Thoughts following the Chris Carter signing

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Turns out the Yankees had one more move left in them this offseason. Yesterday afternoon the team reportedly agreed to terms with reigning National League home run champ Chris Carter. It’s a one-year deal with a $3.5M base salary plus another $500,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. Let’s talk this one out, shall we?

1. I am mostly indifferent to the signing, and like many of you, the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about it was “wooo dingers!” Gosh do I love home runs. They’re the best. The second thing that crossed my mind is “where is Carter going to play?” My fearlessly bold prediction: this will work itself out. It always does. We fret over playing time in February and before you know it we’ll be wondering where the Yankees would be without Carter. That’s usually how this stuff works. The Yankees have a 37-year-old designated hitter (Matt Holliday) and a young unproven first baseman coming back from major shoulder surgery (Greg Bird). The at-bats will be there and they’re paying him middle reliever money*. The Yankees wouldn’t have signed Carter without some sort of plan in place, and you know what else? Carter probably wouldn’t have signed with the Yankees without playing time assurances. We’ll see how it shakes out. As always, the odds of playing time being a non-issue are better than we’d probably like to admit.

* The Rangers gave Mike Napoli a one-year contract worth $8.5M yesterday. How, exactly, is he $5M better than Carter?

2. Seriously though, where is he going to play? I don’t think the Carter signing is the first step in some grand “trade Brett Gardner and clear the roster spot that way” scheme. Prior to the signing, Bird as well as Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder were fighting for two big league roster spots (first base and bench). One of those roster spots is now going to Carter. The kids all have minor league options, so sending them down to Triple-A for the time being isn’t a problem, but the Yankees are in the middle of a rebuild transition and they just signed a 30-year-old one-dimensional slugger to take the roster spot of a young player. That … kinda goes against the plan, no? Again, I’m sure this will work itself out. Holliday isn’t he most durable player at this point of his career and Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery. Heck, maybe the Yankees signed Carter because Bird’s shoulder isn’t 100% and they haven’t told us yet. But, if everyone makes it through camp in one piece, now two of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder are going to open the season in Triple-A. Not only one. (Sixty-five days in the minors delays Bird’s free agency a year, remember.)

3. Who is going to lose their 40-man roster spot for Carter? I’ve been assuming Richard Bleier is next up on the 40-man chopping block all winter, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it seems the Yankees like him more than I realized. If not Bleier, my guess is Johnny Barbato. Barbato made the Opening Day roster last season but pitched so poorly he didn’t just wind up back in Triple-A, he didn’t even get a September call-up. That’s not a good sign. The Yankees aren’t going to cut any of the kids they protected from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason (Dietrich Enns, Yefrey Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, etc.) and I’d be surprised if Austin Romine or Ronald Torreyes got the axe even though the club has internal replacement candidates at their positions. Maybe Mason Williams? The Yankees will have plenty of outfielders in Triple-A, so perhaps Williams is expendable. Right now, I’m going with Barbato.

4. Carter is a right-handed hitter who socked 41 dingers a year ago and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games over the last three seasons. He hit .224/.338/.537 (126 wRC+) against lefties last season and .222/.335/.486 (123 wRC+) against lefties over the last three seasons. The following left-handed starters pitch for rival AL East teams: J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Wade Miley, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, and Blake Snell. Yeah. The extra power right-handed bat is going to come in handy. Especially since Carter is a guy who can go the other way and take advantage of the short porch. Here is his spray chart over the last three years (via Baseball Savant):

chris-carter-spray-chartNo one will mistake Carter for a great pure hitter who works the entire field and things like that. He’s going to grip it and rip it, and sometimes the ball flies over the fence, even to the opposite field. The short porch will get some extra love in 2017.

5. The big drawback with Carter is, obviously, his strikeouts. He led the NL with 41 home runs last season and also with 206 strikeouts. His 32.0% strikeout rate last year was second highest among qualified hitters, behind only Chris Davis (32.9%). Only Mike Zunino (33.7%) and Davis (32.3%) have a higher strikeout rate than Carter (32.2%) over the last three years. That’s a problem. Strikeouts are bad. You live with them in exchange for the power, but they’re still bad. One big power/lots of strikeouts guy in the lineup is tolerable. More than one gets a little iffy, and there’s a pretty good chance Carter and Aaron Judge will both be in the lineup a bunch of times next season. That’s going to lead to a lot of empty at-bats and rallies dying without the ball being put in play. Judge is a top prospect and hopefully the right fielder of the future. He’s a priority player. As long as the Yankees deem him big league ready, he should be in the lineup. He shouldn’t sit just because Carter is owed a couple million bucks and Joe Girardi doesn’t want two strikeout guys in the lineup. Judge has to play and I’m sure Carter is going to play a bunch too. The two might combine for 400 strikeouts this season, like for real, and that won’t be pleasant to sit through at times.

6. This is worth pointing out: Carter will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. He somehow still has fewer than five full years of service time. The Brewers non-tendered him earlier this offseason because they didn’t want to pay a projected $8M salary through arbitration. Obviously no one else felt Carter was worth that salary either, because he signed for $3M with some incentives. Chances are the same thing will happen next offseason. The Yankees will non-tender Carter because his projected salary will outweigh his actual production. But, if Carter has a nice year, the club could bring him back in 2018 as their post-Holliday designated hitter. It’ll be an option available to them. Hopefully Carter has a good season and forces the Yankees to think hard about bringing him back for another year. That would be cool.

7. One thing I do not expect to happen is a midseason trade. One of those “Carter plays well and the Yankees flip him for prospects at the deadline” situations. Nope. Can’t see it. Carter hit .230/.317/.514 (113 wRC+) with 22 homers before the All-Star break last summer and the Brewers made him available at the deadline, but no team bit. The same way no team bit when Milwaukee put him on the trade market prior to the non-tender deadline. It’s more likely Carter will be designated for assignment and released at midseason than traded for an actual prospect. An injury could always create a need somewhere else around the league, but, over these last seven months or so, the market has told us Carter doesn’t have much value at all. Heck, you can go even further back than that, when the Astros non-tendered him following the 2015 season. They tried to trade him too. This is a straight one-year deal with upside in the form of dingers. That’s about it.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, ESPN announced Mark Teixeira has joined the network as a (duh) baseball analyst. He’ll do in-studio stuff on Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, plus some radio. Teixeira and his family have lived in Connecticut full-time ever since he joined the Yankees, so making the trip up to Bristol won’t be onerous. He’s a funny and insightful guy, we’ve seen him on television plenty over the years, so I’m sure he’ll knock it out of the park with ESPN. It always felt like a matter of “when” Teixeira would land a TV gig, not “if.”

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. The (hockey) Rangers and Nets are both in action tonight, and there are a handful of college basketball games on the schedule. Talk about those games, Teixeira’s new job, or anything else right here. Just not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

Gary Sanchez will pass on the 2017 World Baseball Classic

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

According to multiple reports, Gary Sanchez has decided not to play for the Dominican Republic during the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. The tournament begins March 6th and the Championship Game will be played March 22nd at Dodger Stadium.

Sanchez told Sweeny Murti he initially accepted an invitation to play in the WBC, but he changed his mind recently and will instead spend Spring Training with the Yankees. That’s good. Sanchez is about to begin his first full season as the starting catcher and he needs to familiarize himself with the pitching staff.

Dellin Betances will suit up for the Dominican Republic, which will be managed by Yankees first base coach Tony Pena. Didi Gregorius is going to play for the Netherlands. Minor leaguers Kellin Deglan (Canada), Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal, and Donovan Solano (all Colombia) are on WBC rosters as well.

Report: Yankees have checked in on Travis Wood

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Yankees have checked in on former Cubs LHP Travis Wood, who is currently a free agent. Heyman tweeted that the Yankees “don’t necessarily seem at forefront of talks at moment.”

Wood, who turned 30 yesterday, has spent the last five seasons pitching for the Cubs and was the team’s lone All-Star representative as a starter in 2013. However, after a sub-par 2014 in the rotation, Wood was moved to the bullpen for most of 2015 and exclusively in 2016. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently reported that “multiple teams” are offering Wood the opportunity to start.

The Yankees have been connected to lefty relievers this offseason, but they also could use help in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia appear locked into three spots while the last two spots are up for grabs among younger unproven starters. Brian Cashman has asserted that the spots will come down to Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and others currently on the 40-man roster, but Wood could provide competition and an intriguing option.

At first glance, Wood’s 2016 season appears to be a major success with a career-best 2.95 ERA in 61 innings over 77 appearances. However, his strikeout rate declined from 28.2 to 18.7 percent while his walk (9.3 to 9.5 percent) and home run (0.98 to 1.18 per nine innings) rates increased. Wood posted a 4.54 FIP, his worst since 2012. Based on his five seasons in Chicago as a whole, it looks like his high strikeout rate in 2015 was an outlier and his ERA in 2016 may have been boosted by a career-low .215 BABIP.

As a reliever, Wood cut his repertoire down to mostly three pitches: a low-90s four-seam fastball, a high-80s cutter and a mid-80s slider. He sparingly used a changeup and curveball. In his last full season as a starter in 2014, he used his sinker almost as much as his cutter, his top secondary pitch. He threw either his fastball or cutter nearly 80 percent of the time in 2016. Even when he used his sinker more often as a starter, he still had low groundball rates (his career-best was a 37.4 percent mark in 2016), a bad sign for a potential starter at Yankee Stadium.

After Wood’s strong performance in relief, it begs the question: Would he be willing to stay in relief? Aroldis Chapman is the closer, so Joe Girardi won’t use him as a matchup reliever, leaving Tommy Layne as the lefty specialist. If the Yankees wanted a second lefty on Opening Day, the choice on the current roster is between Chasen Shreve and Richard Bleier (Dietrich Enns an unlikely possibility). Wood could work for the Yankees as more than just a LOOGY and as a full-fledged middle reliever. He also has postseason experience from the last two seasons and one solid appearance with the Reds during Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in 2010.

With “multiple teams” showing interest in Wood, he is very likely in line for a Major League deal. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Wood as their No. 24 free agent and Heyman had Wood at No. 31 on his list. MLBTR projected Wood at three years, $21 million while Heyman had him pegged at three years, $15 million. Maybe Wood could be down to 1-2 years with how late it is in the offseason. Offering that third year could be the key to grabbing Wood.

The Yankees appear as if they are not Wood’s main suitor and that isn’t all that surprising. The team appears committed to the young movement in the back of the rotation and Wood probably wants the chance to start. That’s where the money tends to be and the Yankees aren’t likely to spend too much more this offseason. My take is that Wood could provide value on a shorter term deal in the bullpen (or swing role as Mike suggested), particularly with how Girardi likes to deploy relievers. However, looking at his peripherals, I’d stay away from guaranteeing him a rotation spot and pass on anything close to his projected deals from earlier in the offseason.

Update: Yankees agree to one-year deal with Chris Carter

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Update (7:04pm ET by Mike): The deal is worth $3.5M guaranteed, not $3M, says Ken Rosenthal. The plate appearance incentives can push the total value to $4M.

Update (3:08pm ET by Mike): According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year deal with Carter, pending physical. It’ll pay him a $3M base salary plus incentives. Carter gets a $500,000 signing bonus plus an extra $100,000 each for 250, 300, 350, 400, and 450 plate appearances.

Original Post (12:30pm ET): As per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN and Baseball America, the Yankees have some semblance of interest in former Brewer and current free agent 1B/DH Chris Carter. The front office has been in contact with Carter’s agent, Dave Stewart (yes, that Dave Stewart), but that accounts for all that we know at this point in time.

Carter was non-tendered by the Brewers early in the off-season, on the heels of a solid 2016 in which the 30-year-old batted .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+) and led the National League in both home runs (41) … and strikeouts (206). The Brewers decision was likely influenced by his poor defensive contributions and expected $8 MM-plus price tag, as Carter’s iron glove at first limited him to just 0.9 fWAR. They are in the midst of a tear-down and rebuild, so it makes sense that they would look to invest their payroll and playing time elsewhere.

The question for the Yankees is rather simple – where would Carter play?

Carter has been a 1B/DH almost exclusively since 2014, though he has played 79 games in the outfield in his career. Unsurprisingly, the 6’5″, 245-plus pound slugger was an unmitigated disaster out there, with a career -29.7 UZR/150 (or an ugly .951 fielding percentage, if you want to keep it simple). In short, unless the Yankees are feeling particularly adventurous, Carter’s role would be a back-up/platoon partner for Greg Bird at first.

The likelihood of Carter settling for a back-up or platoon role may not be all that great, as Ken Rosenthal recently reported that Carter is “looking for more at-bats than he probably would get from the Dodgers, who likely would play him at first base against left-handed pitching and give him an occasional start in left field.” Rosenthal also spoke with the aforementioned Stewart, who said that “[i]t’s going to be important for Chris to get significant playing time.”

That expectation also suggests that Carter is looking for a guaranteed Major League deal. He made $4.175 MM in 2015, and was subsequently non-tendered by the Astros. The Brewers picked him up for just $2.5 MM last year, and now here we are. Carter was non-tendered after the free agent predictions list came out in early to mid-November, so there isn’t much guesswork out there. Do we compare him to Matt Holliday, who the Yankees signed for $13 MM? What about Mitch Moreland, who was picked up by the Red Sox for $5.5 MM? Or will he have to settle for something less, considering that it’s a week before Spring Training and other RHH 1B/DH types like Mike Napoli (though, he has been linked to the Rangers) and Billy Butler are still available?

As of now, there are two distinct possibilities that stand out to me. The first is that the Yankees are looking for an insurance policy for Bird and/or Tyler Austin, and are merely doing their due diligence. And the other is that this is a tried-and-true example of a player’s agent using the Yankees name to try to put his player front and center (which we are playing into with this very post). Either way, it’s fun to imagine Carter crushing baseballs into the Bronx skyline.

Thoughts one week before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Only one week left in the offseason. Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa one week from today, then the position players will follow four days later. The first Grapefruit League game is only 17 days away. Feels good. Anyway, I have some random thoughts on random stuff.

1. Barring an extremely surprising development, the Yankees are done with their major moves this offseason. They might ink someone to a non-roster deal or something like that, but we’re not going to see anything that will shake up the projected Opening Day roster. I’m most surprised the Yankees didn’t add a starting pitcher this winter. Not necessarily a cheap innings guy either. I’m talking about a quality young starter with several years of control. I really thought they were going to dip into their prospect base to improve the rotation via trade. A few promising young starters were traded this winter (Jose De Leon, Lucas Giolito, Taijuan Walker) but there wasn’t as much activity as I expected. I thought we’d see a ton of pitcher trades given the thin free agent class. The Yankees did add pitching in the Brian McCann (Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman) and James Pazos (Zack Littell) trades, though the guys they got back are Single-A prospects, not big league ready. I’m not saying it’s bad (or good) the Yankees didn’t acquire a young arm. I’m just saying I expected it to happen, and it didn’t.

2. Another thing I expected to happen that didn’t this offseason: a Brett Gardner trade. The combination of upper level outfield prospects and desire to get under the luxury tax threshold had me thinking Gardner was a goner. The Yankees would shop him around a bit, then eventually take the best offer, even if it meant eating some money a la the McCann trade. Didn’t happen. There weren’t many clubs in need of an outfielder this winter, and two of the neediest teams were AL East rivals (Blue Jays, Orioles). Intra-division deals are always unlikely. That trimmed the list of potential suitors even further. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just thought Gardner would be moved so the Yankees could give his at-bats to younger players. Instead, Brian Cashman set his asking price and stuck to it, so Gardner remains. I imagine that asking price will be adjusted at midseason, especially if Clint Frazier really forces the issue in Triple-A.

3. One of the most surefire ways to build a competitive team is by being strong up the middle. The late-1990s Yankees became a dynasty because they were getting top of the line production from catcher (Jorge Posada), shortstop (Derek Jeter), and center field (Bernie Williams), positions that are typically hard to fill. (Chuck Knoblauch was excellent at second base in 1998 and 1999 too.) You know what? Here’s a big ol’ table with the best up-the-middle teams in baseball in 2016, per fWAR:

Team C 2B SS CF Total
1. Nationals 4.4 10.0 2.9 2.6 19.9
2. Cubs 3.5 6.9 3.9 5.6 19.9
3. Dodgers 2.9 1.9 7.6 5.7 18.1
4. Cardinals 2.5 8.6 4.2 2.3 17.6
5. Red Sox 2.2 4.8 4.4 4.8 16.2
6. Giants 4.2 3.1 6.0 1.7 15.0
7. Indians -0.7 4.7 6.3 4.5 14.8
8. Astros 3.2 6.5 4.9 -0.8 13.8
9. Mets 0.5 5.5 3.2 4.0 13.2
10. Angels 1.2 -0.6 2.8 9.3 12.7
11. Orioles 0.7 2.0 8.8 1.2 12.7
12. Phillies 2.9 3.6 2.4 3.8 12.7
13. Rockies 2.0 4.0 2.2 3.8 12.0
14. Tigers 0.7 6.0 2.4 2.1 11.2
15. Rangers 3.5 2.0 1.9 3.6 11.0
16. Royals 2.8 1.2 0.4 6.6 11.0
17. White Sox 0.8 1.8 3.6 4.2 10.4
18. Yankees 4.4 1.2 2.7 2.0 10.3
19. Diamondbacks 2.9 5.5 0.7 1.2 10.3
20. Marlins 3.6 3.2 0.6 2.4 9.8
21. Mariners 2.5 6.1 -1.1 2.2 9.7
22. Brewers 4.1 0.8 2.8 1.8 9.5
23. Twins 0.5 5.9 1.0 1.9 9.3
24. Blue Jays 1.2 3.0 1.8 3.0 9.0
25. Rays -0.1 3.7 2.4 2.8 8.8
26. Reds 0.2 0.2 3.3 3.1 6.8
27. Pirates 1.2 1.6 1.2 0.7 4.7
28. Padres -0.3 2.8 -2.7 3.5 3.3
29. Braves 0.9 -2.1 -1.0 4.1 1.9
30. Athletics 2.2 -3.2 2.2 -1.4 -0.2

Six of the top seven and seven of the top nine teams in up-the-middle WAR went to the postseason. Only one team in the bottom half of the league went to the postseason, and that was the Blue Jays, who had a great pitching staff (AL low 4.11 runs allowed per game) and received monster production from first and third bases. Anyway, the Yankees were essentially middle of the pack last year, and you don’t have to look real hard to see how that may improve going forward. Gary Sanchez is now entrenched behind the plate. Gleyber Torres is coming soon, and while he may not unseat the defensive superior Didi Gregorius at shortstop, he could force the Yankees to move Starlin Castro. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen in center field long-term — Jacoby Ellsbury is going to have to move to left field at some point reasonable soon, you don’t see many 34 or 35 years old roaming center nowadays — but the Yankees have options. Dustin Fowler, Blake Rutherford, maybe Jorge Mateo. This is a tried and true formula. Be strong up the middle. The Yankees aren’t right now, though they could be very soon.

4. The Royals signed Jason Hammel over the weekend and a slew of relievers came off the board in recent days. An already thin free agent class has been picked clean. So, looking over the list of those still unsigned, the only players who remotely interest me at this point are Joe Blanton and Jon Niese, and that’s only if Niese is healthy. Blanton had a fine season with the Dodgers last year, throwing 80 innings with a 2.48 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a 25.4% strikeout rate. He just turned 36, and at this point of his career, he’s in “ride him into the ground” territory. It sounds harsh, but Blanton was out of baseball two years ago before resurfacing, and he can’t seem to find a job this winter. He’s a guy you sign, keep running out there until he loses effectiveness, then cast aside. The Yankees currently have two open bullpen spots and more pitchers than they can fit in Triple-A, so signing Blanton would only compound that problem. Then again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth. I don’t expect the Yankees to sign Blanton or anyone else at this point. I’m just saying that, out of all the still available players, he and healthy Niese are the only ones who catch my eye. Blargh.

5. Looking ahead to next year’s free agent class — way too early, I should add — I’ve already professed my love for Carlos Santana. Two mid-range starters who could interest the Yankees are Alex Cobb and Francisco Liriano. Cobb was excellent with the Rays from 2013-14 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery, and this coming season he’ll have a chance to show he’s back to form following elbow reconstruction. Cobb will only be 30 when hits free agency and he’s an AL East tested guy who gets a lot of grounders and posts high K/BB ratios. That fits what the Yankees look for in their pitchers. As for Liriano, the Yankees have had on-and-off interest in him in the past, dating back to his days with the Twins, and lefties who can get ground balls and miss bats are always welcome in Yankee Stadium. He’s enigmatic, no doubt, but the Yankees very clearly aren’t afraid of those types of pitchers (A.J. Burnett, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, etc.). Also, Liriano will be 34 by time he hits free agency, which means he shouldn’t require a hefty contract. A lot can and will change over the next few months, so who knows whether Cobb and/or Liriano will even be desirable next winter. If the Yankees don’t intend to swim in the deep end of the free agent pool for guys like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (or Masahiro Tanaka!), second tier arms like Cobb and Liriano could catch their attention.

Monday Night Open Thread

Over the weekend Andrew Simon posted a study looking at how well MLB.com’s top 100 prospects lists have correlated to future big league success over the years. Generally speaking, teams with top farm systems experience much more MLB success in the following years. We’re talking an average increase of 9.4 wins (!) just one year after having a top system.

Simon’s method, which determines farm system status by awarding 100 points for the No. 1 prospect on the top 100, 99 points for the No. 2 prospect, etc., says the Yankees have the best farm system in the game per MLB.com’s rankings. There are no guarantees with prospects and Simon’s method isn’t perfect. (Prospect value isn’t linear.) We all know that. History has shown a great farm system tends to result in better MLB teams in subsequent years though, and boy do I like the sound of that.

Anyway, this is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Islanders, and Devils are all in action tonight, and there are some college basketball games on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, Simon’s study, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.