Business Notes: Payroll, In-Market Streaming, Yankee Stadium Letters

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of these spare business-related links I had lying around, so I might as lump them into one post. Here are some miscellaneous links worth passing along.

Yankees open season with $219M payroll

According to numbers compiled by the Associated Press, the Yankees opened the 2015 regular season with a $219,282,196 payroll, second highest in baseball behind the Dodgers ($272,789,040!). That is the team’s second highest Opening Day payroll in history, behind the $228,106,900 payroll they had at the start of 2013. The Yankees added about $10.5M in payroll during the season from 2010-14 according to the numbers at Cot’s, so while the Yankees are starting the season at $219.3M, recent history suggests they’ll end the year at $230M or so.

Average salary climbs to $4.25M

The average player salary in MLB climbed to $4.25M this season, so says the Associated Press. That is up from $3.95M last year and $3.65M the season before. “MLB’s revenues have grown in recent years, with the increase in national and local broadcast rights fees being a primary contributor. It is expected that player compensation will increase as club revenues increase,” said MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem to the Associated Press, stating the obvious.

This is the first time the average player salary has topped $4M. The average salary first broke $1M in 1992, $2M in 2001, and $3M in 2008. Clayton Kershaw is the game’s highest paid player this season at $31M, with Justin Verlander ($28M) and Zack Greinke ($28M) placing second and third. Also, Robert Raiola says the per diem for road days is $100.50 this season, up from $99 last year. That’s a nice little allowance but it’s actually not wildly out of line with what many folks with normal jobs receive during business trips. Either way, yeah, it’s good to be a baseball player.

Manfred hopes to have in-market streaming this year

Two weeks ago we heard MLB will soon announce a deal allowing fans to stream in-market games online. That report was a bit premature — no such deal is imminent — but new commissioner Rob Manfred did confirm to Brian Costa and Matthew Futterman that they are working on an in-market streaming service and hope to have it in place this year. From Costa and Futterman:

WSJ: You’ve discussed how important technology is to reach young fans. When will a 15-year-old in New York be able to watch a Yankees game on his phone?

Manfred: The best way to answer that question is to say the better part of my workday today was consumed by the topic of in-market streaming. It is particularly complicated in the context of a media market that is changing so quickly, but I do believe we will get a solution on in-market streaming in the relatively near future.

WSJ: Sometime this year?

Manfred: I hope so. I’d like to believe there will be games streamed at some point this year.

It’s unclear how such an agreement would work, though I’m guessing Yankees fans would have to subscribe to YES through their cable provider, then pay an additional fee to be able to stream online. YES did have an in-market streaming service a few years back that was totally awesome — if I remember correctly, you needed both a YES subscription and an MLB.tv subscription, and then had to pay an extra $50 — but it was discontinued for whatever reason.

Hopefully MLB gets this in-market streaming thing figured out and soon. It’s 2015. I’m very willing to spend my hard-earned American dollars for the right to watch the Yankees on my phone while standing on a subway platform.

No bids for YANKEE STADIUM letters

And finally, remember the giant old YANKEE STADIUM letters Reggie Jackson put up for auction? Darren Rovell says no one bid on ‘em. The only bid placed at least week’s auction was a phony $280,000 bid an auction house employee placed on Jackson’s behalf in an attempt to spur on other bidders. Reggie was hoping to get $300,000 to $600,000 total for the 13 giant letters. Practicality 1, nostalgia 0.

Poll: The 2015 Prospect Watch

"I will be the Prospect Watch." "Okay Aaron."
“I will be the Prospect Watch.” “Okay Aaron.” (Presswire)

One of our long-running features here at RAB is the annual Prospect Watch, where we pick a prospect, then keep track of his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Some say the Prospect Watch is a curse, I say the Yankees aren’t particularly good at player development. RAB’s pixels don’t influence career paths.

We’ve been running the Prospect Watch so long now that I’m starting to forget who has been featured. I know it all started with Phil Hughes, and last year we had Eric Jagielo, but I can’t remember all the names between those two. Jesus Montero and Mason Williams for sure, and I think Manny Banuelos as well. The Andrew Brackman Watch sounds like it was once a thing too.

Anyway, with the minor league season set to start on Thursday, it’s time to vote on this year’s Prospect Watch prospect. In the past I made an executive decision and picked my favorite prospect, but the last few years I’ve opened it up to a reader poll, and that seems better. It’s worked well so why stop? I do still get to pick the candidates, however. Here are the six players up for this summer’s Prospect Watch, listed alphabetically.

1B Greg Bird (No. 5 on my Top 30 Prospects)
Brian Cashman called Bird “by far the hitter” in the farm system a few weeks ago and the numbers back it up. The 22-year-old Bird followed up his dominant 2013 season (170 wRC+ in Low-A) by hitting .271/.376/.472 (139 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 14 homers, 14.3 BB%, and 22.2 K% in 102 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2014. Then he hit .313/.381/.556 (156 wRC+) with six homers in the Arizona Fall League and was named MVP. Then he hit .353/.421/.706 with three doubles and a homer during Grapefruit League play. All Bird does is hit. He’ll start the season back with Double-A Trenton.

OF Aaron Judge (No. 1)
Judge, 22, was the second of the team’s three first round picks in 2013, but he couldn’t make his pro debut until 2014 due to a quad injury. Judge proceeded to hit .308/.419/.486 (158 wRC+) with 24 homers, 17 doubles, 15.8 BB%, and 23.3 K% in 131 games across two Single-A levels last season. He showed a more advanced hit tool and approach than even the Yankees expected when they drafted him. Like Bird, Judge is ticketed for Double-A Trenton this month.

SS Jorge Mateo (No. 8)
Mateo is the new hotness. The 19-year-old is the fast riser everyone is touting as the next great Yankees prospect. A wrist injury limited him to only 15 rookie ball games last year (119 wRC+) but that isn’t enough to stop the team from sending him to Low-A Charleston this year. Mateo has elite speed, solid contact skills and patience, and surprising pop. He’s not going to hit a ton of homers, but he will steal a boatload of bases and could hit for a sky high average.

C Gary Sanchez (No. 3)
It seems like Sanchez is the black sheep of top Yankees prospects. He’s been around for a while and people are bored of him. And yet, Sanchez is a month younger than Bird, seven months younger than Judge, and he put up a .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) batting line with 19 doubles, 13 homers, 9.0 BB%, and 19.1 K% as a full-time catcher in a full season at Double-A last year. The Yankees are sending Sanchez back to Trenton this summer, where he will still be two years young for the level.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

RHP Luis Severino (No. 2)
The Yankees have a very position player farm system, so the 21-year-old Severino is only pitcher in this post. He had an absurd 2014 season, pitching to a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with 27.8 K% and 5.9 BB% in 113.1 innings while jumping from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings last summer. He was that good. The Yankees will have Severino start this season back in Trenton, but don’t expect him to be there long.

2B Rob Refsnyder (No. 13)
Since being the team’s fifth round pick in 2012, Refsnyder’s done nothing but hit. The 24-year-old has put up a .307/.400/.457 (145 wRC+) line with 70 doubles, 20 homers, 12.1 BB%, and 16.1 K% in 267 games at four minor league levels since the start of 2013. His worst performance at an individual level is the .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) batting line he put up in 77 games with the RailRiders last year. Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A to start the season but will surely make his MLB debut at some point this year, likely once he learns to play passable defense.

* * *

If you were hoping to vote for someone like LHP Ian Clarkin or 3B Miguel Andujar, sorry. Their time will come. I focused on players capable of putting up big numbers this year because hey, everyone wants to follow a prospect who’s dominating, right? The guys just holding their own are boring. To the poll.

Who should be the 2015 Prospect Watch?

Biggest issue for Masahiro Tanaka is trust in his elbow, not fastball velocity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees opened the 2015 season with a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka started out very strong, with dominant first and second innings, then quickly unraveled and allowed five runs (four earned) in the third. He pitched into and out of danger in the fourth and left the game after 82 pitches, the last 50 or so of which were pretty high-stress.

Tanaka’s velocity was a hot topic both before and after the game. It has been for a week or two now. Tanaka said in Spring Training he’s not focused on velocity because he’s throwing more sinking two-seamers, then he doubled down on Saturday by saying he doesn’t expect the velocity to return. Nothing was lost in translation. Tanaka made it clear velocity is a secondary concern this season.

PitchFX says Tanaka averaged 92.5 mph and 91.1 mph with his four-seamer and sinker yesterday, respectively, down negligibly from 92.7 mph and 91.4 mph last year. He did top out at 94.5 mph yesterday, so it’s not like he was out there with Jered Weaver velocity. Most pitchers add a tick or to as the season progresses and the weather heats up, and if Tanaka hadn’t done so much talking about his velocity this spring, we wouldn’t have even noticed it yesterday.

What stands out to me more than the raw radar gun readings is this: 27. Tanaka threw 27 fastballs out of 82 total pitches yesterday. Five four-seamers and 22 sinkers. That’s all. Before the elbow injury last year, Tanaka threw about 40% fastballs and 60% offspeed pitches. Yesterday it was roughly 30% and 70% overall and even more drastic late in his outing — only six of Tanaka’s final 33 pitches were fastballs (18%). He flat out abandoned his heater.

When asked about his lack of fastballs after the game, Tanaka said it was “because they were being hit,” which makes sense. It wasn’t just actual hits either. There were a lot of foul balls and balls in play off his four-seamer and sinker as well. The Blue Jays didn’t swing and miss once at those 27 four-seamers and sinkers, so they were getting the bat on his fastball each time they swung.

Clearly Tanaka is tentative with his fastball right now. Is it mental or physical? Who the hell knows. Considering he did reach back and top out 94.5 mph yesterday, my guess is mental. After the elbow issue last year, I would totally understand if Tanaka was hesitant to cut it loose. Heck, I had a tooth fixed last year and I didn’t chew on that side of my mouth for months even though the dentist said it was fine. I get it.

The weird part of all this is Tanaka is apparently holding back with his fastball but is still willing to throw sliders and splitters seven out of every ten pitches. We’ve heard for years and years that sliders and splitters are bad for the elbow, especially when thrown a lot, so if Tanaka is still concerned about his elbow, you’d expect him to throw fewer non-fastballs, not more. Right? Tanaka abandoning his splitter would be a major red flag. Tanaka abandoning his fastball is just weird.

As good as his offspeed pitches are — Tanaka threw 55 non-fastballs yesterday and got a dozen swing and misses (22%), which is outstanding — Tanaka can’t go through the season throwing 30% fastballs. No non-knuckleballer can. The lowest percentage of fastballs thrown by a non-knuckleball qualified starter during the PitchFX era is 35.5% by … wait for it … 2008 Mike Mussina. Even late-career Moose and his mid-80s gas threw more fastballs on average than Tanaka yesterday.

Hopefully yesterday’s game was just step one for Tanaka. Step one towards feeling normal and trusting the elbow. Like I said, I totally understand why he would be tentative to cut it loose, but this can’t last forever. Hopefully as the season progresses and he realizes that hey, I’m healthy, Tanaka will gain more faith in his fastball and get back to being where he was before the injury last year. The guy we saw yesterday was a reliever. Not someone who can turn a lineup over multiple turns. The Yankees need much more than that from Tanaka.

“Physically, he seems to be fine,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I’ve watched him between starts all spring, play catch in between, and he’s building arm strength still. We went slow early in the spring, knowing that it’s going to be a work in progress, really. I think he’s holding his own right now. This isn’t the results that you anticipate or want, but I think you have to be reasonable the way you look at things. He is building arm strength and will continue to. There were positives with the split today, it was really good, and I think you’ll see him — as he stays healthy, you’ll see him pitch the way he has in the past.”

Ty Hensley out for season following Tommy John surgery

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Well this is awful. Alexis Brudnicki reports right-hander Ty Hensley had Tommy John surgery last month and will miss the 2015 season. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure. Hensley reported to Spring Training as a healthy player after being viciously attacked during the holidays.

Hensley told Brudnicki he hurt his elbow pitching in a minor league game. “I was throwing against the Pirates and I got two outs and then threw a pitch and my forearm starting getting really tight …. When I was warming up for the second inning it was really, really tight, but as the inning went on, it started getting better so I didn’t think too much of it,” he said. Here’s more:

“As far as one thing after the other, with the whole hip surgery thing and my ab surgery—call it what you want, but I call that a fluke because, it’s just weird,” Hensley said. “Now this on the other hand, it’s an elbow injury. I know it takes time and I’m going to have to learn how to throw again, but I’m confident.

“I’ve gone through some stuff and gotten through it already so at the end it’s going to be no big deal. I’m going to get through it just fine and I’m going to throw harder, my stuff is going to be better, and I’ll be stronger and better for it.”

The Yankees selected the 21-year-old Hensley with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 draft and injuries have limited him to only 42.1 pro innings. The Yankees reduced Hensley’s signing bonus from $1.6M to $1.2M after they found an “abnormality” in his shoulder during a physical, then he missed the entire 2013 season and the start of the 2014 season after having surgery to repair both hips as well as a hernia. Now he’ll miss all of 2015 after having his elbow rebuilt.

The minor league season doesn’t start until Thursday, yet the Yankees have already lost three top 30 prospects — three top 18 prospects, really — for the season. Domingo German (No. 11) and Hensley (No. 18) have both had Tommy John surgery and Luis Torrens (No. 6) had shoulder surgery. That’s brutal. The injury bug isn’t messing around this year. It bit hard and early.

Monday Night Open Thread

Got some great RAB news to share: we’ve added two new people! Well, one new person, and another who is going to post more frequently. New to the site is Katie Sharp (@ktsharp on Twitter), who you’ve seen most recently at IIATMS. She also covers the NFL at SB Nation. Katie will be contributing all sorts of posts, including her trademark Yankeemetrics series recaps. The non-new addition is Sung-Min Kim (@sung_minkim), who’s written several posts at RAB over the last few months. Sunny is going to help out with game recaps and contribute other posts as well. So welcome Katie and re-welcome Sunny to the site, everyone. We’re thrilled to expand the RAB family.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s loss will be replayed on YES at 10pm ET if you’re interested. There’s plenty of baseball on tonight — the Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, so find the channels and you can watch any game you want — plus the college basketball championship game is on and both the (hockey) Rangers and Nets are playing. Talk about whatever you want here.

Tanaka gets roughed up, Yankees drop season-opener 6-1 to Blue Jays

For the fourth year in a row and the sixth time in the last seven years, the Yankees lost on Opening Day. That’s an annoying habit. The Blue Jays used a five-run third inning to take a big early lead and won the season-opener 6-1.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Knocked Around
The first two innings were vintage Masahiro Tanaka. His very first pitch of the season was a dastardly 81 mph slider for a strike, the kind of pitch Jose Reyes never would have expected. First pitch of the year is usually just a fastball over the plate the hitter takes for a called strike, right? That seems like the perfect first pitch of the year. Tanaka broke off a slider instead.

So yeah, the first two innings were Grade-A Tanaka. He retired the first five batters he faced (three strikeouts) and six of the first seven batters with an infield single mixed in. Things fell apart in the third inning, when the bottom of the order set the table for a five-run rally. Kevin Pillar yanked a single down the third base line — Brett Gardner made a nice play to get to the ball in a hurry, holding Pillar to a single — and rookie Devon Travis worked a walk.

With two on an no outs, Jose Reyes laid down a sacrifice bunt, Tanaka went for the ball, then deferred to Chase Headley, who threw it wide of first. Mark Teixeira tried to stay on the bag and that didn’t work. One run scored on the play and Reyes cruised into second. Russell Martin followed with a two-run single to right and two batters later Edwin Encarnacion unloaded on a flat two-seamer for a two-run homer. Just like that, it was 5-0.

Tanaka allowed a soft single and a walk in a scoreless fourth, which ended his day. He was on a 90-ish pitch count and threw 82, including a bunch of high-stress pitches in the third and fourth inning. Tanaka struck out six and allowed the five runs (four earned) on four singles, one homer, and two walks. Here’s a quick PitchFX breakdown:

4/6/15 Velocity 4/6/15 %Thrown 2014 Velocity 2014 %Thrown
Four-Seamer 91.5 7.3% 92.7 21.3%
Sinker 90.7 24.4% 91.4 19.5%
Splitter 86.4 35.4% 87.3 25.8%
Slider 82.4 30.5% 84.0 21.4%
Curveball 74.6 2.4% 74.4 5.7%

Despite saying he doesn’t expect much velocity this season, Tanaka had plenty on Monday. He wasn’t exactly Jamie Moyering it out there. But I just don’t see how Tanaka expects to get through the season throwing ~70% offspeed pitches, no matter how good they are. Hopefully this is just a one-game blip.

Anyway, Tanaka looked great in the first two innings and terrible the next two innings. The four innings mark the shortest start by a Yankees’ Opening Day starter since Phil Niekro also went four innings in 1985. The Blue Jays were flailing like crazy at Tanaka’s offspeed stuff, though they put good wood on anything left over the plate.

Yeah, Headley’s error hurt but I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference. It probably only would have been four runs instead of five. Better luck next time, Masahiro.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Fire Jeff Pentland!
For the second straight season, Gardner hit New York’s first home run of the year. Both were against the Blue Jays too. Gardner yanked a Drew Hutchison offering into the right-center field seats in the sixth inning for the team’s first run and first extra-base hit of the season. Gardner ripped a line drive to right that Jose Bautista leaped to catch at the wall in the first inning, so he made solid contact on more than one occasion.

The rest of the lineup … not so much. The Yankees’ first hit of the season was Brian McCann‘s fourth inning ground single down the first base line, and their first base-runner was Alex Rodriguez‘s third inning walk. A-Rod also poked a single to center in the fifth. He started as the DH and seventh place hitter. According to James Smyth, it was the first time A-Rod batted in the bottom third of the order in a regular season game since May 1996.

The play-by-play tells me the Yankees only had four 1-2-3 innings on offense, which seems hard to believe. There were an awful lot of quick, lazy outs. Eleven of their 33 plate appearances ended in three pitches or less and ten of the final dozen men they sent to the plate made outs. Gardner’s homer leading off the sixth was New York’s last hit of the day. They had three all together.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
One thing did go according to plan on Opening Day: the bullpen was pretty awesome. The only blemish was Travis’ solo homer off Chasen Shreve. Chris Martin struck out the side in his inning, Shreve retired four of the five hitters he faced (all of whom were right-handed), David Carpenter retired all five men he faced, then Esmil Rogers bailed out Justin Wilson in the ninth after he walked the bases loaded. One run and one hit in five innings for the bullpen. Now if only the rest of the team could figure out how to give them a lead.

Didi Gregorius took a pitch to the elbow in the eighth inning but stayed it game. He went 0-for-2 with the hit-by-pitch and made one or two nice plays in the field, though he wasn’t tested particularly hard. Gregorius also got thrown out trying to steal third base to end the eighth inning. That was bad. Don’t do that again Didi.

The top four hitters in the lineup went a combined 1-for-14 (.071) with two walks. The one hit was Gardner’s homer and he was the only one of those four hitters to hit the ball hard on the afternoon. On the bright side, the Yankees only struck out five times. That’s good, right?

And finally, Elias says the Yankees started the season with average roster age of 30 years and 33 days. That’s their lowest average Opening Day age since 1996 (29 years and 299 days).

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
We have a new and generally pointless feature here are RAB: announcer standings! Check that out throughout the season to see how the Yankees fare on the field with various broadcast booths. You can find it under the “Resources” tab in the nav bar above. Anyway, here are the box score and video highlights and here are the standings after one game.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The rest of the season! The best part of Opening Day isn’t the game itself, it’s knowing there are still another 161 on the way. The Yankees and Blue Jays are off Tuesday, then they’ll resume this series Wednesday night in the Bronx. It’ll be R.A. Dickey against Michael Pineda.

Rosenthal: Yankees looking for a veteran pitcher to stash in Triple-A

Magic Wandy. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Magic Wandy. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are looking for a veteran starter they can stash in Triple-A as rotation depth. They have Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as call-up options, though Rosenthal says they don’t want to rush top pitching prospect Luis Severino. Basically they want someone like Scott Baker, who signed with the Dodgers after being released by New York last week.

Rosenthal mentioned veteran southpaw Wandy Rodriguez as a possibility, though he could wind up with a team that offers a greater big league opportunity. Rodriguez, 36, had an excellent Spring Training with the Braves, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 23 strikeouts and eight walks in 23 innings against mostly MLB caliber competition. Atlanta released Wandy last week for whatever reason.

The list of available free agent starters right now is really uninspiring. Jhoulys Chacin, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, and Kevin Slowey are the best of the available guys, and Chacin (Rockies), Maholm (Reds), and Slowey (Phillies) were recently released by teams with major pitching issues. That, folks, is called a red flag. At least Correia (Mariners) had the dignity of being cut by a team with a deep staff.

Of those four names, Chacin is the most interesting because he’s still reasonably young (27) and was good as recently as 2013, when he had a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings for Colorado. But, as I wrote two weeks ago, Chacin’s stuff clearly isn’t what it was two years ago, probably because his shoulder still isn’t healthy. That said, at this point he’s not going to get a 25-man roster spot from anyone, so a minor league deal makes sense. It’s a no risk roll of the dice.

Both Trevor Cahill and Erasmo Ramirez were traded last week, though those guys aren’t Triple-A depth. They stepped right into the Braves and Rays rotations, respectively. Several Triple-A starters (Matt Buschmann, Bradin Hagins, Rudy Owens, etc.) have been traded for cash in recent days, and hey, Nick Piecoro says Vidal Nuno is available. He wouldn’t be bad Triple-A depth. Who knows what Arizona wants in return though. Either way, that’s the kind of pitcher on the market right now.

The Yankees are looking for pitching depth because they’re always looking for pitching depth. Whitley and Mitchell figure to be joined in the Triple-A Scranton rotation by Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy, with someone like Zach Nuding, Caleb Cotham, Jaron Long, or Joel De La Cruz holding down the fifth spot. Jose DePaula will be another rotation candidate once he returns from his spring shoulder injury. So yeah, it’s easy to see why they’d want to add someone with MLB experience to this group.