Tyler Wade, Top 101 Prospect

(Beverly Schaefer | The Trenton Times)
(Beverly Schaefer | The Trenton Times)

On Monday morning, Baseball Prospectus released their annual Top 101 Prospects list. It was a particularly exciting list for Yankees fans, as nine of the team’s prospects made the cut – more than any other team in baseball. That was not necessarily unexpected, given that Keith Law and Baseball America placed six and seven Yankees, respectively, on their top-hundreds, and noted that a few more just missed the cut. What was surprising, however, was the name sitting at number 101 on BP’s list: Tyler Wade.

The last time we saw Wade, he was slashing .241/.391/.278 with 10 steals in 18 games (69 PA) in the Arizona Fall League. He did so while learning a new position – or three, depending upon your point of view – as he played all three outfield positions for the Scottsdale Scorpions. And, by all accounts, he took to the outfield grass quite well, demonstrating range and the ability to track the ball off of the bat.

As a result of this, few doubt Wade’s ability to serve as a true super-utility player at the highest level. While there are undoubtedly some kinks to work out, his transition to the outfield went as well as anyone could have expected, and his ability to play solid defense at second base and shortstop has never been in question (though his arm does limit his ability to make the tougher throws at short). There’s a great deal of value in a player that can provide more than adequate defense in the infield and the outfield, and Wade stands to do so – and up the middle, at that.

Offensively, the best description of Wade’s game that I’ve read comes from Mike’s 2017 Preseason Top 30 Prospects list: “It’s almost like a mini-Brett Gardner offensive skill set, minus the high-end speed — Wade is a good runner but not a truly great one — and before Gardner started socking double-digit dingers a few years back.”

Wade spent the entirety of the 2016 season at Double-A as a 21-year-old, where he hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) with 5 HR, 27 SB (8 CS), 11.3% walks, and 17.7% strikeouts. That’s essentially his career norm, as he’s a career .267/.350/.344 hitter with 10.4% walks and 18.7% strikeouts in 1907 minor league plate appearances, averaging 3 HR and 32 SB per 650 PA. It’s kind of uncanny, isn’t it?

His lack of power is noteworthy, and it stems from both his build and his approach. The most generous scouting reports will throw a 35 to 40 on his raw power (on the 20-80 scale, with 50 being average), and there’s no real uppercut to his swing. He’s something of a slap-and-dash hitter, as well, and MLBfarm reveals that 50.92% of his batted balls were of the groundball variety. The combination of well below-average power and hitting the ball on the ground puts a very real cap on his actualized power potential.

Despite his modest offensive potential, the BP staff has been a fan of Wade for quite some time. They referred to him as “the perfect utility player” last April, and named his as a candidate for the 2017 Top 101 a couple of months later. In the second piece, Elvis Andrus with less defense was mentioned as a comp, and it was said that “Wade offers high upside combined with a high floor.”

And, lo and behold, Wade made the BP Top 101 just seven months later.

The question here is twofold, though – should we have expected this, and is it deserved?

The answer to the former is somewhat straightforward, as BP all but choreographed it over the last ten months or so. In addition to the aforementioned articles, they slapped Wade with an overall future potential of 55 as a starter at second or in center their Yankees Top 10 Prospects list, which would essentially make him a solid average to slightly above-average regular. They key word there is ‘starter,’ which brings visions of Ben Zobrist, Steve Pearce, and Sean Rodriguez playing everyday at different positions. They note that scouts rave about “his energy, playing style, and instincts,” and the value of a competent offensive contributor with strong defense at two up the middle positions is undoubtedly fairly high.

The second question is far trickier to answer. I am inclined to chalk it up to personal preference, noting that each list is different and every scout has a player that they like or dislike more than others. Additionally, we don’t know how close he was to making the lists of Baseball America or Keith Law. However, we do know that John Sickels did not include Wade in his Top 200 prospects, though ten other Yankees do.

And should we take anything away from the team’s handling of Wade? That is, shifting him between positions and leaving him at Double-A for the entirety of the season? The answer is almost certainly no, given that almost every Yankees shortstop prospect has played elsewhere – and that includes Gleyber Torres, even if it was only for one game. It does seem that the team views him as a utility player, as Brian Cashman routinely praises him for his versatility and athleticism, and notes how well he handled his outfield learning curve. As has been said before, though, that could me a great deal of nothing – after all, Cashman’s not going to call him the second baseman, shortstop, or center-fielder of the future.

Inevitably, this is most noteworthy for the discussion that it brings. Is the ranking justified? If so, what are we missing? If not, what is BP missing (or exaggerating)? Or are we as fans simply putting too much stock in lists of this nature? Regardless, we will probably see Wade in the Majors at some point this season, and he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster after the season – so we should find out something sooner rather than later.

Three pitchers and a contract year

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees’ 2017 rotation is on the precipice of change.

The main reason anyone would state that is due to the rebuild/transition and the newfound reliance on young arms. The Yankees will be handing as many as two spots in the 2017 rotation to younger pitchers like Luis Severino or Chad Green, and there are some strong pitching prospects on the way in 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps the biggest potential change will be with the three veteran starters. In an intriguing twist, all three — Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia — are in contract seasons of one form or another. However, each faces a different kind of contract year as each step into a crucial season which could decide the next stage of their careers.

The Opt-out

When the Yankees signed Tanaka in 2014, the opt-out at the end of the 2017 season was a long way away. Now, as has been discussed, it will be a major storyline for this entire season.

How could it not be? Tanaka has been undoubtedly the Yankees’ best starter for the last three seasons and will presumably be that again this year. He has established himself as one of the best starters in the American League and just had his most impressive season in terms of combined performance and health. Sure, he may give up one too many home runs every once in a while, but he is a force on the mound and we now know he can get through 200 innings (or 199 2/3 innings, but who’s counting?). The photo above is of him fielding because he’s a strong fielder, a smaller but important aspect of his game.

Tanaka will be 28 years old for the entire 2017 season and turns 29 on Nov. 1, just in time for free agency. For a pitcher in his prime, that is just about the perfect time to hit the market, particularly one that has so few solid starters making it there. Here’s the issue: His elbow could tear at any moment. He has made it through the last two seasons just fine, but it’s a concern for every Yankees fan that Tanaka’s elbow is too fragile to be worth another long-term commitment.

If Tanaka uses his opt-out, he would have to undergo a physical with any team he signs with and that would include a peek at his ole UCL to see whether it is holding up. Is that worth the risk for him? Probably. Most pitchers have some wear and tear with the ligament and it’s not likely to be that much different. He’ll still get a long-term commitment from someone, quite possibly the Yankees, if he stays healthy in 2017, a big if for a pitcher with a partial UCL tear.

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

One more year?

Believe it or not, Sabathia is about to begin his ninth season with the Yankees and his next win will make it so he has more wins with the Yanks than he did with Indians. We are now five seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and it’s pretty clear the CC of old is not the CC of now. The 36-year-old lefty with eight 200-inning seasons doesn’t seem all that likely to post another one.

The good news is that he’s coming off his best season since that All-Star season in 2012. Shocking to many, he was actually an above-average pitcher for 180 innings in 2017, taking a page out of the Andy Pettitte book of aging gracefully. Using a cutter like his former teammate, Sabathia has regained the ability to get righties out at a decent enough clip after a few years of the platoon advantage destroying him. He’s actually effective and can get through six innings against the toughest of lineups in the AL East.

Similar to Pettitte, Sabathia is on the downside of his career and could be done at any moment. Guys don’t usually go out on top and some just fall apart without a moment’s notice. He’s going year-to-year and whether there is a spot in the rotation for him depends on his ability to keep up his 2016 numbers and hold off the prospects for another year. If CC can provide another year of 30 starts and an ERA around 4.00, he’d be worth another one-year deal, right? He’d have to settle for well less than his current $25 million salary, but that’s to be expected.

Sabathia was raised on the west coast, so perhaps he’d be inclined to go back to the opposite coast in free agency, but he’s lived in the New York area for nearly a decade now and seems to enjoy to his current digs. Another solid season and it’s not hard to see him in pinstripes for his age-37 season as well.

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

The question mark

OK, so what do we expect out of Pineda in 2017? It’s really tough to pin down exactly what the 6-foot-7 righty can provide in his fourth season with the Yankees. Last year, he was the third best out of these three veterans (is it fair to call Pineda a vet now?) with a 4.82 ERA, but his 3.79 FIP was quite solid. In fact, it was his second straight season lagging well behind his FIP (4.37 ERA, 3.34 FIP in 2015).

Basically, Pineda is a sabermetric nightmare. The guy who strikes out opponents at an extremely high clip (best K per 9 in the American League last year) and doesn’t walk many is exactly what teams desire in their starters and what has led to his low FIP. Yet Pineda can’t seem to turn his sterling peripherals into, you know, actual performance. He’ll have games like this one or this one where he puts everything together and is the ace many thought he could be back in 2012. Or he’ll give up hit after hit with shaky command and be pulled five runs into a loss.

It’s not like he doesn’t have the stuff. His fastball-slider combo can be downright unhittable when he’s going. 16 strikeouts unhittable. And his peripherals will have many believing he can turn around his high BABIP numbers and become elite like he was for eight starts in 2014. That turnaround might have to come in another uniform if he can’t pull it off this season.

If the Yankees sell this season – an unlikely possibility with the Steinbrenners not wanting to do so in back-to-back years – Pineda could be nice chip for the Yankees and fetch a couple prospects, even if they’re at a lower level as with the Ivan Nova trade. The most likely scenario is that Pineda is in the Yankees’ rotation all season, for worse or for better.

So what does his future look like? Like Tanaka, he’ll be 28 for the entire 2017 campaign before turning 29 next offseason. Unlike his righty counterpart, he’s looking for his first long-term contract. He’ll earn $7.4 million and will have made over $15 million in his career through the end of this season. However, he certainly will be searching for a long-term deal. He’ll be one of the better pitchers hitting the market, particularly for a team thinking they can turn his strikeout-walk ratio into gold. If he pitches similarly to his 2015-16, he’ll still likely be in line for at least a 3-year, $30 million deal on his lowest end. The pitching market is a seller’s market.

One way or another, this will likely be the last time we see Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia headline a Yankees rotation. That’s not to say it can’t happen in 2018, but a lot of things would have to break right. Sabathia could be staring down the last season of his career. Tanaka could be heading for greener pastures or for a surgeon’s table. And how do you solve a problem like Pineda?

Last season became the final year of the old guard among the hitters with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, among others, playing their final games as Yankees. I don’t think there will be an overhaul quite like that in the rotation, but as with the stable of prospects on their way from Scranton, it’ll be fascinating to watch how the veterans perform with all eyes on them.

Thoughts as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training


Spring Training is here! Pitchers and catchers officially report to Tampa today — Joe Girardi is holding his annual start-of-spring press conference at 11am ET, which will air on YES — though many players have been in town for a few days already, if not weeks. The Yankees will spend the next nine days working out before playing their first Grapefruit League game next Friday. I’ve got some thoughts on this, the first day of the long 2017 season.

1. I haven’t been this excited going into a new season since 2012. Will the Yankees be any good this year? Who knows. I’m excited because the Yankees are emphasizing youth and are poised to have young players at several positions. We know Gary Sanchez will be behind the plate and two of the five rotation spots will go to young pitchers. There’s also the possibility of Greg Bird at first base and Aaron Judge in right field. And, of course, we’re going to see even more kids throughout the season. Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Chance Adams should all make their big league debuts this summer. Maybe James Kaprielian too. I can’t wait. I’m excited the Yankees are heading in this direction, and while I know there will inevitably be bumps in the road, I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

2. Generally speaking, Spring Training performance means nothing. There is way, way, way too much noise. Pitchers often work on specific pitches, not getting outs, for example. Also, the level of competition varies because so many minor leaguers, many of whom won’t sniff the big leagues during the regular season, are involved in the games. For some players though, Spring Training matters because they’re trying to make the team. It’s dumb, but that’s how it goes. More than anyone, I think Judge needs to have a strong spring statistically to make the Opening Day roster. We know he dropped his leg kick, and if he doesn’t put up good numbers during Grapefruit League play, it’ll be really easy for the Yankees to send him to Triple-A for more work. Heck, even if he rakes in camp, they could send Judge down with the idea of giving him more time to continue to work on his lower half adjustments. Spring Training stats are stupid, yet I have a hard time believing Judge could make the team with a poor showing in March.

3. The Chris Carter signing will make it really easy for the Yankees to send Bird down to Triple-A to begin the season, which is notable because 65 days in the minors will delay his free agency a year. The Yankees lost a year of team control over Bird because of the injury last year. He spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list and accrued service time. Sending Bird down to Triple-A for two months to begin the season allows the team to “buy back” that year of control, and Carter is a more viable alternative at first base than Tyler Austin. Remember, Bird wasn’t great in the Arizona Fall League (102 wRC+) and he didn’t play the field at all. Designated hitter only. Sending him down for a few hundred at-bats in low-pressure games to get back to normal would be easy to justify, and as an added benefit, it would give the Yankees that extra year of control back.

Fister. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Fister. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

4. What do you think, do the Yankees have one more last minute signing in them? Not necessarily a guaranteed Major League deal like Carter. I’m talking about a minor league deal with an invite to camp, and perhaps with an opt-out at the end of March should the player not make the big league roster. Among the veteran free agent pitchers still available are Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Jon Niese, and Edwin Jackson. I like the idea of Niese, as long as he’s healthy, but the identity of the player doesn’t really matter. I just wonder whether the Yankees will bring in a veteran starter on a no risk deal to a) push the kids a bit in camp, and b) provide an extra layer of depth in case things go wrong. I have to imagine those veteran pitchers are getting pretty nervous right now. Passing on offers now could mean never getting offers again. Veteran guys have a way of being forced into retirement. They might jump at the chance to sign a minor league deal with the Yankees because you know what? Even if they don’t make the club, Spring Training would allow them to audition for other teams. Scouts are always watching. My guess right now is no, the Yankees don’t sign anyone else. Carter was the final move.

5. I’m really curious to see how Girardi manages this season. He’s going to have the youngest roster in his ten (!) seasons as Yankees manager, and last season he showed he’ll sit veterans in favor of young players. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez all lost playing time to young kids. At the same time, Girardi is entering the final year of his contract, and I’m sure he’ll feel some sort of pressure to win. It’s human nature. When the kids hit the inevitable rough patch, how quickly will he turn to the veterans? Does Carter’s playing time increase when Bird falls into a 2-for-25 slump? Does Judge ride the bench for a week in favor of Aaron Hicks after striking out eight times in a three-game series? The Yankees a) are trying to get younger, b) play in the intense New York market where winning is expected, and c) have a lame duck manager. I’m not sure that’s such a good combination.

Fitting Chris Carter into the Lineup

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

If you’ve never experienced pure boredom and, for whatever reason, want to, I suggest you proctor a New York State Regents exam. It’s perfect if you love pacing around a room, unable to speak, sit, read, or write while students take a graduation-mandatory exam. Just as perfect is hall proctoring, in which you wait outside a room or pair of rooms for students to use the bathroom, where you must escort them–one by one–and wait outside. The highlight of this was flipping quarters that I happened to have in my pocket, marking down heads or tails on my finger; for the record, tails won in a relative landslide. I mention this not so that you pity me– please, though, feel free to do so–but because this is a near-perfect analogy for where we are in the baseball calendar. Like me waiting to be relieved by the next proctor or the kids who finished early waiting for the release time, we’re all at our ‘desks’ waiting for Spring Training to begin.

To their credit, the Yankees did add some fire to the hot stove when they signed Chris Carter to a one year contract last week. When I first heard that they were checking in on him, I wasn’t too jazzed about the idea. But once the signing was announced–especially for so cheap–I came around on it more and more; that could have had something to do with spending a bit of time watching highlight videos of Carter’s NL-leading 41 homers. Regardless of how I–or you–feel about the deal, it’s done and Carter will be part of the team and playing time for him needs to be found. He brings with him a ton of whiffs, but a ton of walks and the aforementioned homers, too, and the Yankees have been lacking those things of late. Though not necessarily an ideal candidate for this team, Carter can help and add value; the only issue is, as Mike mused, where the heck is he gonna play?

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Against right handed pitchers, it’s pretty hard to find a spot for Carter, aside from a late-inning pinch hitter when a tough lefty reliever comes in. As a right handed batter, he obviously doesn’t give a platoon advantage over Greg Bird at first, and he’s not as complete a hitter as Matt Holliday. To be fair to Carter, though, he does have a career wOBA of .332 (109 wRC+) against righties, so he’s not helpless against them–far from it–which is comforting should Holliday go down or Bird’s shoulder not be fully recovered.

Against lefties, though, there will be ample opportunity for Carter to play. The simple answer is that he and Bird split the first base duties as a platoon. This serves a dual purpose as it gives Bird the lion’s share of the playing time and gives the Yankees another powerful right handed bat to deploy against lefties. However, as Bird is much longer for this team than Carter, it might make more sense to expose Bird to lefties as well. Where does that leave Carter? It depends on some other platoon variables.

If the Yanks really want to hammer lefties and eschew defense a bit in the process, they can. They can accomplish this dual ‘goal’ by being aggressive with their platooning in the outfield. Aaron Hicks can play center in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. Matt Holliday can “play” left field in place of Brett Gardner. The latter move would free up a spot for Carter to DH, giving the Yankees an all-right handed lineup against lefties, save for Didi Gregorius at short.

Chances are, this is all academic and this “problem” resolves itself through lack of performance or an injury. And, either way, the Yankees didn’t sign a 30+ homer guy–regardless of lack of cost–to have him ride the pine. He’ll get his playing time. And, as Mike noted, Carter has team control after this and 2017 could be a showcase for 2018. Hopefully, he makes the most of it.

Embracing the reality (and beauty) of a prospect-laden Yankees

Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The recent Yankees’ Winter Warmup was a nice touch to the offseason. Deep within the monotony of the winter when you’re mostly refreshing Didi GregoriusInstagram, the Yankees gave fans a chance to interact with their players. Yet, at the same time, fans also got a glimpse of a completely different version of the Bronx Bombers.

If this type of event had been held six years ago, the headliners would have been obvious. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, CC Sabathia, etc. The veteran stalwarts you know and love. The guys you’ve watched win titles and know exactly what to expect when they hit the field come that spring.

But those weren’t the guys put front and center (yes, CC took part on the Thursday of the event). How about a lineup of Chance Adams, Clint Frazier, James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, Gleyber Torres? Readers of River Avenue Blues are no doubt familiar with the next wave of the ‘Baby Bombers’ but they are far from household names for the average Yankees fan at the moment.

But they are the ones that the Yankees put front and center. That’s startling. For 20 years, it’s been essentially one core, a high-priced roster of aging stars with a rotating cast around them. The farm system has had its ups and downs, mostly downs, and filled in a few roster spots, producing a star (Robinson Cano), trade chips and some regulars since the turn of the century.

Cano or Brett Gardner were able to ease into the lineup to an extent, finding their footing while the veterans were the ones relied upon to produce wins. Sure, a Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain came with extraordinary expectations, but that was primarily once they put up big numbers. Jesus Montero would have been hyped to no end in 2012 after one month of beautiful home runs and general hitting promise, but he was instead one of the aforementioned trade chips.

Now it’s the prospects that are in the spotlight. Not just Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge, guys who at least have received their first cups of coffee. Frazier, Sheffield and Torres have been in the organization for six months. Adams has been a starter for one year. Kaprielian threw 18 innings before the Arizona Fall League last year. Those five players, all among MLB.com’s top-100 prospects besides Adams, have played 30 combined games above Double-A, all by Frazier. Besides Judge, the Yankees’ other members of the top-100 are Jorge Mateo, who is still in Tampa, and Blake Rutherford, perhaps the prospect with the most upside but one who was drafted less than a year ago.

I know I’m not alone in feeling weird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited beyond belief to see the development that will come in 2017, whether it’s from highlight packages or Down on the Farm posts. But where there’s excitement is also the dread. Because there will be growing pains … a lot of them. There are going to be times when we will shake our heads. At the big league level, Sanchez likely won’t be on a 60-homer pace in 2017. Judge is going to keep striking out as he has done at every level early on before he fully adjusts if he even can make that next step with his biggest challenge yet. Greg Bird is not going to be Mark Teixeira defensively and that shoulder surgery is a concern for him offensively.

In the minors, there will be even more growing pains. Torres faces the challenge of a pitcher-friendly Eastern League and Waterfront Park. Frazier continues to try and overcome his strikeout woes as he plays his first full season in Triple-A. Adams, Kaprielian and Sheffield (as well as Jordan Montgomery, Ian Clarkin and others) will need to prove themselves at new levels.

It’s important to keep in mind with all of these guys that development for a prospect is almost never a straight path. Sanchez is a great example with his early promise, his setbacks with questions of maturity and then having everything come together all at once last year. Judge seemingly struggles at the start of each new level before finding his footing and learning how to excel.

But we also can’t get too high when one of the guys in the minors has a hot week or two. The second Didi Gregorius makes an error or goes into a prolonged slump that coincides with a losing stretch, there will be a clamor from some to call up Torres all the way from Trenton. There needs to be plenty of patience, even if someone hits the way people hope Torres will hit.

There are also going to be the guys who take steps back – or at least sideways – like Mateo did last year, but with so many top prospects, some guys are also bound to take that next step, realize their potential and get us more excited than we are now. This season will be about embracing those big steps and even the little ones. To borrow a phrase from another franchise on the ride, it’s time to “trust the process.”

And that brings me back to the Winter Warmup. Sure, Adams and Kaprielian aren’t guys who the average fan might know right now. Many might only know Frazier or Torres by the head shots put on TV broadcasts explaining what the Yankees got back for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. But this season will be about embracing those fresh faces, warts and all, the Yankees put front and center at the Winter Warmup, with the hope that they’ll be front and center for the next championship runs.

Thoughts following the Chris Carter signing

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Turns out the Yankees had one more move left in them this offseason. Yesterday afternoon the team reportedly agreed to terms with reigning National League home run champ Chris Carter. It’s a one-year deal with a $3.5M base salary plus another $500,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. Let’s talk this one out, shall we?

1. I am mostly indifferent to the signing, and like many of you, the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about it was “wooo dingers!” Gosh do I love home runs. They’re the best. The second thing that crossed my mind is “where is Carter going to play?” My fearlessly bold prediction: this will work itself out. It always does. We fret over playing time in February and before you know it we’ll be wondering where the Yankees would be without Carter. That’s usually how this stuff works. The Yankees have a 37-year-old designated hitter (Matt Holliday) and a young unproven first baseman coming back from major shoulder surgery (Greg Bird). The at-bats will be there and they’re paying him middle reliever money*. The Yankees wouldn’t have signed Carter without some sort of plan in place, and you know what else? Carter probably wouldn’t have signed with the Yankees without playing time assurances. We’ll see how it shakes out. As always, the odds of playing time being a non-issue are better than we’d probably like to admit.

* The Rangers gave Mike Napoli a one-year contract worth $8.5M yesterday. How, exactly, is he $5M better than Carter?

2. Seriously though, where is he going to play? I don’t think the Carter signing is the first step in some grand “trade Brett Gardner and clear the roster spot that way” scheme. Prior to the signing, Bird as well as Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder were fighting for two big league roster spots (first base and bench). One of those roster spots is now going to Carter. The kids all have minor league options, so sending them down to Triple-A for the time being isn’t a problem, but the Yankees are in the middle of a rebuild transition and they just signed a 30-year-old one-dimensional slugger to take the roster spot of a young player. That … kinda goes against the plan, no? Again, I’m sure this will work itself out. Holliday isn’t he most durable player at this point of his career and Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery. Heck, maybe the Yankees signed Carter because Bird’s shoulder isn’t 100% and they haven’t told us yet. But, if everyone makes it through camp in one piece, now two of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder are going to open the season in Triple-A. Not only one. (Sixty-five days in the minors delays Bird’s free agency a year, remember.)

3. Who is going to lose their 40-man roster spot for Carter? I’ve been assuming Richard Bleier is next up on the 40-man chopping block all winter, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it seems the Yankees like him more than I realized. If not Bleier, my guess is Johnny Barbato. Barbato made the Opening Day roster last season but pitched so poorly he didn’t just wind up back in Triple-A, he didn’t even get a September call-up. That’s not a good sign. The Yankees aren’t going to cut any of the kids they protected from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason (Dietrich Enns, Yefrey Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, etc.) and I’d be surprised if Austin Romine or Ronald Torreyes got the axe even though the club has internal replacement candidates at their positions. Maybe Mason Williams? The Yankees will have plenty of outfielders in Triple-A, so perhaps Williams is expendable. Right now, I’m going with Barbato.

4. Carter is a right-handed hitter who socked 41 dingers a year ago and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games over the last three seasons. He hit .224/.338/.537 (126 wRC+) against lefties last season and .222/.335/.486 (123 wRC+) against lefties over the last three seasons. The following left-handed starters pitch for rival AL East teams: J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Wade Miley, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, and Blake Snell. Yeah. The extra power right-handed bat is going to come in handy. Especially since Carter is a guy who can go the other way and take advantage of the short porch. Here is his spray chart over the last three years (via Baseball Savant):

chris-carter-spray-chartNo one will mistake Carter for a great pure hitter who works the entire field and things like that. He’s going to grip it and rip it, and sometimes the ball flies over the fence, even to the opposite field. The short porch will get some extra love in 2017.

5. The big drawback with Carter is, obviously, his strikeouts. He led the NL with 41 home runs last season and also with 206 strikeouts. His 32.0% strikeout rate last year was second highest among qualified hitters, behind only Chris Davis (32.9%). Only Mike Zunino (33.7%) and Davis (32.3%) have a higher strikeout rate than Carter (32.2%) over the last three years. That’s a problem. Strikeouts are bad. You live with them in exchange for the power, but they’re still bad. One big power/lots of strikeouts guy in the lineup is tolerable. More than one gets a little iffy, and there’s a pretty good chance Carter and Aaron Judge will both be in the lineup a bunch of times next season. That’s going to lead to a lot of empty at-bats and rallies dying without the ball being put in play. Judge is a top prospect and hopefully the right fielder of the future. He’s a priority player. As long as the Yankees deem him big league ready, he should be in the lineup. He shouldn’t sit just because Carter is owed a couple million bucks and Joe Girardi doesn’t want two strikeout guys in the lineup. Judge has to play and I’m sure Carter is going to play a bunch too. The two might combine for 400 strikeouts this season, like for real, and that won’t be pleasant to sit through at times.

6. This is worth pointing out: Carter will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. He somehow still has fewer than five full years of service time. The Brewers non-tendered him earlier this offseason because they didn’t want to pay a projected $8M salary through arbitration. Obviously no one else felt Carter was worth that salary either, because he signed for $3M with some incentives. Chances are the same thing will happen next offseason. The Yankees will non-tender Carter because his projected salary will outweigh his actual production. But, if Carter has a nice year, the club could bring him back in 2018 as their post-Holliday designated hitter. It’ll be an option available to them. Hopefully Carter has a good season and forces the Yankees to think hard about bringing him back for another year. That would be cool.

7. One thing I do not expect to happen is a midseason trade. One of those “Carter plays well and the Yankees flip him for prospects at the deadline” situations. Nope. Can’t see it. Carter hit .230/.317/.514 (113 wRC+) with 22 homers before the All-Star break last summer and the Brewers made him available at the deadline, but no team bit. The same way no team bit when Milwaukee put him on the trade market prior to the non-tender deadline. It’s more likely Carter will be designated for assignment and released at midseason than traded for an actual prospect. An injury could always create a need somewhere else around the league, but, over these last seven months or so, the market has told us Carter doesn’t have much value at all. Heck, you can go even further back than that, when the Astros non-tendered him following the 2015 season. They tried to trade him too. This is a straight one-year deal with upside in the form of dingers. That’s about it.

Thoughts one week before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training


Only one week left in the offseason. Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa one week from today, then the position players will follow four days later. The first Grapefruit League game is only 17 days away. Feels good. Anyway, I have some random thoughts on random stuff.

1. Barring an extremely surprising development, the Yankees are done with their major moves this offseason. They might ink someone to a non-roster deal or something like that, but we’re not going to see anything that will shake up the projected Opening Day roster. I’m most surprised the Yankees didn’t add a starting pitcher this winter. Not necessarily a cheap innings guy either. I’m talking about a quality young starter with several years of control. I really thought they were going to dip into their prospect base to improve the rotation via trade. A few promising young starters were traded this winter (Jose De Leon, Lucas Giolito, Taijuan Walker) but there wasn’t as much activity as I expected. I thought we’d see a ton of pitcher trades given the thin free agent class. The Yankees did add pitching in the Brian McCann (Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman) and James Pazos (Zack Littell) trades, though the guys they got back are Single-A prospects, not big league ready. I’m not saying it’s bad (or good) the Yankees didn’t acquire a young arm. I’m just saying I expected it to happen, and it didn’t.

2. Another thing I expected to happen that didn’t this offseason: a Brett Gardner trade. The combination of upper level outfield prospects and desire to get under the luxury tax threshold had me thinking Gardner was a goner. The Yankees would shop him around a bit, then eventually take the best offer, even if it meant eating some money a la the McCann trade. Didn’t happen. There weren’t many clubs in need of an outfielder this winter, and two of the neediest teams were AL East rivals (Blue Jays, Orioles). Intra-division deals are always unlikely. That trimmed the list of potential suitors even further. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just thought Gardner would be moved so the Yankees could give his at-bats to younger players. Instead, Brian Cashman set his asking price and stuck to it, so Gardner remains. I imagine that asking price will be adjusted at midseason, especially if Clint Frazier really forces the issue in Triple-A.

3. One of the most surefire ways to build a competitive team is by being strong up the middle. The late-1990s Yankees became a dynasty because they were getting top of the line production from catcher (Jorge Posada), shortstop (Derek Jeter), and center field (Bernie Williams), positions that are typically hard to fill. (Chuck Knoblauch was excellent at second base in 1998 and 1999 too.) You know what? Here’s a big ol’ table with the best up-the-middle teams in baseball in 2016, per fWAR:

Team C 2B SS CF Total
1. Nationals 4.4 10.0 2.9 2.6 19.9
2. Cubs 3.5 6.9 3.9 5.6 19.9
3. Dodgers 2.9 1.9 7.6 5.7 18.1
4. Cardinals 2.5 8.6 4.2 2.3 17.6
5. Red Sox 2.2 4.8 4.4 4.8 16.2
6. Giants 4.2 3.1 6.0 1.7 15.0
7. Indians -0.7 4.7 6.3 4.5 14.8
8. Astros 3.2 6.5 4.9 -0.8 13.8
9. Mets 0.5 5.5 3.2 4.0 13.2
10. Angels 1.2 -0.6 2.8 9.3 12.7
11. Orioles 0.7 2.0 8.8 1.2 12.7
12. Phillies 2.9 3.6 2.4 3.8 12.7
13. Rockies 2.0 4.0 2.2 3.8 12.0
14. Tigers 0.7 6.0 2.4 2.1 11.2
15. Rangers 3.5 2.0 1.9 3.6 11.0
16. Royals 2.8 1.2 0.4 6.6 11.0
17. White Sox 0.8 1.8 3.6 4.2 10.4
18. Yankees 4.4 1.2 2.7 2.0 10.3
19. Diamondbacks 2.9 5.5 0.7 1.2 10.3
20. Marlins 3.6 3.2 0.6 2.4 9.8
21. Mariners 2.5 6.1 -1.1 2.2 9.7
22. Brewers 4.1 0.8 2.8 1.8 9.5
23. Twins 0.5 5.9 1.0 1.9 9.3
24. Blue Jays 1.2 3.0 1.8 3.0 9.0
25. Rays -0.1 3.7 2.4 2.8 8.8
26. Reds 0.2 0.2 3.3 3.1 6.8
27. Pirates 1.2 1.6 1.2 0.7 4.7
28. Padres -0.3 2.8 -2.7 3.5 3.3
29. Braves 0.9 -2.1 -1.0 4.1 1.9
30. Athletics 2.2 -3.2 2.2 -1.4 -0.2

Six of the top seven and seven of the top nine teams in up-the-middle WAR went to the postseason. Only one team in the bottom half of the league went to the postseason, and that was the Blue Jays, who had a great pitching staff (AL low 4.11 runs allowed per game) and received monster production from first and third bases. Anyway, the Yankees were essentially middle of the pack last year, and you don’t have to look real hard to see how that may improve going forward. Gary Sanchez is now entrenched behind the plate. Gleyber Torres is coming soon, and while he may not unseat the defensive superior Didi Gregorius at shortstop, he could force the Yankees to move Starlin Castro. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen in center field long-term — Jacoby Ellsbury is going to have to move to left field at some point reasonable soon, you don’t see many 34 or 35 years old roaming center nowadays — but the Yankees have options. Dustin Fowler, Blake Rutherford, maybe Jorge Mateo. This is a tried and true formula. Be strong up the middle. The Yankees aren’t right now, though they could be very soon.

4. The Royals signed Jason Hammel over the weekend and a slew of relievers came off the board in recent days. An already thin free agent class has been picked clean. So, looking over the list of those still unsigned, the only players who remotely interest me at this point are Joe Blanton and Jon Niese, and that’s only if Niese is healthy. Blanton had a fine season with the Dodgers last year, throwing 80 innings with a 2.48 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a 25.4% strikeout rate. He just turned 36, and at this point of his career, he’s in “ride him into the ground” territory. It sounds harsh, but Blanton was out of baseball two years ago before resurfacing, and he can’t seem to find a job this winter. He’s a guy you sign, keep running out there until he loses effectiveness, then cast aside. The Yankees currently have two open bullpen spots and more pitchers than they can fit in Triple-A, so signing Blanton would only compound that problem. Then again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth. I don’t expect the Yankees to sign Blanton or anyone else at this point. I’m just saying that, out of all the still available players, he and healthy Niese are the only ones who catch my eye. Blargh.

5. Looking ahead to next year’s free agent class — way too early, I should add — I’ve already professed my love for Carlos Santana. Two mid-range starters who could interest the Yankees are Alex Cobb and Francisco Liriano. Cobb was excellent with the Rays from 2013-14 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery, and this coming season he’ll have a chance to show he’s back to form following elbow reconstruction. Cobb will only be 30 when hits free agency and he’s an AL East tested guy who gets a lot of grounders and posts high K/BB ratios. That fits what the Yankees look for in their pitchers. As for Liriano, the Yankees have had on-and-off interest in him in the past, dating back to his days with the Twins, and lefties who can get ground balls and miss bats are always welcome in Yankee Stadium. He’s enigmatic, no doubt, but the Yankees very clearly aren’t afraid of those types of pitchers (A.J. Burnett, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, etc.). Also, Liriano will be 34 by time he hits free agency, which means he shouldn’t require a hefty contract. A lot can and will change over the next few months, so who knows whether Cobb and/or Liriano will even be desirable next winter. If the Yankees don’t intend to swim in the deep end of the free agent pool for guys like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (or Masahiro Tanaka!), second tier arms like Cobb and Liriano could catch their attention.