Cotillo: Padres sign James Shields to four-year contract; 2015 draft order finalized

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Padres have signed right-hander James Shields to a four-year contract in the $72M to $76M range. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Shields, who grew up in the San Diego area, would sign with the Padres for about a week now. The two had been connected quite a bit. The Cubs, Marlins, and Blue Jays were also said to be in the mix these last few weeks.

As with Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the Yankees were never seriously connected to Shields this offseason despite their obvious need for rotation help. Ownership and Brian Cashman said they were going to avoid big money long-term contracts that bought decline years in bulk this winter and they stuck to their guns. Can’t imagine many people expected that.

At this point the best free agent starter left on the market is righty Brandon Beachy, who is working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. After Beachy, the best available free agent hurlers are Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, and Kevin Correia, all of whom are minor league contract guys. I don’t expect New York to get involved with any of them at this point.

The Padres are forfeiting the 13th overall pick to sign Shields, and, because of that, the Yankees’ first two picks in the 2015 draft move up a slot. Their natural first rounder moves up from 17th overall to 16th overall, and their supplemental first rounder (the compensation pick for David Robertson) moves from 31st to 30th overall. Based on last year’s slot values, the 16th and 30th overall picks come with $2.34M and $1.76M bonus slots, respectively.

The Yankees haven’t picked as high as 16th overall since taking Florida high school righty Matt Drews with the 13th overall pick in 1993. They haven’t had two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they took California high school shortstop Rex Hudler and New York high school outfielder Matt Winters with 18th and 24th overall picks, respectively. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Now that Shields is off the board, all of the top non-Yoan Moncada free agents are signed and the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. (The competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft.) The offseason is basically over barring a surprise trade. Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week and the 2015 season will start to get underway. It’s about time.

Weekend Open Thread

Two weeks! Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training! It’s getting closer, folks. Also coming in two weeks: my annual top 30 prospects list and RAB’s eighth birthday. Eight years, man. Time flies. Here are the weekend links:

  • Jonah Keri released his annual list of the worst contracts in baseball. One Yankees player made the top ten and three others made the honorable mentions. I’m guessing you don’t even need to click to know who they are. Three of the five worst contracts belong to one team though, and it ain’t the Yankees.
  • David Waldstein wrote about Rob Refsnyder, but it’s not your typical puff piece. He covered Refsnyder’s upbringing — Refsnyder was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California as an infant — and all the challenges he faced growing up, including being heckled as a college player.
  • There have been a bunch of interviews with new commissioner Rob Manfred since he officially came into power two weeks ago, and I think Bill Shaikin’s is the best. He hit Manfred with questions about growing the game, labor piece, the Athletics’ stadium situation, and more. It’s good stuff.
  • Last week, Baseball America republished a really great roundtable article on the “stats vs. scouts” debate from 2005. Two scouts and two stats guys sat down and discussed the usefulness of each other and where the game was going moving forward. It’s still really great read. Check it out.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, and there’s a ton of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the links, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Saturday: This is your open thread again. The Rangers have already played but the Islanders, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all in action tonight. And there’s college hoops as well. Talk about whatever’s on your mind here.

Sunday: For the last time, here’s your open thread. The Rangers are playing right now and that’s pretty much it. Have at it.

#RABRetroWeek Mailbag: The Decades Yankees Team

A Daily Digest reader sent in such a phenomenal question that I had to answer it for everyone. It’s the perfect end to Retro Week.

(P.S.: Sign up for the Daily Digest now, so you can get Monday’s edition. We’re nearing 2,000 subscribers, so don’t be left out.)

Jimmy asks: If you had to build a team choosing one player from each decade (e.g. one from the 1920’s, one from the 1930’s, etc.) to fill out all 9 fielding positions plus a DH, who would you pick?

The problem is that there are 10 decades (including the current one, which I’m using) and only 9 starting positions. So I’m going to throw in one starter here.

Let’s start out with the obvious ones, shall we?

1920s

Right Field – Babe Ruth

I don’t have to spend time justifying this one, do I? This and the next one were the slam dunkiest of picks.

1930s

First Base – Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was actually better in the 30s (181 OPS+) than he was in the 20s (174 OPS+). His 1934 through 1937 seasons are one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history (187 OPS+), during which he led the league in OBP all four years, led in OPS three out of the four, led the league in homers twice, and won a batting title. In 1934 he led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS (naturally), HR, and RBI, yet finished fifth in the MVP voting because…no, seriously, someone find the 1934 voters. We need an explanation. Even teammate Lefty Gomez got more first place votes, which is just bizarre.

Anyway, Gehrig was probably the most dominant player of the 1930s. He led the way in Offensive WAR (because there is no way you’re getting me to factor defense into analyzing the 30s), trailed closely by Jimmie Foxx. I suppose you could make an argument that Foxx was the most dominant player, but it’s really him or Gehrig.

1940s

Center Field – Joe DiMaggio

At this point I had to start making a graph of who I was picking where. Do I go with DiMaggio as the CF in the 40s, or Mantle as the CF in the 50s? As it turns out, the 50s was a crowded time. If I wanted to use Mantle in CF, I’d pretty much have to use Charlie Keller as my 40s guy in LF. After mapping it out, I stuck with DiMaggio.

1950s

Pitcher – Whitey Ford

Originally I had Yogi here, and there wasn’t much thought in my mind to change it. Then I realized that pitcher would be the toughest position to fill. Sorry to say, but it was easier to flip out Yogi for Whitey than it was to flip out Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio for Ruffing, Gomez, or Hoyt. I still think it all works out for the better.

1960s

Left Field – Tom Tresh

Probably my weakest pick, but for good reason. For a while I had Roy White as LF in the 70s and Elston Howard as C in the 60s, but the difference in production is just too great. I love Howard, but Thurman Munson just dominated in the 70s. Tresh held his own in the 60s though, so he’s a fine pick, if not the flashiest.

1970s

Catcher – Thurman Munson

I did not know this: White has the most Offensive WAR of any Yankee who has played at least 50 percent of his time in left field. It was tempting to go with him here, but Munson was just a powerhouse in the 70s. He led the team in WAR, and is right with Posada, behind Berra and Dickey, as the one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history.

1980s

DH – Dave Winfield

We now reach the most fudged selection of the group. My initial inclination was to go with Giambi in the 2000s as DH, but then I realized that was stupid. A-Rod is the best-hitting 3B in Yankee history by no small margin. Again, could have gone Nettles in the 70s, but then I have to go with a lesser LF from the 80s. And, well, there were no Yankees with 1,500 PA who got half their time at LF in the 80s. Seriously, zero. Winfield qualified for DH in that he got more than 25 percent of his at-bats there in the 80s. I’m not particularly proud of this pick, but it’s what works.

1990s

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

By this point you can see what positions and decades remain and guess my three picks. So I’ll just list them.

2000s

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

Hate him? Fine. But he won two MVPs and led the team to its first World Series in nearly a decade. Wah wah Graig Nettles wah wah.

2010s

Second Base – Robinson Cano

Cano took a huge step forward in 2010, which is convenient for this list. He is 10 Offensive WAR against the next-best Yankee hitter from the decade (Curtis Granderson), which makes me really depressed about the 2010s Yankees.

Offensive WAR Ranks

How did I do? Let’s look at the Yankees Offensive WAR leaders by decade to see how many wins they produced. Before looking I’m pretty sure I got near the top guy in each decade.

Note, this is the WAR produced with the Yankees in that decade only.

Decade Player WAR Rank
1920s Ruth 95.7 1
1930s Gehrig 75.0 1
1940s DiMaggio 42.2 1
1950s Ford 26.6 1
1960s Tresh 22.4 3
1970s Munson 42.6 1
1980s Winfield 33.6 1
1990s Jeter 25.9 3
2000s Rodriguez 41.8 2
2010 Cano 25.8 1

Note: Jeter actually produced more WAR, almost double, in the 00s (the most on the Yankees), but that creates a problem in the 90s. Only Bernie and O’Neill ranked ahead of him in Offensive WAR. O’Neill is right out, and to swap out Bernie would be to pick Keller in the 40s. That leaves 3B to the 60s, which means Clete Boyer, which is just not happening. This is a balancing act. Going Bernie-Jeter in 90s-00s makes the team weaker elsewhere.

If you think you can produce more than the 431.6 cumulative Offensive WAR of this squad, be my guest. But I’m pretty sure this is the best team, under the given circumstances, that you could create.

Minor League Notes: Prospect Lists, Just Misses, Palmer

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

Got a whole bunch of miscellaneous minor league notes and links to pass along, most involving some sort of prospect ranking. Let’s get to it …

Baseball America’s updated top ten lists

Baseball America finished their annual series looking at the top ten prospects in each organization a week or two ago, but, as usual, there were several trades that threw a wrench in the rankings. Earlier this week they released updated top ten lists to reflect all the transactions that went down this offseason. The Yankees’ list is unchanged one through nine, but the recently acquired RHP Domingo German jumps into the tenth spot, bumping 3B Miguel Andujar down. German ranked sixth in the Marlins’ system before the trade, for what it’s worth.

Keith Law’s top ten prospects by position

Two weeks ago, Keith Law released his team top ten prospect lists and overall top 100 list. Last week he posted his top ten prospects by position (subs. req’d) and only two Yankees’ farmhands made the cut: 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge rank third among first baseman and outfielders, respectively. Bird is behind Mariners 1B D.J. Peterson and Mets 1B Dominic Smith, Judge is behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law’s really high on Judge, obviously. The most notable omissions are RHP Luis Severino, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and C Gary Sanchez, but I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to say those three are not among the ten best prospects at their positions right now.

MLB.com’s just missed prospects

MLB.com published their top 100 list and top ten prospects by position a few weeks ago, and both Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo followed by writing up their “just misses.” The guys who, well, just missed the top 100 and top ten by position lists. C Gary Sanchez just missed the top 100 (“Though he hasn’t lived up to his $3 million bonus yet, he still has big raw power and a bazooka arm and is only 22.”) and OF Aaron Judge just fell short of the outfield top ten (“There’s a lot more power in his 6-7 frame, too, though I like how he focused on just hitting. The power’s going to come and he fits the RF profile perfectly.”) So Law has Judge as the third best outfield prospect in the game and MLB.com has him outside the top ten. That’s ranking prospects for ya.

Top 100 prospects by ZiPS projections

This is sort of a goofy exercise but I found it interesting. Dan Szymborski ranked the top 100 prospects in baseball using his ZiPS system and their projected mean career WAR (subs. req’d). Needless to say, there are caveats abound with something like this. It’s not meant to be a hardcore analysis. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant sits in the top spot and is followed by Dodgers OF Joc Pederson and Indians SS Francisco Lindor. OF Aaron Judge (48th) and 1B Greg Bird (60th) both make the top 100. No Sanchez or Severino. Ex-Yankees farmhand C/1B Peter O’Brien ranks 99th, interestingly enough.

Palmer suspended 50 games

SS Tyler Palmer, who signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent last June, has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines and a drug of abuse (second offense). The 22-year-old hit .255/.350/.431 (125 wRC+) in 52 games for the rookie GCL Yanks last year. Palmer was the No. 1 NAIA prospect heading into the draft, according to Baseball America. His back story is pretty interesting: Palmer was the Marlins’ fourth rounder out of high school in 2011 and was set to sign with the team for $600,000, but he suffered severe nerve damage to his throwing arm in a freak broken window accident days before signing the contract, so the Marlins withdrew the offer. Palmer rehabbed, mashed for a season in junior college even though he still hadn’t regained full use of his thumb, then needed another surgery that kept him out of baseball until the spring of 2013.

Yankees sign undrafted free agent Marzi

The Yankees have signed undrafted free agent left-hander Anthony Marzi, according to Dom Amore. Marzi pitched at UConn and had a 3.13 ERA in 299.1 innings across four years. His 217/96 K/BB doesn’t exactly stand out, however. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out, and the organization I’m getting a chance with. I’ve been a Yankees fan all my life. My whole family are Yankees fans, and they’re seriously pumped up,” said Marzi to Amore. He figures to start the season as an extra arm with either Low-A Charleston or High-A Tampa.

Cashman confirms Yankees will meet with A-Rod to clear the air

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

A few weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air as he prepares to return from his 162-game suspension. At the time it was reported the Yankees had declined a meeting with A-Rod, but Brian Cashman shot that down today. The GM told Nick Cafardo the team will meet with Alex in the near future. “We’re more than happy to meet with him,” said Cashman.

So no one is surprised by this, right? Like it or not, the Yankees seem committed to giving A-Rod a chance to show he has something left this season, and there’s no sense in holding any kind of grudge or making a bad situation worse. The two sides will meet, shake hands, force some smiles, and move on. There’s really not much else they can do at this point. Feuding with Alex accomplishes nothing.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Rodriguez to hit .229/.312/.399 (96 OPS+) with 15 dingers in a little over 400 plate appearances this coming season, which stinks but isn’t a total disaster. Then again, ZiPS doesn’t know Alex has two bad hips and it doesn’t know how to treat his missing an entire year. Point is, no one knows what he can do next season. I hope he mashes and creates total MSM chaos.

The Fifth Member of the Core Four

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

For most of the last two decades, the Yankees were led by a collection of four homegrown players, two who became first ballot Hall of Famers and two who became borderline Hall of Famers. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada were forces at key up the middle positions while Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera dominated at the start and end of games. It ain’t that hard to build a winner when you have elite players at short, catcher, in the rotation, and in the bullpen.

The term Core Four is a bit disingenuous though because there are 25 guys on the roster and Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera didn’t do it all by themselves. I know it’s not intentional, but “Core Four” does minimize the contributions of everyone else who played for the Yankees in the late-1990s and 2000s. More than anyone else, the term unfairly disparages the career of Bernie Williams, the fifth member of the Core Four.

In 1991, Bernie became the first member of the Core Four to reach the big leagues, when he was called up to fill in for the injured Roberto Kelly in June. “It’s very different. I’ve been dreaming of this since I signed, six years ago … I was nervous out there at first. I didn’t expect this many fans,” said Williams to Filip Bondy after his MLB debut, in which he went 1-for-3 in drove in two of the team’s three runs in their 5-3 loss to the Orioles.

By August of 1992, Williams a big league regular, hitting leadoff and putting up a .280/.354/.406 (114 OPS+) batting line with five homers, 29 walks, and 36 strikeouts in 62 games as a 23-year-old. The following year he slipped down to a 100 OPS+, but in 1994, Bernie hit his stride and started a nine-year peak in which he hit .319/.404/.525 (140 OPS+) in over 5,500 plate appearances with an average of 23 homers and 12 steals per season. From 1997-2002 — the peak of his peak, shall we say — he hit .326/.411/.538 (146 OPS+).

My favorite thing about peak Bernie was his consistency. From age 28-33, Williams sat between 4.8 and 5.1 WAR each and every season. Check it out:


Source: FanGraphsBernie Williams

WAR is sort of dumb, but I find Bernie’s consistency aesthetically pleasing. The guy was one of the best outfielders in baseball year after year and a lynchpin to the late-1990s dynasty. He hit in the middle of the order every year from 1996 through 2002 and received MVP votes in each of those years except 2001. Williams even won a batting title in 1998, hitting .339.

Although his center field defense left a little something to be desired — especially his arm, I love Bernie, but gosh was his arm bad — Williams did it all offensively, drawing walks and hitting for average and producing power from both sides of the plate. And, of course, the Yankees were always considering trading him, because George Steinbrenner was seemingly always looking to trade his good young players.

During the postseason, Williams put up a .275/.371/.480 batting line in 121 games — 121 postseason games! — including .278/.379/.479 during the club’s title runs in 1996 and 1998-2000. In Game Three of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, Bernie became the first player in history to go deep from both sides of the plate in a postseason game:

A year later, in Game Four of the 1996 ALDS against the Rangers, Williams homered from both sides of the plate again. It wasn’t until Chipper Jones in 2003 that someone other than Bernie managed to go deep from both sides of the plate in one postseason game. Williams was named the 1996 ALCS MVP and he still holds the all-time record with 80 RBI in the postseason.

The end of Bernie’s career was pretty ugly — he hit .264/.326/.399 (90 OPS+) with awful defense from 2005-06 — though he is hardly unique in that regard. At his best, Bernie was a high impact hitter at the center of a bonafide dynasty. He’s not the best center fielder in Yankees history because Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio existed, but he is undoubtedly one of the best players in franchise history. So why doesn’t he get recognized for it?

For starters, Core Five just doesn’t sound cool. Let’s not kid ourselves here, “Core Four” became a thing because it rhymes. Michael Kay likes to say Bernie isn’t part of the Core Four because he wasn’t there for all five World Series titles from 1996-2009, but Posada had 15 plate appearances with the Yankees in 1996. He wasn’t exactly a key cog in that machine. It’s lazy reasoning. Core Five doesn’t roll off the tongue easily. It really is that simple.

Secondly, I think Bernie gets overlooked because he was never considered the best player at his position. He was stuck playing in the Ken Griffey Jr. era, not to mention the Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton era. Stretch it out to all outfielders and Williams also had to compete against Barry Bonds and Larry Walker and Manny Ramirez as well. There were a ton of great outfielders in the 1990s and 2000s, especially center fielders. That made it easy to overlook someone like Bernie.

Third, he wasn’t even the best player or biggest star on his own team. The late-1990s Yankees were Derek Jeter’s team. And if they weren’t Derek Jeter’s team, they were Paul O’Neill’s team. Then there was David Cone and Roger Clemens and all sorts of other players who grabbed more headlines than Williams. Bernie was a quiet, unassuming guy who didn’t have much flash to his game, didn’t smash water coolers, didn’t do anything like that to draw attention to himself. He produced in a boring way.

That all worked against Williams. But make no mistake, he was a great player — an all-time great Yankee, there’s no doubt about that — who was a major factor in the late-1990s dynasty. He was also the first homegrown player from that era to come up and become a regular with the team. Bernie’s place in recent Yankees history has been undersold because of a gimmicky nickname. He belongs in the Core Four every bit as much as Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera.

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