We’re in a new month — well, we’re almost out of the new month now, but close enough — and that means it’s time for another jaunt through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. January is typically the slow time of the offseason. That is especially true this year. In a “normal” offseason, all the big free agents would be off the board by now, and teams would spend January making minor tweaks and upgrades. Nothing crazy.
That was the case back in January 2013. The Yankees handled all their major offseason business in the first few weeks of the offseason, most notably re-signing Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda. They lost Alex Rodriguez to hip surgery in December and responded by signing Kevin Youkilis. Sigh. There wasn’t much left to do in January other than plug the final few roster openings and add depth. Let’s get to this month’s retro rumors.
January 2nd, 2013: Yankees Notes: Young, Cashman, Stanton
The talk of the Yankees swinging a trade for Giancarlo Stanton was inevitable, but it’s not likely for a number of reasons, writes Chad Jennings of The Journal News. For starters, the Marlins’ willingness to talk doesn’t signal that they’re looking to give Stanton away for chump change. The Yankees also might not be able to afford the kind of prospect dump that such a deal would require.
Heh. I usually don’t include speculation in these posts, but this was too good to pass up. Jennings had the right idea. he was just five years too early. Back in January 2013, Stanton was coming off his first real monster season, during which he hit .290/.361/.608 (158 wRC+) with 37 home runs in 123 games as a 22-year-old. Five seasons of control of a guy who just did that at age 22? Goodness. The Yankees had a great big opening in right field at the time (Nick Swisher became a free agent that offseason), and at the time their best prospects were Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott. I wonder how Williams, Austin, Heathcott for Stanton would’ve gone over at the time. Probably not well in Yankeeland.
January 4th, 2013: Yankees Designated Chris Dickerson For Assignment
The Yankees have designated outfielder Chris Dickerson for assignment, Chad Jennings of the Journal News reports. The move creates 40-man roster space for Russ Canzler, who was claimed off of waivers from the Indians.
Aw man. I was the world’s biggest Chris Dickerson fan. He wasn’t young (30 at the time) and he spent the 2012 season as an up-and-down guy, hitting .316/.417/.515 (161 wRC+) with seven homers and 17 steals in 69 games. I would’ve been totally cool with going with Dickerson as a platoon right fielder rather than re-signing Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year contract. (ZiPS projected Ichiro for +1.1 WAR in 628 plate appearances and Dickerson for +0.6 WAR in 294 plate appearances.) It wouldn’t have worked out though. Dickerson wound up with the Orioles and hit .238/.266/.400 (78 wRC+) in 109 plate appearances as an up-and-down guy in 2013.
January 4th, 2013: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, O’s Interested In Berkman
7:18pm: The Yankees also have interest in Berkman, reports Ken Davidoff of The New York Post (on Twitter). Berkman spent time with New York in 2011, but Davidoff says it’s unclear if he would consider a reunion since the two Texas teams are involved.
The Yankees needed a DH at the time and Lance Berkman was coming off an injury plagued 2012 season with the Cardinals. He was limited to 97 plate appearances. The year before though he hit .301/.412/.547 (163 wRC+) with 31 home runs in 587 plate appearances. One-year contract as the DH? Sure, why not. Berkman wound up with the Rangers on a one-year deal at $10M, and hit .242/.340/.359 (90 wRC+) with six homers in 294 plate appearances. Sadly, that would’ve been an upgrade over what the Yankees got from their DHs in 2013.
January 7th, 2013: New York Notes: Hairston, Pavano, Francisco
The Yankees don’t have interest in Jim Thome, Hale reports.
JIMMER. No one signed Thome that offseason, which I guess wasn’t surprising. He was a platoon DH at that point of his career — a productive platoon DH, he hit .252/.344/.442 (112 wRC+) with eight homers in 186 plate appearances in 2012 — and he was 41 years old, so if he didn’t hit, he was useless. Thome still took walks though, and he’d have been able to pop a few into the short porch. Alas. Thome was voted into the Hall of Fame earlier this week.
January 7th, 2013: Quick Hits: Mariners, Lohse, Soriano, Gerut
Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record hears that agent Scott Boras asked the Yankees last month if they’d consider re-signing free agent closer Rafael Soriano to a one-year contract (Twitter link). The Yankees flatly denied the request, Klapisch writes. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney says the Yankees prefer the value of the draft pick and accompanying spending limit increase to the on-field value of Soriano (Twitter link).
Soriano opted out of his contract early in the offseason and was having trouble getting work. The Yankees had no interest in bringing him back. Rivera was returning from his 2012 knee injury and David Robertson had jumped Soriano on the setup man depth chart. The draft pick was more valuable to the team than Soriano at that point. He wound up with the Nationals, where all Scott Boras clients still looking for a job late in the offseason seem to land, and the Yankees used the draft pick on Ian Clarkin, who was traded for Robertson last summer. Baseball is a flat circle.
January 8th, 2013: Nationals Discussing Morse With Several Teams
The Yankees are indeed among the interested teams, Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com reports (on Twitter).
The Nationals re-signed Adam LaRoche in January 2013 and had no room for Mike Morse, who’d put together some nice seasons during their rebuild years. He hit .291/.321/.470 (113 wRC+) with 18 homers in 430 plate appearances in 2012, which represented the worst of his three full seasons with Washington. From what I remember, the Yankees never made a super serious push to acquire him to fill their DH spot, though I do remember fans wanting him. Morse wound up bouncing from Seattle to Baltimore in 2013, and hitting .215/.270/.381 (81 wRC+) with 13 homers in 337 plate appearances. Yuck.
January 10th, 2013: Marcus Thames Retires
Marcus Thames has been hired as the hitting coach for the Yankees’ high A-ball affiliate in Tampa, the club announced via its Twitter feed, effectively ending the outfielder’s ten-year Major League career. Thames last appeared in the majors in 2011, posting a .576 OPS in 70 plate appearances for the Dodgers. According to Baseball Reference, the 35-year-old Thames made a little over $6.2MM in his career.
And thus began Thames’ climb up the hitting coach ranks. He went from High-A Tampa in 2013 to Double-A Trenton in 2014 to Triple-A Scranton in 2015 to the big league team in 2016. Thames was the assistant hitting coach in 2016 and 2017, and he’s reportedly set to take over as the main hitting coach this year. Hell of a year he had in 2010, eh?
January 13th, 2013: Yankees Haven’t Intensified Pursuit Of Justin Upton
There are several teams looking into a trade for the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton, but right now it doesn’t seem as though the Yankees will be among them. The Bombers would still like to add a right-handed hitter but haven’t picked up their pursuit of Upton since he was nearly dealt to the Mariners, major league sources tell Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.
The 2012 Diamondbacks underperformed a bit — they went 81-81 after going 94-68 in 2011 — and GM Kevin Towers blamed it on the team’s 20.5% strikeout rate. (That was high back then.) So, in response, Towers added the contact happy Didi Gregorius and traded away Chris Young and Upton. Upton, who was only 24 at the time, went to the Braves a few weeks after this rumor for contact hitter Martin Prado and prospects Nick Ahmed, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. Oy vey. Upton then hit .263/.354/.464 (129 wRC+) with 27 home runs in 2013. In related news, the D’Backs went 81-81 in 2013 and 64-98 in 2014.
As for the Yankees, they were connected to Upton pretty much all offseason, though the thought was they didn’t match up well for a trade. Arizona wanted a contact-oriented big leaguer in return and the best the Yankees could offer at the time was, uh, Eduardo Nunez? I really, really wanted them to get Upton though. He hasn’t become the megastar expected during his prospect days, but he’s a very productive and comfortably above-average big leaguer. I wonder how things play out if the Yankees had Upton in right field from 2013-15. Do they have Aaron Judge now?
January 23rd, 2013: Quick Hits: Rockies, Yankees, Wells
The Yankees discussed Delmon Young internally, but didn’t have great reports on his performance, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). The Phillies signed Young to a one-year contract yesterday.
Young, who was a terrible baseball player, had been awaiting trial in New York after getting into a fight and making anti-Semitic remarks in April 2012, yet it was his performance the Yankees were concerned about. Yeesh. Young hit .267/.296/.411 (89 wRC+) with 18 homers in 2012. He then hit .260/.307/.407 (98 wRC+) with eleven homers for the Phillies and Rays in 2013. He’s been out of baseball since 2015. His legal problems are ongoing.
January 26th, 2013: Minor Moves: Rottino, Head, Neal
The Yankees have signed outfielder Thomas Neal to a minor league deal, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America. Neal joins a list of righty-hitting, corner-outfield options in Yankees camp including Russ Canzler, Matt Diaz, and prospects Zoilo Almonte (a switch-hitter) and Melky Mesa. Neal was released by the Indians earlier this month.
What a group. Diaz was released during Spring Training, Canzler was lost on waivers in February, and the other three guys all saw time in pinstripes in 2013. Their numbers:
- Zoilo: 25-for-106 (.236) with one homer
- Neal: 2-for-11 (.182)
- Mesa: 5-for-13 (.385)
Zoilo went 25-for-106 (.236) with one homer that season. Youkilis went 23-for-105 (.219) with two homers. Good grief. Isn’t it so much better being able to call up a guy like Clint Frazier when you need a spare outfielder? Hooray for the farm system. Neal wound up in an independent league and has been out of baseball since 2015, by the way. Both Zoilo (.355/.421/.536) and Melky 2.0 (two games) were active in Mexico last season.
January 29th, 2013: Gio, Cruz, Rodriguez, Cabrera Linked To PED Clinic
Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz are among the MLB stars who have been linked to a supplier of performance enhancing drugs in a report from Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times. A Miami-based clinic sold PEDs to athletes from various sports, according to the report. The names of Cruz, Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were found in the records at Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic located near the University of Miami.
The Biogenesis scandal was born in January 2013. I forgot Gio Gonzalez got caught up in that. He was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing and was not suspended. A-Rod was rehabbing his hip injury at the time and he was the one guy who fought his suspension tooth and nail. Everyone else negotiated a suspension. A-Rod went scorched earth during his appeal, and the process wasn’t complete until 2014. The Biogenesis scandal was quite the black eye for baseball, and nowadays it is mostly forgotten.
January 29th, 2013: Yankees Working To Void Alex Rodriguez’s Contract
The Yankees are exploring multiple avenues to void their contract with Alex Rodriguez, several baseball sources told ESPNNewYork.com’s Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand. Rodriguez was among several MLB stars who were linked to a PED clinic in Miami, Florida. Even if the charges turn out to be true, however, the Bombers may have little chance of getting out from under his contract.
The Biogenesis stuff brought about a lot of dumb. Much of it from me. The Yankees were looking for any way out of A-Rod’s contract and the thought at the time was they’d be able to void the deal on the basis of being treated by a doctor without the team’s permission. That was never going to work. I can’t say I blame the Yankees for trying though. They did get out of his salary in 2014 thanks to the suspension, and they didn’t have to pay him one of his home run milestone bonuses on the basis of him no longer being marketable, which is silly, but whatever. I prefer to forget about all this stuff. It was such a headache.
We’ve got 14 questions in this week’s mailbag. Only two more mailbags before pitchers and catchers report. Hooray for that. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you should send all your questions.
Rob asks: Thoughts on Mike Moustakas here? With the market slowing down, at what price would he make sense for the Yankees?
My problem with Moustakas on a pillow contract is that if his market does collapse to the point where he’s willing to take a one-year deal, the Yankees are still hamstrung by the luxury tax plan, and other teams will probably offer more money. Moustakas wouldn’t be wrong to want $20M or so on a one-year deal — he turned down $17.4M in the qualifying offer, remember — and that’s not going to work for the Yankees. Sign Moustakas and trade David Robertson to clear cash? Yeah, doable, but even that might not be enough.
Given his batted ball profile — Moustakas, a left-handed hitter, pulls a ton of balls in the air — Moustakas would fit Yankee Stadium very well, and he’d give the Yankees an established veteran at third base. At the same time, he’s always been a very low on-base player (.314 OBP last year and .305 OBP career), and his defense wasn’t so hot last season, after he returned from a torn ACL. And the Yankees would have to give up two draft picks and international bonus money to sign him. Eh. If the Yankees are going to spend money on a third baseman, I’d prefer Todd Frazier to Moustakas. (I’d prefer Miguel Andujar to Frazier or Moustakas, but that’s besides the point.)
Andrew asks: How low does JDM’s asking price have to go for you to want the Yankees to get involved? Signing him likely would require going over the luxury tax threshold, more teams would get involved the lower his ask goes, and signing him would probably necessitate trading one of Gardy/Ells. But at some price, it has to be worth it, right??
Hypothetically … $12M annually for however many years? The Yankees have nowhere to put J.D. Martinez — they’d have to trade Brett Gardner or Aaron Hicks to clear a lineup spot — and that’s money they can’t spend on a real need, like an infielder or pitcher. Realistically, this won’t happen. Martinez is still going to get paid well and the Yankees don’t have the luxury tax space to take on a high-priced DH. At least with the Moustakas hypothetical, it would address an obvious need. Martinez creates an even bigger outfield logjam and doesn’t solve any real problems.
Kyle asks: It’s well documented (on this site) that the Yankees have a knack for getting pitchers to add velocity after being drafted. Any idea how they do it? Training regiment? Wind up adjustments? Picking players they see room to improve? And at this point, do you think they count on it when evaluating a potential draftee?
It’s the result of all of the above. Their throwing program, adjustments, targeting pitchers they believe can add more velocity, all that. I can’t find it right now, but Eric Longenhagen has said the Yankees look for a specific arm action because they know they might be able to help those guys add some velocity. (He said the Dodgers, who also have a track record of helping pitchers add velocity, do the same thing.) That doesn’t mean the Yankees only look for that arm action, but it is something they scout. I’m not sure this is something the Yankees count on — could you really take a kid in the first round, or as the top piece in a trade, knowing he needs to add velocity to reach his ceiling? that seems pretty iffy — but it is a skill they have, and I’m certain it factors into the pitchers they target.
Pete asks: Under the proposed pitch clock plan, what happens if a pitcher steps off the rubber? Does the clock pause? Reset? Keep running? If it’s either of the first 2, that won’t necessarily help the “too much time between pitches” problem.
In MLB’s proposal, the pitch clock would reset whenever the pitcher steps off the rubber. (That’s how it works in the minors.) This is the workaround. If the pitcher is feeling rushed or needs more time to get on the same page as the catcher, he can step off and reset the clock. I don’t think the implementation of the pitch clock will be a big deal. Within a year or two most pitchers in MLB will have worked with a pitch clock in the minors. They’ll know the routine. If it helps move he game along, great. If not, well then we’re right back where we started.
John asks: Is Domingo Santana a good comp for Florial? Seems like they have similar tools as well as weaknesses. I remember Santana being rated in the back end of top 100s lists which seems to coincide with where Florial is being ranked too. If all goes right for Florial, is that what we should expect? Nothing against Santana, but that would seem a far cry from the superstar we’re all hoping for.
That’s an interesting comparison. Santana was pretty darn good last season. He hit .278/.371/.505 (126 wRC+) with 30 homers and 15 steals (in 19 attempts). Lots of strikeouts (29.3%) and lots of walks (12.0%) too. That’s pretty much Florial’s offensive profile, right? Power, speed, on-base ability, swings and misses. A key difference here is handedness. Santana is a righty hitter and Florial is a lefty, so he’ll have the platoon advantage more often.
Aside from handedness, the biggest difference between Santana and Florial is defense. Santana is a below-average defensive right fielder. Florial is expected to be an above-average center fielder. Pretty significant difference. Santana’s raw offensive numbers look like what you could expect from Florial down the line, assuming things work out. Florial has the advantage of being a left-handed hitter and a better defender at a more premium position, however. That’s what gives him a chance to be a +5 WAR player whereas Santana is more of a +3 WAR guy.
Dan asks: How will the slow free agency period affect future extensions? Will guys be more inclined to accept them knowing they could be their only payday? Or will guys try even harder to make it to free agency earlier knowing money isn’t going to be out there for them when they’re 30+?
Players and agents are taking notice of what’s happening in free agency, no doubt, and I have to think they will begin to think more seriously about early career extensions. Guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado don’t have to worry. It’s the second and third tier guys who are really going to feel the contract squeeze. Would Alex Cobb have signed an extension a few years ago knowing what he does now? Lance Lynn? Todd Frazer? Gotta think the answer is yes.
Keep in mind this works two ways though. Teams know what’s happening in free agency and might be less willing to give out extensions, because their chances of getting a favorable deal on a free agent are greater than they have maybe ever been. Someone like, say, Sonny Gray could approach the Yankees about an extension this spring. If you’re the Yankees, and you’re seeing what’s happening with Cobb and Lynn, why give Gray an extension unless you’re getting a sweetheart deal? I dunno. All I know is the MLBPA has to get it’s act together.
Dan asks: Would the Yankees or Athletics consider a Clint Frazier for James Kaprielian trade?
I’m certain the Athletics would. MLB ready outfielder with lots of upside for a Single-A pitcher with lots of upside who hasn’t pitched much the last two years because of injury, and is currently injured? Of course they’d do that. Why would the Yankees? I know Frazier is blocked, but that’s not a good enough reason to trade him for an injured pitching prospect. Trade him for an actual MLB pitcher. The Yankees have plenty of pitching prospects as it is. Frazier for Kaprielian seems like a clear downgrade to me. The organization will be weaker after doing that deal.
Ralph asks: I’m hearing and reading a lot of good things about Nick Solak. If he has a strong camp as a non-roster invitee, is it possible that he could be a major league option for the Yankees, let’s say if Miguel Andujar has a slow start, or becomes trade bait, could you envision Gleyber Torres moving to 3rd and Solak as the possible heir apparent alongside Didi?
I can’t see it. Not this year. Solak only has a month’s worth of Double-A time under his belt and he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster for two years. And the Yankees have lots of infielders on the 40-man roster ahead of him on the depth chart. If Andujar or Torres stinks, there’s Tyler Wade, then Thairo Estrada, then Jace Peterson, who would be easier to remove from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed than Solak.
Of course, I said all this about about Jordan Montgomery last year. He had limited Triple-A experience and the Yankees had three fifth starter candidates on the 40-man roster and ostensibly ahead of him on the depth chart (Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell). Then Montgomery blew everyone away in Spring Training and won the fifth starter’s job, even though he didn’t have to be added to the 40-man yet. Could Solak shock the world and win the big league second base job in Spring Training? Sure. It’s not impossible. It’s just highly unlikely.
Andrew asks: Any interest in Detroit’s Daniel Norris?
Yes as a buy low candidate. Norris wasn’t very good last season (5.31 ERA and 4.39 FIP) and he’s been on the disabled list four times in the last three seasons (groin, back, oblique twice). I suppose the good news is his arm is healthy, but still, four DL stints in three years? That’s no good. Norris was pretty good when healthy in 2016 (3.38 ERA and 3.93 FIP), though he’s never been a ground ball guy (career 38.7%), and that won’t mix well with Yankee Stadium.
That all said, Norris will turn only 25 in April, and he is under control for another four seasons. He is exactly the kind of guy I was referring to when I said the Yankees could end up trading for “someone we haven’t discussed at all this offseason” the other day. The Tigers stink and are early in their rebuild, so while Norris has four years of control, those four years might not line up with their timetable for contention. It only makes sense to make him available. I’m not trading Frazier for Norris, but if the Yankees could package some of their second tier prospects together, he’s worth a shot.
Bob asks: Earlier this week you noted that Justus Sheffield was the only left handed pitching prospect in the Yankee organization. I know he was injured this year, but shouldn’t Josh Rogers be considered a prospect? He seemed to be progressing nicely.
I said Sheffield is the only worthwhile left-handed pitching prospect in the system, and by that I mean someone with a chance to carve out a career as an average or better big leaguer. Rogers is still a prospect — he had a 3.24 ERA (3.38 FIP) in 91.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year before needing surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow — and I was always higher on him than most (he wasn’t in any top 30 organizational lists except mine), but there’s not a ton of ceiling there. He might carve out of a career as a fourth or fifth starter, someone like that. He’s not another Montgomery though. I think his likelihood of success is much lower. Hopefully Rogers proves me wrong and come back strong from elbow surgery. It’d be nice to have another lefty in the pipeline. For now, Sheffield is far and away the best southpaw prospect in the system. Everyone else is kinda iffy.
Dylan asks: Who do you think is a better defender in center, Gardner or Hicks? On days when it’s Judge and Stanton in right and DH, what’s the best defensive alignment in LF and CF? What would you guess are going to be the top 3 used outfield defensive alignments?
Probably Hicks at this point. Gardner is still a pretty darn good defender, but he is 34 now, and he’s surely lost a step with age. Hicks has those fresh just turned 28-year-old legs. I’d rather have him running around center field for a full season. Let Gardner take it easy in a corner. Now, that doesn’t mean Gardner can’t play center field. He can for sure. It just means that if given the choice between Gardner or Hicks in center field on an everyday basis, Hicks is probably the better option. I’m sure there will be days Gardner is in center flanked by the two big guys in the corners. And really, I’m not sure the Yankees have a bad possible defensive alignment. Gardner in center, Hicks in center, Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Aaron Judge in left, whatever. They’ll be in good shape no matter who is out there.
Steve asks: Could the Yankees send a prospect to the Astros for them take on more Brian McCann’s salary this year? That could free up about $5.5M of dead money.
They could, sure. There’s nothing in the rules preventing this sort of trade. I can’t ever remember something like this happening though. Work by Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli a few years ago shows that $5.5M in prospects isn’t worth a whole lot. A pitching prospect in the 76-100 range of a top 100 list is worth about $15.6M according to their calculations, and I’m guessing that number has only gone up.
That’s all theoretical though. In the real world, the Yankees are a team up against a (self-imposed) payroll limit, and the Astros know that. That $5.5M in payroll space is valuable to the Yankees. The ‘Stros won’t take a middling prospect in exchange for taking on $5.5M in salary just because that’s what surplus value says. They have leverage against the Yankees and would ask for a pretty good prospect. I know I would. I’m not sure how realistic this is. Seems like the two sides would have trouble finding common ground.
Henry asks: Will Arods newfound popularity and with younger writers seemingly more steroid tolerant does he ever get the necessary 75%?
I don’t think so. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t gaining much Hall of Fame traction and those guys never officially tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs or anything. Alex Rodriguez admitted to using banned substances while with the Rangers and was then suspended (an entire season!) because of the Biogenesis scandal. That is far more hard evidence than what we have against Bonds and Clemens. The writers aren’t going to change their minds because A-Rod is good on television. Maybe this will change over time — A-Rod joins the Hall of Fame ballot in 2022 and can then stay on for ten years, so we’re talking about a debate that could run into 2032 — but I’m not going to hold my breath. There’s still a very large segment of the voting body that won’t vote for PED guys.
Dan asks: We always talk about how RH heavy the lineup will be, but in particular it’s weird to see a Yankee lineup so few switch hitters (zero if Hicks is sitting/hurt). Then again it seems like there are just fewer in general, at least among regular players. Are switch hitters becoming extinct?
Hicks is the only switch-hitter on the 40-man roster, and furthermore, the best switch-hitting prospects in the farm system are Single-A outfielder Isiah Gilliam and rookie ball shortstop Wilkerman Garcia, neither of whom is a top prospect or close to reaching MLB. It does seem like switch-hitting is becoming something of a lost art, so I looked up some numbers.
|Total PA by SH||% PA by SH||SH with 120 OPS+||SH with 100 OPS+|
There has been a decline in plate appearances by switch-hitters for sure — there were only 26 teams in MLB back in 1990, remember — though not necessarily a significant drop in overall quality. There seem to be about four great switch-hitters (120 OPS+) and about ten league average switch-hitters (100 OPS+) in a given season, give or take. At least based on my sample of four arbitrarily selected years.
I think we are a very long way off from switch-hitters becoming extinct. It’s a valuable skill and instructors and parents still teach their kids to do it. It is very hard to be a productive MLB hitter from one of the side of the plate. Doing it from both sides is pretty amazing in my opinion. Perhaps we’ll one day reach the point where pitching is so good that all hitters have to focus on getting better from one side of the plate to have a chance. I think that day is still a long way away.
Here is an open thread for the night. All the local hockey and basketball teams are playing except the Nets. That’s about it. Talk about those games, Sabathia being a raw vegan, or anything else here as long as it isn’t religion or politics.
According to Jon Morosi, the Yankees want to set aside $10M for midseason call-ups and additions. The team is $22M under the $197M luxury tax threshold right now, but they have to earmark some of that $22M for in-season additions. Now we know how much they’re setting aside. Before it was a mystery.
Luxury tax hits are pro-rated when you add a player during the season, so while saving $10M might not seem like much, it is pretty significant. Acquire a player with a $15M luxury tax hit at the halfway mark of the season and you’re only absorbing a $7.5M luxury tax hit, for example. It doesn’t work quite that neatly in real life, but you catch my drift.
The Yankees have a deep farm system with lots of young players on the cusp of the big leagues. That’ll help keep the costs of their in-season additions down. Being able to call-up a league minimum player to fill-in for a few weeks is better than getting a cast-off from outside the organization who might be making real money. That $10M could go pretty far.
Spring Training is less than three weeks away and we still don’t know who the Yankees will have at second and third bases on Opening Day. Could be prospects, could be veterans yet to be acquired, could be some combination of the two. For what it’s worth, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees have had “minimal” recent contact with free agents, which of course could change at any moment.
The Yankees have to sort out their second and third base positions in camp, and they’ll also need to figure out their utility infielder as well. Ronald Torreyes has done a wonderful job holding that spot down the last two years, and I’d put money on him doing it again this year, but Torreyes could end up starting (or platooning) at second or third. I’ve been thinking about the backup infielder’s spot lately for whatever reason — it’s not like anything else is going on this offseason — so let’s talk this out a bit.
1. The backup infielder may play more than usual. Last season Torreyes played in 108 games and received 336 plate appearances, which is frickin’ incredible. Injuries to Didi Gregorius (shoulder) and Starlin Castro (hamstring, twice) forced Torreyes into regular action for weeks at a time and, by and large, he was pretty darn good. There were still times when Torreyes played a little too much, even when Gregorius and Castro were healthy.
This year the Yankees might break in two rookie infielders simultaneously, and in that case the utility infielder could play more than expected. Most rookies hit the skids at some point — even Aaron Judge did last year — or deal with growing pains when they first get to the show. That’s when the utility infielder could pick up some of the slack. I’m not saying the kids should be benched outright when they struggle, but a day off here and there never hurt anyone. And when you have two rookie infielders, that means twice as much risk for growing pains.
2. There are benefits to using a prospect on the bench. Let me start by saying that no, I don’t think using Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar on the bench would be a good idea. If they’re not going to play everyday in the big leagues, send ’em to Triple-A so they can play everyday there. Torres can play different infield spots, so he’d make more sense as a utility guy than Andujar. Andujar can only play third. Tough to carry a guy like that on the bench.
Now, that all said, I do believe there are benefits to a young player being in the big leagues even when he isn’t playing, especially catchers. They get to sit in on scouting meetings, work with the big league instructors, soak in the experience and pick the brains of big league veterans. That is all valuable information. More valuable than playing everyday in Triple-A? Maybe! Depends on the player and where he is in his career. I don’t think Torres or Andujar are at that point. I think they’re best off playing in Triple-A if they’re not playing in MLB.
3. Wade is a better bench option than Torres or Andujar. If the Yankees are going to carry a young player on the bench, Tyler Wade is the obvious candidate. Not Torres or Andujar. Wade has more Triple-A games than Torres and Andujar combined, and he has much more experience moving around the field defensively than those two. Andujar is a career third baseman. Torres has eleven games at second and 15 at third. Wade has been moving around for more than two years now.
There’s a scenario in which Wade winds up on the bench (again). A couple of different scenarios, really. Andujar or Torres starting at one infield spot with the other guy in Triple-A, Torreyes at the other infield spot, and Wade on the bench. A veteran pickup starting at one spot, Torreyes at the other, Torreyes and Andujar in Triple-A, and Wade on the bench. See? I’d prefer Wade starting over Torreyes in either scenario, though Torreyes starting and Wade on the bench isn’t far-fetched. Bottom line, he is not the same caliber of prospect as Andujar or Torres, so the Yankees figure to be more willing to let Wade sit on the bench. That was clearly the case last year.
4. Whither Peterson? Remember what happened when Gregorius got hurt last season? Pete Kozma was on the bench for a month. The Yankees could go a similar route this season, preferably without the injury. A kid at second or third, Torreyes at the other spot, and Jace Peterson (or a similar low-cost veteran) on the bench until another kid is deemed ready for big league time. Once Torres is up to speed and has his free agency pushed back, basically.
A potential issue with this plan — don’t laugh — is the luxury tax. Peterson will make $900,000 at the big league level last year, so if the Yankees bring him north as the utility guy on Opening Day, they lock in that $900,000 salary. That’s $900,000 they can’t use on call-ups or midseason trades later in the summer. The Yankees are $22M under the luxury tax threshold right now, so maybe that $900,000 is no big deal, but what if the plan is to carry Peterson for a month like Kozma? Is it worth the $900,000 hit then? I don’t think would be a dealbreaker at all. It’s just something to consider.
* * *
These days having a good bench and a strong supporting cast is a necessity in baseball, not a luxury. Just look at how Torreyes filled in for Gregorius and Castro last season. Worrying about the utility infielder may seem like small beans, but when you’re potentially breaking in two rookie infielders, the backup plan is pretty darn important. I think it’ll end up being Torreyes again with others starting at second and third. That seems easiest. If the Yankees go in a different direction though, figuring out the utility infielder situation will be another priority in Spring Training.
Spring Training is a few weeks away and that means we’re in top 100 season. Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list earlier this week, and a few days ago, Keith Law published his top 100 list as well (1-50, 51-100, just missed). It’s all behind the Insider paywall.
Braves OF Ronald Acuna sits in the top spot on Law’s top 100, just like Baseball America’s top 100. Blue Jays 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Padres SS Fernandez Tatis Jr. are second and third, respectively. Lots of good sons of former big leaguers in the minors right now. (Bo Bichette is a top prospect too.) Here are the Yankees prospects in Law’s top 100:
5. SS Gleyber Torres
16. LHP Justus Sheffield
54. 3B Miguel Andujar
73. RHP Freicer Perez
99. RHP Albert Abreu
Just Missed: RHP Domingo Acevedo and OF Estevan Florial
Athletics SS Jorge Mateo (No. 39) and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 56) both made the top 100 as well. They went to the A’s in the Sonny Gray trade. As a reminder, OF Clint Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit by four at-bats last season, so he is no longer rookie (or prospect) eligible. He would’ve surely made Law’s (and Baseball America’s) top 100 lists had he still been eligible. Anyway, I have some thoughts on Law’s list and the Yankees’ top prospects in general.
1. Let’s talk about Gleyber’s power. There’s a difference of opinion about Torres’ power these days. Law’s write-up says Torres projects to “probably just 10-15 homers a year,” which is below-average pop. Especially these days with the juiced ball. Baseball America and MLB.com both slap a 55 on Gleyber’s future power, which is a tick above-average on the 20-80 scouting scale. Generally speaking, 55 power projects to about 18-22 homers per season. Maybe a little more in this homer happy era. Either way, Law is lower on Torres’ long-term power than Baseball America or MLB.com, which doesn’t mean one or the other is wrong. They could both be wrong! It just means there’s a difference of opinion. In his limited time last season Torres hit seven homers in 235 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A, which is damn impressive. These days it seems like young players are coming up and hitting for more power than expected almost instantly, and it’s not just the Gary Sanchezes and Cody Bellingers and Aaron Judges. Guys like Tyler Naquin came up and started smacking homers. Based on that and the whole Yankee Stadium thing, I’d take the over on 10-15 homers annually from Gleyber.
2. Setting the record straight on Andujar’s defense. The Yankees opted to keep Andujar in Triple-A during the second half last year to work on his defense even though they needed another bat and had an opening at DH. There was a clear path to regular big league playing time. Instead, the Yankees left Andujar in Triple-A so he could work on his defense in games that don’t count. That seems to have created the narrative that Andujar is bad in the field. That’s not true. He’s not Brooks Robinson, but he’s a fine third baseman. “He has a rifle of an arm and has improved his footwork to the point that he should be an average defender at third,” wrote Law. More than anything, the Yankees kept Andujar down to correct some bad habits in the field. He tends to show off his arm, which robs him of accuracy, and there are times he’ll rush and let the ball play him. Andujar’s defensive tools are fine. He has plenty of arm and he has the quick twitch reactions needed for the hot corner. He just needs to iron some things out. This isn’t like Marcus Thames playing third base. The Yankees aren’t forcing something that obviously won’t work.
3. Perez has at least one big fan. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to see Freicer Perez on another top 100 list this spring. Law calls him a “potential front-line starter” who “pitches at 94-98 now and shows a plus curveball and projectable slider along with a changeup that he’s still learning to use.” I haven’t seen a report that glowing basically anywhere. Everything I’ve heard and read says Perez’s secondary pitches are still iffy. It’s possible Law caught him on a good day(s) and/or received favorable reports. If someone saw it though, it’s in there, and it’s a matter of getting to it consistently. Pretty much every tall Yankees pitching prospect — Perez is 6-foot-8 — gets compared to Dellin Betances at some point, though that’s unfair. When one of these guys goes out to the mound with 98+ and that breaking ball, we can talk about the Dellin comparison. Let’s let Freicer Perez be Freicer Perez. Law’s scouting report is glowing, and there’s no doubt Perez is a quality prospect even if you aren’t this high on him. Not too bad for a kid who signed for $10,000 back in the day.
4. Let’s talk about who is not on the top 100. Florial is going to be a top 100 prospect pretty much everywhere else and the same is probably true for Chance Adams as well. I’m not a big Adams guy — I think he’s probably a reliever long-term (a good reliever, I should add) because his fastball is true and he’s been unable to prevent upper level hitters from getting the ball airborne (41.4% grounders in Triple-A last year) — and I wouldn’t have him in my personal top 100 list, so I don’t have a problem with Law excluding him. As for Florial, Law explains it’s all about pitch recognition. “On raw tools, Florial would go somewhere in the top half of the list. Maybe in the top 25 … His pitch recognition, however, is a huge problem … in large part because he does not seem to recognize changing speeds at all,” says the write-up. Last year’s 31.1% strikeout rate — it was 35.8% against mostly Double-A caliber and above pitchers in the Arizona Fall League — doesn’t lie. The kid is super talented, but he has some holes in his swing and issues with breaking balls. The Yankees love Florial and expect him to get better as he gains experience after not playing a ton as an amateur. Until he gets better though, he’ll be a very high risk prospect. High reward! But also high risk. And besides, Law’s lists always seem to generate a ton of outrage no matter what. The focus is on Florial not making the top 100 rather than Perez making it, or Sheffield ranking way higher than he’ll rank anywhere else, or Acevedo being a borderline top 100 guy.