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.

Pineda, Severino among the Dominican Republic’s eligible pitchers for the WBC

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

Earlier today, the Dominican Republic announced their official roster for the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. As expected, Dellin Betances is on the roster while Gary Sanchez is not. Here’s the roster. Robinson Cano at second, Manny Machado at short, and Adrian Beltre at third is one heck of an infield, eh? Tony Pena has a fun roster to manage.

Both Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are included in the team’s “Designated Pitcher Pool,” which is a new wrinkle in the WBC. Each team will designate ten pitchers who can be added to the roster later in the tournament. They’re allowed to add two pitchers at the end of the first round and another two at the end of the second round. So up to four of the ten extra pitchers can join the roster.

The Designated Pitcher Pool is a pretty blatant attempt by MLB and the WBC folks to get Clayton Kershaw to commit to Team USA. The Championship Game is at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd, and if Team USA advances, they want Kershaw on the mound because it’ll create serious buzz. The rule allows Kershaw to remain with the Dodgers in Spring Training and make the one start for Team USA.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC, and, based on their roster, they’re going to contend for a title again this year. They’re in a first round pool with Canada, Colombia, and Team USA. Pineda’s rotation spot with the Yankees is secure, but Severino has to win one in camp. I wonder if he’d decline to be added to the WBC roster should the Dominican Republic ask him to join the team. We’ll see.

Gary Sanchez will pass on the 2017 World Baseball Classic

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

According to multiple reports, Gary Sanchez has decided not to play for the Dominican Republic during the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. The tournament begins March 6th and the Championship Game will be played March 22nd at Dodger Stadium.

Sanchez told Sweeny Murti he initially accepted an invitation to play in the WBC, but he changed his mind recently and will instead spend Spring Training with the Yankees. That’s good. Sanchez is about to begin his first full season as the starting catcher and he needs to familiarize himself with the pitching staff.

Dellin Betances will suit up for the Dominican Republic, which will be managed by Yankees first base coach Tony Pena. Didi Gregorius is going to play for the Netherlands. Minor leaguers Kellin Deglan (Canada), Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal, and Donovan Solano (all Colombia) are on WBC rosters as well.

Hal Steinbrenner desperately wants you to like Aroldis Chapman

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

Eleven days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. Among those who will show up for work that day is Aroldis Chapman, the team’s new old closer. The Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year deal worth $86M back in December. It includes an opt-out after year three.

Yesterday, at the quarterly owners’ meetings, Hal Steinbrenner spoke to Bob Nightengale about Chapman’s return to New York, and, well, look:

“Quite frankly it was manageable the minute he got here last year,’’ Steinbrenner said at the quarterly owners’ meetings Thursday. “He was great. Look, he admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life. He did everything right, and said everything right, when he was with us.”

To be fair, Steinbrenner later told David Lennon he meant to say “forgive,” not “forget,” which is only slightly better. Anyway, Hal’s agenda became pretty clear after he acknowledged the Yankees re-signed Chapman in part because he puts butts in the seats.

“They love him,’’ Steinbrenner said. “There are so few baseball players that I feel can really get fans to buy a ticket and brings their kids to their game, and he’s one of them.’’

Please like my temperamental $17M a year closer. That’s what this all sounds like. Forget about the ugly stuff and look at those 105 mph fastballs wowie!

The thing is, there is no forgetting, and it’s not really up to the fans to forgive. Last winter’s alleged domestic violence incident stays with Chapman the same way performance-enhancing drugs stayed with Alex Rodriguez. It’s always there with you, subconsciously. You never really forget. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. (Also, domestic violence is roughly a bazillion times worse than PEDs, but I digress.)

Steinbrenner committed an awful lot of money to Chapman and he wants fans to like him. I get it. But dude, don’t tell people they should forgive him or worse, forget about it. That’s one of those things that, even if you believe it, say it in your head and not out loud, you know? This is a sensitive subject. Telling people to forget it ain’t cool. As with anything in life, telling people how to feel isn’t a great idea.

The Yankees have a chance to be really exciting this coming season because Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to sock dingers, because Didi Gregorius is going to flash leather at shortstop, and because Masahiro Tanaka is an artist on the mound. Chapman will be part of that excitement too. Fans are under no obligation to forgive him or forget about his history though, whether Hal likes it or not.

Thursday Notes: Mendoza, Montgomery, Prospect Lists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The seemingly never-ending offseason continues. I guess the good news is the Yankees’ first Grapefruit League game is four weeks from tomorrow, and yes, that game will be broadcast on the YES Network. Four weeks and one day until actual baseball is on your television. It’ll be glorious. I’ll post the full Spring Training broadcast schedule once all the networks announce their plans. Until then, here are some newsy nuggets to check out.

Hector Mendoza declared a free agent

Cuban right-hander Hector Mendoza has been declared a free agent by MLB, reports Jesse Sanchez. Sanchez says Mendoza is expected to wait until his 23rd birthday on March 5th to sign, at which point he would be a true free agent unaffected by the international spending restrictions. Every team, including the Yankees and other clubs currently limited by international bonus penalties, would be able to sign him to a contract of any size at that point.

Back in April 2015, Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Mendoza as the 12th best prospect in Cuba, one spot ahead of current Dodgers farmhand Yasiel Sierra. “At his best, he throws 90-94 mph with downhill plane, with solid strike-throwing ability and fastball command for his age … His 76-80 mph curveball is a solid-average pitch,” says the two-year-old scouting report. It also mentions Mendoza features a changeup and figures to start long-term.

Sierra signed a six-year deal worth $30M last February — he then pitched to 5.89 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 88.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A last year, and reportedly didn’t impress scouts either — so I guess that’s the benchmark for Mendoza. The Yankees have steered clear of the big money Cuban player market the last few seasons, so I’m not expecting them to get involved. And, frankly, I didn’t even know the guy existed until a few days ago.

Teams asking for Montgomery in trades

According to George King (subs. req’d), Brian Cashman confirmed teams have asked for left-hander Jordan Montgomery in trade talks this offseason. “He is a starter and left-handed. His name comes up,” said the GM. Not only that, but Montgomery has already has success at Triple-A (albeit in 37 innings) and is close to MLB ready, making him even more desirable. Here’s my prospect profile.

It can be really easy to overlook a guy like Montgomery given the strength and depth of the Yankees’ farm system, but he’s come a long way as a prospect the last few seasons. He’s added a cutter and also gained quite a bit of velocity, going from 88-91 mph in college to 93-95 mph in 2016. The Yankees seem to have a knack for getting guys to add velocity. Their throwing program must be good. We’ll see Montgomery in the Bronx in 2017. I’m sure of it.

MLB.com’s top prospects by position

Over the last few days MLB.com has been releasing their annual positional prospect lists. That is, the ten best prospects at each position. Several Yankees farmhands make appearances on the various lists. Here’s a quick recap:

I’m a bit surprised the Yankees only had one player on the outfield list, but eh, whatever. The shortstop list is stacked as always. Torres is one spot ahead of Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Mateo is one spot ahead of Twins shortstop Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft.

James Kaprielian failing to crack the top ten righties shouldn’t be a surprise. He did miss just about the entire 2016 season, after all. Also, I’d be more bummed about not having a top catcher prospect if, you know, Gary Sanchez didn’t exit. But he does and that’s cool. Same thing with first base and Greg Bird. Landing five prospects in the various top ten lists is pretty cool.

Update: On Twitter, Jim Callis says Blake Rutherford ranks 14th among outfielders in MLB.com’s upcoming top 100 prospects list.

Spring Training is getting shorter

Starting in 2018, Spring Training will be a whole two days shorter, reports Ronald Blum. Huge news, eh? As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the regular season will increase from 183 days to 187 days starting in 2018, and the shorter Spring Training will help make that happen. The goal was to add more off-days “in a way that doesn’t just chew up offseason days,” said MLBPA general counsel Matt Nussbaum.

The players have been pushing for more in-season off-days for a while now, and at one point they proposed shortening the season to 154 games. I’m not surprised that didn’t happen. The owners would be giving up four home games each, plus television contracts would have to be revised because they include a minimum number of broadcasts and things like that. Lots of logistical issues to work through. So anyway, two fewer days of Spring Training in two years. Yippee.