Thoughts at the start of 2017

Hurry back, baseball. (Presswire)
Hurry back, baseball. (Presswire)

The holidays are over and it’s time to get back to reality. Sucks, doesn’t it? Spring Training is still six weeks away too. These are the dog days of the offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things and stuff, so let’s get to them.

1. I thought it was pretty interesting Aroldis Chapman had a similar complaint about Cubs manager Joe Maddon as Adam Warren. (Billy Witz wrote a bit about this.) After the trade, Warren said he didn’t have a defined role in Chicago and never really knew when he would pitch. Chapman, during his conference call after signing with the Yankees, said he didn’t agree with the way Maddon used him, specifically when he brought him into the game in the middle innings. Relievers and players in general appreciate having a defined role. They’re creatures of habit and having a set role helps them develop a routine. At the same time, they’re professionals as well, so they have to perform when asked to do something out of the ordinary. (To be fair, both Warren and Chapman said it was ultimately on them to get the job done regardless of when they pitched.) Andrew Miller‘s willingness and ability to pitch whenever is pretty rare. He was really low maintenance. Joe Girardi is pretty rigid with his reliever usage. He assigns players innings and that’s that. Maddon tends to be a bit more fluid with his reliever usage and that’s not for everyone.

2. Speaking of Girardi, both he and Brian Cashman are entering the final year of their contracts. There have been no extension talks as far as we know and that’s not unusual. In the past, both Girardi and Cashman had to wait until their current deals expired before negotiating a new one, and I assume the same is true this time as well. A lot can change over the next ten months, we all know that, but right now, I think Cashman’s job is safe. Ownership is going to let him see the rebuild transition through after letting him make all those trades at the deadline last summer. As for Girardi, my guess right now is he will be back after the season because Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner love him, but I also think his job is less secure now than it has been at any point in the past. Missing the postseason again this year would be three postseason-less years in the last four seasons, and the one time they did make the playoffs, it was a wholly unsatisfying Wildcard Game shutout loss. How many managers survive a four-year stretch like that, rebuild or not?

3. I’m pretty amazed the Yankees have opted to keep Richard Bleier on the 40-man roster this winter over younger players like Nick Goody and Jacob Lindgren. The Yankees definitely seem to like Bleier more than I realized. He did a nice job in limited action last year, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 23 relief innings, but he was a 29-year-old rookie who had a combined 11.4% strikeout rate between Triple-A and MLB. That’s not an anomaly either. Bleier has a career 13.0% strikeout rate in over 900 career minor league innings. That’s who he is. He makes up for it with ground balls (54.1%) and by limiting walks (4.5% between Triple-A and MLB), but still, Bleier doesn’t have a huge margin for error. He seems like someone the Yankees might have been able to non-tender and re-sign to a minor league contract. This isn’t a big deal. We’re talking about a guy near the bottom of the 40-man roster. I just figured Bleier would be among the first to go when 40-man space was needed this winter. Instead, he’s still hanging around. Go figure.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

4. Where does Rob Refsnyder fit going forward? He did an okay job as a platoon bat against lefties last season (.274/.370/.355/94 wRC+) despite his complete lack of power, and that seems to be his best role going forward, part-time player against lefties. Starlin Castro is locked in at second base, and the Yankees would surely like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge to emerge as the first baseman and right fielder of the future, respectively, this coming season. That means more bouncing from position to position as a platoon bat for Refsnyder, I suppose. He still has an option left for 2017, so the Yankees can send him up and down as necessary. I’m just not sure how Refsnyder fits into the long-term picture, if at all. It would help if he could hit for some power — he’s never had much pop, even in the minors — or play good defense. He’s the quintessential ‘tweener. Someone who is nice to have while he’s cheap and optionable and that’s about it.

5. As I read this Craig Edwards post on next winter’s free agent class, I couldn’t help but to be glad the Yankees have so many quality shortstops in their farm system. This free agent class was loaded with first base and corner outfield bats, and next offseason’s will be more of the same. If you need a non-first base infielder, you’re in trouble. Shortstops tend to be the best athletes on the field and therefore most capable to change positions, if necessary. Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo are already working out in the outfield. Gleyber Torres has spent time at second base and I wouldn’t be surprised if third base is in his future too. Didi Gregorius and Castro won’t make anyone forget peak Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, but they’re a solid young middle infield combo, so the Yankees won’t have to rely on free agency to fill those positions. They also have all that shortstop depth in the minors, which they could use to fill other positions either via position changes or trades. Corner bats? There are plenty of those dudes available.

Monday Night Open Thread

Another update on the search for a comment moderator and possibly a new writer(s): I am still plugging away at the applications. There are a ton of them. Sorry it’s taking so long. I slacked off a bit last week and tried to enjoy the holiday break, so I’m not even sure I’m halfway through them at this point. I hope to be done reviewing everything by the end of next week, then I need to talk things over with the rest of the RAB brain trust. Because we have so many applications, we’re not longer accepting submissions. Thanks to all who sent something in.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The NFL regular season is over, so no Monday Night Football tonight. That’s a shame. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, plus the Rose Bowl is on right now (Penn State vs. USC on ESPN) and the Sugar Bowl (Auburn vs. Oklahoma, 8:30pm ET on ESPN) will be on later. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Report: Comcast will resume carrying YES in 2017

(MLB.tv screen grab)
(MLB.tv screen grab)

According to Joe Flint, Comcast and the FOX News Channel have reached a new broadcast agreement, and as part of the deal, Comcast will resume carrying the YES Network this year. It’s a four-year agreement between the two cable giants.

Now, the bad news: Flint says YES will not return to Comcast subscribers immediately, and it’s possible it won’t be back until later in the spring, after the start of the regular season. That would be a bummer, though at least it’s coming back at some point. That’s better than nothing.

Comcast stopped carrying YES in late 2015 due to a rights fee dispute. They said the subscriber fee was too high — it was reported YES offered a rights fee reduction at one point, but to no avail — and supposedly Comcast argued the team wasn’t good enough to justify the price.

YES is available for in-market streaming through the FOX Sports Go app, but only if you subscribe to the network through your cable provider. It was no help for Comcast customers last year. Anyway, more people can watch the Yankees this year, and that’s good news.

The Yankees have fielded offers for Michael Pineda, but it might not be a good time to trade him

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline last year, and it helped them build one of the game’s best farm systems. The selling continued this offseason with the Brian McCann trade and it could continue to, uh, continue with a Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley trade. Those two have popped up in more than a few rumors this winter.

One Yankee who hasn’t been mentioned in trade rumors but has generated interest is right-hander Michael Pineda. Andrew Marchand reports the Yankees have “fielded plenty of trade offers” for Pineda this winter as clubs look to buy low and get him on the cheap, but so far Brian Cashman & Co. have held on to the frustrating and enigmatic (frustratingly enigmatic?) right-hander.

Trading Pineda makes sense from a big picture perspective. He’ll be a free agent next winter and probably isn’t a long-term piece — so far there have been zero indications the Yankees want to sign him to an extension — so if the Yankees can turn him into a prospect or two, then do it. It would fit right into the rebuilding transitioning plan. Pineda wouldn’t be that hard to replace, right?

At the same time, this might not be the best time to trade Pineda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Yankees shouldn’t trade him. By all means, if some team comes along and makes a nice offer, go for it. Pineda should not be off limits. I’m just not convinced that will actually happen though. Here are a few reasons why the time might not be right to trade Pineda.

1. The free agent pitching class stinks. But Mike, if the free agent class stinks, isn’t that a good thing for a potential Pineda trade? Yes, in theory. The problem is Pineda himself kinda stinks. He has a 4.60 ERA (91 ERA+) in 59 starts and 336.1 innings over the last two years, and we haven’t see him make any improvements. Pineda is still the same guy right now that he was two seasons ago. If anything, he’s gone backwards.

Pineda’s underlying stats are really great, which is why he’s so frustrating. Over the last two seasons the guy has a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 5.2% walk rate, numbers that are incredible for a starting pitcher. And yet, Pineda seems incapable of limiting hard contact and is far more hittable than his cutter/slider combination would lead you to believe. He’s a tough guy to figure out. He really is.

Pineda is not a long-term buy. He’s a one-year rental, and if you’re looking for a one-year rental, the free agent market offers plenty of alternatives. Why trade an actual prospect(s) for Pineda when you could sign, say, Jason Hammel, who has reportedly received nothing but one-year offers? Jake Peavy, Jon Niese, Doug Fister … you could sign one of those dudes for a year and possibly get similar-ish production as Pineda.

Of course, the difference between Pineda and guys like Hammel and Peavy and Fister is upside, or the illusion of upside. Pineda will turn 28 in two weeks and is right in the middle of what should be the prime of his career. All those other guys have seen their best days already. Still, if given the choice between trading a prospect(s) for Pineda or giving up nothing but cash to get Hammel or Fister for a year, how many would take Pineda?

(Counterpoint: It only takes one team to say “I’ll take Pineda over the free agents, here’s a quality prospect or two” for a trade to happen.)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

2. Offers could be better at the trade deadline. Teams seem much more willing to be patient and let things play out in the offseason. Give the fifth starter’s spot to the unheralded prospect with great stats and only 23 innings above Double-A? That sounds like a great idea in December and January. He’s a Rookie of the Year sleeper candidate! Everyone else is underrating him!

Things are often much different come June and July though, once that prospect has a chance to fail and, well, fails, because baseball is all about failing. Teams are ostensibly more willing to pay big to get the help they need at the trade deadline, when the standings are staring them in the face and fans are impatient and there’s more urgency. That’s why a half-season of Aroldis Chapman fetches four prospects in July while a full season of Wade Davis fetches one Jorge Soler in December. Yeah.

There are risks with keeping Pineda and waiting until the deadline to trade him, obviously. His value would tank should he get hurt or pitch poorly, two things Pineda is known to do from time to time. But, if he stays healthy and pitches averagely, the Yankees might be able to turn him into a nice young player at the deadline. Teams always need pitching. It’s not like the demand will disappear.

3. The Yankees are short on pitching themselves. As it stands, the Yankees are poised to go into the season with two kids at the back of the rotation. Trading Pineda would make it three and, uh, yikes. That could get a little dicey. Sure, the Yankees could trade Pineda for prospects then sign one of those many one-year free agent candidates I mentioned earlier, but any time you add a second step to the equation, things get complicated.

The Yankees insist they’re trying to contend while rebuilding, and nearly all the moves they’ve made this offseason support that plan. Subtracting pitching would go against the “trying to contend” idea. The Yankees need to add pitching, really. Going young in two rotation spots makes me nervous, even if I am excited about the youth movement. I worry about innings limits and five-and-fly starts and things like that. Imagine going young in three rotation spots. Gosh.

* * *

Like I said earlier, if another team comes along and makes a good offer for Pineda this offseason, then trade him. Carrying him into the season in hopes of getting better offers at the deadline is too risky to pass on a quality offer now. I don’t think that good offer is coming in the next few weeks though, in which case keeping Pineda is not just the best option, it’s the only option.

Pitching remains atop the Yankees’ shopping list for the remainder of the offseason

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

Welcome to 2017. Six weeks from today Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for Spring Training, and the long journey that is the new season will begin. Six weeks sounds so close, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s still so far.

A lot can and will happen over the next six weeks, and hey, maybe some of it will even involve the Yankees. Word on the street is they need to clear payroll before making any other moves, though my guess is there’s still enough cash in the coffers for a small signing, should something present itself. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Aside from two signings (Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman) and one trade (Brian McCann), the Yankees have been relatively quiet this winter. They signed Ruben Tejada and re-signed Donovan Solano to serve as infield depth, cleared out some 40-man roster clutter (Nick Goody, James Pazos, etc.), and that’s about it. Nothing too exciting.

And yet, there are still several key items remaining on New York’s offseason agenda, and there are still six weeks to accomplish them. This is typically the bargain hunting time of the offseason. Teams look for lower cost pickups to reinforce their roster after New Years, and the Yankees are no different. Here are their most important remaining pieces of offseason business.

Keep shopping Gardner and Headley

The Yankees have reportedly been shopping both Brett Gardner and Chase Headley this offseason — since the trade deadline, really — to no avail. Brian Cashman insists he’s rejected trade offers for both in recent weeks. I assume those offers were of the “we’ll give you this fringe prospect if you eat a ton of money” variety.

It sure seems like there are few landing spots for Gardner and even fewer for Headley. Aside from shedding salary, there’s no real urgency to unload Headley. It’s not like the Yankees have a young third baseman ready to step into the lineup. (I like Ronald Torreyes as much as anyone, but c’mon.) Keeping Headley is perfectly reasonable.

The outfield is a different story. The Yankees have a ton of young players who could step in to replace Gardner, including Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier. We shouldn’t rule out Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder either. Jacoby Ellsbury is close to unmovable, making Gardner the obvious trade candidate.

Try to dig up a starting pitcher

Last season Yankees starters ranked 15th in baseball in innings (915), 16th in FIP (4.40), and 19th in ERA (4.44) despite getting a damn near Cy Young caliber performance from Masahiro Tanaka and far more from CC Sabathia than anyone expected. And so far this offseason, the Yankees have made no moves to bolster the rotation.

Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda are the three veterans who will be expected to lead the starting staff. The list of back-end starter candidates includes, but is not limited to, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Luis Cessa. And you know what? We’re probably going to see all of them in 2017. No team makes it through a season with only five starters these days.

The free agent pitching market is really weak, especially now that Rich Hill and Ivan Nova are off the board, but there are no shortage of one-year contract candidates. There are reclamation projects (Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross), hangers-on (Jorge De La Rosa, Doug Fister), reliever-to-starter conversion candidates (Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill), and more.

Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)
Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Keep in mind young pitchers need their workloads monitored, and if the Yankees go into the season counting on the kids to fill two rotation spots as Hal Steinbrenner suggested, they could run into some workload trouble come August and September. Imagine needing to shut two or three starters down in September because they’ve hit their innings limit. Yikes.

There is no such thing as too much rotation depth, and the Yankees would be wise to scoop up a starter at some point, even a cheap one-year contract guy to soak up innings. Ideally the Yankees would trade for a young starter with upside and several years of team control remaining. That seems unlikely, so a low-cost veteran free agent is the next best thing.

Add more bullpen depth

Three bullpen spots are accounted for at the moment. Chapman is the closer with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard his primary setup men. Adam Warren will also be in the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Here are the candidates for the remaining bullpen spots:

Obviously some of those guys are more realistic bullpen candidates than others. German and Ramirez have yet to pitch above High-A. Pinder is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Adams and Montgomery are legitimate starting pitcher prospects who would benefit most from opening next season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation.

Layne, as a 32-year-old veteran who had success with the Yankees in his limited time last year, is by far most likely among those reliever candidates to wind up on the Opening Day roster, I think. Everyone else? Well, do your best in camp and you could win a spot. And even if you don’t win an Opening Day spot, you can put yourself in position for an early call-up. Adding some extra arms, even as non-roster invitees, is a no-brainer.

Fill out the Triple-A roster

As a huge baseball nerd, I’m always excited to see the list of non-roster invitees each year. The Yankees tend to announce their non-roster players very late in the offseason — we know they’ve signed four players to minor league deals so far (Tejada, Solano, Jason Gurka, Kellin Deglan) — so the suspense builds all winter. It was a total surprise when the Yankees brought Eric Chavez to camp a few years ago, for example.

Anyway, the Yankees still need to bring in some more non-roster players, the guys who will take any spare at-bats or innings during Grapefruit League play, and inevitably be sent to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins. More infield depth (even after Tejada and Solano), a veteran catcher to back up Kyle Higashioka, a journeyman innings guy, and miscellaneous arms are the most likely additions based on the team’s recent approach to Triple-A roster building.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 2nd, 2017

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

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Holiday Week Open Thread

Another update on the search for a comment moderator and possibly a new writer(s): I’m only about a quarter of the way through all the applications at the moment. There are a lot of them and a few more keep trickling in every day. I’m going to keep plugging away through the week. I’ll give another update next week sometime.

This week is typically very slow in the baseball world and I’m going to take advantage of it. This is the closest thing to a vacation I get from RAB each year, so posting with be much lighter than usual this week. I’ll leave you with some links to check out as a peace offering:

  • I enjoyed Jesse Spector’s post on players and their views of defensive metrics. Not surprisingly, most of them think the numbers are hogwash and prefer the eye test. “I don’t buy any of that crap. I think it’s all worthless,” said Adam Eaton, who was just traded for three prospects in part due to his sexy defensive numbers.
  • I’m not a basketball guy at all, but John Branch on Steve Kerr is a must read. Kerr’s family is from the Middle East and his father was murdered in 1984, when Steve was 18. Branch spoke to Kerr about how his upbringing and father’s murder have affected his life, including his basketball career as a player and coach.
  • Here is Longform.org’s collection of the best long-form pieces of 2016. There’s a top ten list plus different categories, so you can sort through them yourself and read what interests you. Enjoy.

Enjoy the final few days of 2016. Hopefully 2017 is a heck of a lot better in every way.