Here is tonight’s open thread. All five local hockey and basketball teams are in action tonight and there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about all that stuff and more right here.
Tuesday: The Yankees have traded Goody to the Indians for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced earlier today. That almost certainly means cash. I can’t remember the last time “cash or a player to be named later” was actually a player to be named later. Anyway, at least the Yankees got something for Goody rather than losing him for nothing on waivers.
Monday: Late last week, the Yankees finalized and officially announced the Aroldis Chapman signing. Jon Heyman says Chapman will receive an $11M signing bonus and a $15M salary each year of the five-year deal. That means he’ll make $56M during the first three years of the contract, before the opt-out. It’s still a $17.2M luxury tax hit.
“The Marlins were close to signing me,” said Chapman in a conference call Friday. “But in the end my wish was to come back to the Yankees. I wanted to be part of a young team like the Yankees have now, and not go to the Marlins because we all know sometimes from time to time they change their team a lot.”
To clear a 40-man roster spot for Chapman, the Yankees designated right-hander Nick Goody for assignment. The 25-year-old Goody pitched to a 4.67 ERA (5.11 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 9.7% walks in 34.2 big league innings spread across multiple stints the last two seasons. New York selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.
I’ve always liked Goody. His Triple-A numbers are ridiculous — he has a 1.64 ERA (2.37 FIP) with 35.5% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 44 career Triple-A innings — and, more importantly, his slider is a bonafide big league out pitch with a 20.8% swing-and-miss rate. (The MLB average on sliders is 15.2%.)
At the same time, Goody doesn’t get ground balls (career 27.3%) and is homer prone (1.82 HR/9), and he didn’t get grounders in Triple-A either (30.8%). That might just be who he is given his low-90s fastball — Goody’s fastest pitch in MLB is 95.0 mph — and if that’s the case, it’s hard to think Goody could ever be a high-leverage option.
So anyway, the Yankees now have seven days to trade, release, or waive Goody. It used to be ten days, but now it’s seven thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A healthy reliever with a good slider and a minor league option remaining might not slip through waivers, especially with bullpens such a focal point these days.
The Yankees are tapped out. Or at least that’s what they’re telling everyone right now. Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman say the Yankees are telling agents they need to clear salary before making any more moves this offseason. I estimated New York’s luxury tax payroll for next season at roughly $214M, which is down from $243.8M in 2016.
Needless to say, reports like this will fuel the “Hal Steinbrenner is cheap!” narrative, which is ridiculous. Is it fair to say the Yankees should spend more given the little we know about their revenues? Yeah, I guess. But that doesn’t make a franchise that has given away $325M over the last 14 years cheap. Anyway, I have some thoughts on these payroll reports.
1. This could all be posturing. What do we hear every offseason? Teams say they don’t have money to spend and they don’t want to trade young players. Same old story. The Yankees telling free agents they don’t have money to spend could be more of the same. The team is trying to create some leverage during contract talks. What good could come out of saying “we have a lot of money to spend!” anyway?
2. The team’s recent activity make this more believable. The key to any good fake rumor is making it believable. The Yankees want agents to believe they don’t have much cash to spend? Well, trading Brian McCann for two Single-A prospects and salary relief supports that theory. So does shopping Brett Gardner and Chase Headley. And going young at three positions (catcher, first base, right field). Those moves are geared towards saving money.
Of course, the Yankees spent big to sign Aroldis Chapman this offseason, so there are reasons to be skeptical about their spending limitations. Matt Holliday wasn’t cheap either in terms of annual salary. Even with those signings, Hal has made it very clear he wants to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and almost every move the Yankees have made since July has been made with an eye on the 2018 payroll. The Yankees are out of money? It sounds silly, but it’s also kinda believable.
3. If it is true, spending all that money on a closer makes even less sense. Now, if it is true the Yankees can’t take on any more payroll, the Chapman signing looks even more questionable. I understand the signing, I do, I just don’t think it was the best use of (apparently limited) resources at this point in time. Signing a closer for $17.2M a year is a move you make when you’re ready to win right now, not a year or two down the line. Banking on a reliever aging well, even one as great as Chapman, is dubious at best. The fact that move could be hindering the Yankees’ ability to make other moves is, dare I say, problematic.
4. The free agent class stinks anyway. The Yankees are going young wherever possible and that’s cool, though there are still some obvious needs on the roster. Another veteran starter to soak up innings would be swell, as would a middle reliever or two. There’s always room for another pitcher(s), especially on a young staff in which innings will need to be monitored.
The current free agent class really stinks though, and it’s entirely possible that even if the Yankees had money to spend, they wouldn’t be comfortable spending it on any of the available players. The apparent need to shed payroll before making another move might not actually be preventing the Yankees from doing anything right now. I’m sure they’d love to do something else, but it’s not like there are a ton of high quality free agents out there waiting to be signed.
From the no duh department: the Yankees have some level of interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, according to Jon Morosi. How serious is their interest? Who knows. Could be minimal, could be serious. The White Sox are very much in sell mode at the moment and Quintana is their top trade chip now that Chris Sale and Adam Eaton have been traded away.
Here is my Scouting The Market post on Quintana from earlier this month. The short version: he’s very good with a great contract, and there are no obvious reasons to believe his performance is about to decline. Every team in baseball wants Quintana in their rotation. Not every team has the wherewithal to acquire him though. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.
1. The Yankees definitely have the prospects to make the trade. The Yankees have a dynamite farm system right now, arguably the best in baseball, so they have the prospects to acquire Quintana. Heck, they could offer the White Sox a package of three top 100 prospects and still have no fewer than three top 100 guys left in the system. Does Chicago want outfielders? Shortstops? Pitchers? Whatever it is, the Yankees have it. The trade chips are there.
2. The Yankees should be open to trading prospects. I know the Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement and all these prospects are important to their long-term future, but they should not be averse to trading a few of them either. Not all these prospects are going to work out. That’s baseball. Some of them will end up having zero MLB value and the Yankees will regret not cashing them in as trade chips. The tricky part is figuring out which prospects are worth keeping and which should be traded.
3. The price is going to be very high. After the Sale and Eaton trades, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said he focused on acquiring the best talent possible and not filling specific needs. That’s what the Yankees did at the deadline and what every rebuilding team should do, really. Hahn traded Eaton for three pitching prospects even though he needs long-term second base and outfield help, for example.
Sale is the bigger name but his trade value shouldn’t be much higher than Quintana’s. Strip away their names and your preconceived notions of each, and they’re pretty damn similar. Check out their 2014-16 performances:
Pretty much indistinguishable. The difference between the two is +2 WAR across three seasons, which a) isn’t much at all, and b) doesn’t matter because you’re not acquiring the 2014-16 version of either pitcher. You’re getting the 2017 and beyond versions. Quintana, who is Pitcher B in the table, is under control one more year than Sale, which is pretty big.
Point is, the Yankees are smart to have interest in Quintana, even after letting him go for nothing as a minor league free agent however many years ago. If they want him though, it’s going to hurt. They’re going to have to give up multiple top prospects to add this guy to the rotation.
4. Quintana is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees need. The Yankees have basically no established big league starters under control beyond 2017. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents next winter, and if Masahiro Tanaka is still around after next season, it means something went wrong and he didn’t opt-out. Maybe one of the kids will emerge as a reliable starter next summer. Maybe two will. That’d be cool.
Either way, the Yankees have a clear need for long-term rotation help, and when you put together a checklist for the type of pitcher they’d like to acquire, it probably looks something like this:
- Track record of excellence
- No injury history
- Affordable long-term contract
- Preferably left-handed for Yankee Stadium
That’s it, right? That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees want to acquire. Well, Quintana is all of those things. He’s only 27, he’s never been hurt, he’s signed through 2020 for about what the Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke in 2017 alone, and he’s a southpaw with a history of success in the DH league.
The Yankees are probably hesitant to dip into their farm system and trade multiple top prospects for an established big leaguer, and I get it. But, if they’re going to make a move like that, Quintana is the type of player you do it for. He checks every box.
The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to land a big money closer, and they did exactly that two weeks ago, when they inked Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract. Chapman joins Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard in the bullpen, probably Adam Warren too. The remaining bullpen spots are up for grabs with a whole bunch of young pitchers in the running.
Reports indicate the Yankees are still looking to add bullpen help — well, every team is looking for bullpen help, but you know what I mean — particularly a left-hander. They were in touch with Brett Cecil before he signed with the Cardinals, and they had interest in Mike Dunn before he signed with the Rockies. Here is New York’s lefty reliever depth chart at the moment:
Chapman is the closer and won’t be used in left-on-left matchup situations in the middle innings. Right now Layne is that guy, and while he did nice work for the Yankees this past season, I’m not sure he’s someone they could count on going forward. The other three guys aren’t all that reliable either. They might prove to be next summer, but right now, I can’t imagine anyone wants to go into the season with one of those three as the top middle innings southpaw.
The current free agent class is not very good, especially now that most of the top players are off the board, but it does offer a few quality left-handed bullpen options. They won’t come cheap — Cecil got four years and Dunn got three years, so yikes — which might keep the Yankees out of the market all together. Still though, if a nice opportunity presents itself, the Yankees could pounce. Let’s review the available options.
2016 Performance: Blevins, 33, spent the 2016 season with the Mets and pitched to a 2.79 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 42 innings spread across 73 innings, which tells you how he was used. He held left-handed hitters to a .250/.313/.324 (.283 wOBA) batting line against with 31.0% strikeouts, 7.1% walks, and 49.3% grounders. Blevins was actually much more effective against righties (.245 wOBA), but that was a big outlier compared to the rest of his career (.312 wOBA).
2016 Stuff: As with most relievers, Blevins is a two-pitch pitcher who relies on his fastball and breaking ball, in this case a curve. He has thrown a changeup on occasion in the past, but it’s not a big part of his arsenal. Here’s the PitchFX data from his past season. This numbers are against lefties only since we’re looking at matchup guys:
|% Thrown||Avg Velo||Whiff%||GB%|
The fastball swing-and-miss rate is below-average (MLB AVG: 6.9%) while the curveball swing-and-miss rate is comfortably above-average (MLB AVG: 11.1%). Blevins got a ton of grounders with his fastball this year (MLB AVG: 37.9%), always has, while his curve is the opposite. It has a lower than average ground ball rate (MLB AVG: 48.7%) and has throughout his career.
The Skinny: There are very few consistently reliable matchup left-handers in baseball and Blevins is one of them. Since reaching the show for good in 2012, he’s held lefty batters to a sub-.285 wOBA four times in five years. Despite his success this year, Blevins isn’t effective against righties, and there’s nothing to indicate this year’s success was anything more than sample size noise (he faced only 65 righties). If the Yankees want a pure specialist, Blevins is one of the best out there.
2016 Performance: Last offseason Howell exercised a $6.25M player option in his contract to remain with the Dodgers. The 33-year-old had a 4.09 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 50.2 innings and 64 appearances overall, and lefties roughed him up pretty good too: .299/.340/.412 (.328 wOBA) with 21.4% strikeouts, 3.9% walks, and 66.7% grounders. Righties had success against Howell this year as well (.304 wOBA). Just a year ago he held lefties to a .237 wOBA, however.
2016 Stuff: Howell is another two-pitch reliever. He’s a sinker/curveball guy with kind of a funky delivery that adds some deception. Here’s how Howell’s stuff played against lefties in 2016:
|% Thrown||Avg Velo||Whiff%||GB%|
Howell is a ground ball guy, not a bat-misser. Ground balls are fine, but when the guy’s primary job is to get out lefties, you’d like him to be able to do it without relying on his defense so much. A ground ball doesn’t help much when there is a runner on third with less than two outs. Howell is the not the type of pitcher who can come in and get you that strikeout.
The Skinny: Howell fell so far out of favor with the Dodgers this year that he wasn’t even on their postseason roster. Manager Dave Roberts went with rookie Grant Dayton and veteran Luis Avilan as his two lefty relievers in October. Howell is a finesse pitcher with no track record of big strikeout numbers, so there’s no reason to expect that going forward. Want him to get a lefty out? Chances are he’ll need his defense to make a play behind him.
2016 Performance: Shoulder inflammation sidelined the 32-year-old Logan for two weeks at the end of May, and around that, he had a 3.69 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 46.1 innings and 66 appearances. He absolutely dominated lefties. They hit .139/.222/.255 (.215 wOBA) against him with 33.6% strikeouts, 7.6% walks, and 60.6% grounders. Nearly 70% of the lefties Logan faced this summer either struck out or hit the ball on the ground. Righties has more success against him, naturally (.305 wOBA).
2016 Stuff: As I’m sure you remember from his time with the Yankees, Logan is a four-seamer/sinker/slider pitcher with good velocity and a breaking ball that, when thrown right, is allergic to bats. Here are the numbers against lefties from 2016:
|% Thrown||Avg Velo||Whiff%||GB%|
Logan throws a ton of sliders, always has and always will. That pitch is the reason he’s in the big leagues. The slider gets a ton of swings and misses and a ton of grounders. The four-seamer gets an above-average amount of both too. Now that Dunn and Cecil are off the board, Logan is the only true power lefty remaining in free agency. He can throw the ball by hitters, which sure is a nice skill to have.
The Skinny: Logan never dominated lefties as thoroughly as he did this year. A season ago he held them to a .222/.349/.254 (.286 wOBA) batting line, which is nothing to write home about. His 2016 performance was a great big outlier compared to the rest of his career. That said, Logan has been generally serviceable against left-handed batters in his career, and his slider is probably the single best pitch among current free agent lefties.
2016 Performance: Lopez, the stalwart southpaw who was a key part of all those championship bullpens with the Giants, had a 4.05 ERA (5.40 FIP) at age 39 in 2016. He threw 26.2 innings across 68 appearances (lol), and lefties hit .208/.318/.316 (.289 wOBA) against him with 66.2% grounders and the same number of walks as strikeouts (11.2%). Righties absolutely clobbered Lopez this past season (.413 wOBA).
2016 Stuff: Lopez is a classic left-on-left matchup guy with little velocity, a sweepy breaking ball, and a funky sidearm delivery. The stereotypical LOOGY. PitchFX credits Lopez with both a slider and a curveball even though they’re the same pitch. He just varies the shape of his breaking ball. Anyway, here are the numbers against lefties from 2016:
|% Thrown||Avg Velo||Whiff%||GB%|
Well, the good news is Lopez is able to get ground balls with two pitches. Swings and misses though? It’s not happening. The curve, which is just a variation of his slider, got a good amount of whiffs, though he didn’t throw it all that much. Like Howell, Lopez is a guy who is going to put his defense to work to get outs.
The Skinny: Guys like Lopez scare the crap out of me. I know he spent all those years as a high-leverage matchup guy on championship teams, but, at this point of his career, Lopez is pushing 40 with no way to miss bats, even against lefties. The Giants had a miserable bullpen this past season and they’re walking away from a guy who was a key part of their bullpen through the title years. That’s kinda telling.
2016 Performance: Unlike the other guys in this post, Wood has had success as a starter in his career. He made nine starts for the Cubs as recently as 2015 before moving to the bullpen full-time. This past season the 29-year-old had a 2.95 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 61 innings and 77 appearances. Wood was excellent against lefties, holding them to a .128/.208/.239 (.203 wOBA) batting line with 19.2% strikeouts, 9.2% walks, and 38.4% grounders. (And a .143 BABIP.) Righties hit him pretty hard though (.362 wOBA).
2016 Stuff: Even in relief, Wood used three pitches against lefties this summer. He attacked them with two fastballs (four-seamer and cutter) and a breaking ball (slider). And every once in a while he spun a curveball, but not often. Here’s how his stuff played against same-side hitters in 2016:
|% Thrown||Avg Velo||Whiff%||GB%|
Whereas Logan has one excellent pitch in his slider, Wood has three good pitches but no truly dominant offering. I find it interesting Wood attacks lefties primarily with a four-seamer and cutter and not his slider. Does he front door the cutter? Or aim it at the outside corner and let it cut off the plate? Intrigue!
The Skinny: The free agent pitching market is so thin right now that I wonder if a team will look to sign Wood as a starter. He opened the 2015 season in the Cubs rotation and made at least 26 starts each year from 2012-14, so he has a lot of experience in that role. Either way, I don’t buy him being a true talent .203 wOBA pitcher against lefties, not with those strikeout and ground ball numbers, and especially without Chicago’s defense behind him. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher. I just don’t think Wood is really as good as he was in 2016.
* * *
To me, Blevins and Logan and Wood are at the head of the class here. Howell and especially Lopez are players I wouldn’t consider on anything more than a minor league deal. There are an awful lot of red flags with those two. Blevins is reliable, Logan brings that nasty slider, and Wood might have a chance to be something more than a pure left-on-left matchup guy.
As always, it’s going to come down to cost. Bullpen help is not cheap these days. Cecil signed for four years and $7.625M annually. Dunn received $6.33M per year across three years. Remember when the Yankees gave Matt Thornton two years and $7M total and it seemed kinda crazy? Those days are long gone. Decent middle relief help will cost you $6M a year or more. The Yankees might not be willing to commit that much to a lefty reliever, especially with no true shutdown guy available.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Panthers and Redskins are the Monday Night Football game, there are a handful of college basketball games on the schedule, and that’s it. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are in action. You all know what to do here, so do it.
According to Ronald Blum, the Yankees owe $27.4M in luxury tax for the 2016 season. That means their payroll for luxury tax purposes was $243.8M this summer. The Yankees are taxed 50% on every dollar over the $189M luxury tax threshold. Their actual payroll based on 2016 player salaries was $224.5M, up ever so slightly from $223.6M last year.
The Yankees have paid the luxury tax every single year since the system was implemented back in 2003. They paid $26M in tax last year and $18.3M in tax in 2014. Their total luxury tax bill over the last 14 seasons is $325M, far and away the most in baseball. The Dodgers, who owe $31.8M this year, are the second highest luxury tax payer since 2003. They’ve paid $113M total.
Hal Steinbrenner has made it no secret he hopes to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon. It won’t happen in 2017. It’s much more likely to happen in 2018, when the threshold rises to $197M and the Yankees will be free of several big contracts, most notably Alex Rodriguez‘s and CC Sabathia‘s. Possibly Masahiro Tanaka‘s too, depending on his opt-out.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement raised the luxury tax threshold and also revised the penalties, adding a special tier for extreme offenders. Teams over the threshold at least three straight years, including $40M+ over the threshold the last two years, are hit with a 95% tax. Goodness. Getting under the threshold would reset New York’s tax rate and save a boatload of cash.
Luxury tax checks are due to the commissioner’s office by Saturday, January 21st. The money goes towards player benefits and MLB’s Industry Growth Fund, and, starting next season, luxury tax money will also be used to fund player retirement accounts. It’ll also be redistributed to teams that did not pay luxury tax. How about that?
A record six teams received luxury tax bills this year. Along with the Yankees and Dodgers, the Red Sox ($4.5M), Tigers ($4M), Giants ($3.4M), and Cubs ($2.96M) also have to pay. Boston and San Francisco are second-time offenders taxed at 30%. The Tigers and Cubs are first-time offenders. They were taxed at 17.5%.