Archive for Mailbag
Only four questions week and they kinda suck. Nah, just kidding. I say they’re good every week, so I wanted to see if anyone is actually pays attention. Remember, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything throughout the week.
Keith asks: Since there is lots of discussion this offseason about the Yankees’ minor leagues and their development of prospects, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the what ifs. One that particularly sticks out is Mike Trout. It’s been widely reported that the Yankees scouts were on him and of course the Angels ended up drafting Trout with the Yankees compensation pick. If the Yankees don’t sign Mark Teixeira and instead draft Mike Trout, would he even be in the Majors yet? Would they have found a way to screw up his development too?
First things first: if the Yankees did not sign Teixeira, their first round pick would have gone to the Brewers for CC Sabathia. If they did not sign Teixeira and Sabathia, it would have gone to the Blue Jays for A.J. Burnett. They would have had to pass on all three to keep their first rounder, and even then the Angels still would have had a pick (the compensation pick for Francisco Rodriguez) before the Yankees. Ken Rosenthal said the Halos had Trout second on their behind only Stephen Strasburg, so I assume they would have still taken him before New York had a chance at him.
Anyway, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Yankees somehow landed Trout in the draft that year. I think that in some cases, with historically great players and generational talents like Trout, the development part almost doesn’t matter. They’re going to succeed no matter what because there isn’t even that much developing that needs to be done, the raw talent is enough. Alex Rodriguez was like that. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson … players like that. They’re so good and physically gifted that the only thing that can stop them (other than injury) is a lack of effort and work ethic on their part. I truly believe that. Trout was so good that not even the Yankees could have screwed him up. He would have been in the show right now and still been a star.
Kevin asks: Obviously they’ll try starting first but any chance Michael Pineda‘s future with the team is ultimately in the bullpen? It wouldn’t put the stress of 170+ innings on his arm and that way they could possibly get some return on the investment.
Oh it’s definitely possible his future lies in the bullpen. He kept running into a wall around the 70-ish pitch mark during his minor league starts this year, and after such a major shoulder surgery, there’s a chance he may not be able to hold up for 100+ pitches anymore. I’m not sold on the idea that relieving on an unpredictable schedule is less stressful than having a routine and starting every five days, but a move to the bullpen is the next logical step if the starting thing proves to be too much for Pineda.
Ryan asks: What are your thoughts on Roy Halladay? Even though he is older and had the injury, I think the Yankees should sign him. Still has the stuff and experience, similarly to David Cone when they signed him.
I strongly disagree there. He doesn’t have the stuff. He might as he gets further away from the shoulder surgery in May, but Halladay was a shell of his former self late in the season. It wasn’t even Jamie Moyer stuff. No life on his fastball, loopy breaking balls, no command … it was ugly. He looked no part of a big league pitcher. Watching him pitch like that in September made it hard to believe he was the best pitcher in the world as recently as 2011.
The Yankees can’t help themselves when it comes to once-great big name players, so I do expect them to kick the tires on Halladay this winter. He has AL East experience obviously, though I’m not sure that matters much at this point. He’s not the same guy. He hasn’t been the same guy for two years now. There is no way I would guarantee Halladay anything — minor league contract or no contract, that’s it — based on that look in September, there’s no chance whatsoever I would guarantee him a rotation spot. Absolutely zero. If he wants to take a minor league deal and earn his way onto the roster, great. If not, oh well.
Ben asks: It’s pretty staggering to think about all the pitching St. Louis has right now: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, even Jaime Garcia. It’s fair to say they’d benefit from trading one or two of those guys. If you were the Yankees GM, what would you think a fair package would be to trade for Lynn or Kelly? Would we possibly have the pieces to trade for Martinez or Rosenthal?
Definite no on Martinez and Rosenthal. As for Lynn or Kelly, I have to think a shortstop would be atop the Cardinals wishlist. It’s hard to believe they did so well this season with a total zero at short in Pete Kozma. The Yankees don’t have a shortstop to give up unless St. Louis is particularly high on Eduardo Nunez, which I doubt they are. Jon Jay had a better year than I realized, so Brett Gardner doesn’t make much sense for them either. I’d have no trouble getting behind a Gardner for Lynn or (especially) Kelly trade, but that doesn’t seem realistic at all. I’m not sure there’s much of a fit here otherwise. The Cardinals are pretty stacked everywhere except short.
Five questions this week, including some long-ish ones. By know you should know how to contact us, but if not, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go. Send us mailbag questions or anything else that way.
Many asked: What about Brandon Phillips?
Lots of questions about Phillips this week after it was reported the Reds are looking to move him and get out from under his contract. Apparently he’s run his mouth — he called his recent contract extension a “slap in the face” in light of Joey Votto’s extension — a few too many times and has worn out his welcome.
Anyway, the 32-year-old Phillips hit .261/.310/.396 (91 wRC+) with 18 homers and five stolen bases this summer, his worst offensive season in five years. His defense at second base remains very good, among the best in baseball, but the bat is starting to slow down just a bit. Here is a rather troubling graph:
That is what amounts to a seven-year decline in ISO. Yeah, he did rebound a whole two points from 2010 to 2011, but that’s negligible in my opinion. Two points of ISO is one extra base every 500 at-bats, so yeah, negligible. Phillips has hit 18 homers in four straight years — I mean exactly 18 homers, kinda weird — but his doubles and triples are coming down. So are his stolen bases — this was the first full season in his career he didn’t swipe at least 14 bags — so maybe the power drop isn’t so much as a “not hitting the ball hard” thing as it is a “not fast enough to take that extra base on balls hit into the gap anymore” thing.
Either way, Phillips is 32 years old and he has another $50M coming to him over the next four years. That’s a lot of money for a player with very clear signs of decline. If Robinson Cano were to leave as a free agent — pretty much the only scenario in which I would even entertain the idea of acquiring Phillips — I’d still scour the trade market for a short-term stopgap than take on that contract. Phillips is more name than production right now and the Yankees have too much of that as it is.
Wilbur asks: What kind of contract would it take to keep Boone Logan in pinstripes? He’s made it clear he wants to re-sign with the Yankees and he’ll be coming off surgery to remove bone spurs, which’ll drive the price down (but also raises the question of do the Yankees even want him?).
Logan had surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to start throwing in January and be ready in time for the Spring Training. It sounds like a minor procedure but there’s really no such thing. There’s risk anytime you cut into pitcher’s elbow. CC Sabathia had a similar surgery last winter and after the awful season he just had, it’s fair to wonder if the elbow cleanup had something to do with it.
As for Logan, the market for top left-handed relievers if pretty well established. On the low-end you’ve got Sean Burnett (two years, $8M), on the high-end you’ve got Scott Downs (three years, $15M), and in the middle you have Damaso Marte (two years, $12M). Logan is several years younger than Marte and Downs were when they got their contracts and roughly the same age as Burnett when he got his. Burnett had much greater injury concerns though, much much greater. In this free agent-friendly market, I think Logan should be able to pull down Marte’s contract without much of a problem and maybe even land Downs’. Do the Yankees want him back? I don’t know. Lefty specialist seems like an easy spot to save money with payroll coming down though.
Patrick asks: The only reliever I have any interest in is Brian Wilson. How many years and millions do you think he’ll get?
Wilson, 31, joined the Dodgers in August and quickly became their setup man, allowing just one run on twelve hits and six walks in 19.2 innings between the regular season and postseason. He struck out 21 (28.8%) and got 28 ground balls (60.9%). Wilson showed his usual pre-injury stuff — a nasty mid-90s two-seamer and an upper-80s slider — so that was one hell of a late season audition following elbow surgery. He was damn impressive with Los Angeles.
With Wilson, it’s necessary to look beyond the ridiculous beard and (intentionally?) insufferable personality. The Yankees need to add a late-inning arm to replace Mariano Rivera — they’re losing an elite reliever either way, regardless of whether David Robertson takes over as closer or stays in the eighth — and Wilson is close to the perfect candidate. He’s got power stuff and he misses bats, he’s got big game and World Series experience, and he’s an off the charts competitor. This is a guy who pitched through a torn elbow ligament for a while and worked his way back from not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. You don’t do that without being a determined and generally tough dude, both mentally and physically.
It’s tough to figure out what kind of contract Wilson will get this winter given his situation. He’s a not all that old formerly elite closer who has thrown fewer than 20 innings following his second elbow reconstruction. I’d call that unique. The Rangers gave Joakim Soria two years and$8M last winter as he was coming off his second Tommy John surgery, but he was not expected back until midseason. Wilson is obviously ready to go. Joe Nathan got two years and $14.5M one year removed from Tommy John surgery after 2011. If the Yankees could get Wilson for something between those two deals, say two years and $12M, I’d definitely do it. Forget the beard and the Taco Bell commercials, he’s a great fit for New York’s bullpen needs if the medicals check out and they can get him at a reasonable price.
Dan asks: MLBTR is reporting that the Royals might make Billy Butler available. He’s owed $8M in 2014 with a $12.5M club option in 2015. I know the last thing the Yankee need is a 1B/DH but would you consider him to DH and provide backup in case Mark Teixeira re-injures the wrist?
First things first: If the Royals are indeed making Butler available, they probably want something big in return. I doubt they’re going to trade their second best hitter for a prospect or two after having the franchise’s best season in 19 years. If they trade him, it’ll be a win now type of move, perhaps for a starting pitcher. The Yankees don’t really match up well with Kansas City. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they do.
I am not all that interested in seeing the team spend even a moderate amount of bucks on the DH spot, and that’s what Butler is. He can fake first base during interleague play and that’s pretty much it. He’s awful defensively and he doesn’t hit for much power either. After hitting 29 homers in 2012, he dropped back down to 15 this year, in line with his 2008-2011 totals. He is a high-average, high-on-base guy and that’s very valuable, but the Yankees wouldn’t be acquiring David Ortiz here.
Spending $8M (and then $12.5M in 2014) for position-less, just-okay-power DH isn’t something they need to do in my opinion. They have so many other holes — more important holes like catcher and the left side of the infield and the rotation — that using a good amount of resources (both into terms of players traded away and then salary) to go after Butler doesn’t make much sense to me. He would make the team better next year, no doubt, but at a high cost that would limit their ability to make moves elsewhere. The Yankees could use a hitter like Butler, but they can’t ignore positional needs.
Kevin asks: If there is a weak draft and the next draft is projected to be loaded, do teams intentionally draft somebody they know they aren’t going to sign to essentially trade the pick in the weaker draft for another pick next year?
No, never. The only team who has something of a history of not signing top picks since the compensation system was put in place is the Blue Jays and that obviously hasn’t gotten them very far. Most scouting directors (and GMs) know they might not be around to make that pick next year if they intentionally do not sign a first rounder. The prospect now is always more valuable than the pick later. Always. Plus it’s impossible to judge the quality of the draft class a year in advance, so very much can change. Every club would rather make the pick now and get the player into their system as soon as possible. Waiting a year delays everything, including the ability to use that player in a trade to improve the big league. It’s a very, very risky strategy. There is always high-end talent available in the first round, you just have to find it.
Eight questions and seven answers this week, so let’s do this rapid fire style. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us whatever throughout the week.
In a vacuum, Beltran. No doubt about it. But this isn’t a vacuum. In reality, we’re talking about Beltran and a 30-something overall draft pick or Granderson and the 18th overall pick. There’s also the contract size to consider. I think Beltran winds up with a similar deal to the one he has now, meaning two years and $26M or so. Granderson could wind up with three years and $39-45M. Something like that. Injury history (Beltran’s knees vs. Granderson’s fluky hit-by-pitches), potential age-related decline (Beltran is four years older than Granderson), and the team’s current situation (are they really good enough to win during Beltran’s two years?) all have to be considered. I’d take Beltran though, the difference between the 18th pick and a 30-something pick is pretty small.
Bill asks: How much do you think a pitcher can theoretically make or lose based on a few postseason starts? Take Ricky Nolasco the other night. Would an eight-inning, 11-strikeout game have given him a different label going into this offseason and been worth that much more?
Unless a guy gets hurt, very small. Remember, C.J. Wilson was awful for the Rangers during the 2011 postseason (5.79 ERA and 6.31 FIP in 28 innings) and it didn’t matter at all. He still got a very fair contract and reportedly turned down even more money from the Marlins to sign with the Angels. Maybe a history of good or bad postseason performance would affect a player’s market value, but I don’t think one individual postseason or series or start would. Teams are too smart to let one game change their valuation of a player that much.
Mark asks: Not that more payroll is the answer to the Yankees’ problems, but say hypothetically they were to win the World Series with a 2014 team payroll of say $210 million, would the increased television ratings, higher attendance and playoff ticket revenue make a major dent in the luxury tax they would be assessed for going over their $189 million target? Not sure if this is calculable or not, but it seems like it sure bears some serious discussion if I were them.
A $210M payroll means they’d be paying an extra $31.5M compared to staying under the luxury tax threshold ($21M in overages plus $10.5M in tax). Vince Gennaro’s work has shown that simply making the postseason is worth about $40M in increased revenue for the Yankees while winning the World Series is worth about $70M. His study and calculations were done in 2007, before the new Yankee Stadium opened and baseball’s economics changed with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. I have to think those $40M and $70M figures are a bit light these days. So yes, I feel very comfortable saying winning the World Series with a $210M payroll is far more lucrative than not making the postseason with a $189M payroll. Far, far more lucrative. Of course, they could always win a title at $189M. I’m sure the Yankees have run their own numbers. They aren’t doing this on a whim.
Sean asks: With the emergence of Yan Gomes as the everyday catcher, do you think the Indians would be willing to deal Carlos Santana? I know they’ve used him at first-base and at DH, but Santana has apparently made it clear that he wants to play behind the plate. What sort of package do you think we’re looking at for the Yanks to land him? Do you think he’s a better option than signing Brian McCann?
Guilherme asks: I want to know what you guys think about Yan Gomes. Would he be a fit? For what the Indians would be willing to trade him?
Might as well lump these two together. I do think there’s a chance the Indians will be open to trading either Santana or Gomes for pitching help this winter, and I suppose the choice between the two may come down to the offers. Santana is far more established but more expensive (owed $17.75M through 2016 with an option for 2017) while Gomes has five years of team control and only 300 or so awesome plate appearances to his credit. Unless the Indians love them some David Phelps or Michael Pineda, I’m not sure what the Yankees could give them for Santana or Gomes aside from Ivan Nova. I’d happily take either catcher though. Backstops who can actually hit (!) and are under contract/control at an affordable rate for another few years are a super hot commodity.
Joey asks: When a scout is evaluating prospects, do they ever take what organization he is in in to consideration? What I mean by that is if the Yankees struggle to develop SP and the Rays crank them out year after year, will the scout look at the player and assume the Yankees can’t develop this guy in to a SP where maybe they says the Rays can?
They shouldn’t. The scout is evaluating a player’s package of tools and those don’t change from organization to organization. Scouts might look at a player and know their organization has a chance to help him develop more than another, but I don’t think that would change his evaluation. Gary Sanchez‘s physically ability is Gary Sanchez’s physical ability whether he’s a Yankee or a Twin or a Padre.
Brad asks: What are your thoughts on going after Bronson Arroyo this winter? He’s an innings-eater and he’s had experience in the AL East. I think we need a veteran arm to round out the rotation, especially if Hiroki Kuroda retires.
No way. It’s been a long time since Arroyo pitched in the AL East and he isn’t close to the same pitcher anymore. Over the last three seasons, he has a 5.52 K/9 (15.1%), a 1.43 BB/9 (14.0% HR/FB), and the fifth slowest non-knuckleballer fastball in baseball (86.6 mph). There’s a small chance three of the four guys ahead of him (Barry Zito, Shaun Marcum, Jeff Francis) will never throw another big league pitch. (Mark Buehrle is the other.) On top of all of that, Arroyo wants a multi-year contract. Innings are good, you need guys to soak up some innings, but I have no interest in bringing a soon-to-be 37-year-old guy with fringe stuff into the AL East and a small ballpark.
Kevin asks: Doesn’t Andre Ethier make sense if the Dodgers are willing to eat some salary and make him, say, a $7M player? He gets on base and doesn’t strike out that much and can take advantage of right field. I know he’s not any good on defense but they could pair him with someone like Justin Ruggiano and have one of the most productive corner outfields in the league.
Spending $7M on an injury-prone DH doesn’t sound like a great idea. Ethier has consistently been a 120-ish wRC+ player throughout his career but he can’t hit lefties at all (73 wRC+ this year and 67 wRC+ since 2011) and is a major defensive liability. I suppose you could hide him in right field for another year or two, but he’s already 31 and will turn 32 right around Opening Day. Ethier can mash righties and there is definitely a spot for him in the Yankees lineup, but that’s an awful lot of money — he is under contract through 2017, remember, so you’re essentially talking about a four-year, $28M contract if the Dodgers eat enough salary to make him a $7M a year player — for a very limited player. With payroll coming down, I’m more than happy to continue dumpster diving for Raul Ibanez types to fill that DH spot. I think that’s the last place the Yankees should commit huge bucks.
Only four questions this week, but they’re good ones. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Nate asks: If Homer Bailey is indeed being dangled, what kind of package would it take to land him? Should the Yankees go after him?
There has been speculation the Reds could trade Bailey in an effort to create payroll space, perhaps to sign Shin-Soo Choo long-term. Matt Swartz’s insanely accurate arbitration model projects the right-hander to earn $9.3M next season, his last before qualifying for free agency. Bailey reportedly hasn’t shown much interest in signing a long-term contract and presumably has his eye on a massive contract a year from now. Hard to blame him.
Bailey, 27, has emerged maybe not as an ace these last two years, but something damn close to an ace. He had a 3.49 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 209 innings this season after posting a 3.68 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 208 innings last year. Bailey was once one of the very best pitching prospects in the game — he was one spot behind Phil Hughes on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list after the 2006 season — and now he’s coming into his own as he enters his peak years.
Even though he only has one more year of team control left, I do think the Yankees should pursue Bailey if the Reds are indeed open to moving him. Not only would they be acquiring a really good pitcher –they could definitely use one or two of those, you know — but they would get a year to evaluate him in their league and ballpark before deciding whether to commit to him long-term. If not, they’ll get a draft pick. Kind of a win-win situation, I suppose.
Not too many pitchers of Bailey’s caliber have been traded one year from free agency in recent years, so we don’t have a good idea of what it would take to acquire him. Javy Vazquez (Expos to Yankees) and Cliff Lee (Phillies to Mariners) kinda fit the bill, but they were both better and more established than Bailey at the time of those trades. I’m guessing three prospects — one stud and two lesser pieces — is in the ballpark. The Reds don’t have any urgency to trade him though, so they won’t give him away. I don’t even think they will trade him. He’s a guy a win-now team keeps.
Andrew asks: With Jason Giambi looking to play one more year (according to Ken Rosenthal), would a reunion on a cheap one-year deal make sense? Cheap power designed for Yankee Stadium off the bench to hit for offensively challenged Yankees late in games (i.e., Brendan Ryan types should they re-sign him).
Giambi, who turns 43 in January, hit .183/.282/.371 (85 wRC+) with nine homers in 216 plate appearances for the Indians this year. That includes some really memorable walk-off homers as the Tribe made their push for a wildcard spot. I think it’s safe to assume moving into Yankee Stadium would help his power output, but how much? An extra five homers? Eight? Ten? The concerns I have are a) Giambi can’t play the field, and b) Derek Jeter figures to eat up a lot of DH time next season. The Yankees had an inflexible DH-only type on the roster this year (Travis Hafner) and it was a problem at times. I love Giambi as much as the next guy, but I don’t think he’s a fit for the current roster.
Michael asks: I wanted to know your thoughts about seeing Johan Santana in pinstripes for next year? He has a $25 million player and a $5.5 million buyout option. Can you picture Brian Cashman offering him a one-year, league minimum contract?
The Mets are obviously going to buy Santana out, but no, I can’t see the Yankees giving him a one-year contract at any salary. There’s no way they would (or should) guarantee him anything coming off his second (!) torn shoulder capsule. Torn capsules are the kiss of death; no one has ever had one and come back the same pitcher. The victim list includes Santana, Rich Harden, Mark Prior, Chien-Ming Wang, John Maine, John Danks, and Dallas Braden, among others.
That said, I do think the Yankees would be open to giving him a minor league contract a la Wang this year or Bartolo Colon in 2011. Santana came back from the first torn capsule and had a 4.85 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 117 innings last season, and that was in a big ballpark in the easier league. I’m not sure how anyone could expect anything out of him after another capsule injury, nevermind moving into Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Santana has been adamant that he wants to continue pitching, so if he wants to take a minor league deal to prove himself in Spring Training (and likely Triple-A early in the season), great. If not, no biggie.
Donny asks: After reading your “What Went Right: One-Run Games” post, I came to the conclusion that the team should keep David Robertson in the eighth and find someone else for the ninth. I came to this conclusion based on how Robertson reacted to his first introduction to closing (not good). My worry is that changing his role might have similar effects that it had on Joba Chamberlain and, to a lesser extent, Phil Hughes. Do you agree with this thought and if so, who should top the wish list (reasonably) if you are Brian Cashman?
Two things here. One, why is everyone freaking out about Robertson as the closer? How long as he actually been the team’s closer? A week, maybe, before getting hurt? That’s not enough to tell us anything about anything. Mariano Rivera blew three saves in the first two weeks of the 1997 season, remember. Robertson is one of the absolute best non-closer relievers in baseball. If you aren’t comfortable sticking him in the ninth inning, then who? He’s the perfect candidate. Two, moving Robertson from setup man to closer is not at all similar to moving Joba and Hughes back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. All you’re changing is the inning Robertson throws. The other two guys had to change their preparation, off-day routines, the way they pitched, everything. Huge, huge difference. Huge.
Now, all of that said, yeah the Yankees definitely need to bring in a good late-inning reliever this offseason in my opinion. With Rivera retiring, they’re losing an elite reliever. That’s 60 or so elite innings gone.Off the roster. Doesn’t matter what inning or role they came from, that’s a lot of production to replace. Free agent relievers are always risky investments, but the Yankees don’t really have a choice. A bullpen full of kids scares the crap out of me. Looking at the list of free agents, potential bullpen targets include Jesse Crain, Matt Lindstrom (if his option is declined), Edward Mujica, and the perpetually underrated Jamey Wright. I had my eye on Grant Balfour earlier this year, but he had a great season and won’t come cheap.
Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers short and go rapid fire. If you want to send us questions or links or complaints or whatever, the Submit A Tip box in a sidebar is the best way to go.
Joe asks: If Joe Girardi leaves who would be on your short list of replacements?
I don’t even know where to start. There are no great candidates out there. You’d need someone familiar with being in a big market just because it’s completely chaotic, or it can be if the manager lets it. Bench coach Tony Pena seems like an obvious candidate and I guess the just-fired Dusty Baker is as well. Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley and Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin seem like long shots. I want no part of Mike Scioscia (if he’s fired) or Don Wakamatsu, who has big league managerial experience (with the Mariners) and works in the Yankees front office. I don’t see a ton of obvious candidates out there. Pena is clearly the best at this point.
Joey asks: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla are both well-paid and under-performing for Atlanta. If the Braves cover most of the salary, do you think the Yankees would be interested in either player and would think its a good idea?
I don’t think the Braves would eat a ton of money to move Upton after just one year. Not with his brother still on the team and a roster that still managed to win 96 games despite his terribleness. As for Uggla … I don’t think I’d touch him. He hit .179/.309/.362 (91 wRC+) with 22 homers in 537 plate appearances this season, and he’s also 33 years old (34 in March). That’s right around the age second baseman tend to fall off the cliff. This sums up where his career is heading:
Go look at Uggla’s graph page on FanGraphs and notice how pretty much everything has been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. The Braves left him off their NLDS roster and they own him $13M in each of the next two years. Yeah, the Yankees could use him as a backup corner infielder/DH, but even if Atlanta eats so much money that he’s a $4M a year player, I wouldn’t touch him. The Bombers already have one Vernon Wells, no need to add the infield version as well.
Anthony asks: Say #HIROK decided to retire, could the Yankees still offer him a qualifying offer and get a pick?
The only way the Yankees would get a draft pick for Hiroki Kuroda (or any other player who turns downs a qualifying offer) is if they sign a Major League contract with one of the other 29 times before next summer’s draft. That’s it. They don’t get a pick if the player retires, goes to Japan, or signs a minor league contract.
Mr. Fish Fingers asks: Any interest in/chance of acquiring Jason Castro this off-season or (more likely) at some point in the season? Got to cost an arm and a leg, but he had a nice season in Houston and is under team control.
Theoretically, the Astros would want to build around Castro going forward, right? He just turned 26 and hit .276/.350/.485 (130 wRC+) with 18 homers this season, plus he’s a standout defender behind the plate. That’s a cornerstone player. If you’re a rebuilding team, you keep him. That said, the Astros seem to have completely given up on being competitive and are instead focused on having a strong farm system, so who knows. I’d take Castro in a heartbeat — he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year and can’t become a free agent until after 2016 — and would open up the farm system to give Houston whatever they want. Gary Sanchez and Rafael DePaula? Sure thing. You hope that in six years, Sanchez will be what Castro is right now. Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy? Tyler Austin and Mason Williams? Done deal. No-brainer for me. I think Castro is the one guy the Astros will keep, however.
Jon asks: MLBTR got me thinking about Asdrubal Cabrera as a possible 2014 shortstop target. If I remember, Brian Cashman was hot on him previously, only one year left on contract and coming off a down year. Possible buy low, would the Yankees want the Indians to kick some money in to offset $10M ’14 Salary? What would it take in prospects?
Cabrera would make sense as a shortstop target if he was actually a shortstop. The 27-year-old is an awful defensive player — pick any defense stat and it’ll say he’s been terrible for several years running now — and to make matters worse, he isn’t hitting all that much either. Cabrera put up a .242/.299/.402 (95 wRC+) line with 14 homers this year, which is way better than what the Yankees got from the position this year but way below what his reputation would lead you to believe. He’s better than Eduardo Nunez, but we’re not exactly setting a high bar there. Is he so much better that it justifies the massive salary and a trading away a prospect or two? Asdrubal is someone worth looking at more in-depth if he actually ends up on the block at some point. My short answer is: meh.
Elliot asks: If Derek Jeter declines his option (crazy talk) do you see a situation where he wants a longer contract guaranteed, but will spread out the cost over more years and help the team get under $189 million?
I don’t know if Jeter will want that, but there is a scenario in which opting out and signing a multi-year deal would help the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold. Right now his option is worth $9.5M and can be worth as much as $16.5M with awards-based incentives. The team would have to treat him as a $16.5M player in 2014 — you can’t plan on him costing only $9.5M and then have him blow the whole thing up by finishing fifth in the MVP voting or something. They could, I suppose, guarantee the extra $7M (instead of basing it on incentives) and spread it out over multiple years. Instead of a one-year deal worth $9.5M and potentially $16.5M, it could be a three-year deal worth $16.5 guaranteed. That would lower the average annual salary (and his “tax hit”) from at least $9.5M and possibly $16.5M in 2014 to $5.5M flat. It’s worth considering, but remember, it takes two to tango.
Five questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything at any time, mailbag questions or otherwise.
John asks: Hypothetically speaking (how else would we speak when speculating about the offseason?), if Robinson Cano were to get say $29M per year for nine years from the Dodgers, could the Yankees sign Brian McCann, Stephen Drew and Omar Infante for $29M combined? And, if so, might that be a better strategy for 2014 and beyond?
I don’t see how they could get those three for only $29M total. McCann is looking at Yadier Molina money on the open market ($15M annually) while neither Drew ($9.5M) nor Infante ($4M) have a reason to take a pay cut following their strong seasons. I think the best case scenario is something like $35M total, broken down into $15M (McCann) plus $12M (Drew) plus $8M (Infante). I’m probably underselling Drew and Infante given the dearth of quality middle infielders. It might be closer to $40M total than $35M when it’s all said and done.
If the Yankees can’t re-sign Cano — I would be stunned if they didn’t at this point — then spreading the wealth around is pretty much the only thing they can do. There’s no other superstar available this winter who is worth a nine-figure commitment. (Maybe Shin-Soo Choo. Maybe.) McCann plus Drew plus Infante would be a real good start, bhe Yankees need more pitching and outfield help though. This team isn’t one or two players away from getting back into contention. This roster has an awful lot holes.
Chris asks: Would you be in favor of reducing the time between signing and free agency? Teams today are forced to decide between players hitting their free agency years around age 28-30. Small market teams won’t pay for players past 30 and subsequently lose their players while big market teams continuously pay and pay. It hurts everyone. Isn’t the answer to make players free agents earlier? Cano would be worth millions and millions more if he was two or three years younger.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I am decidedly pro player when it comes to this stuff. Let them become free agents as soon as possible. Teams would never agree to it and, frankly, small market clubs would have no chance to contend if they didn’t get to control their young players for what is usually the most productive years of their career. If they knocked it down to five or even four years of team control before free agency, clubs like the Rays and Athletics would have no chance to contend. It would be a franchise killer. Baseball’s salary system is screwed up in that players earn the most when they’re on the decline, but it is what it is. The six years of team control are a necessarily evil.
Karl asks: How much amateur money is at stake over the possible variation in the final standings? Any chance a post-qualifying offer Hiroki Kuroda signs with the Dodgers to chase a ring and gets the Yankees a comp pick?
I’ll answer the second part first: yes I could definitely see Kuroda signing elsewhere in hope of winning a ring. The Dodgers are an obvious destination but the Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, and Cardinals could also be fits. Despite his ugly finish to the season, I’d have no trouble making Kuroda a $14M qualifying offer. It’s a no-brainer in my book.
As for the standings, the Yankees could finish with anything from the 12th through 16th best record in baseball. The Blue Jays have a compensation pick early in the first round, so that would give them the 16th through 21st overall pick. Right now they have the 17th overall pick and the only way they can move up to 16th is if they get swept by the Astros while the Diamondbacks sweep the Nationals this weekend. That’s the only possible way to move up at this point.
Based on last season’s slot values, that’s the difference between the 16th ($2.3M) and 21st ($1.97M) picks is kinda small. Nice chunk of change but not a game-changing amount. The 17th overall pick was slotted for $2.16M, but the values are expected to increase next summer. Based on historical data and all that, the difference in expected future value of the 16th pick and the 21st (or 25th or 30th, for that matter) pick is negligible. That’s all theoretical though, anything can happen in one given year. Obviously you’d like the higher pick.
Christopher asks: Would you be interested in the newly back on track Ubaldo Jimenez at around $13M? I think there’s great value there and he could be the steal that helps the Yankees get back on track.
Once upon a time I was in favor of trading Jesus Montero for Jimenez, and for a while there it looked like the Yankees dodged a serious bullet. Obviously that seems silly now because Michael Pineda still hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the team in the 20 months (!) since the trade. Seriously, he’s missed two years (and counting) with that shoulder injury. What a disaster.
Anyway, this is purely hypothetical because there is an $8M club option in Ubaldo’s contract for next season and the Indians will surely pick that up. The 29-year-old has a 3.38 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 176 innings this season but he’s been even better in the second half: 1.86 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 77.1 innings. Jimenez has been a big reason why the Tribe jumped over the Rangers in the wildcard race.
Update!: Turns out Jimenez’s club option became a mutual option after the trade. He’ll surely decline his half and become a free agent.
Now, as good as the second half has been, we have to remember Ubaldo was really bad just last season. Heck, he had a 4.56 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 98.2 innings of the first half this year. Last year it was a 5.40 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 176.2 innings. Jimenez would be worth a much deeper look if he was indeed going to be free agent — did he actually change anything? — but I’d be very skeptical about giving him $13M a year based on a good half-season. High reward but super duper high risk.
Donny asks: Since we might not actually get to see this come to fruition, I figured I would ask: What do you think the playoff roster might/should look like?
I’ve been saving this question for like, three weeks now. I didn’t want to answer it while the team still had a shot at the postseason because I figured there might be serious playoff roster talk at some point. Now that they’ve been eliminated, let’s have at it. Based on who is actually healthy and available right now, here’s the 25-man roster I would take into the wildcard play-in game/ALDS:
|Chris Stewart||Robinson Cano||Curtis Granderson||Mariano Rivera|
|J.R. Murphy||Lyle Overbay||Ichiro Suzuki||Hiroki Kuroda||David Robertson|
|Eduardo Nunez||Alfonso Soriano||Andy Pettitte||Boone Logan|
|Mark Reynolds||Zoilo Almonte||Ivan Nova||Shawn Kelley|
|Designated Hitter||David Adams||Vernon Wells||Phil Hughes||David Phelps|
|Alex Rodriguez||Adam Warren|
The opponent would dictate the bullpen to a certain degree. If the Yankees drew an opponent with a right-handed heavy lineup, I would probably take
Phil Hughes Preston Claiborne over Huff. In this general case I’d take the second lefty.
The Yankees have an alarming shortage of useful position players. Brendan Ryan is not eligible for the postseason roster because he wasn’t in the organization on August 31st, so Nunez is the starting shortstop by default. That leaves Adams or Reynolds as the everyday third baseman if A-Rod‘s various leg injuries don’t heal up in time. Hafner is pretty useless, but I’d rather have the extra bench bat than the 12th pitcher. I’d trim the staff down to ten pitchers if there was another position player worth taking. That … is not an inspiring roster. Geez.
Five questions for you this week and they’re all good ones. Might be biased, but I this is a quality mailbag. Send us any questions or comments or whatever through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Many people asked: What about signing Brian McCann this offseason?
Not sure what sparked it, but we got a ton of McCann questions this week. I guess people are just sick of watching the team’s current catchers on a daily basis.
Anyway, the 29-year-old McCann is scheduled to become a free agent this winter for first time in his career. A right shoulder injury really hampered him last season (87 wRC+), but he’s rebounded very well from offseason surgery to produce a .258/.333/.472 (125 wRC+) line that is right in line with his career norms (117 wRC+). Surgery on the front shoulder is a scary thing for a hitter, but McCann has come back very well and hasn’t seen a slip in his performance. It’s encouraging if nothing else.
Elite catchers — if McCann isn’t considered elite, then he’s damn close — almost never hit the open market, so McCann will be one of the hottest commodities out there this winter. Yadier Molina signed a five-year, $75M extension last year and I think that’s the baseline for McCann. Yes, we’re comparing an extension to a free agent, but Molina is also the better player. I think 5/75 is in the ballpark at least. Seems reasonable enough to me.
Now, the problem with signing a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract is that you can’t expect him to catch full-time all five years. It could happen, but McCann would be the exception and not the rule. I think you have to go into the deal thinking he can catch full-time for the first two years, split the third year at catcher and first base, then split the fourth and fifth years at first base and DH. Maybe you get lucky and you get three years as a full-time catcher instead of two.
McCann makes a ton of sense for the Yankees for many reasons. First and foremost, he’s a massive upgrade over their current catchers. He’s better than all of them put together. Secondly, he’s a left-handed hitter who should see his production tick up with the move into Yankee Stadium. Third, he has plenty of experience with division and playoff races and all that stuff. And fourth, the timeframe works well. A young catcher like Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be broken in slowly these next few years a la late-1990s Jorge Posada, and if things break right down the line, Gary Sanchez will be able to step in right when McCann is turning into a pumpkin. He’s a great, great fit for New York.
Nick asks: Who is Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason?
For all intents and purposes — there are some exceptions, players drafted particularly young or old — it’s high school players from the 2009 draft and college players from the 2010 draft this year. International players who signed at 18 or younger prior to 2008 or signed at 19 or older prior to 2009 are eligible as well. It’s always tough to pin down the international guys because we usually don’t know the exact date they signed.
The Yankees already took care of one piece of Rule 5 Draft business by adding Murphy to the 40-man roster this month. He would have been eligible this year and obviously would have been protected. As best I can tell, the following players are also Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter: CF Slade Heathcott, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Chase Whitley, and RHP Zach Nuding. That appears to be it among the legitimate prospects. Sanchez has at least one and possibly two more years to go before becoming eligible..
Heathcott is obviously going to be protected since he is one of the team’s top prospects. Greene, Kahnle, Burawa, and Whitley are all damn near MLB ready and would be prime Rule 5 Draft bait. All four would get picked if left unprotected. The Yankees floated Kahnle’s name in trade talks before the deadline (for both Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young), which leads me to believe they are leaning against not protecting him. They were trying to get something before losing him for nothing. Greene had the best year of those four and is the only one with a realistic chance of starting.
Mitchell has a great arm but it’s hard to believe he could stick on a 25-man roster all of next season. He’s someone who would get a look in Spring Training and be offered back, more than likely. Nuding too. That said, Jose Ramirez was in the same boat last year and he wound up being protected. The Yankees have been rather aggressive when it comes to protecting Rule 5 Draft guys in recent years — I feel like almost losing Ivan Nova to the Padres in 2008 scared them into protecting everyone — so I wouldn’t be surprised if they added Heathcott, Greene, Burawa, Whitley, and Mitchell to the 40-man this winter. Greene, Burawa, and Whitley would be up-and-down bullpen options as soon as next summer, if nothing else.
Kevin asks: As bad as the farm system was this year, doesn’t it seem just as likely next year could be a bounceback season? Say two of Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Heathcott bounce back, Sanchez stays steady, and Greg Bird and Rafael DePaula continue to progress, can’t you see next year we’re talking about a Top 10 system? This stuff seems to considerably vary year-to-year.
Definitely. This was a bad year for the farm system but there is a lot of potential room for improvement. Literally every team has those “if this guy bounces back, if that guy stays healthy, etc.” prospects, but the Yankees have more than most. They’re adding what amounts to five first round talents into the system as well: 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Ty Hensley, and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three were this summer’s first rounders and will be playing in their first full pro season while Hensley (2012 first rounder) and Banuelos (2012 top prospect) will be returning from injury. Full years from SS Abi Avelino and RHP Luis Severino will help as well. A lot would have to break right — it all won’t, some of these guys will inevitably disappoint — but the farm system has a chance to take a major, major step forward in 2014.
Paul asks: When does Joe Girardi have to announce a starter for a game? Is he able to use his Phil Hughes/David Huff tandem to somehow get the opposing manager to start his lefty-heavy lineup while starting Huff instead of Hughes?
The rulebook says that the starting pitcher becomes official when the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate before the start of the game. At that point the listed starter must face at least one batter before he can be replaced like every other pitcher. So, if they wanted the other team to start their lefty-mashing lineup against Hughes and replace him with Huff, they would have to wait at least one batter.
That said, this isn’t all that practical because Huff will need some time to warm up and the other club would see him getting ready in the bullpen beforehand. There’s also a gamesmanship aspect to this. I don’t think something like this would go over well around the game. If Hughes were to get hurt? Sure. But otherwise … eh.
Justin asks: Two part Brendan Ryan question. Recently, the YES announcers have quoted Kevin Long saying he could “fix” Ryan’s swing. A) Do you think that he can bring him to respectability of maybe a .260 hitter? B) Is he a better 2014 option over Jhonny Peralta or Stephen Drew?
Long is just a hitting coach, not a miracle worker. Ryan has never been an adequate hitter — career .252/.303/.341 hitter … in Triple-A — and it’s hard to think Long could do anything that would suddenly transform him from a .238/.300/.321 career big league hitter into say, a .260/.320/.350 guy for even one year. It could happen, baseball is weird like that, but I don’t think there’s enough starting material here for that to happen.
As for 2014, I think Ryan would be my last resort at shortstop. Well, second to last ahead of Eduardo Nunez. (Sorry Eddie, I’m over you.) I prefer Drew — a slick defender and a Yankee Stadium-friendly lefty hitter — over Peralta by quite a bit among free agent options, but both guys would be real nice fits next year. Drew could play short while Peralta takes over at third for the presumably suspended Alex Rodriguez. I do think — and this is completely baseless, by the way, just a guess — the Yankees want to avoid Biogenesis/PED guys going forward though, so Peralta might be a non-option. Ryan’s been a nice little late-season pickup but I absolutely do not want that guy penciled in as the number one shortstop come Opening Day.
I’ve only got four questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at any time.
Anthony asks: If the Yankees sign Brendan Ryan in the offseason as insurance for Derek Jeter, do you think his defensive contributions would be more valuable than the light-hitting, terrible defense of Eduardo Nunez?
Oh yeah, I have very little doubt about that. We don’t even need to get into WAR to make the point. Nunez is a below-average hitter and a horrible defender. Ryan is a horrible hitter and an above-average (bordering on elite) defender. Let’s have some fun and use the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is average. Nunez is what, a 40 hitter and a 30 defender while Ryan is a 20 hitter and a 70 defender? I suppose Nunez could turn into a 50 hitter with some speed and contact-related BABIP luck, but that’s being a little too nice.
If I had to pick between these two, Ryan would be my everyday shortstop. The Yankees would need to boost their offense in other spots (right field, catcher, DH) to compensate for the noodle bat though. In a perfect world, neither guy starts next year. The team should look for a better, legitimate everyday option this winter. A more long-term solution. That won’t be easy to find and definitely won’t come cheap, but that’s the corner the Yankees have painted themselves into thanks to an unproductive farm system.
Vicki asks: What’s with park effects? How can we call it a stat when it changes significantly season to season, yet the park dimensions stay the same?
Park factors can be calculated in different ways and they’re all complicated. Long story short: they show how many runs are scored at one park compared to all other parks. For the long and painful to read answer, here’s how Baseball-Reference calculates their park factors. Like I said, they’re complicated. All sorts of adjustments are made.
Park factors are like just about every other stat in that they fluctuate from year to year. Robinson Cano is a lifetime .308 hitter, but he had one year where he hit .342 and another where he hit .271. Did his talent level change those two years? No, other stuff (injuries, mechanical funk, etc.) played a role. Park factors are the same way. They don’t change because of the dimensions, those are fixed and don’t change year to year (unless the team changes them), they change because of everything else. Something like the weather — a particularly hot summer in New York would boost the offense at Yankee Stadium even more, for example — or even the way a team stores their baseballs can change the way a park plays. There’s a million variables that come into play.
I treat park factors the same way I treat defensive stats. I use them directionally rather than for a hard, exact number. If a player has a +10.5 UZR and +8 DRS, I don’t take those exact numbers to heart, but I do consider the player to be an above-average defender. The system isn’t accurate enough yet to take those run totals at face value. Park factors can be used directionally as well. We know Yankee Stadium is a very hitter friendly park overall, it’s can just be slightly more or less hitter friendly in a given year. Same thing with Dodgers Stadium being a pitcher’s park or Progressive Field being neutral. Remember, single season park factors are based on an 81-game sample. That’s not much. You have to look at the overall picture, like Cano being a true talent .308 hitter and not a .342 hitter because that’s what he hit one random year.
Adam asks: Does Corban Joseph getting “called up” and put on the 60-day DL mean that he gets paid the MLB minimum for the last few weeks of the season? Does he get per diem too?
Yes, Joseph definitely gets paid a Major League salary and per diem (for road games) while on the 60-day DL these last few weeks of the season. He also collects service time. Being on the DL is exactly like being on the active 25-man roster with regards to salary and contract status and all that. Joseph was called up on September 6th, so by my unofficial calculation he’ll receive $72,592.59 in salary, $1,274 in per diem (13 road games at $98 per game), and 24 days of service time this month. Pretty sweet gig if you can get it.
Galla’s projection had the Super Two cutoff at 2.119 in April, but it has since moved two days based on the timing of call-ups this season. The Super Two cutoff is set at the top 22% of players with fewer than three full years of service time. Pineda is still working his way back from shoulder tightness won’t be joining the team this month, so he’s done accruing service time this year. I estimated his service time at 2.099 last month, but that is just an estimation. He’s still well short of the Super Two cutoff though, even if my number is off by 10-15 days. Pineda will be a regular pre-arbitration player in 2014. His free agency has been pushed back from after 2016 to after 2017 though, and that’s most important.
There are two other Yankees on the Super Two bubble: Nunez and David Huff. Nunez came into the year at 1.117, and since he hasn’t gone to the minors at all this season, he’ll finish at 2.117 of service time. Five days short of the projected cutoff. Huff came into the year at 1.166, and based on my estimation, he’ll spend 63 days in the big leagues this season between the Indians and Yankees. That puts him at 2.229. I could be off by a few days, obviously. This stuff is tough to figure out. Neither guy is anything special and they wouldn’t get a huge arbitration raise anyway, but those handful of days are worth several hundred thousand dollars in terms of salary next year.
Five questions and four answers this week. If you ever want to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or comments, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Dylan asks: If the Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda next year, could they not have him start the season until end of May so he doesn’t hit a wall? They could have him get ready for the season in Extended Spring Training games. Has this ever happened in the league before for an older pitcher (besides when Andy Pettitte came out of retirement, but that wasn’t intentional for the Yankees)?
Although they didn’t sign over the winter with the intention of joining the rotation at midseason, this is basically what 2007 Roger Clemens, 2009 Pedro Martinez, and both 2012 and 2013 Roy Oswalt did. They didn’t find many offers in the offseason and waited until injuries struck and some contender needed pitching help in the middle of the year. Kuroda won’t have that problem this winter.
I do think there is some merit to the idea of holding him back until May — there was some talk of doing with Stephen Strasburg last year since everyone knew he was going to be shut down at some point — but games in April are just as important as games in September. Do you prefer to tack on the wins early or play catch-up late? The guy replacing him in April probably won’t be all that good, so I prefer the former. I think the solution would be lighten Kuroda’s workload from April through July by using off-days to skip or push back starts and take advantage of the All-Star break to give him close to two full weeks off. A phantom DL trip, basically.
Either way, I don’t like the idea of having one of the team’s best starters intentionally skipping a full month or two of the season. I’d rather just take my chances and hope he doesn’t hit a wall in that case. If you’re planning on getting say, 25 starts out of him instead of 32, I would prefer to get the 25 as soon as possible — you could always trade for pitching help at the deadline — and not run the risk of an injury turning those 25 starts into 12 starts or something.
JCK asks: If Phil Hughes dominates out of the bullpen down the stretch, do the Yankees have a chance to bring him back as a reliever in 2014? It would be nice to have 2009 bullpen Hughes in a post-Mariano Rivera world.
I think the chances of the Yankees re-signing Hughes as a reliever are small but still better than they are of them bringing him back as a starter, which are basically zero. There are only 22 games left in the season and I don’t think that’s enough time for Phil to show he can be truly dominant out of the bullpen like he was in 2009, especially since each game is so important and guys like Preston Claiborne and David Robertson will soak up the more crucial innings. Hughes might just be a mop-up man this month. Heck. Joe Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain over him last night. So yeah, I do think there’s a chance he’ll come back of a reliever, but that chance is still very small. Hard to see Phil returning to the Bronx next year in any role.
Tarik asks: Can you put Greg Bird‘s season into perspective? Is he a legitimate hitting prospect? Is 20 too old for Low-A? Thanks.
Marc asks: Is there any chance Greg Bird could fake the corner OF and spot starts at catcher? Like a poor man’s Ryan Doumit, cause his bat is legit and it would be great to get the most value outta him.
Going to lump these two together. First things first: 20 is absolutely not too old for Low-A. It’s perfectly age appropriate if not slightly young for the level (he turns 21 in November).
Secondly, Bird hit .288/.428/.511 in 573 plate appearances this year, a 170 wRC+ than was the eighth best in all of minor league baseball among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for their league’s batting title (not counting the unaffiliated Mexican League). Four of the seven guys ahead of him were in short season leagues with fewer than 260 plate appearances (including Gosuke Katoh at 172 wRC+), another was a 29-year-old journeyman in Triple-A (Chris Colabello at 196 wRC+), and the other two were two of the best prospects in the game (George Springer at 174 wRC+ and Miguel Sano at 172 wRC+). So, simply put, Bird was one of the absolute best hitters in all of minor league baseball this year regardless of age and level. He mashed.
Tyler Austin hit .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) last season, which actually might be more impressive than Bird’s season considering he was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa at midseason. The talent pool in the second half of full season leagues tends to get watered down because all the best performers get promoted and replaced by guys coming up from a lower level. Jesus Montero‘s best minor league season was 2009, when he hit .337/.389/.562 (~169 wRC+) between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton as a 19-year-old. That’s definitely more impressive than what Bird this year in my opinion considering his age and the levels. Before that, you have to go all that way back to the holy grail of minor league offensive seasons to find a better performance in the Yankees system: 1999 Nick Johnson, who hit .345/.525/.548 with Double-A Norwich. Minor league wRC+ data doesn’t go back that far, but I think it’s safe to say that was close to if not above 200 wRC+. So yeah, Bird mashed in a way very few others have in recent years.
Earlier this week, Jim Callis said Bird has “legitimate power” while Keith Law added “he does have plus raw power,” so we have some consensus there. The Yankees would have tried him in the corner outfield before sticking him at first base if he was capable of doing it, but the back problem that moved him out from behind the plate might be making his mobility an issue. Bird has to prove he can hit at the upper levels of the minors, which makes him no different than every other Single-A prospect in the history of the universe. The offensive bar is very high for first base prospects though — it takes Prince Fielder or Eric Hosmer potential to be a truly elite first base prospect — so Bird will continue to get the short end of the prospect stick. He hit way more than was reasonably expected this season, now let’s just sit back and see what we does next year with High-A Tampa before we start worrying about where he fits into the team’s long-term plans. To be honest, Doumit pretty much sucks and I’m hoping Bird is something much better than that. Versatility is overrated.
Jon asks: With Pete O’Brien being an error machine at third, do you think he could still move to RF? He should have the arm and his bat should easily profile right?
O’Brien runs like a catcher, so I don’t see how a corner outfield spot would work. Most likely, he’ll be a first baseman/DH who can fill in at third or catcher in a real pinch. He’s a prospect because of his big right-handed power, which is something that is in very short supply these days. Righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is not the sexiest profile in the world, especially considering there are concerns about O’Brien’s approach at the plate. The best right/right first basemen in recent history — Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul Konerko, Allen Craig, Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Richie Sexson — all had disciplined approaches that upped their offensive production. More than a few of those guys (Pujols, Lee, Youkilis, Sexson) were top notch defenders as well. The only member of that recent right-right first base group who has stuck in the big leagues despite a poor approach is Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is a flawed hitter and an mediocre player overall because of his defense, but I would be thrilled if that’s what O’Brien turned into. I’d sign up for it today.
Just four questions this week but they’re really good ones. The best way to send us anything is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Travis asks: Should the Yankees look to sign Scott Kazmir for 2014?
It’s hard to believe Kazmir is still only 29 years old. He won’t even turn 30 until January. Kazmir missed essentially all of 2011 and 2012 due to shoulder and back injuries before showcasing himself in an independent league. He turned a non-roster invite from the Indians into a rotation spot in Spring Training, beating out Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kazmir has pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 4.00 FIP in 125 innings across 23 starts this year, his best season since 2009 and a very impressive comeback. He deserves some major props for sticking with it.
Kazmir hasn’t gotten many ground balls (40.3%) and he has been homer prone (1.22 HR/9 and 12.2% HR/FB) this summer, but his strikeout (8.28 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) rates are really good. He’s handled left-handed batters very well (.242 wOBA and 2.22 FIP), righties not so much (.361 wOBA and 4.80 FIP). After all the injuries, the thing you worry about most is the quality of his stuff. He uses his two-seam fastball far more than four-seamer at this point and the velocity has been fine all year:
It’s not the blazing upper-90s heat he had back in the (Devil) Rays days, but that will work. His trademark slider averages 82.8 mph and more importantly, PitchFX says it’s averaging 4.6 inches of movement overall. That’s in line with 2007-2009 (the first years of PitchFX) and better than what he showed in 2010. Having seen him pitch a few times this year, I’m comfortable saying it isn’t the same wipeout slider that helped him lead the AL in strikeouts at age 23. The pitch is more effective than it has been in years, however. Kazmir also works with an upper-70s/low-80s changeup.
When I first read the question, my initial reaction was “no way.” I mean, c’mon. It’s Scott Kazmir. He hasn’t been effective in like forever. But, when I saw that he was missing bats, limiting walks, sustaining his fastball velocity, and getting more break on his slider, I have to say that I’m intrigued. I would be very skeptical about giving him a multi-year contract though. Yes, he is only 29, but he’s got an ugly (arm) injury history and he is still a homer/fly ball prone lefty with a massive platoon split. Lots of red flags. There’s a non-zero chance he could turn back into a top shelf starter, but I think you have to consider him more of a back-end guy at this point. The Yankees will need starters this winter and while Kazmir might not be the most ideal solution, he’s someone worth considering.
Damix asks: Josh Johnson was both terrible and injured this year, but given the budget and rotation uncertainty, is he worth a shot for next year?
Johnson, who turns 30 in January like Kazmir, was indeed awful (6.20 ERA and 4.61 FIP) in 81.1 innings across 16 starts for the Blue Jays this year. He missed a little more than a month with a triceps issue earlier this season and is now done for the year with a forearm strain. Johnson had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007 (has it really been that long already? geez) and missed most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation. He had a 3.81 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 191.1 innings with the Marlins last summer, and that’s the guy Toronto was hoping they’d get in 2013.
Unlike Kazmir, Johnson is injured right now and will head into the free agent market as an unknown. There’s still time for Kazmir to break down, but that’s besides the point. It’s been three years since Johnson was truly dominant in a full season of work, but he did miss bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and get ground balls (45.1%) for the Blue Jays this year. He also gave up a ton of homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.5% HR/FB) and got slaughtered by right-handed batters (.441 wOBA). If they could get him on a one-year contract with a low base salary and bunch of incentives, great. The Yankees won’t have a ton of money to spend under the $189M luxury tax threshold and they can’t afford to spend $10M or so on a reclamation project pitcher. They need some more certainty.
Michael asks: Please give me a statistical reason to think that Dante Bichette Jr. is not done as a prospect.
First things first: statistics are just a small part of the prospect pie. The further you get away from the big leagues, the less meaningful the stats become. The scouting report should always come first in my opinion.
That said, it’s tough to defend DBJ at this point. He hit .248/.322/.331 (84 wRC+) with three homers in 522 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season, was sent back there this year, and responded by hitting .210/.291/.322 (80 wRC+) with ten homers in 470 plate appearances. The increase in power (.083 vs. .112 ISO) comes with an increase in strikeouts (18.0 vs. 24.0 K%). Bichette, a righty bat who turns 21 next month, managed a .250/.319/.440 line in 94 plate appearances against lefties this year, so I guess that’s the reason to think he’s still a prospect. He was productive against southpaws. Things are looking grim, but I wouldn’t write him off yet at this age.
Stephen asks: Half-embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea Alfonso Soriano was close to 400 homeruns. I figured at the end of his career he may be closing in on that, but at this point, he is close to making 500 a real possibility. Is Soriano a Hall of Famer? I have honestly never even considered the possibility because he has only had two really good years, but his career numbers are pretty solid. He’ll also probably get his 300th stolen base in the next year or two as well.
Soriano hit his 400th career homer on Tuesday night, making him only the 43rd player in history with 2,000 career hits and 400 homers. He’s only the sixth with those two milestones plus 250 career steals. Only 24 of those 43 players are in the Hall of Fame, but I count ten more who will be or should be enshrined at some point: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Piazza. A few others are on the bubble. Obviously guys like Bonds, A-Rod, and Manny have no prayer of getting into the Hall at this point, but their bodies of work are Hall of Fame worthy.
Anyway, out of those 43 players in the 2,000-hit/400-homer club, Soriano’s career 28.2 WAR ranks … 43rd. I guess that makes sense since he just joined the club, but it goes to show how much of his offensive value was squandered on defense over the year. Soriano should zoom passed Paul Konerko (28.7 WAR) at some point, but the next guy on the list is Carlos Delgado (44.4 WAR). That would be very hard to do at age 37 (38 in January). He hasn’t hit fewer than 20 homers since his rookie year in 2001 and even though he’s about to have his second consecutive 30+ homer season, it will probably take him at least four and possibly five seasons to get to 500 career. Even if he does, I don’t think 500 homers is an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame anymore.
I remember being so enthralled by Soriano when he first broke into the league because he was this rail-thin guy who huge power and big speed. He was so exciting. It’s hard to believe his career is coming to an end now and even harder to believe how much he’s accomplished. Four-hundred homers? Two-thousand hits? Almost 300 steals? Did anyone realistically think that was possible when he was a rookie? Crazy. Soriano is a career .272/.321/.504 (113 OPS+) hitter who’s had a brilliant career. A brilliant career at is just short of Cooperstown worthy in my eyes.