It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training.

Bird, 24, missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, so while he was the favorite for the first base job coming into camp, the Yankees had to see how he looked following the lost season. It was fair to wonder whether he’d need time in Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing at the plate. That’s been a non-issue this spring.

Also, the Chris Carter signing gave the Yankees a viable first base alternative, and the team could have sent Bird down for service time reasons. Roughly two months in Triple-A would have “bought back” the year of control the Yankees lost to the injury last season. I totally get why teams manipulate service time, but I believe big league caliber players should be in the big leagues.

Now that the first base question has been answered, the Yankees still have to figure out right field (Aaron Judge vs. Aaron Hicks) as well as two rotation and two bullpen spots. And also shortstop following the Didi Gregorius injury. Those competitions are a bit more wide open at the moment.

Wednesday Notes: Astros, Nats, Quintana, Prospects, A-Rod

Musgrove. (Presswire)
Musgrove. (Presswire)

The Yankees return to television tonight with a home game against the Phillies, thankfully. We haven’t seen them play since Saturday. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET and we’ll have a regular game thread at that time. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Yankees scouted Astros, Nationals

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees had scout (Matt Daley!) in Port St. Lucie over the weekend when the Astros and Nationals visited the Mets. Righty Joe Musgrove started for Houston on Friday while righty Erick Fedde was on the mound for Washington on Saturday. Both pitchers allowed one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings in their outings. Musgrove struck out four. Fedde fanned one.

The Yankees have been connected to both Musgrove and Fedde over the last year or so, but only through speculation. Not hard “they want this guy” rumors. Musgrove was mentioned as a possible target during Brian McCann trade talks (I even wrote a Scouting The Market post) while Fedde’s name came up as a potential piece in an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trade at least year’s deadline. Obviously neither deal came to fruition.

We could connect some serious dots here. The Astros are said to want another high-end starting pitcher, and with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out looming, could the Yankees move him? The Nationals don’t have a closer right now and gosh, Dellin Betances sure makes sense for them, no? That said, teams scout either other all the time, and this could be nothing. Still, with the Yankees perpetually seeking young controllable pitching, this report sure is interesting.

Nothing happening with Quintana

According to Jack Curry (video link), the Yankees have “nothing simmering, nothing very hot going on right now” with regards to trade talks with the White Sox about Jose Quintana. Quintana is very much available and last week we heard the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees this spring. See? Teams scout each other all the time. Anyway, point is there’s nothing imminent here, which isn’t surprising.

Quintana started against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last week and was masterful, taking a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single and hitting his pitch count. (The bullpen then blew it.) That said, Quintana’s stock didn’t go up or anything. Teams know he’s good. The only way one game can change a veteran pitcher’s trade stock is if he gets hurt. My guess is the White Sox will ramp up their efforts to trade Quintana pretty soon, before he goes all Tyson Ross on them or something.

FanGraphs releases top Yankees prospects, top 100 prospects lists

Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently released his top 33 Yankees prospects list as well as his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. White Sox IF Yoan Moncada claims the top spot on the top 100. Here are the eight Yankees in the top 100:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
53. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

This is the only top 100 list Fowler has made this year. Interesting. As for the top 33 Yankees prospects list, gosh, it’s massive. I still haven’t finished reading the entire thing. I’m doing it bit by bit. The write-up covers 68 players total. 68!

“Fawning over the system’s obvious talent ignores its most fascinating aspect: the bizarre collection of pop-up arms. New York appears to be in possession of a player-development machine that has conjured several interesting pitching prospects seemingly out of thin air,” says the write-up, referring to guys like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Chad Green, all of whom came to the Yankees as okay prospects and have since seen their stock rise considerably. Now hopefully some of these guys will turn into productive big leaguers.

Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)
Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)

A-Rod joins FOX full-time

Alex Rodriguez is officially a full-time broadcaster. Last week FOX announced A-Rod has joined the network and will “serve as a game analyst for select FOX MLB SATURDAY telecasts as well as feature reporter for FOX’s MLB pregame coverage and FS1 studio show MLB WHIPAROUND,” according to the press release. It doesn’t sound like he will be in the broadcast booth, does it? Sounds like a studio gig.

FOX owns a big chunk of the YES Network following the News Corp. deal a few years back, though it doesn’t sound like there will be any crossover work here. A-Rod will be on FOX and FOX Sports 1. Not YES. Lame. I assume Alex will continue his special advisor duties with the Yankees in the meantime. His agreement with the club called for him to remain in that role through the end of this year. Either way, A-Rod was really good on television the last two postseasons, and it was only a matter of time until some network scooped him up.

MLB approves wearable biometric device

For the first time MLB has approved a wearable on-field biometric device for players, reports Darren Rovell. The device, which is made by a company called WHOOP, is meant to be worn all day and night, and will record data on sleep, heart rate, recovery, strain, etc. It is not a mandated piece of equipment and teams can’t force their players to wear the WHOOP device. It is the player’s decision given the private data involved.

Clubs have been studying pitcher deliveries using biometrics for years now, though the WHOOP device extends beyond that. Teams are focusing more and more on rest and recovery, because nowadays having the most talent isn’t enough. You need the most talented players performing at their best as often as possible. Rest and recovery are part of that. The Yankees start their Spring Training workouts later in the morning to give players time to sleep in, plus they’ve looked for ways to improve travel in recent years too. I wonder how many players will wear the WHOOP device. It seems like the data could be really useful.

Saturday Links: Gardner, Rule Changes, Farm System Rankings

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

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season this afternoon on the road against the Tigers. Michael Pineda is making his first start of the spring. Unfortunately, the game will not be televised anywhere. Not on YES, not on FOX Sports Detroit, not on MLB Network, not online, nowhere. Sucks. Instead of a game, I offer you some links for the weekend.

Yankees had chances to salary dump Gardner

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees had trade offers for Brett Gardner this past offseason that involved no money changing hands. They could have sent Gardner and the $25M left on his contract elsewhere. Of course, chances are these offers were essentially salary dumps, meaning the Yankees wouldn’t have received much of anything in return. Gardner isn’t a star or anything, but giving him away as a salary dump would be kinda silly.

My guess is the Yankees will eventually trade Gardner, the longest tenured player on the big league roster and the longest tenured player in the organization, at some point in the next 12 months. And maybe that trade will be a pure salary dump. Who knows. Maybe the Yankees will eat some money to get actual prospects in return, a la Brian McCann. Gardner’s contract isn’t onerous and he’s the team’s best on-base player. I can’t blame the Yankees for not giving him away in a salary dump.

MLB implements new rule changes

Earlier this week MLB and the MLBPA announced a series of rule changes for the 2017 season. None of the changes figure to have a dramatic impact on the game. They didn’t raise the bottom of the strike zone or anything like that. Here’s the full press release and here are the highlights:

  • Intentional walks are now automatic. The manager gives a signal from the dugout and the batter is sent right to first base.
  • Managers have 30 seconds to ask for a replay review. Also, the review crew in New York has a “conditional two-minute guideline” to made their replay decision.
  • Carter Capps’ delivery is now illegal. Pitchers may not take a “second step towards home plate with either foot.”

The automatic intentional walk rule is whatever. I don’t like it but it’s not the end of the world either. The two-minute guideline for replay reviews does sound pretty great even though it’s not a hard limit, just a guideline. Some of those reviews take a long time. Waiting out a replay is easily my least favorite part of baseball these days.

As for Capps, both he and Padres manager Andy Green told A.J. Cassavell they believe his delivery is still legal, but we’ll see. Read the press release. The rule change reads as if it was written specifically for Capps (and Jordan Walden). All of these rule changes take effect right away, so they’re in place for the 2017 season.

(Future trivia answer: The last Yankee to receive a traditional four-pitch intentional walk was Mark Teixeira. Drew Smyly intentionally walked him in the sixth inning on September 20th of last season. The last player to get one is Addison Russell. He was intentionally walked in the tenth inning of Game Seven of the World Series.)

Torres. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Yankees rank second in BA’s and BP’s farm system rankings

Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) released their annual organizational rankings within the last few days. The Yankees ranked second behind the Braves on both lists. The same was true was on Keith Law’s farm system rankings. The BP list groups teams into tiers, and the Yankees and Braves were alone at the top. Here’s a snippet of the write-up:

I generally don’t care all that much if the seventeenth best prospect in your system has a chance to be a decent middle reliever or a useful bench piece. That’s true of the vast majority of systems in any given year. Now when you have thirty of those guys? It felt like half the Trenton pitching staff might pitch in the majors at some point … We didn’t rank Dustin Fowler on our Yankees (top ten, showing their depth) … These are two of the best systems I can remember in my six years of covering prospects.

The BA write-up (subs. req’d) mentioned OF Estevan Florial as the system’s high-upside sleeper and RHP Dillon Tate as the breakout prospect. Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, remember. The Yankees got him for rental Carlos Beltran and he’s not even one of the ten best prospects in the organization. Pretty cool.

Yankees had $4M to sign Carter

I thought this was interesting. According to Jared Diamond, Hal Steinbrenner okayed one last $4M signing late in the offseason, after it became clear there were bargains to be had. The Yankees didn’t even need the full $4M to sign Chris Carter. He took $3.5M guaranteed. Prior to signing Carter the Yankees had been connected mostly to lefty relievers like Travis Wood and Jerry Blevins. The 40-homer dude made more sense.

I know saving $500,000 with Carter doesn’t sound like much, and it’s really not in the grand scheme of things, but what if it was enough to finish off the Jon Niese signing? He’ll make $1.25M at the big league level. Steinbrenner gave the thumbs up for $4M and they wound up with Carter and Niese for $4.75M total, possibly less because Niese might not make the Opening Day roster, and his $1.25M salary will be pro-rated. Anyway, I’m just kinda interested in how this worked out. The Yankees were done for the offseason until the free agent market collapsed.

Update: YES will return to Comcast on March 31st

(MLB.tv screen grab)
(MLB.tv screen grab)

February 28th: YES will return to Comcast on March 31st, the network announced. Opening Day is April 2nd, so just in the nick of time. The Yankees are playing an exhibition game against the Braves at brand new SunTrust Park on March 31st, and the press release says that game broadcast will be available to Comcast customers. Hooray for that.

January 2nd: According to Joe Flint, Comcast and the FOX News Channel have reached a new broadcast agreement, and as part of the deal, Comcast will resume carrying the YES Network this year. It’s a four-year agreement between the two cable giants.

Now, the bad news: Flint says YES will not return to Comcast subscribers immediately, and it’s possible it won’t be back until later in the spring, after the start of the regular season. That would be a bummer, though at least it’s coming back at some point. That’s better than nothing.

Comcast stopped carrying YES in late 2015 due to a rights fee dispute. They said the subscriber fee was too high — it was reported YES offered a rights fee reduction at one point, but to no avail — and supposedly Comcast argued the team wasn’t good enough to justify the price.

YES is available for in-market streaming through the FOX Sports Go app, but only if you subscribe to the network through your cable provider. It was no help for Comcast customers last year. Anyway, more people can watch the Yankees this year, and that’s good news.

Friday Links: A-Rod, YES, Judge, Frazier, Gagne, Littell

Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Presswire)
Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Newsday)

The Yankees are, at this very moment, playing their first Grapefruit League game of the season. Turn on YES or MLB.tv to watch. Here’s our game thread. Don’t miss it. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

A-Rod to meet with YES

At some point this spring Alex Rodriguez will meet with executives from the YES Network, report George King and Bryan Hoch. The exact reason for the meeting is unclear. It could be something, it could be nothing. Maybe just a meet-and-great or some promo work. Or maybe the two sides will discuss a broadcasting role. YES has a small army of ex-Yankees on their rotating panel of analysts.

Rodriguez has done analyst work with FOX the last two postseasons and he’s been really good. Critics have praised him and diehard fans seem to like him too. A-Rod certainly knows the game and he seems comfortable talking about it in depth on camera. Again, I have no idea why exactly Alex and YES are meeting. It really could be nothing. I selfishly hope it’s about potential broadcasting work though. That would be awesome.

Judge among Law’s top impact prospects for 2017

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently ranked his top 19 prospects based on potential 2017 impact. Not surprisingly, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson sit in the top two spots. They’re the two best prospects in baseball in my opinion, and both are locked into big league starting jobs this year. Aaron Judge is seventh on Law’s list and Clint Frazier is among the honorable mentions.

I expect (Judge) to take some time to bring (his strikeouts) down this year, but that’s been his history with each promotion in pro ball. Judge is a giant, at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, so his strike zone is just as big, but he has enormous raw power and is an above-average right fielder. As long as the contact he makes continues to be hard contact, he’ll have value even if he’s among the league leaders in Ks.

I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to send Judge to Triple-A to start the season if they feel it’s best for him. I also think they understand he’s going to come with growing pains. We saw them late last year and they’re not necessarily over. At some point they’re just going to have to stick it out with Judge and let him work through the problems, and perhaps that means a .205 average with 185 strikeouts in 2017. Perhaps moreso than any other young player in the system, Judge is going to require a lot of patience, both from the Yankees and fans.

Gagne considering comeback attempt

Eric Gagne, who turned 41 last month, is considering a comeback attempt, according to Ken Gurnick. Gagne hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008 — he was one-and-done on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot — but he has thrown in various independent leagues the last few years, and he’ll pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne’s agent told Gurnick he sat 93-95 mph in indy ball last year (eh) while Jon Heyman hears he’s throwing 92-93 mph in bullpen sessions right now.

Gagne at his peak was one of the most dominant forces in baseball history. From 2002-04 he had a 1.79 ERA (1.57 FIP) with 38.6% strikeouts and 6.1% walks in 247 innings. During his 2003 Cy Young season he struck out 137 and walked 18 unintentionally in 82.1 innings. Insane. This is the time of year for comeback attempt stories, and hey, if Gagne looks good during the WBC, I’m sure some team will offer him a minor league deal. Maybe even the Yankees.

Littell among top “control” prospects

A few weeks ago Matt Eddy put together a list of the best “control” prospects in the minors. In this case control is not referring to the ability to throw strikes. FIP is based on three things the pitcher controls: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Eddy removed strikeouts and examined the best prospects at limiting walks and homers, and he also threw in the ability to hold runners for good measure. Zack Littell ranked third on his list.

Of the dozen prospects traded by the Mariners this offseason, Littell looks like one of the more promising. The Yankees acquired the 21-year-old North Carolina prep in a straight-up trade for lefty reliever James Pazos. Littell brings a cerebral approach to the mound, which helps his high-spin fastball and above-average breaking ball play up.

I’m still amazed the Yankees were able to get a solid starting pitcher prospect for Pazos, who throws hard and doesn’t do much else. Littell did not make my top 30 prospects list but Baseball America ranked him 24th in the system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook. The Yankees managed to use the industry’s obsession with lefties and velocity to turn Pazos and Justin Wilson into three pretty nice young arms at a time when reliable starters are hard to find and not cheap to acquire. Neat.

Heyman: Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the arbitration panel has sided with the Yankees in their case against Dellin Betances. Betances will earn $3M this coming season rather than the $5M he was seeking. He’ll be in Spring Training today after spending the last few days away from camp, with the team’s blessing. It’s not uncommon for players to wait until their arbitration case is resolved before reporting to camp.

Betances was eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and the $5M request means he was looking to be paid like a top closer. Last year some pretty good closers like Cody Allen, Jeurys Familia, and Hector Rondon all signed for roughly $4M in their first trip through arbitration. Saves matter in arbitration and Betances doesn’t have many, yet he was seeking more than those guys.

Now, that said, the $3M award is still a record for a setup man going through arbitration for the first time. By a lot too. I can’t find another non-closer who signed for even $2M in his first year of arbitration. Betances blew the previous record away. Billy Witz has some details on yesterday’s arbitration hearing:

On Friday, Betances arrived at the Vinoy Renaissance shortly before 9 a.m., with a half dozen or so advisers, including his agent, Jim Murray. Several members of Betances’ team carried armfuls of thick white binders, and at one point, someone warned the 6-foot-8 pitcher not to bump his head on a low-hanging ceiling beam.

A few minutes later, the Yankees’ contingent — about 10 strong, headed by the team president, Randy Levine, and including General Manager Brian Cashman and the assistant general managers, Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman — entered.

But as (Betances) waited afterward in the lobby of the hotel where the hearing was held, several of his advisers could be heard nearby grousing about a Yankees tactic during the hearing — namely, focusing on Betances’ slow delivery to home plate, which allowed base runners to steal 21 bases against him last season in 21 attempts.

The $2M difference in salary figures doesn’t seem like much, especially for a big payroll team like the Yankees, but arbitration uses the player’s previous year salary as a base, so it carries over. That $2M this year will equal at least $6M in savings in Betances’ three arbitration years, but likely more given how raises are determined. The savings are pretty considerable. These are real dollars.

Reports indicate the Yankees and Betances discussed a multi-year contract before filing their salary arbitration figures. Cashman said the two sides were simply too far apart to settle somewhere in the middle, which is why they went to a hearing. This was New York’s first arbitration hearing since 2008, when they beat Chien-Ming Wang. Their last hearing before that was with Mariano Rivera in 2000. They won that one too.

I had a feeling the Yankees would win because a) they were already offering a record salary for a setup man in his first year of arbitration, and b) Betances was seeking an enormous raise usually reserved for top tier closers, only he didn’t have the saves. Betances and his camp had more convincing to do, basically. I’m not too surprised the three-person panel sided with the Yankees here.

Hopefully there are no hard feelings — arbitration can be pretty ugly because the team is up there detailing the player’s shortcomings — and the Yankees and Betances can move on with business as usual. The business side of the game can be unpleasant at times.

Ten Yankees among 2017 World Baseball Classic rosters

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

Earlier this evening, the various World Baseball Classic rosters were announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. Bits and pieces of the rosters have leaked over the last several months. Now they’re all official.

A total of ten Yankees, including three-sevenths of their projected Opening Day bullpen, will participate in the tournament. Here are the full rosters (PDF link) and here are the various Yankees:

Michael Pineda was listed on a version of the Dominican Republic roster that leaked earlier today, but he wasn’t on the final roster. Huh. Severino is part of the Dominican Republic’s “Designated Pitcher Pool” and won’t play in the first round. Teams can add two pitchers from their DPP after each round.

Bleier is on the DPP for Israel, and since they’re not expected to make it out of the first round, chances are he won’t leave Spring Training. Everyone else is on the WBC active roster. Gallegos is ostensibly competing for a big league bullpen spot, and I can’t help but wonder if being away from the Yankees will hurt his chances.

I kinda had a feeling Clippard would sneak on to the Team USA roster. They were never going to get all their top relievers, and he figured to be among the second tier arms they turned to. Clippard will join former Yankees Andrew Miller and David Robertson in the Team USA bullpen. That’ll be fun. Bring them back with you, Tyler.

Cuba doesn’t allow expatriates to represent the country, so no Aroldis Chapman in the WBC. Gary Sanchez declined an invitation to play for the Dominican Republic because he wants to spend his first Spring Training as the starting catcher learning the pitch staff and whatnot. Masahiro Tanaka also declined to play for Japan.

Aside from those guys, the only other players in the Yankees organization who I thought might sneak on to a WBC roster were Luis Cessa (Mexico), Evan Rutckyj (Canada), and Carlos Vidal (Colombia). Vidal was on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round last spring, but has since being dropped.

The 16-team tournament begins March 6th and will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full WBC schedule.