MLB announced it will test pace of game rule changes in the Arizona Fall League this year. The list of changes is right here. Here’s the short version: batters must keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times (unless there’s a wild pitch, passed ball, foul ball, etc.), intentional walks are automatic (manager signals, batter goes to first with no pitches thrown), pitcher-catcher conferences are limited, and a game clock will be installed. Pitchers will have 12 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with men on base.
There’s no doubt baseball has a pace of game problem and these days people have short attention spans with plenty of ways to distract themselves. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked down at my phone between pitches at a game, or at my computer while watching at home. MLB isn’t going to shorten up commercial breaks, so this is the next best thing. I do think the pace of play would be less of an issue if offense hadn’t disappeared — it’s one thing to watch a high-scoring game last three and a half hours, it’s another to watch three total runs score and batters ground into the shift for three and a half hours. We’ll see. The AzFL begins play next week. · (58) ·
The dust is still settling following the end of the 2014 regular season, but the Yankees have already started their offseason by beginning contract talks with GM Brian Cashman. That’s the very first item on the winter agenda — finding a GM, whether it’s Cashman or someone else. Nothing can happen until the guy in charge is in place.
I have no interest in debating the merits of re-signing Cashman now. It’s pretty clearly going to happen regardless of what you or I think. Instead, I want to get a jump on the offseason and free agency by looking at how much money the Yankees will have to spend this winter. It should go without saying this is nothing more than an estimation. Salary figures are available but luxury tax calculations are complex and we really have no idea how much the Yankees can or are willing to spend. All we can have is their recent spending trends.
Anyway, if you’re worried the team may try to squeeze under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2015 after back-to-back postseason-less years, don’t. Alex Rodriguez‘s hefty salary comes back on the books and last winter’s free agent signings make getting under the threshold all but impossible at this point. Ten players are either hitting free agency or retiring (Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young) but that still doesn’t leave the team with much wiggle room. Let’s break it down.
UNDER CONTRACT (ten players signed for $175.07M)
Players: A-Rod ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.14M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.86M), Brian McCann ($17M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Brett Gardner ($13M), Martin Prado ($10M), Brendan Ryan ($1.67M)
Just to be clear, those are luxury tax “hits” since that’s the most most important number to the Yankees. Each player’s actual 2015 salary may be different. The Yankees have ten players under contract next year and the scary thing is that they have no idea what they’re going to get out of A-Rod or Sabathia, plus they’ll be holding their breath every time Tanaka throws a pitch, at least for the first few weeks. Those ten players don’t come with much certainty.
The only contract option the Yankees have to worry about this offseason is Andrew Bailey’s club option. Forgot about him, didn’t you? The team signed him to a minor league deal last spring then rehabbed him from shoulder capsule surgery this summer with an eye on getting him in their 2015 bullpen. The option is valued at $2.5M, so not much but not nothing either. Bailey did not pitch at all this year — Joe Girardi confirmed Bailey had a “few setbacks” in his rehab back in August — and the option isn’t a slam dunk. He might have looked awful towards the end of his rehab, enough to scare the team away. We have no way of knowing.
Arbitration-Eligible (seven players)
Players: David Huff (first time), Michael Pineda (first time), David Phelps (first time, Super Two), Ivan Nova (second time), Esmil Rogers (second time), Francisco Cervelli (second time), Shawn Kelley (fourth time, Super Two)
The Super Two cutoff this offseason is projected to be two years and 133 days of service time according to MLBTR, so Phelps will qualify at two years and 156 days. He should clear the cutoff comfortably even if the projection is off a bit. The Yankees managed to prevent Pineda from becoming a Super Two last year by sending him to the minors when his rehab was complete in July, but there’s no more avoiding arbitration now. He’ll get a nice raise in his first time through even after missing all that time.
Huff and Rogers are non-tender candidates. Huff won’t get a big raise at all and, even though he pitched well this year (211 ERA+!), I don’t think he’s someone you go out of your way to keep. Rogers actually made $1.85M this past season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement says the Yankees can’t pay him less than 80% of that next year, or $1.48M. No player has ever had their salary reduced through arbitration either. The Yankees may like Rogers’ arm but there’s no way they’ll keep him at that salary.
Estimating arbitration salaries is damn near impossible, at least for me, but I’m going to ballpark it anyway:
- Pineda: $3M, up from $500k-ish (awesome when healthy, All-Star in 2011)
- Phelps: $2M, up from $500k-ish
- Nova: $3.8M, up from $3.3M (hurt all year)
- Cervelli: $1M, up from $700k
- Kelley: $2.5M, up from $1.765M
- Huff and Rogers non-tendered
Sound okay to you? MLBTR’s crazy accurate arbitration projections are still a few weeks away, so this will have to do for now. If you don’t like Cervelli and/or Kelley at those salaries, you still sign then them trade them, not non-tender them. They have some actual value. Not much, but some.
Anyway, my spit-balled arbitration numbers give us another $12M for five players on top of the $175.07M for ten players above, bringing us to $187.07M for 15 players. Considering I did nothing more than guess with those arbitration numbers, let’s round it up to $188M and go with that. Round numbers are easy. Like I said earlier, this is nothing more than an estimation. In a few weeks we’ll get a better idea of the arbitration salaries once MLBTR crunches the numbers.
Pre-Arbitration (18 players)
Players: Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Jose Campos, Preston Claiborne, Ramon Flores, Shane Greene, Slade Heathcott, Bryan Mitchell, John Ryan Murphy, Eury Perez, Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, Antoan Richardson, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Zelous Wheeler, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley
Richardson and Wheeler will likely be cut loose this winter, maybe Perez too. He is out of minor league options (I think) but could stick around all winter and come to camp to compete for a bench job. Then again, if the Yankees need a 40-man spot in the offseason, he’ll probably get the axe. Either way, the pre-arbitration guys who get knocked off the 40-man roster will be replaced by more pre-arbitration players (Rule 5 Draft eligible players, waiver claims, etc.), so the salary numbers are a wash.
Of those 18 players, only Betances and Warren are locks to be on the Opening Day roster. Greene is a good bet to make the team in some capacity. Something would need to happen with Cervelli for Murphy or Romine to crack the big league roster. Claiborne and Whitley are classic up-and-down depth arms while Perez, Pirela, and Flores could compete for a bench job, I suppose. The rest — Banuelos, Heathcott, Ramirez, and Sanchez — are ticketed for the minors.
Like most other teams, the Yankees have a sliding scale for pre-arbitration salaries based on service time and awards voting, stuff like that. Warren and Betances won’t make the league minimum next season even though the Yankees could technically renew their contracts at that salary. There’s a relationship aspect to this. You don’t want to upset players and agents by cheaping out with pre-arbitration salaries. Conservatively assuming $600k each for Warren, Betances, and Greene puts us at $189.8M for 18 players with this roster:
|McCann||1B Teixeira||LF Gardner||Tanaka||Betances|
|2B Prado||CF Ellsbury||Pineda||Warren|
|DH||SS Ryan||RF Beltran||Sabathia?||Kelley|
Some of those open spots can and presumably will be filled internally. Claiborne or Mitchell or Ramirez or Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow or any number of other reliever could work their way into the bullpen. Maybe Bailey and Huff too. Pirela or Perez could squeeze onto the bench. The Yankees do have some options in house but no long-term answers to any of those question marks. There’s no shortstop to push Ryan to the bench, for example.
Aside from an injury-fueled outlier in 2013, the Yankees have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $210M range every year since 2008, give or take a few million here or there. That $189.8M covers 18 MLB roster players, though there will be another 15 players on the 40-man roster but not the active 25-man roster that count against the luxury tax. They’re usually estimated at $2M (they earn lower salaries in the minors). There’s also $12M or so in benefits every team must play. Now we’re up to $203.8M for 17 active roster players plus Nova.
If the Yankees are going to stick to that $210M or so payroll limit, they have very little room to maneuver this winter. They need a shortstop (pushing Ryan to the bench), preferably another starter (pushing Phelps or Greene to the bullpen), and miscellaneous depth pieces at the absolute minimum. Retaining David Robertson and adding another starting caliber infielder at second and/or third base seem like two items that should be pretty high on the offseason to-do list as well.
The Yankees don’t have nany pieces to offer in a cash-clearing trade either. Dealing Cervelli or Kelley is nothing more than rearranging furniture at their salary levels. Same with Phelps or even Pineda. To clear some real money, they’d have to trade Gardner or Prado, two of their three or four best offensive players. How do you trade them and realistically improve the team? I’m sure it’s possible. I just don’t see how. It would take some creativity and luck — not many clubs are willing to take on useful big money pieces in exchange for useful low-cost pieces. The Yankees are generally the salary dumpees, not the salary dumpers.
George King recently reported the “early industry vibe is the Yankees aren’t going to spend big money this winter” and I totally buy that. Seems completely plausible after spending all that money last winter and winding up with a worse record and fewer runs scored. They took their shot(s) last offseason and may now focus on tinkering rather than overhauling. And, to be honest, the Yankees aren’t one or two big free agents away from contending either. Figuring out how to get this club back on the right track without ballooning payroll will be one heck of a task for Cashman & Co.
Here’s your open thread for the rest of the night. The Royals and Athletics (Shields vs. Lester) are playing the AL Wildcard game tonight (8pm ET on TBS). My prediction: someone will say Lester and/or Shields are either earning or costing themselves millions in free agency with this start. Talk about that game or anything else right here. Have at it.
Carlos Beltran had “loose pieces” and the bone spur removed from his right elbow earlier today, the Yankees announced. The team says he can begin throwing and hitting in approximately six weeks and can begin playing in approximately 12 weeks. The procedure isn’t expected to have any sort of impact on his usual offseason routine. Beltran has said he will stay in New York to rehab this winter.
Beltran, 37, finished his first season in pinstripes with a .233/.301/.402 (95 wRC+) batting line and 15 homers in 449 plate appearances. He mashed early in the season but never seemed to put it together while playing through the bone spur. Hopefully Beltran will get back to being a middle of the order force once healthy next season. Hope is pretty much all the Yankees can do at this point. · (36) ·
Via Buster Olney: The Yankees have started the process of putting together a new contract for GM Brian Cashman. His current deal expires at the end of the October but this is something they have to take of sooner rather than later so they can begin mapping out the offseason. A few weeks ago we heard the Steinbrenners wanted to bring Cashman back despite their second straight postseason-less year.
“My stuff’s not really resolved, so there have been no discussions just yet,” said Cashman to Chad Jennings when asked about offseason plans over the weekend. “That will all wait for another day. I don’t want to talk about game-planning or focus, what should or shouldn’t be looked at. I’ll wait until we all sit down with ownership, they can map out their strategy and who’s going to be a part of that, and we can go from there.”
Cashman has been the GM since 1998 and that’s an eternity in GM years. There are plenty of strong arguments for both keeping him and finding a new GM, but, either way, the Yankees need to make some changes to their team-building approach because the whole “throw money at free agents” strategy doesn’t work like it once did. The game has changed and the Yankees have yet to keep pace. · (331) ·
Baseball America continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league today with the short season NY-Penn League. The list is free but the scouting reports are not. Mets RHP Marcos Molina, Nationals RHP Reynaldo Lopez, and Mets SS Amed Rosario claim the top three spots. C Luis Torrens is the only Yankees farmhand on the list and he ranks fourth after playing 48 games with the Staten Island Yankees.
Torrens, 18, hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games with SI. “He continued to stand out for his show-stopping arm,” said the scouting report, which lauds his other defense skills as well. “Offensively, Torrens has intriguing life in his bat and flashes some pull power … He recognizes spin out of the pitcher’s hand and does a good job staying back on breaking balls. He drives balls from gap to gap and handles velocity well … He is confident and poised beyond his years.”
The SI Yanks had the least amount of high-end talent among Yankees’ affiliates this year — RHP Ty Hensley didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for the list — and Torrens was far and away the best prospect on the team. The next relevant list is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which is a few days away. OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino are locks for that list. Other possibilities include 3B Miguel Andujar, SS Abi Avelino, SS Tyler Wade, LHP Ian Clarkin, and RHP Brady Lail.
Other League Top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League. · (21) ·
The regular season is over and that means we’ll spend the next few weeks looking back at the year that was and ahead to an important offseason. We’ll start our annual season review next week once I take a few days to catch my breath. Blog life is a grind, man. We’ve been using the “what went right/wrong” season review format basically since the start of RAB, but I feel it’s run its course and it’s time for something new. I’m just not quite sure what yet. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts on the heels of the team’s second straight postseason-less season.
1. Now that Derek Jeter is gone and the Core Four — sorry Core Five doesn’t rhyme, Bernie — is officially gone, the Yankees have to find or develop a new identity. This was Jeter’s team for the last two decades and now they have to find the next “face of the franchise,” so to speak. I don’t think that player is on the roster right now and that’s okay. It was a few years before Tim Lincecum replaced Barry Bonds as the Giants icon, for example. Masahiro Tanaka could eventually take over as the face of the Yankees but I don’t think he is that right now. Maybe if he had stayed healthy this season it would have been a different story. This is the first time in a very, very long time the Yankees have not had an undisputed star at the forefront of the organization. Remember, Jeter took over that role from Don Mattingly almost immediately. This is definitely a new era of Yankees baseball going forward, an era unlike many of us have seen.
2. I’m a big believer in the importance of being strong at the up-the-middle positions (catcher, second, short, center). Those are traditionally hard to fill spots and teams getting top notch production there have a big advantage over their competitors. It’s not a coincidence the most recent Yankees dynasty was built around Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams. Here is a real quick and dirty look at the top up-the-middle teams in 2014 using fWAR (sorry, our tables suck and you can’t sort the columns):
|Team||Catcher||Second Base||Shortstop||Center Field||Total|
Six of the top ten and eight of the top 13 teams are in the postseason. The Tigers and Athletics are the two notable exceptions. It’s no surprise the Yankees are near the bottom. Jacoby Ellsbury was their only above-average up-the-middle player this year. Brian McCann was terrible until his homer-filled September and second base was a disaster all year. Jeter’s farewell was awesome but his overall year was not. In fact, Yankees shortstop was the fifth least productive position in baseball this year, better than only Astros first base (-2.7 fWAR), Indians right field (-2.2), Rangers first base (-2.0), and Reds right field (-2.0). Yikes.
3. Now, about those up-the-middle positions. The Yankees are locked into Ellsbury and McCann — I expect McCann to be better next year, though that might be nothing more than blind faith — but they have clean slates at second base and shortstop. Moreso at shortstop. Martin Prado is a candidate to play second and Rob Refsnyder is knocking on the door at Triple-A. There’s no one like that at short though, not unless you count Brendan Ryan, and I sure don’t. These clean slates are both good and bad. They’re good because they’re an opportunity to plug holes with no strings attached or other considerations. They’re bad because these are really tough spots to fill. My perfect world scenario for second is starting Prado there, then moving him wherever else when the inevitable injury strikes and calling up Refsnyder. The Yankees will have their pick from several free agent shortstops. There’s a lot of room for improvement on the middle infield and the club could turn their up-the-middle foursome into a real strength if McCann rebounds and they hit on their inevitable shortstop addition this winter.
4. I think these last two years have made it clear that having a strong and deep bullpen is very important. I mean, it’s always been important, but nowadays there are fewer runs being scored and it seems like every single game is close. We just watched it game after game for six months. This year the Yankees played 52 one-run games and 128 games decided by four or fewer runs. Five years ago they played 39 one-run games and 110 games decided for no more than four runs. Blowouts are rare and teams with deep bullpens have a big advantage in all those close games. I don’t only think the Yankees should re-sign David Robertson, I think they should also look to add another high-end reliever to him and Dellin Betances. Someone like impending free agent Andrew Miller, for example. Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley are fine seventh inning guys who can be more for stretches of time (and less in others), plus I like prospects like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow as much as anyone, but I’m all for adding high-end bullpen depth. It’s both tricky and risky — relievers do still tend to suck for no reason and without warning — but without a big infusion of offense this winter, the Yankees are going to need to do whatever they can to help themselves in close games. Upgrading the bullpen is one way to do that.
5. The Yankees are reportedly considering using a six-man rotation next season — it’s just a thought right now, they’re kicking it around — and I keep going back and forth on this. On one hand, they have a lot of pitchers coming off injury in Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), and eventually Ivan Nova (elbow), so it would be good to give them the extra rest. On the other hand, finding five quality starters is hard enough, nevermind six. And do we even know how much it will improve their chances of staying healthy? Good enough to make up for the extra starts they’ll lose? There’s also the roster construction aspect of it. Six-man rotation means three-man bench — I can’t imagine they’ll go to a six-man bullpen, nothing the Yankees have done the last few years suggests they’ll skimp on pitching — which means they’ll need more versatile players, including a backup catcher who can play elsewhere in a pinch. I don’t know, I can’t decide if I like the idea or if I don’t. If it keeps the pitchers healthy, then yeah, they should do it. The problem is there is no way of knowing how much it will help ahead of time. A six-man rotation could blow up in their face and lead to a lot of criticism, which makes me think they won’t do it. The Yankees aren’t the most progressive club when it comes to doing stuff outside the box to gain a competitive advantage. (Example: They didn’t start using infield shifts until years after their division rivals.)
6. I’m curious to see what Jose Pirela‘s role will be next year, which I guess ties into the whole “need more versatile bench players if you’re going to use a six-man rotation” thing. He looked good (149 wRC+) in his late-season cameo but it was 25 at-bats in late-September, that doesn’t tell us anything useful. His hits came against Wei-Yin Chen (single, triple), T.J. McFarland (two singles), Evan Meek (single), Clay Buchholz (single), Craig Breslow (single), and Joe Kelly (triple). That’s like, two and half MLB caliber pitchers. Pirela did have a big year in Triple-A (117 wRC+) while playing all over the field, and there’s a spot for someone like that on the bench. The Yankees like him enough to add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks before it was necessary — Pirela would have become a minor league free agent after the World Series again (he became a free agent last winter and re-signed with the team) — and he started the last four and five of the last six games of the season. The easy answer is that he’ll be an up-and-down utility man next season. But maybe Pirela will squeeze his way onto the bench in place of Ryan if they’re comfortable with their other shortstop options (namely whoever starts with Prado filling in). We’ll see.
The Yankees outrighted left-hander Josh Outman to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He was designated for assignment last week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Eury Perez. I believe Outman will become a minor league free agent after the World Series but the Yankees were probably going to non-tender him in November anyway. He had a decent year with the Rockies last season (3.25 FIP) and earned a nice salary as an arbitration-eligible player this year ($1.2M). Outman, 30, did not allow a run in 3.2 innings across nine appearances for the Yankees in September. · (18) ·
Brett Gardner has been named the Yankees’ finalist for the AL Hank Aaron Award, the team announced. The award is given annually to the top offensive player in each league, so Gardner doesn’t really have much of a chance of winning, but every team needs a nominee. There is a fan voting component, so cast your vote right here. The last Yankee to win the AL Hank Aaron Award was Derek Jeter in 2009. · (21) ·
So here it is, the first official open thread of the offseason. We’ve got another six months of these to go before the Yankees play another meaningful baseball game, though at least the postseason and hot stove will keep us plenty busy for most of the winter. The first night of the offseason is always the worst though. No Yankees baseball and the next game is just so far away. For shame.
Here is your open thread for the evening. There is no baseball tonight. The postseason starts with the AL Wildcard Game tomorrow (Athletics at Royals). The Patriots and Chiefs are playing on Monday Night Football though. Talk about that game, this afternoon’s press conference, or whatever else is on your mind right here.