Badler: Yankees favored to sign Dominican righty Roancy Contreras

The Yankees' academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)
The Yankees’ academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)

Although the Yankees are still dealing with the penalties associated with their 2014-15 international spending spree, the team is still favored to land one of the top pitching prospects in Dominican Republic when the 2016-17 signing period opens on July 2nd. Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reports the Yankees “look like the favorites” to sign highly touted right-hander Roancy Contreras.

Contreras has “a fastball that has reached 92-93 mph, a sharp curveball with tight spin and a delivery that should allow him to be a starter,” writes Badler. He’s a little guy at 5-foot-10 and 180 lbs., so surely the Yankees are hoping Contreras grows a few inches at some point. Remember, we’re talking about a 16-year-old kid. Chances are an awkward growth spurt is coming at some point.

The Yankees can not hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during the upcoming signing period, though apparently that won’t be a problem. I wonder if the Yankees were on to Contreras early — teams scout 14-year-olds in Latin America, if you can believe that — and locked him into a verbal agreement at some point, then bam, he showed up to the park one day with some extra velocity and improved his prospect stock. Something like that.

The 2016-17 signing period is the last signing period the Yankees will have to deal with the penalties from their 2014-15 spree. Chances are the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement will change the system — we might see an international draft going forward — so we’ll just have to see what happens in 2017-18, when the penalties are lifted. Either way, it sounds as though the Yankees are still going to be able to add a top pitching prospect in the upcoming signing period.

King: Yankees have interest in Cuba infielder Yulieski Gurriel

(Eyder Peralta/NPR)
(Eyder Peralta/NPR)

According to George King, the Yankees have interest in Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel, who was recently declared a free agent by MLB. Gurriel will reportedly work out for teams privately rather than hold open showcases. No word on whether the Yankees will bring him in for a workout. They probably will. They always do.

I covered everything you need to know about Gurriel and the Yankees the other day. He’s said to be a Yankee fan because his favorite player in Alex Rodriguez, plus he’s close friends with Aroldis Chapman, though who knows if that will influence his decision. I imagine money will be Gurriel’s top priority. It is for most, after all.

“This is a veteran player with a lot of experience. This is not a rookie. He has all the qualities needed to be a good player at this level,” said Chapman to King. “He is a really good player and a really good person. He is a great contact hitter with power, a quality swing.”

The Yankees need to rebuild their offense because the guys they’ve been counting on for so long, like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, aren’t going be around a much longer. We saw the other day what the lineup looks like without them. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Didi Gregorius batting 3-4-5 is just … no. It’s just no.

In recent years the Yankees have brought pretty much every big name Cuban free agent in for a workout. They just haven’t signed any of them. Gurriel is not a kid, he just turned 32, and he’s been a star in Cuba for a long time. Everyone expects him to be an impact bat right away, and boy, the Yankees sure could use one of those going forward.

Yulieski Gurriel is the right player at maybe not the right time for the Yankees

(Icon Sportswire)
(Icon Sportswire)

Yesterday morning, Jesse Sanchez reported Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel has been declared a free agent by MLB and is now able to sign with any team. Yulieski and his younger brother Lourdes Jr. defected back in December. Sanchez says Lourdes is still waiting to be declared a free agent, though he’s going to wait until his 23rd birthday in October to sign anyway. That way he won’t be eligible for the international spending restrictions.

Gurriel, 32, is a longtime Cuban star who is widely considered the best position player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. His numbers in Cuba last season are straight out of a video game: .500/.589/.874 with 20 doubles, 15 homers, 38 walks, and three strikeouts in 49 games and 224 plate appearances. Gurriel played the 2014 season in Japan, during which he hit .305/.349/.536 with eleven homers in 62 games. He’s been a monster his entire career.

Last year we heard Gurriel wants to play for the Yankees, partly because his favorite player is Alex Rodriguez. How about that? Gurriel is also close friends with Aroldis Chapman dating back to their time on the Cuban National Team, and Gurriel recent told Chapman he would be “super happy” to sign with the Yankees. Now that Yulieski is free to actually sign with a team, I have some thoughts on this.

1. Where would the Yankees play him? Gurriel has primarily been a second and third baseman in his career, and while the Yankees are contractually locked into Starlin Castro and Chase Headley at those positions, they shouldn’t stand in the way of signing him. The Yankees would be able to carve out regular playing time for Yulieski at both positions, and he could even fill-in some in the outfield. He has experience there.

Also, the Yankees have a need at first base, both immediate and long-term. They could try Gurriel at first, and if that doesn’t work, they could always fall back on playing him at third and Headley at first. It’s not ideal, but it could work. Point is, the Yankees can find ways to get Gurriel into the lineup rather easily. It’s not like he’s a catcher who would have to share time with Brian McCann or something. The Yankees have a collectively below-average infield and Gurriel would help correct that.

2. Forget about his position, they need his bat. Whoever signs Gurriel is not buying his glove (not that he’s a bad defender). He’s a legitimate middle of the order hitter. Here’s a piece of Baseball America’s latest scouting report, which does not seem to be behind the paywall:

Gourriel has all the attributes to be an above-average offensive player. He has plus bat speed and squares up all types of pitches with good hand-eye coordination and barrel control. He wraps his barrel behind his head, angling the bat toward the pitcher, but he gets the barrel into the hitting zone quickly and has good plate coverage. He stays within the strike zone and uses the whole field, and with plus raw power on the 20-80 scale, he offers a balance of being able to hit for average, get on base and hit for power.

The scouting report goes on to compare Gurriel to Hanley Ramirez and David Wright, and while that doesn’t sound too exciting these days, it was referring to peak Hanley and Wright. Yulieski is not someone you bring in to hit seventh or eighth. He has the ability to be a third or fourth place hitter.

The Yankees need offense. Very desperately, in fact. Both right now and going forward. They’re 24th in runs per game this season (3.92) and their best hitter is a 39-year-old impending free agent. Even if the Yankees were to re-sign Carlos Beltran — I think the odds of that are extremely small — how could you expect him to hit like this next year? And who knows what the young replacements (Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, etc.) can do?

Ken Rosenthal says Gurriel is going to need a few weeks in the minors to get ready, but he should be able to help a team in the second half. It’s not like he’s going to sign and be in the lineup tomorrow. He needs a Spring Training, basically. Gurriel can still help this year though. Simply put, he’s someone you can build their lineup around going forward. The Yankees don’t have another player like that right now.

3. What will it cost to sign him? This is the big question. I assume Gurriel won’t come cheap. These are the last three big name Cuban position players to sign with MLB clubs:

  • 3B Hector Olivera, Dodgers: Six years, $62.5M.
  • OF Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks: Six years, $68.5M
  • OF Rusney Castillo, Red Sox: Six years, $72M.

Gurriel is better than every one of those guys, and in the case of Olivera, he doesn’t have the same scary injury history either. Between general inflation and the fact he’s a better player than that trio, I can’t help but wonder if Gurriel is going to push for a $100M deal. Why not ask? It’s not like this upcoming free agent class is loaded with good hitters.

I suppose an opt-out could be a factor here. There seems to be some evidence opt-out clauses save teams a little bit of money. Perhaps Gurriel could sign for, say, Castillo money ($12M per season) with an opt-out after the second year. If he’s an impact hitter, that’s a bargain. With so much money coming off the books the next two years, the Yankees could afford Gurriel at $12M per year without blowing up their plan to get under the luxury tax.

For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says Yankees international scouting director Donny Rowland has long held Gurriel in high regard, so if nothing else, Rowland figures to give his bosses the hard sell. The Yankees bid for Cuban players like Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yoan Moncada, Jorge Soler, and Aledmys Diaz in recent years and fell short each time, and surely there is some level of regret. They don’t want to fall short again.

4. Is his age a problem? This is an interesting question and it makes me wonder if Gurriel is the right player at the wrong time for the Yankees. He’s 32 — he just turned 32 last week — which means he fits best for a team ready to win right now. You don’t sign Gurriel if you’re a rebuilding team looking ahead to the future. You sign him because you’re a contender looking for the final piece to put you over the top this year and next year and the year after.

The Yankees say they’re trying to win and that’s all well and good, but the team on the field suggests it might not be in the cards this year. They’re not a game under .500 in mid-June by accident, you know? Does it make sense to add Gurriel when winning this season is a long shot? He’s already at the age where his game might begin to slip as it is. So you’re talking about adding a player nearing the end of his prime to a team that might not be a true contender until he’s 33 or 34. That is sort of tricky.

At the same time, you could argue the Yankees shouldn’t need two or three years to turn things around because of their resources. They have a bunch of prospects at Double-A and Triple-A and all that money is coming off the books. The 2003 Tigers were the worst team I’ve ever seen and the 2006 Tigers won the pennant, so it’s certainly possible for the Yankees to turn things around in a hurry, while Gurriel is still producing big time.

There’s also the contract length angle. He’s 32 now, so a six-year deal takes him to age 38, and signing a guy deep into his 30s is always risky. Sometimes it works out, like the Beltran deal. Most of the time it doesn’t though. It’s impossible to project how Gurriel will age, so in addition to the question of whether the Yankees will be ready to win during whatever is left of his prime years, there’s also the risk of signing him beyond the age of 35.

5. Don’t forget, Lourdes Jr. is the real prize. Yulieski is unquestionably the better player right now and that figures to be the case for the next few years, but Lourdes is the Gurriel brother teams are going to fall all over themselves to sign. He’s another potential middle of the diamond impact hitter, except he’ll be only 23 when he signs, so you’re getting him for his entire prime. That’s pretty huge.

I’ve seen folks talk about the possibility of a package deal, though who knows if that’s possible. Both Gurriels may take the highest offer no matter what. Assuming Lourdes is declared a free agent soon, he could work out a deal and simply hold off on signing until October. That would allow teams to negotiate with Yulieski and Lourdes at the same time, which is certainly better than trying to work out a package deal when you have to negotiate weeks or months apart.

* * *

I’m of the belief that impact bats are very hard to find, especially those capable of playing the middle infield. Because of that, I think the Yankees should be in on Gurriel even though he is 32 and even though he might cost them $12M+ a year. The future of the offense is very much a question and this is a chance to add a cornerstone type hitter for nothing but money. No draft pick. Nothing. There’s never a “wrong” time to add good players.

Of course, it’s easy to say that when it’s not my money. I wouldn’t be assuming the risk. I definitely understand why someone would be hesitant to sign Gurriel deep into his 30s, especially with no MLB track record. Pretty much everyone agrees this guy can be an offensive force though, including the Yankees’ international scouting director. If Gurriel is as good as advertised, or is even 75% of what is advertised, he could end up a real bargain.

Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel would be “super happy” to join the Yankees

Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Back in February, infielder Yulieski Gurriel and his younger brother Lourdes Jr. defected from Cuba while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Along with Japanese righty Shohei Otani, the Gurriels are widely considered two of the best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.

The Gurriels are still going through the process of being declared free agents by MLB, and that can take an awfully long time. They have to first establish residency outside Cuba, then get cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then be given the thumbs up by MLB. That process can take months and months.

Aroldis Chapman, who played with Yulieski on the Cuban National Team back in the today, recently told Brendan Kuty that Gurriel would be “super happy” to play for the Yankees. Yulieski has said in the past his favorite player in Alex Rodriguez, which is pretty cool. Here’s what Chapman told Kuty:

“He has asked me many questions,” Chapman said. “But that’s normal because, Cuban people, they always want to ask you how’s the baseball at this level, what’s the organization and all that. It’s typical for Cuban people to ask questions about the Yankees.”

“He was a good teammate,” Chapman said. “Besides being a good player, he’s a good person. He would share moments with us. He would hang out outside of baseball and he was just a good teammate.”

The two Gurriels are at very different points in their career. Yulieki, the older brother, will turn 32 in three weeks and is ready to jump right into a big league lineup. He’s been a star in Cuba for more than a decade — the Cuban government allowed him to play in Japan in 2014, and he raked there too — and most believe Gurriel could be an impact hitter in MLB right now.

Lourdes is only 22, however. His career is just getting started. In fact, once he is declared a free agent, he will still be subject to the international spending rules. He’s not going to sign this summer though. Lourdes will wait until he turns 23 in October so he will be exempt from the spending restrictions and free to sign a contract of any size. Waiting a few extra weeks means millions and millions more.

The Yankees haven’t been connected to the Gurriels at all, but no team has at this point, so that doesn’t mean much. Every team has a place in their organization for Lourdes given his age and what is considered high-end upside on the middle infield. Yulieski is a bit trickier because he’s a second and third baseman who is MLB ready. The Yankees are contractually locked into Starlin Castro at second and Chase Headley at third.

Castro has been more than fine in his first few weeks as a Yankee. Headley has been mostly awful despite his recent extra-base hits. I’ve been wondering if the Yankees will move Headley in an A.J. Burnett style salary dump after the season even though they lack a ready made replacement. (Sorry, I’m not buying Rob Refsnyder at third.) Dumping Headley would clear a spot for Yulieski.

Of course, it’s all going to come down to money. Hector Olivera signed six-year deal worth $62.5M with the Dodgers last year. He was 30 and two years younger than Yulieski, but also a much inferior player with a much scarier injury history. It’s not unreasonable to think Gurriel will command more. Lourdes is tougher to pin down. Yasmany Tomas got six years and $68.5M at age 24 a year ago.

I wonder if Lourdes, who is expected to need time in the minors, will end up getting offers like the deal Jorge Soler signed with the Cubs years ago. Soler received a nine-year deal worth $30M at age 20 — this was before the spending restrictions became a thing — though the contract allows him to void his salaries and opt into arbitration. So if he becomes a star, Soler has the ability to go through arbitration to make more money.

Perhaps the younger Gurriel brother will go for something like eight years and $40M with a similar arbitration opt-in clause. Chances are he will take the largest guarantee offered, so if someone puts Tomas money on the table, they’ll probably get him. But if not, a structure like Soler’s could work. And yes, such a deal would count against the luxury tax. That’s not insignificant for the Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner even with all the money they have coming off the books the next two years.

The idea of a package deal is very intriguing and I feel like a rebuilding team like the Braves or Phillies should be all over the Gurriels. It’s a great opportunity to get two talented players. It really seems like Yulieski wants to play for the Yankees though, so maybe that gives New York an edge come free agency time. Remember though, A-Rod will be gone after next season and chances are Chapman will be gone after this season. Gurriel may not be too keen on coming to the Yankees if his favorite player and long-time friend won’t be around for the long haul.

Slot bonus values for 2016 draft and 2016-17 international signing period

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are limited to a set bonus pool when acquiring amateur talent through the draft and international free agency each year. Teams can exceed their pools, but the penalties are harsh. Within those pools are slot values, which are important to the draft and international free agency for different reasons.

Hudson Belinsky and Ben Badler recently got their hands on the 2016 draft and 2016-17 international slot values, respectively. Both articles are free. They’re not behind the Baseball America paywall. Let’s dive in and see what the slot values mean for the Yankees.

2016 Draft Slot Values

The Yankees have a $5,768,400 bonus pool for the draft this year. That’s the eighth smallest bonus pool in baseball. The Yankees didn’t add (or subtract) and draft picks through free agency this past offseason, so all they have is their natural picks in rounds 1-40. Here are the slot values:

  • First Round (No. 18 overall): $2,441,600
  • Second Round (No. 62): $1,040,800
  • Third Round (No. 98): $608,200
  • Fourth Round (No. 128): $455,400
  • Fifth Round (No. 158): $341,000
  • Sixth Round (No. 188): $255,300
  • Seventh Round (No. 218): $191,500
  • Eighth Round (No. 248): $176,200
  • Ninth Round (No. 278): $164,600
  • Tenth Round (No. 308): $156,600

Slot value for every pick after the tenth round is $100,000. Any amount spent over $100,000 on one of those picks counts against the draft pool. If you sign a player for less than the slot value within the first ten rounds, you can redirect the pool savings to other picks. If you do not sign a player, you lose the slot money associated with that pick. Got it? It’s easy enough.

The Yankees — and all teams, really — have been gaming the system by taking cheap college seniors, usually in rounds 5-10, to save draft pool space so they can spend it on other players. College seniors have no leverage, so they usually sign for five figures. Sometimes even less. Do that a few times and you up with a nice chunk of leftover cash to use on other picks.

To me, it looks like the best place to really save pool space is with that second round pick. You don’t see many top prospects fall to the second round these days. Talent has come off the board more linearly since the spending pool system was put in place. The Yankees could take a good prospect with that second rounder, sign him below slot, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in pool space.

This is exactly what the Yanks did last year. They took LHP Jeff Degano with their second round pick and signed him for $650,000. Slot for his pick was $1,074,400. The Yankees got a talented player and still saved over $400,000 with that pick, most of which went to third rounder RHP Drew Finley. Depending on what the draft board looks like in June, going this route with the second round pick could make an awful lot of sense.

2016-17 International Slot Values

The Yankees have a $2,177,100 bonus pool for the 2016-17 international signing period, which ninth lowest among the 30 clubs. The international pools are based on the reverse order of the standings. The Yankees are still subject to the penalties stemming from the 2014-15 international signing spree for one more year, so they can’t sign any player to a bonus of more than $300,000 in the coming signing period.

Here are the team’s 2016-17 international slot values. I’ll explain what these mean in a second.

  • Slot No. 22: $609,800
  • Slot No. 52: $411,800
  • Slot No. 82: $278,100
  • Slot No. 112: $177,400

Each team gets $700,000 in “base” money, so add that and the four slots together and you get the club’s total international bonus pool. Once upon a time teams also had six $50,000 bonus exemptions each year, both those are gone. Nowadays the only exemptions are players who sign for $10,000. Teams can hand out as many bonuses of $10,000 or less as they want, and they don’t count towards the bonus pool.

The international slot values are used for trading. You can sign a player to a bonus of any size, it doesn’t have to match a slot number. But, if you trade bonus pool money, you have to trade the specific slot. HOWEVA, teams are only allowed to acquire an additional 50% of their original draft pool. That’s an extra $1,088,500 for the Yankees. It doesn’t make any sense for the Yankees to acquire international bonus pool money because of the $300,000 penalty though. It makes more sense to trade away pool space.

Unfortunately, international bonus slots don’t seem to have much trade value. Last year Matt Eddy recapped trades involving bonus slots, and for the most part slots were traded for middling prospects or fringe MLB players. In some instances they were thrown in as the third or fourth piece in a trade package. Is it worth trading, say, that No. 22 slot for another up-and-down reliever or infielder? Maybe it is. Depends on what kind of talent is available internationally this summer.

Brian Cashman plays coy about interest in Otani: “We look at everything internationally”

(Masterpress/Getty)
(Masterpress/Getty)

It was only a matter of time. Last week Brian Cashman was asked about the Yankees’ interest in Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, and the GM predictably played coy. “We look at everything internationally, as well as domestically, but he’s under control of another club. So I couldn’t speak to him, but we’re always watching everything that takes place around the world to the best of our abilities,” he said to Brendan Kuty.

Otani, 21, is the best pitcher in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He had a 2.24 ERA with a 31.6% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in 160.2 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year, and keep in mind hitters focus much more on putting the ball in play in Japan than they do in MLB. The league average strikeout rate last season was 18.1%. It was 20.4% in MLB.

Otani and the (Ham) Fighters were in Arizona training a few weeks ago, giving teams a chance to see him without having to cross the pond. Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) gave this scouting report:

Overall, Ohtani’s fastball was clocked anywhere from 91 and 99 mph, featuring some two-seam sinking action at the low end of that spectrum. He does it effortlessly and with good extension, which makes the pitch look as though it’s erupting from his hand right on top of the plate. He showed four pitches in the outing. His fastball is comfortably plus, the aforementioned curveball is above average and projects to plus while the splitter and lollipop, low-70s curveball were both below average.

(His name has been spelled Otani and Ohtani over the years, and apparently the back of his jersey said Ohtani in Arizona a few weeks back.)

Keep in mind this was what amounts to Spring Training outing, so Otani was not in midseason form. Longenhagen noted Otani is incredibly athletic — he used to play the outfield on days he didn’t pitch, but that stopped last season — and his splitter should develop into a pitch that grades out as “much higher” than average because of his arm speed. So you’ve got a big fastball, an above-average breaking ball, and a promising split-finger pitch. Sounds good to me. Here’s video of one of Otani’s recent Arizona outings. Again, this was essentially a Spring Training start:

The issue with Otani is that he’s six years from international free agency, and there is no real incentive for the (Ham) Fighters to post him anytime soon. Under the current posting system, the team can only receive the maximum $20M release fee regardless of when they post him. The posting agreement expires in December but will continue on a year-to-year basis unless NPB asks to renegotiate. They have to give MLB 180 days notice, so by June we should know if the posting agreement will stay as is or be changed again.

Anyway, yes there’s always the risk of injury, but as long as the current posting system is in place, it makes sense for the (Ham) Fighters to hold onto Otani a few more years. They had the second best record in Japan last season, so I assume they have talent on their roster beyond Otani. The team could hold onto their ace right-hander and try to win the third Japan Series title in franchise history. (They won in 1962 and 2006, and lost in the finals in 1981, 2007, 2008, and 2012.)

The Yankees have a lot of money coming off the books the next few seasons — that includes Masahiro Tanaka potentially opting out of his contract in two years — clearing the way for the Yankees to spend big on someone like Otani. He’s young, the consensus is he is a budding MLB ace, and he will be available for nothing but money. A lot of money, but only money. The Yankees have long-term pitching needs too. All of their current starters can become free agents within two years except Luis Severino.

For now, Otani is a name worth knowing even if it appears he is years away from coming over to MLB, not months.

Report: Yankees have $5.77M pool for 2016 draft, $2.28M for 2016-17 international signing period

(Taylor Baucom/Getty)
(Taylor Baucom/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $5,768,400 bonus pool for the 2016 draft and a $2,177,100 bonus pool for the 2016-17 international signing period. That gives them a $7,945,500 pool to sign amateur players this year, sixth smallest in baseball. Only the Cubs, Royals, Giants, Rangers, and Nationals have less to spend.

The Yankees did not gain or lose any draft picks via free agency this offseason, and there’s no reason to expect them to sign one of the remaining qualified free agents (Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond). They’re currently slated to pick 19th overall, though they’ll move up to 18th if the Orioles finish their deal with Gallardo.

As a reminder, the draft pool covers the top ten rounds. Each pick in the top ten rounds is assigned a slot value, and if you pay one pick below slot, you’re free to spend the savings elsewhere. Every pick after the tenth round has a $100,000 slot value, and anything over that counts against the pool. The Yankees have exceeded their draft pool ever so slightly the last few years. Enough to get hit with a small tax but not enough to forfeit future picks. No team has forfeited future picks yet.

The international bonus pool is largely irrelevant because the Yankees are still stuck with a $300,000 bonus cap stemming from their 2014-15 international spending spree. New York is pretty darn good at finding under-the-radar Latin American prospects — Luis Severino ($225,000), Jorge Mateo ($250,000), and Domingo Acevedo ($7,500) all signed for under $300,000 — but that bonus cap stinks. It takes them out of the running for the best players.

The Yankees will be able to resume spending as they please next year, during the 2017-18 international signing period, assuming the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t drastically change things. An international draft could be coming. The international signing period opens July 2nd this year, as it does every year.