Changes To The Game Suggest Darvish Is The Right Move

One thing Yankees fans are great at is fitting an attractive player for pinstripes before he is a free agent. We see a Joe Mauer or Cole Hamels or Felix Hernandez on the horizon, and we start dreaming up the various ways in which the player will become a Yankee. We often take it as a given that the Yankee will acquire the players they need, whether via trade or free agency. In recent seasons we have added prospect hype to the equation, assuming that the farm system will eventually produce a big bat or a top of the rotation starter who will allow the Yankees to eschew free agency. Somehow, the Yankees will end up with the great talent necessary to continue contending on a regular basis.

However, recent events have seemingly conspired to make the acquisition of top young talent more complicated for the Yankees.  The new CBA will make it more difficult for the Yankees to pursue elite talents in the later rounds of the draft, as well as entirely destroy their ability to target top international free agents. They can no longer buy Austin Jackson types out of scholarships in the later rounds by going well over the recommended slot money, nor can they throw big contracts at the next Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez. Furthermore, while the new luxury tax might actually help the Yankees in the short-term, its lack of adjusment for inflation makes it likely that it will curtail the Yankees ability to expand their budget in the middle of the decade. With a number of aging players slated to earn large paydays during that period, the Yankees might find their ability to compete on the free agent market hindered to some extent.

Finally, from a purely anecdotal perspective, it seems like more and more teams are locking up their young stars before they ever hit free agency. Contracts that buy out a few years of free agency and give the player some financial security are all the rage, and the ramifications of that trend are obvious. Most of the players who make it to free agency are of the CJ Wilson, Zack Greinke, or Francisco Liriano ilk, players with elite talent who have some questions surrounding them that make teams fearful of handing them huge contract extensions. There are fewer elite talents hitting the free agent market, and when they do make it to free agency, the competition for them is likely to be significantly stiffer.

However, with all of these factors suggesting that the Yankees will have a difficult time acquiring exciting young talent, there is one loophole that could allow the Yankees to make a splash. As Mike said in the CBA post linked to above:

Players under 23 years old and with less than years of professional baseball experience will be considered amateurs and count against the spending cap. That means guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Japanese veterans will be treated as a true free agents. Japanese players run through the posting system will not count against the cap.

Cespedes is something of a wild card whose price seems to be rocketing out of control, and I simply do not know enough about him to advocate that the Yankees throw a ton of cash at him. Yu Darvish, however, is an exciting 25 year old Japanese pitching prospect who is likely to be posted this offseason. Unlike Cespedes, Darvish fits an obvious need for the Yankees, as they have a hole near the front of their rotation that Darvish should be able to fill even if he is only 75% as good as he was in Japan. Furthermore, while his total cost will be prohibitive (likely in excess of 100 million dollars), a large chunk of that money (the posting fee) will not be counted against the luxury tax. That makes Darvish a cheaper long-term option than a guy like CJ Wilson.

There are obvious risks associated with a large outlay for Darvish. Japanese pitchers have not exhibited sustained success in the majors, and some have suggested that the routine for pitchers differs enough between NPB and MLB to make the transition a difficult one. Furthermore, any large amount of money spent on a pitcher who has never thrown a major league pitch represents a major gamble, particularly when reliable veterans such as Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt can be had at a significantly cheaper rate.

Despite the risks, the changing nature of the game makes taking a chance on Darvish the right play for the Yankees. They will have a more difficult time acquiring top draft and IFA prospects, making the development of elite talent significantly more complicated. Throw in the fact that the alternative is the shrinking free agent pool, and taking a risk on a 25-year old with Darvish’s stuff is something the financially powerful Yankees should strongly consider. This is one area where the club can still throw around their dollars to grab a young player, and it would behoove them to jump at the opportunity.

Saturday Open Thread

I don’t know about you, but I have about a sandwich’s worth of Thanksgiving leftovers left in the fridge. They’ll probably be gone by time you read this too. It’s a damn shame I tell you, the leftovers are every bit as good as the meal. Well, not really. But they’re close if you don’t char them in the microwave. The oven is your friend, it’s worth the extra wait.

Anyway, I think all of us are still trying to enjoy the long weekend, so here’s an open thread if you do check in. There’s a ton of college football on, and all three hockey locals are playing this afternoon. You can also watch that video of Bernie Williams‘ walk-off homer in Game One of the 1996 ALCS a few dozen times. Talk about anything you like here, it’s all good.

Mailbag: International Free Agent Cap

Anonymous asks: Do you know if the IFA cap is already in place? By the CBA summary, it seems like it doesn’t go into effect until 2012-2013 signing season, but it’s not really clear. Just wondering if Jorge Soler would count against the cap if the Yanks signed him soon. Thanks.

The spending limit on international free agents starts next July 2nd, so the 2012-2013 signing season. Teams are free to spend as much as they want on players for the next seven months or so. For that first year, each club will be allowed to spend $2.9M on international amateurs, then the budgets will be based on winning percentage in the subsequent years. That’s an average amount but peanuts for the Yankees, who typically spend about twice that most years.

Clubs can exceed their signing budgets, but there is a taxation system like the draft. Here’s the penalty breakdown courtesy of The Biz of Baseball

Excess of Pool Penalty (Tax on Overage/Draft Picks)

  • 0-5% – 75% tax
  • 5-10% – 75% tax and loss of right to provide more than one player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,000.
  • 10-15% – 100% tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,0000.
  • 15%+ 100% tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $250,000.

The penalties are already harsh and they will be increased starting in 2014, so hooray for that.

Soler — a 19-year-old Cuban outfielder the Yankees have their eye on — can sign for whatever a team is willing to offer him before next July 2nd. The only problem is that he hasn’t been declared a free agent yet, which MLB will do once they’ve looked into his age and stuff. It only took a few weeks for them to declare Aroldis Chapman a free agent, but that was helped out by his participation in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He’d already been through the process before, whereas Soler has not.

We really have no idea when Soler will be allowed to sign with clubs, but hopefully it’s soon, just for his sake. He stands to lose a lot of money if the process drags on into next summer and past July 2nd.

Yankees agree to re-sign Freddy Garcia to one-year contract

Saturday, 9:43am: Jon Heyman and Jon Paul Morosi both report that Garcia’s base salary is $4M, with the rest tied up in incentives. Not bad at all, now they just need to work on some of the other rotation spots.

Thursday, 12:10pm: Buster Olney (Insider req’d) says the two sides have agreed to a deal, and Jon Heyman reports that it’s worth about $5M. Reasonable, and right around what we expected. Basically all that’s left is the physical, which might not happen for a while. Certainly not until after the Thanksgiving weekend, I would imagine.

Wednesday, 11:21pm: Via David Waldstein and Efrain Ruiz Pantin, the Yankees are close to re-signing Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract. Freddy still needs to take his physical. No word on the money just yet, but I can’t imagine it’ll be much more than the ~$3.5M he made last season (after incentives). The Yankees offered Garcia arbitration earlier tonight, so they will get a supplemental first round pick in the now unlikely event that he ends up signing elsewhere.

I like Garcia as a back-end starter, but the Yankees shouldn’t count on him masquerading as their number three again in 2012. He’ll give up some homers and allow a lot of balls in play, but he’s a solid bet for six innings a start and keeping his team in the game. He’s also pitched through everything and brings some high-quality veteran presents. I welcome Sweaty Freddy’s return.

Open Thread: Shelley Duncan

(Getty Images)

There’s nothing quite like the lure of a Triple-A slugger. Those guys mash away at the highest level of minor league baseball, convincing you that they’ll be able to do the same in the big leagues if their team just gave them a chance. After hitting .295/.380/.577 with 25 homers in 91 Triple-A games in 2007, Shelley Duncan got that chance. He hit his first career homer in his second career Major League game, then whacked two more the next day. I was actually at both of those games, it was pretty awesome.

The early heroics earned Duncan regular at-bats against left-handed pitchers, and he hit .257/.329/.554 with seven homers in 83 plate appearances the rest of the season. Shelley made the team out of Spring Training in 2008, platooning with Jason Giambi at first base and specializing as the lefty masher. Joe Girardi actually used him as the cleanup hitter against southpaws while Alex Rodriguez was on the disabled list in May, but Duncan was sent back to Triple-A in early-June thanks to his one homer and .175/.262/.281 batting line. His shot at a return trip to the bigs was snuffed out when he separated his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield in July.

The Yankees had Shelley spend the majority of the 2009 season back in Triple-A, where he hit .277/.370/.546 with a then-franchise record 30 homers before giving him a September call-up (three singles in 15 plate appearances). Three years ago today, the Yankees cut ties with their top Triple-A slugger, releasing Duncan and his forearm smashes. He eventually hooked on with the Indians, and has hit .246/.320/.451 with 22 homers during his two years in Cleveland (.254/.327/.434 vs. LHP). Staying true to his Yankees roots, Shelley’s still giving Josh Beckett and the Red Sox hell.

* * *

Also on this date, the Yankees re-signed Bernie Williams to a seven-year contract worth $87.5M in 1998. Ben recapped the saga a few years ago, one that was dangerously close to ending with Bernie in Boston and Albert Belle in pinstripes.

* * *

Here is the day’s open thread. Based on some of Black Friday wackiness I’ve heard about (waffle maker riots, getting pepper sprayed over an XBox, etc.), I hope you folks are doing what I do this time of year and Amazon.com your holiday shopping. If you’re not out getting your legs broken over a Snuggie, you can use this thread to talk about anything you want. All three hockey locals are in action this afternoon (not this evening), but anything goes. Enjoy.

Mailbag: David Cone

(Photo via baseball.wikia.com)

Kurt asks: I was just curious about how David Cone came to the Yankees, and if you considered him underrated?

Cone is by far my most favorite analyst on YES, and he was also one of my most favorite players on the team during his 5+ seasons in pinstripes. He won the Cy Young Award with the Royals in 1994 (16-5, 2.94), but they traded him to the Blue Jays shortly after the strike ended for Chris Stynes and two minor leagues. After 17 very good starts for Toronto (9-6, 3.38), the fifth place Jays sent him to the Yankees just before the 1995 trade deadline for Marty Janzen and a pair of minor leaguers (Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon). Intra-division trades weren’t as frowned upon back then.

Cone stepped right into a Yankees’ rotation that included Jack McDowell, Sterling Hitchock, Andy Pettitte, and Scott Kamieniecki. Shoulder problems sent Opening Day starter Jimmy Key to the DL after just five starts, so that’s essentially who Cone replaced. The fill-in starter whose job he took after the trade? Some skinny kid from Panama named Mariano Rivera, who had a 5.40 ERA in 40 IP across eight starts before giving way to Cone.

The Yankees were 41-42 and in third place on the day of the trade, but Cone helped them to a 38-23 finish by going 9-2 with a 3.82 ERA in his 13 starts. Cone, 32 at the time, pitched okay against the Mariners in the ALDS (eight runs in 15.2 IP), though he infamously walked Doug Strange with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth of Game Five to force in the tying run. That game/series was the first time I ever felt true heartbreak as a baseball fan. It was brutal.

Cone became a free agent after the season, but the Yankees eventually re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $18M, the going rate for ace-caliber pitchers back then. He spent most of the 1996 season on the DL due to an aneurysm in his arm, but he threw seven no-hit innings in his first game back. Cone finished the season at 7-2, 2.88 in just eleven starts, then got rocked in the ALDS (6 IP, 6 R) by the Rangers before pitching well in the ALCS (6 IP, 2 R) against the Orioles and in the World Series (6 IP, 1 R) against the Braves. Everyone remembers the Andy Pettitte-John Smoltz matchup in Game Five, but Cone outdueled Tom Glavine in Game Three to keep his team from falling behind in the series three games to none.

During the final two years of his deal, Cone went a combined 32-13 with a 3.20 ERA, helping the Yankees to another World Series title with a 20-win season in 1998. The Yankees re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $20M or so after the 1998 season, and although he pitched well in 1999 (12-9, 3.44 ERA), throwing a perfect game against the Expos in July, he turned in one of the worst pitched seasons in Yankees’ history in 2000 (4-14, 6.91 ERA). During his 5+ years in the Bronx, Cone went 64-40 with a 3.90 ERA, though it was 60-26 with a 3.31 ERA before that ugly 2000 season. He helped them to six playoff appearances and three World Championships, twice going to the All-Star Game (1997 and 1999) and thrice finishing in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting (1995, 1998, and 1999).

I don’t think Cone was underrated during his time with the Yankees, but I think he was easy to underappreciate because he always seemed to pitch well and deep into games. Does that make sense? His high-end production was easy to take for granted after a while, which is sorta like what’s happening with CC Sabathia. Cone was a key part of the most recent Yankees dynasty, and those guys tend to live forever in our memories.

Mailbag: Nunez, Wilson, Trading Picks

Just a short mailbag this week because a) I’m still full of turkey, and b) I want to enjoy the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your future questions.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Jason asks: So the word is out that Atlanta likes Eduardo Nunez. I certainly would not want Jair Jurrjens in a deal for the reasons mentioned on this site. My question is whether you think it is realistic to think a deal could be had for one of the other young pitchers in Atlanta, such as Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, or Julio Teheran?

I don’t think so. The Braves moved Derek Lowe and are trying to move Jurrjens so they can open spots for those young guys. I really like Beachy, but Nunez alone isn’t nearly enough to get him. The Yankees would have to expand a trade for him, or any of those other three guys you mentioned, rather significantly. Teheran and Delgado are their Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, so don’t expect them to move either guy for anything less than a proven, above-average big league regular.

Just for the record, I would jump all over a Nunez-for-Jurrjens trade. It’s a utility guy for a potential above-average starting pitcher, that’s a no-brainer. The problem is that it’s not realistic at all, the Yankees would have to give up a lot more. I have no interest in giving up multiple pieces for a guy that struggles to stay healthy.

Preston asks: If we were to trade Eduardo Nunez to the Braves, should the Yankees look into bringing in Jack Wilson as the utility infielder?

Even at 34 years old (35 next month), Wilson is still a wizard with the glove. He’s well-above-average at short and started to see time at second and third bases last year. The problem is he just can’t hit, at all. The last time he topped a .293 wOBA was 2007, and his OBP hasn’t been above .292 since 2008. He also doesn’t have any power (six homers since 2007, and five of those came in 2008) and hasn’t stolen more than five bases in a season since 2005. Wilson just doesn’t offer anything beyond his defense, and at his age that could start to slip. He’s basically a veteran version of Ramiro Pena. I’d rather see them go for someone you can bring a little more to the table.

Anonymous asks: I know everyone’s talking about the NEW CBA, and added wild card, HGH, but I was hoping to hear something where teams would be allowed to trade draft picks. No players or cash, just picks? Say, the Yanks wanted to trade the 30th pick, for an extra third or fourth round, just like all the other sports.

The six lottery picks given to the low-revenue clubs after the first and second rounds can be traded, but that’s it. Those picks will be in the 35-40 and 75-80 range (or thereabouts), and I’m curious to see how teams will value them in trades. The expected value of draft picks in baseball drop off big time after the first five or six selections, then they really bottom out after the 50th pick or so. Getting say, the 77th overall pick in a trade isn’t all that different than getting the 200th overall pick.

The new spending limits should, in theory, result in players being drafted in order of their talent rather than how affordable they are, and that will further depress the trade value of picks. I don’t think a team with a pick in the 35-40 range could expect to receive a top prospect in trade. A top prospect in Double-A is worth substantially more than a draft pick, even a top ten pick. Would the Yankees trade Banuelos for a number one overall pick next year? Not a chance, Manny’s already doing well in Double-A and that pick offers zero guarantees. Trading picks sounds like fun, but I don’t think we’d see many teams trading down for an extra fourth rounder. This isn’t the NFL, the value just isn’t there when you have 49 other picks to use.