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.

Mailbag: Johnson, Chapman, Iglesias, Appel, Blazek, Upton

Got a dozen questions in the first mailbag of 2016. The first ever RAB mailbag was posted back in July 2010. Someone asked me how Nick Johnson‘s wrist rehab was going. Good times. Our email address for mailbag questions and anything else is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Johnson. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Johnson. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Many asked: What about Chris Johnson?

Lots of people asked about Johnson, even before he was released a few days ago. The Indians designated him for assignment on December 17th and released him five days later, eating the $17.5M left on his contract. I didn’t realize this is the rule, but because Johnson has 5+ years of service time, he still would have received his full salary if he elected free agency after clearing waivers. I thought players forfeited the remainder of their contract once they elect free agency. That only applies to guys with less than five years of service time.

Anywho, I do think Johnson is a good candidate for that final bench spot. He’s proven he is not an everyday caliber player these last few years, but he does mash lefties — .326/.354/.391 (108 wRC+) in 2015 and .372 (!)/.405/.499 (154 wRC+) from 2013-15 — and can play both corner infield spots. Not well, he is a butcher in the field, but he can play them once a week to rest guys. Again, we’re talking about the last bench spot. Johnson would give the Yankees a real backup third baseman and another option to help them against lefties.

Because the Indians released Johnson, any team can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. It’s super low risk. The Yankees could sign him, and if they decide at some point he’s no longer worth a roster spot, they can cut him with no strings attached. Joe Girardi is typically very good with platoon matchups, so as long as Johnson is limited to spot starts in the field and at-bats against lefties, he could be a nice weapon off the bench. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Cut him and move on.

P.J. asks: What is the chance that Tanaka exercises his opt-out clause after the 2017 season and what kind of deal would he be looking for? He will only be 29 years old heading into the 2018 season. Assuming his arm doesn’t fall off and he remains relative healthy he most certainly should be able to get a deal both much longer and for a lot more dollars than the $67MM over the following 3 years he would be entitled to if he doesn’t opt-out.

If he stays healthy these next two seasons, I think it’s a lock Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his contract. That $67M he’d be walking away from ain’t much these days. Yes, everyone knows about his elbow, but if Tanaka stays healthy in 2016 and 2017, it’ll be less of a concern come free agency time. Johnny Cueto, for example, landed a six-year contract worth $130M this offseason at age 29 despite some red flags with his elbow. That seems like a starting point for Tanaka. Plus the market is going up, remember. As long as Tanaka stays healthy — a big if for any pitcher — I think Tanaka’s opting out.

Jarrah asks: Would you rather Chapman weren’t suspended and played the entire season with NYY before becoming a FA, or have him suspended for a month and gain another year from him? He’s a great asset, but it seems plausible the Yankees could cover his absence for the month of April.

I’m probably in the minority, but I’d rather Aroldis Chapman just play out the season so the Yankees can get their draft pick and move on next offseason. The domestic violence stuff really bugs me — no arrests were made, but he also admitted to firing a gun eight times in his house, wtf? — and while I fully acknowledge he’s a tremendous baseball player, I kinda don’t want to root for him as a person. It’s one thing to give a guy a second chance following drug or alcohol addiction. But alleged domestic abuse? Nah. If the suspension tacks on another year of team control, I’d hope the Yankees take advantage by trading him for a young starter. That’s how I feel. You don’t have to agree with me.

Arjun asks: Assuming that one day the Yankees go back into the free agency market, the rise of the opt out has to be a net positive for them, right? Young players signing extensions meant fewer stars made it to the market but opt outs mean that the trend should reverse over time. Do you think that opt outs are generally good for the Yankees as a macro trend?

Yes, I think so. Those opt-outs will allow some good players to re-enter the free agent market and make them available to the Yankees, who one day will spend big on free agents again. (I think.) That said, isn’t the entire argument in favor player opt-outs is that they give the team the potential to walk away and let someone else pay for his decline? Why be the team that pays for the decline in that case? After all, these players are available right now. They’re only going to be older and closer to the end of the line by time the opt-out rolls around.

Iglesias. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Iglesias. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Seb asks: Does Raisel Iglesias, in your opinion, fit the mold of a young starting pitcher under team control beyond 2018 that would be a good addition? Would he be available at the right price and could that price be Brett Gardner?

I’ll answer the last question first: no. The rebuilding Reds are not taking on 32-year-old Gardner. If they trade Iglesias, it’ll be for prospects. Iglesias, 25, had a 4.15 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 95.1 innings across 16 starts and two relief appearances for the Reds last season, the first year on his seven-year, $27M deal. His strikeout (26.3%), walk (7.1%), and ground ball (47.2%) rates were very encouraging. Here’s some video:

As you might expect give that low arm slot, lefties hit Iglesias pretty hard last year. They put up a .284/.348/.405 (.332 wOBA) batting line while righties were held to .173/.251/.367 (.271 wOBA). PitchFX says Iglesias throws four pitches (four-seamer, sinker, slider, changeup) though I didn’t watch enough of him to know if his command is good enough to start long-term.

Iglesias is worth a longer look in a non-mailbag format. I do think he’s an interesting outside the box starter candidate, especially since his contract is so affordable. It’s long, yeah, he still has six years to go, but an average annual value of $3.86M is nothing. That’s affordable even if he winds up in relief long-term. The Reds may consider Iglesias part of their core going forward. He might be tough to pry loose.

Michael asks: Given the current market, what kind of contracts do you think Starlin Castro and Adam Warren would have earned in hypothetical free agency? I have to assume Castro would be worth a good deal more than his current wages but I’m really not sure what Warren would get with so much back-end free agent pitching.

Yeah, I think Castro would get quite a bit more than the four years and $41.5M left on his contract. He is still only 25 and even though he’s been pretty bad two of the last three years, he has natural hitting ability and is athletic enough to play the middle infield. Castro wouldn’t get Jason Heyward money, but would six years and $100M with an opt-out after three years make sense? Maybe it’s more like five years and $80M. Either way, Starlin would get way more than his current contract.

Warren’s free agency would be really interesting. He’d surely market himself as a starter, but he’s never had a chance to spend a full MLB season in a rotation, so his career sample as a starter is only bits and pieces stitched together. Warren has shown he is a very good reliever at worst though. The Royals signed Joakim Soria to a three-year, $25M contract this offseason that includes $12M in incentives based on games started (no, really). Maybe that’s the framework for Warren’s deal? I’d give him that contract in a heartbeat, personally.

Ethan asks: Looking at the recent Ken Giles trade remarks you made, you mentioned Mark Appel and how he is a backwards prospect. I can see the negatives in him, but wouldn’t he be a cheap option as another starter that the Yankees obviously desire. I could see him as a first call AAA back-up for an inevitable injury to one of the Yankees pitchers this next year. What would the Yankees have to trade for him?

Appel had a 4.45 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 141.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A this past season. The scouting reports all indicate he still has good stuff, but is way too hittable because he lacks deception and his command is shaky, causing him to come over the heart of the plate too often. If he was Joe Prospect instead of Mark Appel, Former No. 1 Pick, he’d be just a guy to keep an eye on. He’d be a younger Ivan Nova.

Now a young Ivan Nova can be pretty valuable, though Appel would be considered a big disappointment if that’s all he became. The trade was good for him, I think. He gets a fresh start with an organization that didn’t prop him up as the pitching centerpiece of their look how smart we are rebuild. If the Yankees can pick Appel up as a depth arm and not as the solution to their young pitching problem, then do it. He’s worth the flier. Expectations have to be readjusted for Appel though. He’s a back-end guy until he figures out how to stop giving up loud contact to minor leaguers.

Michael asks: With regards to Cashman’s buy-low policy, is it possible he’s been doing this longer than we’ve fully realized? I went back through MLBTR’s transaction tracker as far as the A-Rod trade, and the only instances I could find where he bought high on a player were Xavier Nady (lol) and Michael Pineda. Swisher, Granderson, Abreu, even the first Justin Wilson trade (4.20 ERA and too many walks in 2014)…should Cashman be picking stocks?

Yes this has been going on for a while now. The difference now is Cashman focusing on young players. In the past he targeted veteran players like A-Rod and Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson. The A-Rod and Swisher trades stand out as Cashman’s best buy low deals. The Rangers had little leverage with A-Rod after their deal with the Red Sox fell through, so the Yankees swooped in and got age 28-31 A-Rod while Texas paid a big chunk of his salary. Pretty great. The Yankees have been trying to buy low on players for years now — to be fair, every team has, but some have been more successful than others — except instead of veterans, the Yankees are now looking for young players who’ve not yet had sustained success as the MLB level. (Castro’s the notable exception here.)

Blazek. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Blazek. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Justin asks: With the Brewers presumably in sell mode, and the Yankees in need of relief help, what about Michael Blazek as a trade target? How well do the Brewers match up in a trade?

The Brewers are tearing it all down and are in the early stages of a full blown rebuild, and they’ve focused on prospects in recent trades, not big leaguers. Matching up isn’t really a problem. The Yankees have all kinds of prospects to offer. It’s just a matter of the two teams agreeing on a package, which is true of every trade.

Blazek, 26, is the guy the Brewers got from the Cardinals in the John Axford trade a few years ago. He’s had some control problems in the minors (10.7 BB% in 376.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A) but settled down last season, throwing 55.2 relief innings with a 2.43 ERA (3.17 FIP) for the Brewers. Blazek struck out 21.2% of batters faced and walked 8.1%.

I’m not really sure how to value five years of a good reliever — Blazek’s not Ken Giles or anything — especially one whose history of average control is only about one year. This question was sent in before the Chapman trade, so the need for bullpen help isn’t as great now. The Yankees are set at the back of the bullpen and I think I’d rather see the Yankees give some of their young arms a chance rather than give up pieces for a guy like Blazek.

Frank asks: Do we have any stats on Chapman pitching more than 3 outs in any game over the last year or so?

Chapman has appeared in 324 big league games (all relief appearances) and he’s recorded four or more outs 29 times. Only eleven of those 29 multi-inning appearances have come since 2013. Chapman got four or more outs four times in 2015, five times in 2014, and twice in 2013. Here’s the game log. He has a 0.54 (~1.36 FIP) with a 43.9% strikeout rate in 50 innings in those 29 multi-inning appearances, so yeah, Chapman’s dominated in those spots.

Closers don’t throw multiple innings very often these days — Andrew Miller recorded four or more outs eight times in 2015, but four of those were in the final month, when the Yankees were trying to make the postseason — so it’s not surprising to see Chapman throw multiple innings so few times. I don’t know of any physical reason why he couldn’t do it on occasion. That’s just reliever usage these days.

Dan asks: If Justin Upton can be had on a 1 year deal (and assuming the Yanks can find a satisfactory trade for Gardner), should the Yankees sign him? His righty power would be a really nice asset, and he’ll be highly motivated to not have similar issues as a FA next year.

I don’t think Upton will have to settle for a one-year contract but yes, if he’ll take one, sign him up. The Yankees wouldn’t even have to trade Gardner to make it work. Just think about to our Heyward conversations — rather than trade someone, the Yankees could rest Carlos Beltran and A-Rod (and Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) a little more often and have them split time at DH. Not ideal, but doable. (It’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt anyway.) I’d rather have Yoenis Cespedes on a one-year deal than Upton — comparable hitter, better defender and base-runner, no draft pick attached — but the question didn’t ask who I’d rather have, so I’m not sure why I wrote this. Like I said though, I think Upton will get paid in due time.

Jamie asks: Would you say ERA is a flawed stat for starting pitchers at this point, or just doesn’t show the whole picture? How much am I missing by looking at ERA for starters and WHIP for relievers? Meaning, do I need to learn FIP?

It’s a little of both. ERA is flawed and it doesn’t show the whole picture. I don’t think it’s useless though. If anything, ERA might be getting underrated, especially when evaluating past performance. (It doesn’t have much predictive value though.) WHIP is okay. The biggest problem with WHIP is it considers a walk equal to a home run, etc., and we know that’s not the case. Limiting base-runners is good in general. A little more context would help though.

FIP is really pretty simple. It’s on the same scale as ERA — so a 3.00 FIP is good and a 5.00 FIP is bad — and it considers strikeouts, walks, and homers only. Getting strikeouts while limiting walks and dingers is a pretty great way for a pitcher to be successful, right? Right. We still haven’t found a good way to measure quality of contact and things like that, which absolutely impact a pitcher’s performance. A lot goes into it. Is the pitcher giving up rockets? Is the defense making the plays it’s supposed to make? Stuff like that. Personally, I look at both, ERA and FIP. There’s no need to pick one or the other. They’re both useful in their own ways. I can’t say I’m much of a WHIP guy though.

Mailbag: Tropeano, Strasburg, Hendricks, Castro, Giants

The perils of the offseason: we had lots of questions about Johnny Cueto and a few about Todd Frazier this week, but then Cueto signed and Frazier got traded. So it goes. I was pretty worried Scott Kazmir would sign sometime between me writing his Scouting the Market post Wednesday and posting it Thursday. Anyway, ten questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us stuff, including but not limited to mailbag questions.

Tropeano. (Jonathan Moore/Getty)
Tropeano. (Jonathan Moore/Getty)

Jake asks: Is Nick Tropeano projected to be a starter going forward? And if so should he be someone the Yankees should target? He’s got decent numbers and his peripherals look great albeit in a small sample size. Assuming Heaney and Richards aren’t easily attainable and Tropeano is expected to be a starter would Gardner (and possibly Ref) be enough?

Tropeano definitely has the stuff and command to start. He works off a low-90s two-seamer and uses both his low-80s changeup and low-80s slider regularly. His control is also pretty solid as well. The biggest knock against Tropeano throughout his career has been his delivery, which isn’t the prettiest. To the action footage:

Tropeano, 25, missed a month with forearm tightness last season but otherwise has been healthy throughout his career, throwing at least 130 innings in each of the last four seasons. It’s just one of those deliveries that looks bad. Tropeano has been up briefly each of the last two seasons but only has 68 days of service time, so he has all six years of team control remaining.

The Angels do still need a left fielder — sorry, I’m not buying the Craig Gentry/Daniel Nava platoon they have lined up — and with Brett Gardner, I think you start by asking for Andrew Heaney or Garrett Richards, then settle for Tropeano. The Gardner for Tropeano framework could work, maybe with some other pieces thrown in on each side. Gardner and Rob Refsnyder for Tropeano and utility guy Kyle Kubitza? My trade proposal, it sucks.

Anyway, most scouting publications have Tropeano pegged him as a back-end guy but I think he has a chance to be a little better than that because he has two legit offspeed pitches and throws strikes. Guys who can get ahead in the count and keep hitters guessing with two non-fastballs seem capable of exceeding their projected ceilings in this strikeout heavy era.

Anonymous: Could it be that the reason the Yankees are choosing not to upgrade the rotation this year despite there being an apparent abundance of options be because they have a plan to sign Stephen Strasburg next winter?

I suppose it’s possible, but waiting to sign Strasburg next offseason doesn’t help the 2016 Yankees any. Also, there are five rotation spots. It’s possible for the Yankees to upgrade the rotation this offseason and sign Strasburg next year. At this very moment, it appears Strasburg will be by far the best available free agent next winter. I’m sure there will be a massive bidding war even though some consider him a disappointment. (Career 3.09 ERA and 2.89 FIP. What a bum.) The Yankees figure to be in the mix if they’re willing to spend. The Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Tigers, Cubs, and Cardinals could all be in the mix too, among others.

Ryan asks: Would you have jumped on the Kimbrel and/or Giles return for Andrew Miller if you were Cashman and was offered that?

No on the Craig Kimbrel package because the Yankees should be focused on MLB ready talent. The Padres got a great haul for Kimbrel, don’t get me wrong, but that package would make the 2016 Yankees substantially worse. San Diego got a utility guy and three prospects at least a year away from the show. It was a great trade for the Padres. They got what they needed. The Yankees have different needs though.

The Ken Giles deal is more interesting. I would have taken that package for Miller but I also don’t think it’s as great a haul as many are making it out to be. Vincent Velasquez is the only guy in that deal with significant ceiling, and there’s a pretty decent chance he winds up in the bullpen because he lacks a changeup and control. Mark Appel is not a top prospect. He was the first overall pick a few years ago but he’s only backwards as a pro. The perception does not match the reality there.

Thomas Eshelman is a low-ceiling pitching prospect and Brett Oberholtzer is a fifth/sixth starter type. The other kid (Harold Arauz) hasn’t even played in a full season minor league yet. There’s not a ton of upside in this group beyond Velasquez. I saw a lot of people saying “wow look at what they got for Giles!” after the trade, but I think there’s a good chance everyone will be saying “wow, that’s all they got for Giles?” in two or three years.

Anonymous: If the Cubs trade Jorge Soler for a pitcher, that would open up CF for them and possibly push Kyle Hendricks out of the rotation. Would Brett Gardner for Kyle Hendricks make sense for both sides?

I think both teams would say no to that trade. The Cubs would probably want to hold on to Hendricks as their sixth starter — I also think it’s more likely they bump Jason Hammel from the rotation, not Hendricks — and the Yankees probably want someone with more ceiling in exchange for Gardner. They love their power pitchers, remember. Hendricks has an upper-80s sinker and a very good low-80s changeup, with a curveball as his distant third pitch. Here’s some video.

Hendricks, 26, had a real nice year in 2015, giving the Cubs 180 innings of 3.95 ERA (3.36 FIP) ball. He is under team control through 2020, so he fits in that sense, but he might not be more than a fifth or sixth starter in the AL. Hendricks doesn’t have much margin for error at all. The AL East and Yankee Stadium might chew him up. The idea of a guy being an NL pitcher or an AL pitcher is overplayed but I do think it applies here given the lack of power stuff. I think the Cubs would hold on to Hendricks as depth and the Yankees would seek a young power pitcher for Gardner.

Hendricks. (Getty)
Hendricks. (Getty)

Michael asks: The CBA is expiring in December of 2016. The next CBA will almost certainly raise the luxury tax threshold – could it be that the Yankees are curbing their spending now with the thinking that with the next CBA the team will be able to get under the threshold, resetting the luxury tax percentage? That would mean two more years without a significant increase to payroll.

Oh yes, I absolutely think the Yankees have an eye on getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2017 (whatever the threshold may be at the time), once Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are off the books. And if they can’t do it that year, they’ll try again in 2018, when CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez (and maybe Masahiro Tanaka) come off the books. If the Yankees do spend this offseason, I think it’ll be on one-year contracts so as to not mess up future payroll. A big long-term deal would surprise me because it’ll hurt their chances of getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2017.

Steve asks: It was recently reported that the Nationals offered Gio to the Marlins for Christian Yelich as were refuted. After losing out on Heyward, they seem to be a fit for Brett Gardner. Is Gio for Gardner a match? They match up similarly financially and would leave the Nationals flexibility to extend Harper. What do you think?

In a vacuum, Gardner for Gio seems to work perfectly. Each team would fill a pressing need with an above-average player and the money is basically a wash — Gardner is owed $37.5M through 2018 and Gonzalez is owed $36M through 2018 if his options kick in. The issue is Washington’s rotation depth. They were said to be looking to add starters earlier this offseason — they were tied to Mike Leake, specifically — so I’m not sure they’re willing to move Gonzalez without getting a huge haul, like Yelich. The Yankees have outfielders to spare, so Gardner’s expendable. I’m not sure the Nats are willing to sacrifice rotation depth after losing Jordan Zimmermann, especially with Strasburg’s free agency looming.

Dan asks: With the roster currently as is, do you think its likely that we see Castro starting the season hitting in the 9 spot after hitting 2/3/4 most of his career? Would provide a contact hitter before the turn to the top, and break up some lefties.

I forget where I saw it, but earlier this week Joe Girardi said he hasn’t yet thought about the lineup and where Starlin Castro will hit. My guess right now is he hits seventh or eighth against righties and possibly second against lefties, with either Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury sitting in favor of Aaron Hicks. If Gardner gets traded, then maybe Castro takes over as the full-time two-hole hitter, at least at the start of the season. That’s a comfy place to hit when the offense fires on all cylinders.

Dan asks: How does deferred money count in the luxury tax calculation? Greinke signed for ~$31M per season but at least 1/3 of that is deferred until 2022-2026. I’m assuming the calculation is based on the AAV so teams can’t use it as a loophole but I could be wrong.

There’s no loophole. Money that is deferred until after the end of the contract is spread out across the years of the contract for luxury tax purposes, so it doesn’t change the average annual value. Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $210M contract will actually pay him $15M a year over the next 14 years, but for luxury tax purposes it counts as $30M over the next seven years. If there were some kind of deferred compensation loophole, big market teams would already be exploiting the hell out of it.

Travis asks: San Francisco said that, after spending big on two arms, they wouldn’t be spending big on an OF. Is there an obvious fit for SF and NYY to get together for a Brett Gardner trade?

Not if the Yankees stick to their request of a young, controllable starter. Chris Heston had a nice start to the 2015 season and he threw the no-hitter and all that, but he was struggling so much by August the Giants had to skip his starts and push him back whenever possible. I’m not buying him outside AT&T Park at all. At least not enough to be the centerpiece in a Gardner trade. That’s really all the Giants have to offer on the pitching side. They had to go out and sign Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto because they were short on arms, remember.

Jonathan asks: I see you mention control and command separately many times and was wondering if you could explain both.

Long story short, control is the ability to throw strikes and command is the ability to throw quality strikes. Control is simply getting the ball over the plate. Command is hitting the catcher’s mitt, picking off the corners, pitching at or just below the knees, that sort of thing. Ivan Nova has control. He can throw lots of strikes. His command is terrible though. He can’t locate on the edges or consistently keep the ball out of the heart of the plate. You can have control without command but you can’t have command without control.

Mailbag: Shields, Teixeira, Beltran, Castro, Uribe, Mateo

We received a lot of questions over the last week that were moot by time I checked the inbox yesterday. Questions about signing or trading for guys who signed or were traded at the Winter Meetings. That sort of stuff. I still managed to pull eleven questions out of the pile. Email us questions at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Shields. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Shields. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Bill asks: Any possibility that the Yankees could trade Shields and instead of asking for the Padres to eat salary, they have to throw in young talent instead? Shields isn’t what he used to be but could be a nice innings eater for 3 years which this team desperately needs.

The Yankees could try, but I don’t think the Padres will kick in a young player or two in exchange for taking James Shields’ entire contract. He’s not that much of an albatross. Shields has three years and $65M left on his contract, though he has an opt-out after 2016, so if he’s good, you get him for one year. If he’s bad, you get him for three. Not exactly the most favorable contract situation you’ll find.

Shields will turn 34 in a week and a half, and he had a 3.91 ERA (4.45 FIP) in 202.1 innings for San Diego this year. His strikeout rate (25.1%) was easily the highest of his career, but he also gave up a ton of home runs (1.47 HR/9 and 17.6 HR/FB%). Shields has had weird homer spikes like this before (1.50 HR/9 and 13.8 HR/9 in 2010) and rebounded, though he is older now, so it might not be a blip. He’s worth a deeper look in the non-mailbag format. Of course, the Yankees probably aren’t trading for him because he’s both older and expensive. That’s not how they do business these days.

R.J. asks: Mike, Would you spend 200+ Mil on an ace or spread the money between two or three pitchers? If Price blows his elbow out or hits the DL for an extended period of time, that deal looks disastrous. I don’t know why, but I have the same feeling about this deal like I did about the Simmons trade. We’ll live.

I think both approaches are viable — spend big on one guy vs. spreading the money around — and I guess it depends on the team and their situation. If David Price gets hurt, the Red Sox have the ability to cover for that given their payroll and farm system. If Zack Greinke gets hurt, the Diamondbacks are pretty screwed. They don’t have the same resources.

One elite player is worth more than two above average players. One +6 WAR guy is better than two +3 WAR guys because there’s an opportunity cost associated with that second roster spot. So if you have the resources and can afford the elite player, go get him. That’s not possible for every team. Give me Price over, say, Mike Leake and Jeff Samardzija. That’s a risk the Yankees can afford to take.

Jake asks: If the Yankees find themselves out of contention by the time of the trade deadline, would they consider trading Mark Teixeira (if Tex lifts his no-trade clause) and/or Carlos Beltran by eating their contracts for the remainder of the year in order to bring back a haul of prospects?

We’ve been getting this same question every offseason for the last two or three years now. Only the names change. The answer stays the same: the Yankees would have to crater in a huge way to sell at the deadline. If they are even remotely in the postseason race, they’re more likely to add pieces than subtract. The Yankees are doing this on-the-fly rebuild but they’re also trying to win, and trading away guys like Teixeira and Beltran won’t help them win. The Yankees would have to be very far out of the race — like bottom five record in MLB — to sell. I can’t see it happening any other way.

Mark asks: Most articles I see say CC has a vesting option for 2017. Basically if his left arm doesn’t fall off he gets his $25m. But there have been articles that said it was a club option with a $5m buyout. Could you clear that up?

It’s both. It’s a $25M club option with a $5M buyout, but as long as CC Sabathia‘s shoulder remains intact, the option will vest. If it doesn’t vest, it’s a club option the Yankees could conceivably exercise to bring Sabathia back for 2017. That’ll never happen though. The Yankees can not buy Sabathia out if the option vests. Once it vests, he’s locked into that $25M salary for 2017.

Starlin. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
Starlin. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Alex asks: Will the team be able to use Starlin at 3B and/or corner OF such that he becomes a super utility guy, or is the plan for him to be the 2B?

Brian Cashman mentioned playing Castro at shortstop and third base at times — Starlin’s has never played third at the MLB level and only has a handful of minor league games at the hot corner, all in rookie ball — but did say he will primarily be the second baseman. He didn’t mention anything about the outfield. Castro is still in the process of learning second base — he’s played only 258 innings at the position so far, so he’s still learning — so I’m not sure dumping third and the outfield on him right now is the best idea. It sounds like the plan is second base primarily with a little shortstop when Didi Gregorius needs a break, and maybe a little third when Chase Headley needs a day.

Nathanial asks: If you could ask two questions to anyone within the Yankees’ organization, and be guaranteed completely honest answers, who would you ask and what would the questions be?

Oh boy. This is a good question. I’d ask Hal Steinbrenner why payroll has not increased at a rate equal to league-wide inflation the last ten years, especially after the new Yankee Stadium opened. I’d also ask Cashman if he thinks he is given an appropriate level of resources given the team’s market and financial situation. I know I’ve been harping on the payroll a lot lately, and the Yankees do spent a ton of money relative to the rest of the league, but geez, the fact payroll hasn’t changed at all in the seven seasons since the new ballpark opened really bugs me.

Dan asks: As currently constructed, the Yanks still need someone who can backup third, and be a righty bat off the bench. How about Juan Uribe? He should be cheap, and fits their needs.

Uribe’s great and would fit the team’s needs, especially since he can still play second base. He’s not an everyday option there, but he can do it on occasion. The 36-year-old hit .253/.320/.417 (104 wRC+) with 14 home runs in only 397 plate appearances last year, including .272/.350/.543 (146 wRC+) against lefties. Uribe is a shockingly good defender, he can still hit, and he’s an A+ clubhouse dude. I’m all for it. If the Yankees could get him for a year and, say, $3M or $4M, do it.

P.J. asks: With the Starlin Castro signing what will happen to Jorge Mateo going forward? It would now appear he’s blocked at SS by Gregorius and at 2nd by Castro.

This is a cop out answer but it’s the only answer right now: it’s too early to worry about this. Mateo is a very good young prospect. He has also played only 21 games above Low Class-A, and those were all at High-A. The absolute best case scenario is what, a late 2017 MLB arrival? It’s more likely Mateo won’t be ready until 2018 sometime. Lots can happen between now and then. Gregorius will only be a year away from free agency at that time, so we could end up doing the “let Didi walk/replace him with Mateo in a year” song and dance we’re doing right now with Greg Bird/Aaron Judge and Teixeira/Beltran.

Andrew asks: How badly did the Yankees mess up in not trading Cano/Swisher/Granderson before they hit free agency? Especially with the last two, there were some free agent outfielders they could’ve signed to replace and so would not have had to lost those players for nothing. What are your thoughts?

Before we start, I have to point out trading Nick Swisher was not a realistic option. His final season with the Yankees was 2012 and they won the division that year. He was also one of their best players. I know what Andrew’s asking, but Swisher’s not someone who should be lumped into the “why didn’t they trade him!” group. Also, Curtis Granderson was hurt at the time of the 2013 trade deadline, so he was essentially untradeable.

Bob Cano. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Bob Cano. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Anyway, at the time I thought the big mistake was not adding more pieces at the deadline to help Robinson Cano and David Robertson, not not trading them. The Yankees were 3.5 games back of a postseason spot the morning of the 2013 trade deadline. They were three back the morning of the 2014 trade deadline. For me, that’s “go for it” territory, especially when you’re talking about the Yankees.

In hindsight, not trading those guys looks awful. I could have sworn I remember reading somewhere that the baseball operations folks wanted to trade Cano at the deadline because they knew they weren’t going to re-sign him, but ownership said no. I can’t find it now. The Athletics and Braves were the two contenders who really needed second base help at 2013 deadline, though who knows what the Yankees could have gotten in return for Robbie. Those clubs didn’t have the best farm systems at the time.

If you could somehow force the Yankees to give you an honest answer, I think they’d say they know they screwed up by not trading Cano and Robertson (and Hiroki Kuroda?). They were valuable assets who left for only a draft pick, which … meh. Draft picks are nice but they’re not much. Maybe that’s why they’re trying to trade Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner now. So they don’t miss that chance to maximize value again. Based on what we know now, not trading those guys was a big mistake.

Jackson asks: It’s a safe bet next year that the Yankees will make qualifying offers to Beltran and Tex, they well decline and the Yanks get two additional draft picks, right?

Noooooooo. Not safe to assume that at all, especially with Beltran. Even if he repeats his 2015 season in 2016 season, he’ll be a 39-year-old whose best position is DH, so his market will be fairly limited. The qualifying offer is going to be worth $16M or so next year, and I think Beltran would jump all over that. He’d need to have a monster 2016 season to reject a qualifying offer. Something like .300/.380/.500 with 30 dingers or so. Otherwise he’s just the kind of the player every team seems to be trying to get away from nowadays.

Teixeira’s a different story because he’s slightly younger than Beltran (36 in April) and remains a two-way threat. He can still mash dingers and pick it at first base. If Teixeira stays healthy — that’s a big if these days, even though I fully acknowledge the shin injury was really fluky — and has a strong year, I could see him rejecting a qualifying offer. He’d put himself in line for a nice two-year deal, maybe two years and $28M or something like that. It’s much more likely Teixeira will get a qualifying offer than Beltran, but I wouldn’t say it’s safe bet at all.

Josh asks: There was a question in last week’s mailbag about Dave Winfield. I remember hearing during the HOF inductions that he never played a minor league game in his life. That strikes me as pretty rare – especially for players who don’t come to the MLB as bonafide professionals from another country. But how rare is it? Could it ever happen again? Is there anyone active now who came right into the majors and never needed a rehab stint?

There’s no one in MLB right now who has never played in the minors. The closest is Mike Leake, who was drafted in 2008, threw 19.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League that year, then made the Reds out of Spring Training in 2009. (He also made two Triple-A appearances in 2011 after being demoted.) Baseball Almanac has a list of players who went straight to MLB after being drafted and SABR has a list of players who never played in the minors at all. I’m not sure how complete the list is though. Could it happen again? Yeah, it just seems really unlikely, especially because service time is such a big concern now. Baseball’s really hard. Jumping from college to MLB seems almost impossible without some minor league tune-up time.

Mailbag: Lawrie, Valencia, Fernandez, Alvarez, Flowers

Relatively short mailbag this week. Only eight questions. Some of the answers are pretty long though. Remember, you can email us your questions at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Lawrie and Valencia (and Mark Canha). (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Lawrie and Valencia (and Mark Canha). (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Many asked: What about Brett Lawrie or Danny Valencia?

This question is really many asking about Lawrie and one asking about Valencia, but I figured I’d lump them together since the Athletics have indicated they’re open to moving either player in the wake of the Jed Lowrie pickup. Lawrie is the young upside guy who is totally extreme and in your face bruh. Valencia’s the boring older veteran who quietly produces.

Shall we compare the two side-by-side? We shall. Here are their 2015 stats:

Brett Lawrie Danny Valencia 2015

And here are their 2013-15 stats as well:

Brett Lawrie Danny Valencia 13-15

Lawrie was traded for Josh Donaldson (!) while Valencia has been traded for cash and non-prospects, and been claimed off waivers. In fact, the A’s claimed him off waivers in August because the Blue Jays were unable to trade him. Funny how that works.

Both players are primarily third basemen. Lawrie has played a bunch of second in his career, including this past season, when Valencia took over as Oakland’s regular at the hot corner. Valencia has also played first base and left field (and a tiny bit of right). They’re both right-handed batters with a history of hitting lefties. It’s pretty easy to see how both could fit the Yankees roster, right? Right.

My head says get Lawrie because he’s younger and has more upside while everything else says get Valencia because he’s not Lawrie. We saw Lawrie all those years with the Blue Jays. Is there a more irritating player in baseball? I don’t think so. Valencia just might be the better player these next two years — they’re both under team control through 2017 — and I think he’d cost much less to acquire too.

Lawrie’s ability to play second base is nice, and yes, the Yankees have been targeting out of favor young guys like him, but they’ve also put a lot of time and effort into building a strong clubhouse. Lawrie might be a crazy person. I’m not sure if the team would go for that.

Samuel asks: What do we know about Jose Miguel Fernandez? Is he a possibility to fill the vacancy at 2b? Any idea what kind of contract he might command?

Fernandez, 27, defected from Cuba earlier this week, according to Ben Badler. He still needs to go through the process of getting cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and MLB before he can sign, and it’s tough to know how long that will take. Sometimes it happens in a matter of weeks, sometimes it takes eight or nine months. Either way, Fernandez is looking for an MLB contract. Here’s a mini-scouting report from Badler:

With his bat-to-ball skills and ability to manage the strike zone, Fernandez is a potential high OBP threat in the major leagues, although his power is below-average. Speed isn’t part of Fernandez’s game, and his thickening lower half (listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds) has hampered his range at second base, where he’s at best an adequate defender. Fernandez also spent time at third base during the 2013-14 season, though his arm strength is better suited at second.

Fernandez hasn’t played in actual games in more than a year now because he was suspended following other defection attempts, so scouts haven’t seen him in a while. Badler says Fernandez hit .326/.482/.456 with 65 walks and ten strikeouts in 314 plate appearances during the 2013-14 season, his last full season in Cuba.

I dunno, that scouting report seems … not all that exciting? The high OBP potential is great, not making outs is the single most important skill in baseball, but everything else seems so meh. Not much power, questionable defense, no real versatility. Is Fernandez looking at a Hector Olivera contract (six years, $62.5M) or an Andy Ibanez contract ($1.6M bonus)? Based on the tiny little bit I know, an Olivera sized contract seems like way too much for that skill set.

Big Hendo. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Big Hendo. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Andrew asks: Is Henderson Alvarez a target after being non-tendered by the Marlins?

Yes but it’s important to understand what Alvarez is right now. He had surgery to repair some kind of tear in his shoulder in late-July and isn’t expected to be ready until at least May, if not later, so he’s not immediate rotation help. Alvarez threw hard before surgery (average 92.8 mph with his trademark two-seamer) but didn’t miss any bats (career 12.6 K%), so any loss of velocity could be a real problem.

That said, Alvarez is an extremely fun pitcher to watch because he’s a bit of a showman on the field and (usually) throws one super-slow low-60s curveball per start just to mess around with hitters. He also has a novelty windup he uses for the first pitch of the game:

Alvarez is only 25 and he would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017, so it’s not like you’ll sign him, rehab him from surgery, get a handful of innings, then watch him go back out on the open market. He was very good when healthy in 2014 (2.65 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 187 innings) because he makes up for the lack of strikeouts by limiting walks (4.3%) and getting grounders (53.8%). When healthy, he’s really good. Unconventional, but really good.

A minor league contract makes all the sense in the world and of course the Yankees should do that if possible. I think it’s likely to take a big league deal to get him though. The cost of just okay pitching is sky high — $12M a year for J.A. Happ! — that I think at least one team out there will be willing to give Alvarez a 40-man roster spot just to see if he can help them in the second half. Also, the Yankees ostensibly have seven starters for five spots. Wouldn’t Alvarez want to go somewhere that offers a greater opportunity?

Dan asks: Assuming they don’t sign Chris Davis. Doesn’t trading Mark Teixeira to St. Louis make sense for the Cards? What type of return could you see him bringing, assuming the Yanks ate some money?

On paper, Teixeira makes sense for the Cardinals. And again, for like the tenth mailbag in a row, I have no idea why the Yankees would be interested in trading away arguably their best hitter, nevermind eating money to make it happen. The Cardinals are actually short on starting pitching right now, so they’re not going to talk Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha. They wouldn’t do that even if they had ten extra starters. What else could they offer? Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk? The Yankees don’t need outfielders. I hereby declare a moratorium on Teixeira trade ideas. It’s not happening. Trading him makes the Yankees worse and then there’s the whole he has a no-trade clause and has said he doesn’t want to leave thing.

Marc asks: T or F: Tyler Flowers is a great option for back up catcher.

I’ll go with true, but we can scale it down from “great” option to “good” option? A great backup catcher is a guy who hits and plays strong defense. We have almost 1,400 plate appearances telling us Flowers can’t really hit (career 83 wRC+), and he’s been no better than average throwing out base-runners. He’s also prone to passed balls, though I blame Chris Sale’s slider for some of that.

Flowers. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Flowers. (Jon Durr/Getty)

The one thing Flowers appears to do exceptionally well is frame pitches. He ranked as the second best pitch-framer in baseball this past season according to StatCorner — behind only ex-Yankee Frankie Cervelli — and we know the Yankees value framing very highly. This was the first season Flowers rated as an elite framer, he’s been closer to average or even below-average in the past, though I do think framing is a skill that can be learned, at least to some extent.

Pretty much every half-decent free agent catcher has already signed this offseason, and they all received similar annual salaries: Alex Avila ($2.5M), A.J. Pierzynski ($3M), Brayan Pena ($2.5M), Geovany Soto ($2.8M). Signing Flowers for, say, one year and $2.5M allows the Yankees to start Gary Sanchez in Triple-A and have a better backup than Austin Romine. Flowers would also remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017. That makes sense, for sure. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if they don’t sign him though. I’m skeptical of “his only standout tool is pitch-framing” guys.

Stuart asks: Could the story at this link be the reason the Yankees’ spending has flattened out? Are the Yanks perhaps under pressure to keep their payroll in check?

I guess it’s possible. I think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was just speaking casually — I suggest reading the link, Ilitch may have hinted at collusion — maybe referring to other board members or something like that. The owners don’t want to spend money. We know that. If they had their way they’d set a hard salary cap at $50M.

I honestly think the luxury tax is to blame for the Yankees’ payroll leveling out. It’s dead money and Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t like paying it. I’d hate paying it if I were an owner too. Collusion is a juicy topic, and maybe I’m just naive, but I don’t see how agreeing to limit spending helps New York. That benefits small market teams with lower payrolls the most.

Ryan asks: In 1981, Dave Winfield signed with the Yankees for 10/$23M, making him the highest paid player at the time on a long term contract. With that said, what do you think ’81 Winfield, an easy five-tool player, would get if he was available in today’s market?

Winfield had just turned 29 when he signed that contract with the Yankees, and he was a monster from 1978-80, hitting .298/.376/.500 (150 OPS+) with 78 home runs and 16.5 WAR. I think he’d get $30M annually in today’s market, likely over six or seven years. The team that offers the seventh year might be the one to get him. So that’s seven years and $210M? Considering David Price, a 30-year-old pitcher who is inherently a bigger risk, got seven years and $217M, I think I’m light. Winfield might have gotten eight years and $240M. (Winfield had a 135 OPS+ and 27.4 WAR during the eight years that would have been covered by the contract.) He was a superstar and would have been paid appropriately.

Marc asks: Could you see the Yanks making a play to acquire Zunino as the right-handed compliment to McCann? Seems like he fits the young high-upside/hasn’t met potential type of player they have been acquiring lately.

I really think Mike Zunino might be a lost cause at this point. The Mariners rushed him to the big leagues for whatever reason and he’s hit .193/.252/.353 (71 wRC+) with a 32.1% strikeout rate and a 5.1% walk rate in over 1,000 plate appearances. He’s a good defender and rates as a great pitch-framer, but man, that’s an unplayable bat. Zunino can hit a mistake 450 feet but otherwise has no contact ability or plate discipline.

Seattle added Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger in recent weeks and the plan is to use them behind the plate with Zunino playing everyday in Triple-A. That’s the best thing for him. I don’t think being a backup helps him at this point. If the Mariners are willing to give him away in a busted prospect for busted prospect trade (Zunino for Slade Heathcott?), sure, do it. I don’t think they’d sell so low on him though. Send him to Triple-A and hope he either figures it out or rebuilds some trade value.