Heyman: Yanks planning to target a top free agent reliever

Jansen. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Jansen. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are planning to target one of the top free agent relievers this upcoming offseason. That means either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, or possibly Mark Melancon. They’re the three big names out there this winter. Heyman says the Yankees also want to bolster their rotation, though that’s not a shock. That applies to every team ever.

Anyway, this doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I said I expect the Yankees to pursue a top free agent reliever the day after the Chapman trade. The Yankees, like every other team, enjoy having multiple elite relievers in their bullpen. This offseason is an opportunity to add one (or two!) using nothing but cash, and the Yankees sure have a lot of that. In fact, I would be surprised if they don’t land a top reliever this winter. Here are some more thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees will have some money to spend. Let’s do some really quick and dirty math. The Yankees opened the season with a $226M payroll, or thereabouts. Carlos Beltran ($15M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), and Andrew Miller ($9M) will all be off the books next season. So will non-tender candidates Nathan Eovaldi ($5.6M) and Dustin Ackley ($3.2M). That’s a lot of big salaries going away.

That all adds up to $55.3M in savings, but, not counting Eovaldi and Ackley, the Yankees are facing roughly $12M in arbitration raises, so it’s really $43.3M in savings. That can buy you some great relievers, but we know the Yankees are going to want to get under the luxury tax threshold, whatever it may be. We’ll find out in a few weeks once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is finalized. Hopefully it’s north of $200M.

Assuming the new threshold is right around $200M, the Yankees will have about $18M to spend this offseason based on my back of the envelope math. That’s enough to give Chapman or Jansen the highest annual salary for a reliever in history, though there wouldn’t be much left over. For what it’s worth, Hal Steinbrenner recently told Joel Sherman he doesn’t anticipate getting under the luxury tax threshold until 2018. We’ll see.

2. Chapman and Melancon won’t cost a pick. Because they were traded at midseason, neither Chapman nor Melancon are eligible for the qualifying offer. They won’t cost anything other than a money. Jansen is going to get the qualifying offer, so teams will have to forfeit their first round pick to sign him. That assumes the new CBA doesn’t eliminate the qualifying offer system. I don’t think it will.

Chapman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Chapman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

In a vacuum, giving up a draft pick to sign Jansen isn’t a big deal. He’s an elite player and a stupid little draft pick shouldn’t stand in the way of acquiring a player of his caliber. He’s a difference maker. This isn’t a vacuum though. Chapman and Melancon are excellent pitchers themselves. Why give up the pick for Jansen when you can sign a comparable reliever and keep your first round pick? I can definitely see Chapman and Melancon generating a ton of interest early in the offseason as teams try to nab a top reliever and keep their top pick.

3. Signing a top reliever doesn’t fix everything. Adding a great reliever to the bullpen is always a good thing. There’s not a team in baseball that wouldn’t benefit from signing one of these guys. The Yankees are not one reliever away though. Heck, just this season the Yankees had arguably the best 7-8-9 combination in the history of baseball, and it didn’t help them much because the offense stunk and the rotation was spotty.

The Yankees should sign one of those great free agent relievers because they have the money, they have the need, and because guys like that are unbelievably valuable in the postseason, which is where the Yankees ultimately want to go. They still need to address the offense and the rotation, however. And even the middle relief too. As long as signing a top reliever is just one move this offseason and not the move, the Yankees should be all-in on this free agent bullpen class.

4. Signing a free agent reliever doesn’t mean the trades were a mistake. With both Chapman and Miller helping their new teams to the League Championship Series, I’ve seen more than a few folks suggest trading one or both away was a mistake. No. Just, no. The Yankees were going nowhere at midseason and there was little reason to believe they’d climb back into the race in August and September.

Both Chapman and Miller were traded for monster prospect packages. We’re talking three top 100 caliber guys plus several more pieces. And Adam Warren too. He’s cool. The bullpen trade market was outrageous and the Yankees would have been foolish not to take advantage, especially given the free agent class. The Yankees finished five games back of the second wildcard spot. Dellin Betances struggled late in the season, but not enough that keeping Chapman and/or Miller would have been worth it. Trading those guys was 100% the right move. Zero questions asked. That they can sign a replacement elite reliever(s) this winter is gravy.

DotF: James Kaprielian returns in Arizona Fall League

One quick note before we get to tonight’s special edition of DotF: 1B Greg Bird is still technically rehabbing from his shoulder surgery, reports Randy Miller. Bird has not yet been cleared to throw, so he’s only going to DH in the Arizona Fall League for the time being. He takes ground balls before games but otherwise hasn’t been cleared to do anything more than lob throws at this point. “I’m just trying to become the best baseball player that I can. Right now this is a big step for me just getting healthy and getting at-bats,” he said.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-4 loss to Salt River)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (missed catch) — no outfield for him just yet, but he’s supposed to see some time out there
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K — Eric Longenhagen says it was an opposite field home run Torres didn’t even fully square up … he’ll spend some time at second base out here … reminder: he doesn’t turn 20 until December
  • DH Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI — two games, three doubles
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-4, 1 R
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 29 of 40 pitches were strikes (73%) … this is his first official game action since April 21st due to a flexor tendon strain … Josh Norris says Kaprielian sat 95-97 with his fastball, 87-90 with his slider, and around 83 with his curveball … that’s where he was before the injury, so that’s great news … and yes, the James Kaprielian Watch in the sidebar will be updated during the AzFL
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 21 of 40 pitches were strikes (53%) … this is his first appearance since May 3rd due to an unknown injury … last year’s 17th rounder had a 1.85 ERA (2.81 FIP) in 34 innings before getting hurt

If you’re interested, and I know you are, here’s some video of RHP Dillon Tate’s outing yesterday. He struck out three in two innings and was reportedly 95-97 mph with his heater.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Bad news, folks. There’s no baseball tonight. There would have been had the Blue Jays and Indians not swept the ALDS, but alas. The Dodgers and Nationals will play Game Five of their NLDS tomorrow night. Until then, I recommend checking out Sam Miller’s article on the Cubs and their historically great defense. That team catches everything, it seems.

Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s no baseball or football tonight, but the NHL season starts, and that’s pretty cool. Good night to catch up on some Netflix if hockey isn’t your thing, I suppose. Talk about whatever here.

2017 Draft: Yankees hold the 17th overall pick

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

With the regular season over, the 2017 amateur draft order is now finalized. The Twins, for the third time in their history, hold the top overall pick. They lost 103 games this year. No other team lost more than 94. Yikes. This is the third time Minnesota has the first overall selection, joining 1983 (Tim Belcher) and 2001 (Joe Mauer).

The Yankees hold the 17th overall pick in next June’s draft. They finished the season with an 84-78 record, same as the Astros, but because the Yankees had the better record in 2015 (87-75 vs. 86-76), the Astros get the 16th pick and the Yankees get the 17th pick. Houston holds the tiebreaker. Womp womp. I guess homefield advantage in the AL Wildcard Game wasn’t worth it after all.

Anyway, this is the third straight year the Yankees hold a pick in the teens; they picked 16th in 2015 (James Kaprielian) and 18th in 2016 (Blake Rutherford). This is the second time in franchise history the Yankees have held the 17th pick. They used that pick to take C.J. Henry back in 2005. That one didn’t work out. At least they turned Henry into Bobby Abreu.

Last year the 17th overall pick came with a $2,504,500 slot value, though that figures to go up. The bonus pool numbers have increased each of the last four years. Of course, that 17th pick is tentative. The draft order will change as qualified free agents change teams. Heck, the Yankees could even give up that pick to sign someone. We’ll see.

Frazier, Adams, and Fowler among Baseball America’s top Double-A prospects


Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued earlier this week with the Double-A Eastern League (subs. req’d). Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and OF Andrew Benintendi claimed the top two spots. Pirates OF Austin Meadows is third. Three Yankees farmhands made the top 20: OF Clint Frazier (No. 8), RHP Chance Adams (No. 18), and OF Dustin Fowler (No. 20).

“(Frazier’s) swing is short, compact and features some of the best bat speed in the minors, thanks to exceptionally strong forearms, hands and wrists. He’s also a baseball rat who zealously studies opposing hitters and pitchers,” said the write-up, which also praised him for his center field speed and right field arm. It’s worth noting Frazier did not play in Double-A with the Yankees. He was in Triple-A. His spot on this list stems from his time with the Indians.

Adams, who was also on the High-A Florida State League list, is said to attack hitters with a “heavy, mid-90s fastball, then finishes them off with a sharp-diving slider in the mid-80s and a changeup with fade in the high 80s that he developed over the course of the season with Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado.” He’s also working on a curveball and now has mid-rotation ceiling after being drafted in the fifth round as a reliever last year. Quite a find, Adams was.

Fowler was called one of the league’s “best-kept secrets” because he’s a no-doubt long-term center fielder with a chance for a leadoff hitter profile if he can improve his on-base skills. “He has the speed to bunt for hits if necessary … One manager noted Fowler had a vulnerability on the inside part of the plate, and he hardly ever walks,” said the scouting report. Fowler was an 18th round pick back in 2013, by the way.

In the chat, Josh Norris said 3B Miguel Andujar has “the marks of a player who can stick at third base,” though he “needs to control the strike zone better at the plate” to fully tap into his power. Also, SS Tyler Wade is lauded for being a “player who does a little bit of everything but not a lot of any one tool.” Wade and LHP Jordan Montgomery were “both in consideration (for the to 20), but the league’s extreme depth didn’t help their cases.”

You can see all of the league top 20 lists without a subscription right here. The last list of interest to Yankees fans is the Triple-A International League, which could be great or boring. I’m not sure whether guys like Frazier, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, 1B Tyler Austin, RHP Chad Green, RHP Luis Cessa, and RHP Ben Heller got enough plate appearances/innings to quality for the list. We’ll see.

The Year Everything Went Wrong for Nathan Eovaldi [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


A year ago the Yankees started their rebuild with an unusual strategy. With only a few big league ready prospects of their own, the team went out and acquired out-of-favor young players with other organizations. The hope was they could buy low on talented players and unlock their potential. So far it’s worked with Didi Gregorius. He’s been pretty awesome as Derek Jeter‘s replacement.

The Yankees imported Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins as part of this on-the-fly rebuild, and his first season in pinstripes was eventful. He struggled early in the season, dominated after picking up a splitter with an assist from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then finished the season on the shelf with elbow inflammation. This season followed a similar script, albeit at the extremes.

The No. 3 Starter

In hindsight, Spring Training should have been a red flag. Eovaldi struck out ten and walked eight in 14.2 Grapefruit League innings during the spring — he had a 20/3 K/BB in 18.2 innings last spring — after missing time with a groin problem. The vast majority of Spring Training stats mean absolutely nothing. This year, Eovaldi’s inability to locate in March was a harbinger of things to come during the regular season.

The Yankees slotted Eovaldi in as their No. 3 starter to start the regular season because that’s the kind of production they hoped to receive. He had a 3.43 ERA (2.86 FIP) in his final 14 starts and 84 innings of the 2015 season, and the new splitter was a tangible reason for the improvement. The Yankees were hoping to get that guy full-time this season. That didn’t happen. Not even close.

Eovaldi allowed five runs in five innings to the Astros in his first start of the season, and also gave up two home runs. That was ominous. Eovaldi allowed ten home runs total last season. Right out of the gate he gave up two this year. Four runs in 6.2 innings against the Blue Jays followed seven days later, including two more home runs. That’s four home runs in his first 11.2 innings of the season. It took Eovaldi 28.2 innings to allow four homers last year.

Following those two tough starts to the season, Eovaldi did settle down and pitch well through the end of May. His best start of the season came on April 25th in Texas, when he allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings. Eovaldi lost the no-hit bid in the seventh inning.

Through ten starts and 60.2 innings, Eovaldi had a 3.71 ERA (3.56 FIP) with very good strikeout (22.9%), walk (6.0%), and ground ball (54.3%) numbers. Bet you don’t remember him being that good! It’s true though. It happened. For the first ten starts of the season Eovaldi was pitching like the No. 3 starter the Yankees hoped he would become.

Now, the bad news: those ten starts included seven home runs, which worked out to a 1.04 HR/9 (13.7 HR/FB%). That’s not Eovaldi. He had a 0.58 ERA (7.8 HR/FB%) last season and a 0.63 HR/9 (6.6 HR/9) the year before. Eovaldi came into the 2016 season with a career 0.63 HR/9 (7.1 HR/FB%) in 614.1 innings. That’s not a small sample. He’d displayed a legitimate skill for suppressing home runs. That skill disappeared in 2016.

The Well-Earned Demotion

Things went south for Eovaldi as soon as the calendar flipped to June. He allowed at least four runs in each of his next six starts, including at least five runs in five of those six starts. His pitching line in those six starts: 30.1 IP, 45 H, 31 R, 31 ER, 12 BB, 19 K, 12 HR. Ouch! That 3.71 ERA (3.56 FIP) on June 1st turned into a 5.54 ERA (5.11 FIP) on July 1st. It went downhill and fast.

At that point the Yankees did the only thing they could do: they moved Eovaldi to the bullpen. It had to be done. He went to the bullpen and Chad Green took his spot in the rotation. Eovaldi made three relief appearances prior to the All-Star break, the best of which came in Cleveland on the final day of the first half. He allowed just one hit in 4.1 scoreless innings in relief of an ineffective Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees insisted they still believed in Eovaldi as a starter, and they put their money were their mouth is in the second half. Green was sent to Triple-A and Eovaldi returned to the rotation after the All-Star break, and the early returns were promising. He allowed ten runs total in 25 innings in his first four starts back. Opponents hit .204/.267/.387 against him. That’ll play. Eovaldi looked good.

An Abrupt End to 2016


Eovaldi’s first four starts back in the rotation were promising. He was missing bats again, and while the ball was still flying out of the park, Nate was doing enough of everything else to remain effective. It was a difficult season up to that point, and it looked like it might have a happy ending. Alas.

On August 10th at Fenway Park, Eovaldi retired all three batters he faced in the first inning on a ground ball and two fly balls. He did not pitch again the rest of the season. His velocity was down that inning — he averaged 93.7 mph with his fastball, well below his 98.0 mph season average — but otherwise there was no indication Eovaldi was hurt as he walked off the mound. It was a surprise when he wasn’t in the game to start the second inning.

The Yankees initially called the injury right elbow discomfort, and a battery of tests eventually revealed the full extent of the damage: a torn flexor tendon and a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Eovaldi told reporters the MRI showed the flexor tendon was torn right off the bone. Ouch. Soon thereafter he had surgery to repair all the damage, which involved his second career Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi is out until 2018.

So, after all of that, Eovaldi finished the regular season with a 4.76 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 124.2 innings spread across 21 starts and three relief appearances. His walk (7.6%) and ground ball (49.6%) rates were fine, though his strikeout rate (18.5%) was a tad low, plus there were all the homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.7 HR/FB%). Gosh, the homers. So many homers. Twenty-three total. That’s after allowing 24 total from 2014-15.

Another New Pitch

Yet again, Eovaldi adopted a new pitch at midseason and it helped him have some success. Last year the split-finger fastball emerged and allowed Eovaldi to pitch effectively for two months or so. This year Eovaldi added a cutter at midseason, after being demoted to the bullpen. Check it out (via Brooks Baseball):

Nathan Eovaldi cutter

The splitter came out of nowhere last year and the cutter came out of nowhere this year. Did the cutter cause the elbow injury? It’s certainly possible, though I feel like we hear that about with every new pitch. Who knows? Something as severe as a flexor tendon tearing off the bone and a partially torn UCL was probably the result of wear and tear building up over a long period of time, not a guy throwing a handful of new pitches. (Eovaldi threw 148 cutters in 2016. That’s not that many.)

If nothing else, the splitter and cutter tell us Eovaldi is a tinkerer. He’s trying to get better and he takes to instruction. The splitter helped him have success for a while and the cutter kinda did too. Did they contribute to his elbow exploding? Like I said, it’s possible. I just don’t think we can say that with any certainty, especially since Eovaldi already had Tommy John surgery once before. At this point Eovaldi is a fastball/splitter/slider/cutter pitcher. It’ll be interesting to see if he comes back with that repertoire in 2018.

Outlook for 2017

Next season was supposed to be Eovaldi’s contract year. Instead, the injury ensures he will be non-tendered this offseason, when his stock is at an all-time low. MLBTR projects a $7.5M salary in 2017 and there’s just no way you can pay that to a guy who won’t pitch and will become a free agent after the season. It’s a total waste of money. The Yankees will cut Eovaldi loose at some point. Cruel game, this baseball.

The Yankees have not yet spoken to Eovaldi about their plans going forward, though that’ll happen soon. The club has a history of signing injured pitchers to two-year contracts (Jon Lieber, David Aardsma, Andrew Bailey, etc.) and nursing them back to health in year one with an eye on the reward in year two. Eovaldi seems like a candidate for such a deal. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor recently signed two-year contracts worth $8M or so under similar circumstances, so I guess that’s the starting point.

Either way, Eovaldi will not be a factor for the Yankees next season, even if they re-sign him. He’ll be rehabbing from a very serious injury — the second Tommy John surgery rehab takes much longer than the first — and getting him back at the start of 2018 would be the best case scenario. It might take even longer. That bites. A year ago the splitter had Eovaldi looking like a possible long-term rotation piece. Now his future in MLB is very much up in the air.

Thoughts ten days after the end of the regular season

Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)
Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)

It has now been ten days since the Yankees played their final regular season game. The postseason has kept me from missing the Yankees so far, though that’ll change eventually. Probably after the playoffs. Anyway, I have some thoughts about the 2016 season and the offseason ahead.

1. This is a very important Arizona Fall League season for the Yankees. Usually it’s just a bunch of guys getting extra at-bats. This year the Yankees have one rehabbing big leaguer (Greg Bird), one rehabbing prospect (James Kaprielian), and one reclamation project (Dillon Tate) in the desert. Bird will hopefully be the full-time first baseman next season, and he’s finally getting at-bats in the AzFL after missing the season due to shoulder surgery. Kaprielian, arguably the most talented pitcher in the system, will get a chance to make up for lost time after missing close to the entire season with an elbow problem. Tate’s stock took a hit this summer as his velocity and stuff wavered. The Yankees want to get all three back on track, especially Bird and Kaprielian. They’re important to the future of the franchise.

2. I’m usually paranoid about pitching depth. I’m always in favor of signing that one extra veteran to be the fifth starter and push the kids down to Triple-A. I’d rather have the arms and not need them then need them and not have them, you know? Despite that, I’m weirdly comfortable with the pitching depth the Yankees have at the moment. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell all logged big league time this year, and then there’s Jordan Montgomery and presumably Chance Adams in Triple-A. Severino is the only one of those pitchers with a really high ceiling, but I think they’re all big leaguers, and I think the odds are pretty good we’ll see each of them next season. Definitely the first four, assuming Green is healthy. Is a rotation featuring four of those guys going to win a championship in 2017? Nah. But I like all the live arms that are big league ready or close to it. It’s been a while since the Yankees were this deep in potential starters.

3. Now, even with that pitching depth in mind, I do think the Yankees need to add a starter this offseason. A young controllable guy with high upside would be ideal. Someone like, say, Carlos Rodon or Jon Gray would be the dream scenario, just to throw some names out there. I’m not sure if that’ll happen though. Plan B might be some riskier pitchers either due to injury or poor performance. Rich Hill will be the big free agent name this offseason, and I suspect he’s going to get himself a nice contract. When I say riskier pitchers, I’m thinking more along the lines of Brett Anderson and Jaime Garcia (assuming his option is declined), or a trade for Tyson Ross. There’s a chance they’ll come reasonably cheap, and if healthy, they’ll be pretty good. If not, then the Yankees can turn it over to the kids. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the young starters. I’m known to do that in the offseason. It just seems like there are zero sure things in free agency. Not even a reliable veteran innings guy to be your fourth starter. So if no trade can be worked out, then taking shots on risky pitchers with upside and using the kids as a backup plan seems like a fine idea.


4. I’m not sure how this can be fixed aside from getting an entirely new offense, but the Yankees really need to improve their on-base ability going forward. They had a team .314 OBP (25th in MLB) and a 7.8% walk rate (19th). They also averaged only 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 22nd in baseball. Their 77 games with no more than two walks were ninth most in baseball. That’s a problem. The best thing a hitter can do in any given plate appearance is not make an out, and the Yankees were among the worst teams at not making outs this past season. Furthermore, one of their best count-workers (Mark Teixeira) is retiring and two others (Brett Gardner and Brian McCann) might get traded. Hopefully Bird’s return and a full season of Aaron Judge will help correct this somewhat. With others like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, this is just who they are. They’re going up there swinging. Want the Yankees to score more runs? Then adding some more on-base guys to the lineup would be a good start. Gardner and McCann were the only full season regulars with a .331+ OBP in 2016. That ain’t enough.

5. The Yankees re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract last week, which means Rothschild, Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman will be all be free agents next offseason. Probably the other coaches too, though I don’t know their contract statuses. Point is, things are set up well for the Yankees to wipe the slate clean after next season should ownership decide to go in that direction. No one has to be fired. They can all be let go. I don’t expect that to happen, at least not right now, but if the Yankees miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years, who knows. It would be easy to justify making sweeping changes. Either way, Cashman’s contract and Girardi’s contract are up after the season, and that’s going to be a pretty huge story, especially if the club doesn’t play in October again.