Update: Yankees a finalist for Andrew Miller, deal could come in a day or two

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

11:12pm: The Astros are not expected to sign Miller, according to Evan Drellich. That isn’t surprising. Strange stuff happens, but when push comes to shove, Houston probably isn’t going to win a free agent bidding war against the Yankees or any other team seriously in on someone like Miller.

9:09pm: Heyman has updated his story to say it’s basically the Yankees against one or two other teams right now. The Red Sox are out of the running and the Dodgers are only considered a possibility for Miller, not a finalist because they aren’t all that interested in a huge deal for a reliever. The Astros appear to be New York’s main competition. Heyman also says the Yankees are more willing to go four years for Miller than Robertson because of the difference in money.

5:00pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Dodgers appear to be among the finalists for free agent left-hander Andrew Miller, and a deal could be done in a day or two. I’d be surprised if new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman gave a reliever a huge deal, then again what do I know. Heyman says the Red Sox are bowing out of the race.

Ken Rosenthal hears New York’s interest is sincere and they aren’t just using the 29-year-old Miller as leverage against David Robertson, which is what I initially thought. New York could always bring Robertson back even if they sign Miller, it just seems hard to believe they would have two huge money relievers on the roster. Nearly two-thirds of RAB readers said they would prefer re-signing Robertson to signing Miller in yesterday’s poll.

Miller is all but assured of getting a four-year deal at something close to $10M annually according to Heyman, but Joel Sherman says the Yankees are only willing to top out at three years. That could be posturing. The current record contract for a non-closer reliever is Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants from a few years back. The Yankees did give ex-Rays closer Rafael Soriano a three-year contract worth $35M to be a setup man a few years ago, so maybe they would be okay with two big money relievers after having both Soriano and Mariano Rivera from 2011-12.

The Yankees would get a supplemental first round pick if Robertson leaves — they won’t have to give anything up to sign Miller — which would make it easier for them to swallow forfeiting their first rounder to sign a qualified free agent, specifically Max Scherzer. Of course, the team continues to insist they won’t give out a huge long-term contract this winter. We’ll see. Developing!

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Buster Olney (subs. req’d) continued looking at the top ten players at each position today with starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw claimed the top spot, because duh, then Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale round out the top three. I feel like Sale is going to go down as the Mike Mussina of his generation — excellent every year but always finishing second or third in the Cy Young voting, not winning. No Yankees made the top ten but Masahiro Tanaka did get an honorable mention. I think the starters list is the best one Olney has done so far. The others were pretty heavily skewed by recent performance, but this one is really well done. No quibbles with the order at all.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets are the only local sports team in action tonight, though there is a whole lotta college basketball on well. You know what to do here by now, so have at it.

2014 Season Review: The Front Office

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we inch closer to wrapping up our 2014 Season Review series, it’s time to look at the decision-making and the guys calling the shots. GM Brian Cashman is the most public figure, though he has two assistant GMs (Jean Afterman and Billy Eppler) plus an army of advisors and scouts and numbers crunchers doing grunt work. Both Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as well as team president Randy Levine have gotten involved in roster decisions over the years too. That happens with every team. No GM truly has autonomy in any sport or industry. Let’s review the team’s notable roster building decisions over the last year.

The 2013-14 Offseason

Last offseason focused on the free agency of Robinson Cano. It was by far the largest item on the team’s plate, perhaps the largest since Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract following the 2007 season. The Yankees signed Cano to one team-friendly contract way back in 2008 and reportedly his former agent Scott Boras and current representatives at Roc Nation were unwilling to discuss another below-market deal before free agency. (Remember when they asked for $305M last May?) I can’t say I blame them. Cano turned into a star and this was his chance for a massive payday.

But, even before the situation with Cano was settled, the Yankees agreed to sign Brian McCann to a five-year contract. The deal was agreed to on November 23rd and became official on December 3rd. During that time the team held firm with their seven-year, $175M offer to Cano. As far as we knew, no other team was coming close to that number. Little did we know the desperate Mariners would swoop in, offer a ten-year deal worth $240M, and lure Cano away from New York. Joel Sherman explained how things played out last December:

The Yankees and the Cano camp had initial contact last offseason and got a bit more serious in spring training. The Yankees made an opening bid in the seven-year, $160 million range. In May, the Cano camp said it wanted 10 years at $310 million and that shut down talks until the offseason.

The Yankees climbed to $165 million after the season. Cano came back saying he wanted $28 million for nine years — $252 million – with a vesting option for a 10th year. When there was little further movement, the Yankees grew pessimistic the gulf could ever be closed. They were planning to be aggressive in the offseason anyway, but they decided they needed to sign players or else the prices would inflate further if Cano left and agents sensed the Yankees were desperate. Which is why they were so bold with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury – and several others they have yet to sign.

Reportedly the Yankees knew they were going to lose Cano on Friday, November 29th, so they jumped into action and had a deal in place with Ellsbury by Tuesday, December 3rd. Cano’s deal with Seattle was not reportedly agreed to until that Friday, December 6th. Later that night the Yankees agreed to sign Carlos Beltran. As Sherman explained, the team wanted to take care of business before word of Cano’s defection got out and prices soured, so it’s clear Ellsbury and Beltran were their Plan B. According to Jon Heyman, “they were all on board” with the McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran contracts, meaning Cashman and ownership.

That plan sounds great, but did it actually work? Top Boras clients never sign in early-December, so you know they met his high asking price for Ellsbury. Boras always takes his top clients deep into the offseason before striking a deal, so he must have been thrilled with the team’s offer for Ellsbury to sign so soon. Beltran, meanwhile, reportedly had three-year offers in hand from the Diamondbacks and Royals worth pretty much exactly what he took from the Yankees. If the team did save money by acting fast and agreeing to deals with Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, it seems like it was a very small amount.

Of course, every last dollar mattered to the Yankees last offseason because they were still trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold, so even saving a small amount was important. It wasn’t until MLB and NPB changed their posting agreement in December that the team decided to go over the threshold. The new system allowed Masahiro Tanaka to receive an enormous contract, all of which counted against the payroll for luxury tax purposes. His contract would have been much smaller — perhaps one-third of what he actually received — under the old system and not put the team on the hook for a big luxury tax hit.

Alex Rodriguez lost his appeal and was suspended for the entire 2014 season on January 13th, which wiped his salary off the books for the year. The Yankees agreed to sign Tanaka about ten days later, and once that happened, getting under the luxury tax threshold was impossible, even with A-Rod off the books for 2014. “The decision to go over 189 was for one player and that was Tanaka, and I have no regrets about that because he’s going to be everything that we saw in the first three months of the season. He’s going to be great,” said Hal Steinbrenner a few weeks ago.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Cano given the magnitude of their offer but the bottom line was that the Yankees lost an elite player, something they couldn’t afford to lose after 2013. They tried to replace him with McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran, though only McCann actually filled a glaring roster need. Ellsbury was redundant with Brett Gardner and Beltran’s days of playing the field everyday were pretty much over, meaning he would have to share time at DH on a team that already had Alfonso Soriano — who had to play right field because of the signings, a position he had never played before — and Derek Jeter.

After missing the postseason and losing their best player, the Yankees tried to squeeze a few round player pegs into square roster holes. The McCann and Tanaka signings made perfect sense given the club’s needs, but the same wasn’t true of Ellsbury and Beltran in my opinion. Tanaka’s injury is unfortunate but pitchers get hurt. It happens. McCann had a disappointing 2014, yet out of everyone in the regular lineup, he’s the only guy you could say underperformed reasonable expectations coming into the year. Beltran having the year he had wasn’t something that was completely unforeseen. (Same goes for Soriano, Jeter, and Mark Teixeira.) Ellsbury had a fine year but not a seven-year, $153M contract player kind of year.

I think — and this is just my opinion, you’re welcome to disagree — letting Cano go was the right move, especially given the Mariners’ offer. The Yankees have too many bad contracts on the books and I felt at some point they have to break the cycle and stop adding more to the pile. The 31-year-old second baseman asked for ten years seemed like a good starting point. That said, if I had known Plan B was sinking seven years into Ellsbury — especially with the Gardner extension on the horizon — and three years into Beltran, I would have rather just seen them keep Cano. He’s a substantially better player than those two (combined!) and fills a position of real need. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

In-Season Moves

Midway through the season — less than that, really — the Yankees had some very obvious needs due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The rotation was hit hard by injury, as CC Sabathia (knee) and Ivan Nova (elbow) didn’t throw a pitch after early-May and Michael Pineda (back) missed three months after making just four starts. The infield was a mess, though because Teixeira and Jeter were locked in at first and shortstop, respectively, second and third bases were the only places to upgrade. Even the outfield needed help because Soriano played himself into retirement and Beltran was hurt.

The Yankees addressed most of their needs before the trade deadline through a series of shrewd moves that cost them very little organizationally. First they improved the third base situation by trading for impending free agent Chase Headley. The cost: Yangervis Solarte and High-A righty Rafael DePaula. Solarte was found money — the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent, got about two good months out of him, then turned him into an established player via trade. DePaula was a classic lottery ticket arm, the kind every team should be willing to trade at the deadline. (The Padres did not protect DePaula from the Rule 5 Draft, by the way.)

Next the Yankees turned Vidal Nuno, a soft-tossing lefty they plucked out of independent ball who is wholly unequipped for life as a starter in an AL division full of small ballparks, into Brandon McCarthy, who pitched like an ace for two months. The pitching like an ace part was pretty unexpected, and that’s why he only cost Nuno. Had the Diamondbacks known McCarthy was capable of pitching that well, they would have asked for a lot more. And I’m guessing the Yankees and several other teams would have paid it too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Then, on trade deadline day, the Yankees sold high on slugging prospect Peter O’Brien and used him to get Martin Prado, who wasn’t a rental. He is signed for $22M through 2016, which is a pretty sweet deal in today’s market, even if he doesn’t continue to produce at the 145 OPS+ clip he put up after the trade. O’Brien has huge power and that’s hard to find, but there are serious questions about whether he has the plate discipline to tap into that power at the next level. He also doesn’t have a position. His best position is the batter’s box. The Yankees used O’Brien when his prospect stock was at its highest and turned him into 2+ years of a bonafide big leaguer who filled a need. That’s the kind of trade the team needs to make more of.

The club’s last trade was basically a change of scenery swap, a my spare part for your spare part deal. What made it so interesting was that it was a rare Yankees-Red Sox trade, the first since the Mike Stanley deal back in 1997. The Yankees sent Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox for Stephen Drew, who was going to play second base for New York. The trade didn’t work out as hoped but it didn’t cost the Yankees a potential long-term piece and Drew didn’t have an onerous long-term contract, so who really cares. Took a shot in the dark and missed. Such is life.

It’s been a long time since the Yankees made a really bad trade, a Mike Lowell for three guys you don’t remember deal. I mean really, really bad. I guess the last one was Tyler Clippard for Jon Albaladejo back during the 2007-08 offseason. That was ugly. Am I missing any other obvious recent bad deals? I don’t think so. Anyway, point is Cashman seems to have a knack for making good trades and getting tangible help for the MLB team would sacrificing much in return. I’m sure someone will sit around and keep tabs on Solarte’s and Nuno’s WAR and eventually declare those trades a loss, but the point is guys like Solarte and Nuno are very expendable, and the Yankees used them to get a really good players even for only a short period of time.

The trade deadline went much better for the Yankees than last offseason, though ultimately it wasn’t enough to get them back into the postseason. Their thought process seemed to be very different in each instance too — over the winter they wanted to act aggressively to get Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, but during the season they showed more patience and waited for prices to drop into their comfort zone. One strategy worked out really well. The other … not so much. Perhaps that’s why he Yankees seem to be taking a slow and deliberate approach this offseason, because being aggressive didn’t work as hoped last year.

Prospect Profile: Rob Refsnyder

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Rob Refsnyder | 2B

Background
Refsnyder, who will turn 24 in Spring Training, was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played football and basketball in addition to baseball at Laguna Hills High School and was named Pacific Coast League MVP in baseball as a senior and twice in football. Despite all that, Refsnyder was not much of a pro prospect — Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him among 190 California prospects for the 2009 draft — so he followed through on his commitment to Arizona after going undrafted out of high school.

As a freshman, Refsnyder stepped right into the starting lineup and played everyday for the Wildcats, and immediately became one of the team’s best hitters. He hit .344/.397/.440 with nine doubles, two homers, 14 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 57 games that spring while playing some second and third base but mostly left field. Refsnyder went 4-for-10 in three games as Arizona was knocked out of the postseason in the Regionals, though he was named to the All-Region Team. The overall performance earned him an All-Pac 10 Team Honorable Mention as a freshman.

Refsnyder played in all 60 of the team’s game as a sophomore — almost all of them in right field — and hit .320/.371/.498 with 13 doubles, six homers, 16 walks, and 31 strikeouts. Although the Wildcats were again eliminated in the Regionals, Refsnyder was named to the All-Pac 10 First Team and ABCA West Regional First Team. He played for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League that summer and hit .308/.406/.436 with nine doubles, four triples, 17 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 39 games.

Refsnyder was one of the best players in the country as a junior, putting up a .364/.453/.562 batting line with 19 doubles, eight homers, 14 steals, 34 walks, and only 26 strikeouts in 65 games. He again spent most of his time in right field. Arizona blew through the Regionals and Super Regionals — they went 5-0 and outscored their opponents 61-20 — to advance to the College World Series. Arizona won all five of their games in the CWS to win the National Championship. Refsnyder homered in the first game of the CWS and went 10-for-21 (.476) in the five games overall, which earned him the College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award.

Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 369th best prospect in the 2012 draft class that spring. The Yankees selected him in the fifth round, with the 187th overall selection, and he signed quickly for the full slot $205,900 bonus.

Pro Career
Although they had plans to move him from the outfield back to second base (his high school position), the Yankees let Refsnyder play out the 2012 season in the outfield after signing. They sent him straight to Low-A Charleston after the draft and he hit .241/.319/.364 (91 wRC+) with four homers and eleven stolen bases in 46 games for the River Dogs.

The Yankees moved Refsnyder to second base and sent him back to Low-A Charleston to start the 2013 season, though he was quickly bumped him up to High-A Tampa after hitting .370/.452/.481 (173 wRC+) with seven steals in 13 games for the River Dogs. Refsnyder put up a .283/.408/.404 (140 wRC+) line with six homers and 16 steals in 117 games for Tampa after the promotion. All told, he hit .293/.413/.413 (143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, six homers, 23 steals in 29 attempts, 84 walks, and 82 strikeouts between the two levels in 2013.

Refsnyder started the 2014 season with Double-A Trenton and hit .342/.385/.548 (~159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games before the organization moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. In 77 games with the RailRiders, Refsnyder hit .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers. His combined batting line for the 2014 season was .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 37 doubles, 14 homers, nine steals in 18 attempts, 55 walks, and 105 strikeouts.

Scouting Report
Refsnyder is listed at 6-foor-1 and 205 lbs., and he stands out for his simple and balanced setup at the plate. He knows the strike zone and his combination of hand-eye coordination and level swing allow him to spray line drives to all fields. Refsnyder, a right-handed hitter, did focus on going the other way in college and during his first full year as a pro, though this past season he did a better job of pulling the ball with authority when he got a pitch to drive. Here are his 2013 (on the left) and 2014 (on the right) spray charts, courtesy of MLB Farm:

Rob Refsnyder Spray Charts-001

Refsnyder has some power but most of it figures to be into the gaps for doubles at the next level. He isn’t much of a runner either despite the nice pre-2014 stolen base totals and success rate. He’s a high-contact hitter who knows how to get on base, which fits the traditional number two hitter mold rather well. Here’s some video:

In the field, Refsnyder remains rough at second base but he has improved since turning pro, particularly around the bag and on double play pivots. His movements in the field are choppy and he still shows some indecisiveness when it comes to charging a ground ball or waiting back. Some of that is simply due to a lack of experience, though Refsnyder isn’t particularly quick on his feet.

Refsnyder draws high marks for his makeup and work ethic, and others like Robinson Cano and Chase Utley worked their way to become above-average defenders at second after being below-average elsewhere early in their careers. That’s not to say Refsnyder will definitely turn himself into an asset in the field, just that it has happened in the past when it looked like it wouldn’t.

2015 Outlook
Perhaps moreso than any non-reliever prospect I’ve profiled over the years, Refsnyder’s landing spot at the start of next year will depend heavily on what the big league team does this offseason. If the Yankees manage to bring in a second or third baseman this winter, Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. If the Yankees don’t bring in a second or third baseman, then Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training (Martin Prado would presumably play third) with someone like Jose Pirela and/or some non-roster invitees. Either way, it seems like Refsnyder will make his Major League debut at some point in 2015, perhaps as soon as Opening Day.

My Take
I really like Refsnyder and want the Yankees to give him a chance to be their everyday second baseman at some point next summer, but I also think the hype has gotten out of control at this point. That’s not to say I don’t think he’ll be a quality big leaguer — there a lot between future star and future bust, you know — just that I’m not sure how much of an impact he can have a low-power hitter and below-average defender at second, especially when he first makes the jump to MLB. There’s a lot to like about Refsnyder, particularly his potential to hit for a high average with a good on-base percentage. He’ll have to make some big strides to contribute anything more than that though.

A Guide to Possible SS Target: Jung-Ho Kang

(Richard Heathcote/Getty)
(Richard Heathcote/Getty)

It’s safe to say the the Yankees have a glaring hole at the shortstop position following Derek Jeter’s retirement. There are options in free agency (Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc.) and in trades (Didi Gregorious? Starlin Castro? Elvis Andrus?) to fill the position. However, there is an intriguing unknown commodity that can arise as an option: SS Jung-Ho Kang of the Nexen Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Reports have indicated Kang will not be posted until “after the Winter Meetings,” which are next week. Two Korean pitchers have already been posted to the big league teams — LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim and LHP Hyeon-Jong Yang — and it looks like the Kang market is not in a huge rush. In fact, with two of the big infield names (Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) gone in the free agent market, Kang will get more attention from teams that will look to bolster their infield.

The shortstop has been interested in moving over to majors for awhile. In an article from Newsis from Dec. 2013, Kang expressed desire to face pitchers “like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman,” saying “I am confident in the power versus power matchup.” The article also mentions that Kang’s favorite players are Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, two Major League infielders who are known for their power displays — something Kang aspires to be in the majors.

Speculation of the Yankees looking at Kang isn’t surprising given their positional need and the team’s history of tapping into Asian talents. Just like Masahiro Tanaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, Kang would be expected to be ready to contribute to the ML team. However, Kang differs in that he is a positional player. There definitely have been hitters that enjoyed immense (Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) to considerable (Norichika Aoki) success coming from their nation’s league to MLB, but the track record of Asian infielders in MLB isn’t too pretty.

In past few years, two of the top Japanese infielders went stateside — Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Nakajima — and neither lived up to the hype. Nishioka, who had hit .346/.423/.482 in 2010 for Chiba Lotte of NPB before signing with the Twins, totaled an awful .503 OPS in 233 AB in two years with Minnesota. Hiroyuki Nakajima, an eight-time NPB All-Star with the Saitama Seibu Lions, never played in majors during his two-year contract with the Athletics that just terminated, hitting a total of .682 OPS in Triple-A and Double-A. In the past, other Japanese infielders like Kaz Matsui, who once hit for a 1.006 OPS in the 2002 season, also did not perform as expected. One player who turned out to be a solid contributor was 2B Tadahito Iguchi, who played for the World Series Champs 2005 White Sox and posted a solid 3.5 fWAR that year. But the overall history of Asian infielders in U.S. is too shaky to feel confident about Kang’s success as a major leaguer.

Kang is the best position player in Korean Baseball Organization right now. As the starting shortstop for the Nexen Heroes (based in Seoul), Kang demolished pitching in 2014. In 117 games, Kang put up a .356/.461/.739 slash line, good for a whopping 1.200 OPS. He also had 78 extra base hits, with 40 of them being homers. Many consider KBO to be lesser in talent than NPB, but those are still very impressive numbers. Here are his career stats:

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 19 Hyundai 10 21 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 8 .150 .150 .200 .350
2007 20 Hyundai 20 15 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .133 .133 .133 .267
2008 21 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 116 497 102 147 36 2 39 115 3 3 67 106 .354 .457 .733 1.189
9 Seasons 901 3556 469 914 193 10 138 543 51 28 386 601 .298 .382 .502 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2014.

As you may notice, he has power. According to Keith Law, who ranked Kang as the No. 15 free agent in his top 50 free agents list, the shortstop has a “swing that will generate legit plus power.” Law also notes that Kang’s swing is more of a “power swing” than for contact. Here’s a video of all of his 40 regular-season homers from this season. A lot of his dingers are pulled but there are some that go to dead center or to right. He has good enough power to hit home runs to any part of the field, and that is what makes him desirable to scouts and fans.

How will Kang hit in the majors? While the shortstop did hit for a high .356 average, he also struck out 106 times in 117 games, the third most in the league. His BABIP in 2014 is .398 — a rate that certainly shouldn’t be expected when he transitions to MLB. He also shows a league above-average plate discipline — his 13.6 BB% ranks eighth in league. I expect that to go down and strikeout rate (21.2%) to go up as he moves to the majors. How much? I’d say it depends on how well he adapts on seeing Major League-caliber pitches.

Relatively high strikeout rates and a high batting average tells me that he has an aggressive power swing approach most of the time — while he can be fooled by certain pitches, his bat speed and control is good enough to be deadly when he makes contacts. It is a plus that he’s been able to draw walks as well. The challenge for him in majors will be laying off more advanced secondary pitches, challenging faster and more difficult fastballs, facing more advanced set of pitches overall, etc.

In 2014, only one qualified shortstop put up an OPS higher than .800 (Hanley Ramirez with .817) with two between .750 and .800 (Jhonny Peralta at .779 and Starlin Castro at .777). If Kang can put up one around .750, barring a league-wide offensive explosion, he could be considered as one of the top hitting shortstops in ML, which would be deemed quite valuable in the market. Can Kang hit well against Major-League caliber pitchers? A 1.200 OPS to .750-ish is quite a sink, but keep in mind a good amount of Asian hitters never became competent on hitting ML-level fastballs and breaking balls and completely tanked. Also, it should be noted that not all ML scouts think his power will translate in states. According to Joel Sherman, MLB executives aren’t sure how his power will do in states considering that “competition in Korea is inferior to even that in Japan.” The only way to find out how he will do in majors is for him to actually play over stateside and see the results.

Kang’s defense has been a topic of ambivalence for the scouts. As I have mentioned, the history of Asian infielders in ML is not great. The history of Asian shortstops, by the way, is even worse. The aforementioned Nishioka and Nakajima have been failed projects. Kaz Matsui, who won four Mitsui Gold Glove Awards in Japan, became such a defensive liability that the Mets converted him to second base. Munenori Kawasaki has been a solid ML shortstop, but he has suffered with hitting. Kang, while possessing a strong arm, has gathered doubts with range. Law wrote that Kang is “not as fleet foot as you would want a shortstop to be.”

The Korean infielder’s homefield, the Mokdong Stadium, uses artificial turf, which makes fielding grounders easier due to the smooth surface. Unfortunately, there are no in-depth fielding data from Korean Baseball Organization a la Ultimate Zone Rating to give more analysis for his range. The consensus is that he is not the most mobile shortstop but he gets a good read of ball off the bat and has a strong arm. It also remains to be seen if Major League teams see him something other than shortstop. Third base and second base are definite possibilities, as Kang has played in those two spots before becoming the starting shortstop for the Heroes.

Another factor to consider: Kang has been quite durable. Since becoming a regular in 2008, he never missed a significant amount of playing time due to injuries, though he will have to play a chunk of more games in a ML season (128 games per season in KBO). What also works to his advantage is that he is younger than most of the infielders named in the trade and free agent markets. The infielder will turn 28 this upcoming April. If his tools translate well into the majors, a team that signs him may enjoy the best years of his career. But then again, it is a big “if.”

Two other Korean players posted this winter — the lefties Kim and Yang — did not garner as much of a posting fee as their respective teams had hoped. The Padres bid $2 million for Kim, and though the high bid for Yang is not yet reported, it is speculated to be less than that since the Kia Tigers decided not to let the pitcher go. While Kim and Yang are not the same caliber of pitcher as Hyun-Jin Ryu (whom the Dodgers bid $25 million to the Hanhwa Eagles for), the amounts were quite low for the teams to confidently let go of their top pitchers. But it does speak for the scouts’ opinion of how well they would survive in the majors.

As for Kang, I do think that the Nexen Heroes will get more than the Tigers and Wyverns for their pitchers. First off, there’s the pedigree of an infielder with power being in the prime time of his career. With Hanley and Sandoval off the market, two of the biggest bats and infielders are out, which makes Kang an attractive non-trade option for teams that are willing to gamble some money. While the scouts don’t love him ubiquitously, I bet some do see him as a Major League starter talent.

While the Kang posting will not be a subject to a $20 million cap as it applies to NPB players, I don’t think teams will have to break serious bank to win. Nakajima, who hit for .300 average and 20 HR power in NPB, gathered only a $2 million posting fee for the Seibu Lions (from the Yankees, actually. But they didn’t sign him). Nishioka, who had a breakout 2010 with the Chiba Lotte Marines by hitting a .346/.423/.482, garnered a $5.32 million bid from the Twins, not a small amount but not intriguing either.

Of course, Kang is a different player than those two. But given that the top hitters in NPB were not treated top-notch, I don’t know if Kang, from KBO (considered in a lower level of play than NPB by many), would garner much more. Also, I assume many Major League scouts and teams are aware that KBO had a high-octane offense season.  His 40 homers are very impressive — especially as a shortstop — but before this past season, his career-high was 25 in 2012. Did he actually tap into his true power potential or is it a by-product of the bat-heavy KBO season?

C.J. Nitkowski of FOX Sports, who played with Kang in the second half of the 2010 season, is calling for a range of $5-8 million in posting with a “reasonable big league contract” to acquire Kang. Ryan Sadowski, another former major leaguer who played in Korea, wrote for Global Sporting Integration that he expects around $6-9 million range, citing that Kang has the “raw power necessary” despite the offensive outburst in the league. Sadowski also notes taht the Yankees probably monitored on Kang while looking at the IFA signee, SS Hyo-Jun Park.

I’d say I agree with both Nitkowski and Sadowski’s outlook. Kang’s salary for 2014 was around $378,000, which is less than the MLB minimum of $500,000. Nishioka (3 yr, $9.25 million) and Nakajima (2 yr, $6.5 million) both got a ML contact around $3 million per year and that would be a huge raise over Kang’s KBO salary. For comparison’s sake, the highest paid player in KBO, 1B Tae-Kyun Kim, was paid around $1.35 million in 2014. It is possible that Kang may get a figure quite different than Nakajima or Nishioka’s, but I don’t think he’ll get any close to Ryu’s 6 year, $36 million contract.

Assuming that Kang is willing to settle for a two or three-year contract, the possible amount of total money to get the shortstop, including the posting fee, could be anywhere between $12 million to $20 million. If Kang turns out to be a middle infielder that can hit in the neighborhood of .750 OPS and provide an acceptable defense for two or three years, it will be a good investment. I don’t think money would be a problem for the Yankees to get Kang. But are they willing to invest much on a KBO shortstop that has seen zero Major League action? We shall see. My bet at this moment is that the team will work the hardest towards acquiring a shortstop that’s already in the Major League market, whether it be via trade or free agency. If the Yanks can get a known commodity that is sure to produce in 2015 and beyond, great! If New York don’t acquire anyone until the posting starts, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to monitor if the team will bid on Kang.

Yankees non-tender Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and David Huff

Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)
Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)

3:16pm: The Yankees have announced the three non-tenders, so they’re official. Officially official.

12:27am: The Yankees non-tendered outfielder Slade Heathcott, right-hander Jose Campos, and left-hander David Huff prior to Tuesday’s midnight deadline, according to Joel Sherman. All of the team’s other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received a contract tender, it appears. The Yankees now have 36 players on the 40-man roster.

Heathcott, 24, was limited to only nine games with Double-A Trenton this past season due to knee surgery. He’s had a ton of shoulder and knee problems — including multiple surgeries on each — throughout his career and has only played in 309 minor league games since being the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, the pick the Yankees receive as compensation for not signing Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The 22-year-old Campos missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He missed most of the 2012 season with elbow problems as well. Campos was the second player New York received in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, though he’s only thrown 111.2 innings since the deal, all in Low Class-A. Like Heathcott, he was added to the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

I’m guessing the Yankees will try to re-sign both Heathcott and Campos to minor league contracts if they didn’t work out deals ahead of time. Non-tendering them is the easiest way to get them off the 40-man roster since they don’t have to pass through waivers, which they would have to do if they were released or outrighted. Despite their injuries, Heathcott and Campos are young enough that they would probably get plucked off waivers.

Huff, 30, had a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings for New York after being re-acquired from the Giants at midseason, which is pretty good by “last guy in the bullpen” standards. MLBTR projected Huff to earn only $700k through arbitration in 2015, though the Yankees have built up quite a bit of upper level lefty bullpen depth in Justin Wilson, Jose DePaula, Jacob Lindgren, and Tyler Webb. Huff’s 40-man spot is better used elsewhere.

Report: Yankees avoid arbitration with Esmil Rogers

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

7:50pm: Jon Heyman reports the one-year deal is worth $1.48M with only $750k guaranteed. So they reduced Esmil’s salary as much as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and only half of it is guaranteed. I’m still surprised they didn’t non-tender him though.

7:20pm: The Yankees have agreed to a contract with right-hander Esmil Rogers to avoid arbitration, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith. Terms of the deal are unknown at this point. This is surprising. Rogers was a pretty obvious non-tender candidate, though apparently the Yankees felt like he was worth keeping around.

Rogers earned $1.85M this past season and was projected to earn $1.9M through arbitration in 2015 by MLBTR. I’m guessing he agreed to a lower salary, otherwise the team would have non-tendered him. By rule, a player can not sign for less than 80% of his previous year’s salary, so the contract with Rogers won’t be for less than $1.48M.

It’s worth noting these one-year contracts for pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players are not guaranteed. The Yankees could release Rogers any time before mid-March and only have to pay him 30 days termination pay. If they release him after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years back.

Rogers, 29, had a 5.72 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 45.2 innings split between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2014. That includes a 4.68 ERA (4.17 FIP) with an 8.28 K/9 (21.7 K%) in 25 innings with New York after being claimed off waivers on trade deadline day. Rogers does have a nice fastball/slider combo, so I guess he’ll remain in the mix as a depth arm.