Prospect depth gives Yankees a chance to do something that once seemed impossible

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

This season the Yankees did something that really had been a long-time coming. They committed to a youth movement. It actually started last season with the Didi Gregorius trade and Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups, but this year the Yankees took it a step further by trading productive veterans for prospects at the deadline. We haven’t seen them do that in nearly three decades.

As a result, the Yankees now have one of the best farm systems in baseball, if not the best. Jim Callis calls it the deepest system in the game. Depending what happens with Brett Gardner and Brian McCann this offseason, it’s entirely possible Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley will be the only players over 27 in the starting lineup come Opening Day next year. The Yankees could have youngsters all over the field. That’s exciting!

You know what else is exciting? Trading a whole bunch of those prospects for Mike Trout. Think about it, what better player is there to build around going forward than the best player on the planet, who himself turned only 25 four months ago? There isn’t one. Trout’s not just great. He’s historically great and well on his way to being in the inner circle of the inner circle of the Hall of Fame. A generational talent, indisputably.

The idea of a Trout trade creates two obvious big picture questions: why would the Angels do it and why would the Yankees do it? Let’s answer the second question first because it’s easiest. Because Trout’s insanely good and not every prospect is going to work out. Hang on to all the kids and you’re inevitably going to be left with a lot of nothing. That’s baseball. The attrition rate for even tippy top prospects is pretty darn high.

As for the Angels, this is where it gets complicated. Take Trout away from the Angels and they’re an unmitigated disaster. The 2011-13 Astros but somehow more hopeless. They have baseball’s worst farm system and so very few long-term assets at the big league level. There’s Andrelton Simmons and, uh, C.J. Cron? Trout is more valuable to his franchise’s well-being than any other player in baseball. He’s the only reason the Halos are relevant.

More than a few folks have said the Angels would be wise to trade Trout for a godfather package to kick start their rebuild, and there is some validity to that. He’d bring back almost an unprecedented amount of talent. Personally, I think it’s a heck of a lot easier to rebuild a farm system than it is to get the best player in the world on your roster when he’s only 25. That’s just me.

Anaheim has given zero indication Trout is available. Angels GM Billy Eppler, who spent all those years as Brian Cashman‘s right-hand man, said last year Trout “means too much to this clubhouse, community, organization,” to trade. And he’s right. It’d be like trading Derek Jeter. Like I said, take Trout away from the Angels and they’re in worse shape than any team we’ve seen in a very long time. Their situation is that dire.

Convincing the Angels to part with Trout is the hard part. I actually think putting together a trade package would be pretty easy for the Yankees. It depends how much they’re willing to stomach more than anything. Prospects? Whatever, they’re all on the table. Gary Sanchez? Of course you put him in a Trout trade if that’s what it takes. He just had a Trout-like two months. Trout just had his fifth straight Trout-like year.

I don’t think a player of Trout’s caliber has ever been traded. The closed comparable is the Alex Rodriguez trade, which was motivated by money more than anything. It’s apples and oranges. Putting together hypothetical trade proposals is pointless because a) your trade proposal sucks, and b) there’s no real precedent for trading the best player in the world four years before he becomes a free agent. No one has been crazy enough to do it yet.

(Kent Horner/Getty)
(Kent Horner/Getty)

This, I think, is the most important thing to understand: the Yankees could give up a hefty package of young talent for Trout and still have plenty left over. The Angels are Trout and nothing else. The Yankees would not become Trout and nothing else with the trade. Their talent base right now so far exceeds what the Angels have put around Trout that even gutting the system to make the trade leaves them with a respectable roster.

Consider Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects for a second. The Yankees could take the top six guys, send them to the Angels for Trout, and still have a top 100 prospect left, not to mention Sanchez and Bird and Severino and Gregorius and Masahiro Tanaka and others at the MLB level. This wouldn’t be like the 68-win Reds gutting their system for Trout. The Yankees are in better position to make a move like that.

Here’s the other thing to consider: trading prospects not on the big league roster for Trout instantly makes the Yankees contenders. He’s a legitimate +9 WAR player. A balance of power player. He changes the entire dynamic within a division. Adding Trout moves New York’s timetable for contention up from “we hope sometime within the next two or three years” to right now. That is huge.

As it stands right now, the Yankees’ master plan seems to be incorporating young players into the roster while shedding payroll and resetting the luxury tax rate, so when some actually good players become free agents, they can sign them to boost the roster. Good plan, in theory. Risky because the prospects might not work out and those players might not become free agents, but that’s life. Everything is risky.

Acquiring Trout is a much more straightforward plan, and also the “safer” play as well. You’re getting value from your prospects and acquiring an undeniably great player. It’s a franchise-altering move. For both teams, the Yankees and Angels. He changes everything. The timetable, the team building philosophy, everything. The Angels would slip into a deep rebuild while the Yankees could suddenly start gearing up for serious contention again. It would be the blockbuster of all blockbusters. The Wayne Gretzky trade all over again. It would shock the world.

Sadly, there is basically no chance Trout gets traded this offseason. And if the Halos did put him on the market, the Yankees would face stiff competition. The Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, Astros, and every other team in the league would get involved. Eppler and Angels owner Arte Moreno — trading Trout is a decision that gets made at the ownership level, not the GM level — would create the mother of all bidding wars. It would be total chaos.

Sending a whole bunch of prospects to the Angels for the best player in baseball is a fun idea that almost certainly will never happen. The timing is not right. The farm system is ready for a trade now but the Angels aren’t. When the Angels are ready to trade Trout, if they ever are, the farm system probably won’t be. Such is life.

The Yankees added all these prospects recently and we’re all attached to them and excited. We’ve been waiting for this for years. I know I have. Turning around and trading these kids might be tough to swallow, but as far as I’m concerned, trading for a player of Trout’s caliber is never a bad move. Not when you’re the New York Yankees.

Don’t Trade McCann

No bats, only rebar. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

I have repeated this recently and will likely keep doing so until it either happens or doesn’t: the Yankees shouldn’t trade Brian McCann this offseason. The necessary caveat of ‘never say never’ applies, but as I see things, that perfect scenario is unlikely to occur. Like Mike laid out in his offseason plan, I’m of the belief that McCann should be retained:

Yes, I am keeping Brian McCann. I think he’s way more valuable to the Yankees on their roster as a part-time catcher/part-time DH than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade. He’s the perfect guy to mentor Gary Sanchez, and hey, if Sanchez falls on his face next year like Severino did this year, it’ll sure be nice to have McCann around. Quality lefty hitting catcher: worth keeping.

Unless the Yankees get supremely blown away by some deal that includes the other team taking on money AND sending back a prospect (not gonna happen), he’s likely to be more valuable to the Yankees than the trade pieces he fetches. After seeing the team shed Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran last season — all good moves, all right moves — it seems that a lot of fans got blood lust for trading veterans at any cost. And with Alex Rodriguez gone by mid-August, Mark Teixeira retiring, and CC Sabathia (and Jacoby Ellsbury) virtually unmovable, fans set their sights on a desire to deal McCann. And that sentiment is totally understandable, but perhaps a bit misguided.

Unlike those players traded at the 2016 deadline, McCann still has time left on his contract. And unlike Sabathia — fairly good 2016 notwithstanding — and Ellsbury, he’s still close enough to his true-talent level to keep around. Since joining the Yankees in 2014, McCann leads all AL catchers with 69 homers and is tied with Salvador Perez for first in fWAR at 6.7. He’s also second in wRC+ at 101, just behind Russell Martin and Stephen Vogt’s tied tally of 106.

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

Keeping McCann allows the Yankees patience in the further development of Gary Sanchez, as Mike noted above, and keeps strong bats in the lineup most every day. Both players have bats — and gloves, for that matter — that are worth keeping in the lineup each day and putting them in some sort of catching rotation maximizes their time at the plate and keeps them healthy for the times they’re behind it. Having them split time at catcher and DH — and maybe on occasional day a first for McCann in the event of Greg Bird needing a rest — is good for them personally and good for the team; not having a ‘backup’ type catcher means less chances of essentially punting games when the primary guy needs a day off.

For now, the Yankees should hold off on trading Brian McCann. That’s the stance I’m going to take and the hill I’m going to defend until further notice. Would trading him save the team some cash? Definitely. Would it bring back impact talent? Maybe. That second question needs to be a lot more sure, as does the Yankees’ roster situation. While it’s not horribly likely the team will be a 90+ win team competing for more than the wild card spot, that outlook could change by the end of the Hot Stove season. McCann could be a big part of a wining team. If it doesn’t work out that way, though, I’m always willing to reconsider around deadline time. But for now, don’t trade McCann.

The Official RAB 2016-17 Offseason Plan

Me too, Brian. Me too. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Me too, Cash. Me too. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to the countdown in our sidebar, we are three months and three days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. That’s an awfully long way away. Between now and then the Yankees and the other 29 teams will remake their rosters, in some cases drastically so, all with an eye on winning the 2017 World Series. Well, except for the rebuilding teams. They’re looking ahead to 2018 and 2019.

The Yankees need offensive help in the short-term and pitching help in the long-term. It’s a weird spot. The offense was so very bad this past season, even with Gary Sanchez going bonkers for two months, but the Yankees also have some talented young hitters either in the big leagues or on the cusp. The same is not true for the pitching staff. Almost all the team’s best pitchers can leave next offseason. That is … bad.

Because the offseason is still very young, I figure it’s a good time to put together a fantasyland offseason plan. These are the moves I’d make this offseason if I were running the Yankees. Trades, free agent signings, the works. After all, I once built a team that went 146-16 in MLB: The Show, so I know what I’m talking about. Building a title contender is not as hard as they make it out to be.

In all seriousness, this exercise is for fun. We all love to rosterbate, right? Right. I encourage you to bookmark this post for future mocking purposes. It’ll look silliest 2-3 years down the line. It’s worth the wait, I promise. So, without further ado, here is the Official RAB 2016-17 Offseason Plan. Enjoy.

Arbitration

Not the most exciting place to start, but the arbitration process is easy enough, plus it’s part of the offseason, so we might as well begin here. The Yankees have nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason. Here are the nine and the salaries I’d pay them:

Easy stuff first: Warren, Hicks, Layne, and Romine are all at their MLBTR projected salaries. I have Betances a bit above his $3.4M projected salary because, frankly, the projection seems too low to me. That $4M salary is on par with what first year arbitration-eligible relievers Jeurys Familia ($4.1M), Cody Allen ($4.15M), and Hector Rondon ($4.2M) received last offseason. Dellin doesn’t have the same saves total as those guys, but he’s been better at pretty much everything else.

Now for the extensions. Historically, when a player signs long-term the year before free agency, he gets paid like a free agent. That’s why Stephen Strasburg got seven years and $175M earlier this year. That’s free agent money for a player of that caliber. Pineda is a year away from free agency, and in this market, I think he’d get $13M a year as a free agent. That’s Ubaldo Jimenez/Matt Garza money.

Keep in mind Pineda was not a huge bonus guy as an amateur. The Mariners signed him for $35,000 back in the day. To date, Pineda has made $8.4M as a big leaguer, which is a very nice chunk of change, but it’s not a massive payday. This guy has major shoulder surgery in his recent past too. Between the small amateur bonus and scary arm injury, Pineda might jump at the guaranteed extension and forego free agent next year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Didi. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

As for Gregorius, his deal is essentially Dee Gordon’s five-year, $50M contract adjusted down for the lack of All-Star Game selections, stolen base titles, and batting title. Gordon signed his deal at the same service time level as Gregorius though, so that’s the model I’m following. I worry I may be light — the proposed deal is $8.5M annually and MLBTR projects Didi to get $5.1M through arbitration next year, so yeah — but I’ll stick with it for now.

In Pineda’s case, signing him long-term is about retaining pitching at a reasonable rate at a time when the cost to acquire pitching is anything but reasonable. If nothing else, the extension makes him more valuable as a trade chip. With Gregorius, signing him long-term is about keeping a very valuable player at a hard-to-fill position. Shortstops with good defense and 20-homer pop are hard to come by. That five-year deal would buy out two of Didi’s free agent years.

Ackley and Eovaldi are obvious non-tender candidates. MLBTR projects a $7.5M salary for Eovaldi next year and there’s no way you can pay that to guy you know is going to a) miss the entire 2017 season rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, and b) become a free agent next offseason. It would be money for nothing. Ackley missed most of the season following shoulder surgery, and even when healthy, he wasn’t very good. MLBTR projects a $3.2M salary in 2017. Nope.

Rule 5 Draft Protection

The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by adding Aaron Judge and Ben Heller to the 40-man roster, and calling them up in the second half. Tyler Austin, Kyle Higashioka, and Domingo German were all added to the 40-man roster as well. Those three guys would have become minor league free agents, not just been Rule 5 Draft eligible.

Even after those moves, the Yankees still have more than a few quality prospects up for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to navigate the 40-man roster. The deadline to add Rule 5 Draft eligible players to the 40-man roster is next Friday, November 18th, so it’s coming up soon. It’s not weeks away. It’s right around the corner. Here’s who I would protect:

  • Add to 40-man roster: Domingo Acevedo, Miguel Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Jorge Mateo.
  • Leave exposed to Rule 5 Draft: Jake Cave, Cale Coshow, Rashad Crawford, Gio Gallegos, Ronald Herrera, Brady Lail, Mark Montgomery, Tito Polo, Stephen Tarpley, Luis Torrens, Tyler Webb.

Mateo and Andujar are easy calls to protect as two of the best prospects in the farm system. Acevedo is still pretty raw, but dudes with triple-digit gas always get popped in the Rule 5 Draft, and I don’t want to risk losing him. I don’t think Enns is as good as his minor league numbers indicate, but he has three pitches and can locate, so he’s a cheap lefty option for the rotation or bullpen. That guy is worth keeping around.

Cave was selected in the Rule 5 Draft last year, which means if he gets selected again and doesn’t stick, he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees. You have to leave him exposed with the understanding you’re probably going to lose him forever. So it goes. Torrens is the best prospect in that “leave exposed” group, but the kid is a 20-year-old catcher who missed a year and a half following shoulder surgery, and has never played above Low-A. Even if he gets picked, Torrens is coming back.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Gallegos and Webb, two relievers with pretty good Triple-A numbers, are most likely to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Webb especially, because he’s a lefty. My decision came down to either Enns or Webb, and I’ll keep the guy who can start. Easy call for me there. Tarpley might get popped too as a lefty with good velocity. The Yankees have a really deep farm system right now — Jim Callis says it’s the deepest in baseball — and the downside is having to leave useful players exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. What can you do?

To clear the necessary 40-man space (four spots), I am releasing Eovaldi and Ackley ahead of the non-tender deadline, and outrighting Richard Bleier and James Pazos off the 40-man roster. The non-tender deadline is December 2nd, and releasing Eovaldi and Ackley ahead of that has no real consequences. In fact, it does them a favor, because it gives them more time to hook on with another team. I don’t see Bleier or Pazos as having any real value aside from being up-and-down arms. Meh.

Free Agents

Alright, now comes the fun stuff. We’re going to have to make some payroll assumptions here. Since taking the reins, Hal Steinbrenner has consistently pumped whatever money has come off the books back into the team. I don’t think that will be the case this offseason though. He clearly wants to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and the best chance to do that it next year, when CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez are off the books. Maybe Masahiro Tanaka too.

The Yankees started this past season with a $226M payroll and ended it around $214M after shedding salary at the trade deadline. Unloading Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova freed up some cash. We don’t know what the luxury tax threshold will be next season. I imagine it’ll be around $200M. The Yankees won’t be able to drag payroll down that far without some serious trade action, and I’ll be surprised if that happens.

I’m going to assume Steinbrenner gives the green light to open next season with a $215M payroll. That sound okay? It’s right around where they finished this past season. Then, once Sabathia and A-Rod come off the books next winter, they’ll focus on getting under the luxury tax. Okay, so with that in mind, here are my free agent signings. I wish I could wait to see the non-tenders, but alas:

  • Mark Melancon: Four years, $50M.
  • Brad Ziegler: Two years, $18M.
  • Steve Pearce: Two years, $10M
  • Brett Anderson: One year, $4M with another $6M in incentives based on innings.

This isn’t a great free agent class, so I’m not going to go wild and pay mediocre players huge dollars just because there’s no one else to spent it on. I said earlier this week I’m warming up to the idea of signing Rich Hill, but with the free agent pitching class so light, I think the projection everyone has been throwing out there (three years, $50M) is going to end up light. I’m steering clear at a higher price.

Melancon is my big signing. The Yankees are said to be in on the top free agent relievers and I’m cool with that. A dominant bullpen is a necessity for contention nowadays. I’m going against the grain and signing Melancon over Chapman and Kenley Jansen for a few reasons. One, he figures to come substantially cheaper, perhaps at 60% of the guaranteed money. Two, he won’t cost a draft pick. And three, there’s no off-the-field baggage. See? Nice and easy.

Melancon. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Melancon. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Rather than commit an ungodly amount of money to Chapman or Jansen, I’ll spread it around and sign Melancon and Ziegler. Ziegler just turned 37 last month, but the guy remains very durable and very effective. He’s appeared in at least 64 games in each of the last eight seasons, and this past summer he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with a 20.1% strikeout rate and a 63.3% ground ball rate, which are in line with his career norms.

Another thing about Ziegler: he has a small platoon split. He pulls it off by throwing a changeup from his unusual arm slot. Eno Sarris wrote about it two years ago. You don’t see many submariner pitchers throwing changeups, but Ziegler does and has for years now. I’m guessing the Yankees would have to pay him handsomely to forego a potential closer or setup job elsewhere. In New York, he’d be at best third on the bullpen depth chart behind Melancon and Betances.

Pearce would do a lot of things for the Yankees. He’d give them some nice depth at first base in case Greg Bird needs more time in the minors following shoulder surgery and/or Tyler Austin can’t hack it. Pearce would also be corner outfield depth and another DH option. He can even play second and third bases in an emergency (but only in an emergency). The guy has hit .266/.348/.485 (129 wRC+) over the last four years and offers some positional flexibility. There’s a place for him on my roster.

As for Anderson, I’m going to take the “acquire a few risky starters and hope it works out” approach. He missed most of last season following back surgery, but he was healthy late in the year, and he’ll have a full offseason to strengthen up. Anderson is still only 28, and he’s an extremely ground ball heavy left-hander, which would fit well in Yankee Stadium. In 2015, his lone full healthy season with the Dodgers, the guy had a 66.3% ground ball rate. It’s 58.2% for his career. That’ll play.

Trades

Free agent signings are fun in their own way, but for my money, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned trade. There are so many different roster ramifications for multiple teams. With free agents, there’s only money involved, and that’s kinda lame. Trades are a challenge. I’m betting these guys I’m giving up won’t help me win as much as the players I’m getting from the other team. I love it.

The Yankees have been pretty active on the trade market the last few years, and with the free agent class looking so thin, I’m guessing the same will be true this offseason. In real life, I mean. In my hypothetical offseason plan, I’m going to make a few trades, but not a crazy amount. Let’s get to them.

First things first: Yes, I am keeping Brian McCann. I think he’s way more valuable to the Yankees on their roster as a part-time catcher/part-time DH than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade. He’s the perfect guy to mentor Gary Sanchez, and hey, if Sanchez falls on his face next year like Severino did this year, it’ll sure be nice to have McCann around. Quality lefty hitting catcher: worth keeping. Now for the actual trades.

Gray. (Brian Bahr/Getty)
Gray. (Brian Bahr/Getty)

1. The Gray Trade. The Athletics have made more than a few truly baffling trades in recent years and I’m banking on them doing it again with Gray. He was a Cy Young candidate a year ago, but in 2016, the 27-year-old had a 5.69 ERA (4.67 FIP) in 117 innings around back trouble and a forearm muscle issue. His value is down but I don’t think the A’s are going to move him unless they get a big return.

That package qualifies as a “big return” in my opinion, though maybe I’m just a raging homer. Mateo is a top shortstop prospect, Severino is an MLB ready young pitcher with a lot of upside, Fowler is a dynamic center field prospect slated to open 2017 in Triple-A, and Refsnyder … well, Refsnyder just seems like one of those random players the A’s seem to acquire in every trade they make.

Would the A’s make that trade? Nah, probably not. Then again, they did make that Josh Donaldson trade. And the Addison Russell trade. And they swapped Drew Pomeranz for Yonder Alonso, so maybe. They’re getting two really good prospects, the highest upside young starter the Yankees have to offer, and a useful player in Refsnyder. It’s about time the Yankees benefit from one of those wonky Oakland trades, isn’t it?

Gray is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019. MLBTR projects a $3.7M salary next year, which seems a little low to me, but let’s go with it. At his best, Gray is a command pitcher who throws five pitches and gets a lot of weak contact. He’s basically the opposite of the Yankees’ non-Tanaka starters. And he’s a Grade-A competitor too. Dude is fearless on the mound. You might not get the best version of Gray. He might be broken forever. I’m taking the chance.

2. Gardner for Jaime. The Yankees are stuck having to trade Gardner, even after dealing Fowler for Gray. They have way too many young outfielders who are either MLB ready or close to it. There’s Hicks and Judge, plus Austin and Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier isn’t far away either. I’d much rather trade away Jacoby Ellsbury, but that’s not happening. Gardner it is.

The Cardinals are one of the few teams with excess pitching. There was even some talk they would decline Garcia’s $12M option and let him walk as a free agent. The 30-year-old had a 4.67 ERA (4.49 FIP) in 171.2 innings this past season, though he’s only a year removed from a 2.43 ERA (3.00 FIP) in 129.2 innings. That’s the guy you hope you get in 2017, and if you do, you can make Jaime the qualifying offer next winter. Assuming the qualifying offer still exists, of course.

St. Louis is in need of a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. They played Randal Grichuk in center most of the time this year and that just won’t work. He’s a corner outfielder. The Cardinals are also going to move Matt Carpenter down in the lineup with Matt Holliday no longer around, so they need a table-setter. Gardner solves both problems. It’s a surplus for surplus trade. The pitching needy Yankees trade a surplus outfielder to the outfield needy Cardinals for a surplus pitcher. See? Beautiful.

Garcia. (Jeff Curry/Getty)
Garcia. (Jeff Curry/Getty)

The money is essentially a wash next season. Garcia will make $12M in 2016 while Gardner will take home $12.5M. Gardner is also under contract for $11.5M in 2018, so the Yankees would be shedding some future payroll as well. The Cardinals take on a little extra cash in exchange for the Yankees taking on a pitcher with an extremely ugly injury history. The Cardinals get their center fielder and leadoff hitter, the Yankees get a rental starter.

3. Bye Bye Romine. With Sanchez and McCann entrenched at the big league level and Higashioka waiting in Triple-A, there’s no more room at the inn for Romine. The Phillies need a backup behind Cameron Rupp until top prospect Jorge Alfaro is ready, and Romine will do the job just fine. Klein is basically the pitcher version of Romine. A fringe roster guy who is pretty replaceable. He has an option left and can be stashed in Triple-A. Added bonus: Klein is 6-foot-7. The Yankees love their tall pitchers.

4. The obligatory Pirates trade. I felt the need to include a trade with the Pirates for posterity. Pittsburgh needs bullpen help, particularly from the right side, so they get the bat-missing Goody. They’ll probably turn him into Wade Davis 2.0 or something. Moroff is a 23-year-old light-hitting Triple-A utility infielder. The Yankees will need some Triple-A infield help next year, especially with Refsnyder gone, and Moroff fits the bill. Boring trade is boring.

Okay, now we need to figure out the 40-man roster. The 40-man was full after we finished protecting all the Rule 5 Draft players. The Gray trade clears up two spots; it’s three 40-man players (Mateo, Severino, Refsnyder) for one 40-man player (Gray). The other three trades are all straight one-for-one, 40-man guy for 40-man guy, so they don’t help us any. So, with two spots open and four free agent signings, we still need to clear two more 40-man spots.

To do this, I’m non-tendering the injured Jacob Lindgren and re-signing him to a minor league contract. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2017 season. The Yankees pulled the non-tender and re-sign trick with Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos two years ago, and again with Domingo German last year. It allows them to get the player off the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers.

To clear the other spot, I’m just going to designate the recently acquired Joe Mantiply for assignment and outright him off the 40-man. If he gets claimed, he gets claimed. I’ll live. The Yankees have enough lefty relief depth (Layne, Enns, Chasen Shreve) as far as I’m concerned. Mantiply won’t make a big difference in that department anyway.

Minor League Contracts

Paulsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Paulsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

And finally, it’s time to scoop up some depth players. A few items on the Triple-A shopping list: a scrap heap starter to soak up innings so the kids don’t get overworked, a backup catcher, a third baseman, a first baseman/DH, a spare infielder, and a spare outfielder. These players will do just fine:

  • RHP Jason Berken: The former Oriole has spent the last few years bouncing around Triple-A. He has experience starting and relieving, and he hasn’t thrown fewer than 100 innings since 2012.
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: Rodriguez has been the backup catcher at Triple-A Scranton the last two years, so why fix what isn’t broken? He can’t hit, but he’s a top notch gloveman.
  • 1B Ben Paulsen: Quintessential Quad-A lefty masher. Has some big league time with the Rockies, and as an added bonus, he can also play a little outfield.
  • 3B Matt Dominguez: Dominguez was the 12th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He has some pop and is a truly great defender as well. If there’s an injury, you could run Dominguez out at the hot corner for a month and get like +0.5 WAR out of him.
  • IF Zach Walters: Classic utility guy who can play anywhere. Infield, outfield, whatever. Also, Walters is a switch-hitter who knows how to take a walk, so he’s not a total zero at the plate.
  • OF Ryan LaMarre: Speed guy capable of double-digit homers and steals … at the Triple-A level. The Yankees were connected to LaMarre prior to the 2010 draft. They might still like him.

Don’t like my minor league pickups? Well, I don’t know what to tell you. These guys are just filling out the Triple-A roster and are serving as third string depth. They get a chance in the big leagues when the starter and the backup get hurt. Minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. All of ’em.

Final Product

Okay, so after all of that, we’re rolling into Spring Training with a full 40-man roster and a $210,113,525 payroll for luxury tax purposes. Here’s my payroll worksheet. Reports indicate the minimum salary is expected to rise considerably with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, so I estimated the pre-arbitration guys at $700,000. That sound good? I dunno. The minimum salary this year was $507,500.

Earlier I assumed Hal Steinbrenner would okay a $215M Opening Day payroll and I came in below that, but we’ve got $6M in incentives floating around for Anderson. Hal has been pretty good about adding payroll in season. If Anderson stays healthy and pitches well enough to hit some of those incentives, I’m sure ownership will be okay paying a little more. Here’s the projected 25-man Opening Day roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Gary Sanchez 1B Greg Bird LF Aaron Hicks Masahiro Tanaka Mark Melancon
Brian McCann 2B Starlin Castro CF Jacoby Ellsbury Sonny Gray Dellin Betances
SS Didi Gregorius RF Aaron Judge CC Sabathia Brad Ziegler
3B Chase Headley OF Mason Williams Michael Pineda Tyler Clippard
IF Ronald Torreyes UTIL Steve Pearce Garcia/Anderson Adam Warren
1B/OF Tyler Austin Tommy Layne
Garcia/Anderson

On 40-man roster in minors: Domingo Acevedo, Miguel Andujar, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Dietrich Enns, Domingo German, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Phil Klein, Bryan Mitchell, Max Moroff, Nick Rumbelow (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), Chasen Shreve.

That roster looks not awful on paper. Hooray for not awful! The kids are going to be important, obviously. Sanchez, Bird, Austin, Hicks, and Judge are going to be asked to do a lot offensively, and it might not happen. Such is life when you’re a team in transition. A few more thoughts on that roster.

1. There aren’t many spare position players. Twelve of the 15 extra players on the 40-man roster are pitchers. Andujar, Higashioka, and Moroff are the only position players. That’s kind of a problem, especially since Andujar is an actual prospect on a development plan. He’s not someone you can just call up to fill a need like Moroff. Guys like Barbato and Klein could be cast aside pretty easily should the Yankees need 40-man space for another position player, but heading into the season, the 40-man would be really pitching heavy. The minor league signees like Dominguez and Walters are of some importance here.

2. There’s some uncertainty on that roster. Bird may need a few weeks worth of Triple-A at-bats after shoulder surgery, which would push Pearce and Austin into the first base mix and create a bench opening. Judge might strike out 157 times in Spring Training and play his way back to Scranton, which would leave right field wide open. Pearce and Williams would be the go-to options there, in that case. What if the Yankees decide the best plan for Austin and/or Williams is playing everyday in Triple-A instead of sitting on the big league bench? The lack of position player alternatives on the 40-man could create some problems if the young guys don’t come through as hoped.

3. That’s a lot of rotation depth in the minors, huh? The Triple-A Scranton rotation would be some combination of Cessa, Green, Mitchell, Enns, Jordan Montgomery, and Chance Adams. Maybe it’s time to move Mitchell to the bullpen for good? Then again, chances are someone will get hurt in Spring Training, creating an opening somewhere. Garcia and Anderson aren’t the most durable guys, remember. We spend all winter talking about the pitching depth, then before you know it Brian Gordon and Esmil Rogers are making spot starts. Baseball, man.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

4. Two catchers might be a bit of a problem. Or at least it might be if the plan is to have McCann play DH regularly, and that is indeed the plan. You’d like to be able to pinch-run for Sanchez in the late innings of a close game and not lose the DH, you know? And if the starting catcher gets hurt, you have to lose the DH to fill-in behind the plate. Then again, how often does this actually happen? The “OMG you can’t use the backup catcher!” fear is generally overblown. If this becomes a consistent problem, we can adjust the roster in-season.

5. What did the offseason accomplish? That’s the key question. I laid out this wonderfully fun offseason plan, and how did it improve the Yankees going forward? A few ways. One, they added a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Gray. He’s the headliner. Two, they bolstered the bullpen with Melancon and Ziegler, and did it somewhat affordably. Three, they opened up playing time for youngsters by trading Gardner. Four, they brought in some rotation lottery tickets in Garcia and Anderson. If either work out, they could be trade chips, qualifying offer candidates, or even extension candidates. And five, they were able to get Pineda and Gregorius signed long-term. That’s kind of a big deal, especially Didi.

Our official offseason plan is far from perfect — I’d really like a better lefty bench bat than Williams — but that’s okay, it doesn’t need to be. This was only for fun. Point is, the Yankees have the ability to make some significant moves this offseason. They have some cash to spend, enough that it won’t derail the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon, and they have the prospects to make some trades. I don’t know if the Yankees can realistically do enough this winter to become no doubt World Series contenders in 2017. They can definitely take some steps to improve the future of the franchise though.

Why I Love Baseball

Hit lots of these today, please. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The most important question we can every ask is, simply, ‘why?’ When it comes to asking others, we’re usually pretty good at it. But, oftentimes, we fall short when it comes to asking ourselves that same question. That’s not to say we don’t self-examine about important things; however, how often do we really question why we love the leisure time activities we do? And when we do, the answers are usually pretty quick and with good reason; we’re resolute in our enjoyment of certain things and they’ve become second nature. This week, as the World Series ended, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I love baseball?” The question wasn’t meant to be an accusatory one; I’m not finding fault with myself or even the game–though I’m sure you could join me in some nitpicking about that. Rather, the question was meant as a reminder after a great Game 7 and a highly entertaining and enjoyable World Series.

FullSizeRender

The biggest reason I love baseball–and I’m sure this is the case for many of you–is that of the connection it facilitates between people. From my father and grandfather to my wife and (hopefully) my son, baseball has been a common link between all of us. Whether it was going to games with my dad (and mom and sister) or him watching me play or me going to his softball games or, eventually, us playing together a few times, the ball game has always been a strong link between us. When his father died in July of 2006, I dove into baseball as a coping mechanism and it led me to the intense love of the game that led me to writing. That writing led me to Twitter, where my wife and I first interacted and bonded over a love of baseball and the Yankees, and now five years later, we have a son whom we’ll do the best we can to raise in the “Yankees Only” lifestyle.

People are the most important things in our lives and the connections we have with them are at the base of that importance. For many people in my life, that connection is rooted in baseball. Even the game itself, not dictated by a clock or the passing of a clock, but the overlapping and transition of innings is about connection over time that so many of us find with the game from those that came before us and those that we will share the game with in the years to come.

As the years pass on, the connections I have to the game will remain based in the people around me, though in some sort of mirrored cycle in which I become my father and grandfather to my son (and any other kids we’re lucky enough to have) and eventual grandchildren. The connection, the cycle, will hopefully be unbroken because, dammit, I love baseball.

Thoughts prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later tonight, the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs will play Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. That is one hell of a sentence. Baseball in 2016 is weird, man. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things. The World Series, the Yankees, whatever.

1. Someone is going to end a very long title drought tonight. The Cubs haven’t won since 1908 and the Indians haven’t won since 1948. Heck, this is the first time the Cubs are playing in the World Series since 1945. At least the Tribe won a few pennants in the 1990s. I’m looking forward to seeing history tonight but it’s also going to be sort of weird for the narrative of one of these two franchises to change. All I’ve known as a baseball fan is the Cubs never ever ever winning and the Indians being, well, all Clevelandy and stuff. I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where the Cubs are no longer the Lovable Losers. It’s going to be really weird if they win.

2. I’ve always envisioned the Cubs team that breaks the championship drought being some sort of plucky underdog that overcomes long odds to win a title. Know what I mean? The 1996 Yankees were kinda sorta like that. These Cubs are a juggernaut, and if they do win tonight, we’re in for an offseason of talk about the start of a potential dynasty and things like that. I dunno, I find the Indians more endearing than the Cubs. The Cubbies are expected to win, right? They’ve been the best team in baseball since Day One of Spring Training. The Indians had a phenomenal regular season, but they’re without their best hitter (Michael Brantley) and second best starter (Carlos Carrasco) due to injury. They’ve had to overcome much longer odds to get here. It’s boring when the best team wins, right? Except when that team is the Yankees, of course.

3. How cow, how much worse does Buck Showalter not using Zach Britton in the AL Wildcard Game look now? It’s like all the other postseason managers looked at that and decided, “I’m not letting that happen to me.” Managers have been extremely aggressive with their top relievers this October. Terry Francona has been using Andrew Miller for four or five outs pretty much every time out. Aroldis Chapman had an eight-out save over the weekend. Kenley Jansen threw three innings with the Dodgers down by five in Game Six of the NLCS. The traditional reliever mold has been shattered this postseason. It’s great to see. The games are more competitive because of it, I think. This can’t work across a full season, Miller’s arm would be mush by June if Francona tried this in the regular season, but in October, when every game means so much, managers have ridden their top relievers hard.

4. Another thing about the postseason reliever usage: It’s kinda funny to me that so many folks are making a big deal about closers getting four or five outs after growing up watching Mariano Rivera get two-out saves regularly in October. Mo appeared in 96 postseason games (holy crap) and he recorded at least four outs in 58 of them, or 60.4%. He threw two full innings 33 times in those 96 games. That’s pretty incredible. Even as good as Miller and Chapman have been this postseason, they’ve made it interesting at times. Rivera never seemed to do that. He was nearly automatic in October, and he did it for nearly two decades. There really is never going to another one like him, huh?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. How good is Alex Rodriguez on television? He’s such a good analyst. He’s well-prepared, he knows the game inside and out, and he’s able to talk from experience about facing certain pitchers. A-Rod‘s so good. It’s a shame they stick him with Pete Rose, who provides a little comic relief, but that’s about it. I have no idea whether Alex wants to do television full-time. It’s not like he needs the money following his playing career. He could hang out with his family all summer, pop into Extended Spring Training and Instructional League now and then to do the special instructor thing, then do the postseason for FOX. Hopefully we get more A-Rod on television at some point though. He’s too good for someone not to hire him. Hey, maybe YES will bring him to join their rotating cast of analysts. That’d be neat.

6. MLB is going to have to do something about the length of games at some point. The Dodgers-Nationals series in particular was brutal. The average time of game that series was over four hours and none of the games went to extra innings, and none were slugfests with a lot of offense. The pace is just so slow. These postseason games start at 8pm ET and they’re not ending until midnight, sometimes even later. For me, that’s fine. I stay up and watch anyway. Many folks can’t do that, especially young kids. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said cultivating young fans is a top priority for MLB going forward, yet kids are lucky if they can watch two or three innings before bedtime in the postseason. That’s a problem. Something has to give. A World Series day game would be a good start. Do it on Saturday or Sunday. Give kids a chance to see the end of the game. These games are exciting and all, but man, speed it up. There are too many mound visits and things like that. Too much standing around. Too much time with no actual baseball being played.

7. The offseason officially starts tomorrow and for some reason I get the sense the Yankees are going to act quickly this winter. They might try to get a jump on the free agent market by making a big offer to Chapman or Jansen early, like they did with CC Sabathia back in the day. I think they’ll push hard to complete some trades too, either the seemingly inevitable Brian McCann deal with the Braves or something else. This is just a hunch. I have no inside information here. The Yankees have been pretty patient in recent offseasons and that’s generally a good thing. They sorted through all their options and made what they felt were the best moves and decisions. This year, with free agency so weak and the trade market potentially so competitive, I think we’re going to see the Yankees push to get things done quickly to avoid any prolonged negotiations.

A Spectrum of Expectations

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
This year’s rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)

If you’re reading this site, then it you would probably find it superfluous for me to rehash the success the Yankees had when it came to integrating young talent into the Major League team or adding it to the minor league system. And it would also be repetitive to parrot the lines about excitement going forward, 2017 and beyond. Of those two things, though, I’d rather do the latter. When it comes to young players, talking about the future is always more fun than talking about the past, however recent.

Two players in particular are going to have quite lofty expectations thrown on them on 2017. In the minors, there’s Gleyber Torres, who more than held his own in a league in which he was almost four years younger than the average age. People are going to expect big things from him going forward, and I suppose I can’t blame them. He’ll be, however, just 20 years old for all of next season. On the Major League side of things, there’s Gary Sanchez.

Rookie of the Decade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Rookie of the Decade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Whatever adjectives you want to use to describe El Gary’s 2016 are fine with me and likely don’t even do it justice. To an even greater degree than Torres, Sanchez tore up a league he wasn’t supposed to yet, forcing himself into AL Rookie of the Year talks despite just two months of playing time. I’m worried that a segment of fans–not the ones who read this site, really–will be disappointed in Sanchez unless he puts up some ridiculous, Mike Piazza-like year. In reality, if Sanchez just repeats what he did this year over a full year, that would be pretty remarkable in and of itself. Offense like that doesn’t come from a catcher too often.

When it comes to players like Aaron Judge, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green, improvement ought to be the expectation. For Cessa and Green, that improvement needs to come in the form of pitching well enough for their roles to be defined. This does and should leave some wiggle room for them to be considered successful in 2017, whether that’s as starters or relievers. For Judge, the improvement needed is obvious: he has to make more contact and cut down on the strikeouts.

Then there’s Luis Severino. I have no earthly idea what to expect from this guy going forward. Were he to bounce back and show his 2015 form more often, I wouldn’t be shocked. Were he to repeat 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised either. But in my gut of guts, heart of hearts, whatever you want to call it, I’m expecting Severino to turn into a reliever by the end of 2017. Maybe that’s overly pessimistic, but…what else can I expect after a year of no consistent third pitch?

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

The young players in the Yankee organization are the ones that will determine its success in the coming years. With a team less reliant on old talent as those players age out, the performances of the relatively inexperienced will matter all that much more. It’s never easy to set expectations for players and there’s always a range of possibilities; hopefully, they come up more positive than negative.

One thing the Yankees can learn from each of the four remaining postseason teams

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

At the moment, four teams still have a chance to win the World Series. Someone will end a long title drought this year too. Among the four clubs still alive, the Blue Jays have the shortest title drought, and they last won in 1993. The Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Indians last won in 1948. The Cubs? There were only 46 states in the union the last time they won a championship. Seriously. Look it up.

Obviously the four teams still alive are all very good, and any time a team has success, there’s something that can be learned from them. Front offices around the league wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t look at these four clubs and try to figure out what they’re doing better than everyone. The Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre the last four years, are no different. Here’s one thing they can take from each of the four teams still playing.

Cubs: You can have a great defense without shifting

The Cubs had a historically great defense this season. Truly historic. In terms of simple defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls they turned into outs, the 2016 Cubs were the 75th best defensive team in history (out of over 2,000 team seasons). Baseball Prospectus rates them as the best defensive team ever in park adjusted defensive efficiency. Whether they’re first best or 75th best doesn’t really matter. The Cubs were a phenomenal fielding team in 2016. No doubt about it.

Now here’s the kicker: no team in baseball used fewer infield shifts than the Cubs this season. The shifts didn’t follow Joe Maddon from Tampa, apparently. Huh. Chicago used the shift for only 10.1% of the batters their pitchers faced in 2016. The next lowest rate belongs to the Royals at 10.6%. The Astros used by far the most shifts this summer (33.2%) and the Yankees used the seventh most (26.5%). They’re weren’t all that far away from being second (Rays, 29.3%).

How did the Cubs field such a great team without shifting? Well, it starts with having tremendously athletic players gifted with defensive tools. That’s kind of a prerequisite for a great team defense. The Yankees have a few of those players themselves. The Cubs also seem to emphasize their pitchers’ strengths rather than the hitter’s tendencies. They get the hitter to hit the ball where they want him to hit the ball, not where he wants to hit the ball. Make sense? It’s hard to explain, but they do it.

The Yankees allowed a .284 BABIP with normal defensive alignments this year and a .304 BABIP when using some kind of shift, which is, uh, backwards. You should be allowing a lower BABIP with the shift. This isn’t to say the Yankees should abandon the shift all together. That’s an overreaction. Perhaps scaling back on the shift would make sense though. I’m not really sure. Point is, the Cubs showed this year you don’t need to shift heavily to be a great defensive club.

Indians: Keep all your pitching depth. All of it.

It’s amazing the Indians are so close to the World Series considering they are without their No. 2 (Carlos Carrasco) and No. 3 (Danny Salazar) starters. Also, No. 4 starter Trevor Bauer cut his finger fixing his drone over the weekend and had to have his ALCS start pushed back from Game Two to Game Three. Injuries like that can cripple a team in the postseason. Could you imagine if the 2009 Yankees had lost A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in September, and then Chad Gaudin cut his finger fixing his stupid drone in October? They’d be done.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

And yet, the Indians have won every single game they’ve played this postseason despite those injuries because of their pitching depth. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland’s nominal fifth starter who at one point in September was demoted to the bullpen, has given the team two strong outings in the playoffs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who has eleven big league innings to his credit, will get the ball in Game Five tomorrow, if necessary. Rookie Mike Clevinger is the backup plan.

The Yankees do have some rotation depth at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell next year. Chad Green too. Then there are Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery. Chances are the Yankees will need most of these guys at some point next year, if not all of them. That’s baseball. That isn’t to say the team should make their pitching depth off-limits, because there’s always a point when it makes sense to trade someone, but hanging on to all of these guys sure seems like a smart move.

Dodgers: Postseason narratives are meaningless

The Dodgers have won four games this postseason. Noted playoff choker Clayton Kershaw has pitched in all four of them. Sunday night, when everyone expected him to melt down in the seventh inning because he had a 20-something ERA in the seventh inning of postseason games, he tossed a scoreless frame. It’s almost like there is no such thing as a bad seventh inning pitcher.

Anyway, I have no doubt the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) have bought into some of this stuff over the years. You can’t convince me Carlos Beltran‘s postseason reputation didn’t factor into New York’s decision to sign him three years ago. (Beltran, by the way, has hit a less than stellar .250/.351/.393 in his last 25 postseason games.) These narratives are just that. Narratives. They’re fun stories to tell. They have no predictive value. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just focus on getting the best talent possible and having it on the field more than everyone else.

Blue Jays: Don’t be whiny children

Does anyone actually like the Blue Jays? Outside Toronto, I mean. They’re the Rasheed Wallace of baseball. They complain about every call then bitch about it after the game. The other day Jose Bautista said “circumstances” were working against the Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS, and by “circumstances” he meant the home plate umpires. Late in the season the Blue Jays refused interviews with certain reporters — they literally hung media head shots in the clubhouses with giant red X’s across them — because they didn’t like some of the criticism.

Imagine scoring three runs total in three ALCS games and blaming it on the umpires. Imagine being so upset by something a reporter said or wrote that you boycott them entirely. Could they be any more thin-skinned? The Yankees are pretty good at avoiding this stuff, thankfully. Joe Girardi will occasionally say something about the umpires when there’s an egregious mistake, but I can’t remember the last player to openly complained like Bautista. So, the lesson to be taken from the Blue Jays is this: don’t be jerks. Give people a reason to like you. People around the country have enough reasons to dislike the Yankees as it is.