Via Derrick Goold: The Cardinals and free agent second baseman Mark Ellis have agreed to a one-year contract, pending a physical. He was reportedly on the Yankees’ radar during the Winter Meetings. With Omar Infante heading to the Royals, the free agent infielder pickin’s are mighty slim nowadays. · (268) ·
Via Bruce Levine: The Yankees and Cubs discussed infielder Darwin Barney at some point earlier this offseason. He speculates the two sides could reconnect now that Robinson Cano and Omar Infante have picked new teams, indicating the talks weren’t particularly recent.
Barney, 28, is pretty much the second base version of Brendan Ryan. He’s a terrible hitter (67 wRC+ in 1,799 career plate appearances) but a standout defender, a legitimate 10+ runs saved guy. Matt Swartz projects Barney to earn $2.1M in his first trip through arbitration this winter, which is nuts. If you’re going to spend that kinda cash on another no-hit/all-glove infielder, just sign Mark Ellis and keep whatever prospect you’d have to send to Chicago. At least Ellis hits lefties. · (63) ·
In replacing the 145 bullpen innings they’ve lost, the Yankees certainly need outside reinforcements. They might have a few internal players to fill some of those innings, but we can’t expect them to find all 145 within the organization. A couple of acquisitions seem probable.
One name linked to the Yankees is Joaquin Benoit, formerly of the Tigers. He seems pretty solidly in the former column, since Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski indicated that with the acquisition of Joba Chamberlain, he’s finished with his bullpen. Benoit, 36, has a number of suitors, the Yankees among them. The Padres and Indians reportedly have offers of two years and $14 million on the table, which seems reasonable. So where are the Yankees on this?
In 2013 Benoit, for the first time in his career, became a regular closer. He’d finished double-digit games in each of the previous three seasons, picking up a few saves in each, but he was never the full-time closer. Detroit, absent a “proven closer” in 2013, slid Benoit into the role with much success. The money is with closers, even older ones, as Joe Nathan proved with those very Tigers. It could be that Benoit seeks a full-time closer role, which would seemingly give the closer-absent Indians an advantage.
(The Padres have a “proven closer” of their own in Huston Street, which leaves their pursuit curious. In fact, reports have indicated that they are “in the lead,” whatever that means, so perhaps Benoit doesn’t value a closer role beyond all else.)
The Yankees could add a closer for the 2014 season, leaving David Robertson in the setup role he has so tremendously played for the past three or four seasons. That might be his ideal role, given his strikeout stuff and penchant for wiggling out of jams. But that doesn’t mean it’s the role he’ll play in the future. Ballplayers want to maximize their earnings during their relatively short window. Again, the money is there for closers.
If the Yankees don’t move Robertson into the closer’s role, they’ll probably lose him after next season to a team that will give him that opportunity. Sure, the Yankees could keep him in a setup role for 2014, and then re-sign him to be the closer in 2015 and beyond. That hardly makes any sense. Why give the guy closer money, and the closer role, when he hasn’t closed games for more than a couple weeks in his career? The prudent move, it seems, is to move Robertson into the closer role and sign a capable setup man. That way you can see what Robertson is made of, while giving him a safety net.
In that way, Benoit makes perfect sense. He’s a setup man who has had success as a closer, so if Robertson falters he could become the man. It will cost the Yankees — two years and $14 is a lot for a 36-year-old, and with three teams in the running the bidding could get higher — but he seems the perfect fit. Given the rest of the free agent market, and the unpredictable trade market, Benoit might be the Yankees best chance to help fill some of those 145 departed innings.
For the same reason, trading for a proven closer makes little sense for the Yankees. Yesterday, for instance, Buster Olney reported that the Phillies are “EXTREMELY motivated to move [Jonathan] Papelbon.” His time with the Red Sox sours him on Yankees fans, but looking beyond that he could be a good fit. You know he wants a trade to the Yankees, making him the heir to Mariano Rivera. He’d be more motivated than ever, going up against his former team six times a year.
It’s not even the money remaining on Papelbon’s deal, three years and $39 million if his 2016 option vests, that makes this a poor move. It’s the idea that with a proven closer in their ranks, Robertson could bolt for more money and a more prominent role on another team. Hell, he could bolt for the Red Sox, which is the worst possible idea. Imagine the Red Sox having an in-his-prime Robertson closing games while the Yankees have an over-the-hill (but still potentially effective) Papelbon closing theirs.
By itself, acquiring Papelbon wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Yankees obviously have the money, and Papelbon has made some adjustments to compensate for his diminishing stuff as he ages. The X factor is how this affects Robertson. If the Yankees bring in a proven closer, Robertson stands a better chance of leaving to find a closer role, and closer money, elsewhere. Why not just give Robertson the closer job in 2014 to see what he’s made of? Then they can spend that Papelbon money on Robertson if they’re satisfied.
Given the lack of relievers on the market, it might be easier to add a closer and keep Robertson in the setup role. But the easy move is rarely the correct move. The Yankees have to think beyond 2014, when they’ll need quality late-inning relievers like Robertson. To deny him the closer role in 2014 could be to lose him for 2015 and beyond. Given the mass exodus of relievers this off-season, that’s a scenario the Yankees can ill afford.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees seem to have “little interest” in free agent second baseman Brian Roberts. They’re looking for an infielder after Robinson Cano left for the Mariners and had a three-year, $24M offer out to Omar Infante before he signed with the Royals.
Roberts, 36, hit .249/.312/.392 (90 wRC+) with eight homeruns in 296 plate appearances for the Orioles this past season, his most playing time since 2009. Back, abdomen, hamstring, hip labrum, and concussion problems have limited him to only 192 of 648 possible games over the last four years. Roberts is incredibly risky and I think the Yankees need to add someone a little more reliable right now. The time for taking risks is later in the offseason, after the major needs are addressed. · (71) ·
Via Buster Olney: The Royals and Omar Infante have agreed to a four-year contract worth $30M. The Yankees were after the free agent infielder pretty much all winter in case Robinson Cano signed elsewhere, which he obviously has done. Their offer to Infante topped out at three years and $24M, reportedly. · (95) ·
5:43pm: Levine called MLB and Angels team president John Carpino to apologize for the comment, according to Mark Feinsand. “My understanding is the matter is over,” said Levine. No harm, no foul.
5:30pm: Via Bill Shaikin: MLB plans to investigate Yankees president Randy Levine to see if comments he made at Jacoby Ellsbury’s press conference on Friday constitute tampering. “Now, if it was Mike Trout, I’d offer him a ten-year contract. But for people over 30, I don’t believe it makes sense,” said Levine when asked about the team’s refusal to offer Robinson Cano a ten-year deal. The Trout comment is the one that caught the league’s attention.
Tampering is a pretty big deal; MLB does not like executives talking about a player under contract with another team. I have absolutely no idea what kind of discipline may be handed down in this situation, but Levine’s comment was pretty innocuous. He was using Trout as an example of a great young player more than anything. I don’t know what will happen next, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear about this again. These things tend to happen behind closed doors. · (36) ·
When Peter Gammons mentioned talk about a swap of Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson, it seemed appalling for two reasons. First, why would Detroit entertain such an idea? Second, why did Gammons claim it “makes sense for both teams”? If this is indeed on the table, shouldn’t the Yankees take it?
In the Tigers, the Yankees might have found a team that doesn’t undervalue Brett Gardner. Swapping him for Jackson, who is three and a half years younger and has two more years of team control, would indicate that the Tigers do value Gardner*. It might also indicate that, as they did when they traded Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in exchange for Jackson, that they’re looking to get rid of a player before he becomes too expensive.
*Of course, that statement could look a whole lot different if the Yankees are supposed to send additional players to Detroit.
A year ago it might have seemed insane to even entertain the idea of trading Jackson. In his age-25 season he broke out to hit .300/.377/.479, upping his power while cutting down on his strikeouts significantly. A year later he looks slightly less impressive, having hit .272/.337/.417 in roughly the same number of PA. A hamstring injury did hamper him earlier in the season. Perhaps the Tigers saw something they didn’t like and now think that perhaps Jackson’s 2012 was a standout he’s not likely to repeat.
In Gardner the Tigers would lose a year of control, but they’d gain a valuable player who slots well into their lineup and helps balance their righty-heavy approach. This goes especially after they signed Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. Instead of having the first four hitters in their lineup bat righty — Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler, in some order — they can lead off with the lefty Gardner. They might also think it more possible to sign him to an extension at a far more affordable rate than Jackson.
Jackson would better balance the Yankees’ lineup as well. Instead of leading off with the lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, they could go with Ellsbury and Jackson, followed by Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano, giving Joe Girardi his desired lefty-righty split (with interspersed switch hitters). Jackson, who by the eye and generally by the numbers, plays good defense, could show similar value to Gardner in left, since few left fielders can cover as much ground as those two.
The trade, then, makes a little more sense from each team’s perspective. The Tigers get a player they can perhaps sign to a reasonable extension (which is probably not possible with Jackson, a Scott Boras client). The Yankees get a young player who gives them an extra year of team control. Both teams gain balance. Yet this move can’t be high on the Yankees’ priority list currently. They have areas of need, and if they’re going to trade Gardner now it would have to help cover one of them.
There is no reason, currently, to trade Gardner for anything other than a mid-rotation starting pitcher or a decent second baseman. The latter seems pretty out of the question. The former becomes a difficult proposition if teams don’t value Gardner as the Yankees do. Still, they’ll almost certainly wait out the market, seeing what they can get in exchange for Gardner on that front.
If the Yankees sign Omar Infante and Masahiro Tanaka, the situation might change. But even then, I’d rather see the Yankees explore an extension with Gardner than trade him. Given his value, and the reality that he’ll probably get a reasonable contract, it would seem a better idea to keep Gardner for four or five years rather than trade him. If, on the other hand, Gardner isn’t open to an extension, if he would rather play center and lead off for another team, then it’s easy to see why the Yankees would pull the trigger. They get two years of a player with similar current value and a higher upside, at a slightly more expensive rate.
The rumor surfaced this week, because this is the week that rumors surface. But at this point, it doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees. Swapping a good outfielder for another good outfielder in order to gain a year of control and balance the lineup is nice, but it can’t be near the top of the priority list. The Yanks have other moves to make right now, and Gardner is valuable to them. If a move like this is to occur, and there is certainly some sense in it, chances are it would come far, far closer to spring training.
The Yankees have lost two relievers to free agency over the last 24 hours or so. First, Buster Olney reported Joba Chamberlain has agreed to a one-year contract worth $2.5M with the Tigers. He’ll join their revamped setup crew. Joba was awful in 2013 (4.93 ERA and 5.64 FIP in 42 innings) and finished his Yankees career with a 3.85 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 444.2 innings. There were no indications the team was interested in a reunion, understandably.
Next, Jon Heyman reported Boone Logan has agreed to a three-year, $16.5M deal with the Rockies. Nice payday for him. Logan had a 3.23 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 39 innings this past and Clayton Kershaw was the only left-handed pitcher in baseball with a higher strikeout rate against left-handed batters. He finishes his Yankees career with a 3.38 ERA (3.63 FIP) in parts of four seasons. Boone caught a lot of undeserved crap over the years (I’m certainly guilty) but chances are the team will miss him next season (they did talk about re-signing him). Pretty crazy that he ended up being the best player to come out of that trade.
Between these two guys plus Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have now lost three relievers who combined for a 3.22 ERA (3.97 FIP) in 145 innings this past season. The bullpen is pretty sketchy behind David Robertson right now. The team needs to work on that these next two months. · (35) ·
Only five questions this week, and some of the answers are kinda short. We must have received about a dozen different variations of the first two questions. Great minds think alike, I hear. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything.
Many people asked: What about Nick Franklin?
Now that Robinson Cano is locked in at second base for the next decade, the Mariners don’t have an obvious spot for the 22-year-old Franklin. He hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homeruns and six stolen bases in 412 plate appearances this past season, his first taste of the show. Franklin is a switch-hitter who has always struggled against lefties, so much so that there’s been talk of making him hit exclusively left-handed. He’s the anti-Derek Jeter on defense — good amount of range but makes a lot of errors because he boots grounders and makes bad throws — and the total package is more solid regular than future All-Star.
Franklin has understandably been getting talked up as a trade chip since the Cano signing and the hype has surpassed reality, kinda like Mike Olt a year or so ago. He’s good but not truly great. The Yankees can use a young second baseman now and Franklin would certainly fit, though I don’t think the Mariners are ready to move him. They could always send him back to Triple-A and have him work at other positions or wait for a better offer. There’s no need to rush into a decision. I’m more intrigued by Dustin Ackley to be honest, because at least there’s All-Star caliber talent hiding in their somewhere. I’d rather see New York buy super low on him and hand him over to Kevin Long than pay market rate for Franklin. Franklin fits a need, no doubt, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between what he actually is and how he’s being valued.
Many people asked: What about moving Alfonso Soriano to second base?
This ain’t happening. Soriano hasn’t played second base at all since 2009 or regularly since 2005, and, in case you forgot, he was pretty terrible there. We saw it firsthand from 2001-2003. He wasn’t Eduardo Nunez bad, but he misplayed a lot of balls on the infield during his time there. Soriano is going to be 38 next month and he’s played 3.2 innings at second base over the last eight years. This isn’t even something the Yankees can seriously consider.
Andrew asks: Will Dean Anna be competing for a MLB roster spot in Spring Training or was he added purely for depth in the minors? I have not heard any discussion about him being a potential 2B option for the Yanks.
Can’t it be both, compete for a job in camp and be added for depth? The Yankees have an open position player spot right now — could be two if they cut one of Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — and that figures to go to whatever infielder they acquire in the coming weeks. If they don’t add an infielder, Anna probably has to beat out Nunez for a roster spot. For some reason the incumbent always seems to have up in these competitions. I’m intrigued by Anna’s on-base skills and like him as an up-and-down depth player, but if he makes the team out of camp as even a semi-regular at second, something probably went wrong somewhere.
Andy asks: Can you make up what a potential Yankees line-up would look like now? Against both lefties and righties.
Given the roster as it sits today, meaning no obvious second/third baseman, here are the lineups I would run out there:
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|1.||CF Jacoby Ellsbury||1.||CF Jacoby Ellsbury|
|2.||LF Brett Gardner||2.||SS Derek Jeter|
|3.||RF Carlos Beltran||3.||1B Mark Teixeira|
|4.||C Brian McCann||4.||DH Alfonso Soriano|
|5.||DH Alfonso Soriano||5.||RF Carlos Beltran|
|6.||1B Mark Teixeira||6.||C Frankie Cervelli|
|7.||3B Kelly Johnson||7.||3B Kelly Johnson|
|8.||SS Derek Jeter||8.||2B Brendan Ryan|
|9.||2B Brendan Ryan||9.||LF Brett Gardner|
You and I both know Jeter will bat second against righties and lefties as long as he’s healthy. That’s just the way it is. I would bat him lower in the order against righties until he shows he can hit them, however. The Cap’n had a 99 wRC+ against same-side pitchers even during his big bounceback 2012 season, so I’m skeptical about what he can do at his age and following what amounts to a lost season.
Ellsbury and Gardner had almost identical batting averages (.246 vs. 247) and on-base percentages (.317 vs. .323) against lefties last season, but Gardner hit for much more power (.071 vs. .180 ISO). That doesn’t really jibe with the rest of his career though. Ellsbury and Gardner have identical career 96 wRC+ against southpaws, so the tiebreaker goes to the guy who will steal 40+ bases no questions asked (who also happens to have a $153M contract). Batting Gardner ninth instead of eighth against lefties allows him to serve as a second leadoff man, so to speak.
The rest is pretty straight forward, right? Soriano was awesome last year but McCann is the (much) better hitter against right-handers, which is why I have him batting cleanup against righties. I’d use a straight splatoon at catcher as a way to give McCann regular time off as well. He’s going to need the rest, it comes with the territory, so you might as well rest him against southpaws and get Frankie in there. Jeter and Teixeira still mash left-handers (or at least they did the last time they were healthy), making them a natural fit for the two-three spots against southpaws.
Laying the lineup out like this makes it easy to see how much the team needs a second or third baseman, preferably a righty bat. Those lineups would look so much better if they moved Ryan to the bench, shifted Johnson to second, and had someone like Mark Reynolds to bat seventh or eighth, no?
Jon asks: Explain the minor league Rule 5 Draft. How could you just lose players for $12,000? How many could you protect? Could the Yankees have chosen players from other minor league teams for $12,000 or did their lack of room on the 40-man roster prevent it?
The lack of 40-man space has nothing to do with the ability to make picks in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The minor league phase is pretty complicated, so I’ll direct you to this J.J. Cooper explanation. I don’t even fully understand it. All I know is that if you take a player in the minor league phase, he’s yours to keep. Those guys do not have to go through the same roster hoops as the players drafted in the Major League portion. The Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to give players an opportunity with a new organization if they’re buried or overlooked by their current team, and, for the most part, it accomplishes that goal.