Weekend Mailbag and Open Thread

We’ve been getting a ton of submissions through our new mailbag form, which you can find in the right sidebar. Keep ‘em coming. The more questions, the more mailbag features we’ll do. They’re pretty fun for everyone, aren’t they?

Again, we open with a couple of housekeeping items:

1. Remember, when you’re buying Yankees stuff this holiday season, click through the RAB Shop links. It’s a huge boost for us. We have some items displayed on that page, too — like a Jeter replica jersey that doesn’t have his name on the back. You don’t see those every day.

2. The first RAB Daily Digest will hit mailboxes on Monday morning. You can read about the RAB Daily Digest, or sign up using the form below. We’re at 850 subscribers right now, and would love to have this hit 1,000 inboxes for the inaugural run.



And now…

Zac asks: At first glance, the A’s seemed to get an uninspiring haul for Donaldson. What would the comparable package of Yankees players/prospects have been?

CanGuest asks: With regards to the Donaldson/Lawrie trade, it doesn’t seem like the Jays gave up too much in the way of prospects. Do you think we could have made a similar deal to get Donaldson, and how surprising is it that he was traded? Was he on anybody’s radar at all?

In case you missed it last night, the A’s traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects: RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto.

It does not seem as though the Jays gave up much. Donaldson is not only light years better than Lawrie, but he also has less service time — he’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, while Lawrie will be free after 2017. The move seems even stranger coming on the heels of the A’s signing Billy Butler, a seemingly win-now move. Why sign Butler and then trade your best hitter?

Getting back Barreto is nice for Oakland, since they traded away their top shortstop prospect, but he’s just 18 and so has years before reaching the bigs. Billy Beane has to be banking to a decent degree on Lawrie delivering more on his considerable promise. He’s been perfectly average since a breakout performance in 2011, and has missed 100 games in the last two seasons due to injury.

That said, Beane clearly isn’t done. There are already rumblings of a Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox (which would be huge for them), and Brandon Moss could be next. This clearly isn’t a rebuild, but, as one reporter put it (can’t find the link), Beane is reworking the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Jaso and Josh Reddick traded as well this off-season.

Was this a surprise? Sure, in that most of Beane’s moves are surprises. I don’t think anyone really saw him giving up Addison Russell for Samardzija, nor did we see him trading Cespedes for Lester. So, surprising, but kinda not since Beane never operates in a way we expect.

In terms of comparable Yankees prospects, there’s really not much there. They don’t have anyone like Lawrie, a cost-controlled MLB player the A’s can plug into Donaldson’s old position, or perhaps 2B. Martin Prado fits that bill, but he’s older, more expensive, and has fewer years remaining of team control.

Looking at the top 30 prospects, you have to think Clarkin would be in there. Jagielo? Torrens? I’m not sure. It’s tough to piece these things together from another team’s perspective. Sometimes a GM will have his eyes on a few prospects from one team, and that’s the end of that.

Ken asks: Would it make more sense for the Yankees to let Robertson go and hope that Betances’s 2014 was not a fluke (as opposed to what they saw from him previously) and go for a veteran to handle the eighth or ninth inning and sign/trade for a “marquee” shortstop or to go four years with Robertson and go for a lesser shortstop?

Tom asks: Any idea on potential arbitration savings on Betances (2016-2019) by signing a closer who racks up the saves (which pays in arbitration).

I’m not sure trading for a “marquee” shortstop is in the cards (there are none on the FA market) regardless of what they do with Robertson. I picked this question, because there is an obvious parallel in recent Yankee history: letting John Wetteland walk to make Mariano Rivera closer after the 1996 season.

Plenty is different in that scenario, mainly the success of the team at the time. Rivera’s 1996 and Betances’s 2014 were very similar. While that doesn’t make Betances the next Rivera, it is an encouraging sign, perhaps one that will allow the Yankees to save some bucks on Robertson, which they can allocate to offense. Because they need offense.

As for signing a closer to keep down Betances’s arbitration costs, that’s going to cost money, too. Even then, the market is full of question marks. The Yanks have reportedly talked about making Jason Grilli an offer, but he’s not exactly reliable. Francisco Rodriguez has declined, as has Rafael Soriano. Maybe they try to get one of them on a sweetheart deal and move Betances into the closer role if they falter.

(I do not think they’re signing Robertson, for what it’s worth.)

James asks: Could A-Rod be the hitting coach?

It might sound like a silly question, but the man does know the game. I remember him talking about specific things he works on with hitting coaches. Younger players also seem to love him. It’ll never happen, not in a million years, but I do think A-Rod could help out kids at the plate.

Rich asks: How good a chance does Severino have make the opening day rotation?

Zero. Negative, possibly. The kid has potential, but certainly isn’t on tap for the majors quite yet. Give him time. Maybe he slots in later in the season. But realistically we’re talking 2016 at the very earliest.

Mailbag: Lowrie/Cabrera, Zobrist, Roller, Frazier

Just a few shopkeeping items before we dive into the questions:

1. If you’re giving Yankees/baseball gear as gifts this year, You can also give a gift to RAB at the same time, free of charge. When you buy from the MLB Shop, Fanatics, or Amazon using our links at the RAB Shop we get a little cut. Same price for you, a little cash in our pockets.

Here are some deals at the MLB Shop today:

Those deals last through Sunday.

2. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re experimenting with a new mailbag submission form. It’s in the sidebar. You only have to hit Send once — it might not look like it goes through, but it does. We’re working on slightly better functionality on that. You can still email us questions if you prefer, but this form seems to work for more people.

3. Starting Monday morning we’re sending out a daily digest email. You can read more about the daily digest here. You can also sign up there, or you can just enter your email address into the field above.

And now, onto the questions.

Ben Zobrist
(CHRIS O’MEARA/AP)

Mark L. asks: Do you see signing two of Lowrie / Drew / Cabrera to mix and match with Prado as a cost-effective alternative to big bucks Headley?

No, I cannot see that. It seems increasingly probable that some team offers Chase Headley a four-year deal. Since the Yankees are willing to give only three, they’ll have to find help elsewhere.

Would it cost them less to sign Lowrie or Cabrera? Maybe a little, but maybe not. If Headley signs elsewhere I think they allocate that money to other positions and use Refsnyder or Pirela at second with Prado at third.

JR asks: With the Rays appearing to be in rebuilding mode, What would the cost be to get Zobrist be?

I’m not sure the Rays are in complete rebuild mode. Maybe they’re not looking for win-right-now pieces, but they’re not doing some three-year project. That said, Ben Zobrist has just one year left on his contract, for a super reasonable $7.5 million (well, $7.75 really, because he gets $.25 million if traded).

It’s hard to find a reasonable value here, though. How much is one year of Zobrist worth to you? I’m guessing the Rays want something like Greg Bird and a pitcher, and I don’t think I’d go that far. Not where the Yankees stand right now.

If they’re on the brink of greatness — if they have three guys with power who you can count on in addition to the table setters, and a great pitching staff — then maybe I consider mortgaging a decent prospect for one year of a player as versatile as Zobrist. But right now? The roster is too weak right now to make a move like that.

Hmmm asks: Would it be in the Yankees best interest, for the overall future of the team, if they do not sign anyone to over a 4 or 5 year contract until they are a legitimate contender to win? I understand that those contracts can help them become a contender, but I feel like if they don’t have the young talent that will make them perennial contenders that those contracts will just prove to be a waste.

I don’t understand this mentality at all. What does young talent have to do with being perennial contenders? Look at the 1996 Yankees. They had one starting pitcher under 30, and a lineup of mostly imported veterans. That’s not to say that the 2015 Yankees have a Jeter or a Bernie, but the idea that young talent creates perennial winners is a bit off.

You can only work with the players available to you, whether that’s on the roster or available to you in trade or free agency. Cutting yourself off from that talent because of years in a reasonable range is silly. Avoiding 10-year deals? Sure, that’s something you might want to avoid in general. But 4-5 years deals are pretty standard.

nycsportzfan asks: Why did the Yanks not protect Kyle Roller?

Roller did rake last season, mostly in AAA, so it seems as though he’s knocking on the door. That said, he turns 27 before the season starts, so it’s not as though he’s some prime prospect that they just didn’t protect.

There’s a lot going on with Rule 5 protection. You have to take into account the roster implications. A few years ago Brian Cashman said something about sometimes the best way to protect a player is to not add him to the 40-man roster. Wish I could find the exact quote. His point was that because of roster crunch issues, sometimes you protect guys and later have to make some tough DFA choices.

Say you protect someone on the fringe, but have to DFA him in June for some roster crunch reason. A team might not have taken him in the Rule 5, because they didn’t see a way to keep him on the MLB roster all year. But on waivers he doesn’t have that restriction. You can stash him in the minors for a few years. So a team that wouldn’t have made a Rule 5 pick might jump in with a waiver claim.

The Yanks have plenty of needs this off-season, and they’ll need roster spots. They can’t afford to have one of those spots taken up by a 27-year-old first baseman. Also, Roller didn’t even make this enormous list of Rule 5 possibilities.

Elfi asks: Why would the Yankees sign Headley for 3B when they have a solid and capable player in Prado who could do it? Prado I’m sure can at least match Headley’s numbers. This would pave the way for Refsnyder to be the 2B and of course A-Rod at DH

It’s all about depth. If you go into the season with Prado at 3B, you’re stuck with the rookies as your first option at 2B. If they fail, then what? By creating some depth, they can react to injuries and failures. If Prado gets hurt, Pierla or Refsnyder steps in. If they fail as a depth option, that’s one thing. But to rely on them, and have no real backup option, would hurt quite a lot.

Chris R. asks: Doesn’t a run at Todd Frazier make a ton of sense? 28 year old that can play 1st & 3rd. Entering his arb years so he will start to cost Cincy some money now.

Cincinnati is in a tough spot right now, with the poor season they had combined with a number of their pitchers hitting free agency after 2015. They’re locked into a couple of huge contracts, so they could seem inflexible at this point.

That said, he’s one of their only weapons on offense. Unless they go into rebuild mode — and I’m talking trade-Votto rebuild mode — I can’t see them entertaining offers for Frazier.

That said, a Jersey-raised kid who went to Rutgers and walks up to “Fly Me to the Moon” Frazier sounds like a Yankee to me.

Lightning Round

Kenny asks: With the Yankees looking for a new shortstop, do you think Ruben Tejada is on their radar?

The Mets also need a shortstop, so that should answer the question right there.

Daniel asks: Assuming no major changes to the current rotation, who would be the opening day starter?

Have to imagine that’s CC’s job for at least one more season, if he’s healthy.

Matt asks: The Rays are reportedly listening on offers for Yunel Escobar, should the Yankees be interested?

He doesn’t seem like the Yanks kind of player. The Braves traded him for peanuts because they couldn’t stand his attitude. Plus, he’s not a very good SS, even if he can hit a little.

Dustin asks: Dave Martinez for 1B coach or hitting coach?

He’s as good a candidate as any. I have a feeling that the Yankees are more interested in Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, though. But maybe they bring in both, given that they have two coaching openings.

Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

I say this every year and I’m going to say it again: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it isn’t close. Eating great food > getting presents at this point of my life. Yes, I’m old. Barring some kind of breaking news, I don’t plan on posting anything these next few days. It’s a long holiday weekend and I’m going to relax and enjoy it. You should too. Forget about baseball for a few days.

Use this as your open thread for the rest of the weekend. Talk about anything your heart desires except politics or religion or anything like that. This isn’t the place for that. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sanchez: D’Backs agree to six-year deal with Yasmany Tomas

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

The Diamondbacks have agree to a six-year deal worth $68.5M with free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, reports Jesse Sanchez. The contract reportedly includes an opt-out after the fourth year, which could allow Tomas to become a free agent again at age 28. The Giants, Braves, and especially the Padres were said to have had serious interest as well.

Tomas, who turned 24 earlier this month, has been billed as a big time right-handed power hitter, though there are concerns about his ability to handle breaking balls and propensity to swing and miss. His contract is almost identical to the deal the White Sox gave Jose Abreu — Rusney Castillo’s seven-year, $72.5M deal with the Red Sox remains the record for an international position player — though Tomas never hit as well in Cuba as Abreu did in MLB this summer.

 

The Yankees attended Tomas’ workouts but did not have serious interest in signing him. I thought he would have been a good fit for a team in need of youth, power, and a right fielder, but apparently New York did not feel the same way. The Yankees have yet to sign a big name Cuban free agent since Jose Contreras, though they are reportedly all over 19-year-old Yoan Moncada, who is not yet eligible to sign.

Stark: Yankees called about Jimmy Rollins, moved on because price was too high

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees called the Phillies to inquire about the availability of shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but they moved on because the price was so high, reports Jayson Stark. Phils GM Ruben Amaro confirmed Rollins was not asked to waive his no-trade clause and called him “one of best shortstops in baseball still” and “somebody we want on our club.”

Rollins, who turns 36 tomorrow, hit .243/.323/.394 (102 wRC+) with 17 homers and 28 steals in 34 attempts (82% success rate) this past season. His defense at short continues to rate as a bit above-average. Rollins is under contract for $11M next year and will become a free agent after the season, so he’s a pure rental. He’s expressed a willingness to waive his no-trade clause in the past, so that might not be much of an obstacle.

Amaro has reportedly annoyed his fellow GMs with high asking prices and an unwillingness to negotiate — he also blamed other teams for his inactivity at the trade deadline — so there’s no guarantee the asking price for Rollins will come down later in the winter. Rollins does make sense as a one-year shortstop stopgap though — he’s better than Stephen Drew and can contribute on both sides of the ball — but not at any price. Maybe Amaro will come to his senses in a few weeks.

Update: For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a .248/.314/.386 (92 OPS+) batting line and 2.4 WAR for Rollins in 2015. That represents like a four-win upgrade over what the Yankees got from the shortstop position this past season. It was that bad.

Update II: Stark says the Yankees offered the Phillies a “utility player” for Rollins and it wasn’t nearly enough. So Brendan Ryan? Jose Pirela? Zelous Wheeler before he went to Japan? Intrigue!

Heyman: Yankees only willing to give Chase Headley three years

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are not willing to give third baseman Chase Headley anything longer than a three-year contract. Obviously this could all be posturing at this point. Heyman says the Giants have contacted Headley after losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox earlier this week, and supposedly the Indians, Blue Jays, and Padres have shown some level of interest as well.

If the Yankees are truly only willing to go three years for Headley, then in all likelihood they’ll be playing Martin Prado at third base in 2015. Heyman says Headley rejected a three-year, $39M extension from San Diego back in the spring, so you know he’s aiming higher. Sandoval, who is a comparable player, just got five years with an option for a sixth. Headley’s probably going to get a bunch of three years offer and wind up signing with the first team to step forward and offer that fourth guaranteed year.

Playing Prado at third base is not bad in and of itself, but I see Headley at third and Prado at second as a way better plan than Prado at third and either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder at second. The more Major League caliber players, the better. Whenever someone inevitably gets hurt, Prado can change positions to cover for the injury and then either Pirela or Refsnyder can take over at second. The Yankees can’t count on Alex Rodriguez to play third at all. At least not until he shows he can do it in camp.

The best third baseman scheduled to hit free agency next year is David Freese. The best the year after that will be 37-year-old Adrian Beltre. Headley is the best third basemen who will be available for nothing but money for the foreseeable future. If the Yankees aren’t comfortable with going more than three years for him, fine, but the only way they’ll get a better player in the next two or three years is by dipping into their farm system and making a trade.

Should the Yankees give Chase Headley more than three years?

On the Yankees and the prospect of a $500M payroll

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

As you’ve surely seen by now, Kiley McDaniel recently wrote about the ways the Yankees use their financial might to secure top minor league free agents, such as Yangervis Solarte last year. Buried deep within that story was this little nugget about the team’s finances:

A Yankees source told me they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax) …

Whoa! That’s one hell of a buried lede. McDaniel used to work for the Yankees back in the day so I’m sure he still has connections in the front office and whatnot. That’s not something you can just make up and drop in a story, not if you want to be taken seriously.

Anyway, I can’t even wrap my head around a $500M payroll. That’s $20M per 25-man roster spot or $12.5M per 40-man roster spot. Since the $500M would include luxury tax, the actual team payroll would be $396.3M plus a $103.7M luxury tax bill. That’s over $100M for nothing, just washed away into MLB’s central fund. The Yankees could do that and break even, supposedly.

Now, that said, I’m not totally sure I buy the Yankees being able to support a $500M payroll, at least not on an annual basis. Maybe they could do it once and get away with it, but year after year? At this point, with attendance and ratings on the decline and the postseason far from a given, the revenue streams aren’t what they were a few years ago. I don’t have access to the team’s books, so what the hell do I know, but a $500M payroll seems a little outrageous at the moment.

The Yankees hit the point of diminishing returns a few years ago — every additional dollar they spent on the roster was bringing fewer actual wins in the standings. Baseball is a zero-sum game, there are only so many wins to go around each year. Spend $500M on players and you’d presumably have a great lineup with a great rotation and a great bullpen. That makes you … the 1998 Yankees in the best case scenario? The best teams still only win something like 105-110 games a year at the most. That’s baseball.

But let’s have fun with this for a second. Say the Yankees were going to up payroll to $500M next year. That gives them roughly $190M to spend this winter when you consider their existing commitments and the luxury tax. That $190M could buy them Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Chase Headley, David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy, Melky Cabrera, Yoan Moncada, and a bunch of lesser guys. They could also pay Alex Rodriguez to go away. They’d already be flushing $100M down the drain in luxury tax, so why not make it $120M? The team would be limited by roster size, not necessarily dollars.

Know what else would limit the Yankees? The talent pool. They could have all the money in the world to spend, but the free agent class is the free agent class. Better free agents won’t just magically appear. Sure, the Yankees could use that big payroll to take on big contracts in trades, but the only contracts teams look to move are the bad ones. (MLB frowns on buying players from another team, in case you’re wondering). Troy Tulowitzki has six years and $118M left on his deal. That’s not bad in a world where Pablo Sandoval gets five years and $95M. Why would the Rockies just give him away for salary relief?

I’m sure more than a few people read the line in McDaniel’s story and wondered why the Yankees don’t just spend $500M on payroll. First and foremost, remember they are a for profit business. They aren’t trying to break even. Secondly, a payroll that size comes with a lot of wasted dollars (in luxury tax) that don’t appreciably improve their chances of winning the World Series. It’ll add more regular season wins, sure, but only so many. They could add the same number without bumping payroll that high. The $500M is an extreme example, not a sustainable model for the Yankees or any team.

At some point in the near future, every team will have a payroll over $100M and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets to $500M. It’ll probably be the Yankees and I hope I’m around to see it. Spending that kind of money in this age, with free agency what it is and revenue presumably not what it once was, a $500M payroll doesn’t make much business sense for the Yankees. It sure is fun to think about though.