2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

Caldera: Yankees haven’t shown much interest in Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Pete Caldera, free agent infielders Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera have “not gained much traction” with the Yankees this offseason. The winter has actually been rather quiet for both Lowrie and Cabrera so far even though most of the top free agent bats are already off the board. Neither player received a qualifying offer, by the way.

Lowrie, 30, hit only .249/.321/.355 (93 wRC+) with six homers in 566 plate appearances for the Athletics this past season. He had a great April (154 wRC+) but only mustered a 77 wRC+ the rest of the way. Lowrie is a switch-hitter who has been much better against righties the last three or four years, and he seems to have gotten over the injury problems that plagued him earlier in his career.

Cabrera put up a .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) batting line with 14 homers and ten steals in 616 plate appearances for the Indians and Nationals in 2014. He’s younger than you may realize — Cabrera turned 29 just last month — and, unlike Lowrie, he’s a switch-hitter with no significant platoon split the last few seasons. In two of the last three years, Lowrie and Asdrubal have been roughly equal at the plate:


Source: FanGraphsJed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera

Now, the thing is neither Lowrie nor Cabrera is a shortstop these days. They’re both below-average defensively — Cabrera has a knack for flashy highlight reel plays that has inflated the perception of his defense — and better suited for second base at third point of their careers. Cabrera played second for Washington at the end of the season and Lowrie did it a whole bunch earlier in his career.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs Crowdsourcing results peg Lowrie and Cabrera for essentially identical three-year contracts worth $30M or so. Neither is a perfect solution for the Yankees but they need infielders badly. If the trade market comes up empty — that’s where it appears they are focused at the moment — and the team’s unwillingness to give Chase Headley more than three years pushes him out of town, these two guys are probably the best of what’s left. Yuck.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Robertson and Andrew Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday morning we learned quite a bit about the free agent reliever market, specifically that the Yankees are in “serious pursuit” of Andrew Miller and are unwilling to give David Robertson a four-year deal. They’ve reportedly talked about trades involving bullpen help with the Marlins and Braves as well. The Miller and Robertson stuff is the big news though. It sure feels like one of those two will wear pinstripes next season.

As I said yesterday, I think the Robertson stuff is all posturing and they’re just trying to get his price down. The interest in Miller could be an attempt to apply some pressure as well. It goes without saying that both Robertson and Miller are excellent pitchers anyone would love to have in their bullpen. It makes perfect sense that the Yankees would have interest in both guys. But it sounds like it will only be one or the other, not both as much as I and everyone else would love it. Is one a better investment than the other? Let’s compare.

Recent Performance

Again, both Robertson and Miller are excellent. They’re elite relievers in the prime of their careers. Here are their 2014 seasons side-by-side:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% BABIP WPA LHB wOBA RHB wOBA
Robertson 64.1 3.08 2.68 37.1% 8.9% 44.2% 15.6% .288 1.79 .201 .336
Miller 62.1 2.02 1.51 42.6% 7.0% 46.9% 8.6% .263 1.58 .211 .208

Miller was better than Robertson this past season in nearly every way. The only thing Robertson did better was get left-handed batters out, which is pretty amazing because he’s a righty and Miller’s the lefty with the all-world slider. Robertson’s cutter and curveball are really great in their own right too.

The difference between these two guys this year is that Miller never had a season this good before and Robertson hadn’t had one this bad — “bad” — since 2010, before his breakout 2011 effort. Robertson’s been dynamite for four years now. Miller spent a very long time trying to figure out his mechanics — he had a 5.54 ERA (5.12 FIP) as recently as 2011 — and it wasn’t until last year that he turned into a super reliever. He was very good in 2012 (3.35 ERA and 3.27 FIP), but 2013 was when he joined the tier of relievers Robertson has occupied since 2011.

Here are Robertson and Miller’s performances side-by-side over the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% BABIP WPA LHB wOBA RHB wOBA
Robertson 191.1 2.59 2.59 33.0% 7.8% 46.9% 11.8% .302 5.61 .226 .318
Miller 133.1 2.57 2.37 37.0% 9.9% 47.8% 11.0% .283 2.69 .236 .258

Nearly identical. Miller has a slight edge in strikeout rate, Robertson a slight edge in walk rate. Miller’s platoon split is smaller. And, of course, Robertson has thrown more than 40% more innings. That’s not negligible. If we were to take Miller’s last ~190 innings to match Robertson’s total instead of the last three years, he’d have a 3.54 ERA and 3.27 FIP. (If we took Robertson’s last ~130 innings to match Miller’s total, he’d have a 2.55 ERA and 2.65 FIP.)

In the middle of the 2012 season, Robertson simply stopped walking guys. It was weird and pretty awesome. Throwing strikes was never his strong suit, but, out of the blue, he started pounding the zone and has done so since. Miller went through something similar that season though not as extreme. His walk problems were also much more severe than Robertson’s earlier in their careers:


Source: FanGraphsAndrew Miller, David Robertson

Long story short, Miller was better than Robertson in 2014 but Robertson’s track record as a top notch relief pitcher is nearly twice as long in terms of innings pitched. I think it’s pretty interesting Robertson has been better against lefties than Miller while Miller has been better against righties than Robertson. There’s a weird reverse platoon split thing going on.

Stuff Breakdown

Since they are relievers, it’s no surprise Robertson and Miller are basically two-pitch pitchers. They will both throw the occasional changeup but not often enough to be a factor. Robertson is a cutter/curveball pitcher — he’s all but abandoned the four-seam fastball in favor of the cutter at this point — while Miller is a four-seamer/slider pitcher. With an assist from Brooks Baseball, here is a comparison of their fastballs (FB) and breaking balls (BB).

FBv FB% FB Whiff+ FB GB+ BBv BB% BB Whiff+ BB GB+
2013 Robertson 92.7 72.4% 71 111 82.0 26.9% 173 125
2014 Robertson 92.6 62.1% 72 95 83.9 35.0% 209 125
2013 Miller 96.0 56.7% 120 118 86.5 43.3% 137 148
2014 Miller 95.1 56.7% 110 117 85.0 42.6% 172 132

Whiff+ and GB+ are the swing-and-miss and ground ball rates of the individual pitches relative to the league average. It works like wRC+ and ERA+ and all that. 100 is average, the higher the number, the better. Got it? Good.

It surprised me that Robertson’s cutter has been comfortably below-average at getting swings and misses, though I do suppose he gets a lot of called strikes with the pitch. Miller has the much better fastball in almost every way — velocity, swings and misses, and grounders — but Robertson’s curve is the better breaking ball when it comes to getting empty swings. Miller’s slider has a small advantage at getting ground balls.

So, I guess the best way to explain this is Miller has the more dominant two-pitch mix but Robertson has the best individual pitch with his curveball. That make sense? Curveballs historically have a much smaller platoon split than sliders, but Miller’s slider is so damn good it doesn’t matter what side of the plate the hitter is on. He’s a lefty and that’s nice, but he’s far from a lefty specialist.

Injury History

Robertson and Miller are the same age — Robertson is 42 days older — and neither has had any kind of major arm injury, so that’s good. Robertson missed two weeks with elbow stiffness back in September 2009 but hasn’t had any trouble since. He’s been on the DL only twice in his career: 33 days for an oblique strain in 2012 and 15 days for a groin strain this past April. Nothing serious or chronic. Muscle pulls happen.

Miller’s only career arm injury is a bout with elbow inflammation in Spring Training 2012. He’s been on the DL five times in his career: 19 days for a hamstring strain in 2007, 49 days for patellar tendinitis in his right knee in 2008, 25 days for an oblique strain in 2009, 41 days for another hamstring strain in 2012, and 116 days for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in 2013. The Lisfranc injury required season-ending surgery that forced him to miss the 2013 postseason.

Both guys have dealt with their fair share of pulls and grabs over the years, but, most importantly, neither has had any serious arm trouble. Miller has the more durable looking frame — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 210 lbs. while Robertson is only 5-foot-11 and 195 lbs. — yet his Lisfranc injury is by far the most serious injury between the two simply because he needed surgery, though he showed no ill effects in 2014 whatsoever. By reliever standards, these guys are pretty healthy. No major red flags at all.

Contract Estimates

Alright, so how much money are these guys going to end up getting when it’s all said and done? Based on what we heard yesterday, it seems inevitable both will get four years. Here is a roundup of estimates:

Robertson Miller
FanGraphs Crowdsourcing Three years, $10M AAV Three years, $8M AAV
Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) Three years, $13M AAV Three years, $8.5M AAV
Axisa’s Guess Four years, $12M AAV Four years, $9M AAV
Average 3.33 years, $11.7M AAV 3.33 years, $8.5M AAV

To be fair, the FanGraphs and Bowden predictions came weeks ago, before the market blew up and reports surfaced indicating Robertson and Miller were likely to get four years each. The AAV is the more important number there and I am pretty much in agreement with the FanGraphs crowd and Bowden. Using the average AAV spread across four years, we get $46.8M for Robertson and $34M for Miller. That seems reasonable to me.

The Yankees did make Robertson the qualifying offer, which he rejected. So if he were to sign with another team, New York would receive a supplemental first round pick in next June’s draft. They would not gain a pick for signing Miller (duh) nor do they have to forfeit anything for signing either Miller or Robertson. The only draft pick to consider is the one the Yankees would get is Robertson left. I don’t think free agent decisions should hinge on draft pick compensation, not when you’re talking about elite players at their position, but it could serve as a tiebreaker of sorts.

Wrapping Up

So, all of those words and tables and graphs tell us both Robertson and Miller are really freaking good. Picking between them is ultimately a matter of preference. They’re the same age and they’re both going to end up with four-year contracts. Do you prefer the big lefty with the much shorter track record of being elite on a slightly lower annual salary, or the short righty with a nice long track record at a higher salary? There’s a reasonable argument to be made either way. Let’s vote.

Assuming the Yankees will only sign one, who should it be?

Monday Night Open Thread

The Thanksgiving weekend is over and we were all welcomed back to reality today with a nice Andrew Miller rumor and a Nelson Cruz signing. Not with the Yankees, of course. Cruz reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $57M with the Mariners. Seattle actually agreed to sign Cruz to a two-year deal worth roughly $18M last winter — it was actually a one-year deal at $7.5M with a no-brainer club option at $9M — but ownership got up on their soap box and said no players with performance-enhancing drugs. I guess missing the postseason by one game while their DHs hit .190/.266/.301 this past season changed their opinion. Funny how that works.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Jets and Dolphins are on Monday Night Football, plus the Rangers are playing and I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about those games, the Miller rumor, the Cruz signing, or anything else right here.

Sabathia on his knee: “I have no complaints”

The Yankees continue to search for pitching this offseason as they look to bolster a rotation that is full of injury risks. Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament, Michael Pineda‘s shoulder is a perpetual question, and Ivan Nova won’t be back until at least May following Tommy John surgery. All of that is on top of Hiroki Kuroda possibly (likely?) leaving the club, either as a free agent or through retirement.

Stalwart left-hander CC Sabathia is returning from a knee injury that required a clean out surgery, not a much more serious microfracture procedure. Microfracture surgery may have ended his career. Sabathia has been throwing off flat ground for weeks but he recent decided not to throw off a mound before the holidays as initially planned. During a recent television interview (h/t Chad Jennings), Sabathia discussed his current workout routine and expectations for 2015.

“The knee, I have no complaints. I’m able to do all of my workouts … I’m changing a few things. Not as much pounding and running. I’m in the pool a lot, on different machines to get cardio, (on the) bike. Just adding a few different things to get some cardio in,” said Sabathia. “I feel like I can (throw 200 innings). If you asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’ but the way I’m feeling now and being able to work out, definitely.”

For what it’s worth, Steamer projects a 4.00 ERA (3.97 FIP) for Sabathia next season, and holy crap I would take that in a heartbeat. Don’t even care about strikeout and walk rates. After the knee surgery and his performance the last two years (4.87 ERA and 4.22 FIP), I’m in full blown Freddy Garcia mode with CC. Just get outs, I don’t care how. I’m glad Sabathia’s knee feels strong and he thinks he can throw 200+ innings next year. I’m not counting on anything from Sabathia though. Just hoping for the best.

2014 Season Review: The Captain

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As the Yankees fell further out of the postseason race this summer, the more the 2014 season became about Derek Jeter. The Yankees long-time captain announced in Spring Training that he had decided to retire after the season, not because the ankle and leg injuries that hampered him throughout 2013 made him realize his body wasn’t capable of doing what it once did, but because he “just felt like this was the right time.”

I don’t think it was surprising Jeter decided to retire this year. That isn’t the unexpected part. The unexpected part was that he announced it on Facebook. Who knew Derek Jeter used Facebook? The man managed to go his entire 20-year career in New York with zero controversy because he avoided things like Facebook. Anyway, the Facebook announcement came a few days before the start of Spring Training, and his big press conference followed a week later.

“This is not a retirement press conference. I still have a season to play. I feel good. This has nothing to do with how I feel. Physically I feel great and I’m looking forward to the season,” said Jeter that afternoon in mid-February. “Parts of 20 seasons I’ve played in New York and 23 counting the Minor Leagues. So I think I’ve done it long enough. I’m looking forward to doing other things in my life. This is a difficult job. I put everything into it each and every year. It’s not a six-month season. It’s 12 months. Again, I’m looking forward to other things. Not yet. But the idea of doing other things is what I’m looking forward to.”

Jeter’s final season was both memorable and forgettable, if that makes sense. Let’s review, starting with the forgettable stuff to get it out of the way.

The On-Field Performance

The 2014 season was, by far, the worst full season of Jeter’s career. He did stay healthy and appear in 145 games, but those 145 games featured a .256/.304/.313 (73 wRC+) batting line and only 24 extra-base hits. Among the 146 qualified hitters in baseball, Jeter had the fourth highest ground ball rate (61.6%) while ranking 140th in wRC+ and 145th in ISO. Only Ben Revere managed to hit for less power (.057 vs. .055 ISO).

Unlike the last few seasons, Jeter had no impact against left-handed pitchers, putting up a .244/.289/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line against southpaws and a .262/.309/.317 (76 wRC+) line against righties. He also hit .212/.293/.250 (56 wRC+) in high-leverage situations. Against pitches measured at 95 mph and above, Jeter hit .167 with a 0.021 ISO, both the sixth lowest marks in baseball. Teams routinely brought in hard-throwing relievers to face Derek in key situations and they buried him, hence his performance in high-leverage spots.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he routinely hit second in the lineup. In fact, only seven hitters had more plate appearances in the top two spots of the lineup this year. When asked about dropping Jeter to a lower spot in the batting order during a mid-summer slump, Joe Girardi replied “it’s not like we have a bunch of guys hitting .300, so that’s why we’ve kept it,” even though he had no trouble dropping others like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and even Brett Gardner lower in the lineup. Jeter batted second for sentimental reasons and it cost the Yankees. How much? I don’t know. But it’s clear the team was not putting itself in the best position to win each day.

On the field, Jeter was a detriment to the Yankees. He didn’t hit a lick and his defense was worse than ever before. His mobility was sapped, likely due to a combination of age and his recent leg injuries, resulting in a +0.2 bWAR and -0.3 fWAR season for the Cap’n. You don’t even need to believe in WAR to see he was a net negative for New York. After nearly two decades of brilliance on the field, Jeter was a big problem in 2014 when it came to tangible on-field contributions.

The Farewell Tour

For some reason the Jeter farewell tour seemed to last a lot longer than the Mariano Rivera farewell tour. Maybe because Jeter was an everyday player while Rivera was reliever who pitched in only 64 games. Each team had a little ceremony to honor Jeter as he traveled through their city one last time, and some of the gifts were actually cool. You can scroll through and see each and every one right here. The Stan Musial cufflinks and No. 2 subway tile mosaic were really great in my opinion. The bucket of crabs … not so much.

The Yankees held Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium on September 7th, and they brought out all the big guns for the ceremony. Cal Ripken Jr. was there, Michael Jordan was there, Jeter’s family, Joe Torre, a ton of former teammates, the works. The team wore a special Jeter patch on their hats and sleeve from that day through the end of the season, which was sorta weird because Jeter was never the type to draw attention to himself that way, but also kinda cool. His speech that afternoon was short and sweet:

The Yankees were 4.5 games out of a postseason spot that day and only sunk further out of the race in the coming days, so the rest of the season turned into a huge Jeter love fest. I understand why, but it did get a little tiresome. Announcers spent innings on end discussing Jeter regardless of what was happening on the field and the national broadcasts were about a thousand times worse. By the end of September the YES Network was promoting non-stop, wall-to-wall Jeter coverage, and I’m not sure if that was a promotion or a threat.

After two farewell tours in two years, I’m pretty much tuckered out. That’s not a slight on Jeter (or Rivera), he’s an all-time great player and Yankee and deserved all the praise he received. But I will not be sad there won’t be a farewell tour in 2015. I have farewell tour fatigue. Jeter’s was fun at the start, but by the end of the year, I was ready for it to be over.

The Last Goodbye

On Thursday, September 25th, the day after the Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention, Derek Jeter played his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Fans chanted his name pretty much from first pitch through the last. The new Yankee Stadium hasn’t been that loud since the 2009 World Series, maybe ever. In the very first inning, Jeter did this:

I thought it was gone off the bat. It had to be, right? Of course Jeter was going to hit a homer in his final home game. It had to be this way. But no, it only clanked off the wall for a run-scoring double. So close.

Jeter grounded out to end the second inning, struck out for the second out of the fifth inning, then reached on an error and a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning. The bases were loaded with one out, Jeter hit a weak grounder to short, perhaps too weak to turn two, and J.J. Hardy threw wide of the bag at second. Two runs scored and the Yankees took a 4-2 lead.

The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning and while it would have been memorable no matter how it ended, David Robertson blew the save and the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. It totally sucked at the time, but in hindsight, I don’t think I’ll ever be happier that a Yankee blew a save. Without it, this wouldn’t have happened:

That was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Jeter’s final game in the Bronx ended with one of his patented inside-out swings, muscling a walk-off single to right field. The same hit to right field we’ve seen a couple thousand times over the last 20 years.

Jeter finished out his career in Fenway Park that weekend but no one will remember that — he beat out in infield single in the final at-bat of his career for his 3,465th hit, the sixth most in baseball history — that walk-off hit was essentially the end of his playing days. At least it will be for Yankees fans. The Captain stepped to the plate, drove in the game-winning run, then rode off into the sunset.

I was a teenager when Derek Jeter started his career and now I’m an adult stuck with responsibilities and other awful things. I’ve grown up watching Jeter play and it’s getting harder and harder to remember the pre-Jeter teams, not that many from my lifetime are worth remembering. It’s sad to see him go. It’s sad because he was such a great player tied to so many great memories. And, despite his production this year, it’s sad to think Jeter won’t be in the lineup and at shortstop next year.

Jeter is going to go down as one of the greatest Yankees to ever live and will possibly be the best player to wear the uniform in my lifetime. He was a great player who was everything a team could have wanted in a franchise player. Great production, no controversy, durable, marketable, the works. I always laugh when fans of other teams call him overrated because the guys running their favorite clubs go to bed each night dreaming about having a Derek Jeter to build around.

The Yankees are moving into a new phase of their history now. And that phase might be ugly, at least in the immediate future. Jeter has retired and every tie to the dynasty years — the teams I spent my formative years watching — is gone. In this age of MLB-created parity and competitive balance, we might never see another run like that again. We definitely one see another Jeter. I know that for sure.

Bullpen Updates: Miller, Robertson, Offers, Trades

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Outside of the Chris Young re-signing, things have been rather quiet around the Yankees this offseason. That all started to change today thanks to a bunch of bullpen-related rumors. Let’s round them all up first, then discuss.

  • The Yankees are in “serious pursuit” of Andrew Miller, according to Buster Olney and Joel Sherman. Nick Cafardo and Dan Connolly add that Miller is in talks with 8-10 teams and is expected to sign soon. Jon Heyman says the lefty is going to wind up with a four-year contract that smashes the previous record for a non-closing reliever, which is Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants. I guess Rafael Soriano doesn’t count.
  • David Robertson already has a three-year offer worth $39M in hand from an unknown club according to Heyman, making it very likely he will receive a four-year deal when it’s all said and done. Heyman and Sherman say that even though Brian Cashman continues to praise Robertson, the Yankees appear unwilling to go four years to keep their closer. As a reminder, Robertson is said to be seeking “Papelbon money,” which means a four-year deal in the $50M neighborhood.
  • George King reports the Yankees have talked with clubs about trading for a closer, including the Braves and Marlins. Craig Kimbrel could be available if the Braves go into a total rebuild. The Marlins quietly have an excellent bullpen and could replace pricey closer Steve Cishek ($6.9M projected in 2015) rather easily if they decide to use him in a trade to fill another need.
  • Ken Davidoff reports the Astros have reached out to Robertson’s agent. Houston is said to be seeking a high-end closer this offseason. I’m not sure why, but whatever. Heyman and King say both the Blue Jays and White Sox want a closer this winter and Robertson is on their radar.

Okay. First off, I think the team’s unwillingness to give Robertson a four-year deal is just posturing at this point. I can’t seriously believe they would go four years for Miller but only three for Robertson, not unless they have some kind of serious concern about the health of his arm, and I have no reason to believe that’s the case. Robertson’s better and has a much longer track record of being elite than Miller (four years vs. one a half years).

Now, that said, I don’t think it would be crazy to let Robertson walk, get the draft pick, and sign Miller as a replacement. The Yankees might even be able to sign Miller and someone like Jason Grilli (whom they have interest in) or Luke Gregerson for the same total money it’ll take to sign Robertson, and wind up with an ostensibly deeper bullpen plus a draft pick. If it’s just Miller in place of Robertson, especially if the difference is money is only $1M or $2M per year, then I’d much rather just keep Robertson.

Trading for a closer seems like a weird idea — I don’t like the idea of paying a huge price for Kimbrel and his contract (owed $33M through 2017 with a $13M option for 2018) when you could simply sign Miller or Robertson — but, as always, it depends on the price and the target. I guess I would be in favor of that plan if it kept Dellin Betances in that oh so valuable multi-inning setup role. Heck, even if they sign Miller, I’d rather see someone like Shawn Kelley or Adam Warren close so Betances and Miller could dominate the sixth through eighth innings.

At this point it seems like a foregone conclusion the Yankees will spend big for either Robertson or Miller. I think they’re trying to play hardball with Robertson at the moment — I get the sense their “serious pursuit” of Miller is just a way to pressure Robertson into signing, which probably won’t work if his market is as robust as the reports — but are prepared to move on if necessary. I guess this is how I see this playing out: either Robertson or Miller signs with a team, then the Yankees go hard after the other.