Free Agent Updates: Lester, Scherzer, Sandoval, Shields, Robertson, Headley, McCarthy

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees officially extended the $15.3M qualifying offer to David Robertson yesterday but declined to make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. If Robertson signs elsewhere, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation. Hopefully that pick will be able to pitch high-leverage innings in 2015. Anyway, here are some various free agent updates and rumors, courtesy of George King, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman, and Brendan Kuty.

  • The Yankees “have no plans to pursue” big name free agents Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval this winter. There’s been talk theĀ  team would stay away from the top of the free agent market, but this could always be posturing. The Yankees don’t have much to gain by saying they’ll pursue these guys. It only creates more leverage for the players.
  • David Robertson said things are “quiet on the front” when asked if he and the Yankees have had any talks about a new contract. At least six teams already have interest in the right-hander, which is not surprising. Big market contenders like the Tigers, Dodgers, and Nationals all need help in the late innings.
  • The Yankees are focused on re-signing Chase Headley and have already started contract negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’re close to a deal, of course. Headley has said he’s open to returning to New York as long as he isn’t a part-time player. The presence of Alex Rodriguez may complicate things.
  • In addition to Headley, the Yankees also want to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and they plan to “aggressively” engage him in contract talks. There’s no word if the two sides are currently discussing a deal. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter behind Lester, Scherzer, and Shields, so he’ll be a popular target this winter.
  • David Huff‘s agent Jim McDowell has spoken to the Yankees about next season and said the “feedback was really positive.” Huff is not a free agent; he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and is projected to earn only $700k next year. He’s still a non-tender candidate despite the affordable projected salary.

Joe’s obligatory off-season wish list

Let’s cut to the chase: The Yankees need help this off-season. Even after doling out four large contracts last year, they need even more help. With free agents officially allowed to sign with any club, the off-season has begun. What better way to kick it off than with a RAB wish list.

Here we go, in priority order.

Priority #1: Shortstop

For the third straight off-season, shortstop is a position of need for the Yankees. For the past two off-seasons the presence of Derek Jeter has prevented the Yankees from addressing that need in any real way. They now have the opportunity to improve the position. They need it, too: they tied Detroit for lowest OPS at SS in the AL, by 74 points. Jeter’s poor defense is also an easy fix.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts that the Yankees will sign Hanley Ramirez.

In a way, it’s tough to see. Ramirez, 31 in December, will command a six- or seven-year deal, probably comparable to the one the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury last off-season. Will they pony up again, for a player who missed nearly half of 2013 and about 20 percent of 2014 with injuries?

Last off-season the Yanks spent big on two position players entering their age-30 seasons. It’s tough to see them going down that path again.

They could trade for Troy Tulowitzki, but he’s signed to a six-year, $118 million deal. The Rockies won’t just give him away, either. He, too, has missed plenty of time due to injury in the last three years. So while his remaining contract is more palatable than what Ramirez will command, the cost in players will make acquiring him less desirable.

To improve production at shortstop, they don’t need too much. There’s no direction to go but up — unless they plan to install Brendan Ryan as the everyday SS. The challenge is finding a player who can provide that kind of upgrade at a reasonable cost in dollars or players.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Free agent choice: Stephen Drew. Yes, he was bad in pinstripes. Yes, he might be better with an actual spring training. He can play defense and has hit well in the past. He’ll also get nothing more than a make-good contract, again, so he’s a potential bargain. He’s certainly a better bet than Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera, who will both get bigger contracts and are both not very good on defense.

Trade choice: Didi Gregorius. Not many teams have spare shortstops, but the Diamondbacks do have a number of youngsters. It seems they have the most interest in trading Gregorius, which is sensible given his service time and mediocre bat. But again, that bat is considerably better than what the Yankees produced at SS in 2014, and plays seemingly average defense, there could be a match.

Priority #2: Starting pitching

(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

The following starting pitchers on the 40-man roster, with MLB experience, will be back with the Yankees next year: CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, David Phelps. There is also Ivan Nova, but he might not be back until the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery.

That’s not exactly a group you can rely on. Of those eight, five spent significant time on the DL in 2014. Whitley is not someone you want starting in anything other than an emergency situation. Mitchell has what, one start? Greene might be good as a fifth starter, but the Yanks need guys ahead of him.

It seems pretty clear, then, that the Yankees need to upgrade at starting pitcher. They might want to do so in a major way, too.

Step One: Re-sign McCarthy. Whatever went on between McCarthy and Larry Rothschild worked. McCarthy enjoyed his time in NY and thinks the two sides are a great fit. Get this done, and get another solid starter in the rotation.

Step Two: Sign Jon Lester. MLBTR predicts the Yankees sign Scherzer, and that’s a possibility. But Lester has AL East experience, is a lefty, and doesn’t come with a draft pick price tag. Competition for his services will be high, but the Yankees should be right at the top of the pack.

Priority #3: Another infielder

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Relying on Alex Rodriguez to play even 81 games at third base is a mistake. They could start him there and put Martin Prado at second base, moving Prado to 3B and calling up Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela to play 2B when A-Rod gets hurt. But it might be best to plan on A-Rod playing no third base and deepening the infield corps.

We learned recently that the Yankees have begun negotiations with Chase Headley, and that makes plenty of sense. With him manning the hot corner, and Prado at 2B, the Yankees have strengthened the infield considerably without even addressing shortstop. A modest upgrade there, and some improvement from Teixeira, will go a long way to improving the team’s most glaring 2014 weakness.

What about Refsnyder? Prado is versatile, and has covered third base and the corner outfield positions in the past. Should the Yankees face an injury there, he can slide over and make room for Refsnyder. The idea isn’t to block him — he needs a chance to prove himself — but instead to create a strong starting corps and let Refsnyder act as depth.

Priority #4: Bullpen

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Royals proved what Yankees fans have known forever: a lockdown bullpen can carry an otherwise unremarkable team. Yet rarely will a team go through a season with three lockdown guys not getting hurt or overworked. The Royals got lucky. The Yankees need options.

Step One: Re-sign David Robertson, whether to the qualifying offer or a multi-year deal. He’s proven his mettle in New York, and the Yankees could use a closer like him.

Step Two: Sign Andrew Miller. Going into the season with a bullpen consisting of Robertson, Miller, Dellin Betances, Jacob Lindgren, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley will provide them with a deep core, allowing them to test guys like Jose Ramirez and maybe even Manny Banuelos.

Even after a busy off-season in 2013, the Yankees need even more in order to avoid missing the postseason for a third consecutive season. If they insist on keeping payroll even with 2014, then they have no shot. If they open the purse strings and expand payroll to near-Dodgers levels, then they could very well surpass their AL East foes.

This isn’t the only plan, but it’s one that helps address the Yankees needs without getting into the $300 million range. The Drew idea won’t be popular, but if it means not signing Hanley to a huge deal and having enough money to sign a top tier starting pitcher, isn’t that worthwhile?

Update: Yankees expected to make qualifying offer to Robertson, still undecided about Kuroda

Sunday: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are still undecided about making Kuroda the qualifying offer. RAB readers said they would make him the offer, for what it’s worth (nothing!). Heyman says giving Kuroda the qualifying offer would effectively limit his options to the Yankees and retirement for next season since teams are unlikely to give up a first round pick for a soon-to-be 40-year-old starter.

Saturday: Via Jack Curry: The Yankees are expected to make David Robertson the $15.3M qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline and they are hopeful of retaining him. There’s no word on whether the team will make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. Players will have one week from Monday to accept or reject the offer. If Robertson rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the Yankees will get a supplemental first round pick.

Robertson, 29, went 39-for-44 in save chances with a 3.08 ERA (2.68 FIP) and a 37.1% strikeout rate in 64.1 innings this summer, his first as the team’s closer. It’s no surprise the Yankees are making the qualifying offer — it would have been way more surprising if they didn’t — and I fully expect Robertson to decline the offer and test the market. He’s a soon-to-be 30-year-old reliever coming off four straight elite seasons. This is his best and probably only chance to get a huge contract.

FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing results for the top 55 free agents

On the eve of the offseason, FanGraphs’ released their contract crowdsourcing results for the top 55 free agents this coming offseason. Here’s the link. The crowd generally underestimated contract values for the top free agents last year, as the intro notes. Still, it’s a nice look at how a large group of people think these free agents will be valued, which is something no one can ever seem to agree on.

The FanGraphs’ crowd projects four years and $56M for Chase Headley, three years and $36M for Brandon McCarthy, three years and $30M for David Robertson, and one year and $7M for Stephen Drew. Sounds reasonable enough to me. I wonder if a team will step forward and offer a fourth guaranteed year to McCarthy or Robertson. That would probably put them over the top. I think the crowd’s six-year, $132M projection for Jon Lester is way light, especially compared to Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $168M projection. Anyway, check out the numbers. They’re a good starting point for conversation.

2014-2015 Offseason Calendar

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One way or the other, the World Series and the 2014 baseball season will end tonight. The Royals blew the Giants out of the water in Game Six last night, a game that had a very Game Six of the 2001 World Series vibe. Hopefully Game Seven tonight is as exciting as Game Seven in 2001 was for everyone but Yankees fans.

Anyway, with the World Series set to end in 15 hours or so, the offseason will officially begin tomorrow. There are a ton of dates and deadlines throughout the winter and some are more important to the Yankees than others. So, with four baseball-less months upon us, here is the annual RAB rundown of the important offseason dates.

  • Tomorrow, October 30th: At 9am ET, eligible players become free agents and players on the 60-day DL and restricted list are activated. The Yankees have ten players hitting free agency: David Robertson, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Rich Hill, and the retired Derek Jeter. Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Martin Prado, and Slade Heathcott will all be activated off the 60-day DL and Alex Rodriguez will be activated off the restricted list. The Yankees will have 35 players on the 40-man.
  • This Saturday, November 1st: Option decisions due. Most of them, anyway. Some contracts specify a different date. The Yankees’ only option decision is for Andrew Bailey, who has a club option for 2015 believed to be worth $2M or so. He didn’t pitch at all this year following shoulder capsule surgery and had numerous setbacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team walked away.
  • Next Monday, November 3rd: Deadline to make eligible free agents the one-year, $15.3M qualifying offer. Robertson will definitely get one, Kuroda might. RAB readers would make him one. McCarthy, Headley, and Drew are not eligible for the qualifying offer because they were traded at midseason.
  • Next Tuesday, November 4th: End of the five-day exclusive negotiating period. As of 12:01am ET next Tuesday, free agents can negotiate and sign with any team. Also, the 2014 Gold Gloves will be announced at 7pm ET. The Yankees don’t have any finalists.
  • November 10th: Last day for free agents to accept or reject the qualifying offer. If the player rejects and signs with a new team, his new team will forfeit their first round pick and his former team will receive a supplemental first round pick.
  • November 10th to 12th: GM Meetings in Phoenix. These used to be boring from a hot stove point of view — they’re for business matters — but there have been more deals struck at the GM Meetings in recent years. The wheels for the Curtis Granderson trade were put into motion at the 2010 GM Meetings, for example.
  • November 10th to 13th: Major awards announced. Rookies of the Year will be announced on the 10th, then Managers of the Year, Cy Youngs, and MVPs in the following days. Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka are candidates to finish second to Jose Abreu for the AL Rookie of the Year. The Yankees don’t have any other serious awards candidates.
  • November 10th to 18th: The “All-Star Series 2014″ in Japan. A team of MLB players will play three exhibition games and a five-game series against the Japanese National Team. Capuano is the only Yankee currently on the roster despite not really being a Yankee anymore. Jeter declined to participate.
  • November 20th: Deadline for teams to finalize their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees will add 1B/OF Tyler Austin to the 40-man roster to protect him. Other Rule 5 Draft eligible players include RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Zach Nuding, 1B Kyle Roller, RHP Branden Pinder, and OF Mason Williams, among others. I’d bet on one or two of those bullpen arms being protected.
  • December 2nd: Deadline for teams to make contract offers to their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players, otherwise known as the non-tender deadline. A whole new and less interesting batch of free agents will hit the market on this date. Esmil Rogers and David Huff are the Yankees’ two obvious non-tender candidates.
  • December 8th to 11th: Winter Meetings in San Diego. This is usually when all hell breaks loose and there are tons of rumors and signings and trades each day, though last year most of the action — Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury signings, Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade, etc. — happened before the Winter Meetings. Was that just a blip or the start of a trend?
  • December 11th: Rule 5 Draft, which is the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings. Teams that do not have an open 40-man spot as of November 20th can not make a pick. As a reminder, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft have to stay on their new team’s 25-man active roster all year, or be put on waivers and offered back to their old team before they can be sent to the minors.
  • January 13th: Deadline for eligible players to file for arbitration. Just a formality. Nothing exciting. Michael Pineda, Shawn Kelley, Frankie Cervelli, David Phelps, Nova, Huff, and Rogers are the team’s arbitration-eligible players this winter. Here are their projected 2015 salaries.
  • January 16th: Deadline for eligible players and teams to file salary figures for arbitration. Both sides usually try to avoid letting things get this far, but they can still negotiate a contract of any size after this date.
  • February 1st to 21st: Arbitration hearings. The two sides can still negotiate a contract at any point up until literally walking in the room for the hearing. The three-person panel will choose either the salary filed by the player or team after hearing each side’s argument. The Yankees haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008.
  • February 20th: Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa. Yay Spring Training.

The Yankees already took care their most important piece of offseason business by re-signing Brian Cashman. Nothing could have happened without having him or a new GM in place. So now, in the most basic terms, the Yankees need to find half an infield and a bunch of pitchers this offseason. Re-signing Robertson will be among their top priorities, as will re-signing or replacing McCarthy, Headley, and Drew. At some point they have to finalize their coaching staff and hire both a first base coach and a hitting coach. I’m sure that’ll happen sooner rather than later. The Yankees have a busy offseason ahead of them, but that’s nothing new.