Archive for Hot Stove League

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

At this time last season, the Yankees were still talking about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. It was definitely doable, but it would have been very difficult, especially since the team wanted to contend at the same time. Eventually the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan and they didn’t even get back to the postseason anyway, so double yikes.

Because Alex Rodriguez‘s salary is coming back on the books and the team handed out four free agent contracts worth $15M+ last offseason, the Yankees won’t be able to get under the luxury tax in 2015 and probably not in 2016 either. It might be possible in 2017, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the luxury tax threshold is presumably raised.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying salaries for New York’s arbitration-eligible players are less important this offseason then they were at this time last year. When I looked at the club’s 2015 payroll situation three weeks ago, I guesstimated a $12M figure for their arbitration-eligible players. Turns out I was pretty close. Matt Swartz posted arbitration salary projections using his insanely accurate model — he’s been within 5% the last few years — earlier this week, and he has the Yankees’ players at $12.9M total. Not a bad job by me. Here are the projections:

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Pineda (~$1.5M raise), Huff (~$200K raise), and Phelps (~$800k raise) are all arbitration-eligible for the first time. Pineda is getting a nice bump in salary despite missing all that time to injury because a) he was pretty awesome when healthy this past year, and b) he was an All-Star back in 2011, and that pays. Phelps qualified as a Super Two by about a month’s worth of service time, so he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. He and Pineda aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for Nova (no raise after lost season). They’ll be tendered contracts for next year.

Rogers, on the other hand, is an oh so obvious non-tender candidate at that salary. He earned $1.85M this past season, which is why his projected 2015 salary is so high. His raise isn’t expected to be that significant. Rogers had his moments in pinstripes (like this one) and his fastball/slider combination is just good enough to keep you interested, but not at $1.9M. The Yankees could always non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary, maybe even a minor league contract.

I don’t have any problem with Kelley at $2.5M next season — these days you basically have to throw 30 innings and not run over the closer with a bullpen cart to be worth $2.5M — even though he can be annoyingly inconsistent. At his best, he’s a true eighth inning guy who misses an awful lot of bats. At his worst, Kelley allows like four runs and gets one out. Which makes him no worse than most other relievers, really. His projected salary isn’t nearly high enough to scare me away.

The same goes for Cervelli even though I have no reason to believe he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees shouldn’t give it away for nothing just because they have John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine (and soon Gary Sanchez) sitting in Triple-A. Even if they don’t want to keep Cervelli at that price, I think another team would give them an interesting enough low-level lottery ticket prospect in a trade. Then again, what do I know.

As for Huff, he actually pitched pretty well this past season by long man standards, posting a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings. That’s usable. Huff’s projected salary is barely above the league minimum, so the decision whether to tender him a contract will come down to other factors like project performance and roster concerns. If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this winter — they’ll need one as soon as the World Series is over because A-Rod‘s suspension ends — Huff could be the odd man out.

It’s worth mentioning these contracts are not guaranteed. Teams can release arbitration-eligible players who sign one-year deals before mid-March and only owe then 30 days termination pay. If they release them after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years ago. They could keep Huff, see how the offseason plays out, then cut bait if a need for a roster spot arises. I’d put my money on Huff being non-tendered.

The Yankees have an uninteresting crop of arbitration-eligible players this winter. There are no real tough decisions here. It’s an easy call to non-tender Rogers and an easy enough call to keep everyone other than Huff. Huff is the only borderline guy and there’s almost no wrong decision there. If they non-tender him, fine. If they keep him, whatever. The arbitration-eligible players won’t make or break anything this offseason. The Yankees have an easy arbitration class this winter, which is good because they need to focus on lots of other stuff.

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Via Kyodo: The Hiroshima Carp are still undecided whether they will post ace right-hander Kenta Maeda this offseason. “We have the right. We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult,” said owner Hajime Matsuda, referring to Maeda’s disappointing year. Maeda recently told reporters in  Japan that he would prefer to play for the Yankees or Red Sox next year.

Maeda, 26, had a 2.56 ERA and a 154/40 K/BB in 179 innings this past season, and all reports indicate he is not on par with guys like Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. He’s more of a mid-to-back of the rotation arm. This could be posturing on Matsuda’s part — remember, the Rakuten Golden Eagles said they were unsure they would post Tanaka last winter — though I’m not sure what they’ll gain. The maximum release fee is $20M and it seems they’ll get that easily despite Maeda’s substandard year. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to get involved if the bidding reaches $100M to $120M as speculated.

Via Nick Cafardo: Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda told the media in Japan he would prefer to play for either the Yankees or the Red Sox next season. He is expected to be posted this offseason and early speculation has him in line for a five or six-year contract in the $100-120M neighborhood. The 26-year-old had a 2.56 ERA with a 154 strikeouts in 179 innings this season. Here are his career stats.

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) recently gave a scouting report on Maeda, saying he “doesn’t have overpowering stuff of a frontline starter like we’ve seen from fellow Japanese righthanders Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish, (but his) ability to command his fastball and mix his pitches allows him to keep hitters off-balance.” Badler said Maeda sits anywhere from 87-94 with his fastball and his go-to pitch in a low-80s slider. He also throws a mid-80s changeup, an upper-80s cutter, and a slow low-70s curveball. Here’s video. The Yankees need pitching and I’ll sure they’ll kick the tires on Maeda, but I think they’d go after a known commodity like Jon Lester or James Shields if the price is $20M+ per year.

Via Anthony McCarron: Outfielder Chris Young said he is “completely open” to re-signing with the Yankees this offseason. “I’m really happy that I did get this opportunity to come here, in this environment, in as big of a year as it’s been for the Yankees. To be surrounded by (Derek Jeter‘s farewell), I’ve been able to create memories that’ll last a lifetime. Every little bit helps, for sure. I’m really grateful for that,” he said. “This is a great organization. I’ve had a great time while I was here and I’m completely open to everything.”

Young, 31, hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homers in only 79 plate appearances with the Yankees in September. He hit an awful .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) with eight homers in 287 plate appearances for the Mets earlier this season before being released. The Yankees will need a fourth outfielder to replace Ichiro Suzuki and, given Brett Gardner‘s and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s left-handedness as well as Carlos Beltran‘s platoon split, it would make sense to bring in a righty bat. Young is a fit for the 2015 Yankees in a fourth outfielder role at fourth outfielder dollars, say one year and $2-3M or so.

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1:34pm: According to Roch Kubatko, Hardy and the Orioles have agreed to a three-year extension worth $40M or so. Scratch him of the list.

12:00pm: Via Dan Martin: Orioles shortstop and impending free agent J.J. Hardy said he will listen to the Yankees if they come calling this offseason. “It’s not something I can look into the future and see what’s going to happen. I’ve just got to focus on helping our team right now and obviously the playoff this year. But if it comes to it, I’ll have to think about it more,” he said. “This is my fourth year here and I feel like this organization, we’re going in the right direction. It’s a good group of guys here. It’s something if they came to me, I would listen, also.”

Hardy, 32, hit .268/.309/.372 (90 wRC+) with nine homers in 141 games this year while missing time with lower back problems. He hit 20+ homers every year from 2011-13 as well as in 2007-08, plus he’s a very good defender despite an unconventional over-the-top throwing motion that makes you wonder if the ball will make it to first base on the fly. There will be a bunch of quality shortstops on the market this winter and Hardy is probably the best two-way player, though the back trouble dates back to last year and that’s kinda scary. Jhonny Peralta signed a four-year, $52M contract last winter and I suspect Hardy will get something similar even though he’ll cost a draft pick to sign.

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Via the AP: The qualifying offer for free agents will be $15.3M this coming offseason. It is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in the game. Teams have until five days after the end of the World Series to make the qualifying offer, then players get seven days to accept or rejent the offer. No player has accepted the qualifying offer in its three years of existence but that may change this winter following the Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales (and Ervin Santana!) fiascoes.

The Yankees have one slam dunk qualifying offer candidate in David Robertson. They can not make the offer to Chase Headley, Brandon McCarthy, or Drew because they were acquired at midseason. Several big market teams will seek bullpen help this winter (Dodgers, Tigers), so Robertson will be a hot commodity as a free agent. If he accepts, great, the Yankees will have him on a high-priced one-year deal. (They could always work out a multi-year deal after that.) If not, then at least they’ll get a draft pick if he goes elsewhere. It’s worth noting the Yankees made Hiroki Kuroda the qualifying offer in each of the last two years. They could do so again if they want him back in 2015.

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Via Dan Martin: Chase Headley indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Yankees following the team’s season finale last weekend, but made it clear he wants to be an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”

Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers while playing top notch defense in 58 games for the Yankees this year. Joe Girardi said the Yankees are counting on A-Rod to be their third baseman next season but that’s just a ruse — saying otherwise would give guys like Headley and Pablo Sandoval more leverage. In fact, Nick Cafardo says the team views Alex as a DH until he proves otherwise. There’s an obvious place for Headley on the roster and in the lineup, but I think he’s going to wind up getting three or maybe even four years from someone. Free agent contracts always end up bigger than expected and I think clubs will look at him as buy low candidate with standout defense and switch-hitter who showed more life with the bat outside Petco Park.

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(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

For the last two decades, the Yankees had the luxury of knowing Derek Jeter would be their starting shortstop. It’s a tough position to fill and he was excellent. Jeter had an insane peak year in 1999 but his greatness was always built around his durability and consistency, the write it in pen year-after-year production. He didn’t have that crazy 7+ WAR per year for five years peak, but he was a 4+ WAR player for like 15 straight years. Every year, he produced.

The Yankees have to replace Jeter at shortstop this offseason and — let’s be honest here — replacing his 2014 production won’t be difficult. Out of 146 qualified batters he ranked 124th in OBP (.305), 145th in SLG (.313), and 140th in wRC+ (73). He was bad even by shortstop standards (league average at the position was an 87 wRC+). Add in the poor defense and Jeter’s on-field contribution was basically replacement level this year.

Replacing the 2014 version of Jeter on the field doesn’t figure to be particularly difficult. They’re not going to be able to replace him in the clubhouse — I don’t think the lost leadership will be a big issue but it’s not negligible either — and they definitely won’t be able to replace his marketability and drawing power. That’s impossible. All they can do is upgrade on the field at shortstop, which will be both relatively easy given Jeter’s performance and difficult at the same time.

The timing worked out well and Jeter’s retirement coincides with a free agent class heavy on quality shortstops. That’s good! The Yankees will have their pick of the litter, assuming they’re willing to pay the price. I don’t know if playing for the Yankees is as much of a draw as it once was (money still talks) and I’m sure some are put off by the idea of replacing Jeter and having to try to live up to an impossible standard.

We’ll inevitably take many, many looks at the various free agent shortstops this winter, but for now here’s a quick look at the group:

  • Asdrubal Cabrera: Average-ish hitter, bad overall defender but with a knack for highlight plays, generally healthy, won’t cost a draft pick.
  • Stephen Drew: Awful at the plate this year, pretty good last year, very good defender, injuries have been an issue, won’t cost a draft pick.
  • J.J. Hardy: Average-ish hitter whose power disappeared in 2014, very good defender, lingering back issues, will cost a draft pick.
  • Jed Lowrie: Above-average hitter from 2012-13, less than that in 2014, okay defender at best, healthier in recent years, might cost a draft pick.
  • Hanley Ramirez: Legitimate middle of the order masher, terrible defense, lots of injuries in recent years, will cost a draft pick.

Every so often a free agent comes along who fits a team perfectly. CC Sabathia fit the 2009 Yankees perfectly. Brian McCann fit the 2014 Yankees perfectly. Nelson Cruz fits the 2015 Mariners perfectly. None of these shortstops fit the 2015 (and beyond) Yankees perfectly though, and that’s the case with most free agents. They’re all good to great players with their own sets of pluses and minuses.

Any of these guys would represent an on-field upgrade over 2014 Jeter but the Yankees must determine who is the best fit. Do you want to go long-term with Hanley knowing he’ll possibly be a 120 games a year third baseman as soon as 2016? Is Hardy’s power and defense worth that risky back? Back problems never really do away, you know. They just get more manageable. The Yankees have enough dead weight on the payroll as it is and the free agent shortstop class looks like a minefield of potential bad contracts.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

There are always trades to consider — Jimmy Rollins, anyone? — but if no appealing long-term shortstop solutions exist, isn’t the best move finding a short-term stopgap and trying to figure it out again next winter? Drew, for example, is destined for a small one-year contract. There’s at least a chance he will hit next year following a normal offseason — “I haven’t had a regular Spring Training in three years. I had the ankle, the concussion and then all the stuff this past year. I haven’t had a normal routine in a while. I had to play the cards I got dealt and make the best of it. This offseason, I can take a step back and prepare for next season the right way. I’m healthy and looking forward to it,” he said to George King — which is more than you can say for Brendan Ryan.

I wouldn’t blame the Yankees at all if they walked away from Drew given how terrible he looked this year, both in pinstripes and with the Red Sox. His 44 wRC+ in 300 plate appearances happened. It can’t be ignored. But, if the Yankees don’t want to spend big on a shortstop, he’s probably the best one-year stopgap they’ll find. And that’s kinda scary. This isn’t like finding a left fielder or a DH for a year. Quality shortstops are rare and teams tend to jump on them given the chance. Ryan’s two-year contract (plus a player option!) looks silly but that’s what it takes to get someone to play the position competently.

The Yankees will not be able to replace Derek Jeter the person this winter but they have to replace Derek Jeter the shortstop and that shouldn’t be tough given the year he had. The question is how do they want to replace him? There are cases to be made for going long-term for one of the big name free agents — Hanley sure would look great hitting third behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, wouldn’t he? — or going short-term until a better fit comes along. Until they can pry one of the Cubs’ young shortstops loose, for example. Either way, the Yankees will upgrade at short this winter. It’s just a question of how.

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Following yesterday’s season finale, Ichiro Suzuki told Dan Barbarisi he feels great and strongly indicated he will continue playing. “Obviously there’s a lot of things that go on that the fans and the media can’t see, that goes on inside (the club), but what I can say is that the experiences I had this year, those experiences are going to help me in the future,” he said cryptically to Brendan Kuty when asked if he’d be open to returning to the Yankees.

Ichiro, who will turn 41 next month, hit .284/.324/.340 (86 wRC+) with 15 steals in 385 plate appearances this year. He seemed to be at his best in a limited fourth outfielder role. His production slipped once he was pressed into everyday duty. The Yankees will need a fourth outfielder next season like every other team, and the recently claimed Eury Perez offers a similar speed and defense skillset. It’s unclear if they’re open to bringing Ichiro back or if he even wants to be back at this point. He’s 156 hits shy of 3,000 and will probably need to play two more years to get there.

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Following his final start of the season earlier this week, Brandon McCarthy told Brendan Kuty it would be tough to pass up a return to New York when he hits free agency this winter. “I’d prefer to be anywhere where I’m wanted but this would be a hard place to turn down. It’s been a great time here,” he said. “I feel like gotten along with a lot of people. The way the organization goes about its business makes perfect sense to me. It’d be hard to find a better fit than here.”

McCarthy, 31, had a rough final start, but he still had a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 14 starts and 90.1 innings with the Yankees. He was awesome. McCarthy will be arguably the fourth best pitcher on the open market behind Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields this winter. At this point I would not be surprised if he got a three or even four-year contract. His lengthy history of shoulder problems (specifically stress fractures) is scary even though he did stay healthy this year. The Yankees need to add some pitching this offseason and McCarthy made it easy to want him back after the trade.

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