Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.
If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.
When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.
Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.
There’s just one hitch in the scenario.
You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.
Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.
David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.
This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.
Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.
Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.
Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.
This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.
That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?
The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.
The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.
Via Peter Rolfe & Marty Shevelove: The Yankees have signed 17-year-old Australian right-hander Brandon Stenhouse to a six-figure contract. He also received money for college. “I have been waiting for many years to see if Brandon Stenhouse had the physical and mental makeup to be considered as a possible Yankee,” said John Wadsworth, the team’s scout in Australia. “I am pleased to see just how far this young man has progressed and his future is exciting to us all.”
Stenhouse, who is from Melbourne, will head to Tampa for a two-week orientation in April before returning home to graduate high school. He’ll then return to the U.S. full-time. At least two other teams were interested in signing him despite an ugly showing at the Under-18 National Youth Baseball Championships recently (eleven runs, seven walks, and four strikeouts in four innings). There isn’t much info out there about Stenhouse but the report says his fastball touches 93 mph.
The Yankees are already over their 2013-14 international spending pool just slightly, so Stenhouse will push them over even more. The team is planning to spend big internationally when the 2014-15 signing period starts on July 2nd. New York has signed a few players from Australia in recent years, most notably C Kyle Perkins and OF Adam Silva. · (25) ·
That short video above is a look at Yankees farmhand SS John Murphy, the team’s sixth round pick out of Sacred Heart University in last summer’s draft. He signed for $20k as a fifth year senior and had a rough pro debut (38 wRC+ in 137 PA) with Short Season Staten Island. The video focuses on Murphy’s family and how his outlook changed after his father’s death. It’s pretty neat, so check it out.
Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread for the night. The Devils and Knicks are both playing, so talk about those games or anything else your heart desires right here. Have at it.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed catcher J.R. Murphy to a one-year contract worth $502,700 at the MLB level. I assume it’s a split contract that will pay him a lower salary in the minors, which is typical for players in their pre-arbitration years. The league minimum is an even $500,000 this coming season.
Murphy, 22, hit .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) with 12 homers in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his big league debut in September but is expected to return to Triple-A Scranton to open 2014. Murphy still has all six years of team control remaining and can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season at the earliest. The Yankees have 20 unsigned pre-arb players remaining, but they’ll all get done very soon and chances are most of those deals won’t even be made public. · (13) ·
The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.
Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.
By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.
The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.
If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.
The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.
At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.
The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.
Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.
After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.
Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.
The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.
The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.
Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.
The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?
Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.
Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.
Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.
Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.
Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.
Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.
Keith Law posted his annual farm system ranking today (subs. req’d), a list that is predictably topped by the Astros. I guess that’s the reward for running out a $25M payroll and making no effort to be competitive: the best collection of minor league talent in the game. The Twins and Pirates round out the top three while the Tigers, Angels, and Brewers sit at the bottom.
The Yankees rank 20th on the list, which seems right. Middle of the pack-ish but closer to the bottom. “It seemed like everyone who mattered in this system got hurt in 2013, and of those who didn’t had disappointing years,” wrote Law while noting just about all of those injured prospects will open the 2014 season healthy. He also mentions the team’s three first round picks in last summer’s draft helped keep them from ranking even lower. The Yankees don’t have a good minor league system right now and we really didn’t need Law to tell us that. · (65) ·
I swear, it still feels like the 2006 draft was just yesterday, but the 2014 season will be Dellin Betances‘ eighth (!) full season in the organization. The Yankees gave the towering right-hander from Washington Heights a $1M bonus as their eighth round pick back in ’06 and hoped he would develop into a frontline starter. That has not happened but the team has not given up on his enormous potential.
Last May, following six ugly starts with Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees moved the soon-to-be 26-year-old Betances to the bullpen full-time and the improvement was immediate. He struck out 43 of the next 136 batters he faced (31.6%) while allowing only eight runs and 12 walks in 34 innings. The Yankees called him up briefly in mid-August and then again as an extra arm when rosters expanded in September. Betances finished the year with a 2.06 ERA and 93 strikeouts (35.3%) in 65.2 total relief innings.
“I just feel like, confidence wise, I feel good,” said Betances to Anthony McCarron last August when asked about moving into a relief role. “I get to pitch more often, instead of going every five days. I get to go two or three times in that span, so I think the more time I get on the mound has helped me be more consistent … I think it’s just being more aggressive, attack the strike zone right away, where if you’re a starter, you kind gradually get aggressive as the game goes on.”
Repeating his delivery and keeping his long limbs in check has always been a struggle for the 6-foot-8 Betances, but apparently working more often out of the bullpen helped him stay in control even though he threw fewer total pitches. There’s nothing particularly impressive about a 10.6% walk rate (his walk rate as a reliever in 2013), but it’s substantially better than the 14.3% walk rate he posted from the start of 2011 through the conversion last May, when he looked close to a lost cause.
Betances struck out eight and walked one in 4.1 innings last September and barring some last minute additions, he’ll head to Spring Training as part of a wide open bullpen competition. The only relievers guaranteed to be on the roster come Opening Day are David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton, so that is potentially four open spots. I count as many as ten guys competing for those four spots, including potential fifth starters like David Phelps and Adam Warren and minor league free agents like Robert Coello and Brian Gordon.
Brian Cashman confirmed that, for whatever reason, Betances qualifies for a fourth option and can be sent to the minors this season without having to pass through waivers. Had he not qualified for the fourth option and instead required waivers to go to back to Triple-A, he might have won a bullpen spot almost by default. Now Betances will have to not only earn a big league job in camp, but he’ll have to continue to pitch well in the regular season to keep it. Spring Training competitions don’t end on Opening Day.
For the first time in his nearly nine full years as a pro, there is a clear path for Betances to make the Yankees out of camp and play a rather significant role this coming season. Nothing in the bullpen is set aside from Robertson being the closer and Thornton being the lefty specialist, so if Betances shows last summer’s success was a true indication of his ability and not just a fluke, he could assume an important late-inning role rather quickly. This is his chance to justify that seven-figure signing bonus and more than a half-decade’s worth of patience.
“I’m thrilled to just come out here and whatever situation I need to be used in,” added Betances while talking to McCarron. “I’m ready for that.”
Via Alex Seixeiro: The Yankees have signed right-hander Chris Leroux to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He will presumably compete for a bullpen spot with other non-roster invitees like Brian Gordon, Robert Coello, and Matt Daley.
Leroux, 29, spent last year with the Yakult Swallows in Japan, pitching poorly (26 runs in 22 innings with a 14/11 K/BB) before a shoulder injury ended his season. He dominated in winter ball (2.76 ERA and 16/3 K/BB in 16.1 innings) and spent the 2011-12 seasons as an up-and-down arm with the Pirates. He’s got a 5.56 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 69.2 career big league innings. Leroux has a low-90s fastball and he relies heavily on his low-80s slider. Another arm for the stable. · (27) ·
It was brutally cold up in the grandstand, but yesterday’s Rangers-Devils game at Yankee Stadium was one of the five best sporting events I’ve ever attended. Maybe top three. Everything about the experience was awesome and the light snow that fell during the second period was the icing on the cake. You can see various shots of the Stadium in the highlight video above and there are photo galleries at NHL.com and Eye on Hockey. I’m sure there are tickets still available for Wednesday’s Rangers-Islanders game in the Bronx, so if you’re a hockey fan and can swing it on short notice, I recommend going. It was a blast.
This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets and Islanders are both playing, but you’re on your own for entertainment otherwise. Talk about those games, yesterday’s game at Yankee Stadium, or anything else right here. Enjoy.
Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus published his list of the top 101 prospects in baseball today, a list that doesn’t require a subscription and is free for all. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot and is followed by Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras. Those will be the top three guys on pretty much every list you see this spring.
C Gary Sanchez was the only Yankees farmhand to make the list and he ranked 85th. That’s down from 47th last year. OF Mason Williams, who ranked 51st last year, fell off the list following a disappointing season. This is probably the lowest you’ll see Sanchez on a top 100 list this year and that’s fine. Parks doesn’t like him as much as some others and it’s not like he’s some flawless prospect who clearly deserves a better ranking.
Other top 100 lists: MLB.com. · (24) ·