Before the Yankees can think about Harper or Machado, the farm system has to come through

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Next year, as in 2018, the Yankees hope to get their payroll under the $197M luxury tax threshold. They’ve been hoping to get under for years, and 2018 will be the best opportunity to do it because CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will be off the books, maybe Masahiro Tanaka too. That’s a lot of big dollar contracts going away, and the Yankees are poised to replace those expensive veterans with cheap kids.

Once the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their tax rate, the assumption seems to be they’ll dive back into free agency and make some big deals. Coincidentally enough, if the team does reset their tax rate in 2018, it’ll happen just in time for the epiphany free agent class of the 2018-19 offseason. That’s the Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, et al class. Possibly the best free agent class ever.

Last week Brian Cashman was asked about that 2018-19 free agent class during the team’s town hall event. Cashman can’t talk about players under contract with other teams, like Harper and Machado — “You trying to get me suspended?” he joked — but he did speak about the possibility of the Yankees becoming big spenders in the near future. Here’s what Cashman said at the town hall. His full answer was quite long (video link):

“First and foremost, as you seeing we’re transitioning from contracts that we vested heavily in — and it did pay off for us in ’09, and you rob Peter to pay Paul — so at the end of the day we are going to be in a position to do a number of things, and maybe turn the clock back to be big-game hunters that we — and you — have been accustomed to being.

“But our hope is, in the meantime, that some of the high-end ceiling position players like you see in a Gary Sanchez — I know the talk of the big free agent class of 2018 already had been discussed before the 2016 season started like, ‘Oh, the Yankees are going to wait and reset the clock and go after these guys’ — and since this time, you saw one of our golden nuggets pop out of our system and establish himself as potentially one of the high-end young players in the game.

“If we could have a few more of those, it’ll allow us to have a lot of different choices to see what’s on the open market at the time. And who’s to say the rumors out there are the necessary ones? We all want what we have in that system to become what the younger guys in this game are as they’re approaching free agency and had their success and established themselves. We want our guys to be those guys six years from now. And hopefully this crew, and some of those guys in this crew, can become those guys.

“Therefore, you’re not having to rely on going to marketplace and pay a steep price regardless of what their talent level is. Out of respect for the other team’s talent, I can’t speak to those guys that are potentially future free agents, but I can tell you this: our hope is that the young guys that we have in our system become some of the young great players in the game going forward. That’s what we’re doing.”

There’s a lot going on there. Cashman’s good at saying a lot of words without revealing too much. In a nutshell, Cashman said they hope all the prospects in the system develop into productive big leaguers so they don’t have to go out and spend big to sign Harper or Machado or whoever. They want to develop their own Harper or Machado, or at least approximations of Harper and Machado.

That’s all well and good, but we all know not every prospect will work. It would be cool if they all did. That’s just not how baseball works though. The Yankees have accumulated a ton of prospect depth over the last year or so, so even when a few players inevitably flame out, they have others who could step in to fill those shoes. Aaron Judge doesn’t work out as the right fielder of the future? Well there’s Clint Frazier. Gleyber Torres isn’t all he’s cracked up to be? There’s still Jorge Mateo.

Realistically, the Yankees will need to dip back into free agency at some point to address a need. That applies to every team. The hope is in a few years, as in the 2018-19 offseason, the Yankees will be in position to spend big on a Harper or a Machado, because that will mean each the following statements are true:

  1. Multiple prospects have panned out and become cheap, productive big leaguers.
  2. The Yankees will have gotten under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 and reset their rate.
  3. The Yankees are good enough to consider a big free agent the missing piece of the puzzle.

The first point is important for obvious reasons. The Yankees want this robust farm system to become their next championship core in one form or another. If it doesn’t happen, they’re in trouble. The second point is important because guess what? If the Yankees don’t get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, they’re going to try again in 2019, and that likely means no big free agent contracts.

We can’t forget about the third point too. The Yankees passed on Edwin Encarnacion (and Chris Sale) this offseason because Cashman & Co. didn’t believe the time was right. And I empathize with that. Spend big and give up a draft pick to sign a 34-year-old DH when you’re ready to win right now. Gut the farm system and trade for a no-doubt ace when you have a chance to go to the World Series, not when you’re realistically a year or two away from contention, as the Yankees probably are at the moment.

My hope is the Yankees are able to develop a new young core during these next two seasons, at which point they can add Harper (or Machado, I guess) and make the jump from team on the rise to World Series contender. I’m not entirely convinced the free-spending Yankees will ever truly return, but for a 20-something elite talent like Harper (or Machado), I think they’ll be all-in, as long as the farm system comes through and the luxury tax rate is reset.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab on the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Weekend Open Thread

An update on the new writer(s) search: we’ve made our picks! Or at least I have. I’m waiting for everyone else here at RAB to give the thumbs up as well. Once that happens, I’ll get in touch with the folks we’d like to bring aboard and make an announcement on the site. I hope to do that next week. (Nudges Ben and Joe.) Thanks again to all who applied, especially for being so patient. There were a ton of quality submissions to dig through. Whittling the list of candidates down was not easy at all.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Nets are the only local teams in action, and my goodness, that sounds awful. No college basketball tonight either. Geez. Anyway, talk about whatever here, just not politics or religion. Please please please no politics or religion. Thanks in advance.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. There are no NFL playoff games today — did they always play both conference championship games on Sunday? I could have sworn they used to play one on Saturday and one on Sunday — but the Knicks, Nets, Devils, and Islanders are all playing, and there’s more college basketball on than any human could watch. You know what to do here, so do it.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. The NFL playoffs resume today with Packers-Falcons (3pm ET on FOX) and Steelers-Patriots (6:30pm ET on CBS). The two winners advance to the Super Bowl. The Rangers are playing right now, so if you flip over to NBC, you can catch the end of the game. The Islanders are playing later tonight, and that’s pretty much it. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Previewing the Right-Handed Power

(AP)
(AP)

Last year, the Yankees had a power problem from the right side of the plate. Alex Rodriguez did, well, poorly enough that he essentially retired early. As right-handers, Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira had wOBAs of .301 (86 wRC+) and .307 (90 wRC+) respectively with basement-level power: .082 ISO for Headley and .109 for Tex. Starlin Castro did okay with a 93 wRC+ as a righty batter, but once Carlos Beltran left, the Yankees were left with a power void on the right side.

All told, the Yankees hit .251/.305/.415/.720 as right-handers, with a .309 wOBA and a 90 wRC+, and an ISO of .164. The American League’s collective right-handers hit .261/.321/.430/.752 with a .323/101/.169 wOBA/wRC+/ISO split. Gary Sanchez‘s arrival — Ruthian in nature as it was — helped erase some of the stain of the Bombers’ poor performance from the right side and, hopefully, signaled things to come.

A full year of Sanchez will be (hopefully) complemented by the other right-handed power potential in the lineup in the persons of Aaron Judge and new addition Matt Holliday. Starlin Castro returns, obviously, and even if his slash line wasn’t so great, he still did provide over 20 homers, good for any right-hander, especially one at second base. Chase Headley joins them as a switch hitter, and hopefully he can bounce back to his career levels as a right-handed hitter (.319 wOBA/102 wRC+/.136 ISO).

The lineup will feature more balance this year, with those four above as the right side and Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird representing the left side of things. Looking things over, there’s really not a ton of power potential from either side. While Didi just had a breakout year with power, Ellsbury and Gardner aren’t going to be counted on for extra bases anymore. Bird certainly showed ability in 2015, but coming off of a shoulder injury, it’s easy to imagine some of his power being sapped.

Matt Holliday, then, becomes a very important part of 2017. Of any player on the team, he has the longest track record of solid performance, especially in the power department. Considering he’ll hit in either the three, four, or five spot in the lineup, his pop from the right side is paramount. As an aside, I’m very excited about Matt Holliday being on this team. I’ve long been a fan of his and definitely think he’s got enough left in the tank for a pretty big season.

It’s hard to count on a new guy and a couple of youngsters like Judge and Sanchez, but if those players stay their courses, things will be just fine. Judge has shown the ability to adapt to new levels and Sanchez seems to have the talent to adjust to new things; if they follow those tracks and Holliday keeps on keeping on, the right side of the plate will be much improved for the Yankees.

Yankees rank second in Keith Law’s farm system rankings

Andujar. (Presswire)
Andujar. (Presswire)

It’s that time of year again. Prospect ranking season. Individual team prospect lists have been hitting the internet for weeks now, and in the coming days and weeks, all the major scouting publications will release their top 100 lists and farm system rankings.

Earlier this week, Keith Law released his annual farm system rankings in three subscriber-only pieces: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30. The Diamondbacks currently have baseball’s worst farm system, according to Law. The Braves, on the other hand, have the game’s best system. They’ve been hard tanking for a good two years now, so I’d hope so.

The Yankees are second in Law’s farm system rankings, sandwiched between the Braves and Padres. Law applauds the “enormous packages” the Yankees received for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at the deadline last year, as well as their recent drafts. Here’s a snippet of his write-up:

The system just keeps on going, with tons of pitching depth, a passel of natural shortstops — we need a better collective noun for that; a “belanger” of shortstops, perhaps -– who will end up playing all over the diamond, and a lot of outfielders who rake. Even Dermis Garcia, who isn’t among their 20 best prospects, has 80 raw power and finished second in the advanced-rookie Appalachian League in homers as an 18-year-old.

There’s no weakness here. They will trot out teams full of prospects at every level, and several of them will show up in the Bronx this year. I don’t know if Gleyber Torres is the new Jeter or James Kaprielian the new Pettitte, but I’ll take that bet.

Law mentioned New York’s top six prospects were either a recent first round pick or acquired at last year’s trade deadline. That means Torres, Kaprielian, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Aaron Judge, and Blake Rutherford are his top six in some order. Either that or Law really likes J.P. Feyereisen. I assume Jorge Mateo is seventh.

I love top prospects as much as anyone, having a guy like Mateo as your seventh best prospect is pretty wild, but the thing that stands out most to me about the farm system right now is the depth. The Yankees are loaded with players who project to be average big league players. There are about 50 prospects in the system now who would make the top 30 most years. Maybe 60.

As Law said, the Yankees are going to have prospects at every level of the farm system in 2017. We’re still weeks away from official minor league assignments, but right now, these guys figure to be the headliners at each level:

  • Triple-A Scranton: Frazier, Dustin Fowler, Tyler Wade, Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams
  • Double-A Trenton: Torres, Sheffield, Miguel Andujar, Billy McKinney, Ian Clarkin
  • High-A Tampa: Mateo, Kaprielian, Dillon Tate, Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo
  • Low-A Charleston: Rutherford, Garcia, Estevan Florial, Hoy Jun Park

There’s some wiggle room there — Mateo could start with Trenton, for example — but generally speaking, those figure to be the Opening Day assignments. And that doesn’t include rookie ball kids like Wilkerman Garcia, Diego Castillo, Nelson Gomez, Drew Finley, and Nolan Martinez. Josh Rogers is a three-pitch lefty who had a 2.50 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 147.1 innings at two levels last year and no one talks about him. The system is stacked.

Whether the Yankees can turn this impressive farm system into a consistent contender in the years to come remains to be seen. The fact they have so many prospects, both high-end prospects and depth, bodes very well. Not everyone is going to work out. We know that. The system’s sheer volume of talent gives the Yankees many options all around the diamond going forward, and that’s exciting.

Headley embraces new challenges while his Yankee status is anything but guaranteed

by Sung Min Kim/River Avenue Blues
(Sung Min Kim/RAB)

Chase Headley showed up to Yankee Stadium yesterday with a beard, as if he had been traded away to another team awhile ago. However, he still remains a member of the New York Yankees. He will shave his face clean before showing up to the Spring Training next month.

When it’s all said and done, it’s unlikely fans will remember Headley as a part of the great Yankee lore. As we know, he is an average hitter with solid glove and, well, that doesn’t exactly sell a lot of jerseys. The club also owes him $26 million for the next two years.

Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise when the Yankees looked to trade Headley during this offseason. At yesterday’s press conference, Brian Cashman sounded off when asked about Headley’s future with the organization.

“I can’t predict that. I expect him to be here as a starter at the third base,” Cashman said while adding he shopped Headley around this winter, but couldn’t find a return that he liked. There weren’t many replacement options at third available either.

Headley admitted he saw heard the trade rumors, though he didn’t pay attention to them.

“I’ve dealt with that for a lot of my Major League career,” he said. “I don’t act like I’m angry about it … I understand that those are certainly business decisions that are made and me worrying about that isn’t going to change one thing one way or another.”

But still, to Cashman, Headley is a valuable commodity.

“Tell you what, in New York, when you struggle, everyone lets you know about it,” said Cashman. “It’s tough to pull yourself out of it, so he showed some serious mental confidence to continue to stay focused and (bounce back). He showed some toughness and I really respect that. I’m looking forward to a bigger year this year because I think he’s even better for that kind of experience.”

Two and half seasons into being a Yankee, the fans have an idea what to expect from their starting third baseman: a reliable glove and a decent-but-forgettable bat. In these past two seasons, Headley registered a 92 wRC+ each, which means he was a bit below average in runs created metrics. It’s safe to say we are not getting the guy who led the NL in RBI in 2012 anytime soon.

Entering the third year of the four-year, $52 million contract, Headley seems determined to set the tone this coming season by diagnosing one of the things that went wrong with him last year: that brutal 9-for-60 start in April.

“Trying to get a couple hits in April would be great,” he said. “There was a mechanical thing from the left side of the plate and once I got corrected, I started to swing a bat a little bit better … Hopefully I’ll be a mechanically better.”

The encouraging part of that statement is that Headley hit for a .265/.338/.418 line the rest of the season after April. Not the sexiest numbers, but they look better than the .252/.315/.405 line that the entire team averaged in 2016.

The discouraging part is that Headley is not getting any younger. The 2017 season will be his age 32 season, and we shouldn’t expect some kind of renaissance with his bat. If anything, the fans can be realistically optimistic by hoping he avoids a slow start and puts up slash line similar to what he did after the dreadful April last season.

However, as long as he is the member of the 2017 Yankees, Headley has a bigger off-the-field aspect to look forward to: being a more vocal clubhouse leader amidst the Yankee youth movement.

“I am looking forward to getting know (the younger players) and, hopefully, offering them help that I can to help them to this level and to help (the Yankees) to be successful,” Headley said. “I am excited about having the opportunity to have a little bit more leadership in the clubhouse … I’m excited to be able to be more vocal and speak my mind a little bit more.”

I don’t know if the Yankees will win a division title while Headley is under his current contract. This year is looking like a rebuilding year. The 2018 season could feature some exciting young talent on the ML roster, but I don’t think the Yankees will really compete until 2019, when they will possibly have added one of big 2018-19 free agents (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw, if he ops out, just to name a few) and fuse them with the talented youngsters.

If the Yankees manage to find a young big league ready third baseman, Headley will probably not be the starter going forward. However, because there are games to be played and valuable youngsters to be taught, Headley is a perfectly fine team asset for now, and I think it is in the team’s best interest to play him and hope for the best possible performance.

Cashman confirms the Yankees will go to an arbitration hearing with Dellin Betances

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

According to Brendan Kuty, yesterday afternoon Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees and Dellin Betances are indeed heading to an arbitration hearing. Betances filed a $5M salary prior to last week’s deadline and the team countered with $3M. Cashman says the $2M gap is simply too big to bridge, so they’ll let the arbitration panel make the decision.

“We’re not going to reach a resolution with Dellin,” said Cashman to Kuty. “The conversations we had with our representatives were if we file, we trial. Based on all of our discussions, it was clear that the different perspectives were such a wide bridge. We’ll go out and just basically have a polite discussion about market value and history of where the marketplace sits versus attempts for new market creation. We’re going to wind up in an arbitration hearing with Dellin.”

Arbitration hearings usually take place in early-to-mid February and the two sides could still negotiate a contract of any size prior to a hearing (and even after), though Cashman indicated that won’t happen. At the hearing, each side will state their case and the three-person panel will chose either the $5M or $3M for Dellin’s 2017 salary. Nothing in-between. I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. Dellin’s case is very unique. Arbitration salaries are based on the salaries of similar players at similar service time levels, so Betances is referencing other top relievers when they went through arbitration the first time. The problem? He has very few peers in terms of performance, and those that have been this good are closers. When a pitcher comes up and dominates like Betances has, he tends to wind up in the ninth inning. That hasn’t happened with Dellin because the Yankees have always had multiple high-end relievers, and the veteran got the ninth inning. Saves matter in arbitration and Betances doesn’t have many.

2. The Yankees seem to have an easier case. I broke this down earlier this week, but it’s worth repeating: the Yankees are offering Betances what sure seems to be a record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible non-closing reliever. I can’t find another setup man at $2M in their first arbitration year, nevermind $3M. That $5M ask by Dellin’s camp says he wants to be paid like a top closer. The Yankees are instead offering an unprecedented salary for a setup man. Because of that and Betances’ general lack of saves, I think the team has an easier salary to defend. Dellin’s camp will have some convincing to do at the hearing.

3. Arbitration hearings can be ugly. Maybe uncomfortable is a better word than ugly. Like I said earlier, during the hearing itself, the two sides will state their case to the arbitration panel. For the team, that means detailing the player’s shortcomings and explaining why he deserves the lower salary while he sits in the room. Awkward! Cashman said they’ll have a “polite discussion,” but who knows.

Here’s what Vinnie Pestano, former Yankees non-roster invitee to Spring Training, told Jordan Bastian following his arbitration hearing with the Indians a few years ago:

“You’re being honest and accountable and saying the right things and being there,” Pestano said, “and then later you find your own words in the paper, and somebody is trying to use your words against you to drive your value down. Whether that played a big role in the decision, I don’t know.

“That was the only thing that I didn’t care for. I definitely think it’ll affect how I see things going forward. I don’t really know if I can be as honest and up-front anymore. I’ve got three more years of arbitration left. I don’t know what they’ll pick to use against me next year or two years from now.”

At the end of the day, this is a business, and the player is making the decision to go to a hearing by not agreeing to a contract beforehand. Betances knows what he’s getting into, just like last year, when he rejected the team’s modest raise to $540,000 and instead had his contract renewed for the $507,500 league minimum. He knew that was a possibility and he accepted it. Same with the hearing.

4. A hearing doesn’t have to ruin a relationship, though. I can understand why Yankees fans would worry an arbitration hearing would damage the team’s relationship with Betances, one of their best and most popular players. And you know what? I’m sure it’s happened in the past, a team going to a hearing and their relationship with the player never quite being the same afterward.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. The Yankees haven’t been to an arbitration hearing since 2008, when they beat Chien-Ming Wang and saved $600,000 ($4M vs. $4.6M). The team’s last arbitration hearing before that? Mariano Rivera in 2000. The last two before that? Rivera and Derek Jeter, both in 1999. The Yankees and those players went on to live happily ever after following the hearings. (Injuries ruined Wang’s career, not an arbitration hearing.)

Point is, even though avoiding an arbitration hearing is always preferred, sometimes they are necessary because the two sides value the player very differently. It doesn’t have ruin relationships. The Yankees offered Betances a record first year arbitration salary for a setup man as best I can tell, but he wants to be paid like a closer, and that’s his right. He’ll allowed to try to get it. And because salaries carry over from year to year and affect raises, there’s a lot more on the line here than $2M in 2017. It adds up in future years.