Now that Shohei Ohtani is no longer an option, the Yankees are circling back to CC Sabathia

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees found out they will not land Japanese ace-slash-slugger Shohei Ohtani last weekend. He prefers the West Coast, and informed the Yankees he will not sign with them. Bummer. Ohtani is a lot of fun. He also has a chance to be insanely good. He’d have fit into the youth movement nicely. Alas.

With Ohtani out of the picture, the Yankees have circled back and reached out to CC Sabathia‘s people about a reunion, reports Jon Heyman. I thought the Yankees would’ve been smart to bring Sabathia back even if they had landed Ohtani, but without him, getting another starter is a must, and Sabathia is an obvious target.

“We know CC and he’s a tremendous asset for us,” said Brian Cashman to George King. “We know everything about him, what a competitor he is and that he can perform on the biggest stage. Does that guarantee that everything is going well in this process? No. Nothing is guaranteed.”

Typical Cashman, downplaying the odds. Sabathia has been very open about wanting to stay with the Yankees — “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be,” he said after ALCS Game Seven — and I have no reason to doubt him. A few things about this.

1. Sabathia is still effective, which is pretty important. It’s kinda hard to believe we’re talking about re-signing Sabathia for 2018 given how poorly he pitched from 2013-15. He had a 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 424.1 innings those years, and has a 3.81 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 328.1 innings in two years since. Pretty amazing late career turnaround.

That turnaround has been fueled by Sabathia’s relatively new cutter, which has turned him into one of the best soft contact pitchers in baseball. Soft contact can turn into hard contact real quick as a pitcher ages, that’s the risk here, but Sabathia has succeeded with this new approach for two years now. It’s not a fluke. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games anymore, but there’s something to be said for his knowing you’ll get five good innings each time out.

2. The price may be too good to pass up. Sabathia turned 37 in July, and over the last five years only two starting pitchers age 37 or older signed a multi-year contract: John Lackey and Bartolo Colon. The Cubs gave Lackey two years and $32M two offseasons ago, and the Mets gave Colon two years and $20M four years ago. Both of them were coming off much better years than Sabathia, however.

Contract Year IP ERA ERA+ FIP fWAR bWAR
Colon 2013 OAK 190.1 2.65 147 3.23 +3.8 +5.0
Lackey 2015 STL 218 2.77 142 3.57 +3.6 +5.7
Sabathia 2017 NYY 148.2 3.67 122 4.49 +1.9 +2.8

Perhaps Sabathia can lean on his track record and inflation to demand two years from the Yankees, but yeah, the list of pitchers his age getting multi-year contracts is very short. Colon and Lackey needed outrageously good seasons — their best seasons in several years, in fact — to get their contracts.

The market indicates Sabathia is looking at one year and $12M or so, which is in line with what Colon and R.A. Dickey received last year. Maybe Sabathia succeeds and gets two years. It could happen. Point is, Sabathia is going to come affordably and on a short-term deal. That’s good for the luxury tax plan and good for flexibility moving forward.

3. You know what you’re getting off the field. Any time you sign a free agent or trade for a new player, how he’ll fit into the clubhouse is always a bit of an unknown. Teams do plenty of homework — players (and coaches) change teams so often these days that chances are someone on the roster has played with the guy before — but in the end, you just don’t know how someone will react to a new environment until he gets there. That’s especially true in New York.

With Sabathia, there are no such concerns because he’s been here for so long already. He’s beloved in the clubhouse — if Brett Gardner is the unofficial captain of the position players, Sabathia has been the unofficial captain of the pitching staff all these years — and has taken on a leadership role, and he knows all about playing in Yankee Stadium and in New York in general. Those are adjustments he won’t have to make. Plug him into the roster and go.

4. There are reasons not to sign Sabathia. As much as I love Sabathia — I think everyone loves Sabathia, right? he’s the man — we have to acknowledge the reasons not to re-sign him. One, he’s 37 and will turn 38 in July. Sabathia is firmly in the “this can fall apart in a hurry” age range. In the past five seasons, only eight different pitchers age 37 or older finished a season at +1 WAR. Recent history is not really on Sabathia’s side.

Secondly, Sabathia’s right knee is a wreck. It’s bone-on-bone at this point, hence the regular lubrication injections, and Sabathia has admitted he’ll likely need a knee replacement once his career is over. Remember when he left that game in Toronto and everyone thought his career is over? It wasn’t, thankfully, but that’s pretty much the risk you’re running here. The knee could give out at any moment. Between his age and the knee, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Sabathia as a free agent target at all had he not spent the last nine years with the Yankees.

* * *

Coming into the offseason I thought it was inevitable the Yankees would re-sign Sabathia, with or without Ohtani. It makes too much sense. He’s not going to cost a ton, you know what you’re getting on and off the field, and there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth. Now that Ohtani has spurned the Yankees, adding another pitcher is a must, and in a weak free agent class, bringing Sabathia back on a short-term deal sure seems like an obvious move right now. The Yankees have been contact with Sabathia’s camp lately and I get the sense something could happen soon.

Yankees, Cashman reportedly finalizing five-year contract

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees and Brian Cashman and putting the finishing touches on a new five-year contract worth $25M. The team hasn’t confirmed anything, but that’ll happen soon enough. The contract puts Cashman’s salary at a notch below the Andrew Friedman ($7M annually) and Theo Epstein ($10M annually) pay grade, though he did get a five-year deal. Each of Cashman’s last four contracts were three-year pacts.

Cashman’s previous contract expired on October 31st, so he had been working without a contract for a while now. There were never any serious rumors or even much idle speculation Cashman and the Yankees would part ways. It was an open secret he would be coming back ever since ownership followed his recommendation to part ways with Joe Girardi, and that was only confirmed when he led the charge to hire Aaron Boone as the new skipper.

Cashman, now 50, has been with the Yankees basically his entire adult life. He started with the team as an intern in 1986 and gradually worked his way up through the player development and baseball operations departments. Cashman was an assistant general manager under Gene Michael and Bob Watson from 1992-98 before taking over as general manager when Watson resigned in February 1998.

Needless to say, sticking around as a general manager for two decades is quite an accomplishment, especially in New York. Cashman worked under George Steinbrenner for a long time before Hal took over. Only Brian Sabean (Giants) and Billy Beane (Athletics) have a longer active tenure running a baseball operations department. The Yankees haven’t yet jumped on board with the “president of baseball operations” trend, so Cashman remains general manager.

With Cashman re-signed, Boone taking over as manager, and Shohei Ohtani rejecting the Yankees, the next orders of business are finding another starting pitcher and building the coaching staff. The Yankees have an impressive young core at the big league level right now and more top prospects coming soon. Cashman’s goal now is to supplement that core.

The Miscellaneous Relievers [2017 Season Review]

Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Every season, without fail, teams cycle through a parade of relievers as injuries and poor performance force roster changes. The average MLB team used 22 different relief pitchers this year. The Mariners led the way with 34. The Yankees used 18, third fewest in baseball, if you can believe that. Only the Nationals and Indians used fewer relievers this year. They used 17 apiece.

This season the Yankees put an end to the bullpen shuttle they’d used so extensively from 2015-16. The days of calling up reliever, using him for an inning or two, then sending him down the next day for a fresh arm came to an end. We saw relievers stick around even after extended outings, the type of outings that usually land them back in Triple-A. It was a refreshing in a way. Here are the miscellaneous relievers the Yankees used this season. Weirdly enough, three of these dudes were on the Opening Day roster.

Gio Gallegos

A dominant minor league season in 2016 earned Gallegos a spot on the 40-man roster last winter, and he received his first MLB call-up in mid-May. He had one great three-inning outing against the Astros on May 14th, allowing just one unearned run and striking out three, but he then allowed seven runs in his next six appearances and 7.1 innings.

On June 15th, in the tenth inning of a game in which Joe Girardi had already used all his top relievers, Gallegos was brought in to protect a one-run lead in Oakland. The inning went ground out, strikeout, single, double, intentional walk, two-run walk-off bloop single. You remember that one, don’t you?

Gallegos had four different big league stints this season, during which he threw 20.1 innings with a 4.87 ERA (3.65 FIP) and 25.0% strikeouts. He also threw 43.1 innings with a 2.08 ERA (2.18 FIP) and 40.8% strikeouts in Triple-A. Gallegos did survive the 40-man roster purge last month, though I’d say his grip on a spot is tenuous. There’s no guarantee he makes it through the offseason on the roster.

Domingo German

Little Sunday (Domingo Acevedo is Big Sunday) made his MLB debut on June 11th under unusual circumstances. He was pitching well in Triple-A and lined up perfectly to make the spot start when the Yankees decided to push Masahiro Tanaka back a day, but they gave the start to Chad Green, who wasn’t stretched out. German wound up pitching in long relief anyway. Weird.

German, who returned to the 40-man roster last offseason after completing his Tommy John surgery rehab, made seven relief appearances with the Yankees this season, throwing 14.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA (3.44 FIP). Those 14.1 innings featured lots of strikeouts (29.0%) and lots of ground balls (54.5%). German also had a 2.83 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 76.1 Triple-A innings and was especially great down the stretch, as the RailRiders made their postseason run.

It seems German is in position to take on a larger role next season, either as a Green-esque multi-inning reliever or spot starter. He’s shown he can handle Triple-A and his stuff is quite good. I think he’s got a chance to have a real impact in 2018. The Yankees acquired German in the Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade three years ago and he’s on the cusp of paying dividends.

Ben Heller

Heller is a personal favorite. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade and he made his MLB debut last season, and going into Spring Training, I thought he had a chance to win a bullpen spot. Instead, he went to Triple-A, and it wasn’t until mid-June that he was was called up. And that was for only one appearance. In that one appearance, Heller allowed a walk-off single off his butt.

Heller was called back in mid-July and again, it was only one appearance. That one appearance was memorable for a good reason, thankfully. Remember the 16-inning game at Fenway Park? When Matt Holliday took Craig Kimbrel deep to tie it up in the ninth? Heller was the last guy out of the bullpen. He tossed a scoreless 15th inning, the Yankees scored three runs to take the lead, then he closed it out with a 1-2-3 16th inning.

The Yankees brought Heller back in September and he was the one September call-up reliever who got regular work, appearing in seven games and throwing 8.2 innings in the season’s final month. He was great too, allowing just one run in those 8.2 innings. All told, Heller, had a 0.82 ERA (3.16 FIP) with 20.9% strikeouts in eleven big league innings and a 2.88 ERA (3.09 FIP) with 36.8% strikeouts in 56.1 Triple-A innings in 2017.

Heller is in the same camp as German for me. I think he’s in position to take on a larger role next season and have a real impact. He has some of the best stuff on the 40-man roster. His fastball sits in the upper-90s and the ball runs all over the place, and his slider has been a wipeout pitch at times. It’s tough to see where Heller (and German) fit right now, but like I said, the average team used 22 relievers this year. The opportunity will come.

Ronald Herrera

Boy, that series in Anaheim did not go well. That’s when Holliday first came down with his illness, Heller allowed the walk-off single off his rear-end, then Herrera made his MLB debut in the seventh inning of a tie game. The first batter he faced? Albert Pujols. One of best hitters in history. Herrera allowed a solo home run to Andrelton Simmons that inning and wound up taking the loss. Womp womp.

Herrera made one more big league appearance later in June, then he went to the minors and dealt with a nagging shoulder injury most of the rest of the season. He did get healthy in time for the Triple-A postseason, though the Yankees did not give Herrera a September call-up. That was a good indication he wouldn’t be around much longer. Sure enough, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers for a pitching prospect last month. Herrera allowed two runs in three big league innings this year, and had a 1.91 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 75.1 minor league innings.

Jonathan Holder

Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Holder is the first of the three relievers in this post who was on the Opening Day roster. He pitched in low-leverage situations and did see some sixth and seventh inning worth when the top relievers weren’t available, and for the first few weeks, things went fine. Holder then allowed ten runs on 19 hits (including five homers) and five walks in 14.2 innings from May 23rd to June 26th, earning a demotion to Triple-A. Opponents hit Troutian .322/.385/.644 against him during that time. Ouch.

The demotion to Triple-A was more or less permanent. Holder returned for a quick stint in mid-July and again as a September call-up, otherwise he was a RailRider in the second half. He threw 39.1 innings with a 3.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 23.4% strikeouts with the Yankees, though his performance was uneven. He was great for the first few weeks before things collapsed. It should be noted Holder had two appearances of three shutout innings. Once in the 18-inning game at Wrigley Field and once in the 16-inning game at Fenway Park. Well done.

Down in Triple-A, Holder threw 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA (3.21 FIP) and 30.0% strikeouts. The Yankees really seem to like him — they added him to the 40-man roster and called him up way earlier than necessary for Rule 5 Draft purposes — probably because his overall minor league performance has been great and he’s a spin rate darling, so I doubt Holder goes anywhere this offseason. I do wonder whether German and Heller have jumped him on the depth chart, however.

Tommy Layne

Another member of the Opening Day roster. The Yankees picked Layne up off the scrap heap last season and he did fine work, securing a bullpen spot this season. Then he went out and allowed 12 runs on 16 hits and eight walks in 13 innings this year. Lefties hit .304/.407/.391 against him. Not great, Tommy. He was designated for assignment on June 10th, clearing a roster spot for German.

Layne cleared waivers and spent some time with Triple-A Scranton before being released on July 5th. The Yankees had too many quality arms in Triple-A and needed the roster spot, so away went 33-year-old journeyman. Layne hooked on with the Dodgers a few days later, but didn’t make it through August with them. He had a 7.62 ERA (4.85 FIP) in those 13 innings with the Yankees, and he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings with the RailRiders. Relievers, man. Great one year and unrosterable the next.

Bryan Mitchell

The third and final Opening Day bullpen member in this post. Seriously. Holder, Layne, and Mitchell were all on the Opening Day roster. Mitchell would’ve been on the Opening Day roster last year had he not managed to break his toe covering first base at the end of camp. This year he made it through Spring Training in one piece and started the season as a low-leverage reliever.

Mitchell allowed one run on one hit and one walk in his first six outings and 6.2 innings of the season, but the wheels came off in late-April, when he allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 2.2 innings across two appearances against the Orioles. That was the series in which he played first base, which is a real thing that happened.

That was way too cute a move by Girardi. The best case scenario there was putting Mitchell back into the game after a 20-30 minute break, which usually leads to bad things for control challenged pitchers. Mitchell blew the game in the next half-inning and that was that.

Amazingly, Mitchell was called up and sent down at least once in every single month this season. He made two big league appearances in May, one in June, and one in July before resurfacing for an extended period of time in August. Mitchell finished the season with a 5.79 ERA (4.20 FIP) and 11.1% strikeouts (not a typo) in 32.2 MLB innings, and a 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP) and 25.4% strikeouts in 63.2 Triple-A innings.

Mitchell somewhat surprisingly survived the 40-man roster purge last month. He hasn’t been good in the big leagues and he’ll be out of options next year, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and I thought the Yankees would cut bait. They still might at some point this winter. The kid has a good arm, but with his 27th birthday four months away, it’s past time for potential to turn into production.

Tyler Webb

Although he didn’t reach Colter Bean status, Webb was the “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guy the last few seasons. The Pirates took a chance on Webb as a Rule 5 Draft pick, and while he pitched well enough in Spring Training (13 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K), they couldn’t find room for him on the roster, and back he came to the Yankees.

Webb continued to do what he’d been doing for a few years now, and that’s dominate Triple-A hitters. The Yankees gave him his first MLB call-up in late-June and he stuck around for a little while, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks in six innings across seven appearances. With the first base situation a total mess, the Yankees traded Webb to the Brewers for Garrett Cooper on July 13th.

Milwaukee kept Webb around for two appearances before sending him down to Triple-A, where he remained the rest of the season. Didn’t get a September call-up. Ouch. Webb is still on the 40-man roster though, so he has that going for him. He allowed three runs in six innings with the Yankees, and had a 3.24 ERA (2.14 FIP) in 33.1 innings with Scranton before the trade. Those “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guys have a way of show why they weren’t getting called up, don’t they?

Mailbag: Indians, Giants, Avila, Rule 5 Draft, IFA Money, Ohtani

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the last mailbag before the Winter Meetings, which kick off Monday. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)
Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)

Michael asks: Why would a free agent catcher want to sign with the Yankees? With the limited playing time opportunities. Wouldn’t a trade for a catcher with a fair amount of team control remaining make sense? The Indians have some depth, Perez Gomes, and Mejia, what would it take to get either one of the vets?

Yeah, I don’t get why a free agent catcher would sign with the Yankees to back up Gary Sanchez, unless they blew him away with an offer or the guy had nowhere else to go. The Indians definitely have some catching depth — Francisco Mejia is pretty close to MLB ready and I think he’s a top ten prospect in baseball, maybe top five — so maybe it is something they would dip into to make a trade. I prefer Roberto Perez to Yan Gomes, personally. The 2017 stats comparison:

AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR CS% FRAA Remaining Contract
Gomes .232/.309/.399 87 14 42% +3.2 $12.95M from 2018-19 plus two options
Perez .207/.291/.373 75 8 43% +14.4 $7.875M from 2018-20 plus two options

Neither guy can hit much, but Perez is the better defender, he’s a year and a half younger, and he’s considerably cheaper. I think it’s pretty interesting Terry Francona went with Perez as his starter the last two postseasons even though Gomes was the starter during the regular season. He must trust Perez more behind the plate, and hey, when they’re both below average hitters, why not go with the superior gloveman?

I have no idea what it would take to acquire Perez. Trades involving no-hit/all-glove backup catchers signed long-term are pretty darn rare. Does the Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson trade work as a benchmark here? Cervelli was a better hitter than either Gomes or Perez, but he wasn’t signed long-term either. I don’t have much interest in Gomes. Or any interest, really. Perez would be fine though, depending on the price.

Brian asks: Building upon your CBA thoughts in the article posted today, do you think the Union will ever get 6 years of team control and/or 3 years of league minimum reduced? It seems much more prohibitive/management friendly than other leagues.

The rule stating players need six years of service time to qualify for free agency has been around since free agency became a thing in 1976, so this has been the status quo for a while. Getting it down to five years of control would be a huge win for the MLBPA, and because of that, the owners will fight it tooth and nail. The union might have more luck pushing for two pre-arbitration years and four arbitration years instead, essentially making everyone a Super Two and putting more money in their pocket early in their careers. Generally speaking, MLB players do have to wait longer to qualify for free agency than players in other sports, and this seems like one of those things the owners will never budge on. They might lock the players out before agreeing to five years of control before free agency.

AJ asks: Do you think the Players should hire Scott Boras to lead the MLBPA?

I think Boras would be better at the job than Tony Clark because he’s proven himself to be a master negotiator, though there’s no way this happens. Boras won’t take the pay cut. Eric Fisher and Liz Mullen reported that Clark earned roughly $2M in 2014, his first year on the job. Boras undoubtedly clears that given the players he represents. This offseason he has J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas in free agency. Even if his commission is a mere 2% (I’m sure it’s quite a bit higher), he’d make what, $6M off those guys alone this winter? The MLBPA needs someone in charge who can get them some real benefits and not concede concede concede. Maybe Boras is that guy, but it’s hard to think he leaves his own agency for the job.

Nicholas asks: If the Giants trade Panik for Stanton-they’ll be in the market for 2b and 3b…maybe the Yankees trade Castro and Headley and sign Frazier?

There are conflicting reports about the Giancarlo Stanton trade package. Some say it includes Joe Panik, some say it doesn’t. I don’t really know. The larger point here is the Giants need more than just Stanton to contend — this a team that went 64-98 this season, after all — so if they’re going to trade for him, it doesn’t make sense to stop there. Stanton doesn’t put them over the top himself.

Even after a potential Giancarlo pickup, the Giants would still need a third baseman (and possibly a second baseman if Panik is traded), a bench, and pitching help. Chase Headley and/or Starlin Castro could make sense for them, sure. San Francisco doesn’t have much to trade these days, so maybe that means Headley as a salary dump is the best fit. I don’t love the idea of trading Headley (or Castro) then signing Frazier though. I feel like we’d end up right back in the same place next winter, talking about ways the Yankees could unload Frazier.

Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Michael asks: Did you see Avila said his main concern is not playing time, but playing for a team that is going to contend? Do you think this makes the Yankees a reasonable landing spot. He would be a pretty huge upgrade over Romine, he can play some first, he compliments Sanchez as a lefty bat, etc.

Yeah, I saw it. Alex Avila made those comments on the radio. No offense to him, but I’m going to have to see this to believe it. Would he really pass up more money elsewhere to back up Sanchez because he thinks the Yankees have a chance to win? The big problem for the Yankees’ is the salary given the luxury tax situation. If Avila is willing to back up Sanchez but wants a starter’s salary, it won’t work. If the Yankees could get him to back up Sanchez at something like $3M a year, great. I would be shocked if a guy who hasn’t really broken the bank in his career (Baseball Reference puts Avila’s career earnings at $18.3M) is truly willing to take less to be a backup behind a great starter, especially since Avila is only 30 and his earning potential will never be higher than it is right now given the year he just had. I heard his comments and immediately thought it was just one of those things a player says in an interview because it makes him sound good, not because he means it.

Jackson asks: Can you explain the minor league phase of the rule 5, the portion where once the player gets chosen there’s no chance of him returning? I understand that Alex Palma will likely get selected and if so he won’t get offered back.

The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft works differently than the Major League phase. If a player gets picked in the minor league phase, that’s it. He’s gone. No getting him back. The Yankees lost Ty Hensley to the Rays in the minor league Rule 5 Draft last year. (Hensley didn’t pitch this year as he rehabbed from his second career Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t pitched at all since 2014.)

Anyway, the minor league Rule 5 Draft eligibility rules are the same as the Major League phase. You’re either eligible for the entire Rule 5 Draft phase or you’re not. There are two levels of protection:

  • Players on the 40-man roster are protected from both the Major League and minor phase phases.
  • Players on the 38-man minor league reserve list are protected from the minor league phase only.

There used to be Triple-A and Double-A phases, but the talent was so sparse in the Double-A phase that MLB and the MLBPA did away with it in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, so now it’s just the Major League phase and minor league phase. There used to be a Major League phase, Triple-A phase, and Double-A phase.

Rule 5 Draft eligible players the Yankees did not add to the 40-man roster this winter, like J.P. Feyereisen and Nestor Cortes and Mike Ford and a bunch of others, will be included on that 38-man reserve list for sure. That 38-man reserve list is usually plenty big enough to protect anyone worthwhile. Most minor league Rule 5 Draft picks are guys like Hensley, who are hurt and have been hurt for a long time, or complete non-prospects teams bring in to fill roster spots. I’m sure the Yankees will find room for Palma on the 38-man reserve list. There are not 38 Rule 5 Draft eligible players in the organization worth protecting ahead of him. Not even close.

Asher asks: Any thought about an “Aroldis Chapman” rule- preventing a team from signing a free agent that that traded at the deadline? Perhaps we can call it the “Sidney Ponson” rule.

I don’t see the need for one. I’m not sure who that rule change would be helping. It would likely lead to fewer trades — would the Yankees have traded Chapman knowing they couldn’t re-sign him? I doubt it considering they tried to extend him before trading him — and it would limit the player’s market by taking away a potential suitor. How many times does this happen anyway? The Yankees did it with Chapman, the Cubs did it with Jason Hammel, and the Orioles did it with Ponson way back in the day. I can’t think of any others. This seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Chris asks: With all the international money the Yankees accumulated, is there any chance they try to trade some of it to a West Coast team and get someone useful in return?

Sure. The Yankees are going to do something with that $3.5M they have left over. Earlier this week the Angels (2017 third rounder Jacob Pearson) and Mariners (2017 fifth rounder David Banuelos) traded actual prospects to the Twins for $1M in bonus money. One of those teams traded away a legitimate prospect and won’t get Shohei Ohtani. Maybe both!

Anyway, clearly the market for international bonus money is inflated right now. Matt Eddy says the Yankees received $1.75M in bonus money from the Orioles for Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez. Geez. Now guys like Pearson and Banuelos are getting traded for $1M in bonus money? The Yankees absolutely should see what they can get for their bonus money from the teams chasing Ohtani.

Here’s the thing though: the Mariners, Angels, and Rangers are the only teams that can add money. The other clubs in on Ohtani (Padres, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants) are all limited to $300,000 bonuses, so it doesn’t make sense for them to trade for bonus money. I get the sense the Yankees are going to use that $3.5M to sign prospects, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what the Mariners, Angels, or Rangers would give up for some of it in a trade.

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Assume a team signs Ohtani. If that team were to trade him prior to the season what do you think he would bring in return? Equivalent to the Chris Sale to the Red Sox package? Substantially less? How many top-25 prospects? top-50? top 100? What package of Yankees prospects would RAB give up to acquire Ohtani via trade?

Can’t trade him before the season. Players can not be traded until six months after signing their first pro contract, which means whichever team signs Ohtani won’t be able to trade him until next June at the earliest. Hypothetically though, it would take a monster package to get him. He’s a potential ace, he’s only 23, and he’s under control for six more years. And that’s ignoring whatever he might give you with the bat.

If Ohtani were on the trade market right now, his team would be asking for the moon. Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. They might even aim higher and ask for Luis Severino or Aaron Judge, plus others. Chris Sale was traded with three years of control and he fetched two top 25 prospects plus two others. Ohtani doesn’t have Sale’s track record, but he has three more years of control, and that’s huge. I feel like Ohtani for Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield would be a win for the Yankees. Ohtani is insanely valuable given his talent, his age, and his salary/team control situation.

Rich asks: How possible is it that the Boone hiring hurt the Yankees’ chance of getting Ohtani? Shutting out big market teams on the East Coast just sounds silly to me and the timing seemed suspicious too.

Nah. Ohtani ruled out every single East Coast team and pretty much every Midwest team as well. The timing of the Aaron Boone news and Ohtani’s rejection was just a coincidence. Boone did joke about it the other day at his press conference — “I called Cash and said, ‘Sorry I couldn’t get Ohtani for you.’ I got named and Ohtani wanted no part of it,” he said — but nah, I don’t think there’s anything to this. Ohtani doesn’t want to play for the Yankees, or on the East Coast in general, apparently, and that’s his choice. Sucks, but what can you do?

Pete asks: It seems pretty clear that Ohtani never intended on signing with the Yankees (and other teams) based on how quickly he whittled his list down to 7 teams. Reports indicate the Yankees delivered a very strong presentation and Ohtani’s agents implored him to interview with them, but he still said no. That being said, what do you make of reports that teams are annoyed at the decision process and feel they got “played”? They just bitter or do they have a point – after all, they could have used that “wasted” time and resources to recruit other players.

I think they should stop whining. Ohtani is making a major life change here. He’s moving halfway around the world and jumping into a new culture. Asking (not making) the 30 clubs to put together the recruiting letter/presentation is basic due diligence. Seven teams are still in the running and apparently some of them are convinced Ohtani has not only already made a decision, but made his decision a long time ago. Maybe instead of complaining about it they should be thankful they had an opportunity to meet with him in-person and potentially change his mind. Won’t someone think of the poor front offices? I’m sure teams will complain about getting “played” next time they rake a player over the coals in arbitration for having the audacity to seek fair compensation.

Many asked: Why is the font on RAB smaller???

Yes, the font on RAB is smaller. More accurately, we added another layer of security to the site and the font defaulted to Times New Roman for whatever reason. I have no idea how to fix it. If it bothers you that much, take out the “s” in “https” in the site address and things will go back to normal. You are forewarned though, that is a less secure version of the site, so you’d be at risking the general badness of the internet infecting your device.

Update: The font issue is fixed. Stick with the “https” site for our own good, folks.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Another lukewarm day on the hot stove. The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood (three years, $38M), which is fine. Chatwood is one of those guys who was underrated coming into the winter and quickly got overrated once everyone caught on. Also, the Mariners traded for Dee Gordon and will make him a center fielder for some reason. Huh. The Yankees weren’t connected to either Chatwood or Gordon at any point. Whatevs.

Here is an open thread for the night. The Saints and Falcons are the Thursday night NFL game, plus the Islanders and Nets are playing. That’s about it. Talk about anything here as long as it is not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Back-Up Catchers

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The average major league catcher slashed .245/.315/.406 in 2017, good for an 89 wRC+ – and the average back-up catcher was much, much worse than that. And that puts Austin Romine‘s offense in an incredibly unflattering light, as he was the worst hitter among the 49 backstops that amassed 200 PA last season. The baseline is incredibly low, and he fell about as far beneath it as is possible (to be fair, he ranked 62nd among the 67 catchers that had at least 100 PA). And his defense doesn’t really make up for it, either.

As a result of this, the Yankees might just be in the market for a better back-up option behind the dish. Whether or not one is available on the free agent market is an intriguing question; particularly when Mike already wrote about Alex Avila. Given that he stands to make a fair bit of money, though, he does not seem like a terribly likely candidate to accept a back-up role. That leaves us with the following free agent catchers, listed along with their 2017 production (framing and blocking runs courtesy of Baseball Prospectus):

catchers

The pickings are rather slim, as one might expect given the value of a passable catcher. Only a few of these guys grade out as strong defenders across the board (the league-average CS% is around 27%), and Chris Iannetta was the only one to be an asset with the bat (though, Rene Rivera was above-average for the position). I’ll dig into each of the names a bit:

A.J. Ellis

Okay, to clarify, Ellis isn’t terribly interesting. However, he does seem like the exact sort of player that the Yankees would value, given his reputation as a clubhouse leader (lest we forget Clayton Kershaw’s reaction when he was dealt) and experience in big markets. Ellis is also 36, hasn’t hit well since 2015, and has never graded out well as a framer or a blocker. Hard pass.

Nick Hundley

Hundley has been an average-ish hitting catcher throughout his career, with a career slash line of .249/.300/.406 (89 wRC+). He’s also a subpar pitch-framer, grading out as well below-average in three of the last four years, and a middling blocker and thrower. He might be an upgrade over Romine with the bat, but defensively he’s not up to snuff – and I think the team would want a large upgrade in one aspect to move on from the status quo.

Chris Iannetta

Iannetta checks a great many boxes for the Yankees. He walks (career 13.6% walk rate) and hits for power (.176 ISO), and he was a strong pitch framer in 2017, with slightly below-average marks in blocking and the throwing game. His offense has been up and down throughout his career, but the patience and power are always there; but defense is another matter entirely. Consider his framing over the last three years, as per BP and StatCorner:

  • 2015: +13.1, +14.4
  • 2016: -13.8, -12.3
  • 2017: +6.1, +0.0

Publicly available catcher metrics are still a work in progress, but it’s strange to see a catcher bounce from elite to awful to average/above-average in a span of three years. That’s especially true with Iannetta, who vacillated between average and awful prior to 2015. If he is as good as last year’s numbers indicate on defense, he’s a massive upgrade over Romine; if he’s as bad as 2016, he’s not. I have faith in his bat, though.

Jose Lobaton

If you think last year’s framing numbers were an aberration, Lobaton is essentially a slightly better version of Romine, having been worth between 2.3 and 4.5 framing runs in his other major league seasons. Otherwise, he’s one of the few catchers that are worse.

Jonathan Lucroy

I have to imagine that Lucroy will get a starting gig somewhere, as he’s only a season removed from being a very good hitter (123 wRC+ in 544 PA in 2016) and a solid defender (4.0 framing runs, 1.8 blocking runs, 39% CS%). He graded out as absolutely horrendous on defense last year, though – and BP was far more generous than StatCorner, which had him at -29.2 framing runs. I would be happy to see the Yankees take a flier on Lucroy, given his high marks in the past (and his ability to play some first base) – but there are enough catching gigs around the league for him to wait for a better opportunity.

Miguel Montero

Montero appears to be in the decline phase of his career, at least as a hitter. 2017 was the worst offensive season of his career, and that came on the heels of another subpar season (82 wRC+). He also ruffled feathers this past summer, when he criticized Jake Arrieta (and the Cubs pitching staff as a whole) for slow delivery times. That earned him a DFA, and a trade to the Blue Jays, and makes one wonder if there were other behind the scenes issues. That factor may well make Montero a non-option for the Yankees; though, his left-handed pop and strong framing and blocking could mitigate that concern.

Rene Rivera

Mike summed up the appeal of Rivera in his off-season plan. He’s a good to great defender with a reputation for working well with pitchers, and he has a bit of pop in his bat, too. In short, he’s what the Yankees hope(d) Romine could become.

Carlos Ruiz

Scroll up and read my take on A.J. Ellis (which is kind of funny, as they were dealt for each other), and you’ll have a good idea of Ruiz’s potential appeal and clear-cut flaws.

Hector Sanchez

Sanchez is probably the worst all-around catcher on this list, and is included largely as a means to hammer home the scarcity of good options at this position. He doesn’t grade out well at anything, other than running into a few home runs over the last two years (he had a .212 ISO in 189 PA as a San Diego Padre, which is actually fairly impressive).

Geovany Soto

Soto missed the majority of 2017 due to elbow surgery, but is said to be ready to go for 2018. And, depending on his medicals, he could be an interesting target for a team willing to roll the dice. He has always been a good hitter for a catcher, with a career 102 wRC+, and his defense has long graded out as roughly average. The warning signs are obvious, in that he’ll be 35 in January and each of his last two seasons have been cut short by elbow injuries, but he has the makings of a more than competent back-up.

Chris Stewart

Stewart’s defense has slipped noticeably over the last two years, with his framing runs dropping precipitously as per BP and StatCorner. Given his own struggles with the bat, it’s likely that Romine is actually a better option than Stewart right now.

Contract Estimates

Lucroy is the only name of consequence on this list, and neither FanGraphs (3-years, $33 MM) nor MLB Trade Rumors (2-years, $24 MM) sees him as a tremendous bargain. Though, I suppose he would be a bargain at either price if he bounces back.

As for everyone else, I don’t really see an offer for more than a few million per year.

Do They Make Sense for the Yankees?

Lucroy is a pipe dream for the Yankees; even if he signs for peanuts, he’ll seek and find a starting role. With that being said, I think any of the following players – listed in order of preference – would be fine options to replace Austin Romine: Chris Iannetta, Rene Rivera. Iannetta would outhit him by a significant margin (and might be a better defender), and Rivera would just be better across the board.

That’s a short list, but the rest of these catchers all have a serious flaw that is not mitigated by a legitimate strength. I might be interested in some on a minor league deal (Soto comes to mind), but otherwise I’d stay the course with Romine. And I think the Yankees would, too.

The litany of below-average first basemen [2017 Season Review]

Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees had a lot of first basemen this year. Too many? Too many.

In total, 11 different people manned first this year with Greg Bird probably the finest after he overcame his ankle issues. Chase Headley is the runner-up there, filling in admirably there once Todd Frazier took third base from him.

But there were many others at first. And so let’s dive in, beginning with the person who could have claimed the job for himself if he hadn’t hit so poorly.

Chris Carter

Carter signed in mid-February with the Yankees. At the time, the plan was simple: Bird would be the starting first baseman while Carter was the backup who’d get some tough lefties as well as some time at DH. Not much glamour for a guy who’d just led the National League with 41 home runs in 2016, but it was $3.5 million he wasn’t getting elsewhere.

So when Bird went 6-for-60 in April and landed on the disabled list, the job was Carter’s to lose. And boy did he lose it!

In 62 games for the Bombers, the slugger didn’t live up to his reputation, hitting for 14 extra-base hits in 208 plate appearances, including just eight home runs. Meanwhile, he found a way to strike out even more than he did in Milwaukee while drawing fewer walks. His .201/.284/.370 (73 wRC+) line doesn’t do it justice. He was hovering below or at the Mendoza line for the entire first half.

Of course, this wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue if he was a good defensive player. However, that’s never been Carter’s calling card. He had a -2.3 UZR at first.

Carter did come up with some clutch hits in pinstripes. He came up with a much-needed seeing-eye single to give the Yankees a run in a 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Apr. 15. A week later, he hit a go-ahead pinch-hit three-run shot to put the Yankees up for good against the Pirates.

And on May 3, he had a bloop single to tie a game against the Blue Jays.

Finally, on June 15, just a week before he was designated for assignment, he tied a game against the Athletics with a solo homer in the eighth inning. After an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts game, he was DFA’d on June 23. However, he was brought back a week later when Tyler Austin strained his hamstring. This stint would be short-lived as he was again DFA’d after going 0-for-2 with a walk against the Blue Jays on July 4. From there on out, it was a mix of first basemen in the Bronx.

Rob Refsnyder

While Carter was struggling in late May, the Yankees decided to give Rob Refsnyder a go at first. However, he was somehow less adequate with the bat than Carter. In four starts from May 30 through June 4, he went just 2 for 13 with a walk. That’s a .154/.214/.231 line. Yikes.

While he’d play a little too much in the outfield for the rest of the month, he wouldn’t get any more time at first base, a place where he actually wasn’t too bad in 2016, at least relative to the rest of his performance. His last game in New York was July 2 before he too was sent packing like Carter. The Yankees traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays for minor league first basemen Ryan McBroom.

Ji-Man Choi

Ah, the Ji-Man Choi era. This was perhaps the best part of the season. He started at first the day after Carter was DFA’d, literally taking his spot on the roster. His first at-bat was an unremarkable groundball to first, but he struck gold with a homer into the bleachers in his second at-bat.

He’d hit a homer in his second game against the Brewers — a much less impressive ball that cleared the short porch in right — and that was about it for him in New York. After the second homer, he went hitless for seven straight at-bats until pick up a pair of hits — and a sacrifice fly — in his final game, a 3-0 win over the Red Sox on July 16.

Choi was sent down after that and would be removed from the 40-man roster later on. In his six games, he went 4-for-15 with two homers, a double, two walks and a sac fly, good for a .267/.333/.733 line. That’s a 162 wRC+, second on the team behind Aaron Judge for players with at least 10 plate appearances.

Cooper (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Cooper. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Garrett Cooper

After Carter was let go, Brian Cashman looked for cheap first base help and found it with Garrett Cooper, who was in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers. A 26-year-old tearing up the Pacific Coast League isn’t a huge shocker, but it was something the Yankees didn’t have, so they traded left-handed reliever Tyler Webb to get him.

Cooper started at first in the Yankees’ first two games after the All-Star break and struck out in five of his first seven plate appearances. He didn’t get a hit until his third game.

While he didn’t hit for any home runs with the Yankees, he did launch a lot of doubles. Five of his 14 hits were two-baggers while he also added a triple. He just didn’t walk much (once in 45 PAs) and he struck out 26.7 percent of the time.

Still, he posted a .326/.333/.488 (113 wRC+) line and likely would have held the job until Greg Bird’s return. However, he didn’t play after Aug. 16 due to hamstring tendonitis.

He was traded this offseason to the Marlins to free up 40-man space. We’ll always have his eight hits in three days against the Blue Jays this August.

Tyler Austin

Austin could have been the Yankees’ starting first baseman for multiple months this season. All he needed to do was stay healthy.

However, he broke a bone in his left foot during Spring Training and was out until June. He was called up to replace Carter and hit a home run in his third game back, just to strain his right hamstring a day later. Oh well.

Austin got another week of starts at first base and DH in August when Cooper went down and picked up two hits in his first game back. However, once Bird was healthy, it was back to the bench for the 26-year-old Austin. Unlike everyone listed above, he’ll be back in 2017 as of now, although he’ll likely be in Triple-A to start the year if he makes it through the offseason.

Other adventures with first base

I’ll be brief, but here are the other highlights at first base outside of Bird and Headley.

Gary Sanchez played three innings over two games at first base. He made seven putouts in seven chances. No errors!

Matt Holliday started seven games at first and made two errors. He was not smooth in the field and it would have been fitting if the Yankees had put together a Carlos Beltran-esque ceremony to retire his glove.

– Despite having 82 starts at first in his career, Todd Frazier didn’t play a single inning at first for the Yankees.

Austin Romine started four games at first base. He actually didn’t look too bad at first and as crazy as it is to say now, it was a relief to see him there compared to their other options at the time.

– And finally, the best moment at first base non-Bird/Headley edition all year: Bryan Mitchell’s unfortunate inning. Perhaps my favorite Yankees loss of the year.