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) ·
The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.
Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.
By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.
The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.
If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.
The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.
At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.
The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.
Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.
After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.
Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.
The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.
The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.
Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.
The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?
Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.
Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.
Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.
Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.
Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.
Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.
Keith Law posted his annual farm system ranking today (subs. req’d), a list that is predictably topped by the Astros. I guess that’s the reward for running out a $25M payroll and making no effort to be competitive: the best collection of minor league talent in the game. The Twins and Pirates round out the top three while the Tigers, Angels, and Brewers sit at the bottom.
The Yankees rank 20th on the list, which seems right. Middle of the pack-ish but closer to the bottom. “It seemed like everyone who mattered in this system got hurt in 2013, and of those who didn’t had disappointing years,” wrote Law while noting just about all of those injured prospects will open the 2014 season healthy. He also mentions the team’s three first round picks in last summer’s draft helped keep them from ranking even lower. The Yankees don’t have a good minor league system right now and we really didn’t need Law to tell us that. · (65) ·