Archive for Mailbag
Got eight questions for you this week, so most of the answers are short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, whatever.
Matt asks: There has been much made, so far this spring and in the past, about CC Sabathia‘s decrease in velocity, which got me to thinking: What kind of contract do you think he would have received, had he been on the open market this past off-season?
This question came in a few days ago, so I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and … I have no idea. On one hand, Sabathia’s velocity is down and the chances of him being in a permanent decline are rather high. On the other hand, the dude is still a workhorse of the first order and his track record is as good as it gets. Sabathia is also super accountable and good in the community, making him the type of person teams want on their roster.
Given his age and workload and all that, I think Sabathia would have wound up with a shorter term deal for big dollars this winter. Not a four or five-year contract or anything like that. Something more along the lines of how the Giants handled Tim Lincecum. Would two years and $40M with a vesting option for a third year have worked? There are three years (plus a vesting option) and $71M left on Sabathia’s contract right now, so 2/40 wouldn’t be a huge step down. Just a pretty big one.
Brad asks: Most analysis at this point indicates that Michael Pineda (if healthy) will win the 5th starter job, while David Phelps and Adam Warren are favorites for bullpen spots. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to keep one of the latter two candidates stretched out in the AAA rotation?
I think that will be Vidal Nuno‘s role, the sixth starter in Triple-A. If both Warren and Phelps are in the bullpen, I assume one would be a traditional long reliever (likely Warren), and going from long relief to a starter isn’t too tough. Considering the state of the bullpen, I think the Yankees have to focus on taking the best arms north at the end of camp. Nuno will be in Triple-A as the extra starter, giving the team some freedom with Phelps and Warren.
Paul asks: What is the market for Stephen Drew at this point? Am I being a typical unrealistic greedy Yankee fan when I’m hoping/expecting him to join us soon?
There have not been many updates on Drew recently, other than his former Red Sox teammates speculating he wishes he had accepted the qualifying offer. The Yankees could obviously still use him on the infield, but the longer he goes unsigned, the less likely it is I think the Yankees will sign him. Drew would have to change positions — I’m guessed he’d move to third, not second — and that’s something he’d need to work on in Spring Training since he’s never played anywhere other than short. There is only about two weeks left in camp, so he’s running out of time to prepare for the position change. I’d love to see the Yankees sign him, but it’s clear it’s a long shot at this point.
Warren asks: So I was wondering how lead size effects base stealing. I feel like Brett Gardner in particular takes enormous leads compared to people of equal or lesser speed who steal more. I was wondering if there was a way to measure if he was taking such a large lead that it results in too much attention. He almost has to constantly be leaning back towards first. Is there any way to measure if other base stealers like Jacoby Ellsbury have more success by giving up a foot or two of lead to get a better jump?
Lead size definitely affects base-stealing. The bigger the lead, the more likely it is the pitcher will throw over. The more the pitcher throws over, the more the runner has to hurry back to the bag. The more he does that, the more tired he gets. The more tired he gets, the less likely he is to steal or steal successfully. The size of a player’s lead definitely plays a role in his base-stealing success.
How can we measure this? Other than going back and watching video of everytime a player was on base and taking a lead, I’m not sure. Hopefully this is something that MLBAM’s new player’s tracker system will cover because it is definitely a part of the game we don’t know a whole lot about. What’s the relationship between lead size and likelihood of a pickoff attempt? Is there such a thing as an optimal lead? Probably, I just have no idea what it is.
Eric asks: You can either have a starting pitcher who is guaranteed to strike everyone out once every five days, or a hitter who is guaranteed to hit a home run every time up. Which one would you choose?
I’ll take the hitter, no doubt about it. You can bat him as low as third and still guarantee he’d get no fewer than four at-bats in every game, so that’s at least four runs right there. I think that, over the course of the 162-game season, you would win more games scoring at least four runs every time out than you would by getting a guaranteed shutout (perfect game, really) every fifth day. Just my opinion. Not sure if there’s a way to test this mathematically.
Andrew asks: Do you think MLB will ever make and enforce a rule requiring identical field dimensions across baseball?
I do not think MLB would do it and I sure hope they don’t. One of my favorite things about baseball are the unique parks and dimensions. No other sport has that. MLB has minimum standards and things like that, but otherwise the shape and size of the field is up to the individual teams. It’s great, I love it.
Tucker asks: How strong of a push do you the think the Yankees will make next winter to sign Chase Headley? It seems inevitable to me.
Headley would be a really good fit as a switch-hitter with power, patience, and good defense at third base, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder if the Yankees will be open to signing another huge contract so soon though. Maybe if they somehow get rid of Alex Rodriguez and the money he’s owed, but otherwise if they were to sign Headley to something along the lines of six years and $108M (total guess), they’d have seven players making at least $17M in both 2015 and 2016. It works out to $146M for seven players each year. Unless the team increases payroll by quite a bit or their farm system suddenly starts cranking out players, I’m not sure if they would go for that. On paper, yeah Headley makes a ton of sense.
Jon asks: Given the relatively small contract for which he signed, do you think Aledmys Diaz would have been worth taking a flier on? The Yankees certainly have a bigger need for a young middle-infielder than the Cards. Maybe the guy isn’t that great but I’ll place my faith in the Cards scouting over the Yanks.
It seems pretty obvious Diaz just isn’t all that good, or at least teams don’t expect him to be all that good given his contract. The scouting reports said he might end up a utility infielder and that’s what he wound up with, utility man dollars. Just $2M annually. The Cardinals are obviously very well run by they aren’t infallible. The Yankees had him in for a workout and that’s more than they’ve done for any international player in a long time. It’s not like they didn’t do their homework.
Six questions and six answers this week. The best way to send us anything is with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Mark asks: After seeing the Giants end their brief mini-divorce with Barry Bonds this spring, do you think the Yankees should break the ice with Roger Clemens and invite him to an Old Timers’ Day? I would ask about inviting him to Spring Training as an instructor as well, but that looks to be impossible as long as he’s employed by the Astros.
I think these two situations are a little different. Bonds and the Giants were never on bad terms; he was at the ballpark all the time these last few years, and they’ve had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch and stuff like that. This spring is the first time he rejoined the team in an official capacity (special hitting instructor), but it’s far from the first time he’s been around the club since he was forced into retirement. Bonds still is and always has been beloved in San Francisco.
The Yankees have kept their distance from Clemens for whatever reason, maybe due to all the performance-enhancing drug stuff that went down after his career (which forced Andy Pettitte to testify). There was never any tension between the two sides, right? Maybe something happened that we don’t know about. I would like to see the team invite Clemens back for Old Timers’ Day — he did win two World Series, four pennants, and a Cy Young in pinstripes, after all — but it seems like he has been intentionally cast aside. I don’t get it. Am I forgetting something obvious? This feels like something that should have happened a while ago.
Dan asks: How aggressive are the Yankees being in moving Ichiro Suzuki? He’s a decent 4th outfielder, but it honestly seems like Zoilo Almonte is better at this point (and maybe you want to see if he can be an everyday player in the next few years). Would they be willing to eat more than half of Ichiro‘s contract to move him? Or in the alternative, move him for a similarly overpriced, underperforming player in a position of need?
The Yankees have been shopping Ichiro for weeks but I don’t know how aggressively they’ve been pushing him. We’ve heard they were open a trade involving a player making a similar salary (J.J. Putz, most notably) and I assume they’d be willing to eat part of his salary to facilitate a trade. Saving a few million bucks that could be put towards a reliever or a midseason pickup would be a net gain.
I think Almonte could step right in and do a comparable job to Ichiro, perhaps providing less on the bases and in the field but a little more at the plate (wouldn’t having a switch-hitter available off the bench be nice?). If Zoilo doesn’t cut it, maybe Russ Canzler or Dean Anna would. The Yankees have some options. Some team is going to lose an outfielder to injury at some point this spring (Cameron Maybin and Andy Dirks are already hurt) and that could result in more interest in Ichiro. At this point, I think they’re stuck starting the season with him on the bench.
Paul asks: The Yankees are hoping Michael Pineda gets the 5th starter spot. Let’s assume he does. Does that make the bullpen David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, Preston Claiborne? Maybe Nuno stays stretched out in AAA and Dellin Betances makes the team (though that leaves only one lefty in the ‘pen)? Any other potential BP arms I’m missing?
Joe Girardi has already confirmed both Phelps and Warren will make the team in some capacity, so if Pineda wins the fifth starter’s job, those two will be in the bullpen. In that case, I would think Nuno would go to Triple-A to remain stretched out as the sixth starter. Girardi has said they’re open to keeping him (and everyone else) as a reliever though. If Nuno goes to the minors, it would clear the path for Betances, Cesar Cabral, Matt Daley, Manny Banuelos, or whoever else in addition to Claiborne. Betances has performed well in camp so far but we still have more than three weeks to go before the last few spots in the bullpen need to be finalized. A lot can change.
T.J. asks: I know it is early, but with the close of Spring Training, there will be an inevitable roster crunch. Do you see some trades taking place for some relief, or do you think we will just have to risk losing some middle-tier prospects? No pun intended, but that relief, will probably turn out to be spots in the bullpen for non-roster pitchers.
The 40-man roster is really tight right now. Short of a trade that sends Ichiro or one of the catchers (Austin Romine? John Ryan Murphy?) away for a non-40-man piece, the Yankees are going to have cut someone who is potentially useful to clear a roster spot. Right now, the most likely candidates to me are Nik Turley, Ramon Flores, and Anna. That’s really it. There are no 60-day DL candidates right now either. The Yankees might have to clear 40-man spots for Scott Sizemore, Daley, or Canzler if they make the team, but otherwise they have enough 40-man pieces to fill out the roster. Eduardo Nunez could sit on the bench while Betances, Cabral, and/or Claiborne fill out the bullpen.
Spencer asks: Why did the Yankees not express interest in Chien-Ming Wang earlier before he signed with the Reds?
The Yankees had Wang in Triple-A for a few months last season, so they got a first hand look at him. He wasn’t very good (7.67 ERA and 5.42 FIP in 27 innings) with the Blue Jays after being released, and this winter he had to take yet another minor league contract. CMW will be 34 later this month and he has not been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot in Houston back in June 2008. Injuries completely ruined him. The Yankees gave him a shot last year but he proved not to be worth it. Time to move on, that’s all.
Bill asks: I’ve seen a lot of ink saying Masahiro Tanaka should be the third starter. Assuming CC Sabathia is 1 and Hiroki Kuroda is 2, shouldn’t the Yanks put someone between Tanaka and Kuroda because of the similarity of their pitching styles?
I honestly don’t think this is that big of the deal. The rotation will be thrown out of whack by off-days and rain outs and whatnot at some point in April, so it’s only a matter of time before Kuroda and Tanaka get separated. I think the whole “their style is too similar to pitch back-to-back” is a bigger deal within an individual game (replacing a fastball-slider pitcher with another fastball-slider pitcher, for example) and not necessarily day after day. Maybe it would be beneficial to split Kuroda and Tanaka up in the rotation, but I think that will happen organically at some point early in the season anyway. To be honest, I’m more focused on having Tanaka start one of the first three games of the season because I’d like to see him get off to a good start, which he is more likely to do against the terrible Astros than the slightly less terrible Blue Jays.
Seven questions for this week’s mailbag. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Anthony asks: After Derek Jeter retires at the end of the season, could you see the Yankees trying to swing a trade for Troy Tulowitzki? The Rockies could use some catching depth — what would a package headlined by Gary Sanchez look like? And given the length of his current contract, would such a trade make sense?
Well, the Yankees could try to swing a trade for Tulowitzki, but I’m not sure they have the pieces to get it done. This isn’t a Sanchez plus two or three okay prospects thing. Tulowitzki may be owed a ton of money ($118M from 2015-20) and he is injury prone, but he’s also the best all-around shortstop in baseball when he’s on the field. It ain’t particularly close either. It’s going to take an enormous package to land him.
Tulo will turn 30 after this season and given how much salaries have inflated the last year or two, his contract is actually something of a bargain. Don’t you think he’d get a lot more than six years and $118M if he hit free agency next winter? He’d blow right past that. Tulowitzki is so good that 120 games of him and 42 games of some replacement level shortstop is still arguably the best shortstop in the game.
I can’t think of a comparable player who was traded in recent years — maybe Prince Fielder? — but the Rockies would be right to ask for two top young players and another two pieces. If the Yankees offered me Sanchez, Ivan Nova, Eric Jagielo, and Jose Ramirez for Tulo, I’d probably say no because I can plug only one of those right into my big league roster. There’s way too much value in a shortstop who can hit*, play defense, and is signed to a below-market contract. The Yankees could try for Tulowitzki after the season and I hope they do, but their farm system would have to take a huge step forward in 2014 to get Colorado’s attention.
* Tulo has a 130 wRC+ at home and a 138 wRC+ on the road over the last three years, so he isn’t just a product of Coors Field.
Ryan asks: Any idea why Shinnosuke Abe never tried to make the jump to MLB? He appears to be a power-hitting catcher who also hits for average and gets on base well. Those are rarities in MLB (obviously why the Yankees went after Brian McCann so hard). Any idea why he was never posted? I know the Japanese league is more like AAAA, but it seems like he could’ve been a decent catcher in MLB looking at his statistics. He’s 34 now, so this is more of a question of the past, not about the future.
Abe (pronounced Ah-bay) turns 35 next month and he is one of the best catchers in Japanese baseball history, if not the best. Here are his career stats:
From what I understand, Abe wanted to play in MLB but the Yomiuri Giants were not willing to post him. They did the same thing to Hideki Matsui years ago. (Matsui signed with the Yankees after qualifying for international free agency.) Abe qualified for international free agency after 2009, but according to a report passed along by Yakyu Baka, he gave up on coming to MLB because his English was not good and his numbers had slipped in recent years (I assume he was referring to 2006-08). Obviously his performance rebounded.
Abe probably isn’t coming over to MLB at this point, so he’ll have to settle for being an NPB Hall of Famer and arguably the best catcher the country has ever produced. Oh, and he’s also the first (and so far only) man to ever hit two homeruns in one inning during the World Baseball Classic (video). That’s kinda neat. How many homers would he have hit in Yankee Stadium with that swing? All. He would have hit all the homers.
Kevin asks: As long as he’s productive doesn’t Alfonso Soriano seem like the next candidate for the Yankees to go year-to-year with on one-year deals? I’m sure they can continuously find 400+ at-bats for him as long as he’s still hitting it out of the park and isn’t terrible in the field.
I think so. Soriano just turned 38 but he can still hit, making up for his low OBP with power. If he adjusts well to being a DH regularly, he makes sense for a lot of teams as a year-to-year guy. (Red Sox, anyone?) The Yankees could use him as a part-time DH and part-time outfielder in the coming years, especially against left-handed pitchers.
What’s a reasonable salary? I don’t know, maybe something like $6-8M? That would be awesome. The team can definitely find a spot for Soriano on the roster in the coming years if he’s willing to go one year a time. He’s a real nice guy to have lying around at the right price.
Elliot asks: Because Brett Gardner received an extension vs. a new contract, is his salary for luxury tax purposes next year (189 is moot for 2014) calculated $11.72 million as 1/5 of $58.6 million, or is it $13 Million next year (12.5 + .5 for the guaranteed money from the buyout)?
I’m so happy the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold is kaput because trying to figure out “tax hits” was a pain in the ass. Anyway, Brian Cashman confirmed to Chad Jennings that the extension acts as a new contract that starts next season for luxury tax purposes. Gardner’s tax hit this year will be $5.6M (the one-year deal he signed to avoid arbitration last month) and then it’ll be $13M from 2015-18 (the guaranteed dollars spread across the guaranteed years of the new extension). Things will get complicated if the 2019 club option is exercised, but that’s a very long ways off. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires before then anyway and who knows what’ll happen to the luxury tax system. No point in thinking about it now.
Andrew asks: Do you think Gardner’s extension is a bit of a warning klaxon to the prospects?
Nah, I don’t think Gardner’s extension has anything to do with the prospects. I think the extension was simply about signing a productive player for the next few years rather than dealing with a potential bidding war after the season, when he was scheduled to become a free agent. None of the team’s top outfield prospects are close to making an impact and besides, there are three outfield spots. There’s always a way to squeeze someone in if they earn the playing time. Gardner is a good MLB player right now and those are the guys you keep regardless of who is coming up through the system.
John asks: Did Mariano Rivera set a record for most time as a player in the Yankees organization? I can’t think of anyone else under contract for 23+ years.
I don’t even know how to go about looking this up. The Play Index says Rivera and Derek Jeter currently hold the record for most seasons with at least one game played for the Yankees at 19, and Jeter will make it 20 in a few weeks. Mo spent parts of six years in the minors before making his MLB debut while Jeter was down for parts of only four seasons. (Remember, some of those MLB and MiLB seasons overlap.) Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra both played at least one game in 18 seasons with the team and they spent hardly any time in the minors. Jorge Posada played in 17 seasons with the Yankees and had another five or so years in the minors. Jeter, Mantle, Berra, and Posada seem like Rivera’s only real competition here, and since the Cap’n is retiring after the season, Mo’s spot is safe for the foreseeable future.
Sad Sally asks: Is Johnny Damon the most underrated player of our lifetime?
Was Damon ever underrated? I never thought so. He was obviously very good for a very long time, and in a few years he should garner some Hall of Fame votes. I don’t think he belongs in Cooperstown but voting for him would not be insane. Know who I think is more underrated than Damon? Mike Mussina. The guy had a career of almosts — almost won a Cy Young, almost threw a perfect game, almost won a World Series — until winning 20 games in his final season and I feel like he gets overlooked because of his lack of hardware. Moose is a Hall of Famer in my opinion and it sure seems like a lot of people don’t realize how great he was, maybe because he played at the same time as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and other all-timers. Easy to get overlooked in that era.
Got six questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything throughout the week.
Bill asks: Does Craig Kimbrel’s new extension with the Braves give us a better idea at what it would take to lock up David Robertson to an extension?
No, I don’t think so. This is an apples to oranges comparison. The Braves signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42M deal earlier this week and it is the largest contract ever given to a pitcher in his first year of arbitration eligibility, starter or reliever. Even if they went to an arbitration hearing and Kimbrel had lost, he still would have made more in his first year of arbitration ($6.55M) than Robertson will earn in his final year this season ($5.215M). These two are at very different places in their careers.
Not only do saves pay very well, but Kimbrel is just flat out better than Robertson. Don’t get me wrong, Robertson is awesome, but Kimbrel is in his own little world right now. He’s clearly the best reliever in baseball at the moment. I looked at a potential extension for Robertson months ago and wound up at three years and $21M, which is basically high-end setup man money. Robertson will be a free agent after the season and if he has a typical Robertson year but with say, 35+ saves, then something like three years and $35M (Rafael Soriano money) or four years and $46M (Francisco Cordero money) might more appropriate. I guess that is Kimbrel money, we just got there in a roundabout away.
Anonymous: Let’s say the Yankees sign Stephen Drew and he indeed opts out after the first year. Is there any way they can get a supplemental pick from whoever signs him? Is it guaranteed, a property of the specific contract they agree upon, or impossible?
Yep, they can get definitely get a pick. If they were to sign Drew to a multi-year deal with an opt-out after the first year, they can make him the qualifying offer if he uses the opt out. They’d then get a pick if he declined. It’s exactly what happened with Soriano — when he opted out a year ago, the team made the qualifying offer and received a draft pick when he declined. Because they would only surrender a second rounder to sign him, the Yankees could conceivably “trade” their 2014 second rounder for a 2015 supplemental first rounder by signing Drew.
Dan asks: If I told the Yankees they could get 200 combined games out of Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts, do you think they’d sign up for that? If they’d even think hard about it, they should be calling up Boras right now to sign Drew.
Against my better judgement, I think I would say no to 200 combined games from those two. I think it’s possible they’ll combine for 240-250 games or so — 100 from Roberts, 140-150 from Jeter — but that’s basically the best case scenario. The Yankees haven’t exactly done a good job of keeping people healthy over the alst few years. The thing is that, even if he plays 100+ games, will Roberts even be any good? He’s 36 and has hit .246/.310/.359 (82 OPS+) when healthy over the last four years (192 games).
AJ asks: With the one infield spot open, would their be any thought of keeping three catchers on the roster? Someone will have to backup firstst base and Frankie Cervelli has proven versatile in the past backing up second base. John Ryan Murphy has played third and Brian McCann could backup Mark Teixeira at first.
Well, Cervelli hasn’t really proven himself to be versatile. He’s played five innings at third base and three innings at second base in his career, plus he spent one game in left field in the minors nine years ago. Those are emergency assignments, nothing more. Murphy has only played 14 total games at third base in his career as well, so it’s not like he has a ton of experience at the hot corner either. Both guys are catchers, that’s all. Given their roster, that last bench spot absolutely has to go to a real infielder. Carrying a third catcher rarely makes sense and it certainly doesn’t for this squad.
Jacob asks: Do you think the Yankees will re-sign Brett Gardner and should they?
I think the Jacoby Ellsbury signing pushed Gardner right out the door. I’m not sure how many no power, defense first outfielders one team can carry on expensive free agent contracts. It’s fine now while Gardner is playing for relative peanuts, but he’s looking at $10M+ per year as a free agent. Would they really commit $30M+ annually for the next three or four (or five) years for these two guys? Should they even want to do that? I don’t think so. One such player is enough. Besides, I’m guessing Gardner wants to play center field and bat leadoff, two things that won’t happen with the Yankees now.
Anonymous asks: Better FA pickup in your opinion, Jimmy Key or David Wells (first time)?
Without looking, I’m thinking Wells.
The Yankees gave Key a four-year, $17M deal during the 1992-93 offseason and he pitched to a 3.68 ERA (13.5 bWAR) in 604.1 innings during the life of the contract. He was also limited to five starts during the 1995 season due to a torn rotator cuff. Key was a big part of the 1996 team though, including beating Greg Maddux in the deciding Game Six of the World Series.
Wells, on the other hand, signed a three-year deal worth $13.5M during the 1996-97 offseason, replacing Key. He pitched to a 3.85 ERA (9.1 bWAR) in 432.1 innings across the first two years of the contract and finished third in the 1998 AL Cy Young voting. Wells helped the team to the 1998 World Series title and was then the center piece of the Roger Clemens trade after the season.
On a rate basis, Key and Wells (first stint) were very similar with the Yankees. Key missed almost an entire season to injury and Wells was traded away mid-contract, plus both guys were key parts of a World Series winner. Without going ridiculously in depth (this is only a mailbag, after all), I’d say Wells was the better pickup because he was more durable and then flipped for arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time. Not sure there’s a wrong answer here, both were very good in pinstripes.
I’ve got six questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, as you probably know.
Many people asked: What about Aledmys Diaz?
Diaz, 23, will be eligible to sign next Wednesday after being suspended for a year because he lied about his age. Believe it or not, he tried to pass himself off as older than his actual age so the international spending restrictions wouldn’t apply to him, allowing him to receive a much larger bonus. How about that? A Cuban player trying to trick people into thinking he was older than he really is.
Anyway, the suspension ends next week and he can indeed sign for any amount now that he is 23. The Yankees had a “large presence” at one of his workouts last year and they were among the teams to scout him just yesterday, says Jon Morosi. Their interest level is unknown but if they’re still on him, they probably like him. Here’s a scouting report from Ben Badler, dated last January:
Age questions and unblocking issues aside, scouting reports on Diaz’s talent remain modest. Though Diaz has played shortstop in Cuba, scouts have said he doesn’t have the lateral range, quickness or footwork to stay at the position. Diaz has shown some ability with the bat, hitting .315/.404/.500 in 313 plate appearances for Villa Clara in his final season in Cuba, albeit in a high-offensive environment in which he ranked 30th in the league in OBP and tied for 20th in slugging.
That’s everything I know about Diaz right there. I don’t know if he is ready to step right into the big leagues but I assume he will need some time in the minors. Most guys do. (Yoenis Cespedes is the only big name Cuban player to jump straight into MLB in recent years). The Yankees need long-term help at both second base and shortstop, and Diaz is as good a candidate to plug one of those holes as anyone. As always, his asking price will be a factor.
Jamie asks: 5th starter competition: of Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Michael Pineda, none of these guys threw more than 86 IP last year. Can we really expect 150 innings out of any of these guys in 2014? Isn’t that kind of an IP jump from one season to the next a big stretch?
Pineda is the one I worry about the most because of his injury. The Yankees will have to watch him very carefully. I’m not worried about the other guys at all though. For starters, they aren’t particularly young. Warren is the youngest and he’ll turn 27 in August, so these aren’t 22 or 23-year-old kids. Secondly, all three threw at least 120 innings (postseason included) in both 2011 and 2012, plus both Warren (2011, 2012) and Phelps (2009, 2010) have multiple 150+ inning seasons to their credit. I don’t know if the Yankees can run these guys out there for 200+ innings this summer, but I wouldn’t sweat 150 innings at all.
Dominik asks: Now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended, will he be drug tested during his suspension? Are there still increased testing protocols for once he gets reinstated and do they apply during the suspension if he is tested? Thanks!
Oh yes, he will absolutely continue to be drug tested. In fact, he will be tested even more now that he’s been suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. That continues even after he is reinstated. Even if the Yankees plan to release A-Rod at some point, they won’t do it during the suspension because he could potentially fail a test and be suspended again, saving them an even bigger chunk of his contract.
Christopher asks: Should the Yankees pass on Stephen Drew this year and look to replace Derek Jeter with next year’s bountiful crop of Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera?
They could do that but it would be really risky, not to mention it doesn’t help the 2014 team at all. There is no guarantee those guys will actually hit free agency, and Hardy is the only true shortstop of the bunch. The other three are terrible defenders and that figures to be even more evident after another season. Hanley’s bat makes his defense less of an issue, but he recently said he wants to be a Dodger for life. The Yankees could, conceivably, sign Drew now and still add Ramirez (third base) or Lowrie (second) next winter. (Asdrubal is pretty bad and has been trending down for several years now.)
Gilbert asks: Instead of just basing how good of a contact hitter someone is by their batting average, is there a stat like keeps track of the percentage of pitches a batter sees that he makes contact with (in play or foul)? This way we can say “He makes contact 47.1% of the time.”
Definitely. Thanks to PitchFX we have all sorts of neat information and most of it is easily available. Here is the contact rate leaderboard from 2011-13, courtesy of FanGraphs:
So, over the last three years, Marco Scutaro has made contact on 95.2% of his swings, the most in baseball. O-Contact% is contact rate on pitches out of the zone, Z-Contact% is contact rate on pitches in the zone. Pretty simple, right?
Ichiro is 15th in baseball with a 89.6% contact rate since 2011 while Brett Gardner is 18th at 88.9%. On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Reynolds is dead last with a 66.7% contact rate over the last three years. Ryan Howard (67.0%) and Giancarlo Stanton (67.3%) are second and third worst. Batting average can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year — Robinson Cano is a career .309 hitter, but he hit .342 one year and .271 another — but contact rates tend to be very steady. It is important to remember that not all contact is created equal though. Some guys simply hit the ball harder than others.
Matt asks: If teams usually sign Japanese players from the posting system for six years, since they would be under team control for six years anyway, and would be only arbitration eligible at the end of the contract if they only signed for say, four years. Why is this working differently for Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out clause? It seems if he opts out, of the contract, he should still be under team control for the remainder of the six years.
This is just a courtesy MLB extends to veterans of the Japanese leagues. Rather than maintain the full six years of team control, they’re treated as regular free agents, guys who have already accrued that much service time. Hideki Matsui became a free agent when his original three year contract expired following the 2006 season, for example. Yu Darvish’s contract works the same way as Tanaka’s. He can opt-out after the fifth year and become a free agent. I think it’s fair and a good thing. Those guys have served their time.
Got five questions this week, basically half of the last few mailbags. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything.
Jamie asks: Rather than the six-man rotation idea that always gets floated but never implemented, would the Yankees be best served limiting CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda‘s workloads to 6-7 IP per start max and giving them a middle relief caddy like David Phelps?
Yes, I think so. Sabathia and Kuroda have averaged 6.93 and 6.48 innings per start with the Yankees, respectively, which is rather high. The Yankees have talked about reducing the workload on both guys recently and the easiest way to do that might be to treat them as six inning starters rather than seven inning starters. Phelps and Adam Warren would be obvious caddy candidates since they could throw two or three innings at a time out of the bullpen as middle/setup relievers rather than true long men. Sorta like mini-1996 Mariano Riveras. They could be kept on a somewhat regular schedule to make life a little easier as well.
The caddy system sounds great in theory but it would be tough to pull off if the other five relievers are regular one-inning guys. The Yankees would also need another veteran starter so they could stash Phelps and Warren in the bullpen full-time, and it doesn’t seem like they’re eager to add one. I really like the idea of having middle relievers who are used for multiple innings at a time, but no one ever does it though. The 2009 version of Al Aceves is a rarity these days.
Bill asks: Why has there been so little speculation about moving Derek Jeter to third base? It seems like the perfect answer to the third base problem and gets Ryan to short stop where his defensive skills would shine.
The snarky answer is that Jeter is Jeter and he’ll play shortstop for the Yankees until he says he doesn’t want to do it anymore, but I do think there are legitimate reasons for not making the move right now. He is coming back from some rather serious leg injuries and just starting taking ground balls on the dirt this week, so he is not particularly close to being in game shape right now. Jeter has never played a position other than shortstop in 22 professional seasons and third base would be an entirely new experience because the ball gets on you so quick at the hot corner. There would be a learning curve, perhaps a steep one, and asking him to change positions as he works his way back from major leg injuries might be too much for a 39-year-old. If he was perfectly healthy and able to start working out at third early in the offseason, it would make sense. Asking Jeter to go through a crash course at a different position following those injuries probably isn’t realistic.
Pedro asks: What do you think about Oliver Perez?
Time for the Pitcher A vs. Pitcher B game. Everyone loves this, right? Good. Here we go:
|IP||ERA||FIP||K%||BB%||GB%||HR/FB||RHB wOBA||LHB wOBA|
You’re smart, you know one of those guys is Perez. He’s Pitcher A. But what about Pitcher B? He is Perez’s former Mariners teammate and current Yankees setup man Shawn Kelley. Perez and Kelley had almost identical seasons in 2013 — kinda freaky, no? — with the only differences being handedness and ballpark-effected homerun rates (which is why Kelley had a higher ERA and FIP). Could the Yankees use a left-handed version of Kelley? Sure. It wouldn’t hurt given the current state of the bullpen. I don’t know what an appropriate contract would be though. Scott Downs got a one-year deal worth $4M and I’m not sure I’d go any higher than that for Perez.
Mark asks: Do you have an overlay of the new Stadium on top of the old Stadium to see the subtle differences? Also, I know the minor league stadium in Tampa has the same dimensions as Yankee Stadium, but do the AA and AAA ballparks have them too? Wouldn’t it just make sense?
As you know, the biggest difference is in straight-away right field, where the new wall is as much as nine feet closer than the old one at some points. George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa has the same dimensions as the old Stadium, not the new one. It hasn’t been modified since the new park went up. The various minor league affiliate ballparks all have their own unique dimensions:
|Double-A||Arm & Hammer Park||330||?||407||?||330|
|High-A||George M. Steinbrenner Field||318||399||408||385||314|
|Low-A||Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park||305||356||398||366||337|
|Short Season||Richmond County Bank Ballpark||320||?||390||?||318|
I wrote about the four full season ballparks back in June 2011. They’re all slight pitcher’s parks overall except for GMS Field in Tampa, which is neutral compared to the rest of the Florida State League. All of those parks suppress homeruns though, extremely so in some cases. Arm & Hammer Park is right on the Delaware River and the wind makes it very tough to hit the ball out of the park to right field.
The Yankees don’t actually own any of the minor league parks — they operate GMS Field but it is owned by the Tampa Sports Authority — so modifying the dimensions to match the new Yankee Stadium isn’t a simple *snaps fingers* “okay let’s do this” thing. The Triple-A, Double-A, and Low-A ballparks were all built long before those franchises became affiliated with the Yankees. It would be neat if every minor league park matched the big league park’s dimensions, but it’s not realistic or even essential as far as I’m concerned.
David asks: Which Yankees have no-trade clauses in their deal? Am I right that it’s more than any other team? How big a problem do you think this obviously less than ideal practice is?
Here’s the full list of Yankees with some kind of no-trade clause:
- Five-and-Ten Rights: Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia, Mark Teixeira
- Full No-Trade Clauses In Contracts: Carlos Beltran, Kuroda, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, Masahiro Tanaka
I haven’t seen anything about Kuroda having a no-trade clause in his current contract, but he had one in his last two deals and I assume he has one again. That’s ten 40-man roster players and nine who are expected to be on the Opening Day roster who can’t be traded without their permissions. That’s a lot. The Yankees are pretty liberal with no-trade clauses and I wonder how often that has given them an advantage in free agent talks when the offers are similar financially. Some other teams completely refuse to give out no-trade clauses.
Obviously no-trade clauses hinder flexibility and it would be awesome if no player had one, but the Yankees are in a different situation than most teams. They always try to contend and add big name players, not trade them away. How bad would things have to get for them to even consider dealing Ellsbury or Tanaka, for example? It’s not like some team is going to offer a cheap, young superstar for either of those guys, so the no-trade clause rarely comes into play anyway.
Got 12 questions for you this week, but some of the answers are really short. Like two sentences short. I also trimmed some questions a bit. A few were pretty long. Send us anything via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.
Hey, you can make a case Matsui wasn’t robbed. He hit .287/.353/.435 (109 wRC+) with 16 homers as a bad fielding left fielder while Angel Berroa hit .287/.338/.451 (101 wRC+) with 17 homers as an average fielding shortstop. If you want to take fWAR/bWAR at face value (fine for something like this), Berroa edges Godzilla out (Berroa: 2.7/2.5, Matsui: 0.2/2.2).
Anyway, yes Tanaka has a legitimate shot at RoY this season. The last three RoY starting pitchers (Jose Fernandez, Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Verlander) averaged a 14-8 record with a 2.94 ERA (~143 ERA+) and 4.7 bWAR in 180-ish innings, if you want a performance benchmark. That’s doable but a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East and at Yankee Stadium will probably take some luck. Tanaka is going to have some stiff competition in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Abreu (my early RoY pick), plus the voting has been skewed heavily in favor of position players these last ten years (13 position players, four closers, three starters).
Craig asks: How about John Mayberry Jr.? He could double as the fourth/fifth outfielder and first base back-up. If they are looking for a lefty we could eat Ichiro Suzuki‘s contract or send Brett Gardner and get some bullpen help.
Mayberry, 30, had that huge season in 2011, hitting .306/.358/.595 (157 wRC+) against lefties with a 132 wRC+ overall. He hasn’t hit much since then, just .259/.309/.481 (111 wRC+) against lefties and an 86 wRC+ overall. There was talk the Phillies might non-tender him earlier this winter, but they kept him for $1.59M instead. Mayberry can play first and the two outfield corners, but he’s a net negative on defense. His only redeeming quality is his power against lefties. There’s no way I’d trade Gardner for him — the Phillies have been looking for bullpen help all winter, so I doubt they’d kick in a reliever, and I’d need a great reliever to even out a Gardner-for-Mayberry swap — but a straight up Ichiro-for-Mayberry deal would make some sense given the current roster. You’d wind up the same replacement level-ish extra outfielder, just instead of doing it with defense, he’d do it with power.
Should this happen? Yes, absolutely. Will it? I don’t think there’s any chance unless Jeter shows he is completely immobile following the leg injuries. If that happens, the team will have a bigger problem to worry about other than simply replacing Jeter for defense in the late innings. If he’s not used a defensive replacement, I’m not sure how the team will use Ryan this year aside from giving Jeter and Brian Roberts the occasional day off.
Did you know Betemit is still only 32 years old? He just turned 32 in November too. I figured he would 35 or 36 by now. Anyway, he missed almost the entire 2013 season due to a knee injury, and he only has 81 games and 515.1 innings worth of experience at first base in his career. Betemit has played a ton of third but the defensive stats crush him there, and he’s a switch-hitter who should be a platoon bat because he punishes righties (127 wRC+ since 2011) but can’t touch lefties (36 wRC+). As a bench bat who backs up first and plays third base in an emergency, the 24th or 25th man on the roster, yeah it might work. It would be worth bringing Betemit to camp as a non-roster player, but I’m not sure he’s clearly better than Sizemore, Nunez, Canzler, or whoever else at this point.
UPDATE: Betemit agreed to a minor league contract with the Rays this morning, according to Jon Heyman. So scratch that idea.
Eric asks: Can and should the Yankees employ a six-man rotation this year or at least for part of it? You can lighten the load on Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia, help Tanaka transition from pitching every seven days in Japan, and give the young arms a better look other than just Spring Training.
I feel like the six-man rotation idea comes up every offseason around this time. The obvious question is this: do the Yankees even have six starters worthy of a rotation spot? Do they even have four at this point? No one really knows what to expect out of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Ivan Nova in 2014. Taking starts away from your top guys for someone like Vidal Nuno isn’t a luxury a team like the Yankees can afford. They’re going to have to fight for a playoff spot, remember. Kuroda’s and Tanaka’s (and Michael Pineda‘s) workloads are going to have to be monitored, no doubt about it, but I don’t think a straight six-man rotation is the answer. It sounds so good on the paper, but successfully pulling it off is so difficult.
Michael asks: I’m trying to find out what Tanaka’s nickname “Ma-kun” translates to English as, but i’m not having any luck. Do you know what it means?
Jason asks: If I remember correctly, prior to being injured, there was an advantage to keeping Pineda in Triple-A until at least mid-May to push back his arbitration clock. Does that benefit still exist if the Yankees did that this year?
Pineda was the on the DL until the team activated him and sent him to Triple-A in early-July last year. He was down long enough to both delay his free agency and arbitration clock one year. Pineda will be a Super Two now (four years of arbitration rather than three), but they get to keep him for another season (through 2017) and that’s the important thing. They’ve already received the benefit and would have to keep him in the minors pretty much all season to push things back another year. If Pineda goes yet another year without pitching in the big leagues, it would be close to time to write him off completely.
Adam asks: When a player gets a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, what compensation does he receive?
Non-roster players don’t get paid anything during Spring Training. They get meal money and some kind of housing arrangement/allowance. That’s all. Guys on minor league contracts get paid a salary during the regular season only.
Most teams have a sliding salary scale based on service time for pre-arbitration players. Murphy was in the big leagues for a month, hence the extra $2,700. Teams can simply renew a pre-arb player’s contract for any salary as long as it is at least 80% of the previous year’s salary, but that’s a good way to get your players to hate you. A sliding scale based on service time (with adjustments for awards, All-Star Games, etc.) makes it nice and easy.
Anonymous asks: Would you guess Shawn Kelley is Opening Day setup man on this current Yankee roster?
Yeah, that’s the safe bet, but I wouldn’t count on him holding the job all summer. We’ve been spoiled these last few years by David Robertson. Here’s a quick recap of the team’s primary eighth inning guys from 2007-11, the five years before Robertson emerged.
|Opening Day Setup Man||End of Season Setup Man|
|2011||Rafael Soriano||David Robertson|
|2010||Joba Chamberlain||Kerry Wood|
|2009||Brian Bruney||Phil Hughes|
|2008||Joba Chamberlain||Joba Chamberlain|
|2007||Kyle Farnsworth||Joba Chamberlain|
Remember, Joba moved into the rotation at midseason in 2008. He only wound up in the bullpen late in the season after hurting his shoulder. Farnsworth took over as the primary setup man when Joba gave the starting thing a shot. Point is: don’t sweat who holds what bullpen role on Opening Day. They’ll all change. They almost always do.
Mike asks: Assuming it was allowed, how would you look at a Robinson Cano – Jacoby Ellsbury trade before the season starts? Would Ellsbury fit better with Seattle and would Cano fit better with NY than the way things stand now? Would either NY or Seattle have to throw in a player or pay part of a contract?
I completely understand why the Yankees didn’t match the Mariners’ offer to Cano, but there’s no doubt Robbie makes more sense for the current roster than Ellsbury. The team could go with an Alfonso Soriano-Gardner-Carlos Beltran outfield with Cano at second and a low-cost DH (or an expensive one like Kendrys Morales). The Mariners are going to let Dustin Ackley sink or swim in center this year while Nick Franklin slides into a utility role thanks to Cano, so they need the outfielder and not the infielder. Cano makes more sense for the Yankees, Ellsbury makes more sense for Seattle. I assume the Yankees would have to add another player to facilitate a trade (despite the salary difference) because Cano is the considerably better player.
Eleven questions and eleven one-paragraph answers this week. You can send us mailbag questions or anything else using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Dan asks: Doesn’t it make a lot of sense for the Yankees to go after Francisco Rodriguez? He’d provide a power arm for the bullpen (which clearly still needs one or two more pieces). He has closer experience if Robertson doesn’t work out.
Rodriguez, 32, didn’t sign until the middle of April last year, remember. He did pitch better in 2013 (2.70 ERA and 3.65 FIP) than he did in 2012 (4.38 ERA and 3.83 FIP), so maybe that means he won’t have to wait as long to find a new team this offseason. K-Rod still misses plenty of bats (10.41 K/9 and 28.0 K% in 2013) but he’s also become way more fly ball (only 36.4% grounders) and homer (1.35 HR/9 and 15.2% HR/FB) prone in recent years as he’s lost velocity. He’s not the elite, shutdown reliever he was as recently as 2011 anymore, but Rodriguez is still a solid bullpen arm who can help the Yankees. They might be wary of his off-field issues though.
David asks: Now that the Yankees have signed Masahiro Tanaka, are they more free to trade Ichiro Suzuki? I thought they might hold onto Ichiro long enough for him to help with the sales pitch, but they really need an OF who can hit the ball out of the park now and then. On the days Beltran plays the OF and Jeter plays SS, would Ichiro be the current option at DH?
I don’t think Ichiro was ever part of the sales pitch to Tanaka — if we was, we haven’t heard anything about it — and they were always free to trade him. It just seems like there are no takers, even if the Yankees eat some salary. The bench right now looks really awful (Frankie Cervelli, Brendan Ryan, Ichiro … Scott Sizemore?) with no one who can be used as a pinch-hitter or anything like that. Beltran and Alfonso Soriano figure to split DH and right field, but on the days one of them sits, it’ll be Ichiro who plays. That’s not ideal. I’d like to see an actually hitter on the bench, someone who can run into a fastball or at least get on-base at a decent clip.
Sam asks: We see Robinson Cano get 10/240, Clayton Kershaw land 7/217, and Tanaka (without an MLB pitch to his name) get 7/155. Is there a point, in your opinion, where we hit a ceiling of what an MLB player is being paid, or are we looking at $500+ million dollar contracts down the road?
This isn’t an MLB only thing, though MLB salaries have inflated more rapidly than the rest of the working population’s. It’s only a matter of time before we get a $500M+ contract and I bet it’ll happen sooner than we expect, maybe within the next 20 years or so. Heck, there will be a point where the average annual salary in the U.S. is $500M, but that won’t happen in our lifetimes. As long as the union stands its ground and does not allow a salary cap, MLB salaries are only going to continue going up. It’s the way of the world.
Kevin asks: Do you think last year’s three first round draft picks and the planned spending frenzy in international free agency can lead to the Yankees’ farm system being decent and (dare I say it) maybe even good? I know they won’t have a first round pick this season, but it’s not like you are completely missing out on talent if your starting your draft in the second round.
To steal a phrase from Hubie Brown, there is a lot of upside potential in the Yankees’ farm system this year. They’re adding what amounts to four first round talents in Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, and Ty Hensley, who is due to return from his hip(s) surgery. Manny Banuelos will also return from Tommy John surgery to give the system a boost. International guys like Abi Avelino and Luis Severino will have a chance to improve on last year’s success as well. Just based on the guys already in the system, there’s a lot of potential for a big step forward in 2014. Every team has a handful of guys who could really awesome if they stay healthy and take a step forward and yadda yadda yadda, but I feel like the Yankees have more than the average team.
Dan asks: Will the failure to achieve $189m put away all talk of getting under for the foreseeable future? Or every offseason from now on will the Yankees consider $189m as a possible offseason strategy to evaluate each year?
Given all the long-term commitments they handed out this winter and the fact that Alex Rodriguez‘s salary will be back on the books next year, I don’t see how the Yankees could get under the luxury tax threshold in the future. My real quick math already has the 2015 payroll at $152.1M for only eight (!) players, and that’s with two above-average producers (David Robertson and Brett Gardner) heading for free agency and needing to be either re-signed or replaced. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season and I have to think the luxury tax threshold will rise at that point. There’s too much money in the game to keep it at $189M; they might have to bump it up to $200M or even $210M.
Uke asks: Now that the Yankees have gone over the $189 million goal, why don’t they offer Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez one-year contracts with the stipulation that they won’t make a qualifying offer next year?
The Collective Bargaining Agreement says you can’t sign a player and promise to not make the qualifying offer in the future, though I’m not sure how they’d go about enforcing that. I’d love to see Ubaldo fall into their laps in March, similar to what happened with Kyle Lohse last year, but I’m counting on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed this weekend. Adding another starter, even someone like Bronson Arroyo, to knock the internal guys down a peg would be awesome in my book, but the infield and bullpen have to be the priorities right now.
Dustin asks: Should the Yankees put a claim on Brayan Villarreal if he falls to them? He walks way too many, but his strikeout propensity would do well in low-to mid-leverage innings, kind of like how Joba Chamberlain was used of late.
The Red Sox designated the 26-year-old Villarreal for assignment a few days ago after an ugly season in which he walked nine and struck out six while allowing ten runs in 4.1 big league innings. His 2.67 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 42.1 minor league innings looks great, but he also walked 30 batters (6.4 BB/9 and 16.5 BB%). Villarreal had a strong 2012 season with the Tigers (2.63 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 54.2 innings) but he’s a classic hard-thrower who has no idea where the ball is going. Very similar to Brian Bruney when the Yankees signed him. All you can do with a guy like that is hope he irons out his command for a long stretch of the season. The Bombers need bullpen help but they don’t have room for Villarreal on the 40-man roster and I’m not sure if he’s worth clearing a spot for.
Charley asks: Do you think now that the Yankees got Tanaka that Vidal Nuno has a leg up on the fifth starter spot since he is a lefty? Joe Girardy typically likes to split his lefty/righty pitchers and now they have only one lefty in CC Sabathia.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would have more than one left-handed starter because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and the various power lefty bats in the division (David Ortiz and Chris Davis, primarily). I don’t think it’s a requirement though. At this point the team needs to just assemble the best pitching staff it can regardless of handedness. If Nuno wins the fifth starter’s spot in camp, great. If it’s David Phelps or Adam Warren, well that’s okay too. To answer the question, no, I don’t think Nuno’s handedness gives him a leg up on the competition. I think they’ll give the job to whoever impresses the most.
Paul asks: Let’s play glass-half-full for a moment and assume that Michael Pineda is healthy and producing in ST and gets the #5 rotation slot. Phelps would almost certainly go to the BP. What about Warren and the other #5 competitors? Are they too similar in the roles they would fill to go with him?
I think both Phelps and Warren would go to the bullpen in that case, one as the long man and one as a more traditional short reliever. Warren was the long man all last year while Phelps did the short relief thing in September after returning from his forearm injury. It’s possible one would go to Triple-A to remain stretched out as the sixth starter, but I think both would wind up working in relief given the state of the bullpen. Using both as multi-inning middle relievers (rather than a long man and a one-inning guy) would be pretty neat. It would obviously be awesome if Pineda showed enough to win a rotation spot in camp. That would really create some roster options for the Yankees.
Tucker asks: In the past with these ST starter competitions, we’ve seen the Yankees seemingly give one candidate a leg-up. I think this year we could see that happening with Pineda. Do you agree, or do you think that a different starter fits that role better?
The Yankees have definitely held some rigged Spring Training competitions over the years, most notably the fifth starter competition in 2010 (Phil Hughes over Joba) and last year’s catching competition (Chris Stewart over everyone). If it does happen with the fifth starter’s spot this year, I think Phelps would be the guy with the advantage given the last two years. That’s just a hunch though. Pineda is coming off two lost years and might need more time in Triple-A to shake the rust off. As I mentioned before, I honestly think this competition will be more legitimate — whoever pitches the best in camp will win it. Of course, Spring Training competitions don’t end in Spring Training. If the fifth starter doesn’t perform well early on, someone else will take his spot. The team has enough candidates that they won’t have to live with a poor performing fifth starter for more than a few starts.
Kyle asks: Do you see the Yankees re-signing Brian Cashman or will they let someone else take the role as GM, like Billy Eppler?
I wrote this post about the future of the front office two years ago, after Eppler was officially named the assistant GM. It seemed like the Yankees were setting up a line of succession — Eppler spends three years learning the ropes as the assistant before taking over as GM when Cashman’s deal was up. Cashman would presumably be moved to some kind of president or director or chairman or whatever role. The Indians (Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti) and White Sox (Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn) have both made similar moves in recent years. I still expect something like that to happen. Ownership clearly loves Cashman but this will be his 16th year as GM. Things can get pretty stale after that much time and a new voice could do wonders for the organization (it could also do a lot of damage, remember). Moving Cashman into a different role and making Eppler the GM seems very possible and I do think that is what will happen.
Huge mailbag this week. Twelve questions and not a single one about Alex Rodriguez, thankfully. I tried to keep the answers short since there are so many of ‘em. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything.
Jeff asks: What happened to Brian Roberts besides his problems with concussions and post-concussion sickness? I distinctly remember him being one of the best offensive second basemen in the mid-2000s. Is there even a minuscule chance he repeats anything close to it?
Roberts was awesome from 2005-09, hitting .294/.369/.451 (116 wRC+) while averaging 68 extra-base hits, 39 steals and 4.9 fWAR per 162 games. He missed more than three months with an abdominal strain in 2010 then suffered his first concussion later that year after whacking his helmet with his bat out of frustration. True story. He suffered his second concussion in May 2011 after hitting his head sliding into first base, and he dealt with post-concussion symptoms for several months after that. Roberts had surgery to repair his hip labrum in July 2012 and then missed three months last year after tearing his hamstring. That’s a lot of serious injuries, especially the two concussions. Roberts was decent after returning from the hammy in late June (93 wRC+ in the second half) and that’s probably the best we could reasonably expect out of him at age 36 and with all those recent injuries.
Manny asks: Suk-Min Yoon is planning on signing somewhere soon. Is Boras putting the cart before the Masahiro Tanaka-horse going to screw him here, or are they different markets for a guy like Yoon? Also, should the Yankees take note? From the little we’ve heard, he can start, he can close, he’s useful and sounds like he could project something similar to a non-criminal Ace Aceves.
Everything you need to know about Yoon is in this post. The Yankees have had interest in the 27-year-old and he’s a true free agent — there are no posting process hoops to jump through. Yoon is no Tanaka and he might not even be another Wei-Yin Chen — even Boras admitted he is “not an overpowering arm” — and the consensus is that he’s more of a swingman/reliever than a big league starter. In fact, shoulder problems limited him to the bullpen for most of last year. Yoon will have no impact on the Tanaka sweepstakes whatsoever. I don’t really have a grasp on what it would take to sign him and I’m not sure if he’s an upgrade over in-house options like David Phelps and Adam Warren. The Yankees need relievers though, and if he’s affordable, he might be an outside the box option to shore up the bullpen.
Ethan asks: The Giants would never do it because they don’t have any other options at third, but would you do Brett Gardner for Pablo Sandoval in a vacuum?
Yes, I would. In fact, I wrote about Sandoval as a possible trade target earlier this offseason. He’s a switch-hitter with power and surprisingly good defense, but weight and conditioning issues have hampered him his entire career. Both guys are due to become free agents next winter and given the team’s needs, a Gardner for Sandoval trade would make a lot of sense for the Yankees. It would be risky — the one they call Kung Fu Panda has shed 42 points this winter (photo!) — but I think the potential reward is mighty big. It just doesn’t make sense for San Francisco. Their outfield is full and they need Sandoval at the hot corner.
Dylan asks: Could we please have an update on Michael Pineda? I don’t see too much about him recently in the news.
There is no real update on Pineda. At his annual end-of-season press conference, Brian Cashman said they shut him down late last year because he needed to rest after pitching and rehabbing for 15 months straight. “He is on a throwing program and healthy,” said the GM to George King last month. “He is coming to Spring Training to win a spot in the rotation. He is a viable option.” That’s the update, I guess. No news is good news.
Mike asks: Given this story from MLB Trade Rumors: “Minor League Free Agents Finding Major League Deals” which highlights Jose Quintana, David Adams and others, could not “hating their own minor leaguers” be a new market inefficiency that the Yankees could exploit?
Heh. Letting Quintana walk was a massive blunder in hindsight. He could blow out his arm tomorrow and it still would have been a huge mistake. I would be surprised if the Yankees regret letting Adams go, especially since they’ve already replaced him with almost exactly the same player in Scott Sizemore. Those guys are a dime a dozen. Just about every team has given away an Adams or a Tyler Clippard or a Zach McAllister at some point, so the Bombers aren’t all that different in that regard. None of their non-Warren minor leaguers impressed when called upon last year, so maybe they’re right not to trust their own kids right now. The farm system isn’t in great shape, especially when talking about MLB ready talent. Quintana was a huge mistake but I don’t that’s enough of a reason to give absolutely everyone a chance. He’s an extreme outlier.
I don’t think there is an answer to this. It varies team by team and depends on a number of things, like the strength of their farm system and whether or not they are legitimate contenders. Every club is going to need to use a few spots on extra players, like extra bullpen arms and bench players. Guys you can send up and down without worrying about their long-term development. Is there a point where having a bunch of guys like Campos, who isn’t expected to contribute to MLB at all in 2014, counterproductive? Sure. But that point is different for say, the Dodgers than it is the Astros.
Jeff asks: In the event that the Yankees don’t sign Tanaka, would they be interested in Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley if they’re healthy and made available by the Dodgers?
I think the answer is no on Beckett but yes on Billingsley. Beckett was showing serious signs of decline — fading fastball and inability to put away lefties, mostly — before getting hurt and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is no joke. It ended Chris Carpenter’s career. Billingsley is still only 29, he’s been rock solid for years (3.79 ERA and 3.42 FIP from 2010-12), and his contract includes an affordable ($14M) club option for 2014. He “only” had Tommy John surgery and is due back sometime around May. Billingsley is someone I think the Yankees should pursue with or without Tanaka. He makes sense for them both this year and next.
Dustin asks: Would you trade for Aramis Ramirez if he were available?
I said no back before the trade deadline but at this point, after seeing how the offseason has played out, I think I’d say yes. Ramirez would have to come cheap though, either in a pure salary dump trade (he’s owed $20M in 2014 between his salary and the buyout of his 2015 option) or a deal involving one or two Grade-C prospects with the Brewers eating some salary. Grade-C prospects coming from the 21-30 range of a top 30 list, for example. Aramis is 35 with bad knees but he can still hit (12 HR and 132 wRC+ in 351 plate appearances in 2013) and his right-handed thump would fit the lineup well. It would be risky but even a half-season of Ramirez would be a big upgrade at the hot corner.
Ben asks: What do you think about the Yankees possibly trading for Jonathan Papelbon? Personality aside, I think he’d be a great addition to the bullpen, which is one of the last areas NY can throw money at to improve. What would it take to get him, a couple non- prospects (assuming NYY takes on the whole contract)?
I am anti-Papelbon and it has nothing to do with his personality or anything like that. He comes with a lot of red flags — I highly recommend this post by Jason Collette detailing those red flags — and he’s owed $13M in each of the next two seasons with a vesting option for another $13M in 2017. I have no problem with paying big dollars for elite relievers, but I’m not very confident in Papelbon being elite or even comfortably above-average these next two years. The Yankees definitely need bullpen help, but I’d be careful about getting caught up in the name here. He’s not the Red Sox version of Papelbon anymore. Read the linked Collette post, he breaks it down very well.
There has been close to zero interest in Hanson this winter and I think that’s very telling. We’re talking about a 27-year-old who was one of the best prospects in baseball and an above-average starter as recently as 2010-11, yet no one wants him. Hanson has had a bunch of injury problems (with his shoulder, specifically) and it shows in the velocity in each of his pitches (via Brooks Baseball):
Don’t get too excited about that uptick in velocity at the end of last year. Hanson made exactly two appearances in July, August, and September, and he was working out of the bullpen by the end of the year. It’s not like he was making a start every five days and showing that velocity. Hanson was not been the same guy since his shoulder started acting up (4.76 ERA and 4.59 FIP from 2012-13) and I’m not sure throwing to his old batterymate McCann can help. I’d give him a minor league contract, sure. But I wouldn’t count on him for anything. You’d have to treat him almost like you’d treat Johan Santana. Anything he gives you is a bonus.
John asks: What would it take for a team (not necessarily the Yankees) to land Jhoulys Chacin?
A lot. Chacin very quietly broke out last season, pitching to a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings while allowing only 11 homers despite pitching half his games in Coors Field. His bowling ball sinker explains that. Chacin turned 26 earlier this month and he’s under team control through 2015. He’s on the cusp of becoming the next dominant sinkerballer, a Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe type. Given the price of pitching, it’ll take a boatload to get him. Two or three very good prospects/young minor leaguers at least. If I were the Rockies and the Yankees offered me Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, and someone like Phelps, I’d say no. Easily. Chacin’s very young and very good.
Joe asks: I watched the 2013 World Baseball Classic, is there any chance that Kenta Maeda a right-hander will be posted?
Maeda, 25, has been the second best pitcher in Japan these last two years behind Tanaka. It’s a big gap though — Ben Badler (no subs. req’d) says scouts view Maeda as a back-end starter while one international scouting director said “he could be a fourth starter at the big league level … he’ll keep you in games.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It’s unclear if Maeda will be posted this winter but it is more and more unlikely with each week that passes. (The latest a player can be posted under the new system is February 1st.) More than anything, the takeaway from Maeda is that there won’t be another Tanaka or Yu Darvish for at least a few years.
Five questions and five answers this week. If you want to send us a mailbag question, you probably know how to do it by now. (Hint: the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.)
Paul asks: Are there still deals that haven’t been made official yet? What’s the hold-up? Is it a 40-man roster thing?
The Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are still not official. I don’t know why but the Yankees tend to drag these things out. I’m guessing the holidays gummed up the works as well. The 40-man roster is full so they’ll have to clear up spot for both guys. They’ll need to do the same if they add another starting pitcher as well, Masahiro Tanaka or otherwise. I suppose they could be working on an Ichiro Suzuki trade to open one spot, but who knows. Roberts and Thornton are the only big league contracts that are still not official yet, however.
To the table:
Ellsbury was the better player overall in the three years prior to signing with the Yankees — Damon was way more durable; his ability to stay on the field was always a big part of his value — but remember that a lot of his production came during that outlier 2011 campaign. Like, 32 of the 45 homers and 9.4 of the 16.3 fWAR came that year. That season is getting further back in the rear-view mirror and I’m not all that confident Ellsbury will come close to that production again. Hopefully he proves me wrong.
I think the best way to answer this question is that Ellsbury is the more exciting player and he offered a greater upside, but Damon was more predictable and reliable. Ellsbury is a few years younger now than Damon was when he joined the Yankees and that’s a big deal. The team will, at least theoretically, get more of Ellsbury’s prime years. The Yankees are obviously counting on that considering the contract they gave him.
Alex asks: What about Joe Blanton as a depth signing? The Angels appear ready to release him this offseason and if the Yanks don’t add Tanaka (or even if they do), there could be value in a workhorse who underperformed his peripherals. What would his upside realistically be?
I mean this is in the nicest possible way:
Blanton was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, so bad that the pitching-starved Angels dropped him from their rotation. He hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since 2009 and he’s underperformed his peripherals in each of the last four seasons (5.09 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 540.2 innings since 2010). I have no reason to think a righty with a below-average fastball (averages a touch over 89 mph these days) will buck that trend in a small ballpark in the AL East. I don’t see Blanton as an upgrade over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. He’s not even worth a 40-man roster spot in my opinion. Easy pass, even if he comes for the minimum. The Yankees need to add good pitchers. Emphasis on good.
Nick asks: With all the talk of contract overpaying this winter, I’d like to bring up Alfonso Soriano. If the Cubs are paying $13m of the $18m he’s owed in 2014, and even at age 38, couldn’t he be a bit of a bargain? $5m for a .250/.310/.480 hitter with 30+homers seems reasonable no?
Oh yes, absolutely. The three projection systems at FanGraphs (ZiPS, Steamer, Oliver) work out to a combined .240/.293/.455 batting line with 25 homers and 11 steals per 500 plate appearances, and that’s with Oliver expecting him to fall off a cliff (-0.1 fWAR). That is definitely worth $5M right there, especially to the Yankees given where they sit on the win curve. Soriano just turned 38 and there’s a chance he will completely crash and show his age next year, but the upside is a 30-homer, 10-steal right-handed batter. Getting that for $5M is great in this market. Among the guys who are not still in their arbitration or pre-arbitration years, Soriano is probably the best dollar-for-dollar player on the roster.
Kevin asks: Am I the only one who really likes Nik Turley? I don’t think he’ll be more than a #4 but the Yankees need to stop walking away from these back-end starter prospects. We could really use a young guy to soak up innings, even if its not elite status.
I see Turley as another member of the Phelps, Warren, and Nuno group, just a notch below because he hasn’t spend significant time in Triple-A yet. Solid enough to be a back-end starter but not exactly someone who is going to come up and make a real impact in the rotation. There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. Teams need those cheap back-end types for depth and to help cover for injuries, and heck, every once in a while one will exceed expectations and turn into Doug Fister. Turley had a good year with Double-A Trenton in 2013 (3.88 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 139 innings) and as a left-hander with a good breaking ball, he’ll get a million chances in this league, at worst as a reliever. I wouldn’t call him untouchable but he’s certainly worth keeping around. The only problem is that the Yankees have a serious 40-man roster crunch and Turley is near the bottom of the pile.