Headley’s signing is good for Refsnyder and Pirela

Jose Pirela
(AP Photo)

All Rob Refsnyder has done is hit. After starting slowly following the 2012 draft, he’s put up monster numbers at every level of the minors in the last two seasons, ending 2014 in AAA with a .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) line. It seems, or at least seemed, that his time in the Bronx is near.

Then the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley, which pushes Refsnyder out of immediate consideration for a starting spot.

It might appear as though the Yankees crowded Refsnyder out of a spot, but by re-signing Headley they might have made his transition to the big leagues easier. The same is true for Jose Pirela, and other candidate for an infield position before Headley signed.

It’s all about versatility

The trade for Martin Prado last July gives the Yankees flexibility. They took advantage right away, starting Prado multiple times at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF. It appears that he’ll start the season as the everyday second baseman, but that could change at any time — not because of Prado’s performance, but because others are stepping up.

Instead of starting Refsnyder at second out of the gate, they’ll have him continue what he started at Scranton Wilkes-Barre. If he continues pummeling the ball as he did in 2014, he can force his way into a call-up even if Prado is performing to expectations.

As of today, Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees’ primary DH. That could change between now and Opening Day, but let’s assume it’s true. In that case, who are the Yankees two biggest on-field risks? Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. Should anything happen to either, Prado can move to the outfield and Refsnyder can take over at second base.

(Refsnyder did play nine games in the outfield last year, and another 42 in 2012. He was an outfielder in college. But it appears that the Yankees want him to stay at second base. There’s a better chance that they move Prado to the OF rather than Refsnyder.)

Pirela is a man of many positions, having started multiple games at every spot except catcher in 2014. He also continued hitting well, a 117 wRC+ in 581 PA at AAA, which followed a 118 wRC+ in 530 PA at AA in 2013. Basically, ever since he reached AA he’s started to hit. Given his versatility, the Yankees can easily find a spot for him whenever a need arises.

Pirela can slide in for anyone who gets hurt, other than Brian McCann. The Yankees can work in Refsnyder in the event that anyone other than Didi Gregorius gets hurt, moving Prado to whatever position and inserting Refsnyder at 2B.

By fielding a team of veteran major leaguers, the Yankees can let Pirela and Refsnyder signal when they’re ready. With their flexibility, they can probably work in one of those guys at almost any time. Additionally, they provide depth in case of injury. If any of the seven non-mask-wearing fielders gets hurt, the Yankees have an easy way to fill the void.

When the Yankees signed Chase Headley they didn’t block two young players. They merely changed the way they’ll fit into the 2015 plans. It might be for the better, for all parties.

Thoughts after Yankees re-sign Chase Headley

I'm a sucker for Gatorade shower photos. (Elsa/Getty)
I’m a sucker for a good Gatorade shower photo. (Elsa/Getty)

I was originally planning to post a post-Winter Meetings thoughts post, but then the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley yesterday morning, so I changed gears. Instead of a post-Winter Meetings thoughts post, here’s a post with some post-Headley deal and post-Winter Meetings thoughts combined into one post. To the post:

1. So that reported four-year, $65M offer Headley had from an unknown team had to be made up, right? It had to be his agent trying to drive up the price. As cool as it would be to say Headley turned down substantially more money to return to New York because the Yankees are totally awesome and everyone else sucks, I have a hard time thinking a rational human being would pass up that much extra money just because he liked playing somewhere. Take $1M less per year like Andrew Miller? Sure. I can buy that. But $3.25M per year like Headley? That’s a lot of money for the kids — Headley’s wife just had a baby, Joe Girardi said at the Winter Meetings — and the kids’ kids and the kids’ kids’ kids to leave on the table. Maybe it’s true and Headley really did value playing in New York so much that he turned down an extra $13M or so. That would be cool. I just have a hard time believing it. That reported $65M offer seems like a classic “agent trying to drive up the price” move. (For what it’s worth, Headley told Jack Curry yesterday he did turn down more money to return to the Yankees without giving specifics.)

2. With Headley back, the 13 position player slots on the roster heading into next season are just about set. We know who the nine starters will be — assuming Alex Rodriguez is the regular DH — and the bench will have Brendan Ryan, Chris Young, either John Ryan Murphy or Austin Romine as the backup catcher, and probably Jose Pirela in the last spot. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to bring in potential bench piece or two as a non-roster invitee to push Pirela (and Ryan?) in camp, maybe someone like Adam Rosales or, day I say, Jayson Nix, but that’s not a pressing issue right now. Either way, Headley will join Didi Gregorius, Martin Prado, and Mark Teixeira as the regular infielders. The Opening Day infield last year was Teixeira, Brian Roberts, fading Derek Jeter, and Kelly Johnson. The year before it was Kevin Youkilis at first, Robinson Cano, Eduardo Nunez, and Nix. Even though it lacks a bonafide superstar like Cano, the projected 2015 infield looks so much better than what they ran out there from 2013-14. Million times better. They actually have a bonafide Major League caliber player at all four positions. That wasn’t the case the last two years.

3. The Headley signing presumably pushes Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to start next season — I suppose he could beat out Pirela for the last bench job, but I’m not expecting that to happen — and I do think that’s the best thing for his development, especially defensively. Learning on the fly in the big leagues is not easy. I’ve said this a million times already: when someone inevitably gets hurt next summer, the Yankees can move Prado to whatever position to fill in for the injury, then call up Refsnyder to play second. I am not at all a fan of handing a non-elite prospect a job out of Spring Training and prefer Refsnyder to get his opportunity as an injury replacement at midseason. I’m pretty sure I’ve written this before, but I think the best case scenario for his MLB arrival is the Brett Gardner path — up and down the first year, part-time role the second year, then full-time role the third year. The adjustment from Triple-A to MLB is more difficult now than ever before — Brian MacPherson recently spoke to a bunch of executives about this — and anything the Yankees can do to ease Refsnyder’s transition is a positive in my eyes. And, of course, re-signing Headley presumably makes Refsnyder (and Eric Jagielo?) more available in a trade, especially if they’re confident in Pirela going forward. If Refsnyder (or Jagielo!) can help land a pitcher with a few years of control left, it’s definitely something the Yankees should explore.

Nightmare fuel. (@TomLeyden)
Nightmare fuel. (@TomLeyden)

4. I do believe the Yankees are sincere when they say they will pass on handing a huge money long-term deal to Max Scherzer. He’s an excellent pitcher and would obviously be a huge help. That’s not really up for debate. The question is whether Scherzer and a bunch of scrap heap arms are better for the club than spreading the money around and signing two or three pitchers for similar 2015 money. Say Hiroki Kuroda, Edinson Volquez, and Chad Billingsley. Or Volquez, Brandon Morrow, and Chris Capuano. (Not endorsing either set of pitchers, just throwing names out there.) The Yankees need multiple starters right now and chances are they’ll have to dip into the scrap heap at some point this summer anyway, so maybe it’s better to get two solid pitchers rather than one great one. As good as Scherzer is, he does only take the ball once every fifth day. As Joe detailed last week, the Yankees have almost no money coming off the books next offseason (Shawn Kelley, Young, maybe Ryan, that’s all), so signing Scherzer probably means they have to sit out free agency (the big names, anyway) next winter barring a payroll increase. One year deal guys like Kuroda, Billingsley, Morrow, and/or Capuano would both help the 2015 rotation and leave some financial flexibility for next winter, when three legit aces (David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto) and several other solid starters (Doug Fister, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Mat Latos) are scheduled to hit the market. Some will sign extensions, sure, but some will inevitably hit the market. There’s too many for that not to happen. At that point the Yankees will be a year away from shedding Teixeira’s and Carlos Beltran‘s contracts (maybe CC Sabathia‘s as well), making a another big money deal a little easier to swallow. I’m in favor of skipping Scherzer, signing a few cheaper starters, then revisiting the pitching market next offseason.

5. Over the last year or so, there has been an uptick in the number of MLB player for MLB player trades going down around the league. At the Winter Meetings last week there was the Matt Kemp/Yasmani Grandal trade, the Jeff Samardzija/Marcus Semien trade, and the Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade. At the trade deadline we had the Jon Lester/Cespedes swap, the John Lackey/Allen Craig deal, and the David Price/Austin Jackson/Drew Smyly three-team trade, among others. There are still plenty of MLB player for prospect deals (the first Samardzija trade, the Dee Gordon/Andrew Heaney deal, etc.), but the MLB player for MLB player trades are happening more often nowadays. I find these trades more fun and interesting, and I’m pretty sure they’re due to the second wildcard. It’s easier to get into the postseason than ever before, and there are many more buyers than sellers. Teams don’t want to take risky prospects in return for their established big leaguers because those prospects can’t help them win right now, so they’re focused on getting other established big leaguers back in return. The Yankees made four trades before the deadline this summer and three of the four were big leaguer for big leaguer. The only exception was the Prado/Peter O’Brien swap. Contrary to what many seem to think, the Yankees do have some tradeable assets on their MLB roster. Will they use any of them to get help elsewhere on the roster at the trade deadline? Intrigue!

6. We all know the Yankees have a lot of injury risk in the rotation heading into next year, and also some on the position player side, and that’s really scary. So I’m going to close with this as a change of pace: what if everything goes right? What if Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow holds up and Michael Pineda makes 30+ starts? And that CC Sabathia’s surgically rebuilt knee gives him a more stable landing and better effectiveness? What if A-Rod returns from his year away with a fully healthy body and rakes in his new role as the DH? What if the bone spur was the only reason Beltran didn’t hit in the second half in 2014? What if Teixeira starts mashin’ taters now that he’s more than a full year removed from wrist surgery? Just humor me for a second. What if all that stuff we’re all expecting to go wrong instead goes right? How amazing would that be? I think the Yankees would win the AL East in a landslide in that case, and then they’d go into the postseason with two aces, a dominant bullpen, and a deep lineup. Realistic? Nah. Fun as hell think about? You bet.

Front office perception and the Yankees

They ate how much money and traded him for what? (Harry How/Getty)
They ate how much money and traded him for what? (Harry How/Getty)

The 2014 Winter Meetings came and went last week, and although the Yankees didn’t make any moves, it was the busiest Winter Meetings I can remember. The 2008 Winter Meetings were pretty hectic — the Yankees signed both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett that week — but nothing compared to this year. There were a ton of high profile signings and trades in San Diego last week, and yet there are still more on the way. Max Scherzer and James Shields are unsigned and Justin Upton is still on the trade block.

The busiest team during the Winter Meetings last week was the Dodgers, who swung three major trades and landed a notable free agent in the span of about 18 hours from Wednesday afternoon into Thursday morning. As those deals were going down, I saw nothing but approval for the job ex-Rays GM Andrew Friedman was doing. Whether it was real time reaction on Twitter or analysis posts filed later, it was nothing but love for what the Dodgers were doing. Universal praise.

And yet, of all their moves, the only one that struck me as great was the Jimmy Rollins trade. (I really like Rollins as a one year stopgap shortstop.) The Dee Gordon trade? I mean, didn’t anyone actually stop to think that maybe he’s good now? (Drew Fairservice did.) Or that the Marlins are legitimately excellent at player development, so maybe there’s a reason top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney was available? Trade four years of Gordon for six of Heaney? Brilliant! Flip six years of Heaney for one of Howie Kendrick? Somehow also brilliant! Also, isn’t it amazing how almost no one is questioning four years for Brandon McCarthy now?

Then there’s the Matt Kemp trade, in which the Dodgers ate so much money that they turned his contract into a five-year, $75M deal. Isn’t that entirely reasonable for a just turned 30-year-old who is one of only 18 players to slug .500+ over the last four years? All the Dodgers got back was a catcher who has been lauded for his pitch framing (Yasmani Grandal), a broken young pitcher (Joe Wieland), and a Single-A prospect (Zach Eflin). The ultimate win now team just traded one of their two best hitters for that package. I guess I don’t see that as deserving of the instant, unquestioned praise it received.

So anyway, those moves and the reaction to those moves got me thinking about how people perceive certain front offices. If anyone other than Friedman had made those moves, I’m pretty sure they would have been viewed differently. No doubt about it in my mind. Theo Epstein & Co. are treated the same way as Friedman. On the other side of the coin, we snicker at everything Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik or Royals GM Dayton Moore does. Or at least we did until Moore’s team went to the World Series. Giants GM Brian Sabean was the butt of many jokes until he built a dynasty.

How do people perceive the Yankees front office? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. Based on what I’ve seen and read over the years, it seems like the majority of non-Yankees fans generally like the team’s moves more than Yankees fans. I’ve seen very few non-Yankees fans think the Didi Gregorius trade was a mistake, for example. Almost zero. Is that because they hadn’t seen enough of Shane Greene to fall in love with him? Or because they better understand just how hard it is to get a young shortstop because they haven’t been watching Derek Jeter for two decades? I don’t know. Could be both.

Here is a relevant tweet from a non-Yankees fan:

Patrick’s talking about handing out some market value contracts and making one big trade. The Yankees, because of their payroll, tend to buy big money free agents rather than mid-range free agents like the ChiSox, but the idea is the same. Market value signings and a big trade. When the Yankees do it, it’s bad. When the Rick Hahn does it, it’s genius. (Full disclosure: I really like what Hahn’s done this winter.)

These biases exist and that’s perfectly fine. It’s human nature. We have biases about players and that extends into the front office. The Dodgers’ moves drew praise last week because Friedman was excellent while with the Rays, consistently building a contender with a shoestring budget. He earned the benefit of the doubt. But these days it isn’t so much benefit of the doubt as it is unquestioned approval. We don’t even consider the “what if Friedman just made a big mistake?” option. Doesn’t even cross our minds. Meanwhile, it feels like “what if Cashman just made a big mistake?” is the default setting for many fans.

As someone who writes a lot about baseball, especially about the Yankees, I can’t tell you how many times a move has been made, my initial reaction is “it sucks” or “this is awesome,” and I find myself writing a post that fits my opinion. Happens way too often, especially when I’m trying to crank something out quickly. I’m not going to sit here and tell people what to think. I just think we’d all be better served if we removed our preconceived notions — that’s very difficult! — and took a second to consider the alternative. What if Friedman did make a mistake? What if this relatively quiet Yankees offseason is, in fact, the best thing for the Yankees long-term?

What to do with the fourth-best team in the AL East?

Bring me Scherzer or bring me a fourth (or fifth) place finish. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Bring me Scherzer or bring me a fourth (or fifth) place finish. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

It’s a good thing the off-season does not end today, because if it did the Yankees would find themselves the fourth-best team in the AL East. If Tampa Bay has a few things break their way, the Yanks could find themselves finishing last in the AL East for the first time since 1990 (fifth for the first time since 1991).

The calendar might suggest that there are still two months left in the off-season, but the recent flurry of transactions means fewer players are available for the Yankees. The Red Sox, for instance, brought in three pitchers in the last day or so: Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson. That’s three fewer pitchers for the Yankees to consider.

Options on offense have also dwindled. Not that the Yankees have many places they can fit another hitter. Maybe they have some at-bats in the outfield, but probably not at a starter’s level. Their best option, Chase Headley, is still on the board. But will the Yankees offer the ~$45 million it takes to get him?

What it takes

Q: What would it take for the Yankees to reach the level of the Red Sox, Jays, and Orioles?

A: A $230 million payroll.

This is not unprecedented. The 2013 Yankees spent $228 million on a team that was clearly bad. They paid Vernon Wells $10 million. They paid A.J. Burnett $8 million not to pitch for them. A clearly diminished Kevin Youkilis earned $12 million. And then there are the down-roster players, like Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch, who made far more than they were worth.

The point, apparently, was to paper over a depleted roster with the goal of lowering the 2014 payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold. And it failed, miserably, because when all those horrible contracts came off the books they had no one good left on the roster.

The problem this year is that the Yankees already have almost $179 million committed — to 2016’s payroll. The only players scheduled to reach free agency after 2015 are Chris Young and Shawn Kelley, and maybe Brendan Ryan.

Which is to say, if they don’t spend now, they’re going to be in the exact same spot next off-season, only with everyone a year older.

$200 million to finish 4th

According to Baseball Reference’s payroll estimates, the Yankees are currently in for just around $195 million if you estimate around $9 to $10 million for arbitration guys, plus league-minimum guys. That is, if they make no real upgrades anywhere else. If they add a mid-level starter, that bumps them over $200 mil — and failing to add another starter means Adam Warren in the rotation and pretty much no depth behind the four shaky starters.

Worse, it would almost certainly mean finishing fourth or even last. Unless the O’s, Jays, or Sox face a series of misfortunes, that’s the Yankees’ fate.

This is the crossroads at which the Yankees currently stand. They can either spend $200 million for a roster almost guaranteed to finish fourth or fifth, or they can make a splash right now. They can go out and add two players and bump up that payroll.

Yes, Max Scherzer

Scherzer is currently the only difference-maker left on the free agent market. Chances are he’d cost about $175 million over seven years. Given his performances the last three seasons, he might be worth that. And he can seriously upgrade the Yankees run prevention corps.

He can’t be the only guy they add — which probably means bumping payroll above $230 million, since adding Scherzer alone will bring them very close to that — but the alternatives are not at all compelling.

Signing another player to a huge, long-term contract might not seem palatable. But it’s a risk the Yankees can take right now.

A two-year commitment

While no one comes off the books after the 2015 season, after 2016 the Yankees get some breathing room. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira* have expiring contracts, amounting to $38 million. That gives them some breathing room. The next CBA will also be up for discussion, which will probably change the luxury tax threshold and penalty. So the Yankees will have another opportunity to duck under.

*CC Sabathia has a 2017 option, but it becomes guaranteed as long as there’s nothing wrong with his left shoulder. To date this has not at all been a problem. Maybe he does develop left shoulder issues in the next two years, but we can’t really bank on it. So we assume he makes $25 million in 2017.

At this point the Yankees, with Scherzer, will have around $155 million committed to eight players. That’s not ideal, but it’s still better than where they’re at right now. And at that point, Brian Cashman‘s job will again be up for consideration.

In 2017 Cashman enters another contract year. With promises of building from within, by this point we should see the payoff — whether in trades or in on-field performance. So 2015 and 2016 are a two-year experiment, where the Yankees play with a huge payroll in hopes that they can contend. In 2017 they have the real test of whether they can start plugging young, cost-controlled players into the lineup and rotation.

After the 2017 the Yankees free themselves from CC Sabathia’s and Alex Rodriguez‘s contracts. Brian Cashman’s contract is up. The picture will be much clearer by that point.

Am I rationalizing?

Glad you asked: Yes, I am. There might indeed be a long-term advantage to standing pat right now and looking for bargains. But the last two seasons have been difficult to watch, and so as a fan I hope that they make a couple of moves, namely Scherzer and Headley, and give us a glimmer of hope for 2015.

At the same time, Scherzer gives the Yankees all kinds of advantages. For instance, if Tanaka is healthy he gives them the two best pitchers in the division. He also gives them a bit more certainty at the top of the rotation, given the injury situations of Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda.

Most importantly, he gives them the best chance to contend in 2015. Unless they don’t intend to contend. Which, for $200 million, for the third straight season, is a damn shame.

Thoughts following David Robertson’s departure

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, word came down that David Robertson had agreed to a four-year contract worth $46M with the White Sox. The Yankees preemptively replaced their closer by signing Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract last week. I have thoughts.

1. It was really easy to say goodbye to Robinson Cano last offseason because Seattle’s contract offer was ridiculous. The Mariners blew everyone right out of the water. That isn’t the case with Robertson. Four years and $46M is perfectly reasonable for a pitcher of his caliber. The difference between Robertson’s contract and Miller’s contract is basically what the Yankees are paying Brendan Ryan on an annual basis. It’s an amount of money that I don’t think should ever stand between the Yankees and keeping a homegrown player who ranks among the best players at his position. Now the Miller signing goes from adding an elite reliever to the bullpen to replacing one and maintaining the status quo. Brian Cashman said Robertson “checks every box” when looking for a closer, but I guess that wasn’t enough to keep him. It’s one thing to let a homegrown star like Cano leave because a desperate team came out of nowhere with an insane offer. It’s another when you let one go because you wouldn’t compete against a reasonable contract.

2. Devil’s advocate: Robertson had his worst season since 2010 in 2014 and his FIP (chart) has been gradually trending in the wrong direction since 2011. His velocity had fallen off in the second half (chart) in each of the last three years as well, perhaps indicating he was getting worn down. A total of 86 relievers in history had at least five 60+ inning seasons before their age 30 season — Robertson’s one of them — but only 26 have eight such seasons before their age 33 season. Will Robertson be one of those guys? The Yankees very likely got the best years of Robertson’s career, replaced him with a comparable reliever making $2.5M less per season, and gained a draft pick in the process. It’s a smart move, though it doesn’t make the team any better. Like I said, it only maintains the status quo. How they use the savings and draft pick — will the compensation pick for Robertson make them more willing to give up their first rounder for a qualified free agent? — is pretty important in this equation. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there were several valid reasons to let Robertson go.

3. The Yankees are going to end up having four different primary closers in four years — Rafael Soriano in 2012, Mariano Rivera in 2013, Robertson in 2014, and whoever in 2015 — after having one from 1997-2011. I think (hope) they’ll sign a low cost veteran free agent to close, someone like Soriano or Jason Grilli who can start the ninth inning fresh and live in that confined role, so Joe Girardi can use Miller and Dellin Betances liberally in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The alternative would be letting Miller close since he’s the high-priced free agent pickup, or letting Betances close so he can fulfill his eerie Mariano Rivera-esque career path destiny, going from failed starter prospect at 25 to dominant multi-inning setup man at 26 to replacing the team’s departed free agent closer at 27. I would prefer to see them sign Soriano or Grilli or whoever — the Yankees will probably trade for Jonathan Papelbon after replacing Cano and Robertson with Jacoby Ellsbury and Miller just to make sure they pour every last grain of salt in the wound — to close as long as they limit it to a one-year contract. No need to go multiple years with someone like this. You want to be able to easily cut bait next summer if necessary.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. As of right now the bullpen is Miller, Betances, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Justin Wilson, plus one open spot that will depend on whether David Phelps is needed in the rotation. The Yankees have a slew of internal candidates for that last spot if Phelps has to start — Jacob Lindgren, Manny Banuelos, Jose DePaula, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, perhaps an upcoming Rule 5 Draft pick, etc. — but those young guys will inevitably get their shot at some point next season anyway. There’s definitely room to add another reliever there, maybe even two if the Yankees are willing to option Wilson to Triple-A or slip Rogers through waivers — he’s out of minor league options — to send him down to the minors. The bullpen is a low level priority right now but the Yankees are going to wind up playing a ton of close games next season again. It’s inevitable. Adding more depth there wouldn’t be a bad idea.

5. The compensation draft pick for losing Robertson is neat — that pick is currently 30th overall but it’ll change depending where the remaining unsigned qualified free agents land — but it is only a small consolation prize. Talent tends to come off the board very linearly in the draft these days thanks to the spending limits. The best players go at the top of the draft and everyone else falls in line behind them. The days of hoping a top draft prospect falls due to contract demands are pretty much over. Assuming the Yankees don’t go bonkers and sign a bunch of qualified free agents, having the extra pick will be fun as someone who enjoys the draft and writes far too many words about it every year. After the club forfeited all those picks last winter and using their remaining selections on seemingly nothing but college relievers, I’m looking forward to the excitement of the Yankees having two first round picks next June.

Thoughts following the Miller signing and Gregorius trade

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

The Yankees finally — and I say “finally” while fully acknowledging it is only December 6th — made some moves yesterday to bring in help for the infield and pitching staff. First they acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent Shane Greene to the Tigers, then they signed lefty relief ace Andrew Miller to a four-year contract worth $36M. The team still has a lot of work to do to improve the roster but yesterday was a nice first step. Here are some thoughts.

1. I don’t have much to say about the Miller signing so I might as well start there. I thought he was going to end up getting $44M or so across four years, so getting him for $36M is pretty neat. He’s awesome, four-year contracts for relievers are really risky, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Don’t really have much more to add to that. Nothing you haven’t heard already, anyway. I am curious to see how the bullpen roles shake out though, especially if David Robertson doesn’t return. It would be awesome if Joe Girardi uses Miller and Dellin Betances as sort of a tandem setup men/closers situation, using them based on matchups in the eighth and ninth (the Braves did something like this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago), but I think the Yankees are last team in MLB that would try that. Girardi likes using guys in set roles and you know what? Players like having set roles too. If Robertson doesn’t come back, I think I’d rather see the Yankees sign a cheap capital-C closer like Jason Grilli or even Soriano so Miller and Betances can raise hell in the seventh and eighth than see them use Miller or Betances to close.

2. If Robertson does leave — I think that’s likely at this point — the only players left from the 2009 World Series team will be CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Alex Rodriguez. That’s it. Gardner and A-Rod will be the only players left on the team who played in the old Yankee Stadium too. The times, man. They are a changin’.

3. As for Gregorius, I am pretty tired of the defense-first profile, but it was unavoidable at shortstop. There was very little chance the Yankees were going to acquire a shortstop who significantly improved the team’s offense this offseason. It just wasn’t going to happen, the players weren’t available for it to happen. Gregorius can catch the ball and he might learn to hit down the road, which makes him like most other 24-year-old shortstops. The guys who can field and already know how to hit at that age cost way more than Greene to acquire. I’m just glad they were able to plug the shortstop hole with a young player. They really needed that. The Yankees need to start adding more young building blocks to the roster and Gregorius might be one of those guys. Stephen Drew on a one-year contract would have been fine as a stopgap, but this is much more preferable. New York has to stick with Gregorius all year next year, ride out the slumps, not platoon him with Brendan Ryan, and see what happens. Gregorius is more of a long-term asset than someone who will have an immediate impact.

4. The rotation now without Greene is very thin. Three of the team’s top five in innings pitched as a starter from this past season (Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Greene) are no longer on the roster and the two that remain (Masahiro Tanaka, David Phelps) will head into next year with injury concerns. As of right now, the rotation is Tanaka, Phelps, Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and I guess Bryan Mitchell in whatever order. The Yankees don’t need a starter, they need starters. Plural. One Jon Lester or Max Scherzer won’t solve their problems. They’ll help, but one of those guys alone isn’t enough. I think they need at least two starters — I like Phelps much more in the swingman/sixth starter’s spot — and I’d prefer three because the odds are pretty high someone won’t make it through Spring Training in one piece, either Tanaka (elbow) or Sabathia (knee) or whoever. The Yankees do have Ivan Nova due to return from Tommy John surgery around midseason — no earlier than May based on when he actually had surgery — but counting on him to come back and boost the rotation in the second half probably isn’t a great idea. Getting another bat is very important. Getting more help for the rotation is somehow now even more important.

5. The good news: there is still plenty of pitching left on the free agent market. The only starter to sign so far is A.J. Burnett, who was either going to go back to the Pirates or retire, so he doesn’t really count. The Yankees continue to insist they won’t be in on Lester or Scherzer, at least depending on which reporter you want to believe, but there are plenty of second and third tier options they could explore. Brandon McCarthy is the most notable, and others like Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano (qualified), Justin Masterson, and Ervin Santana (qualified) all make some sense for the New York depending on the price. The Padres, Reds, Athletics, and Mets are among the clubs said to be open to trading pitching this winter. The arms are out there. The Yankees just have to find the best ones for them, and I’m pretty confident they’ll do that given the way they cobbled together the rotation around all those injuries this summer. I’m not saying it’ll easy. Just that digging up adequate pitching is doable right now given the market.

On the Yankees and the prospect of a $500M payroll

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

As you’ve surely seen by now, Kiley McDaniel recently wrote about the ways the Yankees use their financial might to secure top minor league free agents, such as Yangervis Solarte last year. Buried deep within that story was this little nugget about the team’s finances:

A Yankees source told me they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax) …

Whoa! That’s one hell of a buried lede. McDaniel used to work for the Yankees back in the day so I’m sure he still has connections in the front office and whatnot. That’s not something you can just make up and drop in a story, not if you want to be taken seriously.

Anyway, I can’t even wrap my head around a $500M payroll. That’s $20M per 25-man roster spot or $12.5M per 40-man roster spot. Since the $500M would include luxury tax, the actual team payroll would be $396.3M plus a $103.7M luxury tax bill. That’s over $100M for nothing, just washed away into MLB’s central fund. The Yankees could do that and break even, supposedly.

Now, that said, I’m not totally sure I buy the Yankees being able to support a $500M payroll, at least not on an annual basis. Maybe they could do it once and get away with it, but year after year? At this point, with attendance and ratings on the decline and the postseason far from a given, the revenue streams aren’t what they were a few years ago. I don’t have access to the team’s books, so what the hell do I know, but a $500M payroll seems a little outrageous at the moment.

The Yankees hit the point of diminishing returns a few years ago — every additional dollar they spent on the roster was bringing fewer actual wins in the standings. Baseball is a zero-sum game, there are only so many wins to go around each year. Spend $500M on players and you’d presumably have a great lineup with a great rotation and a great bullpen. That makes you … the 1998 Yankees in the best case scenario? The best teams still only win something like 105-110 games a year at the most. That’s baseball.

But let’s have fun with this for a second. Say the Yankees were going to up payroll to $500M next year. That gives them roughly $190M to spend this winter when you consider their existing commitments and the luxury tax. That $190M could buy them Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Chase Headley, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy, Melky Cabrera, Yoan Moncada, and a bunch of lesser guys. They could also pay Alex Rodriguez to go away. They’d already be flushing $100M down the drain in luxury tax, so why not make it $120M? The team would be limited by roster size, not necessarily dollars.

Know what else would limit the Yankees? The talent pool. They could have all the money in the world to spend, but the free agent class is the free agent class. Better free agents won’t just magically appear. Sure, the Yankees could use that big payroll to take on big contracts in trades, but the only contracts teams look to move are the bad ones. (MLB frowns on buying players from another team, in case you’re wondering). Troy Tulowitzki has six years and $118M left on his deal. That’s not bad in a world where Pablo Sandoval gets five years and $95M. Why would the Rockies just give him away for salary relief?

I’m sure more than a few people read the line in McDaniel’s story and wondered why the Yankees don’t just spend $500M on payroll. First and foremost, remember they are a for profit business. They aren’t trying to break even. Secondly, a payroll that size comes with a lot of wasted dollars (in luxury tax) that don’t appreciably improve their chances of winning the World Series. It’ll add more regular season wins, sure, but only so many. They could add the same number without bumping payroll that high. The $500M is an extreme example, not a sustainable model for the Yankees or any team.

At some point in the near future, every team will have a payroll over $100M and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets to $500M. It’ll probably be the Yankees and I hope I’m around to see it. Spending that kind of money in this age, with free agency what it is and revenue presumably not what it once was, a $500M payroll doesn’t make much business sense for the Yankees. It sure is fun to think about though.