Cashman confirms Yanks have no plans to try Refsnyder at third base

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Starlin Castro trade means Rob Refsnyder is unlikely to have a significant career with the Yankees. It’ll take an injury or a surprise trade for Refsnyder to get meaningful playing time in pinstripes at this point. Castro plays the same position and is signed long-term. It’s a classic blocked prospect situation.

While speaking to Chad Jennings, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees do not plan to try Refsnyder at third base in an effort to improve his versatility. He was an outfielder who moved to the infield, remember. They’re not going to try him to the hot corner next. Here’s what Cashman told Jennings:

“That’s not a conversation that we’ve had,” Cashman said. “Right now, our focus is still for him at second, but I’ll always leave the door open for us to adjust as we move forward. But, for now, we have not had any of those conversations to move him off second. … Obviously if we have an injury on the left side of the infield, (Refsnyder can come up to play second base, and) Castro can swing over.”

As you can see, Cashman reiterated the Yankees believe Castro can “swing over” to third base when needed even though Starlin has only played a handful of games at the position in his career, all in rookie ball years and years ago. I’m not sure how that will work out, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As for Refsnyder, Cashman didn’t completely close the door on third base, he just made it clear it is not something they’re considering at this point in time. Trying Refsnyder at third would make perfect sense though, right? The team has a need for a backup third baseman and Refsnyder’s righty bat and potential versatility would fit well in the final bench spot.

The knock on Refsnyder is his defense, and to be fair, some of that is due to inexperience. He played second in high school, moved to the outfield in college, then moved back to the infield in pro ball three years ago. Baseball America (subs. req’d) says Refsnyder has an “average arm,” which is a much bigger deal at third than it is at second. Here’s the longest throw he made in MLB last year:

Rob Refsnyder throw

Looks good enough to me, but that is just one throw. Refsnyder’s scouting report in general — average arm and okay at best hands and footwork — makes it seem like he could have big problems at third. The “hot corner” is not just a cute nickname, you know. Everything happens faster at third and the position requires strong reflexes. Refsnyder’s defensive issues at second would only be exacerbated at third base.

It is still possible Refsnyder will make the Yankees as a bench player. If Castro can indeed play third, it could be Refsnyder who fills in at second base instead of Dustin Ackley. That would give the team an extra right-handed bat, which they could definitely use. Left-handers really gave the Yankees down the stretch last season. But, if Castro can’t play third, it’s hard to see how Refsnyder makes the team.

For now, Castro is the starter at second and Refsnyder is Plan B. Like I said earlier, it’ll take an injury for him to return to the show and see meaningful playing time. The Yankees made it pretty clear they aren’t comfortable with Refsnyder at second last year when they hesitated to call him up despite Stephen Drew‘s long stretches of nothingness. The writing’s been on the wall. Hopefully whatever happens down the line benefits both the Yankees and Refsnyder mutually.

Reports: Marlins agree to five-year deal with Wei-Yin Chen

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

One of the few remaining quality free agent starters is off the board. The Marlins have agreed to a five-year contract with former Orioles southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, according to multiple reports. The contract includes a vesting option for a sixth year and an opt-out after year two.

The deal is worth $80M and it’ll be interesting to see the breakdown. The Marlins have a history of backloading their big free agent contracts then trading the player one year later. Carlos Delgado ($4M of $52M in year one before being traded), Jose Reyes ($10M of $106M), and Mark Buehrle ($6M of $55M) all got caught up in that scheme.

The Yankees were said to be monitoring the market for Chen earlier this offseason — here’s our Scouting The Market post — though they were never seriously connected to him at any point. Story of the offseason, basically. The Yankees haven’t been seriously connected to any significant free agents this winter.

With Chen off the board, the top unsigned free agent starters are Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy, both of whom rejected the qualifying offer. Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, and Cliff Lee are the top reclamation projection arms. Meh.

The Marlins have a protected first round pick (seventh overall), so the Yankees won’t move up in the 2016 draft due to the Chen signing.

Update: Chen will make $6M in 2016 and $14M in 2017, then $60M over the final three years. So yeah, they heavily backloaded the deal again.

Girardi confirms Yankees will go into Spring Training with Chapman at closer

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will go into Spring Training with Aroldis Chapman as their closer, Joe Girardi confirmed during a YES Network interview last night (video link). “We’ll go into Spring Training with Chapman as our closer,” said the skipper. Can’t say I’m surprised. This felt inevitable once the trade went down.

Chapman spent the last four seasons as the Reds closer and he was an All-Star all four years. He’s widely considered either the best or second best closer in the game. Those guys usually don’t lose the ninth inning just because they were traded. The only way Chapman wasn’t closing in 2016 was if Mariano Rivera came out of retirement.

Andrew Miller did a dynamite job as the closer last season and he’ll now join Dellin Betances to form a stupid good setup tandem. Miller has said he doesn’t care about his role, for what it’s worth. Girardi is pretty darn good with his bullpens and I’m sure he’ll have Miller and Betances (and Chapman) on the mound in high-leverage spots.

Of course, there’s also the matter of Chapman’s ongoing domestic violence investigation. His suspension will likely be announced before camp opens and it is not expected to be lengthy, whatever that means. A week? Two weeks? A month? Who knows. I assume Miller will close while Chapman is suspended with Betances again setting up.

Girardi was asked about the investigation and the possibility of a suspension and basically no commented. He said he supports Chapman and respects MLB’s process. Hopefully the suspension isn’t too long and the Yankees are able to get 60-something elite innings from their new closer. That’s the best case scenario right now.

Scouting The Trade Market: Tyler Skaggs

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

For much of the winter the Yankees have been looking for a young controllable starter, so much so that Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller have been dangled in trade talks. They have not yet acquired such a pitcher, but I don’t think it’s been due to a lack of effort. The Yankees are looking. They just haven’t found anything that makes sense.

The Angels, who hired former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler to be their new GM earlier this offseason, are one of the few teams with starting pitching depth. The club needs another bat and they don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold — they have about $12M in wiggle room after projected arbitration raises — making a big free agent signing unlikely. Trading a starter for a bat has been mentioned as a possibility.

Understandably, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney are as close to off limits as it gets. Neither Jered Weaver nor C.J. Wilson make sense for the Yankees, ditto Hector Santiago, albeit to a lesser extent. That leaves Matt Shoemaker (blah), Nick Tropeano (already discussed), and lefty Tyler Skaggs. Does Skaggs make any sense for the pitching needy Yankees? Let’s look.

The Performance

Let’s start with some background. Skaggs, 24, was a supplemental first round pick (40th overall) out of a Santa Monica high school back in 2009. The Angels traded him to the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal in 2010, then re-acquired him from Arizona in the Mark Trumbo trade in 2013. Baseball America ranked Skaggs as a top 15 global prospect in both 2012 (No. 13) and 2013 (No. 12).

Skaggs received cups of coffee with the D’Backs in 2012 and 2013 before opening the 2014 season in Anaheim’s rotation. He made 18 starts before blowing out his elbow that July, ending his season. Skaggs had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter and hasn’t pitched since. Since his big league time was limited in both 2012 and 2013, let’s focus on his 2014 performance, the only time he held a regular rotation spot.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. wOBA
vs. RHB 91 3.54 18.9% 6.6% 51.7% 0.69 .292
vs. LHB 22 3.59 17.2% 6.1% 44.6% 0.82 .326
Overall 113 4.30 3.55 18.5% 6.5% 50.1% 0.72 .299

Pretty good! It doesn’t knock your socks off, but Skaggs was 22 years old for most of those 113 innings, and when a 22-year-old southpaw does something like that, it’s pretty exciting. He limited walks, missed a fair amount of bats, got a bunch of grounders, and kept the ball in the park. Very nice.

There was nothing that made you think Skaggs’ elbow was about to give out before his injury. He allowed one run in 5.2 innings against the Tigers in the start prior to getting hurt, and in the actual start when he blew out, Skaggs had struck out seven in 4.2 no-hit innings against the Orioles. He threw a pitch, called for the trainer, and walked off the mound. That was it.

Prior to getting hurt, Skaggs showed an awful lot of promise and was arguably the second best pitcher in Anaheim’s rotation behind Richards. He was a high-end prospect who was starting to deliver on the hype. When that happens, it’s pretty fun to watch.

The Stuff

Skaggs was a four-pitch pitcher before getting hurt. He averaged 93 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, topping out at 96. Skaggs also threw a sharp upper-70s curveball that was his calling card as a prospect. It’s the pitch that got him drafted so high. He also has a mid-80s changeup. Here’s video of the kid in action:

The delivery looks fine to me, right? Some guys have Tommy John surgery and you can tell why — their deliveries are all herky jerky. I don’t think that is the case with Skaggs. It’s pretty simple. You can tell he’s a good athlete. Skaggs seems to be fully in control of his body while delivering the baseball.

The Angels worked with Skaggs to develop a cutter, though he didn’t take to the pitch at all. He threw maybe one or two a start before blowing out his elbow. That’s it. Skaggs is a four-pitch pitcher even without the cutter, and both the changeup and curveball give him good weapons against right-handed batters.

Here’s some more information on Skaggs’ arsenal from 2014, his only regular action in the show. League averages are in parentheses:

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff % GB%
Four-Seamer 37.9% 92.9 (91.9) 7.3% (6.9%) 37.8% (37.9%)
Two-Seamer 27.4% 92.8 (91.3) 6.1% (5.4%) 52.1% (49.5%)
Curveball 24.3% 77.5 (77.3) 13.1% (11.1%) 68.1% (48.7%)
Changeup 9.4% 85.1 (83.3) 16.1% (14.9%) 58.6% (47.8%)

Across the board, Skaggs’ pitches were more or less average at getting swings and misses. He didn’t have a knockout pitch with a 20% whiff rate or anything like that. At the same time, getting an average-ish amount of empty swings with four different pitches is pretty darn good. Both his curveball and changeup were good ground ball pitches while the fastballs were average. Nothing really sexy there, but it’s effective. Four average or better pitches is rock solid.

In addition to the impressive raw stuff, Skaggs has drawn praise for some of the less than obvious aspects of pitching. Here’s what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say back in 2013, the last time Skaggs was prospect-eligible:

Skaggs also stands out for his composure on the mound and his idea of what he needs to do with each hitter. He holds runners well with a strong pickoff move, permitting just five steals in eight attempts last year. He didn’t give up a single stolen base in his six major league starts and he uses his athleticism to field his position well.

That stuff is easy to overlook but it matters. Skaggs has four quality pitches, an ostensibly good delivery, and he does the little things well like hold runners and field his position. It’s no wonder this guy was once considered one of the best prospects in baseball.

Injury History

Like I said, Skaggs has not pitched since having Tommy John surgery in August 2014, which is a big deal. The Angels have taken it slow with his rehab, so Skaggs is going to go about 20 months between surgery and pitching in regular season games. His rehab is going well though — Eppler told Mike DiGiovanna that Skaggs threw a six-inning, 90-pitch bullpen session in early-December and “was getting after it.”

Elbow reconstruction is obviously the most serious injury in Skaggs’ career. He did also miss a month with a hamstring strain in June 2014, and during his minor league days he missed a start in 2012 with a sore shoulder, but that’s it. The shoulder has given him no trouble since and while the hamstring sucks, it was only a hamstring. Players pull them from time to time. The biggest concern is the Tommy John surgery and the fact he hasn’t pitched in a competitive game in 17 months now.

Contract Status

Skaggs currently has two years and 66 days of service time. That means he has four years of team control remaining: one as a pre-arbitration player and then three of arbitration-eligibility. As best I can tell, Skaggs has two minor league options remaining, which is good. If he needs more time to shake off the rust following Tommy John surgery, his team can send him to Triple-A for more reps. Roughly 78 days in the minors would delay Skaggs’ free agency another year.

What Would It Take?

The Tommy John surgery makes it very tough to gauge Skaggs’ trade value. As I mentioned when I examined Alex Wood last week, pitchers like Shelby Miller, Gio Gonzalez, and Jake Arrieta have been traded when they were four years from free agency in recent years. None were coming off Tommy John surgery. Miller and Gonzalez were good and healthy while Arrieta was very bad with close to zero MLB success at the time of his trade. Skaggs fits into none of those buckets.

Players can be traded while injured — the Braves acquired Max Fried, Chris Withrow, and Bronson Arroyo while they were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year, for example — as long as the commissioner approves, which is never really an issue. That part isn’t a problem. It’s properly valuing Skaggs, who was very good when healthy but hasn’t been healthy in a year and a half now. Hard to think the Angels would get maximum value for him at this point.

Wrapping Up

Skaggs is pretty much everything the Yankees look for these days. Young and talented? Check. Tall — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs. on the team’s official site — power pitcher with a history of limiting walks and getting grounders? Also check. A chance to buy low because of injury or poor performance or something else (coughChapmancough)? Another check. He fits!

(Bob Levey/Getty )
(Bob Levey/Getty )

The Tommy John surgery is an obvious and serious red flag. Skaggs’ stuff may never bounce back all the way, or it could take longer than expected to get back to 100%, or he could continue to have elbow problems. I know elbow reconstruction has become pretty routine, but it’s still a big risk. That has to be factored into the evaluation and price. It’s easy to assume Skaggs will bounce back and be fine, but man, you never know until you see it happen.

The Gardner for Skaggs framework seems to work, in theory. The Yankees would get their young controllable starter, albeit one coming off a major injury. The Angels would get their much-needed left fielder, one who would help balance their righty heavy lineup and also hit leadoff, allowing Kole Calhoun to move into a more traditional run-producing lineup spot. Both teams would be dealing from a position of depth to address a need.

The Yankees could always kick in some cash to offset Gardner’s salary, allowing the Angels to steer clear of the luxury tax. There’s also the potential to expand this as well. The Angels could use a second baseman and the Yankees have a spare Rob Refsnyder lying around. The Yankees need a backup third baseman/utility guy and the Halos have Kyle Kubitza, who may or may not be expendable.

Either way, these two clubs appear to match up well for a trade. The Angels have an obvious need for a player like Gardner and the Yankees are in perpetual search of a young starter. Whether the two sides — specifically Brian Cashman and Eppler, his former top lieutenant — can agree to a deal is another matter. The Angels might not want to sell low on Skaggs, which is understandable. Even after surgery, he’s worth a shot if Eppler does make him available.

Monday Night Open Thread

Here’s a really great post by Nathaniel Grow explaining an ongoing legal battle that may change the future of televised baseball. The case is challenging the league’s antitrust exemption and argues local broadcast territories create a monopoly. A favorable ruling for the plaintiffs could allow clubs to negotiate their own out-of-market broadcast deals, among other things. The trial begins next week. Make sure you check out the post. This is the biggest under-the-radar story in baseball today.

This is the open thread for the night. The college football national championship game is on (Clemson vs. Alabama, 8:30pm ET on ESPN), plus the (hockey) Rangers and Nets are playing as well. Talk about those games, Grow’s article, or anything else on your mind right here. Just don’t be a jerk.

Eddy: Yankees sign infielder Jonathan Diaz to minor league contract

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

We’ve reached the point of the offseason where teams begin to load up on non-roster invitees, and the Yankees are doing just that. Matt Eddy reports the team has signed infielder Jonathan Diaz to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to big league Spring Training as well.

Diaz, 30, is the quintessential all-glove/no-hit infielder. He’s gone 8-for-55 (.145) in 35 career big league games with the Blue Jays and Red Sox the last few seasons. Diaz hit .223/.328/.284 (84 wRC+) with two homers, seven steals, and a bunch of walks (11.9%) in 118 Triple-A games for Toronto last season.

In the field, Diaz has a reputation for being a defensive wizard, which is why he has managed to stick around despite a total lack of offense. He’s spent the majority of his career at shortstop but has also played a ton of second base and plenty of third as well. Diaz has even seen time in left field too.

The Yankees needed Triple-A infielders after trading away Jose Pirela, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda earlier this offseason. They inked Pete Kozma to a minor league contract early in the offseason and Donovan Solano last week. Those two plus Diaz help replenish the lost Triple-A infield depth.

There is an open bench spot at the MLB level, and I’m sure Diaz and the other non-roster infielders will be given a chance to complete for the job in camp. I think (hope) the Yankees will look for a better option, however. In all likelihood, Diaz will join Kozma, Solano, Rob Refsnyder, and Greg Bird in the RailRiders’ infield come Opening Day.

Chasen Shreve can give the Yanks four dominant relievers with a return to early 2015 form

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For most of last season, Chasen Shreve was one of the Yankees’ best and most reliable relievers. He stepped into the seventh inning role when Andrew Miller visited the DL, then slid back into a more traditional middle reliever’s role when Miller returned. Regardless of role, he was excellent for the first four months. It looked like the Yankees had landed themselves a low-profile bullpen gem.

Shreve had a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) on the day of the trade deadline but struggled in August and totally collapsed down the stretch in September. He finished the season with a 3.09 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 58.1 innings after allowing four homers and six walks in his final five innings. His walk rate in August and September was a way too high 18.8%. Yuck.

Joe Girardi always seemed to be one reliever short down the stretch, which contributed to the Yankees falling out of first place. Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson were pitching every day it seemed. Shreve was no longer trustworthy in big spots. Unsurprisingly, Girardi said figuring out what happened to Shreve is a priority this offseason after the Yankees lost the wildcard game.

“I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself,” said Girardi at his end-of-season press conference. “For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”

Girardi indicated Shreve had a mechanical problem, which is always possible. Fatigue could have been an issue too. Yes, Shreve only threw 58.1 innings after averaging 65 innings per season in the minors from 2011-14, but high-leverage MLB innings are a different animal. They can be much more mentally and physically taxing. It would be silly to dismiss fatigue as a possible explanation for Shreve’s fade.

Whatever the reason(s), Shreve’s fade has caused him to be overlooked for most of the offseason. The Yankees essentially replaced Wilson with Aroldis Chapmanan enormous upgrade despite what many want you to believe — and much of the talk about the remaining bullpen spots has focused on the shuttle relievers. Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Bryan Mitchell, Branden Pinder, guys like that.

Shreve has rarely been mentioned despite having more MLB success than all of those other guys combined. Relievers come and go, that’s what they do, but Shreve’s dominance early last year — and that’s not hyperbole, he was dominant for the first four months — has earned him another chance this coming season. The Yankees have to see if his mechanical issues have been corrected, if fatigue is no longer an issue.

The job Shreve held for much of last season is currently open on the 2016 roster. That is the No. 4 reliever behind the top three guys at the end of the game. Someone to pitch the sixth inning or fill-in when one of the other guys aren’t available. Those three guys for the late-innings are outstanding, that group has a chance to be historically great, but the middle innings are important too.

Given the current options on the roster, the best candidate to fill Chasen Shreve’s old role is, well, Chasen Shreve. He’s had sustained success at the MLB level — at least moreso than the other guys — and at his best, he’s a left-hander who can retire both righties and lefties, and rack up strikeouts. Getting Shreve back on track would take what looks to be a very good bullpen and make it even better.