Archive for Hot Stove League
According to Ken Rosenthal, Michael Young has decided to retire so he can spend more time with his family. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and Rosenthal said three (unknown) teams had offers on the table. Young could have served as a part-time third baseman and backup first baseman, though his last two years have not been pretty offensively: .278/.322/.381 (90 OPS+).
Via Andy Martino: The Yankees have not had any recent contact with right-hander Fernando Rodney, though the two sides did touch base and have a preliminary chat back in November. The team claims it does not have the payroll flexibility to add bullpen help through free agency after signing Masahiro Tanaka, which seems like posturing more than anything.
Rodney, 36, is probably the best free agent reliever still available. He had a 3.38 ERA (2.84 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.07 K/9 and 28.3 K%) and ground balls (50.6%) in 66.2 innings last year, though his walk rate (4.86 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%) returned to its pre-2012 levels. The Yankees have a lot of interesting young guys and minor league pickups who will get a chance to make the team in camp, but I’d really like to see one more established late-inning reliever brought in. A thin bullpen could undermine the lineup and rotation improvements.
Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.
If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.
When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.
Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.
There’s just one hitch in the scenario.
You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.
Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.
David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.
This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.
Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.
Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.
Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.
This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.
That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?
The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.
The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.
The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.
Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.
By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.
The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.
If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.
The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.
At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.
The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.
Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.
After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.
Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.
The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.
The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.
Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.
The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?
Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.
Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.
Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.
Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.
Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.
Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.
The Yankees are said to be done with their offseason “heavy lifting” following the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but there is still some roster fine-tuning to be done. More than fine-tuning, really. The infield and bench are glaring needs and the final open position player spot figures to address both. The team is said to be leaning towards someone like Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, or Dean Anna for that spot at the moment.
Aside from Stephen Drew, who may or may not interest the Yankees, the free agent infield market is thin. Michael Young and Placido Polanco are among the biggest name players still available, but New York doesn’t need another player casual fans will recognize. They need someone who can actually produce. The best available option might be someone who is more of a utility man than a full-time guy: the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker. The Yankees showed interest in him last month and they’ve been connected to him at various points in the past. He appears to be a great fit for that last roster spot, at least on paper, but what does he really bring to the table? Let’s look.
- The 32-year-old Baker punishes left-handed pitching. He hit .314/.407/.667 (186 wRC+) against southpaws last season and .287/.342/.496 (124 wRC+) against them over the last three years. All but two of his 18 homers since 2011 have come against lefties.
- Baker hits the ball to all fields and has power the other way against left-handers (spray chart). He does the most damage when pulling the ball like everyone else, but has power to right and that fits well with Yankee Stadium.
- Since breaking into the league, Baker has played every position other than shortstop, center field, pitcher, and catcher. He has plenty of experience on the infield and enough in the corner outfield to be more than an emergency fill-in.
- This is easy to overlook, but Baker knows how to remain productive as a bench player (he has played more than 100 games just once in parts of nine big league seasons). A lot of guys struggle initially when moved into a part-time role. It can be a tough adjustment to make.
- Baker is a pure platoon player. He mustered a weak .204/.250/.286 (41 wRC+) batting line against righties last summer and over the last three seasons, it’s a .213/.251/.298 (45 wRC+) line. Don’t kid yourself: this is a straight platoon player who is completely unusable against same-side pitchers.
- The various defensive metrics says Baker is a below-average gloveman pretty much everywhere. He’s versatile but not an asset in the field. It has been a few years since he played more than ten games at second or third as well.
- Injuries have been an issue. Baker suffered a thumb sprain during a high-five last year and missed a month (true story), and he’s also had groin (2011), hand (2009), and elbow (2009) problems over the years.
- Baker won’t give you anything on the bases. He has gone 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his career, but he’s never stolen more than four bags in a season and over the last three years he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 25% of the time, well below the 40% league average.
There hasn’t been much interest in Baker this winter despite his obvious usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat. The Rangers want him back according to Gerry Fraley and of course the Yankees have interest, but that’s pretty much it. The Giants checked in earlier this offseason but Andy Baggarly says the two sides stopped talking in December. Baker signed a minor league deal with Texas late last January and he might have to do something similar this winter.
The Yankees could really use a no doubt everday infielder regardless of position. Derek Jeter is going to need to spend time at DH given his age and myriad of leg injuries, plus we all know Brian Roberts is very unlikely to make it through the season healthy. With Mark Teixeira‘s wrist still stiff, Kelly Johnson is the team’s only question-free infielder. Baker wouldn’t improve that situation any, but he would given them a legitimate starting option against southpaws and an awesome pinch-hitter for lefty relievers. He’s a useful but limited player when used properly. Nothing more than that.
When the Yankees agreed to sign Masahiro Tanaka to his massive seven-year contract, it eliminated any small remaining chance they would stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold this coming season. Their payroll currently sits around $204M and, based on their Opening Day payrolls over the last three years, it appears they have another $10M or so to spend. Once you’re over the threshold, might as well go way over, right? Fill out the rest of the roster as needed.
The Yankees are now considering free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, which could potentially put another dent in the rival Red Sox’s up-the-middle alignment only weeks after the Yankees signed Boston star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
There has been a thought the Yankees might be willing to keep spending after landing star Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But while there doesn’t seem to be a push for another top starter or reliever, Drew is one free agent the Yankees are at least weighing, according to people familiar with their thinking … Although the Yankees apparently aren’t quite a bottomless pit of cash, a possible run at Drew “depends on the price” according to a person familiar with their thinking.
This makes sense, right? The Yankees have an obvious need for infield help and Drew is substantially better than any other free agent infielder left on the market. Agent Scott Boras has indicated Drew is willing to play somewhere other than his natural shortstop position according to Peter Gammons, which is good because Derek Jeter isn’t going to change positions. I know it, you know it, and the Yankees know it. It ain’t happening.
Now, just a little more than 14 hours after Heyman’s initial report, Buster Olney reported this:
Am told Yankees are still not weighing a run at Stephen Drew. In other words: Status quo.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 24, 2014
Ken Rosenthal backed up Olney’s report, saying “sources say team essentially has reached spending limit” while noting a more likely move is a trade involving players with similar salaries, like Ichiro Suzuki for a reliever (J.J. Putz?).
The whole “sources say team has interest in a player, team then denies report and interest in a player” routine is so very common during the offseason. Both sides, the club and the player (and his agent), want to control information. Agents will float reports about teams being interested in their players even if they aren’t just to drum up some leverage. Teams will deny interest in a player even if they want him because they don’t want other clubs to get involved and potentially drive up the price.
We see this all the time and it’s possible (if not likely) that neither Heyman and Olney (and Rosenthal) is wrong. The Yankees could indeed have interest in Drew and be denying it at the same time. They may want to keep things quiet so the Red Sox stay out of the mix. It’s also possible Boras leaked a fake rumor as a way of creating the appearance of a bidding war in an effort to coax every last dollar out of Boston. This isn’t some kind of crazy conspiracy theory. This stuff happens all winter and especially with rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.
Teams and agents manipulate the media in an effort to control information and, for the most part, fans eat this stuff up because we love talking about potential roster moves and playing GM. At the same time, all the conflicting reports are just awful. The 24-hour news cycle is really second-by-second, given me updates in real time news cycle nowadays, so every little blurb finds it’s way onto the web and in front of fans. It’s exhausting. It really is.
It makes perfect sense for the Yankees to have interest in Drew following the Tanaka signing. It also makes sense that Boras would try to use them as negotiating leverage against the Red Sox. I don’t know what to believe and this is the aspect part of the offseason.
Only one spot remains on the Yankees’ bench, and chances are it will go to an infielder. With five outfielders already under contract, and with a questionable infield situation, the Yanks can use any reinforcements they can get at this point. Eduardo Nunez just isn’t going to cut it.
A few decent infielders remain on the free agent list, though Stephen Drew stands out as the greatest potential upgrade. He bounced back nicely last year after suffering a rough ankle injury that kept him out for much of 2011 and 2012. Now a free agent, he has seemingly few landing spots. The Yankees remain a logical match.
According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are indeed internally discussing Drew as an option. Their chance of landing him “depends on the price,” but now that they’re over $189 million that price matters at least a little less than it did earlier this week.
As a Yankees official said earlier this winter, “We either have to be under $189MM or up over $200MM or more.” According to Cot’s the Yankees figure to be just a hair under $200 million right now, in terms of actual 2014 payroll (the benefits portion of the luxury tax pushes them over). Given that they’ve started every season since 2008 over $205 million in actual payroll, they should certainly have some room.
How much will Drew help? Two factors make him a bit more valuable to the Yankees than straight WAR. First is the team’s potential need at shortstop, not just this year but next year as well. If Jeter can’t cut it, they probably don’t want to fall back on Brendan Ryan as an every day guy. If Jeter is done after this year, Drew becomes even more valuable since he can man shortstop everyday in 2015.
Mike mentioned the second factor in his reflection on the Tanaka signing. A win might be going for $6 or $7 million on the open market, but where the Yankees stand right now each additional win is worth so much more since it brings them closer to the postseason. There isn’t any other player on the market that can more dramatically tip the scales for the Yanks.
Drew does come with his negatives. Most notably, as Mike mentioned when making the case for Drew, he isn’t rated very high defensively, and he doesn’t hit lefties well at all. With Jeter around, the Yanks can mitigate the latter. One point Mike didn’t mention was Drew’s extreme home/road splits in 2013 (.687 OPS on the road and .859 at home), but it’s not as though Drew’s moving from Fenway to PETCO. Yankee Stadium is plenty hitter friendly, and as Mike noted it might suit Drew’s swing very well.
As of right now, it appears Drew has few options. The Mets think he’s too expensive and only want a one-year deal. If that’s the case, we can rule them out because both the Yankees and the Red Sox would offer a similar deal. Then again, the Yankees might not be willing to spend that kind of money.
That would be a mistake. The Yankees have an opportunity to strengthen one of their weaknesses, adding valuable wins in their quest for a postseason berth and World Series Championship No. 28. They’re already over the luxury tax, and there appears no way they’ll slide under it next year or any time in the near future. Why not go all out at this point?
About a month after his deal with the Orioles fell apart, Grant Balfour has hooked on with the Rays. He’s returning to Tampa on a two-year contract worth $12M, so the whole failed physical fiasco only cost him $3M total. The Mets reportedly offered the same contract, but Balfour preferred returning home to Florida. Guessing the same would have held true if it was the Yankees.
The Yankees had renewed interest in Balfour after his deal with the O’s fell through but they were never seriously involved as far as we know. The relief corps behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton is pretty unsettled, and right now it looks like there will be a massive bullpen competition in Spring Training. They’re going to be asking some kids to shoulder quite a bit of responsibility at the outset of the season.
The Yankees have spent a ton of money and signed several premium free agents this winter, but I’m not sure any felt as important as yesterday’s Masahiro Tanaka addition. Don’t get me wrong, the Brian McCann signing was huge and both Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury will help as well, but Tanaka felt like a true necessity. Without him, the team’s chances of contending were small. Heck, they might not even make the postseason with Tanaka, but at least now it feels like they’ll be dangerous.
Following the signing, Brian Cashman told reporters he doesn’t think “there’ll be more heavy lifting that can take place” in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. That makes sense; the Yankees have signed five players to contracts worth $15M+ annually this offseason and every team does have a limit, even teams worth more than $3 billion. The “heavy lifting” is done but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more moves to be made. It shouldn’t mean that, anyway. The Bombers still have some questions left to answer.
“I think people want to see how the bullpen’s going to shake out. People are going to want to see how the infield’s going to shake out,” added Cashman according to Dan Martin. “What’s Brian Roberts going to be? What’s Derek Jeter going to be as he comes back from his injury? What’s Mark Teixeira going to be at first base as he comes back from his wrist [injury]? Can Kelly Johnson secure and handle on a consistent basis third base? … Speaking to the obvious questions that people would have every right to ask.”
As the GM indicated, the biggest one of those questions is the bullpen. I feel like a broken record saying that, but I keep repeating it because it’s true. The Yankees’ second best reliever right now is Shawn Kelley and the bullpen as a whole could really undermine the entire pitching staff. Remember, the Yankees have been talking about scaling back CC Sabathia‘s workload and Hiroki Kuroda spoke about doing the same himself, plus I have to think they’ll take it easy on Tanaka (at least as first) as he transitions to a five-day schedule. Who knows what the kid fifth starter will do as well?
Someone needs to eat up all those middle innings and right now they’re slated to fall on the shoulders of Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, Robert Coello … guys like that. The Yankees almost have to hope someone like Adam Warren or Vidal Nuno turns into 2009 Al Aceves, a rubber-armed reliever who can throw four pitches or four innings on any given day. That’s the kind of guy they need right now given the state of the bullpen. It’s Kelley, David Robertson, lefty specialist Matt Thornton, and a whole lotta hopin’ and prayin’.
There isn’t much the Yankees can do for the infield aside from signing Stephen Drew or swinging a trade for Chase Headley at this point. Neither of those options seems particularly realistic either. The Yankees currently have a stars and scrubs roster and many of those scrubs are on the infield. Teixeira and Jeter might be awesome coming off their injuries, or they could be totally ineffective. Roberts is somehow even more of an unknown. The team seems resigned to filling out the infield with someone on a minor league deal and continue to look for upgrades at midseason.
The Yankees came into this winter with a lot of problems and, for the most part, they’ve addressed them. The lineup is much improved and the rotation was solidified, though I would love to see them add another starter — it would be awesome if Ubaldo Jimenez fell into their lap in March a la Kyle Lohse last year — to knock Davis Phelps & Co. down a peg on the depth chart, but I’m not counting on it. Tanaka might be the team’s last bit of “heavy lifting” but he shouldn’t be the last move. The infield needs work and the bullpen especially needs help.
The Padres have traded utility man Logan Forsythe to the Rays in a seven-player trade involving a whole bunch of minor leaguers you’ve probably never heard of. Lefty Alex Torres, who was dominant in relief last season, is the key piece going back to San Diego.
The Yankees spoke to the Padres about their extra infielders earlier this offseason and Forsythe was viewed as the most realistic trade target. I wrote more about him right here. Not a huge missed opportunity for the Yankees, but Forsythe probably would have jumped to the front of the line for their third base opening.