decent minor leaguers seems like a fair deal.

I don’t think so. The Phillies acquired Jeremy Hellickson for close to nothing in what amounted to a salary dump trade earlier this offseason because they needed someone to eat innings. Hellickson will be a free agent next offseason and he’s still relatively young (28), so there’s a chance he rebounds. It’s been three years since he had an ERA under 4.50 though. The guy had a 4.86 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 383.2 innings from 2013-15 and has dealt with elbow problems. Nova had a 4.25 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 254 innings from 2013-15. I think I’d rather stick with Nova, and I definitely wouldn’t give up Rob Refsnyder for one year of Hellickson, nevermind kick in other pieces. The Hellickson of 2011-12 is long gone.

Bill asks: Slade Heathcott has persevered as a player and person. I think he has all the tools, if he could stay healthy. What would you think about trading Gardner for a pitcher, and giving Slade a chance to play everyday?

I love Slade, he’s awesome and he’s dealt with a ton of adversity, but I don’t think playing him everyday would work out well for the Yankees. There’s no reason to think he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. And besides, even when he was healthy last year, he hit .267/.315/.343 (90 wRC+) in 271 Triple-A plate appearances. The Yankees have plenty of upper level outfielders and can afford to trade Gardner, though I’d rather see Aaron Hicks play everyday before Slade. Maybe even Mason Williams and Ben Gamel too.

Minor. (David Banks/Getty)
Minor. (David Banks/Getty)

P.J. asks: Of either Cliff Lee or Mike Minor as possible options from the rehabbing bin who would be a better option for the Yankees? Lee who has a better performance history and is a lefty OR Minor who is considerably younger and also a lefty. Of course I’m assuming Lee would cost more. Or neither.

Whichever one is healthier would be the better option. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 2014 due to a flexor issue in his elbow that is apparently fully healed. Minor hasn’t pitched since September 2014 due to shoulder surgery, and I haven’t seen any updates on his progress at all. For whatever reason young Braves pitchers all seem to break down after two or three seasons (Minor, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, even Alex Wood is showing signs of decline). Minor’s younger than Lee and would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017, but what good is that if his shoulder is mush? Look over the medicals, sign whoever looks healthiest and most ready to help.

Forrest asks: Hi all, my question is, why don’t more teams structure long term deals front loaded? That way when the inevitable decline phase happens the players salary will be more palatable and will also give the team more flexibility to trade the player in the future.

There are a few reasons. For starters, a dollar now is worth more than a dollar later. Blame inflation. Teams want to push the money off as long as possible. There’s also the flexibility aspect. Back-loading the contract leaves more dollars to improve the roster today. I am certain some GMs have signed players to long-term deals under the assumption they won’t be around when the deal turns ugly. Heck, that might true of some owners. Not to be morbid, but do you think 90-year-old Ted Lerner cares Max Scherzer will be paid $15M a year from 2022-28? Probably not. Also, I think players would like to earn a little more money each passing year. That’s human nature, wanting a raise and knowing you’re going to make more in five years than you do right now. There have been some front-loaded contracts — A-Rod‘s current deal was front-loaded, for example — but most are still back-loaded for these reasons.

Paul asks: In the past few years we’ve seen statistics both for hitters and pitchers around hard/soft (and medium) contact. Is that subjective (some guy @ each game stuck labeling each struck ball) or objective (perhaps using hitfx with some MPH groupings)? Also, what are the league averages on these numbers? Thanks.

The soft and hard contact rates at FanGraphs come from Baseball Info Solutions, and it is subjective data. There’s a human stringer watching the game and classifying each batted ball as soft, medium, or hard. So yes, there’s some scorer bias involved. The league averages in 2015 are right here. Batted ball velocity is now available through Statcast but even raw mph doesn’t tell us everything — hit a ball 100 mph at a certain angle and it’s a pop-up to short. I prefer the general soft/medium/hard BIS data to exit velocity at the moment. We still have some work to do before we fully understand exit velocity.

UPDATE: I’m wrong. BIS batted ball data is now automated. Here’s the info. Long story short, the hang time, landing spot, and batted ball type are recorded, and an algorithm determines whether determines soft, medium, or hard contact.

Michael asks: What would it take to reacquire Solarte for the last spot on the bench? Would it be worth the cost?

Yeah he’d make sense. He’s a switch-hitter who can backup third base and also fill-in at first and second, like he did last year with the Padres. Yangervis Solarte’s unique because he wasn’t a top prospect and he’s not super young (turns 29 in July), but he has four years of control and has been rather useful the last two seasons. The Padres will surely market him as a starting player — he’s now their starting third baseman — though he would only be a bench guy for the Yankees. Refsnyder and a lower level arm, say Domingo German, for Solarte? That’s about as high as I’d go.

Chris asks: Kyle Parker was just DFA’d by the Rockies. Any chance the recently acquired Jason Lane is designated for assignment for a claim?

Lane Adams! Not Jason Lane. Jason Lane is a pitcher now. Parker has name value as a former first round pick and high-profile college football player, but he hit .280/.326/.431 (100 wRC+) with a 26.3% strikeout rate in Triple-A last season, and he seems to have hit the wall a lot of two-sport guys hit in Triple-A. Parker has an option left, so if they swap out Adams for Parker, fine. I don’t think either player has much to offer as the MLB level.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Pitching, Draft Picks, Comcast, Refsnyder

Thirteen questions in this week’s mailbag. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions throughout the week.

He's not a businessman he's a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)
He’s not a businessman he’s a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)

Sal asks: How did Alex’s 40 year old season stack up historically to other 40 year old offensive seasons? What are the best 41 and 42 year old offensive performances that Alex will hopefully be stacked up against in a couple of years?

Alex Rodriguez hit .250/.346/.486 (131 OPS+) last season, his age 39 season. The cutoff date for season age is June 30th at Baseball Reference, and Alex’s birthday is July 27th, so 2015 was technically his age 39 season even though he was actually 40 for a big chunk of it. Anyway, here are the ten best seasons by OPS+ among hitters who qualified for the batting title in their age 39 season, via B-Ref:

1 Barry Bonds 263 2004 SFG 147 617 129 135 27 3 45 101 232 41 .362 .609 .812
2 Ted Williams 179 1958 BOS 129 517 81 135 23 2 26 85 98 49 .328 .458 .584
3 Babe Ruth 160 1934 NYY 125 471 78 105 17 4 22 84 104 63 .288 .448 .537
4 David Ortiz 141 2015 BOS 146 614 73 144 37 0 37 108 77 95 .273 .360 .553
5 Willie Mays 140 1970 SFG 139 566 94 139 15 2 28 83 79 90 .291 .390 .506
6 Eddie Collins 138 1926 CHW 106 455 66 129 32 4 1 62 62 8 .344 .441 .459
7 Joe Kuhel 135 1945 WSH 142 615 73 152 29 13 2 75 79 31 .285 .378 .400
8 Cy Williams 134 1927 PHI 131 569 86 135 18 2 30 98 61 57 .274 .365 .502
9 Willie McCovey 132 1977 SFG 141 548 54 134 21 0 28 86 67 106 .280 .367 .500
10 Alex Rodriguez 130 2015 NYY 151 620 83 131 22 1 33 86 84 145 .250 .356 .486

A-Rod is actually tied for tenth with Reggie Jackson, who had a 130 OPS+ in his age 39 season (1985). Alex also didn’t even have the best age 39 season in baseball in 2015 — David Ortiz (141 OPS+) beat him. A-Rod did, however, have the second best age 39 season among right-handed hitters all-time. Only Mays was better.

The best season by a player in his age 40 season belongs to Mays (158 OPS+) while the best age 41 season belongs to Stan Musial (137 OPS+). Here’s the age 40 list and here’s the age 41 list. Only 16 players in history have posted a 100 OPS+ or better in their age 40 season. Only six did it in their age 41 season. Heck, only 15 players have ever even qualified for the batting title in their age 41 season. Rodriguez would join a very exclusive club is he is even a league average hitter the next two seasons.

Brian asks: Here are the all time strikeout leaders. Where do you think A-Rod ends up on this list?

For those of you too lazy to click the link, Alex is fifth all-time with 2,220 strikeouts. He’s 377 behind Reggie Jackson, the all-time leader. (OMG strikeout guys can’t hit in the postseason!) A-Rod struck out 145 times last season, and his 23.4% strikeout rate was his highest ever in a full season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that strikeout rate increased given his age.

The Yankees seem likely to scale back A-Rod’s workload the next two years, so racking up the near 380 strikeouts to catch Jackson probably ain’t happening. Alex would need to have to play beyond his current contract. He only needs 159 more strikeouts to pass Adam Dunn (2,379) for third place all-time though, and that seems inevitable. Might even happen next year. Catching Jim Thome (2,548) for second place is possible I suppose, just unlikely. Seems like Alex will finish in third place on the all-time strikeout list when it’s all said and done.

What a time to be alive. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
What a time to be alive. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Vidhath asks: Four years ago, trading a top prospect hitter was enough to get a young pitcher with 5 years of control and success at the MLB level. There’s no way (I think) that trading Judge or Mateo (or probably even both) today would get the Yankees a return similar to what Pineda is. Is this more of an indication of how the value of young pitchers has skyrocketed, or was Montero valued at a much higher level than Judge/Mateo?

A little of both. Jesus Montero was a way better prospect back then then Aaron Judge or Jorge Mateo are right now. Baseball America ranked Montero as one of the six best prospects in baseball every year from 2010-12 and he had just mashed in the big leagues for a month. Mateo is still in Single-A and Judge has a half season in Triple-A. Even though almost no one thought he could catch, Montero was one of the hottest commodities in the game because everyone expected him to be a devastating offensive player.

I also think young pitchers are becoming an even hotter commodity these days because we’ve seen more older pitchers break down in recent years — CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Roy Halladay all went from elite to kaput since the Montero trade — while salaries continue to explode. Only nine starters had an average annual salary of $18M or more at the time of the trade. Sabathia was the highest paid at $24.4M. Last season there were 18 guys at $18M annually, including two over $30M and three more over $25M. The salaries continue to go up but the player risk doesn’t change. Teams want to avoid that, so young pitching is in very high demand.

Paul asks: Players had to file for arbitration this week. All eligible players always do it, and you even pointed out it’s a formality that could likely go away some day. My question, though, us what happens if a player doesn’t file (aside from an agent getting fired)?

The player would be waiving his right to an arbitration hearing. He’d lose all negotiating leverage and effectively give the team another year of pre-arbitration control, meaning they can pay him close to the league minimum and renew his contract at any salary. It wouldn’t delay free agency, it just means the player would go through arbitration twice instead of three times. That’s never happened as far as I know and yes, the player would fire his agent in a heartbeat.

Matt asks: Kaprielian, Judge, Lindgren, and Mitchell (out of the bullpen) seem primed to be the significant mid-season additions via the farm this summer. Bird could be up as well with an injury. Who else could you see getting the call and making a big impact from the farm this season?

Excluding everyone we saw last season (Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, etc.), the first name that jumped to mind is Chance Adams. Adams was the team’s fifth round pick last June and he tore up pro ball after signing (1.78 ERA and 1.75 FIP in 35.1). He’s a reliever — the Yankees are apparently going to try him as a starter in 2016 — who could start the season at Double-A and make his MLB debut in the second half.

Other possibilities include Brady Lail, Cale Coshow, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Ben Gamel. Gamel’s kinda stuck behind Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams on the lefty hitting outfielder depth chart. Lail and Cessa are rotation depth pieces and Green may be as well. Coshow started for a while last season but is probably a reliever long-term. He’s got a huge fastball and a nasty slider. The Yankees have a lot of righty relievers on the 40-man roster already though, so it might be tough for Adams and Coshow to make MLB this year. Not impossible, but it’ll be tough.

Anthony asks: I like to think of myself as the type of Yankee fan that doesn’t have the “sign every big-name ever” mentality. That being said, I see a big opportunity to improve here. Why don’t the Yankees sign Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes to a semi-reasonable deal, then trade Brett Gardner to clear the spot and address the pitching issue?

The answer is very simple: the Yankees don’t want to lock themselves into another deal that may hurt their chances to get under the luxury tax next year (or the year after, whenever). Signing Upton or Cespedes — I prefer Cespedes because they’re comparable hitters, but he’s the better defender and base-runner, and he won’t cost a draft pick — and flipping Gardner for a pitcher makes total sense for the Yankees in every way except financially. Maybe the team decides they simply can’t pass up a good deal in a few weeks and signs one of those guys, but I would be surprised. There’s no reason to think the Yankees will hand out a big money contract at this point.

Rob Manfred. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)
The Commish. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)

Daniel asks: In the next CBA, why not keep the qualifying offer and allow old teams to get compensation picks but allow the new teams to keep their picks too.

I think the concern with that system is big market teams signing all the best free agents and getting access to the top amateurs as well. That’s not really fair to the small market clubs. The whole point of the draft pick compensation system is competitive balance. The league wants to help smaller market teams contend.

I do think the draft pick compensation rules will change with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. How? I’m not sure. The current qualifying offer system is pretty borked. Here are three ideas:

  1. Sever the ties between free agency and the draft all together.
  2. Make the qualifying offer a standing offer all offseason.
  3. Eliminate the draft spending pools.

The first idea is pretty straight forward. The second idea would lead to way fewer qualifying offers, I think. Only the truly elites would get one. Not guys like Ian Kennedy. That could result in more midseason trades too, since clubs know they won’t get a draft pick for their good but not great veteran after the season.

I think the last idea is the best. Losing the first rounder stinks, but losing the draft pool money associated with that pick sucks even more. Teams would be more willing to give up their first round pick if they were able to give their other draft picks a bonus of any size. That gives them a chance to sign a talented player with huge demands later in the draft, making up for the lost first rounder.

Paul asks: Can you provide any details as to the dispute between YES and Comcast?  YES has been completely removed from the channel line up on Comcast. What are the chances that something will be worked out?

I have not seen any updates since YES was pulled back in November. This is all about money — YES raised their rights fees and Comcast doesn’t want to pay, reportedly citing declining viewership. I truly hope YES and Comcast get something worked out before the season and I think they will, but that’s nothing more than my blind faith. The ongoing Dodgers situation — non-Time Warner customers in Southern California haven’t been able to watch the Dodgers for two years now — shows cooler heads don’t always prevail. There’s still some time before the regular season — Spring Training games are available in-market for subscribers — so hopefully a deal gets hammered out.

Brandon asks: If the Yankees are in contention come trade deadline but the starting rotation is having its annual health problems, do you see Cashman making a blockbuster deal for a starter or staying put and trust what they have going forward?

Staying put. The Yankees don’t make blockbuster trades at the deadline. They tend to do most of their heavy lifting in the offseason, then tinker at the trade deadline. Their last true deadline blockbuster was what, the Bobby Abreu trade? Does that even count? I don’t think Brian Cashman is opposed to the blockbuster deadline deal, but they’re hard to complete in-season. If the Marlins make Jose Fernandez available or the Indians shop Carlos Carrasco in July, I think the Yankees would be very involved. When in doubt though, bet against the blockbuster going down.

Nate asks: With the Yankees’ seeming dislike for anything Refsnyder, and the acquisition of Castro, plus having Ackley on hand as well, wouldn’t it have been smarter to include Refsnyder in the trade for Chapman, instead of Jagielo?

Well, yeah, but the Reds have a say in this too. Brandon Phillips has blocked at least two trades in recent years (Nationals this offseason, Yankees two years ago) because he makes his home in Cincinnati and doesn’t want to leave, and he’s under contract for another two years. What are the Reds going to do with a Major League ready second baseman right now? Refsnyder doesn’t make sense for them. Eric Jagielo‘s the better prospect, first and foremost, and he potentially fills their third base hole. Yeah, I think the Yankees would be better off with Jagielo long-term than Refsnyder, but it’s really hard to complain about getting Aroldis Chapman for a package headlined by Jagielo and Rookie Davis.

Austin. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Austin. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Michael asks: How about Tyler Austin for the final bench spot? He has experience at 3rd base, could spell Tex at 1st, and be a 5th outfielder. If he figured something out in the AZ Fall League, he could provide some right handed pop with the versatility you always preach. He’s almost the mirror image of Dustin Ackley (with a stronger arm).

A year or two ago I remember either writing something or talking to someone about Austin, and how he’d be a really good fit for the roster as a right-handed hitter who could fill in at first, third, and the corner outfield. Austin didn’t hit last year — he put up a .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) regular season line and an okay 116 wRC+in the Arizona Fall League — and third base probably isn’t happening at this point. He’s played only eight games at the position since 2011. In theory, man, he’d be a great fit for the bench. You kinda want him to force the issue though, and Austin hasn’t done that the last few years. Slipping through outright waivers unclaimed in September was telling. Austin’s stock is way down.

Alexander asks: Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but given the number of highly touted Cuban prospects that have signed this year, do you think the Yankees struck too soon in their IFA binge? Competing against the Dodgers’ wallet would not have been fun, but seems we’ve blocked ourselves from some high quality talent.

This was always the risk associated with the 2014 international spending spree. The Yankees took themselves out of the market for the best international players for two years, including young Cuban players. (They did have a chance to sign Yoan Moncada and failed spectacularly.) None of the Cuban prospects since is even close to that level. Yadier Alvarez has been by far the best of the bunch — the Dodgers gave him $16M — and that’s really it.

The Yankees landed about four years worth of top international prospects during the 2014-15 signing period. I’d rather have that than any of these recent Cuban players, almost all of whom received international pool busting bonuses. Moncada is the only Cuban prospect with true star potential who has hit the market since the spending restrictions were put in place. (I’m talking about players subject to the spending limits only.) Cuban contracts seem to be crazy inflated these days.

Simon asks: There’s a lot of talk about Refsnyder’s defense and Bird’s defense compared to Teixeira’s. Has there ever been a player who was mediocre defensively that became elite or gold glove caliber or is defense something you either have or don’t?

Oh sure. The best example is Chase Utley. He was a bad fielding third baseman in college — Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “he lacks the range, hands and ability to read hops to be a true middle infielder” in their pre-draft scouting report back in 2000 — who played third full-time as recently as 2002, yet he made himself into a great defensive second baseman through hard work.

It’s not quite that simple though. Players need a certain level of natural instincts and athleticism to be great defenders, so it’s not solely the product of hard work. Both Refsnyder and Bird have reportedly worked very hard on their defense, and to their credit, the scouting reports indicate they’ve improved. They both remain below-average defenders, however. If one or both works himself into an average or above-average defender, great. They’d be the exception though, not the rule.

Mailbag: Phillies, Betances, Hill, Granderson, Severino

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Our email address is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send us questions, comments, links, or anything else there. We get a lot of questions each week, so don’t get discouraged if yours isn’t picked. I only know the answer to so many.

Nola. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Nola. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Jesse asks: Any potential for a trade with the Phillies? They could really use another outfielder and definitely have room for extra bullpen help as well, and they’ve got Nola, Morgan, and Eickhoff for young starters.

I do think it’s possible even though the Phillies are a rebuilding team and are going to want young players in return, not Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller. (They traded Ben Revere at the deadline and Ken Giles earlier this offseason, remember.) The Phillies need a little of everything, and right now the Yankees have all kinds of extra relievers and outfielders to offer.

Aaron Nola is the real prize to me, though I have a hard time believing the Phillies would trade their best young starter — and their 2014 first round pick (seventh overall) — for anything less than a significant return. This isn’t a Slade Heathcott and Ivan Nova kinda trade. Start with Aaron Judge and someone like Bryan Mitchell, then tack on more from there. Judge plus Mitchell is probably light as a starting point too. Nola is their Luis Severino.

Jared Eickhoff, who came over from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, had a strong MLB debut last season (2.65 ERA and 3.25 FIP) that is way out of line with his projections as a prospect. Lots of people are high on him but I’m not sold. I’d take him on the Yankees, sure, though I feel like the asking price would exceed the expected production. Adam Morgan doesn’t interest me at all. His stuff hasn’t come close to bouncing all the way back from shoulder surgery a few years ago.

Eickhoff and especially Nola are the two young Phillies starters to target. Philadelphia looks at them as building blocks for the rotation going forward and will surely want a hefty return. They’re not going to acquire these guys as part of their rebuild only to trade them as part of the same rebuild, you know? Pick up the phone and make the call, but unless the Yankees are open to moving one of their so-called untouchables (Severino, Judge, Greg Bird, etc.), I’m not sure it’s doable.

Steve asks: Now that the Yankees have 3 closer type relievers, do you think the Yankees will try Dellin Betances as a starter again or is that permanently out of the question now that he is an elite reliever? Dellin’s improved control may allow him to succeed as a starter.

This ship has sailed for me. Betances credits his improved control on moving to the bullpen and pitching more often, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk to move him back to the rotation. That has Daniel Bard 2.0 written all over it. Remember, Dellin had a 15.5% walk rate in 158 minor league innings as a starter from 2012-13. We’re not talking about a guy who struggled to paint the corners here. He lacked basic strike throwing ability. I can understand the temptation to move Betances back to the rotation, but I think it’s way too risky at this point. Being one of the best relievers on the planet is a nice consolation prize.

Hill. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Hill. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Mike asks: I saw you mention Taylor Hill as a possible target on Twitter. What’s his deal?

The Nationals designated Hill for assignment earlier this week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Stephen Drew. As I said on Twitter, I think he’s worth a waiver claim to serve as some team’s seventh or eighth starter. I only see Hill as a depth guy, really. He has at least one minor league option left and he can definitely start because of his control and four-pitch mix.

Hill, 26, spent most of this past season in Triple-A with Washington, where he had a 5.23 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 118.2 innings. His walk rate (5.4%) was very good but he didn’t miss many bats (12.9%). Hill’s got a low-90s heater and the three standard issue secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup), the best of which is the slider. He’s also said to be an aggressive guy who pitches inside because he knows he has to keep hitters honest to succeed.

As it stands right now, the Yankees have Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green as their depth starters behind the top six guys, and Mitchell could easily wind up in the bullpen. If Hill hits waivers and they Yankees can bring him in as an extra layer of depth, great. It costs nothing and they have the 40-man space the moment. If the Nationals trade Hill or another team claims him first, so be it. Hill’s a super low cost pickup for Triple-A, that’s all.

Cory asks: Any plans for the Yankees to convert Cito Culver to pitcher to *maybe* get some value out of him?

Not that I’m aware of. Culver, who is still somehow only 23, has hit .223/.302/.310 (77 wRC+) in his last 2,080 minor league plate appearances now, with no real sign of progress. He’s still a really good defender at short, but what good is that if he can’t even be a replacement level hitter? Culver has a strong arm and he did pitch some in high school, reportedly touching the mid-90s. It’s clear at this point his chances of being anything more than an organizational player as an infielder are tiny. I think it’s time to try Cito on the mound, but what do I know. We don’t have all the information.

P.J. asks: I think I already know the answer to this but I would like your perspective. Lets suppose CC Sabathia muddles along in 2016 he stays relatively healthy but not very productive. His 2017 option would still vest BUT what would you put at the chances of him voluntarily retiring at the end of the 2016 season and forgoing his 2017 season?

Not zero, but very close to it. I know a few players have retired in the middle of their contracts recently — Michael Cuddyer did it this offseason, Gil Meche a few years ago — but they are the exception, not the rule. There’s a reason it’s such a big deal when something like that happens. It’s because it never happens. Sabathia would be walking away from $25M ($25M!) by retiring next winter. I know he’s made an obscene amount of money in his career, but man, $25M? That’s money for his kids and his kids’ kids and his kids’ kids’ kids. People say it’s honorable when players retire in the middle of their contract and walk away from millions of dollars. I think it’s kinda dumb.

John asks: I know you always say one should never grade (or assess) a trade until several years after the trade has been completed. With that being said, what “grade” would you give the Yankees on the Granderson trade? I generally like this trade for the Yankees and give them a B, possibly a B+.

This is the short version of John’s question. In his email, he noted the three players the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson (Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke) combined for 30.2 WAR with their teams following the trade — most of that comes from Jackson’s defense — while Granderson gave the Yankees 14.3 WAR. WAR says the Yankees lost the trade, but getting 30.2 WAR from three rosters spots is much different than getting 14.3 WAR from one roster spot.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Miss you, Curtis. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

At the time of the trade the Yankees needed a lefty bat to replace Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who were allowed to leave as free agents. The goal was to add that bat and also get more athletic and better defensively, which they did. Jackson was expendable because the Yankees had Gardner. Holding onto Gardner and trading Jackson proved to be the right move. Kennedy is the cost of doing business because Jackson had not yet played in MLB at the time of the trade. Coke? Who cares. Middle relievers are always expendable.

I think giving the trade a B is fair. You can stretch and call it a B+ because I think even the Yankees would tell you Granderson was better than expected. I doubt they were projecting two 40+ dinger seasons. The goal was to add an impact bat without dealing anything significant off the MLB roster, and the Yankees did that. The Diamondbacks got the short end of the stick because they gave up Max Scherzer in that trade, but, overall, I think it was a win-win for the Yankees and Tigers.

Travis asks: Since the next wave of free agent shortstops are terrible (the list according to MLBTR is, Aybar/Descalso/Drew with Alcides and Yunel Escobar having club options), could the Yankees switch Starlin Castro to SS and use Didi Gregorius to nab a young SP? Could a package similar or better than what ATL got from LAA work?

Interesting idea. I hadn’t though of that. I don’t think the Yankees would do it — I think they see Castro as a second baseman going forward, not a shortstop — but it wouldn’t hurt to explore the market, right? Off the top of my head, teams in need of a young shortstop include the Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Pirates, and Padres. Maybe even the Dodgers if they think Corey Seager’s better suited for third base long-term.

I have a hard time thinking a trade with the Rays will happen, so cross them off the list. The Pirates don’t really have a young starter to offer (Gerrit Cole ain’t happening) and neither do the A’s (ditto Sonny Gray). That leaves the White Sox (Jose Quintana? Carlos Rodon?) and Padres (Tyson Ross?). I’d love love love the Yankees to get their hands on Quintana or Rodon, and if a package featuring Didi and some pieces (Judge? Gary Sanchez? Rob Refsnyder?) can get it done, wouldn’t the Yankees have to at least consider that? Interesting idea.

R.J. asks: I’m wondering where we currently stand with the 40-man roster as of the Chapman trade? Who do you think will get the last few spots? Can you see Cashman saving a spot for a midseason call up for Judge?

Right now the Yankees have three open spots on the 40-man roster, which is kinda crazy because they came into the offseason with a logjam. The various trades have cleared up the 40-man clutter. I’m sure the Yankees will end up using one or two of those spots this offseason through a trade or waiver claim or something. I don’t think they’re specifically saving a spot for Judge though. They’ll make room for him whenever he’s ready to come up. They’re not going to not make a move just because they want a 40-man spot for Judge at an undetermined point in the future.

Daniel asks: Assuming the they don’t sign any QO free agents, where do you think the Yankees eventually pick in the first round? Angels and Orioles seem like good bets to sign a QO free agent, with the Astros and the Red Sox if they make a corresponding trade are other possibilities. Thanks RAB!

As our Draft Order page shows, the Yankees currently hold the 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft. They came into the offseason with the 22nd pick, then moved up three spots thanks to the Jeff Samardzija, Daniel Murphy, and Zack Greinke signings. The Yankees will move up more if the Mariners, Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Indians, Twins, Angels, or Astros sign a qualified free agent.

I agree the Orioles and Angels are the most likely of those clubs to sign a qualified free agent. The O’s have been connected to Yovani Gallardo this offseason, and they could also turn to Justin Upton if they lose Chris Davis. The Angels seem like a potential landing spot for Upton or Howie Kendrick. Maybe Dexter Fowler too. It seems like the 17th pick is the best case scenario for the Yankees. I don’t think they can realistically move higher than that. Going from 22nd to 19th in an offseason is pretty good as it is. Hard not to be happy with that.

And he never played the field again. (Rob Carr/Getty)
And he never played the field again. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Alex asks: What about A-Rod as the backup 3B?

Not happening at this point. The Yankees insist Alex Rodriguez is a DH and a DH only at this point because they don’t want to risk him breaking down physically by playing the field. I’m not even sure A-Rod could play a passable third base at this point of his career anyway. He’s 40 years old and has two surgically repaired hips. He’s barely able to run the bases. Playing the field seems impossible. I wish they’d try A-Rod at first base now and then, but it’s not happening. He’s a DH.

Anthony asks: I am worried that expectations are too high for Luis Severino in 2016. Most young pitchers struggle after a successful debut. The sophomore slump is a real thing. What do you think he does this year? Will fans be patient when he struggles?

Let’s use ZiPS as a conversation starter. The system pegs Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher at the moment. I, personally, would consider that pretty successful for a 22-year-old in his first full season as a big league starter, especially since he’ll be pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium and most of his road games in other hitter friendly AL East ballparks.

I suspect many people would be disappointed by that kind of performance though. Most fans are more apt to say they’re willing to be patient than, you know, actually be patient. The big leagues are really hard and the Yankees moved Severino up the ladder very quickly — he’s already thrown more MLB innings (62.1) than Triple-A innings (61.1), and nearly as many MLB innings as Double-A innings (63) — so some growing pains would not be unexpected. As long as the Yankees are patient, it doesn’t matter whether the fans are.