Archive for Hot Stove League
According to George King, the Mariners had a scout on hand to watch David Phelps‘ second spring start last night. He got hit around pretty hard but held the Orioles to only one run in 2.2 innings, striking out two and walking one. Phelps is currently competing for the fifth starter spot, though Joe Girardi confirmed he will make the team in some capacity.
The Mariners have been hit hard by injuries this spring. Co-ace Hisashi Iwakuma is sidelined with a finger sprain and top prospect Taijuan Walker is dealing with a shoulder problem. Manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed both guys will open the season on the DL, leaving the team with Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Scott Baker behind Felix Hernandez. Their need for another arm is obvious.
Seattle’s top trade chip is infielder Nick Franklin, who was pushed into trade chip status by the Robinson Cano signing. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homers, six steals, and a 27.4% strikeout rate in his 412 plate appearance MLB debut last season. His defense is shaky — he’s already moved off short and is error prone at second — and more than a few people think he’ll have to drop switch-hitting and stick to batting lefty down the road. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “profiles as a solid regular who could play in a few All-Star Games” before last season.
The Yankees desperately need a young infielder and Franklin certainly fits the bill even though I’m not his biggest fan. I’d trade
four five years of Phelps for six years of Franklin in a heartbeat, but I suspect the Mariners are going to want another piece or two. Both the Mets and Rays have been talking to Seattle about Franklin — Tampa was reportedly on the verge of the deal, but then Jeremy Hellickson got hurt and they were reluctant to sacrifice pitching depth — so there is plenty of competition.
Of the various fifth starter candidates, the 27-year-old Phelps feels like the safest bet to be a productive big leaguer in 2014. In order to deal him, I think the Yankees would have to feel pretty good about Michael Pineda heading into the season and/or be open to signing a low-cost pitcher (Jeff Niemann? Jeff Karstens?) to replace the depth. Given their pitching situation, I’m guessing the Mariners would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later. That could work to New York’s advantage in trade talks.
In other news, King says both the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand for last night’s game. Both clubs are looking for catching depth, something the Yankees can spare. Chicago has some infield depth to offer and we’ve already heard the Yankees will monitor Rickie Weeks this spring. Given the infield situation, the Yankees could swap Phelps+ for Franklin and a catcher for Weeks or one of the ChiSox infielders (or one of the Diamondbacks infielders). It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.
Last year, the Yankees were faced with the impending free agency of Robinson Cano, the best second baseman in the game and a player who was always going to require a massive contract commitment. The Yankees don’t have a player of that caliber set to hit the open market after this season, but they do have a number of guys entering their walk years. Some, obviously, are more important than others.
After spending the last three years as one of the top two or three setup men in the game, the 28-year-old Robertson is about the begin the most important season of his career. He will be tasked with replacing Mariano Rivera at closer and he’s also pitching for a new contract, two things that are very much tied together. If he steps in and pitches well in the ninth inning, his next contract will be much larger than if he had remained a setup man. That’s the way the economics of the game work.
There is little reason to think Robertson won’t be able to close games out in 2014. He misses a ton of bats (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K% in 2013) and gets a ton of ground balls (50.9%), plus he’s managed to cut his walk rate in half these last two years (2.62 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). When Robertson stopped walking guys in the second half of 2012, it was easy to wonder if it was a half-season fluke given his track record. When he continued to not walk hitters last year, we knew it was legitimate improvement. Robertson does everything you could possibly want a prospective closer to do.
Brian Cashman recently confirmed the Yankees have not had extension talks with their new closer and it seems unlikely they will sign him long-term at any point during the season. Obviously the club would love to have Robertson back in the future, especially if he steps right in and replaces Rivera without a hiccup. Closers make good money though, and it could wind up costing the team upwards of $10-12M annually on a four-year term after the season. Maybe more, the market has been pretty unpredictable.
Aside from Rivera and the ownership mandated Rafael Soriano, the Yankees have not signed a reliever to a multi-year deal worth more than $4M annually since Kyle Farnsworth almost a decade ago. Will they buck that trend for Robertson next winter? I suspect they will. Another question is whether the team is willing to risk the qualifying offer so they recoup a draft pick if leaves. My guess right now is they would — Robertson is unlikely to top ~$15M annually but he would get more total money across multiple years.
Man, how good have the Yankees had it with Kuroda these last few years? Not only has he been their best starter and one of the best in all of baseball (ninth by bWAR from 2012-13), but he’s also been willing to work on a series of one-year contracts. How great is that? The Yankees have had a very productive pitcher on a bunch of low risk, short-term deals. It’s awesome.
Kuroda, 39, is on yet another one-year contract, meaning in a few months we’ll do the “will he play or retire?” dance once again. He has been quick to make his decisions the last two winters — re-signed in late-November last offseason and early-December this past offseason — and that has made the whole process even better. If he had been dragging things out until after the holidays and into mid-to-late-January, it would be quite annoying. Thankfully that has not been the case.
As with Robertson, I’m sure the Yankees would love to have Kuroda back in 2015 if he has another strong, productive season in 2014. That strong season is not a guarantee given his age but the one-year deal means the team can simply walk away if he does hit that final wall. The Yankees spent a boatload of money on Masahiro Tanaka and they have some young arm knocking on the door, but there is no such thing as too much pitching. They can always make room for Kuroda on another one-year deal and they should if he continues pitching well.
Up until now, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of re-signing Soriano after the season all that much. That massive eight-year, $136M contract he signed with the Cubs way back when finally expires this year, though the Yankees are only paying him $5M in 2014. Soriano just turned 38 last month and he continues to hit dingers with very little signs of slowing down.
The Yankees have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran locked up to big money deals for the foreseeable future, but Soriano is someone who would have a role on almost any team if he is willing to sign a one-year deal after the season. The Bombers could use him basically like they will this year, as a regular who splits time between the outfield and DH. If his game starts to slip and he becomes a platoon guy, that’s still a useful player.
The question with Soriano will be his willingness to sign a one-year contract. He could push for a two-year deal with another strong, typical Soriano season in 2014, at which point it makes sense to walk away. A one-year deal is much a different story. The Yankees could retain him as a power bat and if some prospect comes up from the minors and forces his way into the lineup, the team will have the flexibility to make it work.
It is very hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees re-sign Ichiro following the season. They tried to trade him over the winter and he’s already been pushed into a fifth outfielder’s role by the team’s free agent signings, so bringing him back for another year seems very unlikely. Younger guys like Zoilo Almonte and maybe even Slade Heathcott don’t have the same name value but they could do the same job next year and maybe even do it better considering how much Suzuki’s game has slipped in recent years. If they don’t trade him at some point this year, the smart money is on the Yankees parting ways with Ichiro when his contract expires after the season.
Kelly Johnson & Brian Roberts
Simply put, Johnson and Roberts are hired guns. They were signed to low cost one-year deals to plug short-term holes and if they play well this year, the team could re-sign them for 2015. It should go without saying that Johnson is more likely to be brought back after the season than Roberts, just given their age and recent history. Because of his versatility and left-handed bat, Johnson is someone the team would have little trouble squeezing onto the roster even if they make some big moves for infield help next winter.
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Technically, there is one other player due to become a free agent next winter, but Derek Jeter‘s final season and impending retirement is another post for another time. He’s not in a contract year in the traditional sense. Someone like Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, or Shawn Kelley could play themselves into a non-tender candidate and thus free agency, but the Yankees control them as arbitration-eligible players beyond 2014.
The six guys above are the team’s only notable free agents to be, with Robertson and Kuroda standing out as the most serious cases. Soriano and Johnson are a little further down the priority list. Keep in mind that so few impending free agents means there isn’t much money coming off the books, which could affect how the team approaches trades and free agency in another few months.
Even after signing Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and a small army of guys on minor league contracts, the Yankees continue to look for infield help before the start of the season. They need both short and long-term help too. With Stephen Drew the only appealing free agent still on the board, trading for an infielder seems like the best way for the club to get the help it needs. One of the few teams with infield depth to spare is the Diamondbacks.
“For us, it would have to be the right deal,” said former Yankees special assistant and current D’Backs GM Kevin Towers to Nick Piecoro when asked about trading an infielder. “Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind [Miguel Montero]. More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter. We have a lot of bullpen depth, infielders. Maybe an outfielder, but probably more catching and Double-A, Triple-A type starter.”
Towers went on to say the team has not had many trade discussions about their infielders recently, likely because Drew remains unsigned. Marc Carig heard the D’Backs were looking for a Travis d’Arnaud type, a premium catching prospect, but I suspect that is posturing more than anything. No harm in asking for the moon. The Yankees have a bunch of young catchers and as luck would have it, they really need a young infielder. The trade fit is obvious. Let’s see what Arizona has to offer.
Ahmed, 24 next month, is local product out of UConn who went from the Braves to the D’Backs in last winter’s Justin Upton trade. He hasn’t hit much during his three years as a pro, including putting up a weak .236/.288/.324 (77 wRC+) batting line with four homers and 26 stolen bases in 538 Double-A plate appearances last season. Ahmed is considered a top notch gloveman though, with Baseball America calling him a “plus defender at shortstop with soft hands, a strong, accurate arm and a quick release” in their 2014 Prospect Handbook. They ranked him as the 18th best prospect in Arizona’s system and likened him to John McDonald long-term.
The D’Backs acquired Gregorius from the Reds last offseason as part of the Shin-Soo Choo three-team trade. They insisted the 24-year-old could hit for weeks after the deal, then he went out and put up a .252/.332/.373 (91 wRC+) line with seven homers in 404 plate appearances as the team’s everyday shortstop last summer. That’s a touch better than Eduardo Nunez production. Acceptable for a good defender but not enough to erase the doubts about his bat.
Gregorius hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium early last year, but his calling card will always be his glove. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as Arizona’s fifth best prospect before last season and said he has “smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm [that] rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, allowing him to make plays from deep in the hole that other shortstops can’t.” You really have to squint your eyes to see Gregorius as a hitter long-term, but there is no doubt about his glove and he showed that during his rookie season. The kid can pick it.
Owings, 22, made his brief big league debut late last season after hitting .330/.359/.482 (121 wRC+) with 12 homers and 20 steals in 575 plate appearances in the hitter friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 72nd prospect in the game last month and had this to say:
His 2013 line was boosted by playing in hitter-friendly Triple-A Reno, but Owings’ bat speed is undeniable and his swing is simple and direct. I don’t see loft in the swing for home-run power, but he’s an above-average runner and I think he’ll hit plenty of line-drives to the gaps for 30-40 doubles a year. At shortstop, he has great instincts, quick feet, and a plus arm, everything required to be at least a 60-grade defender there — very much what Didi Gregorius was supposed to be, but with better hit and run tools.
Owings was 17 years old when he signed, so he had 2,000 pro plate appearances before he turned 22 and is more than ready to take over as the everyday shortstop in Arizona now, where he might walk once a week but will contribute in plenty of other ways to keep the job.
Strikeouts have been a concern over the years (23.4% from 2011-12) but Owings cut down on them a bit last year (17.2%), which is a positive sign but hardly definitive proof he has cleared that hurdle. Owings is a right-handed hitter like Ahmed and unlike the lefty swinging Gregorious, and he has the best all-around potential of Arizona’s various young shortstops. He has a chance to contribute both at the plate and in the field, something that isn’t all that easy to find at the position.
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The D’Backs could also push the veteran Cliff Pennington in trades for a catcher, but he has little value. He’s another no-hit, all-glove type like Brendan Ryan and that simply doesn’t fetch much when they aren’t in their early-20s. I mentioned him as a possible target while looking for Ichiro Suzuki trade matches and that was basically a salary dump situation. Owings is the guy to me; he’s the one the Yankees should target because he’s a legit two-way shortstop. Another no-hit, all-glove guy doesn’t make much sense with Ryan already on board.
I really like John Ryan Murphy — I didn’t rank him as the team’s second best prospect for nothing, you know — but man a Murphy for Owings swap sure seems to make sense for both clubs. The Yankees signed Brian McCann long-term this winter and they would still have Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez around as catching depth. I mean, if they’re not open to trading Murphy for a desperately needed MLB-ready shortstop prospect, then what are they going to do with him?
Obviously there is more to be considered than positional needs. How do the D’Backs value Murphy and New York’s other catchers? Prospect-for-prospect trades are rare because teams always love their players more than everyone else’s. Also, is there any urgency to make a trade now, or is Arizona content to wait around and play the market a bit? I’m a fan of getting a deal done quickly just so the player can spend a few weeks in camp working with the coaches and learning the organizational ropes before the season starts. That’s just me. These two clubs appear to match up very well for a trade, but, as we’ve learned over the years, that is hardly a guarantee a deal will actually get done.
The Yankees are reportedly done signing Major League free agents, but that doesn’t mean trades for established big leaguers are off the table. According to George King, the team will monitor second baseman Rickie Weeks, who could lose his starting job with the Brewers to youngster Scooter Gennett these next few weeks.
Weeks, 31, was limited to 104 games last season by a severe hamstring injury that required season-ending surgery in August. The 23-year-old Gennett took his spot in the lineup and hit .324/.356/.479 (131 wRC+) with six homers in 230 plate appearances down the stretch. Weeks has hit .222/.320/.384 (94 wRC+) with 31 homers and 23 steals these last two years, a far cry from his 2009-11 peak.
The Brewers would presumably love to shed Weeks and the $11M they owe him this season. This is not another Vernon Wells situation though; the elder Weeks brother has not been a total disaster the last two years. Below-average, yes, but not a Wellsian disaster. Trading a prospect and picking up that $11M tab would be tough to swallow with Stephen Drew still unsigned, but he is a name to keep in the back of your mind.
In other news, King says the White Sox are seeking catching help and had a scout on hand for yesterday’s game against Florida State. Frankie Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and Gary Sanchez all played in the game. “There has been no dialogue … I wouldn’t comment on interest,” said Brian Cashman when asked about a potential deal with Chicago.
The Yankees are prioritizing infield and bullpen help this spring, to no one’s surprise. The ChiSox could offer perennial disappointment Gordon Beckham or free agent flop Jeff Keppinger, who New York showed some interest in at the trade deadline last year, according to King. The 33-year-old hit .253/.283/.317 (60 wRC+) last summer and is owed $9.5M through 2015. Beckham, 27, managed a .267/.322/.372 (88 wRC+) line last year, his best season since 2009. He’s owed $4.175M this year and is under team control in 2015 as well.
Beckham was much more interesting a year or two ago, when he on the right side of 25 and still had some of that top prospect shine. We now have nearly 2,500 big league plate appearances saying this guy is a below-average Major League hitter and there have been no signs of improvement in recent years. As badly as they need infield help, I think the Yankees have to be careful not to overrate their catching depth. It can disappear in a hurry.
Via George King: The Yankees were one of seven teams in attendance for Johan Santana’s workout at a Florida high school earlier today. He topped out at 81 mph and sat mostly in the 77-78 mph range, though his changeup was said to be “impressive.” Scout Tim Naehring was at the workout for the team.
Santana, 35 next month, had surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule last April, his second such procedure. He is still in rehab mode, so it’s no surprise his arm strength was less than stellar, but torn capsules are usually the kiss of death and Johan has now had two of them. There is no such thing as too much pitching depth but the Yankees do have plenty of fifth starter candidates at the moment. No reason to give Santana even a minor league deal until he shows more arm strength.
Outside of Matt Thornton and some minor league pickups, the Yankees didn’t do much to improve their bullpen this past offseason. David Robertson will take over as closer but the team did not replace Mariano Rivera in the sense that they lost an elite reliever and didn’t pick up anyone to take his spot. New York has a bunch of interesting young guys in camp and Joe Girardi always seems to cobble together a good bullpen out of nowhere, so it might not even be a problem.
The Yankees signed former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to a minor league contract over the weekend, but that move is geared more towards 2015 than 2014. He is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule (and labrum!) and both Girardi and Brian Cashman confirmed that if he does pitch this year, it won’t be until late-August or September. According to Andy Martino, the Yankees have been monitoring two other relievers who are returning from injury and could provide more immediate help:
It turns out the Yanks sent a scout to a recent showcase for former Phillies closer Ryan Madson, according to a source — and while impressed by Madson’s arm after two years of rough recovery from Tommy John surgery, the team considered his asking price excessive.
The Yankees also continue to monitor another another former All-Star, Joel Hanrahan, who underwent Tommy John last year (the Mets have also watched him throw a bullpen session). If Robertson is successful, a player like Hanrahan would probably serve as a setup man.
Madson is the rare Tommy John surgery failure story — he had the procedure two years ago and has not pitched since due to continued setbacks and complications. The 33-year-old has been working out for teams for a few weeks now and there have been no reports of his asking price, whatever it may be. After two lost years, I’ve been assuming he would have to take a minor league deal like Bailey. I guess he’s shooting for more since he’s in a better position to help a team right away.
Hanrahan, 32, not only had Tommy John surgery last May, he also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips removed from his elbow. They did all three procedures at once and while he is currently throwing off a mound, Hanrahan isn’t expected to be game ready until May or June. There’s a chance he will be ready sooner rather than later just because he’s a one-inning reliever and won’t have to get stretched back out like a starter.
Given his timetable and the nature of his injury, Hanrahan might be the best 2014 bullpen option among himself, Bailey, and Madson. We know Bailey won’t be able to help until late in the year, if at all. Madson hasn’t pitched in two years and since he’s already had so many setbacks with the elbow, I don’t think you can count on him to be healthy and productive until he’s actually on a big league mound being healthy and productive. All three guys were elite when they were last healthy, but Hanrahan’s injury is the least severe. (They’re all severe, obviously.)
The Yankees have been signing injured pitchers and waiting for them to get healthy for years. They did it with Jon Lieber (worked out) and Octavio Dotel (didn’t work out) back in the day and with David Aardsma (didn’t work out) more recently. Bailey is the latest example and if Madson’s demands remain excessive for a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in two years, Hanrahan could be the next. With nothing but scraps left on the free agent market and teams not really looking to trade relievers at the moment, he is their best option for potential high-end bullpen help in the near future.
Via George King: The Yankees will not offer free agent Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz a contract following his private workout on Friday. They aren’t planning to offer right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne a contract either, but he isn’t much of a prospect.
Diaz, 23, is said to be seeking upwards of $20M, according to King. He worked out for the club at their minor league complex in Tampa and I guess they weren’t all that impressed. The Yankees have reportedly been scouting Diaz for months, so they are familiar with him. There are questions about his long-term potential but it is surprising they won’t even make an offer.
Friday: The Yankees did indeed have Diaz at the minor league complex early this morning for a workout, according to Jon Morosi. No word on whether Despaigne was there, but George King says he was scheduled to showcase himself for the team as well.
Thursday: Via Joe Strauss: The Yankees are one of seven teams “engaged in talks” with free agent Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. Jesse Sanchez says he is expected to work out for them today. “He is prepared to [sign] very quickly,” said agent Jaime Torres. “We know he’s going to be in the Major Leagues. It’s only a matter of time. His preference is shortstop, but he’s played second and third and I’m sure would be comfortable playing whatever position is necessary.”
Diaz, 23, is now eligible to sign after being suspended a year for falsifying age and identity information. Rather than make himself appear younger, he tried to pass himself off as older than his real age so he would not be subject to MLB’s international spending restrictions. Diaz can now sign for any amount and Torres said a decision could be reached as soon as Friday or Saturday. The Yankees certainly need infield help (both short and long-term) and they’ve been monitoring Diaz for months now, though they are said to be done signing big free agents. We’ll see.
In other news, Sanchez says the Yankees are also expected to work out Cuban right-hander Ordisamer Despaigne today as well. They scouted his showcases earlier this offseason. Ben Badler says Despaigne is “pretty fringy” and not much of a prospect, so there’s not a lot to see there. Diaz is a real prize of all the available Cuban players right now.
When position players reported to Spring Training yesterday, the competition for the final bench spot officially got underway. We all know Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter will start if healthy, and earlier this week the Yankees and Joe Girardi declared Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson the starters at second and third base, respectively. The competition is for the backup infield spot alongside Brendan Ryan.
Needless to say, an infield built around Roberts and Johnson doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Yankees are said to be done signing Major League free agents, but even if they were open to signing another player, there aren’t many available who fit what they need. Stephen Drew is pretty much the only option at this point and they don’t have interest in him. They did earlier this winter, however. From Joel Sherman:
Early in the offseason, the Yankees – with so many holes to fill – used a strategy of making many offers at one time, letting agents know that with each signing, they would re-assess and pull some bids. The Yankees actually made Drew an offer at that time, believed to be for two or three years, when the shortstop was still looking to do considerably better – four or five years.
And, as it happened, the Yankees spent more than they anticipated on players such as Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka and, at some point, rescinded the offer for Drew. And once Tanaka was signed and the $189 million dream was crushed, Hal Steinbrenner put a clamp on going any further. That means they are not bending for Drew, a decision they believe is made a tad easier because they were worried about the condition of his ankles and hips anyway.
The Yankees basically put a bunch of offers out there and said first come, first serve. The first player to say yes got the contract. Maybe that’s how they wound up with Jacoby Ellsbury instead of Shin-Soo Choo, who they offered seven years and $140M. Same thing with Matt Thornton over Javier Lopez, who they also had interest in. I’m not sure if they could have used the same strategy with Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann though. Whatever.
Anyway, Sherman goes on to say Scott Boras’ current asking price for Drew is a two-year contract with an opt-out after the first year. So it’s basically a one-year contract unless he has a really bad year, in which case you’re stuck with him for 2015 as well. The Yankees have already forfeited three top draft picks, so signing Drew would only cost money and a second round pick, which might turn into a supplemental first rounder if he opts out and rejects a qualifying offer next winter.
The Yankees do not want to pay that money and surrender the pick for Drew right now, but in all likelihood they’re going to have to pay for infield help at some point this year. If they don’t give up money and a pick for Drew now, they’ll have to surrender prospects (and probably take on salary) to trade for someone at midseason. Roberts is a huge health risk and the chances of Johnson getting exposed as an everyday player are high enough that an in-season trade feels like an inevitability. Heck, they might have to make a trade even if they sign Drew.
“There are areas of concerns and we’re going to keep plugging away, but we’ve got to see how big of a concern they are,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “They’re not problems yet because we haven’t even started playing. They’re areas of concern; I get it. Every team has them and every team works through them. We’re going to do the same thing. We got pretty good at it last year, I thought.”
Of course, the problem with standing pat and waiting for a midseason trade is that the Yankees will play a ton of games with a weak infield. Signing Drew or making a trade now improves the team on Opening Day, not on July 31st or whenever. Considering how tight the race for a postseason spot figures to be, the longer New York waits to get infield help, the tougher their road to October will be. The Yankees don’t want to pay for infield help now and that’s fine, as long as they understand they’ll have to pay for it later if they want to have the best possible chance to contend.
The Orioles have finally made a move to improve their team. According to multiple reports, Baltimore has signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a fiour-year contract worth approximately $50M. They’ll also have to forfeit the 17th overall pick. The Yankees were never connected to Jimenez but he was often mentioned as a potential fifth starter candidate should be remain unsigned for another few weeks and his asking price drop even more. That was always a long shot though.