Mailbag: Hamilton, Young, Relievers, Infante, Spending

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag and some of the answers are longer than usual. Please use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions. I know the form sucks, there’s no confirmation message or anything like that, but trust me, your questions go through.

(Jonathan Moore/Getty)
(Jonathan Moore/Getty)

Many asked: What about Josh Hamilton?

Lots of questions about Hamilton this week for whatever reason, so I’ll try to cover all the bases. First, no I don’t think the Yankees should look into trading for Hamilton even though the Angels are so clearly down on him. A contract like that — big bucks for a player in his mid-30s who is already declining and has injury issues — is exactly the kind of contract the Yankees need to avoid. Hamilton is owed $90.2M (!) through 2017. Nope.

Second, if the Angels release Hamilton, it’s a different story. They’d be on the hook for all that money and the Yankees or any other team could sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees don’t need another left-handed hitting outfielder/DH type, so he doesn’t make sense for the roster, but, in a vacuum, the idea of going after Hamilton in that case is fine. The Angels have treated him like crap and the Yankees won’t do that. They didn’t even treat Alex Rodriguez as poorly as the Angels have treated Hamilton.

Third, I actually wouldn’t trade A-Rod for Hamilton right now. Forget about A-Rod’s hot start. We’ve got two declining players with off-the-field baggage (Hamilton’s is much more severe) signed through 2017, except one is owed $64M and the other is owed $90.2M. Alex is also a better fit for the roster as a righty hitting corner infielder. There are very few players in MLB who I wouldn’t take in a trade for A-Rod. Hamilton is one of them. Make no mistake, the Yankees want A-Rod gone, but not enough to take on Hamilton’s contract.

Jamie asks: Chris Young might not be an everyday caliber player, but would he be an everyday upgrade over Carlos Beltran? Or is best situation platooning them? (Assuming Beltran coming back to life is an impossibility!)

Well if Beltran coming back is an impossibility, then Young is definitely the better everyday option. In reality, a Young/Beltran platoon is probably the best short-term option, and I would be surprised if the Yankees committed to that. At least right now, maybe later in the season if Beltran doesn’t start hitting. A Ramon Flores/Young platoon could probably out-produce Beltran at the moment, especially if we count defense, though the club owes Beltran a lot of money and they aren’t prone to knee-jerk moves. Look how long Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Brian Roberts lasted in recent years.

Aaron asks: Obviously this is a little ways off, but could you see Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino forming a new Core Four? Assuming they all stay in the Yankees system of course.

No. Let’s stop it with the next Core Four stuff. It’s never happening again. We’re talking about two no-doubt Hall of Famers and two borderline Hall of Famers (and a third borderline Hall of Famer!) all coming up with one team at the same time and spending nearly two decades playing together. That’s an impossible scenario to replicate. Let’s just let Judge, Bird, and whoever else be themselves. I strongly feel the “next ______” line of thinking is tired. These guys are all human beings and they’re all unique. Just let their careers play out without worrying whose shoes they will fill.

Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)
Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)

Bob asks: Seeing the numbers Vanderbilt players Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer are putting up is there any chance the Yankees could get one of those players at the 16th pick?

No on Swanson, yes on Fulmer. Swanson is the best all-around college position player in the draft (he’s hitting .354/.455/.628 this spring) and a true shortstop — he’s playing short now but played second as a freshman and sophomore in deference to Vince Conde, who the Yankees selected in the ninth round last year — and guys like that tend to come off the board very early. Swanson is a projected top ten pick right now and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he comes off the board in the top five.

Fulmer came into the spring as more of a mid-to-late first rounder, but he’s climbed draft boards these last few weeks because he’s been untouchable (1.69 ERA and 90/24 K/BB in 64 IP). Fulmer is a short righty (listed at 5-foot-11) and there’s still a bias against short righties throughout baseball, which may work against him come draft day. Either way, he sits mid-90s with a power breaking ball and off-the-charts competitiveness. Fulmer is far more likely to be available when the Yankees pick 16th overall than Swanson, though I would be shocked if Fulmer is still on the board by time their second pick comes around (30th).

JonS asks: Why are relievers so volatile compared to starters?

Lots of reasons. First and foremost, they inherently work in small sample sizes, so if a guy struggles for a few weeks at some point, there won’t always be enough time to even things out. Think about all the guys who have a brutal outing early in April — say, six runs in an inning — and are still trying to work it off their ERA in August. Clubs are quick to pull the trigger and replace a struggling reliever too. Just about all relievers are pitchers who couldn’t start for one reason or another. Injuries, bad command, herky jerky delivery, lack of a third pitch, stuff like that forces them out of the rotation and are reasons why relievers tend to be unpredictable — they all have some kind of serious flaw to start with.

Mark asks: As a swap of ugly contracts, would you trade Beltran for Omar Infante? Garbage for more versatile garbage.

No. Beltran is owed more money but is under contract one fewer year — the Yankees owe him $30M through next season while the Royals owe Infante a total of $25.75M through 2018. I’d rather just get rid of the dead weight sooner. Infante’s versatility doesn’t really exist anymore either. He’s been a full-time second baseman since 2011. The last time he did the super-utility player thing everyone seems to love was 2010, when he was 28 years old. He’s now 33, can’t hit (75 wRC+ since the start of last year), and has lingering back and shoulder issues. I’d probably do the deal if the contracts were equal length. But yeah, I just want the awful contracts gone as soon as possible. I’m not sure how Beltran for Infante helps the Yankees aside from saving $5M spread across three years.

Joe asks: But seriously, IF A-Rod continues to hit like this and the Yanks make the playoffs, what are the chances he wins MVP? (My dream BTW)

I don’t think he would get enough support, so very small. Let’s say … 2%. It’s hard enough for a Yankees player to win a major award as it is — a Yankee needs a monster season far better than anyone else to win an award (think 2007 A-Rod), been that way for a few decades now — and I’m not sure A-Rod is capable of doing that at this point. He’s been awesome! But it was hard for peak Alex to win an MVP in pinstripes. Voters have shown they generally won’t support players suspended for PED ties for awards as well. Look at Melky Cabrera in 2012. He absolutely deserved MVP votes but didn’t get a single one.

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Anonymous asks: In the event Didi Gregorius completely falls on his face this year do the Yankees sign Ian Desmond? I’m very scared of his defense, more so that Didi’s offense and mental errors.

That would be the ultimate “if the Boss was alive!” move, wouldn’t it? Young player flops, replace him with the biggest available name. Desmond’s off to a strong start at the plate (122 wRC+) but he’s been a total disaster in the field. Errors are far from the best way to evaluate defense but his MLB leading eight errors do accurately represent his terrible play. Desmond hasn’t been able to make routine plays — he’s pulled the first baseman off the bag with throws, booted grounders, the works. Routine plays a Triple-A caliber shortstop needs to make. Desmond turns 30 in September so he’s not old, but he’s not going to be a shortstop much longer and his swing-and-miss tendencies have gradually gotten worse the last few years, which is a red flag. If the Yankees decide to replace Didi this offseason, I’d hope they’d steer clear of a huge contract for Desmond. That’s not something they need right now.

Tom asks: Do you think if Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano come back healthy and somewhat effective it would be smart for the Yanks to maybe trade Adam Warren + Justin Wilson + another minor piece for offensive help or even prospects? They can call up Jacob Lindgren and will still have 6 big league SP’s. What do you think that package can net?

I’m inclined to say keep the pitching depth, especially since Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are hardly guaranteed to make it through this season (or next!) in one piece. But, if they did look to trade Warren and Wilson for an upgrade elsewhere, I don’t think they would get a ton in return. We know what Wilson is worth on the trade market: Frankie Cervelli. An oft-injured yet sorta interesting part-time player with two years of control remaining.

I try to find similar players when gauging a player’s trade value but Warren is tough because he has four years of team control remaining (counting 2015) and is a starter now after spending two years in the bullpen. Cesar Ramos kinda works but he was traded in a salary dump — the Rays took a bad control Double-A reliever in return for shedding his $1.3M salary. Maybe Tyson Ross? He was similar to Warren before his career took off with the Padres, and all he netted the A’s was a utility infielder (Andy Parrino) and a Triple-A depth arm (Andrew Werner).

A Warren plus Wilson package might net the Yankees something useful, but if you’re hoping they can get a top prospect or someone they could plug into their MLB lineup right away, you’ll probably be disappointed. Wilson and Warren are solid big leaguers but not stars, and many teams have players just like them in the organization. If the Yankees throw in a prospect, it might be worthwhile. Me? I say hang on to the depth.

Ian asks: I’m confused a bit by some of your analysis. On the one hand, you suggest that by not spending money the Yankees are negating their primary advantage. In the same chat you say they can’t keep overpaying for veterans. What gives? Moreover, if the Yankees do reset the luxury tax, they aren’t only saving money for themselves, but they are giving much much less money to other teams. Who are, after all, their competition. Thoughts?

I probably haven’t been clear enough. I absolutely think the Yankees should pay high salaries and have a top payroll. They’re in the biggest market in the game with a brand new stadium and their own television network. They print money. I understand the benefits of getting under the luxury tax threshold — in addition to resetting the tax rate, the Yankees would also be eligible for a revenue sharing rebate — but cutting payroll to get under the threshold doesn’t sit well with me at all.

That said, they have to spend smarter, specifically by steering clear of super long contracts that buy decline years in bulk. The years are the problem, not the dollars. Players don’t age differently just because you give them more money. These contracts limit flexibility and leave the Yankees with a bunch of unproductive players in their late-30s. Remember this past offseason, when it was reported the Yankees were willing to tack on the fourth year to get Andrew Miller and Chase Headley as long as the average annual value of the contract was lower? That’s completely backwards to me. The Yankees should be willing to pay a higher annual salary in order to keep the contract shorter. They shouldn’t use their financial might to absorb decline years. They should use it to avoid them.

Andrew asks: With Lucius Fox just being declared a FA and free to sign, should Yanks be all over him? 18 y.o. SS who probably would be a top 50 pick in the draft.

Fox, who shares a name with Morgan Freeman’s character in the various Batman movies, has a bit of a weird backstory. He was born in the Bahamas, attended high school in Florida (and did the whole high school draft showcase thing), then moved back to the Bahamas. There was some debate over whether he would be draft-eligible or considered an international free agent. MLB chose the latter and recently declared him a free agent, according to Kiley McDaniel.

McDaniel called Fox a “plus plus runner … (who) now projects to stick at shortstop with feel to hit from both sides of the plate,” and says he would have been a projected top 50 pick had he been draft-eligible. McDaniel also says Fox may not sign until after July 2nd, which means the Yankees would only be able to offer him $300,000 as part of the penalties for last summer’s international spending. In general, my stance is this: quality middle infielders are very hard to find, so any time the Yankees can scoop up a good middle infield prospect for nothing but cash, they should absolutely break out the checkbook. This is where they should go the extra mile, not for 37-year-old DHs.

Mailbag: Trades, Ellsbury, Beltran, Shreve, O’Brien, Bailey

Got nine questions for you in this week’s mailbag. I’m trying to shorten the mailbag up a bit because the season started and there’s so much other stuff going on, but I’m mostly failing. Anyway, use the For The Mailbag form in the sidebar to send us any questions.

The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)
The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)

Chris asks: I hear all the time “Yanks are trading their young guys” and they do … But to be fair, who was the last young player they traded that turned out to be better than the guy they got in the Brian Cashman era? Does the fact they CAN trade for people or buy players change how the Yankees view player development in general and thus didn’t take it as seriously as they should have?

Hmmm, Danny Farquhar? He wasn’t a homegrown guy or particularly young though. The Yankees plucked him off waivers then traded him for Ichiro Suzuki, who helped the team get to the 2012 postseason. Farquhar might not be the best example. Looking through MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, I think the last trade involving a young player that the Yankees clearly lost was Mark Melancon (and Jimmy Paredes) for Lance Berkman back in 2010. Melancon’s become one of the best relievers in the game and while Berkman’s time in pinstripes was underrated (.359 OBP!), that’s one New York would like to do over. Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo is the gold standard for awful Brian Cashman trades. That was a total dud. Young players and prospects don’t work out more often than not. Everyone seems so willing to overlook that. And nah, I wouldn’t change how I feel about the team’s player development in general. They always seem to have just enough trade chips to get what they need but not enough to be in the mix for any big names, like Cole Hamels or David Price.

Rob asks: With the emergence of Ramon Flores, Jake Cave, Tyler Austin and even Mark Payton, do you think the Yankees regret giving Jacoby Ellsbury a long term deal? Do you think at any point his contract becomes tradeable?

Teams come to regret the vast majority of long-term contracts within the first two or three years it seems, even if they won’t admit it. So yes, I think the Yankees either already regret signing Ellsbury or will in a year or two. I’ve been critical of the signing since the start because it was elite dollars for a non-elite player (Ellsbury’s good! just not a $153M player) so if the Yankees can trade him at some point, I absolutely think they should. When a top Scott Boras client signs the week before the Winter Meetings, it means you blew them away with the offer. It’s a bad sign when Boras is that quick to take a deal. Anyway, even if the Yankees do regret signing Ellsbury, I don’t expect them to be able to trade him anyway. He has a full no-trade clause because, you know, the $153M wasn’t enough to get it done.

Johnny asks: If any of the minor leaguers push for a place on the MLB team — example: Tyler Austin continues to rake at AAA — do you see the Yankees benching Carlos Beltran?

I really doubt it. They only kinda sorta benched Alfonso Soriano last year when it was clear he was cooked. They’re still batting Beltran third in the lineup and he’s signed for next year too. Beltran’s leash is going to be really, really long. Best case scenario if he doesn’t start hitting is he gets bumped lower in the order. For someone like Austin or Flores to get a chance, it’ll take a long-term injury to a starting outfielder. Maybe two long-term injuries given Chris Young‘s start to the season. Benching Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, or whoever just isn’t something the Yankees have indicated they are willing to do. Their contracts keep their jobs safe.

(Presswire)
Chasin’ Shreve. (Presswire)

Dan asks: How much does it stink for Chasen Shreve that he won the job in Spring Training, and got sent to the minor leagues just because he had a long outing?

It stinks but that’s baseball. My guess is Shreve was happy to get the opportunity — he capitalized on that opportunity too, he showed the Yankees he’s a big leaguer — after spending so much time as an afterthought in the minors. Remember, Shreve was a non-prospect who had to reinvent himself last year to get on the radar. This is life for young relievers. They go up and down a bunch of times early in their careers and wait until they get enough innings to show what they can do. Shreve will be back and fairly soon, I suspect. (His ten days are up Tuesday.)

Tom asks: Obviously, very hypothetical, but say the Yankees made the Nathan Eovaldi trade before acquiring Didi Gregorius, do you think the Tigers would have accepted Eovaldi instead of Shane Greene? Who would you rather have?

I don’t think the Tigers  would have taken Eovaldi over Greene. GM Dave Dombrowski had reportedly been trying to get Greene for a while — Cashman told Chad Jennings that Dombrowski inquired about Greene multiple times — and it seems like he was their guy, not Eovaldi. Dombrowski’s been known to fall in love with certain player and go after them, hence the surprising Doug Fister for Robbie Ray trade. He just really liked Robbie Ray. I’d prefer Greene to Eovaldi mostly because he’s under control an extra three years. Eovaldi’s way ahead of where Greene was at his age though. Like, waaay ahead.

Steve asks: Is Peter O’Brien a successful draft pick? Including everything.

Oh yes, absolutely. The Yankees took O’Brien in the second round of the 2012 draft and used him to get Martin Prado, who they then flipped to the Marlins for Eovaldi & Co. They drafted him with the 94th overall pick and less than three years later they turned him into a young power arm like Eovaldi, who is only five months older than O’Brien. Regardless of what O’Brien does from here on out — he’s in a different organization now with different coaches and everything, the Yankees have no influence — the Yankees turned that pick into a quality young player on their MLB roster in less than three years. It would be nice if more picks in the second round were that productive.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Conor asks: Does CC Sabathia now have a problem pitching out of the stretch?

It’s too early to say. Believe it or not, Sabathia has actually been more effective with men on base in his two starts this season than with the bases empty. Here are the super duper small sample size numbers from Baseball-Reference:

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
2 28 1 8 0 1 1 1 10 .296 .321 .481 .803 .438 138
Men On 2 25 8 7 0 0 0 0 5 .304 .280 .304 .584 .350 61

For what it’s worth, Sabathia was less effective with men on base than with the bases empty back in 2013, his last full and healthy-ish season. Most pitchers are less effective from the stretch — batters hit .245/.303/.379 with the bases empty and .259/.327/.397 with men on base last year — because they’re sacrificing some stuff in order to be quicker to the plate. I’m sure that will be true with Sabathia this year, but it’s too early to know how precisely much less effective he really is from the stretch.

Paul asks: Any news about Andrew Bailey?

Actually, yes. Bailey threw one inning and 13 pitches for High-A Tampa on Tuesday and George King says he followed that by throwing live batting practice Wednesday, so while he hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games yet, he has thrown on back-to-back days. He’s getting there. I think the earliest we’ll see Bailey — if we see him at all, he’s coming back from a major injury remember — is early-to-mid-May. Hopefully he can stay healthy and contribute. Another quality reliever is never a bad thing.

Mike asks: Heard John Kruk and Curt Schilling discussing the idea that rosters should be expanded in April, not September. I’ve never really considered this. What do you think of their idea of a 35-man roster in April and regular 25-man limit in September?

I’m not a fan of expanding rosters in April, I like the extra players in September. Players are most fatigued and in need of rest later in the season, so it’s good to have the extra bodies in September, plus it gives teams an opportunity to reward minor leaguers who had good seasons. Maybe there’s a compromise to be made and rosters can be expanded in both April and September. Keep the September rules as they are, but let teams carry 27-28 players instead of 25 in April, when pitchers are still getting stretched out and stuff. That work? If it’s either/or, give me expanded rosters in September over April, all day every day.

Mailbag: First Round Picks, Mussina, Tanaka, Extensions

I was planning to make this a shorter than usual mailbag because the regular season has started and there are game recaps and DotF to worry about, yet I still managed to answer eleven questions. Go figure. The “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar is the best way to send us questions each week. We get to as many as we can.

The "G" face mask is so boss. (Presswire)
The “G” face mask is so boss. (Presswire)

Jeff asks: Your first round pick analysis got me thinking. Can you provide some players that were drafted after the Yankees’ picks that would have been a better choice knowing what we know now?

Sure, but let me be clear: this is no kind of serious analysis. “They took this guy when they should have taken that guy,” is the worst kind of “analysis” you’ll find. It’s pure hindsight and it foolishly assumes the player would have developed the same exact way in a different organization. They’re almost always going to be someone better. We can do this for just about any team, any year.

Alright, so anyway, let’s just look back at the star players the Yankees passed on in the draft in recent years. I’m only going to look at the five-year stretch from 2005-09 because a) this is a lot of work, and b) we don’t have as much information on players drafted more recently. The 2005-09 crop includes players who should be in MLB by now. Here’s the table:

NYY top pick Shoulda took!
2005 C.J. Henry (17th pick) Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox, 23rd)
2006 Ian Kennedy (21st) Jeff Samardzija (Cubs, 149th)
2007 Andrew Brackman (30th) Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins, 76th)
2008 Gerrit Cole (28th) Craig Kimbrel (Braves, 96th)
2009 Slade Heathcott (29th) Kyle Seager (Mariners, 82nd)

That 2006 draft is debatable because you could argue Kennedy was (gasp!) the right pick there considering how long it took Samardzija to figure things out. Chris Tillman (Mariners, 49th) and Jon Jay (Cardinals, 74th) are other non-Kennedy options.

The 2007 draft really stood out. In addition to Stanton, some other players picked after Brackman include Todd Frazier (Reds, 34th), Josh Donaldson (Cubs, 48th), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals, 67th), Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers, 101st), and Corey Kluber (Padres, 134th). That group shows just how unpredictable this player development thing can be. Donaldson and Kluber both changed organizations before breaking out and Donaldson had to move from catcher to third base for his bat to blossom. Stanton was a high school first baseman with major swing-and-miss issues. Hindsight is great though, isn’t it?

Rob asks: Two related questions about Ty Hensley. Do you think because he’s a pitcher he’d be less hurt by all that lost development time than a position player? Second, how will this impact the timing of the Yankees decision on if they have to add him to the 40 man roster? Do they get any time back from him being on the DL?

I’ll answer the second question first: no. The injuries don’t change his Rule 5 Draft timetable at all. Hensley will be Rule 5 Draft eligible following next season, and unless he comes back from Tommy John surgery and looks like Matt Harvey, I don’t think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster. He’s missed way too much development to think he can stick at the MLB level in 2016. This is a decision that is two years away though, so who knows.

As for the lost development time question, yes I think his chances of coming back are better than they would be if he were a position player. Historically, coming back from a long break as a hitter is very tough because hitting is so repetition based. Swings can be lost easily but not as easily found. That’s why most conversions are hitters who become pitchers, not the other way around. Rick Ankiel wasn’t particularly good in the second phase of his career (92 OPS+), but to do what he did was remarkable.

Tom asks: Did the Red Sox spend $95 Million for the worst 3rd baseman in the AL East?

Maybe! But you have to cherry-pick the stats to make it work. Here are four, you pick which ones you like the most. These cover the 2012-14 season:

2015 Season Age OPS+ wRC+ bWAR fWAR
Josh Donaldson 29 127 129 16.9 15.6
Chase Headley 31 123 123 13.6 15.3
Evan Longoria 29 125 125 12.6 12.3
Manny Machado 22 104 104 10.4 9.8
Pablo Sandoval 28 116 115 8.2 7.6

So Sandoval has been the worst of the five over the last three seasons. Does that mean he will be the worst over the next four years too? Who in the world knows. He’s a unique player because of his offensive profile — contact-oriented switch-hitter who’s much weaker from the right side — and his physique. You don’t see players his size all that often, and certainly not playing a position like third base. Sandoval’s really good! But the AL East is full of good third basemen and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask if he’s the worst of the five.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Rich asks: Looking back at the 2008 off-season, if Mike Mussina had not retired and made 30-34 starts in 2009, how would the Yankee’s rotation have looked? Would they have signed A.J. Burnett? Plus, how would the post-season rotation look?

I think they would have signed Burnett anyway, but that’s just me. Joba Chamberlain was the fifth starter to start 2008 and I think he would have wound up either in the bullpen or in Triple-A had Moose returned. Chien-Ming Wang went down pretty quickly with injury that year and the Yankees never did have a fifth starter after that — they cycled through Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre, and Chad Gaudin for most of the year. Assuming Mussina pitched the way he did in 2008 (a big assumption, but let’s roll with it), I think they would have gone with a four-man rotation in the postseason with Moose as the fourth starter. Who knows how that would changed things. As much as I love Moose, it’s hard to see how bringing him back in 2009 would have made things better given how that season played out.

Mark asks: How do the Yankees claim such pride over having a hard throwing bullpen when at the same time they say velocity is not important when it comes to Masahiro Tanaka/CC Sabathia?

Have they said velocity is not important for Tanaka and Sabathia? I don’t think they did. They’ve said they feel those two can be successful without mid-90s gas. Either way, throwing hard is better than not throwing hard. No one will argue otherwise. The harder you throw, the fewer runs you’re likely to allow. The Yankees had the opportunity to rebuild their bullpen this winter, so they loaded up on hard-throwers. If they could have dumped Tanaka and Sabathia for healthier hard-throwers, they would have. But they couldn’t, so they’re stuck talking about how they can be successful without mid-90s velocity.

Joe A. asks: If Tanaka’s new style proves to be ineffective 2 or so months into season, do you see them scrapping new style and just telling him to throw, elbow be damned?

Sure, but it’s not really their choice. Ultimately Tanaka is throwing the pitches and he’ll decide whether he really cuts it loose or not. I’m hopeful this is just a comfort thing, and as the season progresses and Tanaka and gets more comfortable with his elbow, he’ll start letting it loose a little more. That’s a process Tommy John surgery guys go through during their rehab, getting over that fear of throwing like they used to before surgery. There’s a mental wall to break through. I don’t know if that’s the case with Tanaka, I just hope it is.

P.J. asks: How long before one or two of these extensions for players that still are under team control for years come back to bit the team on the butt?

They already have! Several pitcher deals haven’t gone so well, which isn’t surprising because pitchers break. That’s part of the risk. Brett Anderson’s deal with the Athletics and Scott Kazmir’s deal with the Rays stand out. They didn’t work out too well. Nick Blackburn’s deal with the Twins was a total disaster, same with Ricky Romero and the Blue Jays.

On the position player side, the Elvis Andrus contract — which just started this year, by the way — looks pretty bad. He’s gone backwards the last two years. The Vernon Wells and Alex Rios extensions didn’t go as hoped for the Blue Jays and Nick Markakis just stopped developing and plateaued soon after signing long-term with the Orioles. Core guys are the ones I think you focus on signing, not complementary players. Sign Stanton but not Adeiny Hechavarria if you’re the Marlins, know what I mean?

Nathan asks: With Yordano Ventura and Kluber getting locked up long term, should the Yankees look into extending Pineda this season and if he looks good, Nova?

Pineda. (Presswire)
Pineda. (Presswire)

I don’t think the Ventura and Kluber deals change anything for the Yankees*. Neither of those guys was due to hit free agency anytime soon and they didn’t change the market all that much, if at all. If anything, the Rick Porcello contract changed the market. I like him, but I don’t see him as a $20M+ a year pitcher. I think I said this in a mailbag a few weeks ago: if the Yankees want to go long-term with Michael Pineda, they have the flexibility to wait another year to see how he holds up physically. He’s already had major shoulder surgery and he’s under control through 2017, and the Yankees can afford to pay him anything. Unless he’s willing to take a total sweetheart deal (five years, $35M?), I say wait another year and see where he’s at.

* The Ventura deal is one of the few I really love. He has legitimate ace upside and the Royals got him for roughly the same guaranteed money the Phillies paid Kyle Kendrick through arbitration for the same five years of his career.

Brian asks: It seemed like Joe Girardi was heading toward choosing a closer then backed off. Is it likely that he had chosen Dellin Betances before the Spring, but he effectively lost the job based on performance? (Props to Girardi for handling the Spring if that’s the case… it comes off looking like less of a stumble by Betances).

Girardi was talking about using co-closers even before the start of Spring Training and I don’t think he dropped any hints about leaning one way or the other during camp, so this isn’t something that came out of the blue. Dellin’s rough spring could have absolutely played a role in not naming a closer, but the Yankees have shown they aren’t a team that obsesses over spring results all that much. If Girardi was really concerned about Betances, I don’t think he’d be willing to use him in close game early this season, which he’s done already. My guess is they were planning to go co-closers all along unless either guy got hurt.

John asks: Do you think Hal Steinbrenner’s patience is wearing thin with Brian Cashman and do you think a change in that position will occur if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs for a third straight year?

Cashman just signed a new contract this offseason, so no, I don’t think Hal’s patience is wearing thin. If it was, he wouldn’t have re-signed him. Now, does that mean Cashman will be safe if the Yankees miss the postseason again? Of course not. Someone will take the fall, and this stuff usually goes up the ladder. The hitting coach was fired last year, so the manager is next in line to go, then the GM is next to go after that. That’s just how it usually works; I’m not saying that’s what will happen. Unless the Yankees have a disaster season, like 70-92 or something, I expect Cashman to be back next year.

Steven asks: Obviously Rob Refsnyder‘s fielding is a legitimate enough concern to send him to the minors, but could another factor be service time, a la Kris Bryant? Also, would the Yankees do the same thing if in the Cubs’ situation?

I think every team in baseball would do the same thing if they were in the Cubs’ shoes. It’s a no-brainer. You get an extra year of Bryant’s peak and, even if he falls short of expectations and is merely good instead of great, that age 29 season is really valuable. Trading two weeks of Bryant now for a full year of him down the road is an easy choice. I hate the system, but the system is the system, and teams have to do what’s best. It’s a easy call.

As for Refsnyder, manipulating his service time could be a factor, though I think it’s just a fringe benefit more than anything. The Yankees truly seem committed to giving Stephen Drew a chance to show last year was an anomaly, plus Refnsyder obviously needs more seasoning defensively, so Drew it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I see Refsnyder’s career starting like Brett Gardner‘s, meaning he goes up and down a few times before sticking for good. In that case, his service time it what it is.

Mailbag: Refsnyder, Harper, Lineup, Farm System, Aiken

Eleven questions and ten answers for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. Also, the more succinct your question, the better. I find myself steering clear of the wordy ones for whatever reason.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

Frank asks: Rob Refsynder’s bat looks legit, so, in your opinion, how long do the Yanks give him at 2b before he is moved back to the OF?

I’d say at least two more years of regular playing time, more if he makes some real improvement and is moving in the right direction. Refsnyder would lose a lot of his appeal if he has to move to a corner outfield spot. His bat is just ordinary there, not above-average like it would be at second base. He’s just another guy in right or left field. Refsnyder has only been a second baseman for two years, remember. I don’t think the Yankees should pull the plug after only two or three years.

Eric asks: What do you think of all these articles from NY writers about the Mets taking back New York? Not sure what that really means except the casual fan will favor one team or the other given how well they are doing — is it a mindless exercise by tabloid sportswriters?

Yeah, mostly. The media seems more obsessed with it than the players and we’ve been hearing this is the year the Mets take over New York for a few years now. Remember when the Mets swept the Yankees in the Subway Series two years ago and that was supposed to be some kind of statement? Yeah, no. The Mets might have a better record than the Yankees this season, but what does it matter? Aare more people going to walk around New York with Mets hats or something? I really doubt that. If the media (and Mets fans) want to focus on “taking New York” from the Yankees, whatever. Let them. It means nothing.

M. Greene asks: Do you think that a combination of Ramon Flores/Chris Young/Carlos Beltran is stronger than Beltran/AROD in RF and at DH?

Yeah probably, but not substantially so. The Flores/Young duo will be a million times better defensively in right field than Beltran, but I’m not sure they could match Alex Rodriguez offensively right now, as skeptical I am of Alex’s bat at this point of his career. (Yeah, he’s looked good in camp, but let’s see what happens during the regular season.) Young is a guy who can get exposed pretty quickly at the plate if he plays too much, and while Flores has looked impressive in camp, it’s still just Spring Training. I’m not going to pencil him for league average production just yet.

Daniel asks: Thinking ahead a few years, what do you think about the chances the Yankees make necessary preparations to sign Bryce Harper? Bryce has made it clear the Yankees are his favorite non-Nats team, and there will certainly be a need in a couple years for a plays of his caliber and position. It may be another obstacle between the Yankees and 189 but what do we care.

Harper. (Presswire)
Harper. (Presswire)

There should be no “necessary preparations” to sign someone like Harper, who will hit free agency at age 26 following the 2018 season. These are the Yankees. They have the money to sign absolutely anyone. If Harper develops as expected, he’s going to be a superstar and a guy the Yankees should go all out to sign. He might even be the first $400M player in history. (That seems unlikely in only four years, but who knows.) I totally understand wanting to avoid long-term contracts for players over 30, but Harper will be 26. He’s the kind of guy the Yankees can and should go absolutely bonkers to sign. There’s no such thing as bad $/WAR with players of that caliber, whose value to the franchise transcends what they do on the field.

Vinny asks: Joe Girardi will defer to the veterans, but if Chase Headley‘s hot spring continues into the season and Beltran/Mark Teixeira struggles, do you see Joe putting Headley into the 3rd spot in the lineup?

Vinny asks: If A-Rod somehow manages to be the best hitter on the team as the season moves along, do you think Girardi would move him up in the batting order?

Might as well lump Vinny’s questions together. Yes, I definitely see Girardi moving Headley or A-Rod or whoever up in the lineup if they’re producing and the regular middle of the order guys are not. He moved Robinson Cano up and Teixeira down when the time came. He moved Brett Gardner up when he forced the issue. I don’t think he’d hesitate to move A-Rod or Headley up either. The Derek Jeter situation last year was a special case. If a player needs to be moved down in the lineup and there is someone deserving to replace him, Girardi has shown he will make the move.

Dan asks: Do you think that Montreal will ever get a MLB club again? Why or why not?

Yes but not anytime soon. Montreal showed very recently it is not a baseball town, and no, attendance for two dinky little exhibition games each March is not evidence the city will support an MLB franchise year round. The Expos stunk in their final season (2004) but were in the race for much of the summer in 2002 and 2003, yet they averaged less than 13,000 fans per game. Maybe down the line Montreal would make sense. In a decade or three. Right now though, I have no reason to think the city will support a team. They had their chance and didn’t.

Paul asks: With a fair amount of development of the Int’l signings, could the Yankees minor leagues break the top 10 next year?

Absolutely. You can say that about most teams — “if their young low level guys develop, they’ll be a top system” — but I think the Yankees have more growth potential than most other clubs because of last summer’s international spending spree. They don’t figure to graduate any of their top prospects to MLB this season either, guys like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, so the system won’t take a hit that way. (They might graduate guys like Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren, who won’t drastically change the farm system ranking.) With some strong pro debuts from last year’s international class as well as continued development from guys like Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, and Ian Clarkin, the system could take a very big step forward this year.

Miller. (Presswire)
Miller. (Presswire)

Dan asks: Is there any significant downside to having 3 or 4 lefty relievers in a bullpen if those guys are the best that you have?

Nope. The best pitchers are the best pitchers, regardless of what arm they throw with. It looks like the Yankees will have three left-handers in their Opening Day bullpen but at least two of them (Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson) can face both righties and lefties without an issue. Chasen Shreve might be able to do that as well. Now, if you have three lefty specialists in your bullpen, that’s a problem. Not much flexibility there. Though I guess if three of your seven best relievers are lefty specialists, you’ve got much bigger roster issues.

Gus asks: Do you think that if Hal Steinbrenner could get a do-over, he’d have signed Yoan Moncada as to make his narrative appeal more authentic?

I think Steinbrenner and the Yankees would do it over because they realize losing out on such a talented player over such a relatively small amount of money was a really terrible decision. The spin on this has been incredible — everyone in the organization seems to be blaming someone else for missing out on Moncada — and I think it kind of dawned on them that they really screwed up and missed an opportunity. I honestly don’t think Hal cares about sounding authentic (when does he?) or getting ripped in the media. I think he cares about having talented young players and realizes having Moncada would give the team a better chance of achieving his precious goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold in two years.

Gerry asks: With Brady Aiken undergoing TJS, would this put him in play for the Yanks at either 16 or 30 in the upcoming draft (should he decide to declare)? This is definitely the type of talent the Yankees often don’t get a chance to pick up (albeit with the risk involved).

Yes, Aiken should be in the play for the Yankees. They have the draft pool space ($7.885M) to pay him a substantial overslot bonus — Aiken reportedly turned down a last minute $5M offer from the Astros last year, but would he take the same amount from the Yankees, would won’t treat him like garbage? — though they’d have to go cheap elsewhere in the draft. That’s fine though. They could do what the Royals did in 2013, when they took Hunter Dozier eighth overall and the injured Sean Manaea 34th overall. Dozier signed below-slot to give them money for Manaea, though by taking him first and Manaea second, they would have lost much less draft pool space had Manaea decided not to sign. Maybe the Yankees take someone they know they can sign cheap with the 16th pick then roll the dice on Aiken (or Duke RHP Mike Matuella, another top draft prospect who recently had Tommy John surgery) with the 30th pick.

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Tanaka, Bryant, Tommy John Surgery, Hamels

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erasmo. (Presswire)
Erasmo. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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