DotF: Greg Bird named Arizona Fall League MVP

1B Greg Bird was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League earlier this week. He hit with .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) and led the league in homers (six, tied), finished second in RBI (21), total bases (55), and wRC+, third in SLG, sixth in AVG, seventh in OPS (.947), eighth in walks (13), and 12th in OBP. They’ve been handing out the AzFL MVP since 2002 and Bird is the second Yankees prospect to win it, joining Eric Duncan in 2005. Here are the rest of the week’s minor league notes:

  • OF Tyler Austin suffered a bone bruise in his left knee after an outfield collision last week, reports Josh Norris. “He has been diagnosed with a bone bruise. There is no damage to his meniscus or any ligament issues. He will rest for the next 2-3 weeks,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Chad Jennings.
  • Jonathan Mayo polled scouts and players about the best tools in the AzFL. OF Aaron Judge was voted as having the best outfield arm — “One scout said it’s a true 70 arm,” wrote Mayo — while Judge and Bird drew votes for best power and best hitter, respectively.
  • Ken Davidoff wrote profiles about both Judge and Bird. “I’m still on the fence with his bat,” said one scout about Judge. “Plus-plus power, but has some good at-bats here and then will chase off-speed. That worries me – at higher levels, that is what he will see.”
  • Baseball America compiled a list of all minor leaguers suspended in 2014. Yankees farmhands RHP Andy Beresford and 1B Bo Thompson were hit with 50-game suspensions after testing positive for a banned substance in August.
  • The Yankees have re-signed UTIL Ali Castillo after he became a minor league free agent, according to Matt Eddy. Also, OF Antoan Richardson elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster last week.
  • Both OF Zoilo Almonte and LHP Francisco Rondon have signed the Braves after becoming minor league free agents, says Eddy. Almonte managed to get a big league contract. Good for him.

[Read more…]

Sherman: Yankees not interested in Japanese free agent shortstop Takashi Toritani

Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Yankees do not have interest in free agent Japanese shortstop Takashi Toritani, according to Joel Sherman. Toritani is a true free agent who does not have to be posted, and he’s made it clear he wants to come over to MLB. He is a Scott Boras client.

Toritani, 33, is a table-setter at the plate and he’s most notable for his durability, having played every inning of every game at shortstop for the Hanshin Tigers since the start of the 2005 season. Here are his career stats:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 23 -6.9 Hanshin 101 261 28 59 13 0 3 17 2 2 21 66 .251 .320 .345 .665
2005 24 -6.1 Hanshin 146 645 82 159 27 1 9 52 5 5 53 115 .278 .343 .376 .719
2006 25 -4.6 Hanshin 146 609 65 157 28 2 15 58 5 3 60 111 .289 .362 .431 .793
2007 26 -4.2 Hanshin 144 642 67 154 19 4 10 43 7 4 63 106 .273 .350 .373 .724
2008 27 -3.0 Hanshin 144 605 66 147 17 6 13 80 4 7 68 85 .281 .365 .411 .776
2009 28 -1.6 Hanshin 144 617 84 155 31 2 20 75 7 7 65 83 .288 .368 .465 .832
2010 29 -0.5 Hanshin 144 651 98 173 31 6 19 104 13 3 66 93 .301 .373 .475 .848
2011 30 0.3 Hanshin 144 590 71 150 28 7 5 51 16 3 78 72 .300 .395 .414 .809
2012 31 1.1 Hanshin 144 624 62 135 22 6 8 59 15 4 94 91 .262 .373 .375 .748
2013 32 2.4 Hanshin 144 643 74 150 30 4 10 65 15 7 104 65 .282 .402 .410 .812
2014 33 Hanshin 155 644 96 172 28 2 8 73 10 6 87 80 .313 .406 .415 .820
11 Seasons 1556 6531 793 1611 274 40 120 677 99 51 759 967 .285 .372 .412 .783
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2014.

Daniel Brim recently put together a great in-depth look at Toritani that I recommend checking out. He is billed as a strong defensive shortstop who draws a lot of walks and plays the small ball game well. Brim ran some numbers and came away with Marco Scutaro as a comparison for what he did in Japan, for what it’s worth.

The history of Asian infielders in MLB is pretty terrible — some feel the game is simply too quick here and it’s too big of an adjustment — though that doesn’t guarantee Toritani will be a flop. He’s not particularly young and shouldn’t cost much to acquire. Hiroyuki Nakajima and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were star infielders in Japan who recently signed two and three-year contracts worth approximately $3M annually with the Athletics and Twins, respectively. Both flopped and spent the majority of their contracts in Triple-A.

The Yankees need to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop this offseason — Brian Cashman called it the team’s top priority at the GM Meetings last week — but they don’t have interest in Toritani and appear to be focused on known quantities. That’s more than fine with me. Cashman called the shortstop market “limited” the other day though there is still a lot of offseason left. I’m hopeful some surprise trade candidates hit the market in a few weeks and the Yankees are able to snag a young shortstop who can anchor the position for several years.

Update: Yoan Moncada declared free agent by MLB

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Update (12:23pm): Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB, according to Jesse Sanchez. He must still be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign, however. No word on when that may happen. The important thing is that it appears Moncada will be cleared to sign well before June 15th and count towards the 2014-15 international signing period, putting the Yankees in great position to sign him, as explained below.

10:00am: Highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada held a showcase event for scouts in Guatemala on Wednesday, and the Yankees had a “significant” presence of at least four scouts in attendance, according to Ben Badler and Jonathan Mayo. Every club was there but apparently some were are serious than others. Badler says Moncada took several rounds of batting practice and fielded balls at different positions. “After a long day and a lot of swings so scouts could see him from both sides of the plate, he did seem to wear down,” added Badler.

Moncada still has to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB before he is eligible to sign, which could still be months away. Because he is only 19 and has limited experience in the Cuban leagues, Moncada will be subject to the international spending restrictions. The Yankees exceeded their 2014-15 spending pool and will not be able to sign a player for more than $300k during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, but if Moncada is declared a free agent by June 15th, he would count towards the 2014-15 signing period and the Yankees would be able to sign him for any amount. Here are some more notes:

  • “Moncada had a great workout, showing his five-tool potential. He is in great shape. Unfortunately, he was not able to hit off live game pitching. We will need to see him off of live pitching to command the top dollars they are looking for,” said one scout to Mayo. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Moncada received 60s for his hit, power, and arm tools, a 70 for speed, and 50 for fielding. That’s five average or better tools.
  • Moncada is expected to receive a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, according to Jeff Passan. Badler notes Moncada can only sign a minor league contract. Every team would exceed their spending pool with a bonus that size, so when you add in the 100% tax, it’s really a $60M to $80M total investment.
  • In another piece, Badler says the Yankees have an advantage over other clubs because they’ve already exceeded their pool and are subject to bonus restrictions in the future. Other clubs have verbal agreements in place for the 2015-16 signing period worth seven figures, but if they sign Moncada, they would have to renege on those deals because they wouldn’t be allowed to hand out bonuses of more than $300k. Make sense?
  • And finally, Kiley McDaniel has some more information on the showcase and Moncada’s background. Apparently the Cuban government gave him a visa and a passport and allowed him to leave the island, so there’s no crazy defection story. Also, Moncada’s agent is just some random public accountant from Florida, not one of the usual suspects. Make sure you check it out.

Moncada will hold more showcase events in the coming weeks and months — teams want to see him face live pitching — and I’m sure the Yankees will continue to have a “significant” presence at these events. The 100% tax is tough to swallow, but every team is facing that. The playing field in level in that regard. The Yankees are at an advantage because this is a simply bidding war — whoever is willing to spend the most will win, and the Bombers have more money than everyone.

Obviously Moncada presents a very special case, both in terms of his talent and signing situation. This isn’t someone like, say, Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas, a toolsy player who is expected to be more of a solid regular than anything. Moncada is incredibly young and everyone agrees he has star potential. If you’re going to step out of your comfort zone and spend huge money on a Cuban player — something the Yankees have been very hesitant to do since Jose Contreras flopped — this is the type of player you do it for. Everything is lined up for the Yankees to spend big for Moncada and land a potential star. If they’re not going to do it now, then when?

Heyman: Marlins, Stanton close to record 13-year, $325M deal

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

This isn’t Yankees-related — not directly, anyway — but holy crap, Jon Heyman says the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton are close to finalizing a 13-year contract worth $325M. The record contract would include a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause. It would be the first no-trade clause in franchise history. Stanton had been scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season.

Depending on the date of the opt-out, this contract may actually increase the chances of Stanton becoming a Yankee down the line. Very few franchises can afford to absorb that kind of money in a trade. Either way, hell yeah Giancarlo. Dude is worth every penny in my opinion. He just turned 25 last week and he’s the top power hitter in baseball at a time when power is rare. Plus he has marquee value that transcends on-field performance. What a world.

2014 Season Review: Brendan Ryan and the Random Infielders

Remember last season, when the Yankees had a revolving door at shortstop just about all summer? They had seven players start at least five games at short at year ago. This summer it was only four players, and two of them made fewer than nine starts. The Yankees still cycled through a healthy collection of random backup infielders in 2014, though thankfully it was not as substantial a group as 2013. Let’s recap their seasons.

Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Brendan Ryan

Giving Ryan a two-year contract with a player option for a third year definitely flew under the radar as a LOLWTF move last offseason. I mean, I get it, the Yankees had to protect themselves in case Derek Jeter‘s ankle and legs couldn’t hold up, but still. One year in, that’s a weird contract even though it only pays him peanuts. You don’t see players like this get multi-year contracts all that often.

Ryan, 32, actually started this past season on the disabled list after hurting his back in Spring Training — he suffered a pinched nerve in his upper back during drills, then re-aggravated it sitting on the bus during a long Grapefruit League road trip — and he didn’t join the team until early-May. He was a seldom used backup infielder, appearing in only 49 games and starting only 33. Ryan hit a weak .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) with no homers, four walks, and 30 strikeouts in 124 plate appearances. He had two (2) multi-hit games.

The Yankees did get their money’s worth out of Ryan defensively by playing him at all four infield spots. Yes, that includes first base. The image of Ryan playing first while Jeter plays short will forever be my lasting memory of the 2014 Yankees. Everything was just so backwards. Ryan is still a quality gloveman but he is clearly no longer elite defensively. That’s sort of the problem. He can’t hit — he’s never hit and never will — and if he’s not going to dominant defensively, then he’s not really worth a roster spot. Of course, if the 2015 season started today, Ryan would be the starting shortstop.

Zelous Wheeler

Because of Jeter’s lost 2013 season, Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension, and Robinson Cano‘s free agency defection, the Yankees hoarded some infielders on minor league contracts last winter. The 27-year-old Wheeler was one of those players, and he put himself on the map with a strong Spring Training and an excellent (132 wRC+) first few weeks with Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up in early-July when Yangervis Solarte played his way down to the minors, and in his very first MLB game, Wheeler did this:

Not a bad way to start your big league career, no? Wheeler swatted another solo homer a week later and didn’t do much else offensively the rest of the season, finishing the year with a .193/.230/.298 (43 wRC+) batting line in 62 plate appearances. He went back down to Triple-A at one point and was recalled in August.

Wheeler is actually still on the 40-man roster, though now that I think about it, it isn’t all that surprising. First off the Yankees have some open 40-man spots, so it’s not like they need to get rid of someone, but also the infield is one giant question mark. They don’t have a second baseman, a third baseman, or a shortstop right now. Wheeler could always go to the minors and I guess he’s worth keeping around as depth for the time being.

Dean Anna

Man, what a season this was. Guys named Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte actually made the Opening Day roster. The Yankees acquired Anna from the Padres in the offseason — they sent reliever Ben Paulus to San Diego, and he had a 4.65 ERA (4.49 FIP) while repeated High-A this summer — and he beat out Eduardo Nunez for the spare infielder’s job in Spring Training. Both he and Solarte did, fair and square.

Anna, 27, played very sparingly in April, though he did record his first career hit in his first career game, a single off Jeremy Jeffress. Anna took Clay Buchholz deep for his first career homerun a week later, though that wasn’t the highlight of his time in pinstripes. One day after sparing the bullpen and throwing a scoreless inning in a blowout loss (video), Anna drew a bases loaded walk in the 12th inning to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead over the Rays:

I wish there was video of the entire at-bat somewhere. It was great. Anna saw eight pitches, fouled off a few tough sliders, and took some others for balls. You can even see Mark Teixeira say it in the video, “that’s a great at-bat.” Ken Singleton said the same thing.

The Yankees sent Anna to Triple-A when Michael Pineda was suspended for the pine tar incident — the suspension forced them to play with a 24-man roster, so they sent down Anna and called up a pitcher to replace Pineda — and he spent the rest of his time in the organization there before being designated for assignment in early-July to clear a 40-man spot for Wheeler. The Pirates claimed Anna off waivers and he spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A club. Anna hit .136/.200/.318 (38 wRC+) in 25 plate appearances with the Yankees.

Jose Pirela

Unlike everyone else in this post, Pirela is actually homegrown. The 24-year-old spent most of the last three years tearing the cover off the ball in Double-A, and he opened this past season with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 stolen bases in 130 games with the RailRiders but did not get called up on September 1st. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster but would have been eligible for minor league free agency  after the season (again), and the team opted against adding him to the roster.

This looks like ... not the right way to hit. (Presswire)
This looks like … not the right way to hit. (Presswire)

That all changed when Martin Prado‘s season unexpectedly ended due to an emergency appendectomy in mid-September. The Yankees did indeed call up Pirela after that, though he sat on the bench for about a week before finally getting into a game. He tripled off Wei-Yin Chen in his first career plate appearance — it was a bomb off the wall in left-center, I thought it was gone off the bat — and sliced a single to right next time up. Pirela went 2-for-3 with the triple in his first career game and was a mainstay in the lineup after that, starting six of the team’s final seven games and coming off the bench in the seventh.

All told, Pirela went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples (149 wRC+) during his brief time in pinstripes at the end of the year. He started three games at DH and the final three games of the seasons at second base, after the Yankees had been eliminated. Pirela is one of those guys who has done nothing but put up great numbers in the minors even though the scouting reports aren’t glowing. The Yankees were able to re-sign him when he became a minor league free agent last winter, but after his strong season in Triple-A, another team might have offered more opportunity this offseason. Adding him to the 40-man will keep him in the organization, and, right now, Pirela has the inside track for a big league job in 2015, either at second base or on the bench.

Scott Sizemore

Sizemore was part of that group of infielders the Yankees brought in as minor league free agents last winter. The 29-year-old spent most of the season with Triple-A Scranton but did get called up to New York a few times, going 5-for-16 (.313) with three doubles and eight strikeouts (107 wRC+). He also drove in four runs in his limited time, which is kinda neat. Sizemore had a 108 wRC+ in Triple-A, was released at the end of July, then re-signed a few days later. He spent a bunch of time on the disabled list with an unknown injury as well as on the restricted list with some kind of off-the-field problem. In a season of mostly forgettable random infielders, Sizemore was the most forgettable.