Archive for Hot Stove League
Given the number of pitching injuries they suffered this season, the Yankees should have been out of the postseason race a long time ago. I mean out out. At one point five of the organization’s six best starting pitchers were on the disabled list and right now three of their top four Opening Day rotation members are still out with injuries. The Masahiro Tanaka injury the week before the All-Star break should have been the final straw. It should have been over after that.
Instead, Brian Cashman & Co. have cobbled together a five-man rotation that not only prevented the Yankees from falling apart, but has actually improved upon what the team was getting out of their starters earlier in the season. The rotation had a 4.10 ERA (3.92 FIP) before Tanaka got hurt and they have a 3.39 ERA (3.26 FIP) since. That’s remarkable. A notable trade (Brandon McCarthy), a scrap heap pickup (Chris Capuano), a timely call-up (Shane Greene), and a return to health (Michael Pineda) have kept the club afloat. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild deserves a lot of credit.
The Yankees figure to be in the market for pitching help this winter because they and every other team look for pitching help every winter. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how much pitching a team already has or how bad the offensive environment is around the league, teams will always look for more arms. In the case of the Yankees, they’ll be bringing back three injury risk starters next season in Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee). Greene and David Phelps provide some depth, but the need for some rotation protection is obvious.
The upcoming free agent pitching class is top heavy thanks to Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields, three inarguably excellent pitchers who come with their own unique sets of pluses and minuses. All three will require pretty massive contracts — Shields is likely to get the smallest deal of the three and I have a hard time believing he’ll sign for fewer than four or five years at this point — and in the case of Scherzer and Shields, forfeiting first round draft picks as well. They’re worth it though. Those three guys are legitimate top of the rotation arms.
The Yankees are already paying Sabathia and Tanaka top of the rotation dollars and, unless they up payroll substantially next year, fitting another $20M+ per year starter doesn’t seem doable without skimping on offense. They have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $215M range in six of the last seven years, and Cot’s says they already have $168.8M committed to only ten players next season. Considering how their offense has been below-average for two straight years now, fixing it should be the top priority this winter.
This season showed the Yankees are capable of building a quality rotation with smaller moves and lower profile pickups. Would they be a better team with Scherzer or Lester? Absolutely. But I think the focus has to be on adding depth this winter, not one big star player. Given all those risky starters under contract, the Yankees should focus on adding two or even three starters this offseason. The alternative to spending, say, $25M annually on Lester could be spending $20M combined on two of McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and the reclamation projects that are Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson, giving the club more options and keeping the contract lengths short.
Now, those are just a bunch of names I’m throwing out there and I’m an idiot. Who knows what it will take to sign those guys in reality or if any of them will want to come pitch in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have shown they are adept at not only identifying starting pitchers who are better than what they’ve shown recently, but also getting more out of them then expected. It’s not a one-time thing either. They’ve done it with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and even Hiroki Kuroda in recent years. That’s a valuable skill they can use to their advantage. (The fact that no one can hit anymore works in their favor as well.)
The Yankees are still the Yankees and they’re always going to be in the mix for big name free agents. That’s what they do. Lester in particular is very tempting as an AL East proven workhorse left-handed ace with big market chops, and I fully expect the team to be all in on him this winter. But, as I said the other day, I think the Yankees are where they are right now because of their unwavering reliance on long-term, big money contracts. I think their ability to dig up quality starters out of seemingly nowhere is incredibly valuable and would allow them go to a different route this winter, eschewing yet another long-term pitching contract in favor of shorter term deals that add depth and flexibility.
Via Dan Martin: Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda has not yet thought about whether he will retire or continue playing after the season. He hasn’t made the decision until well into the offseason the last two years. “I have not thought about next year,” he said. “Since I’ve signed one-year contracts, I always wait until the completion of the season before I decide what to do.”
Kuroda, 39, has a 3.94 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 26 starts and 160 innings this year, so while hasn’t been the same guy we saw from 2012-13, he has been solid overall. I’ve been assuming this would be Kuroda’s last year in New York one way or the other, but I don’t think that’s completely set in stone. The Yankees need pitching, so if he wants to continue playing and is willing to sign for something like $10M to $12M instead of $16M, he could be back in 2015.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Following yesterday’s shutout win, Brandon McCarthy said he would be open to re-signing with the Yankees after the season. “Yeah. There wouldn’t be a question in my mind about that,” he said when asked about returning to New York. “I feel like it’s a great fit for me here. The guys here have been fantastic, everybody associated with the club. And it’s living in New York — there’s so many great aspects.”
McCarthy, 31, has a 1.90 ERA (2.33 FIP) with a stellar 51/7 K/BB in eight starts and 52 innings for the Yankees. I don’t think you can expect him to pitch that well going forward, plus he has a long and scary history of shoulder injuries, but the team needs pitching and he shouldn’t require a huge contract. McCarthy is wrapping up a two-year, $18M deal right now. If they can get him on another two-year deal at, say, $20M to $24M, they should jump all over it. Especially before he actually hits free agency.
Via Jon Heyman: Along with the Cubs, the Yankees are viewed as a likely landing spot for free agent-to-be left-hander Jon Lester this offseason. Heyman says a reunion with the Red Sox is considered unlikely. The Cubbies are run by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who obviously know the southpaw from their time in Boston.
Lester is a great fit for the Yankees because he’s a great fit for every team in baseball. Every club could use a prime-aged workhorse left-hander with proven big market and postseason chops. The real question is whether the Yankees are willing to take on a third $20M+ annual salary pitcher, especially given the other holes on the roster. The team is very top heavy and I think they need to focus on adding several solid players rather than one star plus a bunch of replacement level guys this winter.
Via Tim Britton: Jacoby Ellsbury joked about recruiting free agent-to-be Jon Lester after the season. “I’m sure I’ll talk to him at some point in the offseason, but I would have anyways,” he said. “When you’re with a teammate that long, you build strong relationships, not only as teammates but off the field as well — your wives, your kids and everything.”
Thanks to last week’s trade, the Athletics can not make Lester a qualifying offer, so he will not be attached to draft pick compensation. That’s a minor detail for a pitcher of this caliber, but it is a nice little bonus. Lester makes perfect sense for the Yankees as an AL East and postseason proven lefty workhorse ace, but are they open to the idea of a third $20M+ a year pitching contract? That seems like the biggest issue, not whether Ellsbury can sell Lester on New York.
The Twins have agreed to a contract with free agent first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, according to Jon Heyman. That came out of nowhere. The Yankees were said to have interest in Morales but not until they took some more time to evaluate Carlos Beltran (elbow) and Mark Teixeira (wrist), so now they’ll have to find lineup help elsewhere. Right field and second or third base seem like obvious spots to upgrade.
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees asked Kendrys Morales to hold off on signing so they could have a little more time to evaluate Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Carlos Beltran (elbow) following their injuries. Morales and Scott Boras said no because they’ve been waiting to sign for months and that is a stupid request. Heyman says Morales is likely to sign within a day or two since the draft is beginning tonight.
Teixeira already said he’s going to need regular days off to manage the wrist, no? And Beltran will receive treatment for the elbow the rest of the season, right? Right. They’ve already been evaluated, there you go. They’re probably going to get hurt again because they have injuries prone to setbacks and because everyone on the Yankees gets hurt again. If the Yankees are this hesitant to add help, then they’re in even more trouble that we all think.
Via Jon Heyman: Hal Steinbrenner and several other members of the Yankees’ hierarchy have interest in signing Kendrys Morales. I assume that interest only increased when Mark Teixeira left yesterday’s game with more wrist soreness and received a cortisone shot. Hal has already indicated a willingness to add payroll to improve the team at midseason.
Morales, 30, hit .277/.336/.449 (116 wRC+) with 23 homers for the Mariners last year, and his switch-hitting bat would look marvelous in the middle of the lineup. That said, he would further limit the team’s roster flexibility. By a lot. Morales is more of a DH than a first baseman at this point — he has played only 59 games at first (214 at DH) since destroying his ankle in 2010 — and with Carlos Beltran on the mend, the DH spot doesn’t figure to be open much. Beltran will reportedly return as the full-time DH because they don’t want to risk re-aggravating the bone spur in his elbow by making him throw.
Morales will no longer require forfeiting a draft pick this coming Friday, so there’s no reason not to wait these last six days before signing him. He would help the Yankees, there’s no doubt about it, but unless Beltran winds up undergoing surgery or Teixeira misses an extended amount of time and the team doesn’t care about further weakening the infield defense, it’s tough to see Morales as anything but a square peg in a round roster hole.
If he continues to hit like he has the first few weeks of the season — he’s shown no signs of slowing down at this point, amazingly — Yangervis Solarte will go down as one of the best minor league free agent signings in baseball history. The switch-hitter has been a godsend for the Yankees, solidifying the infield and adding serious thump to the lineup. It’s been remarkable to watch.
I like to think that I’m pretty well-versed when it comes to prospects and the minors, but even I had never heard of Solarte before he signed with the Yankees. He came out of nowhere. Major League teams sure knew who he was, of course, and the Bombers were not the only team who pursued him over the winter. Joel Sherman says the Tigers were aggressive as well, so much so that they even promised him an opportunity to win their second base job. Here’s more from Sherman:
As a player who had spent eight years in the minors and was consistently — in (agent Peter) Greenberg’s words — “the 41st man” in a sport of 40-man rosters, Solarte wanted to see a road to make a team and perhaps start.
But then Detroit obtained (Ian) Kinsler. The Yanks were aggressive from the outset. They often have trouble convincing minor league free agents to sign with them because those players believe in the organization’s rep to go with stars over unknowns. The Yanks try to use money as a lure, and Greenberg said the $22,000 a month was the most any of his minor league clients ever had been offered, plus the Yankees were willing to guarantee three months of that contract.
Not only had Solarte never been in the big leagues before this season, he had never even been on a 40-man roster either. At least as far as I can tell. Solarte had several years of Triple-A experience though, so, according to Jeff Blank, he was earning upwards of $2,700 per month the last few years. Probably a bit more since he signed with the Rangers as a minor league free agent in both 2012 and 2013, when he had some negotiating leverage. It wasn’t $22k per month though, according to Sherman.
Being a pro baseball player is a good gig if you can get it, and if you injected every player in the world with a truth serum, I’m sure every one of them would say they are in it for the money, at least to some degree. It’s impossible to ignore the millions and millions of dollars on the table. Solarte signed with the Twins for a relatively small bonus as an amateur player out of Venezuela back in the day, and he didn’t exactly make huge bucks in the minors all these years. A $22k a month salary with $66k guaranteed would have been hard to pass up. Now it’s likely Solarte will earn more this season ($500k, the MLB minimum) than he did in his entire minor league career.
Like every other team, the Yankees sign a bunch of minor league free agents every year. Some work out — Solarte is an extreme example of one of these deals working out, but other minor league signees like Jayson Nix, Cory Wade, and Clay Rapada have contributed to the MLB team in recent years — and most don’t, but these deals are super low risk. No 40-man roster spot is required, and in many cases the actual salary is measured in the low six figures (or in Solarte’s case, five figures). It’s a place where the Yankees can flex their financial might by offered those extra couple thousand bucks per month, amounts that barely put a dent in the team’s bottom line.
Minor league salaries and free agency are still a bit of a mystery these days, especially when it comes to guys like Solarte, who have yet to make their MLB debut. He’s an outlier, and building a team around minor league signings is not something that will win titles, but these players are necessary to provide depth and fill out Triple-A (and sometimes Double-A) rosters. Even the best farm systems have holes — the vaunted Cardinals farm system had no shortstops, hence four years for Jhonny Peralta — and this is one way to fill them. It’s another spot where the Yankees can flex their financial muscle and it helped them strike minor league contract gold in Solarte.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Red Sox have re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract worth $14.1 pro-rated, so basically the qualifying offer he turned down over the winter. He will presumably take over shortstop with Xander Bogaerts moving back to third base. Drew will be a free agent again after this season, but because he did not spend the entire season with Boston, they will not be able to make him a qualifying offer.
The Yankees had on again, off again interest in Drew during the offseason and even in recent weeks — we recently heard they would reconsidering signing him after the draft — which makes sense given the infield situation. Just this morning I said I expected Drew to sign with the Tigers after the draft, which shows what I know. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned, and if the Yankees lose Carlos Beltran to elbow surgery, he would make some sense as a full-time DH and replacement middle of the order bat.