Open Thread: 3/12 Camp Notes

Safe. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For the first time this spring, the Yankees are playing a night game. They’re at home against the Astros tonight, but the game will not be broadcast on television. Here’s the Gameday link and here’s the rest from Tampa…

  • David Robertson shed the boot on his injured right foot today and played catch. “It felt much better,” he said. “I don’t have any of that soreness that I had in the middle of my foot … no pain.” Good sign? Great sign. [Erik Boland & David Waldstein]
  • Joba Chamberlain, Matt Daley, Brad Meyers, Brett Marshall, and David Phelps all threw side sessions today while Michael Pineda, Phil Hughes, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, and Graham Stoneburner will do so tomorrow. George Kontos will face hitters tomorrow for the first time after missing basically three weeks with an oblique issue. [Chad Jennings]
  • Eduardo Nunez hasn’t played since getting hit in the right hand with a pitch last Monday, and right now the plan is another day of rest. He’ll be re-evaluated on Wednesday. “If it lingers more than that, I will be somewhat concerned,” said Joe Girardi. [George King]
  • Dan Burawa has a tear in his oblique and is expected to miss quite a bit of time. They’ll know exactly how much time after he sees the doctor tonight. Austin Romine, meanwhile, will take some hacks in the next day or two. He’s been on the shelf with back inflammation. [Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus MLB Network will carry a game later on. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

Minor Links: FanGraphs Top 100, Suttle, Mallard

I return from Arizona with links, minor league links…

  • Marc Hulet of FanGraphs posted his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today, and four Yankees farmhands made the cut: Manny Banuelos (#38), Jose Campos (#65), Dellin Betances (#68), and Mason Williams (#98). Bit surprising to see Campos ranked so highly, but I have a hard time believing their are 100 better prospects than Gary Sanchez out there. He’s got too much talent to ignore, and not everyone on that list is a choir boy.
  • VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told Josh Norris that “injuries have taken their toll” on Bradley Suttle, and he’s not in camp at the moment. The team doesn’t know if he’s going to quit baseball or just take a hiatus. Suttle signed for $1.3M as a fourth round pick in 2007 soon after Baseball America (subs. req’d) called him the best pure college hitter in the draft class. He’s battled shoulder problems (with multiple surgeries) and has hit .256/.334/.417 in nearly 1,400 minor league plate appearances.
  • The Yankees added three international players this offseason: LHP Rigoberto Arrebato, RHP Pedro Guerra, and RHP Giovanny Gallegos. Norris has a little something on each player, and it seems like Gallegos is the only one worth watching. The team has a knack for finding talent in Mexico.
  • And finally, the Yankees released Jamie Mallard according to Matt Eddy. They signed the husky slugger last summer after he’d hit .291/.357/.457 in a handful of rookie ball plate appearances with the Angels, but he never played a game in the Yankees’ system. Mallard is listed at 6-foot-0 and 265 lbs.

Yankees place 15th in Kevin Goldstein’s organization rankings

Kevin Goldstein published his organizational rankings today, with the Yankees coming in right in the middle of the pack at #15. “There is plenty to dream about in terms of young talent,” wrote KG, “but other than (Manny) Banuelos and (Dellin) Betances, the upper levels are bereft of quick help.” The post is free for all, you don’t need a subscription.

The Yankees placed tenth on Keith Law’s organizational rankings, and there really isn’t a ton of difference between #10 and #15. That said, being a top ten system is preferable to being a middle of the road system. Baseball America had the Yankees sixth in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, but those rankings were compiled before Jesus Montero was traded away. They’ll likely fall into that 10-15 range when the revised rankings are posted later this month. That sounds about right to me, but then again I’m biased.

A-Rod’s role in the Yankees $189 million plan

Via Reuters Pictures

One day, very soon, the figure $189 million will disappear from these pages. It’s a hot topic now, for sure. But that’s only because there’s no meaningful baseball. Once the games begin, it will be time to remove two-years-distant speculation and focus on the team taking the field. Until then, $189 million will remain prominent. And there might be no more prominent aspect of it than Alex Rodriguez.

The biggest obstacle the Yankees face in reaching the $189 million goal is their collection of existing contracts. They currently have three players under contract for 2014, and their average annual values are all over $20 million. Mark Teixeira will cost them $22.5 million on the luxury tax, and CC Sabathia will cost them $24.4 million. Alex Rodriguez, however, will cost them the most. Not only is his average annual value $27.5 million, but he has a number of milestone escalators that could kick in around that time. He remains the team’s biggest obstacle to attaining its goal.

In terms of the $189 million payroll level, the escalators in A-Rod‘s contract could hurt more than the average annual value. If he reaches those milestones in 2014, he could send the Yankees over their luxury tax threshold, ruining the entire plan. Of course, his $27.5 million average annual value hurts as well, since it’s the highest in the game. Yet there could be a way the Yankees could take care of both problems with one move. They could re-work A-Rod’s contract.

Joel Sherman wrote about this idea recently. Some of the ideas he proposed make sense. For instance, approaching A-Rod about the extension following the 2013 makes the most sense. That gives the Yankees two years to determine if Alex can actually stay on the field for prolonged periods. They’ll also have a better idea of when he’ll activate his home run milestones. That can help inform them on the new contract.

Sherman proposes an actual contract extension, totaling five years and $100 million. After the 2013 season A-Rod will have four years and $86 million remaining on his deal, plus escalators. The extra year, then, would be to essentially drag out the contract and provide luxury cap relief, while the $14 million would go towards guaranteeing some of his home run milestone bonuses. That does extend Rodriguez until he’s 43, but it does provide considerable cap relief — $7.5 million, to be exact. That would go a long way for the Yankees.

If Rodriguez hits his 660th, but not his 714th, home run before the end of the 2013 season, the reworked contract would total 11 years and $295 million guaranteed. That could be good enough a guarantee to entice him. After all, that guarantees him payment for Nos. 714 and 755, plus another $2 million. He might lose out a bit if he does indeed hit No. 763, but considering his health that’s some wishful thinking. Again, that’s why both he and the Yankees will want to wait until after 2013 to discuss this.

Where the Yankees could actually save is by working within the parameters of the old deal to create a new, cap-friendlier one. Because of the time value of money, teams often backload player deals. But the Yankees front-loaded Rodriguez’s. Again, after the 2013 season he’ll have four years and $86 million remaining, for an average annual value of $21.5 million. If the Yankees simply re-worked the deal under the same terms as previously, they could save $6 million per season on the luxury tax. They’d still have the home run escalators, though they could get creative in that manner, as Sherman suggests.

As long as Rodriguez is guaranteed more money than previously, chances are MLBPA will have no issue with the two parties re-working a deal. They have stepped in previously when Rodriguez tried to re-work his deal; he tried to take less money to facilitate a trade to Boston after the 2003 season, but the union would not allow it. But 10 years later, the Yankees won’t be trying for the same end. They’d instead guarantee Rodriguez more money. In exchange, they’d improve their cap figures.

MLB might not like it, but it would likely take Bud Selig invoking the “best interests of Baseball” clause to act against it. Even then, it’s hard to prove how it runs counter to Baseball’s best interests. It’s not as though every team has front-loaded contracts on the books. Most backload, making such a maneuver impossible. But in this one instance, the Yankees have an advantage. How could anyone argue that reworking Rodriguez’s deal — and handing him more guaranteed money in the process — runs counter to Baseball’s best interests?

Again, we have a while before any of this comes to the fore. Rodriguez still has two more seasons before his contract becomes an issue. After hitting the DL for four straight seasons, he has plenty to prove on the field. But come 2014, the Yankees could use his contract to their advantage.

Update: Commenter Needs Pitching notes that the savings might not be all that great. It would still amount to a few million, though, and the Yankees can use every possible dollar at this point.

2012 Season Preview: Innings, Innings, Innings

New ink? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

During the pitching-starved days of the mid-aughts, the Yankees seemed to tax their bullpen on a nightly basis, because their starters were unable to pitch any more than five or six innings. That started to change a few years ago as the team added some quality starters and offense around the league declined in general, and now the club has no fewer than three starters who can be counted on for six strong innings. Back in the day it was just one, before age started to catch up with Mike Mussina.

The Yankees got 979.1 IP out of their starters last season (6.05 IP per game), the eighth most in the AL and the 14th most in baseball. That total is up from 973 IP in 2010 (ninth and 14th, respectively) and 935 IP in 2009 (tenth and 19th, respectively). There isn’t very much correlation between starter innings and team winning percentage, but there is a strong correlation between starter innings and overall runs allowed. Relievers are relievers for a reason; they’re typically inferior pitchers and the more time the starters spend on the mound, the better. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ innings guys for this coming season.

CC Sabathia
There is no greater workhorse in baseball than Sabathia. The burly left-hander has topped the 230 IP plateau in each of his three seasons with the Yankees and in each of his last five seasons overall. Including playoffs, he’s thrown an ungodly 766 IP in just three years with New York. His 1,199 IP since the start of 2007 are the most in baseball, and only Roy Halladay (1,194.2) is within 50 IP of his total.

Sabathia has made 67 starts over the last two seasons, and only once has he failed to complete five innings. That was May 8th of 2010, when a rain delay forced him from the game at 85 pitches with two outs in the fifth. His current streak of 60 consecutive starts with at least five innings pitched is the longest in baseball, eight more than Justin Verlander and 14 more than Jeremy Guthrie. Sabathia has more starts of at least eight innings (28) with the Yankees than starts of six or fewer innings (21). There are few things in baseball more certain than CC taking the ball and pitching deep into the game 30+ times a year.

Hiroki Kuroda
As a veteran starter, the Yankees are expecting peace of mind from Kuroda. He’s supposed to just take the ball every five days and pitch as deep into the game as possible with as little drama as possible, kinda like the old Andy Pettitte mentality. Pitching like an ace isn’t required, but the expectation is a solid performance good enough for a win each time out. It sounds simple enough, but we all know these things are never easy.

Because he was pitching in the NL and for a bad offensive team, Kuroda was often lifted for a pinch-hitter despite having gas left in the tank in recent years. Just last season he was removed from a game with fewer than 100 pitches before the start of the seventh inning 11 times. It’s 40 times since the start of 2009, or nearly half of his 83 starts. Hiroki has averaged just 15.6 pitches per inning during that time, yet only 6.1 innings per start. The Yankees won’t have to worry about pinch-hitting for him, so Joe Girardi is free to let Kuroda throw 100+ pitches each time out in 2012.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Ivan Nova
The Yankees have done some mind-numbingly stupid things to control the innings of their young hurlers in recent years, but Nova is the rare exception. He’s thrown at least 180 innings and made at least 30 starts in each of the last two seasons (majors and minors but not including playoffs), and at least 140 IP in each of the last four seasons*. Nova has never been on the disabled list, and his first serious injury came in Game Five of last year’s ALDS. His strained flexor is 100% healed however, and he’s been able to go full bore since Day One of Spring Training.

*  We’re fudging a bit for 2009, when Nova threw 139.1 minor league innings. He was a Rule 5 Draft pick of the Padres that year, and the Yankees had to send him to Extended Spring Training briefly because San Diego used him as a reliever in camp and he hadn’t been properly stretched out.

After struggling to get through the order multiple times early in the season, Nova used his improved slider to complete at least seven innings in seven of his 12 starts after returning from the minors. He was also very pitch efficient down the stretch, averaging just 14.5 pitches per inning after the All-Star break. Only six pitchers were more efficient in the second half (min. 60 IP), and only one of those six pitched in the AL (Doug Fister). More of the same would be just dandy in 2012.

* * *

Although Phil Hughes remains a question mark and Freddy Garcia has been a five-and-fly starter the last two seasons (averaged 5.2 IP per start), Michael Pineda‘s workload isn’t much of a concern. He threw 171 IP for the Mariners last season, up just 31.2 IP from 2010. It was his third time over 138 IP in the last four years, with the one exception being 2009. A sore elbow cost him three months that summer, but otherwise he’s been healthy throughout his career. Pineda is poised for 200 IP in 2012, though I don’t think giving him a little two-week vacation at the All-Star break would be the worst thing in the world since he figures to be part of a potential playoff rotation.

The Official RAB Bracket Challenge

If you’re a sports fan it’s hard not to get swept up in March Madness. It’s the first competitive playoff sports action since the Super Bowl, and the knockout format usually leads to big-time upsets, Cinderella teams and high drama. Last year, 5.9 million people filled out brackets on ESPN.com alone, so we’re introducing our own first official RAB Bracket Challenge. Entering is free and easy. You have to create a bracket entry on ESPN.com and join our group, which you can find here.

No contest is complete without prizes, so we’re offering RAB gear to the top three entries. Third prize is an RAB mug or tote bag, second prize is an RAB T-Shirt and first prize is an RAB Hoodie. The deadline to finalize your bracket is tipoff on Thursday afternoon, and we’ll be checking in frequently throughout the tournament with group scoreboard updates. Join today and show the RAB community what you know. Feel free to leave your questions and/or predictions in the comments.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 12th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-5 (23 RS, 34 RA)
Spring Training Record: 5-5 (38 RS, 43 RA)
Opponents This Week: vs. Astros (Mon.), vs. Red Sox (Tues. on YES/MLBN), @ Blue Jays (Weds.), @ Nationals (Thurs. on MLBN), vs. Nationals (Fri. on YES), vs. Astros (Sat. on YES/MLBN), @ Orioles (Sun. on MLBN)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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