Kuroda, Soriano & Swisher all decline qualifying offer

As expected, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Hiroki Kuroda have all declined their qualifying offers. The first two guys made their intentions known last night, but there was still a small chance that Kuroda would accept the one-year, $13.3M contract by today’s deadline. He’s generated enough interest so far that finding more money shouldn’t be an issue.

The Yankees are now entitled to draft pick compensation whenever one of these guys signs with another team. That pick will be a supplemental first rounder, though they won’t receive the other team’s first round pick as with the old rules. Based on last year’s slot system, each of these compensation picks will carry a seven-figure slot value, which will really help the draft pool situation. Of course the Yankees will have a hard time replacing all three of these guys if they sign elsewhere, so the pick is little more than a consolation prize.

Update: The three compensation picks are guaranteed to be somewhere in the 29th-38th overall pick range next year. Won’t be higher, won’t be lower, could be anywhere in between.

What Went Right: Boone Logan’s first half

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It was a year of two halves for Boone Logan, the Yankees’ polarizing southpaw reliever.  As a founder of the Boone Logan fan club on Twitter and a frequent defender of his, I believe I might be of service in this discussion.  I have always viewed Logan as useful bullpen piece: lefties with his power fastball-slider combo don’t grow on trees, and at times he is not entirely useless against opposite-handed hitters.  He doesn’t have the consistency or command at this stage in his career to be a Matt Thornton type who is deadly against both righties and lefties, but he is a solid contributor in the Yankee ‘pen.  In the first half of 2012, Logan at times looked like he was taking the next step and becoming the kind of shutdown lefty that the Yankees have been fruitlessly seeking for many years.

Logan got off to a strong start to 2012, giving up just one run in the first month of the season, and striking out about 13 batters per nine innings (though with a walk rate approaching 5/9 innings).  May was a rougher month ERA-wise as he gave up five runs in 9 2/3 innings, but his peripherals were vastly improved — he walked just one batter the entire month.  June saw him give up just two runs, though his strikeout rate dropped somewhat.  Overall in those first three months of the season, Logan’s line was: 28 innings, 37 strikeouts, eight runs (2.57 ERA), 11 walks, and two homers allowed while being used very heavily by manager Joe Girardi.

In a post I wrote earlier in the year for TYA, I wondered what was the cause for Logan’s early success.  One area that I highlighted was a change in Logan’s pitch mix, where he was throwing more sliders than in previous years, and fewer fastballs.  He was also getting vastly improved whiff rates on the slider, indicating that he was not losing effectiveness by throwing it more often. There was some tangible evidence suggesting that the big first half was legitimate improvement and not a small sample size fluke.

While it was only three months, Logan’s first half performance was very important for the Yankees.  Their bullpen depth was shortened due to injuries/ineffectiveness of several guys ahead of him on the depth chart.  He often worked in a setup role rather than just as a specialist, and he handled himself quite nicely.  While the Yankees obviously still missed Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, Boone’s early effectiveness did help to cushion the blow.  Logan’s heavy workload in the first half (where he was among the league leader in relief appearances) may have taken a toll on him later in the season, but there is no question that he answered the bell when the team needed him early on.

The RAB Radio Show: November 9th, 2012

The off-season is starting to move along. Qualifying offers have been extended, and the GMs have met for their annual pow-wow. The Yankees haven’t done much, but we’re starting to get a sense of how this off-season will go.

  • First up, qualifying offers to Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher, and Rafael Soriano. They’re all expected to decline, which could provide the Yankees with up to three additional picks in the 2013 draft.
  • Next is the $189 million situation, which has gotten even more press this week. Mike and I talk about how the Yankees can work to get under that. It doesn’t look good, at least from our vantage points.
  • Finally, we talk about the outfield: present and future. There is a lot to like on the farm, but unfortunately those guys look like they’ll help in 2014 at the earliest, with 2015 being more realistic.

Podcast run time 37:23

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow110912.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Baseball America’s Top Ten Yankees Prospects

Heathcott. (Jordan Megenhardt/MLB.com)

Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You need a subscription for them. The four names atop the list shouldn’t be a surprise (the order might), but things do get a little wacky after that. Let’s break it down…

  1. OF Mason Williams
  2. OF Slade Heathcott
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. OF Tyler Austin
  5. RHP Jose Campos
  6. RHP Brett Marshall
  7. 2B Angelo Gumbs
  8. LHP Manny Banuelos
  9. RHP Ty Hensley
  10. RHP Rafael DePaula

Two things stand out about the list. First, the Yankees are suddenly very top heavy with position player prospects, particularly outfielders. Outside of Jesus Montero, their recent top tens were mostly dominated by upper level arms. The Yankees are going to need that infusion of young bats and relatively soon, but Heathcott is only position player on the list who I think will open next year at Double-A. Austin has a chance, but it would surprise me a bit.

Williams. (NY Daily News)

Secondly, everyone’s hurt. Five of those ten guys missed significant time this season due to injury, and that doesn’t include Hensley’s shoulder “abnormality” or the month Austin missed with a mild concussion. Heathcott (shoulder) obviously came back healthy and Gumbs (elbow) has as well (based on the fact that he’s playing winter ball), plus Williams (shoulder) was just cleared to resume workouts. Banuelos will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery though, and a club official said Campos (elbow) will “hopefully” be ready for Spring Training in the subscriber-only write-up. That doesn’t sound promising, but what can you do.

The write-ups include scouting grades (on the 20-80 scale) for each team’s top prospect and the grades for Williams are just insane — 60 hit, 60 power, 70 speed, 70 defense, 50 arm. That’s four above-average tools and one average one. Those are future grades and not present — they think he’ll grow into a 60 hitter, not that he is one today — but they still seem a little optimistic, particularly the power. A 60/60 bat is a .290-.300 hitter with 25 or so homers. Add the 70 speed and 70 defense and you’ve got 30+ steals and near Gold Glove defense. That’s a star player, it’s Grady Sizemore in his prime, but again the grades strike me as optimistic based on everything we’ve heard about Williams to this point.

Elsewhere in the write-up they note that Heathcott offers “explosive tools” — yesterday Keith Law said Heathcott has louder tools than Williams, though Mason is more refined — and that while Sanchez doesn’t stack up to Montero offensively, he has a much better chance of sticking behind the plate. Campos was “electric” before getting hurt while Banuelos was still struggling to command his fastball. They call DePaula the biggest x-factor in the system and say his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” He’ll make the big jump to High-A Tampa next year.

With Banuelos essentially out for the season, the only top ten prospect who figures to spend significant time at Triple-A next year will be Marshall. The Yankees will have Adam Warren and maybe a veteran signing or two ahead of him on the call-up depth chart, possibly even Dellin Betances if things break right. The talent gap that has been slowly climbing the ladder in recent years has hit Triple-A, meaning the Bombers will have to make sure they bring in some depth pieces via free agency to shore up potential holes on the big league roster. The team’s top prospects just aren’t in a position to help next year, and maybe not in 2014 as well.

Mailbag: Masterson, Ichiro, Hunter, Soria, Adams

Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us your questions throughout the week. A word of advice: I tend to write these things Thursday evening, so get your question in before then if you want me to answer it that week.

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Nostradamus asks: I like the idea of Justin Masterson in pinstripes with his ground ball tendencies. If he can pitch close to his 2011 numbers he’d be a great pick-up. What would it take to get him? Maybe we can get Shin-Soo Choo in a package deal?

Masterson, 27, was awesome last year (3.21 ERA and 3.28 FIP) and kinda crappy this year (4.93 ERA and 4.16 FIP). In fact, if you look at his last four seasons, 2011 is the outlier, not 2012 — he pitched to a 4.63 ERA and 3.98 FIP from 2009-2010. The success last year came from a drop in walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) and a big drop in HR/FB (6.3%). Those two rates bounced right back up to his career norms — 3.58 BB/9 (9.2 BB%) and 9.9% HR/FB — this year, hence the 2009-2010-esque performance.

I think there’s a disconnect between what people think Masterson is and what he really is, but he’s still on the right side of 30 and has been pretty durable in recent years. His sinker is ridiculous (career 56.0% grounders), but he doesn’t have a changeup and lefties tend to hit him pretty hard (career .351 wOBA against). I can’t think of many pitchers like Masterson who have been traded two years prior to free agency, but he’s not someone I think the Yankees should go out of their way to acquire. I think the price will be inflated relative to his actual production. Add Choo on top of that and I’m not even sure the Yankees have to pieces to get it done. The Indians want pitching, pitching, and more pitching, and the Yankees don’t have enough to spare.

Jeff asks: With Ichiro Suzuki interested in coming back next year and the Yanks seemingly interested in Torii Hunter, could you see both on the Yanks next year? Hunter could play RF with Ichiro as the righty-hitting DH (like Raul Ibanez). Or would you rather see a DH who’s a infielder?

Well, in that case I would recommend playing Brett Gardner in center, Hunter in right, Ichiro in left, and Curtis Granderson at DH. I don’t think the Yankees would sign both guys though unless Ichiro came really cheap, like true fourth outfielder money. A million bucks or two, that’s it. Even then it would still be tough to squeeze all four of these guys into the lineup since Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter need semi-regular reps at DH. I’m not sure how Ichiro or Hunter would adjust to part-time work like that, so I’d prefer signing a DH who is used to being platoon bat and sitting on the bench for a while. It’s not an easy adjustment. Infielder or outfielder depends on whether or not Eric Chavez returns, really.

Patrick asks: So its been reported to Joakim Soria would be willing to set up his idol Mariano Rivera. Awesomeness. How much would you be willing to spend and are you overly concerned that he’s had to have TJ twice?

(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Yes, the second Tommy John surgery is a big concern. Tons of guys have it and the procedure is relatively routine, but only the first time around. The second time is much different. We culled together some data on two-time TJS guys at FanGraphs over the summer, and only pitchers we dug up who threw at least 300 innings after the second surgery were Doug Brocail, Chris Capuano, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Jason Frasor. Many other two-time TJS guys had more arm problems afterward, likely because there was something wrong (bad genes? bad mechanics?) that caused them to need the two elbow reconstructions in the first place. It’s also worth noting that a bunch of guys had the second procedure near the end of their careers, so they weren’t going to reach that 300-inning level anyway.

That said, Soria is a special pitcher because his track record is elite and he’s only 28 years old. He’s reportedly seeking a multi-year contract and that’s no surprise, but I don’t want to see the Yankees go more than one guaranteed year with him, especially if they’re serious about the 2014 payroll plan. A one-year deal ($4-6M?) with a club or even vesting option (based on appearances) would be ideal since it gives the club some protection in case he gets hurt again or just doesn’t pitch well. You can make the argument that it should be preferable for Soria since he’d be able to rebuild value and go back out on the market in search of a big contract next winter. If they guarantee him like $8M (salary plus buyout) and keep the deal to one guaranteed year, that would be perfect. Anything more would make me nervous.

Travis asks: So if A-Rod winds up having to DH a lot sooner than expected, is David Adams a legitimate internal option to play third base? My gut says no. Do you see the Yankees going after any free agent in particular to back up at third? Do they go after Chavez again? I’m worried about his durability if he sees increased workloads like he did last year.

Outside of Eduardo Nunez, who the Yankees say will stick to shortstop and only shortstop going forward, Adams is by far the team’s best internal hope for a third baseman. At least in the near future since guys like Dante Bichette Jr. and Miguel Andujar are way down in the low minors. It’s unlikely Corban Joseph can handle the position at the big league level and not because of his range or instincts or anything like that, he just doesn’t have the arm for it. That’s not an easy throw to make.

Adams could always hit, that was never really a question, but the injuries have been a problem these last three years. He missed an awful lot of time with the ankle problem and still hasn’t played a full, healthy season since 2009. I think there’s enough patience and bat control there for him to be a .280/.340 guy with doubles power in the show, maybe 10-15 dingers at his peak. Obviously that’s someone you’d rather have at second than at the hot corner, where teams typically expect more offensively. I think the Yankees will break him in as a utility man down the line, but for next year the plan probably involves bringing Chavez (or a similar player) back if he’s open to it.

Front office defections: Marlins hire Tino, Pirates hire Livesey

The Marlins have hired Tino Martinez to be their big league hitting coach according to multiple reports. While we all remember him for his days as a player, Tino has been with the Yankees as a Specialist Assistant to the GM since 2008. He worked with the club’s minor league prospects down in Tampa throughout the year, and the Yankees had to give him permission to interview with the Marlins. Martinez also did some games on the YES Network but to be honest, I won’t miss him. He was always better seen and not heard, if you catch my drift.

In other news, the Pirates have hired Bill Livesey as a Senior Advisor to GM Neal Huntington. Livesey spent two stints and over 20 years in the Yankees front office, most notably drafting Derek Jeter while serving as the team’s amateur scouting director from 1991-1996. He most recently worked with the team as one of Brian Cashman‘s most trusted pro scouts from 2008-2011.