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.

For better or worse, the Yankees stuck to their plan and accomplished their goals this offseason

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It all started last September. One day after the Yankees completed their second straight postseason-less season, Joe Girardi held his annual end of season press conference and said “at times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year.” Three days later, Hal Steinbrenner said young players are “going play a big part” going forward during a radio interview.

Over the last few seasons, comments like that were lip service. The Yankees always seemed to talk about getting younger but never actually did it. And even when they tried, it blew up in their faces. Think Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy starting 2008 in the rotation, or Michael Pineda blowing out his shoulder almost immediately after being acquired in a blockbuster trade. Incorporating young players hasn’t been easy for New York.

This offseason though, the Yankees stuck to their guns and got younger. They got younger, added more depth to the roster, and increased flexibility, both roster-wise and financially. The accomplished that with trades and by not signing any free agents to a massive long-term contract. It would have been very easy to throw millions at a proven AL East horse like Jon Lester or a Cy Young winner like Max Scherzer, especially given the need in the rotation, but the team said no.

Instead, the Yankees replaced Derek Jeter with 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, not a veteran free agent like Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera. Hiroki Kuroda was replaced by 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi. Francisco Cervelli was traded to create room for John Ryan Murphy. David Carpenter and Justin Wilson are younger than Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton. Stephen Drew was brought back to play second but he’ll have to look over his shoulder at Rob Refsnyder. Heck, in a way Alex Rodriguez was replaced by the younger Chase Headley at the hot corner.

The Yankees went younger at just about every position they feasibly could this offseason, with the only exception being second base, where Refsnyder looms. Their existing contract commitments meant they were stuck with incumbents in the outfield, at first base, and behind the plate. There was nothing they could realtistically do there. If there was, I’m sure the team would have gone younger somehow. That was the plan. Get younger wherever possible.

“We had numerous goals, but two of the goals were certainly to get younger and better defensively,” said Hal to David Lennon last month. “One of our goals was to get younger (and) I think we did that at a few positions,” Brian Cashman recently told Nick Cafardo. And, I think if you ask Cashman, he’d say he wanted to do this years ago but couldn’t for whatever reason, either because the farm system wasn’t good enough, the right players weren’t available, or because the mandate was to win at any cost.

Clearly, that all changed this offseason. The Yankees did not pay top dollar for free agents like they have so many times before — Headley and Andrew Miller both reportedly turned down more money to come to New York — even though I’m sure the temptation was great. The stated plan was to get younger even if we didn’t believe it at first, and get younger is what they did. Mission accomplished in that regard.

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

The question now is this: are the Yankees better? They executed their plan but a) did they execute it well, and b) was it even the right plan in the first place? I guess that’s three questions. I have no idea if the Yankees will be better this year than last but my feeling is they will be several wins better if the pitching holds up reasonably well. If Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia get hurt, what are you going to do, the Yankees are more or less doomed from the start in that case. If they can get, say, 80 starts out of Tanaka, Sabathia, Pineda, and Ivan Nova this year instead of the 45 they got last year (yes, 45), then yeah I think they’ll better.

More importantly, I think the Yankees are set to be in much better shape a year or two down the road then they were prior to this offseason. They added potential long-term solutions at shortstop and in the rotation with Eovaldi, and they didn’t lock themselves into another enormous deal for a player either in or about to enter his decline years. Scherzer or Lester obviously would have made the team better until they go the way of Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and we’re counting down the days until their contracts expire. Are Gregorius and Eovaldi guaranteed to be those long-term solutions? Nope. But that’s the risk you take with young players.

As for the other two questions, yes I think the Yankees had the right plan and I do think they executed it well. We could sit around and nitpick all day — they should have found another way to get Gregorius and kept Shane Greene instead of trading for Eovaldi, blah blah blah — but what’s done is done and I think the Yankees fared well. They traded five players off the MLB roster (Greene, Cervelli, Kelley, Martin Prado, David Phelps) and the only one of those five with the ability to make us say “damn I really wish the Yankees had kept him” in two years is Greene. They surrendered those guys and both got younger and received potential impact pieces in return. That makes sense to me.

The Yankees changed course this offseason and it needed to be done. The whole “throw money at every problem” plan doesn’t work as well as it once did because free agency kinda stinks nowadays. All the best players are signing long-term extensions. Cashman & Co. retooled and got younger were they could. The prospect of tearing it all down and starting from scratch like the Astros or Cubs just wasn’t going to happen because it can’t happen. There are too many unmovable contracts on the roster. The Yankees got younger and I think they’re going to continue to look to get younger. They developed a plan and stuck to it. Now it just has to work.

Thoughts before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees are, officially, going to retire Nos. 20, 46, and 51 this coming season, plus pitchers and catchers are set to report to Tampa on Friday. Lots going on in Yankeeland at the moment. I have thoughts.

1. I can’t imagine any Yankees fan is surprised Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada will have their numbers retired. All three are very well deserving and were major homegrown pieces at the center of the team’s most recent dynasty. I’m not sure what took so long for Bernie — he hasn’t played 2006, it’s been nearly a decade already — but better late than never, I guess. Maybe they wanted to wait until Pettitte, Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter retired so they could have all the ceremonies close together. Either way, I’m happy all of these guys are being honored soon. They’re all among my all-time favorite players, and watching them play and win World Series (plural!) was a huge part of my childhood growing up. I remember watching all of them as rookies, and it’s now it’s sorta weird I’ll be watching them have their numbers retired.

2. Inevitably, as soon as we all learned No. 46 is going to be retired, there were snide comments about Pettitte’s performance-enhancing drug history. All of it came from non-Yankees fans, because duh. Non-Yankees fans and Chuck Knoblauch. Anyway, it’s pretty obvious there’s a double standard with the PED stuff. Players people like (Pettitte, David Ortiz, etc.) mostly get a free pass while the players everyone hate (A-Rod!) don’t. That’s just the way it is. I’m so over the PED stuff now. It would be nice if players didn’t cheat, but, as long as there is baseball and sports in general, players are going to cheat. That’s life. The Yankees are willing to overlook Pettitte’s HGH history and they’re not alone. Look at the contracts given to Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera this offseason. If the player can help you win, teams will overlook some stuff. There’s no sense in getting upset about it. This is baseball. Morality takes a backseat.

3. The Yankees are retiring a lot of numbers in a short period of time — assuming Derek Jeter’s number is retired soon, it’ll be six retired numbers (2, 6, 20, 42, 46, 51) in the span of three or four years — but this is an outlier and not some sort of evidence the team retires too many numbers. Are there some numbers that maybe shouldn’t be retired? Sure. But that’s true of just about every team. The Yankees are retiring six numbers in the span of three or four years after retiring two numbers in the previous 20 years (23 and 49) and seven in the previous 40 years (9, 10, 15, 23, 32, 44, 49). It just so happens they had a lot of great players at the same time recently and all of them deserve to have their numbers retired. Once this latest round of retirements is over — it looks like it’ll be a long time before another number is retired after this batch, the Yankees have no obvious candidates aside from A-Rod, and lol that’ll never happen — the team will have 21 retired numbers overall. Twenty-one retired numbers in more than a century as the greatest franchise in the sport. They’re not going to run out of numbers anytime soon. We’ll all be long gone and the sun will swallow the Earth before they have to start wearing triple digits.

(Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
(Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

4. Alright, enough with the number retirement talk. Aside from the injured guys (Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, specifically), the player I am most looking forward to seeing in camp is by far Nathan Eovaldi. He’s clearly someone with a lot of ability who still needs to figure some things out, and I’m interested to see what sort of the adjustments the Yankees help him make, if any. Eovaldi reported to Tampa a while ago and told Anthony McCarron he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have been “just working on the offspeed pitches, getting a little more consistency.” Given his velocity — Eovaldi averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seamer last year, the fourth best velocity among the 88 qualified starters in 2014 — I think he’s a good candidate to pitch up in the zone more, hopefully getting more swings and misses and weak pop-ups. Also, looking at his pitch location chart, it definitely seems like Eovaldi could benefit from pitching inside against righties more often. Especially since he has a lower arm slot and would make things really uncomfortable for righties. Then again, what the hell do I know. All eyes will be on Eovaldi because he’s the new rotation addition and all that, but I am genuinely curious to see if the team tries to make any adjustments early in camp. He just turned 25, remember. He’s 20 months younger than reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. Eovaldi has been okay to date in his career (95 ERA+) and the Yankee acquired him in hopes of helping him become great going forward.

5. Alright, so who’s going to be the random player who has a huge Spring Training and everyone wants to make the team? Last year it was Yangervis Solarte and he actually made the team, but that was a big time outlier. Solarte is the exception, not the rule, but that won’t stop everyone from saying “look at Solarte last year!” when talking about this spring’s flavor of the month. My first guess was going to be Kyle Roller, but I don’t think he’ll get enough playing time in camp for everyone to fall in love with him. He’ll have to compete with Mark Teixeira, Garrett Jones, and Greg Bird for at-bats at first base and a million others for at-bats at DH. Instead, I’ll go with utility man Cole Figueroa. He is an elite bat control guy (10.6 BB% and 7.3 K% in nearly 1,400 Triple-A plate appearances from 2012-14), which is a good recipe for a random BABIP spike in Spring Training, plus he plays a ton of positions, and that means he’d fit well on the bench. Unlike last year, when the bench was pretty much wide open, the Yankees don’t have many open roster spots heading into camp, so there’s no real room for a surprise guy like Solarte. Not that they’re often worth carrying on the Opening Day roster anyway.

The five most interesting Yankees ZiPS projections

2015 ZiPS

Early last week, as part of his annual series at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projections for the 2015 Yankees. As always, projections don’t mean a whole lot of anything. They aren’t predictions — projections are an estimate of current talent level — and while ZiPS has historically been accurate on a macro level, there are always individual outliers. Projections are a completely objective look at a player and a conversation starter, that’s all.

The graphic above shows the rough WAR projections for the Yankees’ regulars. The team’s full ZiPS projections are right here, so check them out at your own convenience. I want to focus on five players with projections that stood out as interesting to me, either for good reasons or bad reasons. Let’s get to it …

Brian McCann: +3.0 WAR

Catcher defense is still very difficult to quantify and ZiPS doesn’t handle it well, so there’s no point in looking at McCann’s projected WAR. The most important thing is ZiPS sees him as a .249/.316/.431 (.325 wOBA) hitter this coming season, which is way better than the .232/.286/.406 (.306 wOBA) line he put up last year. It’s down slightly from his .252/.329/.441 (.332 wOBA) line with the Braves from 2011-13 but still in the same ballpark. That’s encouraging.

Remember, ZiPS knows all about McCann’s heavy career workload and catcher aging curves and all that. It knows that catchers McCann’s age tend to continue declining once they’ve started declining, yet it still expects him to bounce back in 2015. That’s because it sees his .231 BABIP last summer and knows it was out of line with his .283 career mark. That said, it only has him getting back to .260 BABIP. This 100% objective computer system doesn’t expect McCann to slide into uselessness just yet and for some reason I find that reassuring.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Didi Gregorius: +1.6 WAR

Defensive stats are sketchy and defensive projections are even sketchier. ZiPS pegs Gregorius as a +1 defender, which is actually better than his career UZR (-3.6) and DRS (0) numbers at short, but not in line with his reputation. Is it possible Didi’s defensive skills have been overstated? Oh hell yeah. It happens all the time, especially with players who can’t hit. But, as I explained a few weeks ago, the scouting reports and Inside Edge data make it seem Gregorius is a standout defender with a knack for the occasional mental mistake on routine plays. That is something that can be improved with experience, in theory.

Anyway, aside from the defense, ZiPS has Didi as a .251/.307/.369 (.295 wOBA) hitter and that sorta stinks. The league average shortstop put up a .251/.306/.363 (.297 wOBA) line last year though, so Gregorius is projected as almost a perfectly league average hitting shortstop. There’s nothing sexy about that, but Derek Jeter did hit .256/.304/.313 (.279 wOBA) last season, and that’s really really bad. Even at the league shortstop average, Didi will be a big upgrade at the plate. Add in even +1 defense, and he’s an even bigger upgrade. The Yankees got -2.3 WAR from their shortstops a year ago, easily the worst in baseball. Gregorius is looking very much like a multi-win upgrade even with the modest ZiPS projections.

Nathan Eovaldi: +1.1 WAR

To me, Eovaldi is the perfect example of a pitcher poised to exceed projections. ZiPS only knows the stats, remember. It doesn’t know Masahiro Tanaka has a tiny tear in his UCL, for example. It doesn’t know Chasen Shreve decided to throw harder last year. And it doesn’t know Eovaldi appeared to improve his changeup late last season or that he is going from an atrocious pitch-framer (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) to an elite one (McCann) or that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a long history of improving strikeout rates. Those are three ZiPS ignored factors that could have a major impact going forward. Eovaldi is projected for a 4.51 ERA (4.16 FIP) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms that by a full run this coming season. Okay, fine, let’s say half-a-run instead. Either way, I like Eovaldi’s chances of exceeding ZiPS.

Justin Wilson: -0.1 WAR

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So ZiPS isn’t a fan of New York’s new lefty middle reliever. Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career innings and the projection system has him as a true talent 4.31 ERA (4.54 FIP) pitcher in 2015. His strikeout and walk rate projections (23.6 K% and 12.8 K%) are right in line with his 2014 performance (23.8 K% and 11.7 BB%), so the difference is all in home run rate. After allowing eight homers in his first 138.1 big league innings, ZiPS sees Wilson as an eight homers in 64.2 innings guy right now. That … seems weird.

Yes, Wilson is moving into a much more hitter friendly ballpark. Yankee Stadium had a 111 HR Park Factor last summer — that means it inflated homer production to 11% more than the league average — while PNC Park had an 88 HR Park Factor, so that’s a big difference. Enough to go from a 0.52 HR/9 from 2012-14 to 1.11 HR/9 in 2015? Maybe! That just seems like an exorbitant spike in homer rate, especially for a pitcher with a career 50.9% ground ball rate.

Reliever homer rates can be pretty volatile year to year because they inherently work in small samples, maybe 60-70 innings per year. One single homer results in a pretty big change in a reliever’s homer rate. Five dingers in 50 innings is 0.90 HR/9. Four is 0.72. Six is 1.08. Those are pretty big swings that result from one swing of the bat, one gust of wind, a couple degrees of temperature, stuff like that. ZiPS sees Wilson being replacement level because it expects him to start serving up long balls, but reliever homer rates are really volatile. The computer is being pretty pessimistic.

Bryan Mitchell: -1.3 WAR

Yikes. ZiPS pegs Mitchell for a 5.92 ERA (5.68 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (15.0 K%) and walk (11.5 BB%) rates, which isn’t good at all but not completely unexpected for a non-elite 23-year-old pitching prospect. The problem is Mitchell is more or less the team’s sixth starter. Maybe he’s more like the eighth starter behind Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers, but the point is he’s not all that far down the depth chart. ZiPS won’t have any impact on Mitchell’s real life performance, but geez, it would have been nice to see the system be a little more optimistic heading into the season.

The very wide range of possible outcomes for the 2015 Yankees

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

This could be nothing more than the long offseason taking its toll, but I’ve found myself changing how I feel about the 2015 Yankees on an almost everyday basis. Some days I think they’re much improved and in position to contend in the AL East. Other days I think they have no shot whatever. I keep going back and forth. And the thing is, I don’t think either stance is wrong.

As presently constructed, the 2015 Yankees could either be very good or bad very. I mean, that’s true of every single team every year, breaks go both ways, but I feel these Yankees have a wider ranger of possible outcomes this coming season than any other team in the game. They have so much riding on health and the development of young players, two of the most unpredictable things in the game.

First and foremost, the quality of the rotation depends tremendously on Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and Michael Pineda‘s shoulder. Those two are the biggest x-factors of the season in my opinion. If they both stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day, the Yankees will be in very good shape. Healthy Tanaka and Pineda are difference-makers and arguably the two best starters in the division.

But, on the other side of the coin, if they both get hurt and miss substantial a amount of time, the Yankees will have a major uphill battle to climb. I won’t say it isn’t doable — they lost Tanaka and Pineda for extended periods of time last year but were able to keep the rotation afloat thanks to some shrewd pickups — but losing those two guys would take a huge, huge bite out of their chances to contend.

The health concerns extend to the position player side as well. Healthy Mark Teixeira is better than Garrett Jones, but healthy Teixeira is something we don’t see much of these days. Health Carlos Beltran is way better than a Jones/Chris Young platoon. Beltran flat out mashed before the bone spur in his elbow gave him problems last May. Teixeira and Beltran are not close to what they were at their peaks but they can still contribute more than their replacements.

And then there are the young players, specifically Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. Gregorius is the new everyday shortstop. The Yankees might sit him against the toughest of lefties, but otherwise the job is his. They seem determined to let him sink or swim, and since he’s a young player without much of an MLB track record, sinking is more likely than swimming, even with his defense. Being an everyday big leaguer is hard.

Eovaldi is a different story because he’s been a full-time big league starter for just about three years now. He’s coming over from a pitcher friendly park in the inferior league (come at me, NL diehards) where he had a very good year in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP) and a not so good year in 2014 (4.37 ERA and 3.37 FIP). The Yankees clearly hope the 2013 version is the real Eovaldi, but until he gets out there every fifth day, who knows?

CC Sabathia has his own health and performance concerns. He had his knee cleaned out in July and is expected to be ready to go come the start of Spring Training. Great! But just how good is healthy Sabathia at this point of his career? He’s not an ace anymore, but could he be what Hiroki Kuroda was last year? The veteran guy who goes out and eats innings every fifth day with a league average-ish ERA? That would be a big upgrade over what Sabathia gave the Yankees the last two years.

In my opinion, the Yankees have significantly improved the left side of the infield as well as the bullpen. I also think the farm system is in better shape with more call-up options (Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, etc.) and more trade chips. There are tangible reasons to believe the Yankees will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014. The injury risk really lets a lot of air out of the balloon though. If you could tell me with certainty that Tanaka and Pineda and everyone else will stay healthy, I’d pick the Yankees to win the AL East. But we can’t say that with any certainty. Not even close.

I see Tanaka as a microcosm of the 2015 Yankees. He could either win the Cy Young or pitch literally zero innings this coming year. Somehow neither would surprise me. He’s a boom or bust player for 2015 and the Yankees are a boom or bust team, a team with some interesting young talent that could take the next step and a team that could be crippled by injuries to veterans.

The worst case scenario for the 2015 Yankees is very bad. Like low-70s win total bad. Maybe worse. The best case scenario is pretty good though. Better than I think they get credit for, maybe something along the lines of 90-92 wins. As the title says, this team has a very big range of possible outcomes, and while it’s easy to expect the worst, we should also keep the mind the best case is likely enough to take the AL East.

Thoughts after the Nationals sign Max Scherzer

At least he's out of the AL. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
At least he’s out of the AL. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Late Sunday night, the Nationals agreed to a seven-year contract reportedly worth $210M with Max Scherzer. Half the money is deferred too — it’s basically a seven-year, $105M contract from 2015-21 plus another seven-year, $105M contract from 2022-28, when Scherzer will presumably be no longer with the team. (Nats owner Ted Lerner is 89, so the second 7/105 deal will be the next owner’s problem.) The Yankees surely wanted to add someone of Scherzer’s caliber to their rotation but were unwilling to hand out another massive long-term contract. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. One quick Nationals thought: I think they should keep all of their starters. At least for now. Unless someone blows them away with a trade offer for one of those guys, I think they should keep all of them, enjoy the dominant rotation, then look to trade an arm at the deadline to fill whatever needs arise at midseason. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman aren’t the most durable players, for example. Washington could need an outfielder(s) and/or a first baseman come July. Scherzer’s not really going to improve the team’s regular season outlook — I had the Nats winning the NL East by double-digit games before the signing. They’re by far the best team in that division — so his real impact will come in October, when he’s starting postseason games instead of the unpredictable Gio Gonzalez. Simply put, this was a move designed to put the team over the top and into the World Series, not simply get them to the postseason.

2. Personally, I am in the minority that thinks the Yankees were wise to pass on Scherzer. Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge he is an outstanding pitcher and would have improved the team’s chances to contend this coming season tremendously. Scherzer is the type of pitcher who changes the balance of power within a division. That said, signing Scherzer to paper over the injury risk of the team’s other $20M+ per year starters only keeps the Yankees on the same path, the path of relying on the “pay for the elite years up front and live with the ugly years on the back end” model that always seems to result in fewer elite years than expected. Scherzer will turn 31 in July, remember. CC Sabathia looked done at age 33. Roy Oswalt was done at 33. Justin Verlander appears to be cooked at age 32. Roy Halladay managed to remain elite through age 34 before it all fell apart. Ace Sucking Syndrome (ASS) is not fun. Guys like Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, who remain productive well into their late-30s, are the exception, not the rule. Maybe Scherzer will be an exception too, but with so many bad contracts already on the books, adding another to the pile doesn’t make sense to me. The Yankees need to break the cycle of signing players to huge contracts to cover for the guys already signed to huge contracts who aren’t producing, and this process started when they let Robinson Cano walk last year. There’s a time and a place for contracts like that, and it’s when you are either a no-doubt contender or on the cusp of long-term contention looking to put yourself over the top. I don’t see the Yankees as either of those things right now. It’s short-term pain for (hopefully but not guaranteed!) long-term gain. Not refusing to spend money, just spending it better.

3. It is very clear the Yankees have emphasized future potential over past performance this offseason. There have been some exceptions (Chase Headley, most notably), but they’ve gotten younger this winter at shortstop, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. This seems like something Brian Cashman has wanted to do for a while now. So, if the Yankees were going to sign Scherzer, I think it would have come directly from ownership, which is the level at which Scott Boras operates. He usually goes right over the GM’s head and to the owner for his top free agent clients. Boras did it when Rafael Soriano signed with the Yankees, when Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers, and countless other times. Based on their moves, the Yankees’ plan this offseason was to get younger and more flexible. Scherzer accomplishes neither of those things.

4. It goes without saying that if the Nationals do the look to trade one of their starters in the wake of the Scherzer signing, the Yankees should have interest. In literally all of them. Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark … any one of them would help New York in the big way. Ideally the Yankees would get someone with more than one year of team control — Zimmermann and Fister are free agents after the 2015 season — meaning Strasburg would be the real prize. He’s an “empty the farm system” guy and won’t become a free agent until after 2016, though he is a Boras client and will almost certainly test free agency in two years. Forget about a long-term extension. Zimmermann is another “empty the farm system” type of trade target, and he’s probably looking at a Scherzer-esque contract on the open market next winter, so why would the Yankees trade a boatload of prospects and then extend him in one year when they could have just signed Scherzer for similar dollars right now and kept the prospects? I’ve never been a big Gio guy because I’ve always felt he’s one start away from going full blown 2010-11 A.J. Burnett. Roark is a late bloomer (he’s 28 already) and at the absolute peak of his trade value. He’d help the Yankees but I’m not sure you could count on getting the 2014 version going forward.

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

5. In my opinion, the best (and most realistic?) trade fit is Fister, who the Yankees drafted once upon a time (sixth round in 2005) and presumably still has supporters in the organization. The Yankees love tall pitchers and he’s 6-foot-8, but that’s only a tiny little part of the reason he makes sense. Fister is both excellent — he ranked 14th among all pitchers with 11.9 bWAR from 2012-14, essentially tied with the totally awesome Hiroki Kuroda (12.0) — and seems destined for a much smaller contract than Zimmermann next offseason because he’s two years older and doesn’t have the same name value. He could end up with something similar to whatever James Shields gets, only a few million less per year. The Nationals are reportedly seeking prospects who project to be impact bats, and they do need a long-term catcher, so maybe Gary Sanchez can be the centerpiece in a Fister trade? Washington also needs bullpen help, so Sanchez and a reliever (Jose Ramirez? Chasen Shreve?) for Fister? I’d be down for that. (Which means it’s not enough and the Nats would say no.) I know Fister has been traded for nothing packages twice already — he’s been traded for four players (Mariners to Tigers) and three players (Tigers to Nats), and the best of those seven players is Charlie friggin’ Furbush — but I’m not counting on it happening three times. Get Fister for a year for much less than it would take to land Zimmermann, enjoy a ton of above-average innings in 2015, then either get a draft pick or re-sign him to a contract worth less than nine figures next offseason. I’d be all for it.

6. Scherzer’s contract is the largest ever given to a free agent pitcher, breaking the record previously held by Sabathia. (Clayton Kershaw’s pitcher record seven-year, $215M contract was an extension.) The Yankees gave Sabathia, who was going to turn 29 that July and had racked up 17.7 bWAR in the three years prior to free agency, a seven-year contract worth $161M during the 2008-09 offseason. Scherzer will turn 31 in July, compiled 16.9 bWAR the last three years, and received seven years and $210M this offseason. I don’t really have a point to add, I just think the general market inflation and the Boras factor are interesting. Sabathia back then was a much more desirable free agent target than Scherzer was this offseason. By a decent margin too.

The many ramifications of Stephen Drew’s return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the Yankees agreed to re-sign infielder Stephen Drew in a move that didn’t seem to go over too well, to put it nicely. It’s a nothing contract, reportedly $5M for one year with $1.5M in incentives, but bringing back a guy who hit .150/.219/.271 (32 wRC+) in pinstripes last year was never going to be popular. Plus the Drew family seems to be polarizing in general.

The Yankees have long coveted Drew — they offered him more money than the Red Sox two years ago, but he went to Boston in part due to uncertain playing time based on the health of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — and it seems his price simply dropped into their comfort range this offseason. During the holidays Joel Sherman reported Drew was seeking $9M to $10M. The Yankees were able to get him for half that.

Anyway, the return of Drew impacts the roster in several ways. Chad Jennings did his usual fine job breaking down the impact of the signing yesterday. Now here’s what I think.

So A Trade Is Coming, Right?

I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon or if I’m just starting to notice it now, but every time the Yankees make a move these days, the immediate response seems to be “this is a precursor to a trade.” When they traded for all those relievers a few weeks ago, it was because they were planning to trade their bullpen depth to add a starter. When they re-signed Drew, it was because they’re planning to trade Didi Gregorius or Rob Refsnyder for Cole Hamels. Something like that.

That is very possible. Drew puts the Yankees in a better position to deal a young middle infielder for a high-end starter, though it would go against everything else they’ve done this offseason. The Yankees have gotten younger with just about every move this winter and it appears to be a concerted effort, not a coincidence. Turning around and trading a bunch of that youth for someone like Hamels would be a total change in direction. A complete 180. The Yankees have done this before, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented, but I don’t see it.

And there’s also the money. If the Yankees were going to absorb a huge contract like Hamels’, I think they’d sooner sign Max Scherzer or James Shields, forfeiting the draft pick but keeping the real live young players. Perhaps the plan is to trade Gregorius or Refsnyder for a younger, cheap starter. Someone like … Shane Greene? That wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Packaging a bunch of players for a young pitchers gets you who these days? Tyson Ross? That’s a lot of work to get someone like him.

A trade is definitely possible because a trade is always possible. I would never put a huge splash by the Yankees. Those moves are in their DNA. I just think there’s a definite emphasis on getting younger for the first time in a very long time by the Yankees. They’ve been after Gregorius for years — they’ve been trying to get him since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings — and they finally landed him this winter, right when they desperately needed a young shortstop. I would be very surprised if the Drew signing did in fact lead to a young infielder being traded.

Middle Infield Depth Is A Good Thing, You Know

To me, re-signing Drew boils down to this: New York’s shortstop depth chart was Gregorius and Brendan Ryan, and their second base depth chart was Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. Three unproven guys and Ryan. I’ve been saying for weeks that a young middle infield tandem like Gregorius-Refsnyder made me nervous as heck, and while Drew doesn’t significantly improve the situation by himself, he does help. Drew gives the team protection at both second and short, where Refsynder and/or Didi could prove to be overmatched. Simply put, the Yankees added another able body at a hard to fill position(s).

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

The Kids Aren’t Blocked, Stop Saying They’re Blocked

A one-year contract blocks no one. Big money, long-term contracts block prospects. A one-year deal? That’s no obstacle. In fact, I think the Drew signing actually benefits Refsnyder developmentally. Granted, he loses out on a potential big league job come Opening Day and that sucks for him, but now he’ll go back to Triple-A to work on his defense, which has always been the concern. He won’t have to learn on the job. I mean, he will eventually, but not right now, not two years after changing positions.

The jump from Triple-A to MLB is tougher right now than it has ever been because of all the information teams have. I can’t repeat that enough. Super-elite prospects — I’m talking top two or three in the game — like Xander Bogaerts, Gregory Polanco, and the late Oscar Taveras all came up and stunk last season when everyone was certain they’d rake. Refsnyder (and Pirela) are not close to that level of prospect, and non-elite prospects are not the guys you just hand jobs. They’re the ones who have to force the issue.

Remember, the Yankees cut both Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts last season when they were terrible, and that’s when they didn’t have appealing replacements. They dumped Soriano and called up Zelous Wheeler. They dumped Roberts when they acquired Drew. Now, if Drew stinks, they have Refsnyder waiting and can more quickly pull the trigger and make a change. A one-year contract for Drew isn’t a roadblock for Refsnyder, it’s a bridge.

Et tu, Brendan?

Although it seems like Refsnyder will return to Triple-A thanks to Drew, I’m not so sure this move doesn’t mean the end of Brendan Ryan. I don’t think the Yankees will cut him right now — like I said, middle infield depth is hard to find, and Ryan will be handy if Drew or Gregorius or whoever pops a hamstring in Spring Training — but he might have to fight for his roster spot in camp. (For the record, I think Eury Perez will be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Drew.)

Before adding Drew, the Yankees needed Ryan because he was the only player in the organization other than Gregorius who could legitimately play shortstop at the big league level. Now they have Drew to do that. The club could opt to carry the more versatile Pirela on the bench instead of Ryan, for example. Maybe they decide to carry Refsnyder anyway and use him in some three-man platoon with Gregorius and Drew. There’s no reason to get rid of Ryan just yet, but come Opening Day, he might not have a place on the 25-man roster.

Defense!

When the Yankees first traded for Drew and stuck him at second base last year, his inexperience was obvious. He had never played a position other than shortstop in his professional career and it showed. I remember there were some issues on double play pivots and indecisiveness on cut-off plays. But I though he improved quite a bit by the end of the season. He wasn’t a natural, but Drew had the raw athleticism to make tough plays and he was gaining experience.

With Drew at second as opposed to Refsnyder or Pirela, the Yankees will field a regular infield with three above-average defenders and one average defender. The average defender being Drew, who could become above-average with more experience. They’ll also have an above-average defender in Brian McCann behind the plate as well as Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in two outfield spots. The only bad defender on the field will be Carlos Beltran in right. The lineup is sketchy and the rotation is risky, but man, the Yankees are going to catch the ball next year. They haven’t had a defense this good in ages.