Update: Yankees agree to one-year deal with Chris Carter

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Update (7:04pm ET by Mike): The deal is worth $3.5M guaranteed, not $3M, says Ken Rosenthal. The plate appearance incentives can push the total value to $4M.

Update (3:08pm ET by Mike): According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year deal with Carter, pending physical. It’ll pay him a $3M base salary plus incentives. Carter gets a $500,000 signing bonus plus an extra $100,000 each for 250, 300, 350, 400, and 450 plate appearances.

Original Post (12:30pm ET): As per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN and Baseball America, the Yankees have some semblance of interest in former Brewer and current free agent 1B/DH Chris Carter. The front office has been in contact with Carter’s agent, Dave Stewart (yes, that Dave Stewart), but that accounts for all that we know at this point in time.

Carter was non-tendered by the Brewers early in the off-season, on the heels of a solid 2016 in which the 30-year-old batted .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+) and led the National League in both home runs (41) … and strikeouts (206). The Brewers decision was likely influenced by his poor defensive contributions and expected $8 MM-plus price tag, as Carter’s iron glove at first limited him to just 0.9 fWAR. They are in the midst of a tear-down and rebuild, so it makes sense that they would look to invest their payroll and playing time elsewhere.

The question for the Yankees is rather simple – where would Carter play?

Carter has been a 1B/DH almost exclusively since 2014, though he has played 79 games in the outfield in his career. Unsurprisingly, the 6’5″, 245-plus pound slugger was an unmitigated disaster out there, with a career -29.7 UZR/150 (or an ugly .951 fielding percentage, if you want to keep it simple). In short, unless the Yankees are feeling particularly adventurous, Carter’s role would be a back-up/platoon partner for Greg Bird at first.

The likelihood of Carter settling for a back-up or platoon role may not be all that great, as Ken Rosenthal recently reported that Carter is “looking for more at-bats than he probably would get from the Dodgers, who likely would play him at first base against left-handed pitching and give him an occasional start in left field.” Rosenthal also spoke with the aforementioned Stewart, who said that “[i]t’s going to be important for Chris to get significant playing time.”

That expectation also suggests that Carter is looking for a guaranteed Major League deal. He made $4.175 MM in 2015, and was subsequently non-tendered by the Astros. The Brewers picked him up for just $2.5 MM last year, and now here we are. Carter was non-tendered after the free agent predictions list came out in early to mid-November, so there isn’t much guesswork out there. Do we compare him to Matt Holliday, who the Yankees signed for $13 MM? What about Mitch Moreland, who was picked up by the Red Sox for $5.5 MM? Or will he have to settle for something less, considering that it’s a week before Spring Training and other RHH 1B/DH types like Mike Napoli (though, he has been linked to the Rangers) and Billy Butler are still available?

As of now, there are two distinct possibilities that stand out to me. The first is that the Yankees are looking for an insurance policy for Bird and/or Tyler Austin, and are merely doing their due diligence. And the other is that this is a tried-and-true example of a player’s agent using the Yankees name to try to put his player front and center (which we are playing into with this very post). Either way, it’s fun to imagine Carter crushing baseballs into the Bronx skyline.

Thoughts one week before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Only one week left in the offseason. Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa one week from today, then the position players will follow four days later. The first Grapefruit League game is only 17 days away. Feels good. Anyway, I have some random thoughts on random stuff.

1. Barring an extremely surprising development, the Yankees are done with their major moves this offseason. They might ink someone to a non-roster deal or something like that, but we’re not going to see anything that will shake up the projected Opening Day roster. I’m most surprised the Yankees didn’t add a starting pitcher this winter. Not necessarily a cheap innings guy either. I’m talking about a quality young starter with several years of control. I really thought they were going to dip into their prospect base to improve the rotation via trade. A few promising young starters were traded this winter (Jose De Leon, Lucas Giolito, Taijuan Walker) but there wasn’t as much activity as I expected. I thought we’d see a ton of pitcher trades given the thin free agent class. The Yankees did add pitching in the Brian McCann (Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman) and James Pazos (Zack Littell) trades, though the guys they got back are Single-A prospects, not big league ready. I’m not saying it’s bad (or good) the Yankees didn’t acquire a young arm. I’m just saying I expected it to happen, and it didn’t.

2. Another thing I expected to happen that didn’t this offseason: a Brett Gardner trade. The combination of upper level outfield prospects and desire to get under the luxury tax threshold had me thinking Gardner was a goner. The Yankees would shop him around a bit, then eventually take the best offer, even if it meant eating some money a la the McCann trade. Didn’t happen. There weren’t many clubs in need of an outfielder this winter, and two of the neediest teams were AL East rivals (Blue Jays, Orioles). Intra-division deals are always unlikely. That trimmed the list of potential suitors even further. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just thought Gardner would be moved so the Yankees could give his at-bats to younger players. Instead, Brian Cashman set his asking price and stuck to it, so Gardner remains. I imagine that asking price will be adjusted at midseason, especially if Clint Frazier really forces the issue in Triple-A.

3. One of the most surefire ways to build a competitive team is by being strong up the middle. The late-1990s Yankees became a dynasty because they were getting top of the line production from catcher (Jorge Posada), shortstop (Derek Jeter), and center field (Bernie Williams), positions that are typically hard to fill. (Chuck Knoblauch was excellent at second base in 1998 and 1999 too.) You know what? Here’s a big ol’ table with the best up-the-middle teams in baseball in 2016, per fWAR:

Team C 2B SS CF Total
1. Nationals 4.4 10.0 2.9 2.6 19.9
2. Cubs 3.5 6.9 3.9 5.6 19.9
3. Dodgers 2.9 1.9 7.6 5.7 18.1
4. Cardinals 2.5 8.6 4.2 2.3 17.6
5. Red Sox 2.2 4.8 4.4 4.8 16.2
6. Giants 4.2 3.1 6.0 1.7 15.0
7. Indians -0.7 4.7 6.3 4.5 14.8
8. Astros 3.2 6.5 4.9 -0.8 13.8
9. Mets 0.5 5.5 3.2 4.0 13.2
10. Angels 1.2 -0.6 2.8 9.3 12.7
11. Orioles 0.7 2.0 8.8 1.2 12.7
12. Phillies 2.9 3.6 2.4 3.8 12.7
13. Rockies 2.0 4.0 2.2 3.8 12.0
14. Tigers 0.7 6.0 2.4 2.1 11.2
15. Rangers 3.5 2.0 1.9 3.6 11.0
16. Royals 2.8 1.2 0.4 6.6 11.0
17. White Sox 0.8 1.8 3.6 4.2 10.4
18. Yankees 4.4 1.2 2.7 2.0 10.3
19. Diamondbacks 2.9 5.5 0.7 1.2 10.3
20. Marlins 3.6 3.2 0.6 2.4 9.8
21. Mariners 2.5 6.1 -1.1 2.2 9.7
22. Brewers 4.1 0.8 2.8 1.8 9.5
23. Twins 0.5 5.9 1.0 1.9 9.3
24. Blue Jays 1.2 3.0 1.8 3.0 9.0
25. Rays -0.1 3.7 2.4 2.8 8.8
26. Reds 0.2 0.2 3.3 3.1 6.8
27. Pirates 1.2 1.6 1.2 0.7 4.7
28. Padres -0.3 2.8 -2.7 3.5 3.3
29. Braves 0.9 -2.1 -1.0 4.1 1.9
30. Athletics 2.2 -3.2 2.2 -1.4 -0.2

Six of the top seven and seven of the top nine teams in up-the-middle WAR went to the postseason. Only one team in the bottom half of the league went to the postseason, and that was the Blue Jays, who had a great pitching staff (AL low 4.11 runs allowed per game) and received monster production from first and third bases. Anyway, the Yankees were essentially middle of the pack last year, and you don’t have to look real hard to see how that may improve going forward. Gary Sanchez is now entrenched behind the plate. Gleyber Torres is coming soon, and while he may not unseat the defensive superior Didi Gregorius at shortstop, he could force the Yankees to move Starlin Castro. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen in center field long-term — Jacoby Ellsbury is going to have to move to left field at some point reasonable soon, you don’t see many 34 or 35 years old roaming center nowadays — but the Yankees have options. Dustin Fowler, Blake Rutherford, maybe Jorge Mateo. This is a tried and true formula. Be strong up the middle. The Yankees aren’t right now, though they could be very soon.

4. The Royals signed Jason Hammel over the weekend and a slew of relievers came off the board in recent days. An already thin free agent class has been picked clean. So, looking over the list of those still unsigned, the only players who remotely interest me at this point are Joe Blanton and Jon Niese, and that’s only if Niese is healthy. Blanton had a fine season with the Dodgers last year, throwing 80 innings with a 2.48 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a 25.4% strikeout rate. He just turned 36, and at this point of his career, he’s in “ride him into the ground” territory. It sounds harsh, but Blanton was out of baseball two years ago before resurfacing, and he can’t seem to find a job this winter. He’s a guy you sign, keep running out there until he loses effectiveness, then cast aside. The Yankees currently have two open bullpen spots and more pitchers than they can fit in Triple-A, so signing Blanton would only compound that problem. Then again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth. I don’t expect the Yankees to sign Blanton or anyone else at this point. I’m just saying that, out of all the still available players, he and healthy Niese are the only ones who catch my eye. Blargh.

5. Looking ahead to next year’s free agent class — way too early, I should add — I’ve already professed my love for Carlos Santana. Two mid-range starters who could interest the Yankees are Alex Cobb and Francisco Liriano. Cobb was excellent with the Rays from 2013-14 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery, and this coming season he’ll have a chance to show he’s back to form following elbow reconstruction. Cobb will only be 30 when hits free agency and he’s an AL East tested guy who gets a lot of grounders and posts high K/BB ratios. That fits what the Yankees look for in their pitchers. As for Liriano, the Yankees have had on-and-off interest in him in the past, dating back to his days with the Twins, and lefties who can get ground balls and miss bats are always welcome in Yankee Stadium. He’s enigmatic, no doubt, but the Yankees very clearly aren’t afraid of those types of pitchers (A.J. Burnett, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, etc.). Also, Liriano will be 34 by time he hits free agency, which means he shouldn’t require a hefty contract. A lot can and will change over the next few months, so who knows whether Cobb and/or Liriano will even be desirable next winter. If the Yankees don’t intend to swim in the deep end of the free agent pool for guys like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (or Masahiro Tanaka!), second tier arms like Cobb and Liriano could catch their attention.

Monday Night Open Thread

Over the weekend Andrew Simon posted a study looking at how well MLB.com’s top 100 prospects lists have correlated to future big league success over the years. Generally speaking, teams with top farm systems experience much more MLB success in the following years. We’re talking an average increase of 9.4 wins (!) just one year after having a top system.

Simon’s method, which determines farm system status by awarding 100 points for the No. 1 prospect on the top 100, 99 points for the No. 2 prospect, etc., says the Yankees have the best farm system in the game per MLB.com’s rankings. There are no guarantees with prospects and Simon’s method isn’t perfect. (Prospect value isn’t linear.) We all know that. History has shown a great farm system tends to result in better MLB teams in subsequent years though, and boy do I like the sound of that.

Anyway, this is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Islanders, and Devils are all in action tonight, and there are some college basketball games on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, Simon’s study, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.

2017 Minor League Coaching Staffs Announced

Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)
Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)

Over the last several weeks, the Yankees have announced the coaching staffs for their various minor league affiliates. Minor league coaches are the unsung heroes of any organization. These are the folks who work directly with the top prospects, and right now the Yankees sure do have an awful lot of top prospects. Here’s a quick rundown of minor league coaching staffs for the upcoming season.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Manager: Al Pedrique
Pitching Coach: Tommy Phelps
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Defensive Coach: Doug Davis
Athletic Trainer: Darren London
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brad Hyde

Pedrique is returning to the RailRiders after being named International League Manager of the Year last season. Scranton won the division title, the IL championship, and the Triple-A Championship Game. The RailRiders went 91-52 last year, becoming the first IL team to win 90+ games since 2002. Pedrique has climbed the managerial ladder from Low-A Charleston (2013) to High-A Tampa (2014) to Double-A Trenton (2015) to Triple-A Scranton (2016-17). He served as Astros bench coach from 2010-11 and was briefly the Diamondbacks interim manager in 2004.

Pilittere is a new addition to the Triple-A staff. He was the Double-A hitting coach the last two years after holding the same role with Tampa (2014) and Charleston (2013). I’m sure many longtime RAB readers remember Pilittere from his stint in the organization as a player. This is already his sixth year in the system as a coach. Crazy. He was always considered a future coach during his playing career because of his leadership skills. Pilittere will be in charge of Clint Frazier‘s development this summer.

Also new to the staff is Davis, who is not to be confused with former big league lefty Doug Davis. This is a different Doug Davis. This Doug Davis was the Blue Jays minor league catching coordinator from 2010-16. He’s been coaching or managing in the minors since 1995, and spent the 2003-04 seasons as the Marlins bench coach. Slater, London, and Hyde are all holdovers from last year.

Double-A Trenton Thunder

Manager: Bobby Mitchell
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Hitting Coach: Tom Slater
Bullpen Coach: JD Closser
Defensive Coach: Lino Diaz
Athletic Trainer: Jimmy Downam
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Anthony Velasquez

This will be Mitchell’s second season in the organization and second as manager of the Thunder. Trenton went 87-55 last season before losing the Eastern League Championship Series. Mitchell has big league coaching experience with several teams as an outfield and baserunning coach, and prior to joining the Yankees, he managed in the Cubs and Angels systems. Rosado (third year) and Closser (second year) are also returning to Trenton.

It’s worth noting Rosado’s work hasn’t received enough attention. Prior to joining Trenton, he spent four years as pitching coach in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and in recent years he’s had a big hand in getting pitchers like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, Ronald Herrera, and Daniel Camarena to take their games to another level. Rosado himself was a good young pitcher who made two All-Star Games with the Royals before his 25th birthday. (A major shoulder injury ended his career at 25.)

Slater replaces Pilittere after spending the last two seasons as hitting coach with High-A Tampa. This will be his ninth season in the organization. He’s held all sorts of coaching and managerial positions over the years. Slater will be the guy overseeing Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar this year, among others. Diaz is being promoted from the rookie Gulf Coast League while both Downam and Velasquez were with Low-A Charleston from 2014-16.

High-A Tampa Yankees

Manager: Jay Bell
Pitching Coach: Tim Norton
Hitting Coach: Eric Duncan
Defensive Coach: Raul Dominguez
Catching Coach: Michel Hernandez
Athletic Trainer: Michael Becker
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jacob Dunning

Welcome to the Yankees, Jay Bell. The former two-time All-Star joins the organization after spending the last 12 years or so holding all sorts of jobs, including big league bench coach (Diamondbacks from 2005-06, Reds from 2014-15), big league hitting coach (Pirates in 2013), and special advisor (D’Backs from 2007-09). Perhaps Jorge Mateo will one day have an out-of-nowhere 38-homer season like Bell after having him as a manager.

Norton is back with Tampa for the second straight season. This will be his fifth season coaching in the organization after injuries sabotaged his promising playing career. Duncan, New York’s first round pick in 2003, joins the Tampa staff from Staten Island. This is his first full season coaching gig and third season coaching with the Yankees. Last year it was reported farm system head Gary Denbo wanted Duncan to coach full-time, but he wasn’t willing to commit to it yet. Apparently now he is.

Over the last few years Hernandez has emerged as the Yankees minor league catching guru. Last year he worked with Luis Torrens in Charleston, and the year before he was with Gary Sanchez in Trenton. The Yankees don’t have a notable catching prospect ticketed for Tampa, though I suppose Torrens could wind up there if (when?) the Padres return him as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Dominguez is coming up from the rookie Gulf Coast League and is one of the longest tenured instructors in the organization. He’s been around since 2006. Becker is entering his fourth year with Tampa while Dunning is coming up from Staten Island.

Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Manager: Patrick Osborn
Pitching Coach: Justin Pope
Hitting Coach: Ken Joyce
Defensive Coach: Jose Javier
Catching Coach: Hector Rabago
Athletic Trainer: Michael Sole
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jeff Dolan

By all accounts Osborn is a rising managerial star in the farm system, which is kinda funny because he’s being moved down from Tampa to Charleston this year. He’s going to have a fun roster. Blake Rutherford, Dermis Garcia, Estevan Florial, Isiah Gilliam, Leonardo Molina, and Hoy Jun Park could all be with the RiverDogs in 2017. It’s not a coincidence the Yankees chose Osborn to work with those prospects. Osborn joined the organization in 2014 after spending several years managing the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Joyce is a new addition to the organization. This will be his 21st season coaching in the minors, so he’s been around. Joyce spent the last five years with the Giants. Prior to that he was with the Marlins and Blue Jays. Pope, yet another former Yankees minor leaguer turned coach, returns for a second season as Charleston’s pitching coach. Rabago was a 2009 draft pick by the Yankees and is already in his fourth season as a coach. He’s joining Charleston after spending the last two seasons with rookie Pulaski. Javier, Sole, and Dolan are all new hires.

Short Season Staten Island Yankees

Manager: Julio Mosquera
Pitching Coach: Travis Phelps
Hitting Coach: Kevin Mahoney
Defensive Coach: Teuris Olivares

This will be Mosquera’s third season as a manager and 12th as an instructor with the Yankees. He spent the last two years in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and prior to that, he was the club’s longtime catching coordinator. Mosquera worked with every catching prospect from Frankie Cervelli to Jesus Montero to John Ryan Murphy to Gary Sanchez over the years. Phelps is returning as pitching coach and Mahoney, a former organizational infielder, is moving up from Pulaski. This will be Olivares’ third season in this role.

Rookie Pulaski Yankees

Manager: Luis Dorante
Pitching Coach: Gerardo Casadiego
Hitting Coach: Scott Seabol
Athletic Trainer: Manny Ozoa
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Danny Russo

After spend the last three seasons managing the RiverDogs, Dorante will now lead all the young kids in Pulaski. This is his sixth season in the organization and fourth as a manager. Prior to joining the Yankees, Dorante was the Pirates big league bullpen coach from 2008-10. I know going from Charleston to Pulaski seems like a demotion, but minor league coaches don’t get demoted. They get replaced if they don’t do a good job. Dorante is most likely here because the Yankees want him working with specific players.

Both Casadiego and Seabol are new to Pulaski. Casadiego is making the jump up from the Dominican Summer League, where he was a pitching coach last summer. This is Seabol’s first coaching job. He’s a rookie. You might remember him from that one game he played with the 2001 Yankees. Fun Fact: At the time of his MLB debut, Seabol was the lowest drafted player ever to reach the big leagues*. The Yankees drafted him in the 88th round (!) of the 1996 draft. He was the 1,718th player chosen. Wild. Ozoa is returning to Pulaski and Russo spent last season with Staten Island.

* The lowest drafted player ever to reach the show? That would be Travis Phelps, Staten Island’s pitching coach. Phelps was an 89th round pick in 1996, taken 1,721st overall by the Devil Rays. Three picks after Seabol. Phelps made his MLB debut eleven days after Seabol. The 1996 draft went 100 rounds, though every team other than the Yankees and expansion Devil Rays dropped out by the 84th round. Tampa Bay dropped out after the 97th round, yet the Yankees kept going. Don’t ask me why.

Gulf Coast League Yankees East & West

Managers: Luis Sojo and Nick Ortiz

It is damn near impossible to find information about GCL coaching staffs, but those are the managers this year, according to George King (subs. req’d). Ortiz played a very long time (1991-2012) and all over the world without ever reaching the big leagues. He had been working as a scout with the Yankees, and is now getting into managing.

You know Sojo. He’s had on and off coaching stints in the farm system over the years, including managing High-A Tampa (2006-09, 2011-12) and serving as third base coach with Triple-A Scranton (2014). Sojo was an assistant field coordinator with the big league Yankees in 2015, whatever that means. Also, he managed Double-A Norwich in 2002 before coming out of retirement in 2003 to play with the Yankees after hitting a home run at Old Timers’ Day. Yup.

Miscellaneous

One name you may notice is missing: Tony Franklin. Franklin has spent the last ten seasons managing Trenton (2007-14) and Pulaski (2015-16), and according to Jed Weisberger, he will now be in Tampa full-time as the organization’s position player rehab coach. He’ll work with everyone from rookie ball kids to big leaguers. If a position player is rehabbing in Tampa, Franklin will oversee him.

Also moving into a new role is Greg Colbrunn, who sandwiched two stints as Charleston’s hitting coach (2007-12, 2016) around a three-year stretch as the Red Sox’s big league hitting coach (2013-15). Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2014 and left the Red Sox a year later to be closer to his family, who live in Charleston full-time. The Yankees announced Colbrunn will now be a roving hitting instructor, so he’ll travel from affiliate to affiliate to work with all the top prospects in the system.

Dellin Betances has been working to correct his problem throwing to the bases this offseason

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

Last September, all the flaws of Dellin Betances were on full display. He struggled to throw strikes, possibly due to fatigue considering it was the second straight season his control vanished in the season’s final month, and he was still unable to hold runners. Runners went 9-for-9 stealing bases against Betances in the second half.

Dellin, who has never been great at fielding his position, also made some errors. He threw away a ball that led to a run against the Dodgers (video) and also bobbled a bunt against the Blue Jays (video). Betances also made a critical error against the Astros on Opening Day (video), and there were other throwing issues that didn’t go for errors, like this one:

This offseason, at the behest of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Betances has worked on his fielding, specifically throwing according to George King. He’s not the only pitcher to struggle throwing to the bases, lots of guys have a similar problem — they’re so used to throwing off a mound that throwing off flat ground feels weird — but Dellin’s throws were far from textbook. He’d shot put the ball, not throw it with conviction.

“We pretty much worked on (pitchers’ fielding practice),” said Betances to King over the weekend. “It was mutual. He wanted a couple of days and it helped me. I feel good right now. He gave me drills to do while I am in the (Dominican Republic). I will continue to work on it in Spring Training … Right now I am throwing the ball. Before I was lobbing it over. I am in good position with my feet and making the throw.”

Obvious statement is obvious: players working to correct their flaws is a wonderful thing. Fielding is something a pitcher can work on at any time too. He can’t get up on a mound and throw, say, 50 changeups a day in the dead of winter, for example. He can go out on the field, scoop some grounders, and make throws to first though. I’m glad to hear Betances is working on this. Some quick thoughts:

1. Betances won’t be with the Yankees for part of Spring Training. The Dominican Republic plays their first World Baseball Classic game on March 9th, 22 days after the pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, though I’m not sure when Betances is leaving camp to join his WBC squad. In previous years the WBC teams got together a few days before their first game to work out and play a tune-up exhibition game. (The Yankees are playing Canada on March 8th this year.)

The WBC will cut into Betances’ time with the Yankees this spring no matter when he leaves camp. The WBC Championship Game is March 22nd at Dodger Stadium and the Dominican Republic team, which won the 2013 WBC, is very much a contender. Dellin could miss up to three weeks of Spring Training, which cuts into his time to work with Rothschild and the rest of the staff on his fielding. It’s not ideal, but what can you do? The Yankees can’t force Betances to stay, and while fans may be apathetic about the WBC, players are eager to represent their countries.

2. The throwing issues are real, but perhaps a bit overblown. There is no doubt Betances has had issues throwing to the bases. The impact of his poor fielding is generally overblown, however. Dellin faced 299 batters last season and he fielded the baseball 13 times. That’s all. The year before? Thirteen times. The year before that? Fourteen times. So in his three full seasons as a big leaguer, Betances has faced 972 batters and had to field the ball only 40 times.

Furthermore, 15 of those 40 fielding chances were Dellin covering first base, not making a throw. He’s made four throwing errors (five errors total) in the 25 times he’s had a baseball hit his way in the last three years. There’s been a ball hit his way roughly once every ten innings. That’s it. But Mike, what about bunts!? Fine point, RAB reader, but trying to bunt a dude throwing in the high-90s with a breaking ball that is literally the hardest pitch to hit in the PitchFX era ain’t easy.

Over the last three seasons ten batters have successfully laid down a bunt against Betances. And buy successfully I mean simply bunt the ball in play, not necessarily beat it out. Only three got a bunt down last year, and two were thrown out. More bunt attempts have resulted in foul balls (seven) than baserunners (four) against Betances the last three seasons. This isn’t a video game where you just push a button and bunt. A 6-foot-8 dude throwing 100 mph without much control is scary as hell. You try squaring around against him.

3. What about holding runners? To me, holding runners is a far bigger issue than throwing to the bases. Runners went 21-for-21 stealing bases against Betances last year, including 6-for-6 when Gary Sanchez‘s rocket arm was behind the plate. They’re 50-for-57 over the last three seasons. Runners have attempted a stolen base in 15.9% of their opportunities against Betances since 2014. It was 17.7% in 2016. The league average is 5.5%.

Because he’s a high-leverage reliever, Betances pitches most often in the late innings of close games, when that extra 90-feet can be really valuable. He does have a slide step and he does vary his times to the plate, but obviously that’s not enough. No one is asking Dellin to develop an Andy Pettitte (or Nathan Eovaldi!) pickoff move. But he has to at least put something in the back of the runner’s mind. Something to keep them on their toes.

Hopefully all this fielding work will make Betances more comfortable throwing to the bases, and also make him more comfortable making a pickoff throw over the first. Again, he doesn’t need to actually pick guys off. He just has to keep them closer to the bag and reduce their chances of stealing the base. Dellin fields the ball so infrequently that his throwing issues don’t worry me much. The stolen bases are a far bigger concern.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: C.J. Wilson

(Ben Margot / Associated Press)
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

With Spring Training a week and change away, the Yankees seem to be comfortable with the status quo. That is, a rotation featuring Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and two of Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Warren, Dietrich Enns, and Chance Adams. Despite the team’s commitment to the rebuild/reload, many remain skeptical that the team will head into a new season with forty-percent of the rotation in the hands of relatively inexperienced pitchers; and yet their commitment to maintaining a (comparatively) low payroll and the lack of options available may not give them much of a choice. If only there was some way to scrape the bottom of the bargain bin and find some experience…

…enter C.J. Wilson. The 36-year-old wrapped-up his 5-year, $77.5 MM deal with the Angels last season, after producing roughly league-average marks across the board (96 ERA+, 2.0 bWAR/2.9 fWAR per-162). Of course, that’s a bit misleading, as he hasn’t pitched since 2015. Which leads to:

Injury History

Despite some misgivings about Wilson transitioning from reliever to starter back in 2010, he was the portrait of durability for five seasons. He made at least 31 starts and tossed at least 175.2 IP every season from 2010 through 2014. It looked to be more of the same in 2015, as he made his first 21 starts without incident. Unfortunately, his season ended after his July 28 start, as he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his left (pitching) elbow.

Wilson was slated to be ready in time for Spring Training in 2016, as the surgery was said to be a complete success. It’s never quite that easy with pitchers, though, and his rehab started and stopped several times, as he experienced pain in his left shoulder. An MRI dismissed it as tendinitis, and a return engagement was set for May or June. That proved to be too ambitious, as Wilson’s season ended before it started, and he had surgery to repair fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff.

Wilson began a throwing program in December, and there is talk that he’ll have a showcase for teams within the coming weeks. A timetable for his return to a big league mound remains up in the air, however.

Recent Performance

Prior to going down with his elbow injury in 2015, Wilson was bouncing back nicely from his subpar 2014. Prior to his last start (from which he was removed with elbow pain), he had pitched to a 3.59 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 128.0 IP, with a 20.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, and 43.1 GB%. Those numbers are right in-line with his career norms, with the exception of his ground ball percentage. To wit:

wilson-gb

Wilson was good to great at burning worms for the majority of his career, but his ground ball rates have dipped to merely mortal levels of late. He has never been better than average at racking up whiffs or avoiding walks, so keeping the ball on the ground was the key to his success. The fact that he was mostly effective despite the lack of grounders in 2015 is an encouraging sign, though.

All told, in his six-ish seasons as a starting pitcher, Wilson threw 1171.1 IP of 3.76 ERA (3.78 FIP) ball, with close to league-average strikeout (20.3%) and walk (9.7%) rates.

Current Stuff

It’s difficult to know what Wilson’s current stuff is, because we haven’t seen him throw a pitch in nearly 17 months. Prior to the injuries, however, his velocity remained fairly steady.

brooksbaseball-chart

Wilson’s four-seamer, change-up, curveball, and slider all remained fairly steady during his time as a starting pitcher, which is a good (if surprising) sign. His sinker velocity has dipped about two MPH since 2010, including nearly a full MPH between 2014 and 2015. His cutter has fluctuated in usage and velocity, as well. That may explain his decreased ground ball tendencies; whether or not it was a product of bone spurs and a frayed rotator cuff and labrum remains to be seen.

If we assume that Wilson would return with his stuff mostly intact, we would be discussing a true six-pitch pitcher, as he has thrown all six of his offerings at least 5% of the time as a starter. His ability to mix and match has allowed him to keep batters off-balance in the past, inducing weak contact even when the sinker wasn’t sinking.

Contract Estimate

You couldn’t see it, but I assure you that I just shrugged.

Neither FanGraphs, nor MLB Trade Rumors, nor ESPN hazarded a guess at Wilson’s potential contract for 2017, and his market has been mostly quiet. The Marlins have been linked to him a few times, but nothing more substantial than tepid interest has been discussed. With a handful of healthy arms remaining on the market, it’s difficult to imagine teams breaking down the door to offer Wilson something more than an incentive-laden deal – and perhaps a minor league deal with an opt-out, at that. Barring desperation from some team or a ridiculously brilliant showcase from Wilson, I don’t see him getting more than that.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

I was interested in Wilson back when he signed with the Angels, and that intrigue still exists. It has been significantly tempered, of course, yet there are reasons to believe that he could fit in well with the Yankees.

Wilson was a solid starting pitcher the last time he took the mound, and his velocity indicators were mostly good. He’s 36 and hasn’t pitched in nearly a year and a half, which is disconcerting, but he also has less mileage on his arm than most starters of his age. A left-handed starting pitcher in Yankee Stadium will always be in demand, and Wilson’s track record suggests that he could be a match (particularly if his ground ball rates recover). Small sample sizes and selective endpoints be damned, it’s fun to note that Wilson sports a 2.73 ERA in 62.2 IP in Yankee Stadium,

There is no easy or legitimate way to explain away the risk, and I wouldn’t suggest that we should even try to. The opportunity cost is likely to be quite low, though, and depth is never a bad thing. And even if the best-case scenario is a return engagement in the bullpen, Wilson has held lefties to a .201/.284/.286 slash line in his career, and has experience closing.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 6th, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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