Thoughts four weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

Need baseball. (Presswire)
Need baseball. (Presswire)

In just four not-so-short weeks, the Yankees will open Spring Training and pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa. Can’t come soon enough. I don’t even care that it’s a non-news day. I’m ready for this offseason to be over and something that resembles baseball to begin. Anyway, I have some random thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. This isn’t really something we can quantify at the moment, but I think we can all agree the Yankees will take a huge defensive hit at first base this coming season. Mark Teixeira, even at the very end of his career, was a dynamite defender over at first. He saved countless errors with great scoops — the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS tells me Teixeira was third among all first basemen in “sure-handedness” (scoops, picks, etc.) over the last three years, behind Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez — and was a vacuum on hot shots hit his way. Neither Greg Bird nor Tyler Austin is much of a first base defender. They were always bat-first prospects. I do expect Bird and Austin to out-hit the 2016 version of Teixeira, by quite a bit too, but in the field, they’re a big step down. Hopefully the offensive upgrade outweighs the defensive downgrade. I still think it’ll be a bit of a shock to the system when we see fewer throws in the dirt get scooped and fewer hard-hit grounders turn into outs.

2. Speaking of defense, do you think the Yankees would be better off flipping Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury? It’s hard to say. Gardner spent only one season, 2013, as New York’s full-time center fielder, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen him out there on any everyday basis. Also, Ellsbury’s experience in left field is very limited. He’s played only 86 games and 563.2 innings in left field in his career, and none since 2010. Aside from the fact this would probably never ever ever happen, I don’t think it would be worthwhile. Left field in Yankee Stadium is tricky, especially during day games when the sun peeks out from over the stands, and Gardner has it down pat. Ellsbury’s learning curve would be steep. On top of that, I think Ellsbury has more range, which plays better in center field. A few years ago the Yankees discussed flipping Gardner with Curtis Granderson because Gardner was the superior defender, and they did do it for a handful of games, but not many. In that case it made sense because Gardner was clearly a better defensive outfielder. With Gardner and Ellsbury, I don’t think it’s nearly as clear cut. This is just something that crossed my mind. The numbers might say it’ll save the Yankees a few extra runs per year, but once you factor in potential adjustment periods, it might not be worth the trouble. Like I said though, not happening anyway.

3. I wonder whether the Yankees will revisit the “Starlin Castro at third base” experiment this Spring Training. The plan got put on hold last spring after the team realized Castro was still rough around the edges at second base — I always thought asking him to learn third only a few months after learning second was too much, too soon — but now that he’s played a full season at second, they may try it again. It’s a good idea in theory. Why not make your players more flexible, if it all possible? As Matt mentioned over the weekend, it’s not like the Yankees are loaded with options at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the incumbent backup, and then there’s, uh. Ruben Tejada? Donovan Solano? I don’t think anyone wants to see those guys in the lineup full-time. At least if Castro can play third, he could slide over should Chase Headley get hurt, then the Yankees could roll Rob Refsnyder out there at second. I’d rather see Refsnyder at second and Castro at third than Castro at second and Torreyes/Tejada/Solano at third. (Refsnyder at third doesn’t seem to doable in the eyes of the Yankees.) It’s worth trying Starlin at third in Spring Training. Whether the Yankees go through with it is another matter.

4. The 2017 Hall of Fame class will be announced Wednesday, and my official prediction is three players will be voted in this year: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman, while both Vlad Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez fall fewer than ten percentage points short of the 75% needed for induction. I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote yet, I’m still eight years away from that, but if I did, I would have voted for Bagwell, Raines, Guerrero, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker this year. I’ve written our Hall of Fame case posts for Walker at CBS the last few years (here is this year’s) and I managed to change my own opinion from not a Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer. He’s fifth among outfielders in WAR over the last 50 years, you know, behind only Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Reggie Jackson. Also, only 31% of his career plate appearances came in Coors Field, so the ballpark didn’t inflate his career numbers that much. Anyway, those are my ten. As you can see, I’m not one of those folks who believe keeping someone out of Cooperstown is an appropriate punishment for performance-enhancing drugs. As far as I’m concerned, Manny got caught (twice) and served his punishment (twice) and that’s that.

5. I’m sure this is something only I care about, but with the center field area at Yankee Stadium undergoing massive renovations this offseason, I hope we get a true dead center field camera angle.  Here’s the current home YES Network camera angle and the home FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals) camera angle, which is one of my favorites:

yes-vs-fox-camera

Several teams have a true dead center field camera angle these days (Cardinals, Braves, Orioles, Red Sox, Pirates, Rockies) and it’s so much better than the old school offset camera angle. You get a much better look at pitch movement — not just breaking balls either, it’s eye-opening to see how few fastballs are truly straight — and left-right pitch location. Pitches that look like they catch the corner on the offset camera angle are often off the plate, and the dead center angle shows that. The dead center camera makes for a much more enjoyable baseball-watching experience, in my opinion. I hope we get one now that center field at Yankee Stadium is being overhauled.

6. In each of the last few seasons the Yankees had a longtime minor leaguer break out and become a legitimate prospect. Last year it was Kyle Higashioka. The year before it was Ben Gamel and Dietrich Enns. I’m guessing lefty Daniel Camarena is that player in 2017. He missed the entire 2015 season after having bone spurs removed from his elbow, and he returned last season to pitch to a 3.55 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 19.8% strikeouts and 4.2% walks in 147 total innings, most at Double-A. Not the sexiest numbers, though he was coming back from elbow surgery, so we need to grade him on a curve. Camarena is not an out-of-nowhere player. The Yankees gave him a well-above-slot $335,000 bonus as their 20th round pick out of a (surprise surprise) Southern California high school in 2011, so they like him. Camarena is a true three-pitch pitcher who always stood out most for his ability to locate his 90-ish mph fastball. He also throws two quality secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Southpaws with three pitches who can spot their fastball are worth keeping around. Camarena is healthy, he had success at Double-A last year, and he’ll be a minor league free agent after the 2017 season. Hopefully he forces the Yankees to make a 40-man roster decision come November.

The Importance of Being Headley

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Across the annals of the internet, I have a long history of championing Yankee causes that many would consider lost and a half. Going back about ten years or more, there is definitely evidence somewhere out there of me claiming Chris Britton was getting the shaft and deserved more of a look in pinstripes.  In 2014 and 2015, I was trying to convince–in my mind it was more reminding–everyone that Stephen Drew really wasn’t that bad. Last year, I beat the drum for Chase Headley despite his woeful start to the season. Even with a bounceback that ended up with him posting a (relatively, for where he started) respectable 92 wRC+, I’m sure I’ll have to beat that same drum this year, as Headley likely doesn’t have a lot of support from the fans right now. Despite that, Headley is an important piece for the 2017 Yankees.

As the team’s third baseman, he’s really on an island. At every other position, the Yankees have some form of a legitimate replacement. Should Didi Gregorius go down at short, Starlin Castro can slide over. Should Castro get hurt, there’s Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird can be replaced by Tyler Austin or even Matt Holliday in a pinch. Gary Sanchez has Austin Romine to back him up. Aaron Hicks and the glut of minor league outfielders stand in reserve should someone out there get hurt as well. Headley, and maybe Holliday, is the only position player the Yankees don’t have a credible back up for at this point. This is all leaving aside the fact that Headley helps Didi make up a strong defensive left side of the infield, adding value with his glove that’s hard to replace at the hot corner.

At the plate, Headley brings patience, something the Yankees have lacked of late, putting up above average walk rates in each of his years with the Yankees. There’s also Headley’s place in the lineup. No matter where he hits, he’ll be of some importance. If he hits second, as Mike suggested earlier, well, that speaks for itself. Even if he hits ninth in that set up, he plays an important role in turning the lineup over and setting the table for the top of the order. It’s not likely, though, that he’ll bat second or ninth, though, since I–like Mike–doubt the Yankees will actually split Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup. The way I see it, the lineup will likely shake out like this:

  1. Gardner
  2. Ellsbury
  3. Sanchez
  4. Holliday
  5. Bird
  6. Didi
  7. Castro
  8. Headley
  9. Judge

I’d rather see Judge bat behind Headley because Headley can give him some sort of ‘reverse protection,’ if you will. By using his ability to draw walks to get on base ahead of Judge, Headley can insure that Judge may see some better pitches and help artificially bring down the big guy’s strikeout numbers and make best use of his power numbers.

Chase Headley, clutch Yankee. (Photo credit: Richard Perry/The New York Times
(Richard Perry/The New York Times

To say a team’s starting third baseman is important is to state the obvious. However, even on a team without a ton (any?) star power, it’d be possible for Chase Headley to fly under the radar in 2017. A lot of focus will be on the young bats and the bullpen trio, but make no mistake that his role on this team is important. He’s a top quality defender with a patient eye at the plate, which can (and hopefully will) ease things for those around him in the lineup.

The Third Wheel

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

That whole “New Year, New Me,” meme that we always see as the number turns on the calendar is not going to apply to the New York Yankees in 2017. Some of the names and faces may be different, but the big picture looks a whole lot like the one from last year. Questions about veteran bats like Mark Teixeira‘s, Alex Rodriguez‘s, and Carlos Beltran‘s have given way to questions about young players’ bats, like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and the returning Greg Bird. The rotation, as it seems to have been for a while, is far from secure. Leading the similarities, however, is a bullpen headed by a “Big Three,” though this year’s trio will be missing the best of the bunch in Andrew Miller. Replacing him, as he did at the trade deadline last year, is right hander Tyler Clippard.

Clippard pitched well in his 25.1 innings for the Yankees last year, striking out 24.3% of the batters he faced (9.24 K/9) and posting a 2.49 ERA (177 ERA+; 59 ERA-), though that is somewhat belied by a 4.05 FIP (99 FIP-), owed to a high walk rate of 10.3% (3.91 BB/9). In what is likely to be his first full season as a Yankee (provided he doesn’t get traded), Clippard is going to play an important role as gatekeeper to the superior Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.

Given that the rotation isn’t likely to give much length, something I discussed last month, it’s possible that a lot of games are going to hinge on Clippard performing well in the sixth or seventh inning, holding onto tight leads to turn them over to Betances and Chapman. To mix metaphors, the success of the Yankees’ three-headed-monster may rely on its third wheel, represented by Clippard.

Unless the Yankees improve their rotation before the start of the season, though, they risk the team’s biggest strength being mostly mitigated from the start. While it’s obviously better to have a solid game-ending trio than to not have one, the importance of said trio is lessened when the rotation can’t provide quality or length and the lineup can’t thump its ways through thickets of poor starting to the meadows of high-scoring leads. This isn’t really a thing, but the team’s questionable starting pitching is a case of a weakness potentially turning a strength into something, well, less strong.

To cut back on some of the falling sky here, Clippard is still a good enough pitcher that I’m not too worried about him blowing leads before they’re put into more capable hands. I am worried, though, that he’ll be pressed into early service too often and that, as the season wears on, fatigue may set in. The Yankees need an innings eat to help make sure this doesn’t happen.

Thoughts on the ZiPS projections for the 2017 Yankees

2017 WAR projections.
2017 WAR projections.

Earlier this week, Dan Szymborski and FanGraphs released ZiPS projections for the 2017 Yankees. There are a ton of projection systems out there these days, possibly too many at this point, and ZiPS is my personal favorite. It’s been pretty accurate relative to the other systems, historically. ZiPS is my preference. You’re welcome to feel differently.

As a reminder, projections are not predictions. They’re not trying to tell you the future. Projections like ZiPS are an estimate of the player’s current talent level. Robinson Cano hit .306 in 2007, .271 in 2008, and .320 in 2009. Did his talent level change? Nah. That’s just baseball being baseball. It would be boring if it were predictable. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the ZiPS projections. They made for good talking points.

1. Sanchez is very unique. Last year Gary Sanchez came up in August and smashed 20 home runs in his final 52 games of the season. No one had ever done that before, especially not as a full-time catcher. Because of that, Sanchez is super unique as a player and projecting him is damn near impossible. That’s why ZiPS spit out Chris Hoiles (Chris Hoiles!) as Sanchez’s top statistical comp at age 24. Hoiles played six games in his age 24 season. He played 23 games in his age 25 season. It wasn’t until his age 26 season that he broke into the show full-time. And yet, ZiPS determined Hoiles was the best statistical comp for Sanchez at this age because Hoiles could really hit. The guy retired as a career .262/.366/.467 (122 wRC+) hitter who averaged 24 homers per 140 games played. Point is, Sanchez’s career path is incredibly unique. Few catchers show this much power this early. ZiPS spit out Hoiles because he had power too even though he didn’t stick for good until age 26.

2. How about that youthful power? The Yankees’ top six projected 2017 home run hitters according to ZiPS are Aaron Judge (30 dingers), Sanchez (27), Clint Frazier (22), Tyler Austin (18), Greg Bird (18), and Starlin Castro (18). Castro is the grizzled veteran of the group and he’s still only 26. Again, ZiPS is not a prediction. The system is estimating the talent level of each player at that homer total. I’ll take the under on Judge and the over on Bird, assuming his shoulder holds up, but the point is the Yankees have multiple young power bats on the roster for the first time in a long time. Last year they had three players age 26 or younger hit 18+ homers (Sanchez, Castro, Didi Gregorius). They had three total from 2002-15 (Alfonso Soriano, Cano twice). Prior to last season, the last time the Yankees had multiple players age 26 or younger hit 18+ homers was 1991, when Roberto Kelly and Kevin Maas did it. Sanchez, Judge, and Bird are all serious threats to do it in 2017. Maybe Austin too if he gets enough playing time. (Castro turns 27 in Spring Training.) That is pretty awesome and exciting. Hooray for not counting on the veterans to hit the ball out of the park.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3. The Bird projection is a good reality check. I love Greg Bird. I love his plate discipline, I love his calm at the plate, and I love his ability to hit the ball in the air with authority. We also have to remember the kid is coming back from major surgery though, and there are other flaws in his game as well. He’s not a good defender and lefties have given him trouble in the past. The ZiPS projection reflects those realities. It pegs Bird as a true talent .234/.307/.449 (108 OPS+) hitter right now, which is good in a vacuum but not great in the world of first basemen. (First basemen hit .259/.338/.453 in 2016. That’s a 114 OPS+.) Add in the lack of defense — ZiPS has Bird saving zero runs in the field, which might be generous — and you get a +0.8 WAR player. That’s disappointing to see for 2017. But you know what? ZiPS drops Mo Vaughn on Bird as the top statistical comp at age 24, and Vaughn was a monster from ages 25-30. Remember, this coming season will be Bird’s first full season in the show. There will inevitably be bumps along the way, especially following surgery. Hopefully 2017 is a stepping stone to bigger and better things in the future.

4. ZiPS hasn’t given up on Severino as a starter. More than a few folks would like to see the Yankees keep Luis Severino in the bullpen, where he was so dominant last year, and I get it. I do. Brian Cashman indicated they’re going to stick with him as a starter for now, even if it means sending him to Triple-A in 2017, and that’s the right move in my opinion. Severino is still only 22 and I’d hate to give up on him as a starter at that age, especially with the Yankees in need of long-term rotation help. Development isn’t always linear. There are obstacles to overcome along the way. Anyway, ZiPS is still on the “Severino should start” bandwagon, projected him for a 4.20 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 152 innings this coming season. That’s in 26 starts too. (And yeah, seven relief appearances.) His top statistical comp is Mike Witt, who also hot hammered as a starter and pitched well as a reliever at age 22. Witt went on to have a lot of success as a starter from age 23-28. Severino ain’t alone. He’s not the only guy who’s gone through this.

5. The other young starters don’t look so hot. Along with Severino, the Yankees figure to use some combination of Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell at the back of the rotation in 2017. Chances are we’ll see all three of those guys at some point this summer, plus others. ZiPS likes Green the most among those three guys, and the system only projects him as a +0.8 WAR player in 2017.

IP ERA FIP WAR
Cessa 126.2 5.33 5.08 -0.2
Green 128.2 4.67 4.47 +0.8
Mitchell 80 5.74 5.36 -0.6

Eek. I like Cessa more than most, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were replacement level with a 5.00+ ERA next season. Not if he doesn’t do a better job keeping the ball in the park and/or start missing more bats. Other young arms like Jordan Montgomery (+0.5 WAR) and Chance Adams (-0.2 WAR) don’t project a whole lot better in 2017. These guys might be pretty good down the line! But, for this coming season, they carry an awful lot of risk, and ZiPS reflects that.

6. The Yankees need to figure out the rest of the bullpen. The Yankees are set in the eighth and ninth innings with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, both of whom have been excellent in recent years and project to be excellent again next season. The rest of the bullpen is a little dicey. Veteran stalwarts Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren project to be average by reliever standards, which I don’t think is unreasonable at this point of their careers. The best of the young relievers, per ZiPS, are Jonathan Holder and Gio Gallegos, who have basically zero combined time in the big leagues. (Holder threw 8.1 sporadic innings in September.) The minor leagues are littered with relievers who have great strikeout and walk rates, they’re everywhere, and not too many of those relievers are able to carry their success over to the big leagues. ZiPS projects Holder and Gallegos for a combined +0.9 WAR in nearly 140 innings in 2017. Eh. No other young reliever projects to be even replacement level. There’s some figuring out to be done in the bullpen.

Thoughts at the start of 2017

Hurry back, baseball. (Presswire)
Hurry back, baseball. (Presswire)

The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to reality. Sucks, doesn’t it? Spring Training is still six weeks away too. These are the dog days of the offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things and stuff, so let’s get to them.

1. I thought it was pretty interesting Aroldis Chapman had a similar complaint about Cubs manager Joe Maddon as Adam Warren. (Billy Witz wrote a bit about this.) After the trade, Warren said he didn’t have a defined role in Chicago and never really knew when he would pitch. Chapman, during his conference call after signing with the Yankees, said he didn’t agree with the way Maddon used him, specifically when he brought him into the game in the middle innings. Relievers and players in general appreciate having a defined role. They’re creatures of habit and having a set role helps them develop a routine. At the same time, they’re professionals as well, so they have to perform when asked to do something out of the ordinary. (To be fair, both Warren and Chapman said it was ultimately on them to get the job done regardless of when they pitched.) Andrew Miller‘s willingness and ability to pitch whenever is pretty rare. He was really low maintenance. Joe Girardi is pretty rigid with his reliever usage. He assigns players innings and that’s that. Maddon tends to be a bit more fluid with his reliever usage and that’s not for everyone.

2. Speaking of Girardi, both he and Brian Cashman are entering the final year of their contracts. There have been no extension talks as far as we know and that’s not unusual. In the past, both Girardi and Cashman had to wait until their current deals expired before negotiating a new one, and I assume the same is true this time as well. A lot can change over the next ten months, we all know that, but right now, I think Cashman’s job is safe. Ownership is going to let him see the rebuild transition through after letting him make all those trades at the deadline last summer. As for Girardi, my guess right now is he will be back after the season because Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner love him, but I also think his job is less secure now than it has been at any point in the past. Missing the postseason again this year would be three postseason-less years in the last four seasons, and the one time they did make the playoffs, it was a wholly unsatisfying Wildcard Game shutout loss. How many managers survive a four-year stretch like that, rebuild or not?

3. I’m pretty amazed the Yankees have opted to keep Richard Bleier on the 40-man roster this winter over younger players like Nick Goody and Jacob Lindgren. The Yankees definitely seem to like Bleier more than I realized. He did a nice job in limited action last year, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 23 relief innings, but he was a 29-year-old rookie who had a combined 11.4% strikeout rate between Triple-A and MLB. That’s not an anomaly either. Bleier has a career 13.0% strikeout rate in over 900 career minor league innings. That’s who he is. He makes up for it with ground balls (54.1%) and by limiting walks (4.5% between Triple-A and MLB), but still, Bleier doesn’t have a huge margin for error. He seems like someone the Yankees might have been able to non-tender and re-sign to a minor league contract. This isn’t a big deal. We’re talking about a guy near the bottom of the 40-man roster. I just figured Bleier would be among the first to go when 40-man space was needed this winter. Instead, he’s still hanging around. Go figure.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

4. Where does Rob Refsnyder fit going forward? He did an okay job as a platoon bat against lefties last season (.274/.370/.355/94 wRC+) despite his complete lack of power, and that seems to be his best role going forward, part-time player against lefties. Starlin Castro is locked in at second base, and the Yankees would surely like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge to emerge as the first baseman and right fielder of the future, respectively, this coming season. That means more bouncing from position to position as a platoon bat for Refsnyder, I suppose. He still has an option left for 2017, so the Yankees can send him up and down as necessary. I’m just not sure how Refsnyder fits into the long-term picture, if at all. It would help if he could hit for some power — he’s never had much pop, even in the minors — or play good defense. He’s the quintessential ‘tweener. Someone who is nice to have while he’s cheap and optionable and that’s about it.

5. As I read this Craig Edwards post on next winter’s free agent class, I couldn’t help but to be glad the Yankees have so many quality shortstops in their farm system. This free agent class was loaded with first base and corner outfield bats, and next offseason’s will be more of the same. If you need a non-first base infielder, you’re in trouble. Shortstops tend to be the best athletes on the field and therefore most capable to change positions, if necessary. Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo are already working out in the outfield. Gleyber Torres has spent time at second base and I wouldn’t be surprised if third base is in his future too. Didi Gregorius and Castro won’t make anyone forget peak Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, but they’re a solid young middle infield combo, so the Yankees won’t have to rely on free agency to fill those positions. They also have all that shortstop depth in the minors, which they could use to fill other positions either via position changes or trades. Corner bats? There are plenty of those dudes available.

Thoughts following the 2016 Winter Meetings

The new closer, same as the old closer. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
The new closer, same as the old closer. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The 2016 Winter Meetings came and went last week with a fair amount of action around the league. It wasn’t a crazy week like we often see, mostly because the current free agent class stinks. The Yankees handled maybe their biggest piece of offseason business by signing Aroldis Chapman to resume closing duties, and that’s about it. I have some thoughts on the Winter Meetings and other stuff as well.

1. I remain unconvinced the Yankees would have shifted gears and focused on Kenley Jansen had they missed out on Chapman. I really think they want to keep their first round pick. Sure, there’s always a point where Jansen’s asking price drops low enough that giving up the pick is worthwhile, but it was never going to get to that point. The five-year, $80M deal he took from the Dodgers yesterday proves it. I think Plan A was Chapman, and Plan B was someone like Brad Ziegler or Greg Holland, not Jansen. At the moment, the Yankees hold the 17th overall pick in the 2017 draft, and it’ll drop to 16th once Ian Desmond’s deal with the Rockies is official. The 16th pick is not a premium pick at the top of the draft, but it’s juuust high enough to get someone like Blake Rutherford, a talented top ten guy who slips for whatever reason. (Rutherford was the 18th overall pick.) With the youth movement in full swing, I think the Yankees want to keep that pick. It was Chapman or bust in the ninth inning.

2. A theory: It costs more to acquire a reliever at the trade deadline than it does in the offseason. I say that because it absolutely blows my mind the Royals got Jorge Soler and nothing else for one full season of Wade Davis while the Yankees got four players, including a tippy top prospect in Gleyber Torres, for a half-season of Chapman. The same team (Cubs) made both trades too. Did Davis’ forearm injury drag his stock down that much? It’s not like he finished the year hurt. He was healthy (and dominant) in September. Maybe the Royals are just really high on Soler. That has to be it. Anyway, the offseason is the time for optimism and patience. There is less urgency to get the piece that can put you over the top. At least it seems that way to me. But, at the trade deadline, when you’re staring your roster in the face and that urgency exists, clubs appear to be more willing to pay big for that final piece. That could very well be what happened with Chapman. By any objective measure, a full season of Davis should cost more than a half-season of Chapman. Trades are not objective though. They’re completely subjective based on the state of the team and the rest of the league.

3. In the realm of non-roster invitees, Ruben Tejada is a really nice pickup. The Yankees got him on a minor league deal yesterday. He had a .340 OBP in over 800 plate appearances with the Mets from 2014-15, plus he’s a good defensive player, so Tejada’s someone who can do a little of something on both sides of the ball. His 2016 season was littered with injuries — he also had his leg broken by Chase Utley’s take-out slide in the 2015 NLDS, remember– and now that he’ll have a healthy and normal offseason, he should be good to go come Spring Training. At a minimum, Tejada figures to compete with Ronald Torreyes for the backup infielder’s job. Should the Yankees find a taker for Chase Headley in the coming weeks, Tejada could end up coming to camp with a chance to play third base everyday. I don’t love that idea, but it is a possibility. Tejada is only 27 and he has some on-base/defense skills. Not a bad little minor league contract pickup.

Otani. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
Otani. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

4. I’m really curious to see how Shohei Otani affects the 2017-18 international signing period. MLB insists they won’t create an exemption for him, probably because they don’t want to set any kind of precedent, which means he will count against the international hard cap and have his earning potential severely limited. Teams have been scouting Latin America and lining up deals for years now. That’s not an exaggeration. Do those deals suddenly get put on hold because Otani may be posted? Or do teams follow through and forget about Otani? Teams are allowed to trade for an additional 75% of cap space, which means the maximum pool for the Yankees is $8.3125M. The problem? You can only trade cap space after the signing period opens July 2nd. It’s not something the Yankees could do right now to get their ducks in a row. It’s risky, man. Do you sign those Latin American kids in July and punt on Otani, or wait and hope to get Otani, knowing full well there’s a chance you won’t get him or any Latin American players? All the top kids will still sign in July. They’re not going to wait to get paid. Intrigue!

5. You know that monster 2018-19 free agent class everyone is looking forward too? The Bryce Harper/Manny Machado class? The talent pool is already starting to thin out. Andrew McCutchen might not be an elite player anymore. Matt Harvey had surgery to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is potentially very serious. Dallas Keuchel’s performance slipped big time this summer. Heck, so did Harper’s. And, as uncomfortable as this is to talk about from a baseball perspective, Jose Fernandez died tragically in September. Last offseason, when everyone started to put the pieces together and saw just how talent-laden that 2018-19 free agent class could be, we all know the talent pool would thin out. Guys would sign extensions, others would get hurt, others would see their performance slip. And it’s happening already. I seriously doubt the Yankees or any other team is planning to pursue one specific free agent two years in advance, but I do think the Yankees are hoping to reset their luxury tax rate and have more payroll flexibility for that 2018-19 offseason in case they decide to spend big.

6. My first thought when the Yankees non-tendered and lost Jacob Lindgren was Al Aceves 2.0, but nah. Different situations. Aceves broke his clavicle in a bicycle incident during the 2010-11 offseason, and hey, accidents happen, but Aceves wasn’t supposed to be on his bike in the first place because he was rehabbing the back injury that sidelined him almost all season. Also, Aceves was kinda crazy, so the Yankees dumped him. With Lindgren, the Yankees wanted to get him off the 40-man roster and re-sign him to a minor league deal, which they’ve done a few times before. Slade Heathcott, Domingo German, and Vicente Campos all went through the non-tender/re-sign move. The Braves jumped in and gave Lindgren in a sweetheart deal though — they gave him a $425,000 bonus upfront and will pay him a $600,000 salary while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in 2017, so yeah — and there’s no way he could have turned that down. Sucks. I still thinking Lindgren can be really good when healthy, like a bonafide high-leverage reliever who faces lefties and righties, but he’s not healthy right now, and the Yankees don’t have any spare 40-man space. My guess is he (and Luis Torrens?) will not be the first good prospect the Yankees lose for nothing over the next few months. The farm system is robust and there are only so many roster spots to go around.

Piecing Pitching Together

Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

When the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman earlier in the week, it more or less solidified their bullpen. Set up now with Chapman closing and Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard behind him, the team has its coveted trio of relievers. And while I’m not a big fan of the Chapman signing — my thoughts are very similar to the ones Mike laid out in the aftermath — it does give the Yankees a more than formidable end of game crutch on which to lean. That crutch will come in handy considering the relatively weak state the rotation will likely be in.

With the obvious caveat that it’s still early, the Yankee rotation is, once again, heading into the new season with a ton of uncertainty. The only starter who can be reliably counted upon is Masahiro Tanaka. Beyond that, there are question marks. Was CC Sabathia‘s bounceback for real? Is Michael Pineda ever going to turn that corner? Will Luis Severino fall flat on his face again? Who the hell’s going to be the fifth starter? There are plenty of options for that spot, whether internal or external, but unless the Yankees swing a trade for an impact pitcher, it’s unlikely that this rotation is strong enough in general. That’s where Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell come into account.

Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Warren will spend the winter preparing as a starter, but if history repeats itself, he’ll likely end up ticketed for the bullpen, where he’s shown he can flourish as a reliever. Mitchell was slated for a big role with the Yankees in 2016, but a toe injury in Spring Training derailed that; perhaps he can get back on track by joining Warren as tandem swingmen in 2017.

Aside from Tanaka and sometimes Sabathia, the Yankee rotation doesn’t have pitchers that are likely to go deep into games. That limits the effectiveness that the trio of Clippard, Betances, and Chapman can have. To alleviate this problem, it might be wise for the Yankees to use Warren and Mitchell as more flexible relievers, ready to go multiple innings to bridge between the starter and the closing trio or to spell one of those pitchers when he needs a day off.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Both pitchers are borderline starters and exposing them to one turn through the batting order — at most — might help their effectiveness, as might the artificial boost in stuff the bullpen gives. Given the Yankees’ shaky rotation outlook and lack of experience beyond their three big relievers, getting creative with the pitching staff may be the team’s best bet for pitching success in 2017.