Thirteen questions in this week’s mailbag. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions throughout the week.
Sal asks: How did Alex’s 40 year old season stack up historically to other 40 year old offensive seasons? What are the best 41 and 42 year old offensive performances that Alex will hopefully be stacked up against in a couple of years?
Alex Rodriguez hit .250/.346/.486 (131 OPS+) last season, his age 39 season. The cutoff date for season age is June 30th at Baseball Reference, and Alex’s birthday is July 27th, so 2015 was technically his age 39 season even though he was actually 40 for a big chunk of it. Anyway, here are the ten best seasons by OPS+ among hitters who qualified for the batting title in their age 39 season, via B-Ref:
A-Rod is actually tied for tenth with Reggie Jackson, who had a 130 OPS+ in his age 39 season (1985). Alex also didn’t even have the best age 39 season in baseball in 2015 — David Ortiz (141 OPS+) beat him. A-Rod did, however, have the second best age 39 season among right-handed hitters all-time. Only Mays was better.
The best season by a player in his age 40 season belongs to Mays (158 OPS+) while the best age 41 season belongs to Stan Musial (137 OPS+). Here’s the age 40 list and here’s the age 41 list. Only 16 players in history have posted a 100 OPS+ or better in their age 40 season. Only six did it in their age 41 season. Heck, only 15 players have ever even qualified for the batting title in their age 41 season. Rodriguez would join a very exclusive club is he is even a league average hitter the next two seasons.
Brian asks: Here are the all time strikeout leaders. Where do you think A-Rod ends up on this list?
For those of you too lazy to click the link, Alex is fifth all-time with 2,220 strikeouts. He’s 377 behind Reggie Jackson, the all-time leader. (OMG strikeout guys can’t hit in the postseason!) A-Rod struck out 145 times last season, and his 23.4% strikeout rate was his highest ever in a full season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that strikeout rate increased given his age.
The Yankees seem likely to scale back A-Rod’s workload the next two years, so racking up the near 380 strikeouts to catch Jackson probably ain’t happening. Alex would need to have to play beyond his current contract. He only needs 159 more strikeouts to pass Adam Dunn (2,379) for third place all-time though, and that seems inevitable. Might even happen next year. Catching Jim Thome (2,548) for second place is possible I suppose, just unlikely. Seems like Alex will finish in third place on the all-time strikeout list when it’s all said and done.
Vidhath asks: Four years ago, trading a top prospect hitter was enough to get a young pitcher with 5 years of control and success at the MLB level. There’s no way (I think) that trading Judge or Mateo (or probably even both) today would get the Yankees a return similar to what Pineda is. Is this more of an indication of how the value of young pitchers has skyrocketed, or was Montero valued at a much higher level than Judge/Mateo?
A little of both. Jesus Montero was a way better prospect back then then Aaron Judge or Jorge Mateo are right now. Baseball America ranked Montero as one of the six best prospects in baseball every year from 2010-12 and he had just mashed in the big leagues for a month. Mateo is still in Single-A and Judge has a half season in Triple-A. Even though almost no one thought he could catch, Montero was one of the hottest commodities in the game because everyone expected him to be a devastating offensive player.
I also think young pitchers are becoming an even hotter commodity these days because we’ve seen more older pitchers break down in recent years — CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Roy Halladay all went from elite to kaput since the Montero trade — while salaries continue to explode. Only nine starters had an average annual salary of $18M or more at the time of the trade. Sabathia was the highest paid at $24.4M. Last season there were 18 guys at $18M annually, including two over $30M and three more over $25M. The salaries continue to go up but the player risk doesn’t change. Teams want to avoid that, so young pitching is in very high demand.
Paul asks: Players had to file for arbitration this week. All eligible players always do it, and you even pointed out it’s a formality that could likely go away some day. My question, though, us what happens if a player doesn’t file (aside from an agent getting fired)?
The player would be waiving his right to an arbitration hearing. He’d lose all negotiating leverage and effectively give the team another year of pre-arbitration control, meaning they can pay him close to the league minimum and renew his contract at any salary. It wouldn’t delay free agency, it just means the player would go through arbitration twice instead of three times. That’s never happened as far as I know and yes, the player would fire his agent in a heartbeat.
Matt asks: Kaprielian, Judge, Lindgren, and Mitchell (out of the bullpen) seem primed to be the significant mid-season additions via the farm this summer. Bird could be up as well with an injury. Who else could you see getting the call and making a big impact from the farm this season?
Excluding everyone we saw last season (Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, etc.), the first name that jumped to mind is Chance Adams. Adams was the team’s fifth round pick last June and he tore up pro ball after signing (1.78 ERA and 1.75 FIP in 35.1). He’s a reliever — the Yankees are apparently going to try him as a starter in 2016 — who could start the season at Double-A and make his MLB debut in the second half.
Other possibilities include Brady Lail, Cale Coshow, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Ben Gamel. Gamel’s kinda stuck behind Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams on the lefty hitting outfielder depth chart. Lail and Cessa are rotation depth pieces and Green may be as well. Coshow started for a while last season but is probably a reliever long-term. He’s got a huge fastball and a nasty slider. The Yankees have a lot of righty relievers on the 40-man roster already though, so it might be tough for Adams and Coshow to make MLB this year. Not impossible, but it’ll be tough.
Anthony asks: I like to think of myself as the type of Yankee fan that doesn’t have the “sign every big-name ever” mentality. That being said, I see a big opportunity to improve here. Why don’t the Yankees sign Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes to a semi-reasonable deal, then trade Brett Gardner to clear the spot and address the pitching issue?
The answer is very simple: the Yankees don’t want to lock themselves into another deal that may hurt their chances to get under the luxury tax next year (or the year after, whenever). Signing Upton or Cespedes — I prefer Cespedes because they’re comparable hitters, but he’s the better defender and base-runner, and he won’t cost a draft pick — and flipping Gardner for a pitcher makes total sense for the Yankees in every way except financially. Maybe the team decides they simply can’t pass up a good deal in a few weeks and signs one of those guys, but I would be surprised. There’s no reason to think the Yankees will hand out a big money contract at this point.
Daniel asks: In the next CBA, why not keep the qualifying offer and allow old teams to get compensation picks but allow the new teams to keep their picks too.
I think the concern with that system is big market teams signing all the best free agents and getting access to the top amateurs as well. That’s not really fair to the small market clubs. The whole point of the draft pick compensation system is competitive balance. The league wants to help smaller market teams contend.
I do think the draft pick compensation rules will change with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. How? I’m not sure. The current qualifying offer system is pretty borked. Here are three ideas:
- Sever the ties between free agency and the draft all together.
- Make the qualifying offer a standing offer all offseason.
- Eliminate the draft spending pools.
The first idea is pretty straight forward. The second idea would lead to way fewer qualifying offers, I think. Only the truly elites would get one. Not guys like Ian Kennedy. That could result in more midseason trades too, since clubs know they won’t get a draft pick for their good but not great veteran after the season.
I think the last idea is the best. Losing the first rounder stinks, but losing the draft pool money associated with that pick sucks even more. Teams would be more willing to give up their first round pick if they were able to give their other draft picks a bonus of any size. That gives them a chance to sign a talented player with huge demands later in the draft, making up for the lost first rounder.
Paul asks: Can you provide any details as to the dispute between YES and Comcast? YES has been completely removed from the channel line up on Comcast. What are the chances that something will be worked out?
I have not seen any updates since YES was pulled back in November. This is all about money — YES raised their rights fees and Comcast doesn’t want to pay, reportedly citing declining viewership. I truly hope YES and Comcast get something worked out before the season and I think they will, but that’s nothing more than my blind faith. The ongoing Dodgers situation — non-Time Warner customers in Southern California haven’t been able to watch the Dodgers for two years now — shows cooler heads don’t always prevail. There’s still some time before the regular season — Spring Training games are available in-market for MLB.tv subscribers — so hopefully a deal gets hammered out.
Brandon asks: If the Yankees are in contention come trade deadline but the starting rotation is having its annual health problems, do you see Cashman making a blockbuster deal for a starter or staying put and trust what they have going forward?
Staying put. The Yankees don’t make blockbuster trades at the deadline. They tend to do most of their heavy lifting in the offseason, then tinker at the trade deadline. Their last true deadline blockbuster was what, the Bobby Abreu trade? Does that even count? I don’t think Brian Cashman is opposed to the blockbuster deadline deal, but they’re hard to complete in-season. If the Marlins make Jose Fernandez available or the Indians shop Carlos Carrasco in July, I think the Yankees would be very involved. When in doubt though, bet against the blockbuster going down.
Nate asks: With the Yankees’ seeming dislike for anything Refsnyder, and the acquisition of Castro, plus having Ackley on hand as well, wouldn’t it have been smarter to include Refsnyder in the trade for Chapman, instead of Jagielo?
Well, yeah, but the Reds have a say in this too. Brandon Phillips has blocked at least two trades in recent years (Nationals this offseason, Yankees two years ago) because he makes his home in Cincinnati and doesn’t want to leave, and he’s under contract for another two years. What are the Reds going to do with a Major League ready second baseman right now? Refsnyder doesn’t make sense for them. Eric Jagielo‘s the better prospect, first and foremost, and he potentially fills their third base hole. Yeah, I think the Yankees would be better off with Jagielo long-term than Refsnyder, but it’s really hard to complain about getting Aroldis Chapman for a package headlined by Jagielo and Rookie Davis.
Michael asks: How about Tyler Austin for the final bench spot? He has experience at 3rd base, could spell Tex at 1st, and be a 5th outfielder. If he figured something out in the AZ Fall League, he could provide some right handed pop with the versatility you always preach. He’s almost the mirror image of Dustin Ackley (with a stronger arm).
A year or two ago I remember either writing something or talking to someone about Austin, and how he’d be a really good fit for the roster as a right-handed hitter who could fill in at first, third, and the corner outfield. Austin didn’t hit last year — he put up a .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) regular season line and an okay 116 wRC+in the Arizona Fall League — and third base probably isn’t happening at this point. He’s played only eight games at the position since 2011. In theory, man, he’d be a great fit for the bench. You kinda want him to force the issue though, and Austin hasn’t done that the last few years. Slipping through outright waivers unclaimed in September was telling. Austin’s stock is way down.
Alexander asks: Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but given the number of highly touted Cuban prospects that have signed this year, do you think the Yankees struck too soon in their IFA binge? Competing against the Dodgers’ wallet would not have been fun, but seems we’ve blocked ourselves from some high quality talent.
This was always the risk associated with the 2014 international spending spree. The Yankees took themselves out of the market for the best international players for two years, including young Cuban players. (They did have a chance to sign Yoan Moncada and failed spectacularly.) None of the Cuban prospects since is even close to that level. Yadier Alvarez has been by far the best of the bunch — the Dodgers gave him $16M — and that’s really it.
The Yankees landed about four years worth of top international prospects during the 2014-15 signing period. I’d rather have that than any of these recent Cuban players, almost all of whom received international pool busting bonuses. Moncada is the only Cuban prospect with true star potential who has hit the market since the spending restrictions were put in place. (I’m talking about players subject to the spending limits only.) Cuban contracts seem to be crazy inflated these days.
Simon asks: There’s a lot of talk about Refsnyder’s defense and Bird’s defense compared to Teixeira’s. Has there ever been a player who was mediocre defensively that became elite or gold glove caliber or is defense something you either have or don’t?
Oh sure. The best example is Chase Utley. He was a bad fielding third baseman in college — Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “he lacks the range, hands and ability to read hops to be a true middle infielder” in their pre-draft scouting report back in 2000 — who played third full-time as recently as 2002, yet he made himself into a great defensive second baseman through hard work.
It’s not quite that simple though. Players need a certain level of natural instincts and athleticism to be great defenders, so it’s not solely the product of hard work. Both Refsnyder and Bird have reportedly worked very hard on their defense, and to their credit, the scouting reports indicate they’ve improved. They both remain below-average defenders, however. If one or both works himself into an average or above-average defender, great. They’d be the exception though, not the rule.
The following is from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments.
Yankees power lefty reliever and member of the 1961 championship team, Luis Enrique “Tite” Arroyo, has died at the age of 88 in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico from cancer, which he had been diagnosed with in December. A reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds before coming to the Yankees in 1960, Arroyo surprised many people by getting off to a hot start in 1955 despite his portly-size and extended length in the minors. By the time the 1955 season ended, Arroyo (an All-Star) went downhill and finished with a 4.19 ERA and an 11-8 record. He continued to pitch around the minors and with the Pirates before reaching the Reds. The Reds sent him to Havana to play for the Sugar Kings in the International League. The team won the playoffs for the International League, finishing with a 1.15 ERA and Fidel Castro said it was a “happy day for Cuba.”
In 1960, Arroyo returned to the Havana Sugar Kings, but soon ended up in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Yankees selected his contract on July 20, 1960 after purchasing him from the Reds. Casey Stengel noted at the end of the season that Arroyo along with Billy Stafford did more than ever expected of him, helping in winning the 1960 American League pennant. Arroyo, despite his work in the late season (2.88 ERA), only appeared once in the 1960 World Series (Game 5, specifically). At that time in baseball, it was rare a 34-year-old was considered nothing less than old, especially for one with no specialty.
In 1961, the Yankees expected the same of Arroyo, despite the prediction of Sports Illustrated, stating that he would fall back. Arroyo was injured in Spring Training of 1961 when hit by a line drive by Jesse Gonder. He quickly returned, and Arroyo found himself facing the West Point cadets on April 14. Arroyo quickly established himself as the ace of the Yankees bullpen, and they decided that Ryne Duren was expendable. (Duren himself was on a flight to face the Angels when he because inebriated and grabbed the breasts of a flight attendant.) Duren was traded to the Angels along with several others for Bob Cerv and Truman Clevenger. Ford established himself as the personal reliever for Whitey Ford because of the fact that Whitey could not go nine innings anymore. Arroyo replaced Ford 24 times in 1961 and got saves in 13 of the wins Whitey started. At the end of the 1961 season, the left-handed Arroyo pitched in 65 games (a league lefty record at the time) with 29 saves, 15-5 record and a 2.19 ERA, helping Ralph Houk tremendously.
The 1962 season was different, Arroyo could not stand up the numbers he had posted in late 1960 and 1961, appearing in only 27 games and accumulating a 4.42 ERA. The next season, his arm completely gave out and he finished with a 13.50 ERA in just six games. On September 27, 1963, the Yankees released Arroyo and he never appeared in a Major League Baseball game ever again.
Thoughts and prayers go to the Arroyo family in this hard time, though Arroyo’s reputation as a portly old reliever that could never fully establish himself remains. He was vital for the 1960 and 1961 teams, but became just another arm with a 40-32 record and a 3.93 ERA. Arroyo was also the first player from Puerto Rico to play for the Yankees. Rest in peace, Tite.
This is the nightly open thread. All three local hockey teams are in action — the Rangers and Islanders are playing each other in a rather big game (by mid-January standards) — plus there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about whatever here.
It appears the Yankees have their Triple-A innings guy. The team has signed right-hander Anthony Swarzak to a minor league contract, reports Jon Heyman. The deal will pay him $750,000 at the big league level. Safe to assume Swarzak received an invitation to big league Spring Training.
Swarzak, 30, made the Indians’ Opening Day roster last year, but was sent to Triple-A after allowing nine runs (five earned) in 13.1 innings. He made six relief appearances in the minors before latching on with the Doosan Bears in Korea. Swarzak had a 5.56 ERA in 92.1 innings for Doosan last summer. He worked mostly as a starter.
In 453 career innings spread across 32 starts and 159 relief appearances, Swarzak has a 4.45 ERA (4.18 FIP) at the MLB level, mostly with the Twins. That’s broken down into a 5.87 ERA (4.81 FIP) as a starter and a 3.64 ERA (3.81 FIP) as a reliever. Swarzak a low-to-mid-90s fastball/slider guy at this point. He doesn’t throw his curveball or changeup much out of the bullpen.
There are three open bullpen spots at the moment, so I wouldn’t rule Swarzak out as a candidate for the big league roster. I think it’s more likely he’ll be the designated Triple-A innings guy though. Last year it was Kyle Davies, the year before it was Bruce Billings, and the year before that it was Chris Bootcheck. Teams always need a veteran guy to soak up some innings in Triple-A.
In each of the last two offseasons, the Yankees traded away a relatively young and cheap pitcher who could have been considered rotation depth. Last year it was David Phelps, who went to the Marlins in the Nathan Eovaldi trade, and this offseason it was Adam Warren. Warren will now ply his trade with the Cubs on Chicago’s north side after being swapped for Starlin Castro.
Replacing Warren won’t be easy. He gave the Yankees a 3.23 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 287 innings from 2013-15 and pitched in a variety of roles. Long man, middle reliever, setup man, spot starter, you name it. The guy was really valuable, though, as the trade indicates, the Yankees believe it’ll be easier to find another Warren than it will be to find another Castro.
Among those who will get a chance to fill Warren’s role is fellow righty Bryan Mitchell, who has been up and down a bunch of times the last two years but has not yet had the opportunity to settle into a defined role at the big league level. Mitchell struggled down the stretch big time last season, though that was after he took a line drive to the face, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack.
Mitchell, now 24, showed what we all knew last season: he has really good stuff. PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 96.7 mph — he topped out at 99.3 mph in relief — and when hitters swung at this trademark curveball, they missed 24.0% of the time and put it on the ground 62.9% of the time. The raw tools are there, no doubt about it. Mitchell lacks command and consistency, which were Warren’s strengths.
Right now, Mitchell is seventh on the rotation depth chart, though he’ll also have a chance to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. Remember 2013? The Yankees had Warren, Phelps, and Vidal Nuno in camp as depth starters, and instead of sending one or two to Triple-A to stay stretched out, all three made the Opening Day roster because the Yankees felt they were the best men for the job.
Mitchell is in a similar situation right now as Phelps, Warren, and Nuno were back in 2013. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if he made the bullpen out of Spring Training or was sent to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of candidates for the three open bullpen spots, more than I care to count, and I don’t necessarily think Mitchell has a leg up on any of them simply because he’s been in the organization longer.
Mitchell and the rest of the bullpen candidates will get a chance to strut their stuff in Spring Training and I think the competition is a good thing. It’s healthy. Everyone will try their best to win a job knowing that even if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, there’s a good chance they’ll be called up at some point. At the very least, those guys will want to put themselves in position to be the first guy called up.
The Warren trade doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees have faith in Mitchell replacing him. I just think it means they have faith in their ability to cobble together a reliable middle relief crew out of their internal options, which includes Mitchell. Mitchell just so happens to be a starter by trade, like Warren. Most of the bullpen candidates are relievers. Like, actual relievers. Guys who came up in the minors working out of the bullpen.
Mitchell’s 2016 season is more important to him personally than it is the Yankees. He’s not expected to be a core player going forward. He’s a depth player. Mitchell wants to establish himself as a potential core piece and the best way to do that is by replacing Warren, by taking advantage of what looks like a great opportunity and turning his potential into production.
The very first move the Yankees made last offseason was re-signing Chris Young to be their fourth outfielder. They did that days after the end of the World Series. This offseason their first move was acquiring Aaron Hicks to replace Young. Probably a coincidence, or maybe the Yankees just really value quality fourth outfielders.
Brett Gardner trade rumors were flying at the time of the Hicks trade, so for a while it seemed he could end up in a starting role. Gardner is still with the Yankees, so Hicks remains the fourth outfielder for now, though it’s starting to become clear the team intends to play him a fair amount. After all, Young appeared in 140 games and batted 356 times last season.
“I think (Hicks is) going to play a lot,” said Joe Girardi during a recent YES Network interview (video links). “Being a switch-hitter, you don’t worry about (matchups) as much. If they bring in a lefty, okay. If they bring in a righty, we don’t care. And I think he’s going to get a lot of playing time because of that.”
Brian Cashman called Hicks an everyday player soon after the trade — he also called John Ryan Murphy an everyday player — which sounded like one of those things every GM says after a trade. He was pumping up his new acquisition. It seems there’s some teeth to the idea though. The plan apparently calls for Hicks to play an awful lot going forward.
“For (Hicks) to have a strong year is extremely important,” added Girardi. “Cause if you can start playing Aaron Hicks four or five times a week, and give these guys a day off a week — or maybe even two days if they need a couple days — it would really help them down the stretch.”
Both Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury faded big time in the second half last season, and the Yankees have indicated resting the two and keeping them healthy is a priority next season. Add in soon-to-be 39-year-old Carlos Beltran in right field and the Yankees have three outfield starters who maybe aren’t 150+ games a year players anymore.
The math is pretty simple. To get Hicks those four or five games a week, the Yankees could rest Gardner once, Ellsbury once, and Beltran twice — one day on the bench and one day as the DH. (That would also give Alex Rodriguez some more rest.) I’m sure Hicks will come off the bench as a defensive replacement a bunch of times too. Hot and cold streaks and injuries will inevitably complicate things, but that seems like a viable plan.
“You don’t necessarily need to move Gardner to center if you’re giving Jacoby a day off. You can leave people just where they are,” said Girardi of Hicks’ versatility. “And this guy’s very athletic. He’s a very good right-handed hitter and I saw improvements in his left-handed swing and I watched him and watched his approach at the plate. That really excites me because I think this kid can be a complete player.”
Hicks turned 26 in October and there is some evidence he is on the verge of breaking out, mostly in his more aggressive approach and new leg kick. Surely that’s part of the reason the Yankees acquired him. The raw ability is obvious and they see the signs of improvement, and hope he develops into a true everyday player down the road. They’re going to try to get him as much playing as possible next year to make it happen.
The Yankees are in the middle of this on-the-fly rebuild and have been buying low on young players since last winter. In some cases, plugging them into the lineup was rather easy, like it was with Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. In other cases, like Hicks and Dustin Ackley, the Yankees will have to get a little creative. Acquiring the talent is the easy part. Getting players like Hicks to reach their potential is where it really gets challenging.