Thoughts two weeks before the start of the 2015 season

Ouch. (Presswire)
Ouch. (Presswire)

Opening Day is two weeks away now … well, one week and six days, but who’s counting besides everyone? I am completely over Spring Training and ready for the regular season to start now. The novelty of Grapefruit League play is gone. Let’s get this show on the road already. Anyway, I have some thoughts to share.

1. My guess right now is Masahiro Tanaka starts Opening Day, not CC Sabathia. Both are lined up to start the first game of the season — Sabathia if he stays on a normal five-day schedule, Tanaka if he stays on a six-day schedule as the Yankees hope to do as long as possible — though I think it’ll be Tanaka not because he’s the better pitcher, but because it will make it easier to give him that extra day of rest between starts. Opening Day is April 6th and the Yankees are off April 7th and April 15th. Tanaka will be able to make his first three starts with an extra day of rest without the team needing to use a sixth starter. That’s not insignificant with Chris Capuano hurt and the rotation stretched thin. The Opening Day starter doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but, in this situation, it would better allow the Yankees to give Tanaka extra rest without complicating the roster situation. That does mean something. Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow or next week, but right now I expect Tanaka to get the ball for the first game of the regular season.

2. The Rockies somewhat surprisingly released right-hander Jhoulys Chacin over the weekend, opting to pay him 45 days termination pay ($1.36M) rather than his full $5.5M salary. Chacin, 27, had a strong year in 2013, posting a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings while somehow allowing only eleven homers despite playing his home games in Coors Field. He has been getting smacked around in Spring Training though, and last year he was awful (5.40 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 63.1 innings) whenever he wasn’t sidelined by shoulder trouble. Chacin has also lost roughly three miles an hour off his fastball since that 2013 season (via Brooks Baseball):

Jhoulys Chacin velocitySalt River Fields in Arizona is outfitted with PitchFX, and it had Chacin at 88.3 mph earlier this month. That’s really bad. He averaged 91.4 mph in 2013 and 89.2 mph around the injuries in 2014. Chacin clearly isn’t the guy he was two years ago. At least not right now. It’s only a matter of time until some team signs him hoping he can get back to that 2013 form though, or even his 2010-12 form (3.64 ERA and 4.15 FIP). The Yankees could use pitching depth in general and especially after Capuano got hurt. Chacin’s worth a minor league contract just to see if he can be better outside Coors Field — he told Eno Sarris the thin air doesn’t allow his curveball to break as much as it normally does, and he feels the curve is his best pitch — but I don’t think he’s someone you could sign to an MLB contract and promise a spot on the pitching staff, let alone in the rotation. I think Adam Warren is a better starting pitcher right now than this compromised version of Chacin. Minor league contract? Great. I wouldn’t sweat it if he heads elsewhere though. I’m certain the Rockies tried to trade him before releasing him but were unable to find a taker. That says a lot about how teams feel about Chacin right now.

3. I’m not sure what the best solution is for MLB’s service time manipulation problem — I like Mike Petriello’s suggestion of making 100 days count as a full year of service time rather than 172 days, but even that is imperfect — but it’s something that needs to be addressed when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season. Obviously Kris Bryant is the hot topic right now and as annoying as it is to hear the argument day after day, it was going to take something like this to spur change. The game’s best prospect is crushing the ball in Spring Training after dominating Double-A and Triple-A last year, and he plays for a team that just announced they were contenders by signing Jon Lester and Joe Maddon. Bryant is clearly one of the 25 best players in the organization yet the Cubs would be stupid not to send him down for two weeks to delay his free agency and grab another year of his prime at a below-market salary. I can’t imagine the other players in the clubhouse would be thrilled with management fielding a lesser club (even for two weeks) in 2015 because they have an eye on 2021 though, when they’ll likely be long gone and no longer with the team. I expect the MLBPA to file a grievance if Bryant is sent down even though he’s a non-40-man roster player, and while those usually take weeks to play out (Bryant will probably be called up before the actually hearing), he could be retroactively credited with service time if MLBPA wins. That’s happened before with grievances involving injuries (player gets hurt, gets sent down, then is placed on the DL sort of thing) but not healthy assignments to the minors. Either way, I’m sure MLBPA will be adamant about fixing the service time issue come the next round of CBA negotiations.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

4. Jose Pirela suffered a concussion yet avoided a more serious injury when he crashed into the outfield wall and slammed his head on the warning track Sunday. We don’t know how long he will be out, though in all likelihood the injury eliminates any chance of Pirela making the Opening Day roster. That sucks for him the most, but remember, he was probably going to be the first one called up whenever an extra body was needed, infielder or outfielder. With Pirela out of action for the time being the Yankees lose some position player depth. Assuming Pirela is down for a few weeks, who gets called up if an extra infielder is needed? There are no minor league infielders on the 40-man roster. The Yankees would have to clear a 40-man spot (Ivan Nova to the 60-day DL is the easiest and most obvious move) for whoever they call up.  There is an open 40-man roster spot (I miscounted) so it would be easy to add Rob Refsnyder, Nick Noonan, Jonathan Galvez, whoever. There are enough spare outfielders on the 40-man roster — Ramon Flores probably moves to the front of the outfield call-up line now — so that’s not as big of a problem. The infield is pretty thin though. Pirela probably wasn’t going to make the Opening Day roster anyway, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an important depth player.

5. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend Chris Smith’s profile of Matt Harvey. I see Harvey as the perfect “next New York sports hero” following Derek Jeter‘s retirement — sorry, no one on the Yankees has that appeal — even though Harvey is basically the opposite of Jeter. Jeter was a boring quote who managed to keep his very public life private. He made it work. Harvey talks a lot, spars with his team, and has made it no secret he likes to soak up everything New York has to offer. That’s not a bad thing! Personality is good. I think the Mets need to a better job of marketing Harvey and making him that New York sports hero. It’s there for the taking. For whatever reason baseball as a whole has this old school “act like you’ve been there before” attitude that is so dull. Guys like Harvey, Yasiel Puig, and Bryce Harper have personality and it’s fun. Baseball wants to appeal to younger fans? Then start marketing these guys. (And get others like Bryant in MLB on the Opening Day roster!) The clean cut types aren’t interesting enough to draw non-baseball fans to the sport.

Yankees avoid ugly years of Cliff Lee, but missed out when he could have made a big difference

(Getty)
(Getty)

To date, the second highest traffic day* in RAB history is the day of the Cliff Lee non-trade back in 2010. I remember being off that day, sleeping in an extra hour, and waking up to the news that the Yankees were on the verge of acquiring Lee. Then throughout the day there were constant updates until, finally, no the Yankees were not getting Lee. The Mariners reportedly reneged on an agreement with New York and sent him to the Rangers.

Losing out on Lee as a free agent during the 2010-11 offseason was the first time a generation of Yankees fans experienced the team losing out on a big free agent they so obviously wanted. Like many of you, I was too young to remember the Yankees being spurned by both Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds in the same offseason 25 years ago. (Imagine how that would have gone over nowadays.) Everyone wanted Lee that offseason and the Phillies got him. It was a shock to the system.

Yesterday afternoon, the Phillies announced Lee, now 36, will again attempt to rehab the elbow injury that has been hampering him since last May. “Cliff has now attempted to twice rehabilitate this injury without having surgery. While surgery has now been recommended, it would effectively put an end to his 2015 season as the rehabilitation from the surgery would run through the end of the season. As a result, the Phillies and Cliff have mutually decided to try once again to rehabilitate the injury non-operatively, with the hope that Cliff might be able to return to pitch during the 2015 season,” said the team’s statement.

Lee has spoken to the media in Spring Training and said surgery would potentially end his career, which is why he is trying to avoid it. That makes sense. The Phillies owe him $25M this season, and since he won’t meet the innings pitched requirement to vest his option for next year, the team will pay him a $12.5M buyout after the season. Philadelphia is potentially going to pay Lee $37.5M in 2015 to throw zero pitches. Add in last season, and the Phillies could end up paying him $62.5M to make 13 starts from 2013-14. Ouch.

Needless to say, that’s a contract situation no teams wants a part of right now. The Yankees dodged a bullet by not signing Lee back during the 2010-11 offseason. They have enough bad contracts as it is. Then again, it’s not that simple. The end of Lee’s contract is really ugly, but having him at the front end could have made all the difference in the world. Remember, the Yankees were legitimate contenders from 2010-12, averaging 96 wins per season and going to the ALCS twice, and Lee was a top four pitcher in the world those years.

I find myself thinking about the non-trade in 2010 the most. The Yankees lost to Lee and the Rangers in the ALCS that year, so had the trade gone through, New York would have had Lee on their side instead of facing him. And considering what Lee did against the Rays in the ALDS, Texas probably doesn’t even make the ALCS without him that year. The trade would have changed everything — not automatically for the better, of course, but it’s really hard for me to see a scenario in which the 2010 Yankees are worse off by acquiring Lee.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In sort of the perfect world scenario, the Yankees trade for Lee in 2010, he falls in love with New York and re-signs after the season, allowing the team to trot him and CC Sabathia out to the mound in 2011-12, when both were in the prime of their careers. Or, on the other hand, maybe re-signing Lee means the Yankees don’t give Sabathia an extension when he threatens to opt-out of his contract after 2011. Either way, the Yankees would have had Lee and Sabathia in 2011, the same year they were forced to start Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett in the ALDS against the Tigers.

Of course, trading for Lee means Jesus Montero is not around to go to Seattle for Michael Pineda during the 2011-12 offseason, and that would sort of suck because Big Mike is awesome. At least he is right now. The fact of the matter is Pineda has made 13 starts in three years for the Yankees due to injury. Lee made more starts for the Rangers in 2010 than Pineda has made for the Yankees overall. The Pineda trade has indisputably not worked out as hoped to his point. Based on what we know right now, having totally awesome Cliff Lee with those teams from 2010-12 is much more preferable to having Pineda on whatever the 2015-17 Yankees look like. Those 2010-12 teams were World Series threats. Like, for real.

The Yankees passed on guys like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester this offseason because they’re sick of getting burned by long-term six and seven-year contracts, and I am totally on board with that. Lee falls into the same category — another long-term deal that would have burned the team in the long run. (The Yankees reportedly offered Lee six years, remember. He took five from the Phillies.) The circumstances are very different though. The Yankees were a legitimate contender when Lee was available and he’s a piece who could have put them over the top early on in his contract. Scherzer or Lester this winter would have been an attempt to prop up an otherwise mediocre roster.

There’s a time to go for it and a time to scale back, and right now the Yankees are in a place where scaling back and regrouping make sense. A few years ago, that was the not the case. They were in position to win because their top players — Sabathia, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Mariano Rivera, etc. — were all still very productive, and taking on another big contract like Lee would have made them even better because man, he was a difference-maker. He wouldn’t have guaranteed another World Championship, but he sure would have helped. So yeah, the Yankees dodged a bullet because they don’t have Lee’s contract on the books right now. They also would have been much better off with him from 2010-12.

* The busiest day in RAB history? December 6th, 2013. That day the Yankees re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, lost both Cano and Granderson to free agency, and signed Carlos Beltran. It’ll be hard to top a day with that much major news.

Thoughts following two weeks of Grapefruit League play

This ball wasn't caught (GIF). (Presswire)
This ball was not caught (GIF). (Presswire)

The Yankees had their first off-day of the Grapefruit League schedule yesterday and return to action later tonight, when CC Sabathia makes his spring debut. That’s sort of a big deal. It’s been a long time since the big man pitched in any sort of game situation. Anyway, here are some thoughts on this Tuesday morning.

1. Needless to say, Sabathia’s outing is pretty important, just like Masahiro Tanaka‘s spring debut was important last week. The results don’t really matter, but does he make it through the outing in one piece? Does his stuff and/or command look further compromised following the injury? Sabathia is 34 years old with nearly 3,000 career innings on arm. I’m not expecting any velocity to come back with a healthy knee. I just want to see him do a better job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. Hopefully with a more stable landing leg and improved balance from the additional weight — that sounds weird but it’s something Sabathia has mentioned as a positive — Sabathia can hit the corners and drive the ball down around the knees consistently. If he does that, I think he’ll be effective. Maybe not an ace, but someone the Yankees can run out there every fifth day and have a reasonable chance to win.

2. A few weeks ago I noted Chasen Shreve was the extra guy in the bullpen early in Spring Training, not someone scheduled to pitch specific days, which may have meant he was on the outside of the Opening Day roster looking in. Shreve has since joined the ranks of the “scheduled pitchers” and the Yankees have actually made a point of testing him against right-handed batters. In his last outing, Shreve was sent out to face switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval (pop-up) and righty hitters Mike Napoli (strikeout), Xander Bogaerts (walk), Ryan Hanigan (fly out), Mookie Betts (ground out), and Dustin Pedroia (ground out). That’s about as good a test as you can find for a lefty reliever in mid-March. Shreve has had success against both righties and lefties in the minors but his exposure to MLB hitters is very limited. Seems like the Yankees specifically sent him out there against the Red Sox to see how he handled all those right-handed batters. He did well and that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for the roster now, but it didn’t hurt his chances either.

3. At this point it’s clear Andrew Bailey won’t be a part of the Opening Day roster. He has yet to get into a game — he did throw a simulated game this weekend — and there probably isn’t enough time in Spring Training for him to show he’s ready to face big league hitters. That makes sense. The Yankees have plenty of bullpen options, so they can afford to send Bailey to Triple-A for a few weeks to gauge his actual effectiveness. They don’t have to continue to evaluate him in games that count. If Bailey gets on a regular reliever’s schedule — pitching in back-to-back games, entering in the middle of an inning, that sort of thing — and handles it well, then the Yankees can call him up. There’s no need for him to be on the Opening Day roster at this point. There are too many other quality relievers in the organization to fiddle around with Bailey, trying to see if he can help any. Let him do that in the minors.

Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)
Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)

4. Another thing that is clear: Rob Refsnyder was never seriously considered for the second base job. He’s seen basically no time in the field with Didi GregoriusStephen Drew‘s been playing with Gregorius so the two could get comfortable with each other as the double play combination — and he hasn’t gotten a whole lot of premium playing time. He’s the guy coming off the bench with the subs and playing later in games. That’s not how teams treat players they want to see win a job, or at least compete for a job. And you know what? I am 100% cool with this. Refsnyder needs more time in Triple-A to work on his defense — this is painfully obvious from watching him play the last two weeks, right? Routine plays have been not so routine with him this spring — and I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before. He just doesn’t look natural at second base, and that’s not surprising. Refsnyder was an outfielder as recently as 2012, remember. He’ll go to Triple-A and hopefully work on his defense. That’s partially why Drew was brought in — to give Refsnyder more time to work on what is a glaring but potentially correctable flaw.

5. Eighteen months ago, the Rangers had an enviable quartet of starting pitchers in Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison. Not a single one of them will be on the Opening Day roster this year. Darvish and Perez will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Holland has been slowed in camp by a shoulder issue, and Harrison is trying to work his way back from a career-threatening back injury. In fact, the entire Rangers organization is a cautionary tale of just how quickly things can go south. Two or three years ago they looked poised to become a perennial powerhouse and World Series contender. Now they’re coming off a 95-loss season with a ton of awful contracts and core players dealing with major injuries. The Yankees haven’t been great by any stretch of the imagination these last two years, but geez, I’d much rather be the Yankees going forward than the Rangers. Who would have said that a year or two ago? At least New York’s disaster contracts are expiring relatively soon.

Thoughts following the first Grapefruit League game

Dread Judge. (Presswire)
Dread Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees played their first Grapefruit League game of the year yesterday afternoon and boy was it great to see baseball back. Yeah, the game ended in a tie, but who cares. Here are some thoughts after the first organized game of 2015.

1. First things first: I already love the new pace of play rules. I thought the game was more crisp with batters required to keep one foot in the box after taking a pitch — a few players, including Edwin Encarnacion, forgot the new rules and stepped out of the box, but that’s why they’re using Spring Training as an opportunity to adjust — though the whole “two minutes and 25 seconds between innings” thing is very much a work in progress. There were more than a few occasions when pitchers weren’t ready to pitch when the clock struck zero, particularly when a reliever came out of the bullpen. I guess jogging in from the outfield and warming up in that short a time takes some hustle. They’re going to have to adjust though. The rules aren’t changing. Based on that one game, I’m a fan of hitters keeping their foot in the box. There was noticeably less downtime between pitches.

2. First thing I noticed about Aaron Judge: good gravy is he massive. Tall and thick but not fat. He’s a massive human being. Second thing I noticed: he stands really far off the plate. Take a look (screen cap via Pinstripe Alley):

Aaron Judge

I suppose that makes sense because Judge is huge and has those long arms, so he can stand a mile off the plate and still cover the outer half. It should also allow him to better cover the inner half. Teams will undoubtedly try to bust him inside because he’s so tall — they don’t want him to extend those arms because bad things will happen — and this seems to put him in a better position to get around on inside pitches. I do want to see what happens when Judge gets to the upper levels and pitchers are better able to locate fastballs on the outer half. That’s a lot of real estate to cover in a short amount of time.

3. Luis Severino‘s first inning of work could not have gone any better if you were a Yankees fan looking to be impressed. He struck out the first two batters — one looking, one swinging — then shattered a bat to get a weak ground ball for the final out. Severino’s second inning didn’t go as well but it wasn’t like he got knocked around. He allowed two ground ball singles back up the middle then two bloops to the shallow outfield, leading to a run. Just one of those innings. At least one scout was impressed — “Love his changeup … very high ceiling,” said the scout to Erik Boland while noting Severino sat 94-96 — and I’m guessing we’ll see Severino another few times before camp lets out. The first inning was drool worthy. The second wasn’t as good but those are the types of innings Severino will have to learn to battle through to limit the damage. It’s part of growing.

4. Jacob Lindgren‘s inning of work (actually 0.2 innings of work) didn’t go nearly as smoothly as Severino’s first inning thanks in part to a Rob Refsnyder throwing error. He allowed two soft hits and struck out one around Refsnyder’s error. Here’s a GIF of Lindgren’s much ballyhooed slider:

Jacob Lindgren slider

That pitch actually went through John Ryan Murphy‘s legs behind the plate and to the backstop. Murphy bobbled a few pitches and seemed to have a lot of trouble catching Lindgren’s slider. He’s not alone — Lindgren threw 18 wild pitches in 55.1 college innings last year and nine wild pitches in 25 pro innings. No, wild pitches are not passed balls, but they’re functionally the same thing. Lindgren’s slider appears to be hard to catch because it moves so much and so sharply. Also, yesterday’s look made it seem like Lindgren throws two sliders. One he buries in the dirt for swings and misses (like the one in the GIF) and a shorter slider he throws for strikes, almost like a cutter. He’ll be an interesting guy to look at once he gets to MLB and we get some PitchFX data.

5. And finally, this is Spring Training and these games aren’t all that important, but one thing that always seems to mean something is bullpen usage. The high priority guys — MLB pitchers, top prospects, etc. — always work on set schedules while the lower priority guys are the extra arms who may or may not be used that day depending on what happens in the game. The guys who serve as extra arms are usually those ticketed for the minors. Yesterday, lefty Chasen Shreve was one of those extra arms. He got into the game in the ninth after Judge’s game-tying homer but wasn’t scheduled like Severino, Lindgren, Nick Goody, and Branden Pinder. That makes me wonder if he is on the outside of the Opening Day roster picture at the moment. That could always change in the coming weeks, there’s plenty of Spring Training left, though this is something I will keep an eye on these next few weeks. Maybe the Yankees think three lefties in the bullpen is one too many even though Shreve — who looked pretty good yesterday — Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson can all get righties out.

Thoughts prior to the start of Grapefruit League play

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I know it’s only Spring Training, but the Yankees are playing a real live baseball game today, and dammit that makes me happy. It’s been a long offseason, what can I say. So, before the Yankees embark on a month’s worth of meaningless yet still fun baseball, I have some thoughts to share.

1. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine are making the trip to Clearwater today and I don’t think that’s insignificant. Those two are competing for the backup catcher’s job — a competition that starts today — even if all signs point to Murphy being the favorite. Romine reportedly came to camp in excellent shape and is hellbent on making the decision tough for the team. This is one of those situations where Spring Training stats will matter. If Romine comes out and knocks the crap out of the ball for a few weeks, the Yankees will be hesitant to trade him or try to pass him through waivers at the end of camp. I don’t think it will happen, but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the team decides to send Murphy to Triple-A Scranton come Opening Day and give Romine what amounts to a few extra weeks to audition himself as Brian McCann‘s backup in the regular season.

2. Prospects I am most excited to see in camp: Jacob Lindgren, Aaron Judge, and Rob Refsnyder. I mean, yeah, I want to see all the prospects, and those three are among the most obvious “must see” prospects in camp, but I have my reasons. Lindgren because I want to see just how MLB ready his slider looks. Judge because he’s a monster — “We have a defensive end in camp,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty about the club’s top prospect — and it’s not often you get to see someone that big and that athletic on baseball field. And Refsnyder because I want to see just how bad his defense really is at second base. That stuff can be easy to overstate. Everyone gets graded on a curve in Spring Training, especially early in Spring Training, but get enough looks at a guy in camp and you can learn something. With so many games set to be broadcast this month, we should get a chance to see all of the team’s top prospects multiple times.

3. Spring Training is a time for optimism, but inevitably someone is going to get hurt to knock us all down a peg. This year that player is catching prospect Luis Torrens, who is facing a potentially serious shoulder injury. (We should know more soon but early reports indicate he may need season-ending surgery.) Torrens is one of my favorite prospects in the system and I thought he had a chance this year to really zoom up some prospect rankings and possibly into next year’s top 100 lists. He’s a very good defender despite a general lack of experience behind the plate, and basically all he needs to do offensively is get stronger. The approach and hitting smarts are already there. Hopefully whatever the injury is, Torrens can rebound and continue his development. He’s still really young (18), after all. But make no mistake, nothing good comes from this injury.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

4. Consider this my annual “please oh please let Jose Ramirez stay healthy this year” blurb. Please let him stay healthy. Please. He missed most of last year with a lat strain but is supposedly healthy now, and yesterday he impressed Mariano Rivera with his live batting practice session. “I like him, he looks stronger. He can be a guy that can help the team. He has tremendous stuff, electric stuff. He has it all. He is a good kid and put on weight in the lower half and his legs are a lot stronger,” said Rivera to George King. Ramirez won’t do what Dellin Betances did last year — you can’t put those kind of expectations on anyone — but I do think he has impact reliever potential if he ever stays healthy. He topped out at 98.3 mph during his brief MLB cameo last year according to PitchFX, and when opponents swung at his changeup or slider, they missed more than 30% of the time. I want to see more of that guy going forward. The tools for dominance are there.

5. Last, but certainly not least, I just want to say I’m so happy baseball is back. I’m one of those weird people who enjoys Spring Training games — meaningless exhibition games are fun in their own way — so I’m very much looking forward to Grapefruit League play beginning today. This was a long offseason because the Yankees missed the postseason — it felt longer than last offseason for whatever reason — and I’m glad it’s all behind us now. No more rumors, thankfully. That stuff ran its course and I’m ready to move on. Eight months of baseball — some of it waaay more stressful than the rest — begins today and I don’t think I could have waited another day. Hooray for the end of the offseason.

Thoughts before position players report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
#TeamShorts (Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers have been in camp since last Friday, and today position players officially join them in Spring Training. Many of them — including Alex Rodriguez! — have already been in Tampa for a few days now. I’ve already said what I had to say about Yoan Moncada. Let’s move on to some Spring Training related thoughts now.

1. A-Rod reported to camp on Monday and apparently the Yankees were upset he showed up early without letting them know. “He’s learned nothing. He’s the same old guy. He just did what he wanted to do,” said one executive to Mark Feinsand. This has to be, hands down, the stupidest possible thing to be upset about, especially since Feinsand says A-Rod has showed up to the complex without advance notice lots of times in the past. This isn’t some kind of isolated incident. It’s so dumb I refuse to believe it’s true. Maybe Feinsand’s source is just one guy with a grudge? I hope so. Alex did not play at all last year and has barely played the last two years. Most people — well, rational people, and maybe that’s not most people — would be happy he showed up early to camp to get prepared for the season. Good grief.

2. CC Sabathia said he regained some weight this offseason because it made him more comfortable. “I lost a bunch of weight drastically, pretty quick, two years ago, and was kind of off-balance. I didn’t know really how my body was working,” he said to Feinsand. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this in the past: I wonder how much the weight loss led to Sabathia’s ineffectiveness the last two years. Not necessarily the reduced fastball velocity, I don’t expect that to come back at all at his age (he’ll probably lose more velocity going forward, if anything), but it seemed like his command was all over the place. Sabathia was leaving pitches up in the zone and over the plate way more often than he had from 2009-12. I wonder if his mechanics were all out of sync because of the weight loss. There’s no real way to prove this. It’s just a thought. Hopefully the extra weight — reportedly only ten pounds — gets his mechanics and command back in place without further complicating his knee issue.

3. I hate that this is happening but I now find myself optimistic about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow because of some stupid early Spring Training bullpen sessions. I’ve been doing this blog thing for a while now. I know early spring optimism is for suckers, but dammit, I can’t help myself. Tanaka said he is “absolutely fine” the other day and revealed an MRI in October came back clean. Dammit. Stop saying that. I spent all winter accepting Tanaka had a pretty severe elbow injury and would need Tommy John surgery, likely sooner rather later, yet here I am thinking he might actually make 30 starts and dominate this summer. I’m setting myself up for some major disappointment because of two stupid bullpen sessions in February. Spring Training optimism is just the worst.

4. I have nothing to back this up, but my hunch is the Yankees want Andrew Bailey to win the final bullpen spot. That would be the perfect world scenario. Bailey shows he’s healthy and effective in Grapefruit League play — he said he feels a “night and day difference” between this spring and last spring following shoulder capsule surgery — then claims the last bullpen spot. That doesn’t mean he’ll close or anything like that, I just think they want him to be healthy enough to make the team. They have all this bullpen depth and Bailey will give others like Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve more time in Triple-A. And if Bailey stinks, they can cut him loose early in the season and move on. He wouldn’t be hanging around in the minors wasting bullets.

5. Last week I said I was most interested to see Nathan Eovaldi in camp, and among the position players, I’m most interested in seeing Didi Gregorius. Yes, I know those two are the new additions and that’s a bit of a cop-out, but they are important long-term pieces and this will be my first extended look at them. Didi’s defensive reputation is top notch but the numbers say he’s been average in his relatively short big league career, so I want to see him with my own eyes. It appears there is evidence he is capable of highlight plays but will occasionally have a brain fart and botch the routine one. If true, he’s not unlike many young middle infielders. I also want to see his at-bats. Gregorius has a slightly above-average 8.1% walk rate in his career, but 56.5% of his career plate appearances have come batting eighth in the NL. Opposing pitchers pitched around him to get to the pitcher on more than a few occasions, I’m sure. So I just want to see his at-bats. Does he really know the zone? Is he overmatched by good velocity? Can he handle breaking pitches? So on and so on.

Thoughts after the Yankees lose out on Yoan Moncada

At least I don't have to look for photos anymore. (El Nuevo Herald)
At least I don’t have to look for photos anymore. (El Nuevo Herald)

After three private workouts and several weeks of waiting, 19-year-old Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada finally signed yesterday … with the Red Sox. Needless to say, the reaction was not a pleasant one in Yankeeland. Not after all the buildup and anticipation. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the whole Moncada situation. Read ’em and weep.

1. At this point it’s clear passing on Moncada was a financial decision, not a scouting decision. All reports indicate the Yankees loved him as a player but were unwilling to up their offer from $27M. Here’s what Brian Cashman told reporters about losing out on Moncada yesterday, via Chad Jennings:

“We made our final and best (offer) yesterday,” Cashman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. I would doubt there’s any disagreement on the scouting assessment of the player. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit. We put our best foot forward yesterday, it was a significant offer, but it fell short of where he’s rumored to have signed.”

“If we were going to go all out, there would have been more,” Cashman said. “We went to where we were comfortable going, and it was an uncomfortable number to put forth. But it still fell short. We’re proud of the players that we did sign and the work we’ve done on the international side, but we’re continuing to look at what’s available out there, and we were involved in the Moncada efforts until the very end. Yesterday they said they were going to make a decision and wanted your best offer. We presented that. It just didn’t work.”

Alright, so if the baseball people liked the player but the offer fell a few million short, then it was stupid Hal Steinbrenner’s fault, right? Except later in the day Wally Matthews and Jon Heyman reported Hal had “strong interest” in Moncada and it was “others” in the organization who weren’t comfortable going the extra mile and dropping $60M+ on a teenager. Who the hell overrules the owner? This seems like damage control. It looks like someone is trying to save face.

I mean really, who could those “others” possibly be? There’s not many non-Steinbrenners between Cashman and Hal in the organizational hierarchy. Did president Randy Levine say no? Was it Anthony Bruno, the team’s CFO? Did the four other Steinbrenners overrule Hal? Or was a trusted advisor like Gene Michael not sold? We’re probably never going to know the answer to that, obviously. This was pretty clearly a decision made over the baseball operations department’s head and that’s always a tough pill to swallow. Those are the decisions that always seem to turn out the worst.

2. The Yankees are not cheap. Let’s stop that nonsense right now. They just committed $175M to an unknown (like Moncada) in Masahiro Tanaka last winter. Their offer to Moncada was roughly 325% greater than the previous record for an international player under the current system. The problem is that they’ve spent a lot of money in recent years and gotten nowhere near the return they expected. Some of that was surprising, like Mark Teixeira turning into a dud by year four of an eight-year contract, and some of it we could see coming from a mile away. (Shockingly, 36-year-old Carlos Beltran was not immune to aging.)

All that dead money — Teixeira, Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia will make $83.125M in 2015 and I’ll set the over/under at a combined 3.0 WAR right now — seems to have made the Yankees gun shy with huge contracts. And here’s the thing: I’ve been hoping the Yankees would scale back their spending the last year or two. At the least the spending that involves committing top dollar for decline years in bulk, like most major free agent contracts. Passing on Robinson Cano at that price was 100% the right move for the organization in my opinion. Same with passing on Max Scherzer at that price. It’s only a matter of time until those contracts go horribly wrong, and enough contracts have already gone horribly wrong around these parts.

But Moncada is a different story. We’re talking about a 19-year-old with his entire career ahead of him who most people consider a future star. That doesn’t seem like the type of player the Yankees should show restraint with, not after spending all offseason talking about how important it was to get younger. They let David Robertson walk because they valued the dinky little supplemental first round draft pick, remember. If the Yankees want to scale back their spending because they’re tired of being burned by huge contracts, fine. But it shouldn’t be a blanket policy. Not all free agents are created equal. Moncada is a franchise cornerstone type of player and if they’re not going to step outside your comfort zone to sign someone like that, when should we ever expect it to happen?

3. Losing out on Moncada is pretty bad, and to make matters worse, this might be the last time the Yankees ever have access to a player like that for nothing but money. Like, ever. Because they exceeded their spending pool last year, they can’t sign an international amateur for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Unless another Moncada shows up and is cleared to sign before June 25th (almost certainly not happening), the Yankees are out of the mix until the 2017-18 signing period. And by then an international draft may be implemented. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2016 and MLB has been pushing for an international draft for years. The Moncada bonus coupled with New York’s spending spree last year is probably going to rekindle those efforts.

Now, just to be clear, this doesn’t mean the Yankees are out on all top Cuban players, just the ones subject to the international spending pools like Moncada and Andy Ibanez. Guys are over the age of 23 — like Jose Abreu, Rusney Castillo, and Yasmany Tomas last year — are not subject to the spending pools and New York can still sign them as if they were any other free agent. Those guys are good! But the Yankees are now completely out of the mix for anyone younger than that. This isn’t an “oh well we didn’t get Moncada, we can get the next guy instead” situation. There’s a hard cap on the club’s international spending the next two signing periods and they simply won’t be able to compete for the top talent.

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

4. Moncada is not the first Cuban player the Yankees have failed to sign in recent years. I don’t remember them being seriously involved for Abreu or Yasiel Puig, but they were very much in the mix for Castillo, Tomas, Adeiny Hechavarria, Aledmys Diaz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Aroldis Chapman. (If I’m remembering correctly, the Yankees invited Chapman to Yankee Stadium for a game during the 2009 World Series in an effort to woo him to New York.) Obviously they ended up with none of them. The team hasn’t signed a top Cuban player — sorry, Ronnie Mustelier, Adonis Garcia, and Omar Luis — since Jose Contreras a baseball lifetime ago.

This is a problem. It’s a talent source the Yankees have not necessarily ignored, but one they haven’t tapped into. They’re continually coming up short. Almost every other big market team has signed a top Cuban talent at this point — the only exceptions I can think of are the Mets, who haven’t acted like a big market team in years, the Giants and Tigers — and even the smaller market teams have gotten in on the act. Remember where Cespedes, Chapman, and Tomas ended up. Maybe this is a case of the Yankees being timid after getting burned by Contreras — it did seem like they were scared of Japanese players for a while after Kei Igawa, right? — but it can’t last. If Dermis Garcia busts, are they going to ignore players from the Dominican Republic? Of course not. That’d be silly. At some point they’re going to have to take the plunge and dive back into the Cuban talent pool. These players have generally shown a very high rate of return so far. The league is too competitive to do nothing but dip your toe.

5. For the record, I totally expected the Yankees to sign Moncada. Once we found out last week that they had brought him back for second and third private workouts, I was convinced he was theirs. I never bought the Dodgers as a real threat — they reportedly already have deals in place with 2015-16 international prospects and can’t renege on those unless they want to destroy their relationships with Latin American agents — and I figured that if it came down to an old fashioned bidding war, the Yankees would win. Like Tanaka last year. They wanted him and they got him. I thought the same would happen with Moncada. Joke’s on me, I guess.