The Yankees have made a series of major moves this winter and barring something unexpected, the team you see right now will likely be the team they take into the regular season. Sure, there might be some tinkering here and there, but another big move probably isn’t happening. Once the season begins and we see how some things play out (the infield and bullpen, primarily), the Yankees can start to look for in-season upgrades via the trade market.
The most common trade deadline fodder is a player making decent money on a non-contender, and these days most teams stay in contention until late in the season thanks to the second wildcard spot. The Yankees have already blown past the $189M luxury tax threshold, so they’re in a position to take on salary to facilitate a trade without worrying about staying under the threshold. Obviously it’s way too early to seriously look at potential midseason trade targets, but here are a few players who could wind up on the block and be of interest to the Yankees.
The White Sox have three first base/DH types in the newly signed Jose Abreu, franchise icon Paul Konerko, and impending free agent Dunn. Dunn is the obvious odd man out here. The Yankees do not have a true backup to Mark Teixeira, so if his surgically repaired wrist flares up and causes him to miss significant time, one of their very first calls will be to the White Sox. Dunn is owed $15M this year, the last of his four-year contract, and the ChiSox will probably jump at the chance to unload even part of it. He would make sense for New York if Teixeira goes down with another injury.
Okay, the Dodgers figure to be the opposite of a non-contender looking to shed salary this summer. They do have a pricey front four of the rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren) with Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Josh Beckett (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome) slated to return early in the season, so it’s possible one will become available as Los Angeles looks to plug another hole on their roster via trade. The 29-year-old Billingsley is more marketable than either Haren or Beckett (the other three guys aren’t going anywhere) and his contract includes an affordable $15M club option for next season. It’s a long shot but there could be a fit between baseball’s two highest spending clubs come June or July (or August).
Asdrubal Cabrera & Justin Masterson
The Indians snuck into the postseason last year thanks to a baby soft late-September schedule — they won their final ten games of the season, all against the awful White Sox, Astros, and Twins — and they got worse this winter by losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency. I suppose they could still re-sign Jimenez, but there are no such rumblings at this point.
Both Asdrubal and Masterson are due to become free agents next offseason — extension talks with Masterson were recently “shelved,” according to Paul Hoynes — so if the Tribe is out of contention, both could wind up on the market if the club wants something more than a draft pick in return. Heck, Cabrera was pretty bad last year (95 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR) and there’s no guarantee he’ll be worth a qualifying offer at the end of the year, so they might lose him for nothing. If Cleveland falls out of contention sooner rather than later, both guys could be fits for a Yankees team with a weak infield and in perpetual need of rotation help.
Rickie Weeks & Aramis Ramirez
Okay, now we’re talking. Non-contender? Likely check. Big salaries? Definitely check. Free agents after the season? Check as soon as their pricey club options for 2015 are declined. New York has holes at both second and third bases, so both Weeks and Aramis would make sense. The former would have to show something with the bat (94 wRC+ from 2012-13) while the latter would have to stay healthy (knee problems limited him to 92 games in 2013) first, of course. The Brewers figure to cut both Weeks and Ramirez loose next winter and would stand to save upwards of $18M by dealing both for a small-ish return at midseason. Given the state of the Yankees infield, both players will represent upgrades even if they are league average producers.
Chase Headley & Pablo Sandoval
We’ve already talked about both guys this winter (Headley, Sandoval). The Padres and Giants would not only have to fall out of contention for them to become available, but they’d have to believe they are unable to sign either player to an extension. Even at the trade deadline, both Headley and Sandoval would fetch something via trade that is more valuable than the draft pick their teams would receive when they sign elsewhere after the season. Either player would be the realistic best case upgrade scenario at the hot corner.
Jesse Crain, Jose Veras, Matt Lindstrom, Huston Street, Jason Motte …
… pretty much any reliever, really. Crain, Veras, and Lindstrom are on one-year contracts with presumed non-contenders, so they figure to be on the move come the trade deadline. Street is owed $7M with a $7M club option for 2015, but even if the Padres make him available, he wouldn’t be a great fit for the Yankees because he’s so insanely homer prone (1.40 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB from 2011-13). That won’t fly in Yankee Stadium.
Motte is the most interesting name in this cherry-picked group. Not only is he coming off Tommy John surgery and owed a considerable salary ($7.5M) heading into free agency, but the Cardinals have already replaced him at closer with Trevor Rosenthal and have more young power arms than they know what to do with. There is no such thing as too many good relievers, but trading Motte for a little salary relief and a player to plug a hole elsewhere on the roster seems very possible. If so, the Yankees should be at the front of the line for the right-hander.
This one is pretty far-fetched. The Rockies have been stuck between rebuilding and going for it these last few years, so trading their franchise player would not only require them being terrible in 2014, but also finally deciding to tear it down and start over. Tulo just turned 29 in October but he can’t stay on the field (126+ games played in only two of the last six years) and is owed at least $134M through 2020. When he’s healthy though, he’s a brilliant two-way player who plays elite defense and hits like a first baseman at shortstop. I wouldn’t count on Colorado making Tulowitzki available this summer, but if they do, the Yankees are one of the few teams that can absorb that contract.
Via Andy Martino: The Yankees have not had any recent contact with right-hander Fernando Rodney, though the two sides did touch base and have a preliminary chat back in November. The team claims it does not have the payroll flexibility to add bullpen help through free agency after signing Masahiro Tanaka, which seems like posturing more than anything.
Rodney, 36, is probably the best free agent reliever still available. He had a 3.38 ERA (2.84 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.07 K/9 and 28.3 K%) and ground balls (50.6%) in 66.2 innings last year, though his walk rate (4.86 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%) returned to its pre-2012 levels. The Yankees have a lot of interesting young guys and minor league pickups who will get a chance to make the team in camp, but I’d really like to see one more established late-inning reliever brought in. A thin bullpen could undermine the lineup and rotation improvements. · (46) ·
Although he was only with the Yankees for a few weeks, I’ve gotta mention Lance Berkman confirmed to Richard Justice that he is retiring from baseball. After five knee surgeries and countless other physical problems, his body just can’t take it anymore. Fat Elvis retires as a .293/.406/.537 (144 wRC+) hitter with 366 homers in parts of 15 seasons, good enough to get him some Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. I don’t think he’ll ever get in though. Godspeed, Puma.
This is your open thread for the evening. The Rangers and Islanders are playing the second NHL game at Yankee Stadium tonight (7:30pm ET on NBCSN), and that’s pretty much it for local sports. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.
Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa in two weeks and two days, and today the Yankees announced their non-roster Spring Training invitees. Last year the team brought a ridiculous 44 non-roster players to camp, but this year the number is a much more normal 26. As a reminder, players on the 40-man roster will automatically be with the big league team in Spring Training. Here’s the list of non-roster players:
* * *
The most notable ommission is probably UTIL Ronnie Mustelier, who was invited to camp last year and almost won a bench job before getting hurt just as the Yankees were preparing to head north. He had a good but not great minor league season (101 wRC+ at Triple-A), and if the team was unwilling to call him up to help that big league roster last summer, they probably never will.
One thing I am looking forward to this Spring Training is the bullpen competition. There are a lot of open spots and there will be a ton of young arms in camp trying to win one. If nothing else, they’ll be fun to watch in March as we wait for games that mean something.
As of right now, the Yankees are heading into the season with only one infielder devoid of injury concerns. Both Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Derek Jeter (leg) are coming off lost seasons while Brian Roberts appeared in only 192 of 648 possible games over the last four years due to a myriad of problems (concussion, hip, hamstring). Even Scott Sizemore, a depth pickup on a minor league deal, is an injury risk after tearing and re-tearing his ACL.
The only infielder who will come to camp without some kind of physical concern is Kelly Johnson, who was signed to be a bench player back in early-December. Now he is expected to hold down an everyday job with Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez no longer with the team. Johnson has been on the DL twice in parts of nine big league seasons, once for Tommy John surgery (2006) and again for wrist inflammation (2009). The elbow reconstruction cost him the entire year, the wrist only two weeks. Otherwise he’s been healthy and durable.
With Cano in Seattle and the rest of his infield-mates questionable, at least until they show up to camp and prove the injuries are behind them, Johnson is going to have to be Joe Girardi‘s anchor on the infield. The guy he knows he will be able to trot out there everyday without having to ask him how he feels before each game. The Rays used him as a super utility guy last summer — the role he was initially expected to fill when he signed with New York — but Johnson has been an everyday player before and he’ll get the chance to be one again. At age 31 (32 next month), he’s the young guy on the infield.
This isn’t just a “he needs to stay on the field” thing either. It’s not unreasonable to question how much Jeter and Roberts can contribute offensively at their age, ditto Teixeira given the nature of his injury. Jacoby Ellsbury was given a boatload of money to set the table from the leadoff spot and the trio of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano will be tasked with producing from the middle of the order. Johnson won’t (or shouldn’t, really) be asked to contribute significantly at the plate, but he needs to be something more than a zero from the bottom third of the order.
With the Rays last year, Johnson hit .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven steals in 407 plate appearances. That’s perfectly representative of his game: low average but enough walks (9.8% from 2011-13) and power (16+ homers in four straight years) to remain league average. He’ll even steal some bases (four seasons of 10+ steals). Yeah, Johnson will strike out a bunch (26.3% from 2011-13) and he probably needs a platoon partner (98 wRC+ against righties and 73 against lefties from 2011-13), but what did you expect from a $3M signing? Hopefully Yankee Stadium boosts his offense some.
Given how the offseason has played out and the general uncertainty with the infield, Johnson has already gone from being an excellent part-timer to an important everyday guy. The Yankees and Girardi are going to have their hands full keeping Jeter and Roberts healthy and productive, and in-house alternatives like Sizemore, Dean Anna, and Eduardo Nunez are hardly appealing. The team needs Johnson to stay on the field and provide some offense from the bottom of the order. He’s already climbed the depth chart from role player to everyday guy even before the start of Spring Training and there doesn’t appear to be any more help on the way.
One day after posting his farm system rankings, Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today (1-50, 51-100, subs. req’d). Twins OF Byron Buxton tops the list and is the clear number one prospect in the game right now. No doubt about it. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Athletics SS Addison Russell follow him to round out the top three. The Yankees landed three players on the list: C Gary Sanchez (#68), OF Tyler Austin (#85), and OF Mason Williams (#87). RHP Masahiro Tanaka was not eligible due to his time in Japan even though he’s technically a rookie/prospect.
In the write-up, Law says Sanchez “has huge upside as a hitter, with plus-plus raw power and very hard contact.” His defense behind the plate, while improved, continues to need work. “Even a grade-45 defender [on the 20-80 scouting scale] back there with Sanchez’s potential offensive upside will be an MVP candidate, and if he continues to work at receiving and on his plate discipline he’ll be ready to take over and make a real impact for the Yankees by 2016,” added Law. The comparisons to Jesus Montero are inevitable, but Montero showed more potential with the bat and was far worse defensively.
Austin’s appearance on the list is somewhat surprising given his underwhelming and injury hampered season, but Law says he believes in the bat enough to keep him on the list. “When healthy, Austin has a very sound swing that is geared both toward contact and power and is short to contact with good extension. He rotates his hips well to generate power, all with enough patience to keep his OBP in the .350 range,” he wrote. “He’ll be only about average in right field — making the necessary plays but not much more — so he needs to hit and hit for power to be a regular.”
Law has always been high on Williams, but his stock took a hit last summer because he showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t play with much energy throughout the season. The tools are still there though. “He is a potential Gold Glove defender in center, a future 70 on the 20-80 scale with good reads off the bat and bursting speed to chase down balls in the gaps … His ultimate outcome should be a high-average, doubles-power guy who might hit 15 homers in his best season, but even .290-plus with 50-60 walks and 10 homers with great defense is an above-average regular,” said Law. I guess that means Williams will be a $153M player down the road.
Here are the MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus lists, for reference. Sanchez is the Yankees’ only consensus top 100 prospect right now thanks to all the injuries and underperformance last year, and I suspect three top 100 guys is the most we’ll see this spring. I do think there’s a lot of potential for farm system improvement in 2014, which would require some of the injured players (Austin, Manny Banuelos, Ty Hensley) to stay healthy and last year’s top draft picks (Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh) to live up to the hype. Every team has some interesting guys who can take steps forward, but the Yankees seem to have more than most.
Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.
If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.
When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.
Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.
There’s just one hitch in the scenario.
You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.
Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.
David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.
This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.
Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.
Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.
Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.
This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.
That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?
The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.
The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.
Via Peter Rolfe & Marty Shevelove: The Yankees have signed 17-year-old Australian right-hander Brandon Stenhouse to a six-figure contract. He also received money for college. “I have been waiting for many years to see if Brandon Stenhouse had the physical and mental makeup to be considered as a possible Yankee,” said John Wadsworth, the team’s scout in Australia. “I am pleased to see just how far this young man has progressed and his future is exciting to us all.”
Stenhouse, who is from Melbourne, will head to Tampa for a two-week orientation in April before returning home to graduate high school. He’ll then return to the U.S. full-time. At least two other teams were interested in signing him despite an ugly showing at the Under-18 National Youth Baseball Championships recently (eleven runs, seven walks, and four strikeouts in four innings). There isn’t much info out there about Stenhouse but the report says his fastball touches 93 mph.
The Yankees are already over their 2013-14 international spending pool just slightly, so Stenhouse will push them over even more. The team is planning to spend big internationally when the 2014-15 signing period starts on July 2nd. New York has signed a few players from Australia in recent years, most notably C Kyle Perkins and OF Adam Silva. · (25) ·
That short video above is a look at Yankees farmhand SS John Murphy, the team’s sixth round pick out of Sacred Heart University in last summer’s draft. He signed for $20k as a fifth year senior and had a rough pro debut (38 wRC+ in 137 PA) with Short Season Staten Island. The video focuses on Murphy’s family and how his outlook changed after his father’s death. It’s pretty neat, so check it out.
Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread for the night. The Devils and Knicks are both playing, so talk about those games or anything else your heart desires right here. Have at it.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed catcher J.R. Murphy to a one-year contract worth $502,700 at the MLB level. I assume it’s a split contract that will pay him a lower salary in the minors, which is typical for players in their pre-arbitration years. The league minimum is an even $500,000 this coming season.
Murphy, 22, hit .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) with 12 homers in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his big league debut in September but is expected to return to Triple-A Scranton to open 2014. Murphy still has all six years of team control remaining and can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season at the earliest. The Yankees have 20 unsigned pre-arb players remaining, but they’ll all get done very soon and chances are most of those deals won’t even be made public. · (13) ·