Thoughts following the Miller signing and Gregorius trade

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

The Yankees finally — and I say “finally” while fully acknowledging it is only December 6th — made some moves yesterday to bring in help for the infield and pitching staff. First they acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent Shane Greene to the Tigers, then they signed lefty relief ace Andrew Miller to a four-year contract worth $36M. The team still has a lot of work to do to improve the roster but yesterday was a nice first step. Here are some thoughts.

1. I don’t have much to say about the Miller signing so I might as well start there. I thought he was going to end up getting $44M or so across four years, so getting him for $36M is pretty neat. He’s awesome, four-year contracts for relievers are really risky, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Don’t really have much more to add to that. Nothing you haven’t heard already, anyway. I am curious to see how the bullpen roles shake out though, especially if David Robertson doesn’t return. It would be awesome if Joe Girardi uses Miller and Dellin Betances as sort of a tandem setup men/closers situation, using them based on matchups in the eighth and ninth (the Braves did something like this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago), but I think the Yankees are last team in MLB that would try that. Girardi likes using guys in set roles and you know what? Players like having set roles too. If Robertson doesn’t come back, I think I’d rather see the Yankees sign a cheap capital-C closer like Jason Grilli or even Soriano so Miller and Betances can raise hell in the seventh and eighth than see them use Miller or Betances to close.

2. If Robertson does leave — I think that’s likely at this point — the only players left from the 2009 World Series team will be CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Alex Rodriguez. That’s it. Gardner and A-Rod will be the only players left on the team who played in the old Yankee Stadium too. The times, man. They are a changin’.

3. As for Gregorius, I am pretty tired of the defense-first profile, but it was unavoidable at shortstop. There was very little chance the Yankees were going to acquire a shortstop who significantly improved the team’s offense this offseason. It just wasn’t going to happen, the players weren’t available for it to happen. Gregorius can catch the ball and he might learn to hit down the road, which makes him like most other 24-year-old shortstops. The guys who can field and already know how to hit at that age cost way more than Greene to acquire. I’m just glad they were able to plug the shortstop hole with a young player. They really needed that. The Yankees need to start adding more young building blocks to the roster and Gregorius might be one of those guys. Stephen Drew on a one-year contract would have been fine as a stopgap, but this is much more preferable. New York has to stick with Gregorius all year next year, ride out the slumps, not platoon him with Brendan Ryan, and see what happens. Gregorius is more of a long-term asset than someone who will have an immediate impact.

4. The rotation now without Greene is very thin. Three of the team’s top five in innings pitched as a starter from this past season (Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Greene) are no longer on the roster and the two that remain (Masahiro Tanaka, David Phelps) will head into next year with injury concerns. As of right now, the rotation is Tanaka, Phelps, Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and I guess Bryan Mitchell in whatever order. The Yankees don’t need a starter, they need starters. Plural. One Jon Lester or Max Scherzer won’t solve their problems. They’ll help, but one of those guys alone isn’t enough. I think they need at least two starters — I like Phelps much more in the swingman/sixth starter’s spot — and I’d prefer three because the odds are pretty high someone won’t make it through Spring Training in one piece, either Tanaka (elbow) or Sabathia (knee) or whoever. The Yankees do have Ivan Nova due to return from Tommy John surgery around midseason — no earlier than May based on when he actually had surgery — but counting on him to come back and boost the rotation in the second half probably isn’t a great idea. Getting another bat is very important. Getting more help for the rotation is somehow now even more important.

5. The good news: there is still plenty of pitching left on the free agent market. The only starter to sign so far is A.J. Burnett, who was either going to go back to the Pirates or retire, so he doesn’t really count. The Yankees continue to insist they won’t be in on Lester or Scherzer, at least depending on which reporter you want to believe, but there are plenty of second and third tier options they could explore. Brandon McCarthy is the most notable, and others like Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano (qualified), Justin Masterson, and Ervin Santana (qualified) all make some sense for the New York depending on the price. The Padres, Reds, Athletics, and Mets are among the clubs said to be open to trading pitching this winter. The arms are out there. The Yankees just have to find the best ones for them, and I’m pretty confident they’ll do that given the way they cobbled together the rotation around all those injuries this summer. I’m not saying it’ll easy. Just that digging up adequate pitching is doable right now given the market.

Yankees sign Andrew Miller to four-year, $36M deal

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

The Yankees had two elite relievers in their bullpen the last four years and they’ll continue to have at least two elite relievers next year. New York has signed left-hander Andrew Miller to a four-year contract, the team announced. Jack Curry reports the deal is worth $36M total and Buster Olney says there are no no-trade or opt-out clauses. Bob Nightengale says Miller turned down a larger offer to come to New York.

Signing Miller does make it seem less likely David Robertson will return, but, for what it’s worth, earlier today Brian Cashman told Dan Barbarisi the club has not ruled out signing both Miller and Robertson this winter. Either way, the Yankees will go into next season with Miller and Dellin Betances anchoring the late innings. Joe Girardi does like putting relievers in set roles, but we’re a long way from worrying about who closes and who sets up.

The four-year, $36M deal is largest ever given to a non-closer reliever in baseball history. The previous record was Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants a few years ago. The Yankees did give Rafael Soriano a three-year, $35M contract a few years ago to go from Rays closer to Mariano Rivera‘s setup man. This is the first four-year deal for a non-closing reliever since the White Sox gave Scott Linebrink four years during the 2007-08 offseason. I honestly through Miller was going to end up with $10M to $11M annually.

Miller, 29, had a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) in 62.1 innings last season with stellar strikeout (14.87 K/9 and 42.6 K%) and walk (2.45 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) rates. He also gets plenty of grounders (46.9%) and held lefties to a .161/.206/.261 (.211 wOBA) batting line with 49.0% strikeout rate. Miller is no lefty specialist though — he held righties to a .142/.245/.202 (.208 wOBA) line with a 38.2% strikeout rate in 2014. Girardi can use him for full innings. Chances are this past season was a career year for Miller, but, as explained in our Scouting The Market post, he was very good from 2012-13.

The Tigers drafted Miller with the sixth overall pick back in 2006 — Miller was Adam Warren‘s teammate at UNC — then traded him to the Marlins as part of the package for Miguel Cabrera. It didn’t work out in Florida and eventually he landed in Boston. It wasn’t until Bobby Valentine got Miller to smooth out his mechanics, ditch his windup, and pitch exclusively from the stretch that he became the reliever he is today. That’s pretty much the only good thing Valentine did for the Red Sox.

The Yankees addressed two of their biggest needs — late-inning reliever and shortstop — on Friday by signing Miller and trading for Didi Gregorius. They still need quite a bit of rotation help — more than before because they used Shane Greene to get Gregorius — and another infielder or reliever wouldn’t hurt. There’s still a long way to go before they’re postseason caliber and there’s plenty of offseason remaining, but the Yankees are better right now than they were 24 hours ago.

RAB Live Chat

Yankees land Didi Gregorius in three-team trade, send Shane Greene to Tigers

So what's the Sterling call? (Presswire)
So what’s the Sterling call? (Presswire)

1:58pm: It’s a done deal, the Yankees have officially announced the trade. The deal is as reported this morning: Greene to the Tigers, Ray and Leyba to the D’Backs, and Gregorious to the Yankees. Welcome to the Bronx, Didi.

12:01pm: The Yankees have landed their shortstop of the future. Or at least their shortstop for 2015. The team has agreed to acquire Didi Gregorius from the D’Backs in a three-team trade that sends Shane Greene to the Tigers. Detroit is sending left-hander Robbie Ray and minor league infielder Domingo Leyba to Arizona. It doesn’t appear there are any other pieces involved. The deal is still pending physicals. The always reliable Sweeny Murti and Ken Rosenthal had the news. Bob Nightengale says Arizona rejected Greene-for-Gregorius straight up before the Tigers got involved.

In a nutshell, the trade plugs the Yankees’ shortstop hole with a young player who can actually play above-average defense and may improve at the plate. It also creates an even bigger hole in the rotation — Greene was the only MLB starter on New York’s roster without some kind of injury concern heading into 2015. The Yankees needed rotation help before the trade and they need even more now. It seems like they will dip into free agency to take care of that. Plenty of arms still available.

Gregorius, 24, was originally signed and developed by the Reds. He went to Arizona in the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati and Trevor Bauer to the Indians two offseasons ago. Gregorius is from Amsterdam and he comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in Honkbal Hoofdklasse — the highest level of pro baseball in the Netherlands — and his brother plays in that league now. Didi’s real name is Mariekson Julius, by the way.

This past season Gregorius hit .226/.293/.393 (76 wRC+) with six homers in 229 plate appearances for the D’Backs. He spent much of the summer in Triple-A — he hit .310/.389/.447 (122 wRC+) with three homers in 260 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2014 — after losing the starting shortstop job to Chris Owings in Spring Training. Arizona has clearly identified Owings as their shortstop of the future and used Gregorius to fill their pitching needs.

Didi, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., hit .252/.332/.373 (92 wRC+) with seven homers in 404 plate appearances in 2013, his first extended stint in MLB. He actually hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium last April, but it came against Phil Hughes, so that hardly counts:

The Yankees are clearly hoping Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, can get back to his 2013 level of production and improve on it going forward. It’s worth noting Gregorius does draw a fair amount of walks (career 8.1 BB%) without striking out much (16.9 K%), and those are two traits that generally portend well for the future. He hasn’t hit lefties at all as a big leaguer though — 33 wRC+ against lefties and 102 wRC+ against righties.

In the field, Gregorius is considered an above-average defender by scouts while the various stats say he’s been about average if not a tick below so far in the show. I wouldn’t take the numbers to heart right now given the relatively small sample size. “He has smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm. His arm rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, allowing him to make plays from deep in the hole that other shortstops can’t,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him Cincinnati’s fifth best prospect following the 2012 season, before the trade to Arizona.

Gregorius has been healthy throughout his career aside from an elbow strain in 2013 that kept him out for just about all of Spring Training plus the first two weeks of the regular season. He missed another week in April 2013 after suffering a concussion when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Otherwise his medical history is clean. Gregorius is considered a good makeup/clubhouse guy and he also speaks four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento. That’ll come in handy in the clubhouse.

Greene, 26, was pretty much a rotation savior for the Yankees this summer. He had a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 78.2 innings during his MLB debut with strong strikeout (9.27 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and ground ball (50.2 GB%) rates. His walk rate (3.32 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) was solid and his command has been much improved these last two years thanks to some mechanical tweaks make by minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. I like Greene, I think his mid-90s sinker/upper-80s slider combo is legit, though he did struggle against lefties this season, as detailed in our season review post.

Because he spent a big chunk of 2014 season in the minors, Gregorius currently has less than two years of service time, so he can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season. He will be a Super Two though, meaning he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason and have three more years or arbitration after that. Greene won’t be arbitration-eligible until after 2017 or a free agent until after 2020. The Yankees are giving up six years of Greene for five years of Gregorius. I don’t see a problem with that.

The Yankees desperately needed a shortstop, both for the short-term and long-term, and while we have to wait to see if Gregorius can become that long-term piece, the team got him at what I think is a more than fair price if not an outright bargain. I really like Greene and think he’ll be a solid pitcher going forward, but pitchers like him are much easier to find that 24-year-old shortstops these days. I don’t love Didi, I’m skeptical about his bat going forward, but this is a shot the Yankees had to take.

Mailbag: Non-tenders, Rule 5 Draft, Harper, Niese, Lineup

Seven questions in this week’s mailbag, which feels pretty damn long by mailbag standards. Lots of wordy answers this week. As a reminder, we now have a “For The Mailbag” widget in the sidebar that you can use to send us questions each week. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does. We’re working on that.

That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Many asked: What about Kris Medlen? Any other interesting players among this year’s non-tenders?

Medlen is definitely the most interesting non-tender. He’s rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years and the Braves opted to cut him loose rather than pay him a projected $5.8M in 2015. Medlen, 29, had a 2.45 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 337.1 innings across 43 starts and 41 relief appearances between elbow reconstructions from 2011-13. That includes a 3.11 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 197 innings as a full-time starter in 2013.

The second Tommy John surgery has a much lower success rate than the first — Chris Capuano is pretty much the only guy who had the procedure twice and both stayed healthy and returned to his previous level of performance. Medlen has shown he can be effective as both a starter and a reliever, though there’s also the possibility of getting zero return, especially in 2015 since he’s still rehabbing. Chances are he won’t be ready until midseason. I’d still like to see the Yankees sign him, obviously to something with a low-base salary and incentives. Maybe Brian McCann can talk him into coming to New York or something.

I wrote about this at CBS the other day: I like the idea of signing Medlen to a Josh Johnson-esque contract, meaning a contract with a club option that kicks in only if he makes fewer than a certain number of appearances. (Johnson’s contract including a $4M option the Padres could only exercise if he made fewer than seven starts.) That would allow Medlen to hit the market again next winter if he stays healthy and contributes, and allow the team to keep him and try again in 2016 if he doesn’t. Both sides get some protection.

As for the rest of the non-tenders … there’s not much to see there. We already discussed Everth Cabrera yesterday. John Mayberry Jr. would have been interesting had the Yankees not already re-signed Chris Young. We now have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Gordon Beckham can’t hit (career 83 wRC+), but I’d probably still give him $750k and see what happens. Alexi Ogando and Brandon Beachy are both coming off elbow injuries (Beachy had his second Tommy John surgery in the span of three years). I like them considerably less than Medlen.

J. Wong asks: A few years ago as I recall the Yankees “traded up” to pick up someone they liked in the Rule 5 draft. Since they now have officially 2 spots open to make selections, do you think they have anyone specific in mind they want to take, and if it’s necessary to move to one of the top slots what it’ll take in terms of talent to pick earlier?

They actually have four spots open right now, but they won’t take four players in the Rule 5 Draft. Two is a stretch. Four would be ridiculous. The Yankees “traded up” to get the first overall pick in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft (Jamie Hoffmann) and again to get the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft (Cesar Cabral). Technically they were trades for players to be named later — they sent Brian Bruney to the Nationals in 2009 and $100,000 to the Royals in 2012, then those teams took the players New York wanted and sent them to the Yankees as the player to be named. You can’t trade the actual Rule 5 Draft pick.

So, if the Yankees do want to move up again this year, it won’t cost very much to do it. Some cash or a fringe big leaguer (out of options Austin Romine?). J.J. Cooper put together an excellent Rule 5 Draft preview and, as usual, the vast majority of the players available are relievers and extra outfielders. The Yankees could use a shortstop but the best shortstop available in the Rule 5 Draft is probably Cito Culver. I’m not joking. Rockies shortstop prospect Taylor Featherston is available — “Featherston isn’t the traditional utility infielder. But he can play on either side of second base and he has the arm to play third base if needed as well,” wrote Cooper — after hitting .260/.322/.439 (116 wRC+) and 16 homers as a 25-year-old in Double-A last year. Meh.

If the Yankees do take a player(s) in the Rule 5 Draft next week, chances are it’ll be a bullpen arm(s). Relievers represent like 95% of the players taken in the Rule 5 Draft. I made that up but it feels like it could be true. Looking over Cooper’s list, Tigers righty Edgar De La Rosa (“The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable changeup”) and Marlins righty Jake Esch (“Esch has a plus fastball  (91-95 mph) and a hard slider that sometimes looks more like a cutter as well as a downer curveball … with excellent athleticism and steady development, he’s turning into something interesting”) seem most intriguing to me. The Yankees do love their super tall pitchers. De La Rosa seems like someone they might target.

Jonathan asks: It seems like every offseason everyone waits to see when/where one particular FA lands before everyone else starts signing. This year that player seems to be Jon Lester. Why is that? And who’s signing first, Lester or Max Scherzer?

I’ll answer the second question first: I think Lester will sign first simply because there are many more rumors about him going around right now. The Scherzer market has been very quiet and that is not uncommon for a top Scott Boras client at this point of the offseason. As for the first question, I think it’s because no one wants to set the market. Boras and Scherzer want to see what Lester gets, because then they can ask for more than that because a) Scherzer is better, and b) there’s one fewer high-end starter on the market to compete against. That’s why Chase Headley didn’t sign before Pablo Sandoval — now that Sandoval is off the board, he is clearly the number one third baseman available.

In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, players sign as soon as possible because they’re salary cap leagues and no one wants to be left unsigned when everyone runs out of cap space. In MLB, with no cap, it seems like the top free agents are willing to wait for a GM (or an owner) to get desperate later in the offseason.

Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

New Guy asks: With recent rumors that there may be dissention between Bryce Harper and the Nationals, any chance Yankees try to put something together to bring him to the Bronx? Do they even have enough to get it done?

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals and Harper are likely to go to a grievance hearing later this month because of a dispute over an opt-out clause in his contract. The Nationals say there is no opt-out, Harper (and Boras, his agent) say there is supposed to be. The opt-out would allow Harper to forego the final year of the five-year Major League contract and instead file for salary arbitration. His contract says he will earn $2.25M in 2015, but MLBTR’s projections say he could earn $2.5M through arbitration in his first year as a Super Two. That doesn’t sound like much, but it carries over into future years and boosts his future salaries. The difference could be millions over his four years of arbitration-eligibility.

Anyway, I don’t think the Yankees have enough to swing a trade for Harper. He just turned 22 — fun fact: Harper has never faced a pitcher younger than him in a professional game, Majors or minors — and he’s a career .272/.351/.465 (125 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,500 big league plate appearances who also happens to have a rocket arm and play strong defense. Also, he can do this:

Harper’s biggest problem is that he plays too hard. I don’t mean that in a cutesy “my biggest fault is that I work too hard” kinda way. Harper runs into walls and slides into bases aggressively, and it’s landed him on the DL more than a few times. He hurt his knee and shoulder running into walls — the knee required offseason surgery a year ago — and torn ligaments in his thumb sliding into third on a triple. Harper’s aggressive play puts him at risk of injury in a Slade Heathcott kinda way and it’s a problem. He needs to not play with the dialed turned to eleven all the time.

Even with the injury concerns, Harper would command a massive haul because of his age, production, and four remaining years of team contract. Would you really say no to, say, Masahiro Tanaka plus Luis Severino and Aaron Judge for Harper? I sure as hell wouldn’t. (Judge is six months older than Harper, by the way.) Outside of his stupid haircut, Harper’s a franchise player in every way. Incredibly productive and marketable. Stick him in the middle of the lineup and in every commercial for the next decade. I don’t think the Nationals are open to moving him even with this recent contract dispute and I don’t think the Yankees have enough to get him even if he was available. Other clubs would surely outbid them.

Dustin asks: Ken Davidoff is saying the Mets  Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee or Jon Niese. The first 2 do nothing for me, but wouldn’t Niese be a good guy to go after?

I liked Niese a few years ago, but he’s had a lot of nagging arm injuries the last two or three years. Both shoulder and elbow. Nothing major, but some inflammation here, some soreness there, stuff like that. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he blows out completely. That said, he just turned 28 in October and he has a 3.49 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 521 innings over the last three years, so he’s a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter. His contract isn’t onerous either — Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016, with $10M and $11M club options for 2017 and 2018, respectively. I’m not quite sure what the Mets want in return — they need a shortstop but the Yankees don’t have one to give — but if it’s just a salary dump situation where they’re willing to take some prospects to clear money, then I think Niese would make sense for the Yankees. Risky, sure, but he’s a quality MLB starter when on the mound.

Liam asks: Who is batting fourth if the season started today?

I would think McCann. If the season did start today, I’m guessing the regular lineups would look something like this:

vs. RHP vs. LHP
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2. LF Brett Gardner 2. 3B Martin Prado
3. RF Carlos Beltran 3. RF Carlos Beltran
4. C Brian McCann 4. 1B Mark Teixeira
5. 1B Mark Teixeira 5. DH Alex Rodriguez
6. 3B Martin Prado 6. C Brian McCann
7. DH Alex Rodriguez 7. LF Chris Young
8. 2B Rob Refsnyder 8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
9. SS Brendan Ryan 9. SS Brendan Ryan

That’s just what I think the lineups would be given the current roster, not the lineup I would use. Based on his platoon splits the last few years, Beltran should be the one sitting in favor of Young against lefties, not Gardner. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Pirela started the year at second instead of Refsnyder either. If the Yankees go into Spring Training with those two competing for the second base job, I do think it would be a true competition, not a fake competition rigged in favor of someone, which the Yankees have been known to do in the past.

Mark S. asks: Derek Jeter will still probably have the most jerseys sold in 2015. What active Yankee player do you think will have the most sold?

Yeah I think it’s a safe bet Jeter will still lead the team in merchandise sales next year, especially if they bring him back for some kind of number retirement ceremony. Among active players, I think Tanaka would probably sell the most jerseys. He’s the biggest star on the team in terms of name value, plus he’ll tap into the Japanese market. Ellsbury and Beltran and whoever else can’t do that. So Tanaka’s my guess.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here is the open thread for the night. The Bears and Cowboys are the Thursday NFL game, plus the Nets are playing and there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about anything and everything right here.

Passan: Headley has four-year, $65M offer in hand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Free agent third baseman Chase Headley has a four-year contract offer worth $65M in hand, reports Jeff Passan. It’s unclear which team made the offer. Jon Heyman says the Marlins are very interested in Headley and “may be ready to make a significant offer.” The Yankees are reportedly reluctant to go more than three years for their incumbent third baseman.

Four years at $16.25M annually for Headley is pretty steep — I was thinking four years at $14M annually would get it done, but I always underestimate free agent contracts — but it is in line with the market when Pablo Sandoval gets $19M per year and Nelson Cruz gets $14.25M per year. David Freese is scheduled to be the best free agent third baseman next winter and 37-year-old Adrian Beltre the year after that, so it’s going to be a while until a third baseman as good as Headley is available for nothing more than money.

The Yankees do have a perfectly fine third base alternative in Martin Prado, but they could easily slot Prado in at second if they were to bring Headley back. If Headley does walk and Prado plays third, the presumption is Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder and whoever else would compete for the second base job in Spring Training. I’d like to see the Yankees bring back Headley. Having a Major League caliber infield would be cool. Four years is perfectly reasonable to me.