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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
- On 40-man roster: Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, Dietrich Enns, Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Ronald Herrera, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Layne, Yefrey Ramirez, Chasen Shreve
- Not on 40-man roster: Chance Adams, J.P. Feyereisen, Joe Mantiply, Jordan Montgomery, Branden Pinder
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.
2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot
Top stories from last week:
- Depending who you ask, the Yankees either have or have not expanded Jose Quintana trade talks with the White Sox to include David Robertson.
- Masahiro Tanaka is not on Japan’s partial World Baseball Classic roster, though they still have nine spots to fill.
- Brian Cashman indicated Luis Severino will go to Triple-A if he doesn’t win a rotation spot.
- The Yankees and Red Sox could play a series in London in 2017.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
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.
The mailbag inbox was pretty empty this week thanks to the holidays. That’s okay, because every so often we get a great question that is worth its own post, and that was the case this week. So, rather than the usual multi-question format, we’ve got one question and one big answer this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions.
Dan asks: Are there any other players on the Japanese market besides Otani that we can be excited about in the future?
There are definitely a few, but none come close to Shohei Otani in terms of potential big league impact. He is truly in a class all by himself right now. Otani is the best player in Japan and has the tools to be an ace-caliber pitcher in MLB, if not a reliable hitter as well. I’m curious to see if a team will let him hit and pitch when the time comes. That just might be what it takes to sign him.
Anyway, most of the top talent in Japan in terms of big league potential is on the mound right now. These things to tend to be cyclical, and right now there are more high-end arms than high-end bats. Check back in a few years and the opposite will probably be true. So, with that in mind, here are five non-Otani players in Nippon Pro Baseball who could interest MLB teams in the near future. This isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s just a few of the most notable. The players are listed alphabetically.
RHP Kohei Arihara
Arihara, 24, just finished his second season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, during which he had a 2.94 ERA with 103 strikeouts (16.1 K%) and 38 walks (5.9 BB%) in 22 starts and 156 innings. He runs his fastball up to 96 mph and uses a wide array of offspeed pitches, and while nothing he throws is a truly dominant offering, Arihara has good command and really knows how to pitch.
RHP Shintaro Fujinami
Back in 2012, Otani and Fujinami were the top two prospects in the NPB draft, and plenty of folks at the time preferred Fujinami because his secondary pitchers were more advanced. Otani went first overall — Fujinami was selected by four teams in the first round, then was awarded to the Hanshin Tigers after a lottery drawing (the NPB draft is weird) — and has since developed into the better NPB player and MLB prospect, but Fujinami is damn good himself.
The 22-year-old Fujinami had a 3.25 ERA in 26 starts and 169 innings in 2016, striking out 176 (24.0 K%) and walking 70 (9.6 BB%). Control has been his biggest issue — he’s walked 9.2% of batters faced in his four NPB seasons — but he misses plenty of bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, a mid-80s splitter, and a low-80s slider. His 221 strikeouts a year ago were by far the most in the Central League, Japan’s non-DH league. Only one other player had more than 175 strikeouts. (Randy Messenger had 194.)
LHP Yusei Kikuchi
A few years ago Kikuchi, now 25, was considering jumping to MLB straight out of high school, which would have been unprecedented. (Junichi Tazawa was undrafted out of high school, played one year in a Japanese independent league, then chose to forego NPB for MLB.) NPB doesn’t like the idea of the best young Japanese players not playing in Japan, so nowadays anyone who signs with an MLB team out of high school is banned from NPB for at least three years. Not surprisingly, no one has done it.
Anyway, Kikuchi has spent the last six seasons with the Seibu Lions and has career has been up and down, mostly due to shoulder problems. He had a 2.58 ERA with 127 strikeouts (21.3 K%) and 67 walks (11.3 K%) in 22 starts and 143 innings this past season, though the blazing mid-to-upper-90s fastball that made him such a hot commodity as a teenager now resides mostly in the low-90s. Kikuchi relies on his three offspeed pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) to get most of his outs these days.
RHP Takahiro Norimoto
Three years ago the 26-year-old Norimoto took over as staff ace of the Rakuten Golden Eagles after Masahiro Tanaka left via the posting system. His last two seasons have been eerily similar:
|2015||194.2||2.91||215 (26.9%)||48 (6.0%)||14 (0.65 HR/9)|
|2016||195||2.91||216 (26.3%)||50 (6.1%)||12 (0.55 HR/9)|
Freaky. Norimoto has big stuff but not big size. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 178 lbs., and fair or not, teams are always wary of undersized righties. Durability is a concern, and so is fastball plane. Teams worry short pitchers will be fly ball and home run prone because they can’t pitch downhill. Still, Norimoto has a mid-90s fastball and can miss bats with both his splitter and slider. That’ll play.
IF Tetsuto Yamada
Over the last three years, and especially the last two, Yamada has established himself as one of the most dominant hitters in Japan. Last season he hit .329/.416/.610 with 38 home runs and 34 stolen bases en route to being named Central League MVP. He was the first player in NPB history to win both the home run and stolen base titles. Yamada also had a Reggie Jackson moment in the postseason, swatting three home runs in three consecutive plate appearances in Game Three of the Japan Series.
This past season the 24-year-old Yamada managed a .304/.425/.607 batting line with 38 homers and 30 stolen bases for the Yakult Swallows. He’s a right-handed hitter with tremendous bat speed and quick twitch athleticism, plus he knows how to control the strike zone (17.2 K% and 14.4 BB% from 2015-16). While going 30-30 in the big leagues might not happen, Yamada has 20-20 potential, which would be pretty damn valuable from a good defensive middle infielder. (Reports indicate he fits best at second.)
It’s worth noting most of the biggest busts among Japanese players in MLB have been infielders (Kaz Matsui, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, etc.), and I’ve seen speculation that the game is so much faster here that infielders have a tough time adjusting, and their defensive issues carry over at the plate. Who knows whether that’s true. There’s risk with every signing, and it is fair to wonder whether Yamada’s big leg kick will play over here. My guess is some team will bet millions on his power-speed combination.
* * *
The Yankees have shown they will get involved in the Japanese market if there’s a player they really like, though they’re going to do their homework first. They won’t rush into anything like they did with Kei Igawa again. Otani is clearly the best Japan has to offer for a few years. Others like Fujinami and Norimoto are intriguing, though they face obstacles coming over (hard cap for Fujinami, contract extension for Norimoto).
Yamada could end up being a very big deal next offseason, assuming the Swallows agree to post him for MLB teams, which is far from a given. Middle infielders in their mid-20s with power and speed are always in demand. Even with Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro up the middle, plus a ton of shortstop prospects in the system, the Yankees may get involved should Yamada be posted. Third base is a question long-term and Yamada could help solve that (Yamada at second, Castro to third?).