I was planning to write one of these thoughts posts this week anyway, but at least yesterday’s activity gives me a decent title. The Yankees agreed to sign both second baseman Brian Roberts (one-year, $2M) and left-hander Matt Thornton (two years, $7M), two moves that put a small dent in a lengthy offseason wish list. They still need a third baseman, a starting pitcher, another reliever (preferably two), and general depth. Here are some nuggets for the time being.
1. The Roberts signing really doesn’t accomplish much in my opinion. You can’t count on him to stay healthy and even if he does manage to stay healthy, there’s no guarantee he’ll be any good. Gotta hope his .284/.327/.441 (109 wRC+) line against left-handers this past season was legit and not just noise from a 110 plate appearance sample because his .249/.312/.392 (90 wRC+) overall line was pretty mediocre. Everyone loves those high-risk, high-reward signings, but I think Roberts is better described as low-risk, low-reward. The Yankees are said to be seeking more infield help and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure they actually added any yesterday.
2. Thornton, on the other hand, is a real nice pickup as long as Joe Girardi uses him as a true lefty specialist and doesn’t force him out there against righties. He was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball once upon a time but that is no longer the case. Thornton has been better than Boone Logan against same-side hitters these last few years (doesn’t strike out as many but also gives up fewer extra-base hits) and the Yankees landed him for less than half the total cost. Heck, they got him for less than J.P. Howell (two years, $11.5M). Everyone wants a lefty reliever who can handle both lefties and righties, but there aren’t many of those guys around. As long as Girardi keeps him away from righties, Thornton should be very useful.
3. At some point soon, the Yankees will need to open 40-man roster spots for Roberts, Thornton, and the still not officially signed Carlos Beltran. Vernon Wells and David Huff stand out as obvious candidates to be taken off the roster, but after them? I have no idea. Ramon Flores and Nik Turley could end up going, but the latter would surely get plucked off waivers since he has minor league options remaining and is both left-handed and breathing. It seems unlikely Eduardo Nunez will go because the team isn’t in the position to give away middle infield depth. Maybe they’re working on dumping Ichiro Suzuki for some salary relief, which would also clear a spot. Either way, the Yankees have a serious roster crunch at the moment.
4. Grant Balfour (two years, $15M with the Orioles) and Jose Veras (one year, $4M with the Cubs) signed with new teams yesterday and both guys made a ton of sense for the Yankees, especially on those terms. Those are pretty sweet contracts, more than reasonable in this market. Both guys were handed the closer’s role by their new teams though, so this isn’t a simple “they should have matched the offers” situation. David Robertson should get the ninth inning next season for reasons Joe outlined over the weekend, but damn, I would have loved to see the Yankees add Balfour and/or Veras on those deals.
5. The Yankees have committed just under $231M to five outfielders over the last calendar year (Ichiro, Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran), which is mind-blowing. Only one of them is younger than 35 and only one (Beltran) feels like a lock to post an .800+ OPS next year as well. Sure, Soriano could do it, but he needed that huge finish with New York to finish with a .791 OPS this past season. He turns 38 next month and, as Ichiro and David Justice showed, big finishes following a midseason trade don’t always carry over to the next season. The point of this is … I dunno. I guess that the team has spent a ton of money on outfield help over the last year and didn’t get a whole lot of offensive help in return.
6. This crossed my mind the other day and I figured I’d bring it up here: how long will it be before another homegrown Yankee tops a .900 OPS while playing a full season/qualifying for the batting title? The last five guys to do it were Robinson Cano (2010 and 2012), Jorge Posada (2003 and 2007), Derek Jeter (1999 and 2006), Bernie Williams (1996-2002), and Don Mattingly (1984-1987), so it’s not exactly a common occurrence. Gary Sanchez is a possibility but the kid is 21 with only 23 games of experience above Single-A. Hard to pin it on him. There’s no obvious candidate. Could it be another ten years (the gap between Mattingly and Bernie) before it happens again? Fifteen? Five?
Dec. 17th: According to Ronald Blum, the Yankees were hit with a $28,113,945 luxury tax bill for the 2013 season. They finished the year with a $237,018,889 payroll, the highest in baseball history. (The Dodgers were only $146,647 behind New York.) Checks are due January 21st. Oh, and by the way, Maury Brown reports MLB’s annual revenues topped $8 billion for the first time in 2013. The game is healthier and teams are wealthier than ever before.
Sept. 11th: Via Bob Nightengale: The Yankees are currently looking at a record $29.1M luxury tax bill after the season. That is based off a $236.2M payroll and is not yet final. The luxury tax is officially calculated after the season and team payroll could still go up or down depending on trades (Brendan Ryan!) and call-ups and whatnot these next two weeks. The Dodgers ($9.9M) are the only other team facing the luxury tax this year.
The Yankees are taxed 50% on every dollar over the $178M threshold, which climbs to $189M next year. As you know, the team is trying like hell to get under that number and save both luxury tax and revenue sharing money down the road. Assuming that $29.1M number doesn’t change much, the Yankees will have paid over $253M in tax since the system was implemented in 2003. The rest of baseball will have paid just $32M or so. The Steinbrenners have shelled out $19.3M, $13.9M, $18M, and $25.7M in luxury tax in the three previous seasons. · (51) ·
The Yankees agreed to deals with Brian Roberts (one-year, $2M) and Matt Thornton (two years, $7M) today, and, according to Jeff Passan, the team’s internal calculations currently have them sitting on a $178M-ish payroll for next season. That assumes Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for all of 2014. I have them at $188.2M following today’s signings, so there’s a discrepancy but a relatively small one. I had to make a lot of assumptions and I tend to be conservative. Given their still long list of needs (third baseman, starting pitcher, at least one reliever), staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold just isn’t happening without a trade to free up some cash (Brett Gardner? Ichiro Suzuki?). Hooray for that.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local pro team in action, so there’s not a whole lot going on. Talk about that games, today’s moves, potential future moves, whatever. Go nuts.
Via Emily Smith: A multi-million dollar deal for Alex Rodriguez’s tell-all book is in the works. HarperCollins and Random House are two big name publishers looking to secure the rights, with offers topping $5M. There’s even talk about a documentary. The book will focus on A-Rod’s legal battle stemming from the Biogenesis scandal and will feature “full dirt of Major League Baseball’s tactics,” according to Smith. I feel like this will either be the greatest thing ever or a total letdown. No middle ground. · (60) ·
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have expressed interest in free agent utility man Jeff Baker. They’ve been connected to him a few times over the years but never did land him. New York added Brian Roberts earlier today and are still looking for position player help, particularly on the infield.
Baker, 32, hit .279/.360/.545 (143 wRC+) with eleven homers in only 175 plate appearances for the Rangers last season while missing more than a month with a thumb sprain suffered during a high-five (not joking). The right-handed batter has a history of mashing lefties (186 wRC+ in 2013 and 128 career), plus he has experience at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. Baker fits the roster really well in a platoon role. Makes a lot of sense. · (56) ·
Jack Curry of YES reports that the Yankees have signed left-handed reliever Matt Thornton to a two-year, $7 million contract. It might seem as though he replaces Boone Logan, who recently signed a three-year deal with the Rockies, but Thornton probably isn’t the setup man we saw the past few years in Chicago. Today his value is more as a lefty specialist.
A former first-round pick (Seattle in 1998), Thornton struggled upon promotion to the big leagues. In Spring Training 2006 the Mariners swapped him for fellow first-round disappointment Joe Borchard. The White Sox easily got the better of that deal, as Thornton blossomed into an effective reliever who worked his way into late-inning roles.* From 2008 through 2010 Thoronton threw 200 innings with a 2.70 ERA, which amounted to the third-highest bWAR in that time frame among relievers (Mariano Rivera, of course, was first).
*White Sox GM Rick Hahn, then the assistant GM, spoke to a room of FanGraphs writers in 2010; Mike and I were both in the audience. In talking about why Thornton succeeded in Chicago after failing in Seattle, Hahn said that they didn’t try to make Thornton into a pitcher he wasn’t. Paraphrased, Hahn said, “He told us he wanted to throw the ball as hard as he could right down the fuckin’ middle, so we let him.” It sure seemed to work.
In recent years Thornton has slipped quite a bit. At a time when strikeout rates have risen his has fallen, from a peak of 12 per nine in 2010, to 6.2 per nine last year. That production dip has come mostly against right-handed hitters. After holding them to a .254 wOBA in 2010, he grew worse in each of the last three years, all the way to a .370 wOBA against righties in 2013. It is pretty apparent now that Thornton is a lefty-only guy, making him a bit less versatile than Logan, who played more of a full-inning setup role during his final two years in New York.
Through the years Thornton has remained durable, serving just two DL stints since suffering a herniated disc all the way back in 2003. The first was for forearm soreness in 2010, which is always cringe-worthy. Obviously he’s avoided the dreaded Tommy John Surgery that often follows such a diagnosis. His other stint was last summer, with an abdominal strain. They happen, though it can’t be encouraging. The Yanks will need Thorton at full strength to make a difference.
This signing will not end the Yankees’ search for bullpen help. Joel Sherman notes that they also want to add a late-inning reliever. Given the risk with the Thornton signing, they might prefer Joaquin Benoit to the injured Jesse Crain. Who knows: maybe they’ll go nuts and sign both. But whatever the case, as with Roberts, Thornton is a complementary signing. They still have a ways to go, even as far as bullpen construction goes.
It took a few weeks, but MLB and NPB finally ratified the new posting system agreement yesterday. Instead of the old auction-based system, Japanese players will essentially become free agents with a “release fee” that serves as a tax. The release fee is set by the player’s NPB team and can not exceed $20M. Whoever signs the player has to pay the release fee. Simple enough, right?
Now that the new posting system is in place, the Rakuten Golden Eagles can officially post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. It’s unclear if that will actually happen at this point but there’s a chance we’ll get an answer this week. Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said he will speak to Tanaka this week before determining the next step. Needless to say, the club came into the winter expecting to receive a lot more than $20M for the best pitcher in the country.
The Yankees were reportedly ready to make a big run at Tanaka before the new posting system threw a wrench into things, but the expectation is they will still push hard if he is made available. Pitchers of this caliber at this age (25) are not available for nothing but money all that often. New York won’t be the only team after Tanaka if he is posted though. The competition should be pretty fierce since every team can talk to him without having to pay the release fee. Here is a look at the Yankees’ primary competition for the righty.
Rakuten Golden Eagles
Like I said, there is no guarantee Tanaka will be posted. Sponichi (translated article) reports Rakuten will try to talk their ace into returning next year, mostly because they’re a championship-caliber team (they won the Japan Series a few weeks ago) and can make another revenue-generating title run with him in 2014 before posting him next winter. They would risk having an unhappy superstar but more importantly risk him getting hurt, which would lead to no release fee next winter and a missed opportunity. Tanaka won’t be available until the Golden Eagles say the magic words, and my hunch is that even though they were screwed over by the new posting system, they’ll make him available because the alternative is too risky.
According to Ken Rosenthal, Tanaka is the D’Backs top target as they look to add an ace. GM Kevin Towers scaled back a bit while speaking to Jack Magruder recently, saying if “for some reason he becomes posted, we’ll circle back.” When push comes to shove, Arizona doesn’t have the ability to compete in a big time bidding war. Tanaka is likely out of their price range.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox already have six starters and they reportedly don’t have a ton of payroll space to work with this winter, plus Alex Speier (subs. req’d) says they only view Tanaka as a number three starter at best. That could be a ruse, of course. We can’t rule them out completely, but Boston seems like an unlikely suitor for the right-hander.
Bruce Levine says the Cubs will be in on Tanaka and they have the financial wherewithal to make a serious run at him. A young, high-end starter would be quite the addition to their rebuilding club. The Cubbies would have to sell Tanaka on the idea of joining a clear non-contender who hasn’t won anything in more than a century, which may not be easy if the money if their contract offer doesn’t blow everyone else’s out of the water.
Los Angeles Angels
After coming into the winter with minimal payroll space, GM Jerry Dipoto has cleared enough cash through trades (dumping Mark Trumbo, specifically) and non-tenders to make a run at a pricey starter. Dipoto told Jerry Crasnick the team will “remain patient and abide by the rules” until Tanaka is posted (meaning they won’t talk about him publicly), at which point they will have “a lot of conversation about it.” The Halos have some money to spend but they’ve taken a more disciplined approach to this offseason after spending big in recent years. Another huge signing may not be in the cards.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Surprisingly, the Dodgers appear to be lukewarm on Tanaka — Bill Shaikin says they are interested but not at any cost. Given their super-deep pockets and desire to add another starter, we can’t count them out. Not even close. Keep in mind that the team has a long history of bringing players over from Asia, most notably Hideo Nomo, Kaz Ishii, Takashi Saito, Hiroki Kuroda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have a ton of money, they’re in position to win a title as soon as 2014, there’s a big Japanese community in Los Angeles, and the travel back to Japan is as easy as it gets from an MLB city. There’s an obvious fit if the team wants to enter the fray.
The Mariners didn’t give Robinson Cano a ten-year contract with the intention of doing nothing else this winter. They’re pursuing David Price but do not want to part with top prospect Taijuan Walker, so Tanaka is an obvious alternative. The team has plenty of ties to Japan, including their ownership group (Nintendo!), former players like Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima, and current players like Hisashi Iwakuma, who was Tanaka’s teammate with Rakuten from 2007-2011. Like Los Angeles, Seattle has a big Japanese community and travel back to Japan is relatively easy. After dropping all that money on Cano, we can’t rule the Mariners out.
T.R. Sullivan says the Rangers will reach out to Tanaka if he is posted, but they do not expect to sign him. There is no such thing as too much pitching, but their priority right now is adding another outfield bat, not another starter.
* * *
Plenty of contending (or wannabe contending teams) need a starter like Tanaka but a bunch simply can’t afford him at this point. The Orioles, Braves, Reds, Giants, Royals, Blue Jays, Indians, and Pirates fit into this group. The Tigers, Cardinals, and Nationals have not been connected to him at all this winter either. The Yankees have the ability to outspend everyone if they choose, but the competition for Tanaka is going to be stiff if he is posted. The Dodgers, Cubs, and Mariners stand out as the biggest threats.
Yankees fans might remember the Brian Roberts in the video above, but that’s not the Brian Roberts the Yankees signed today. According to Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year deal with Roberts, worth $2 million plus incentives. That’s a relatively low-risk deal, giving them a potentially serviceable player without the commitment required to sign Omar Infante*. But in order for this to work, the Yankees need to spend in a few more areas.
*I’ve seen a lot of people asking why the Yankees didn’t match or trump the Cardinals’ offer for Mark Ellis. Who’s to even say the Yankees even knew the Cardinals made Ellis an offer? The Cardinals are the class of MLB right now. If I were the 37-year-old Ellis and the Cardinals offered me $5 or so million, I might take it without looking elsewhere.
An infield consisting of Mark Teixeira plus some rotation that includes Roberts, Derek Jeter, Brendan Ryan, and Kelly Johnson just isn’t going to get the job done. Given his injury history it’s doubtful Roberts can play an everyday role. Limited to part-time duty, the Yanks would need someone else to cover reps at second. If that’s Johnson, they’ll need someone to cover reps at third. Adding Eduardo Nunez to this rotation does little to bolster it, so outside help is still necessary.
When word broke last night, Rosenthal said that a Roberts signing doesn’t mean the end of the Yankees’ infield pursuit. They could still add Mark Reynolds, he says, a player who seems to fit in that he provides right-handed power and can play third base — though “play” is a relative term here. His defense at third has always been suspect, and that’s not likely to get better as he ages. But in the short-term, the Yankees could do a lot worse.
The wild card here is Alex Rodriguez. Asked to guess, I still think he gets a 50-game suspension, which would give the Yankees another decent option in that infield rotation. Then again, A-Rod hasn’t exactly been a bastion of durability in the last few years. Joe Girardi will have to manage both him and Roberts carefully in order to keep them on the field (and A-Rod not clogging the DH slot). If A-Rod is suspended, the Yankees absolutely should look into other options. Rosenthal mentions Mariners 2B Dustin Ackley, though he’s another reclamation project. The options do seem thin at this point.
If the Yankees are going to get by with low-cost fliers in the infield, they have to spend elsewhere in order to fortify other weaknesses. If they sign two relief pitchers — Joaquin Benoit and Jesse Crain would work — and also Masahiro Tanaka, they could be in decent shape. In other words, spending money to fill three of four needed positions, while taking a flier on the other, isn’t such a bad deal. But with the flier coming first, we have to hope that they do spend the money on those other needs.
As for Roberts himself, it’s difficult to expect much at this point. At 36 years old, and with his injury slate, he’s not going to come close to his numbers from his late 20s. Even if you give him a break and don’t count his first games back from a hamstring injury last year, he still hit only .253/.321/.404 in his final 252 PA. That’s probably better than what the Yanks would get from in-house options Dean Anna, Jose Pirela, and Corban Joseph. It might also be better than Omar Infante. But it’s not a given that Roberts can reproduce these numbers. Even if he can, it won’t be over 600 PA. His replacement could drag down the second base situation.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Roberts at this point. From 2007 through 2009 he played in 470 of 486 possible games, producing a 114 OPS+ and stealing 120 bags. In 2010 he missed 91 games with an abdominal strain. The next year he suffered a concussion that he says he didn’t truly recover from until some time in late 2012. Even when he came back in mid-2012, before he underwent surgery to repair his hip labrum, he says he didn’t feel 100 percent. Even when he did feel like himself in 2013, he tore a hamstring tendon, requiring surgery that caused him to miss 79 games.
Perhaps Roberts can make it through 400 PA this season without issue. We’ve seen it before. But to count on it is not sound strategy. If this move makes them more comfortable spending money on two relievers and a starter, it could work. They’ll need another cost-effective infield move to make it work, but it still could work. But by itself, this move still leaves the Yanks wanting.
Tuesday: The Yankees and Roberts have agreed to a one-year deal worth roughly $2M, reports Jon Morosi. The deal is pending a physical, which is not a slam dunk given his injury history. More to come.
Monday: The Yankees are likely to sign free agent second baseman Brian Roberts, reports Ken Rosenthal. No word on the terms or anything, but I have to think it’ll be a cheap one-year deal. Maybe even a minor league contract. That’d be cool. · (122) ·
MLB.com published their list of the top 50 draft prospects not too long ago, a list that is predictably topped by NC State LHP Carlos Rodon. He’s the best draft-eligible player since at least Gerrit Cole in 2011 and probably since Bryce Harper in 2010. East Carolina RHP Jeff Hoffman and California HS C/OF Alex Jackson round out the top three.
The Yankees currently hold the 53rd overall pick in next summer’s draft after forfeiting their top three selections as free agent compensation, but that will change as the rest of the qualified free agents come off the board. The draft board will change substantially over the next few months and it’s inevitable a few of those top 50 players will be available when New York’s first selection rolls around. There are scouting reports and videos and all sorts of other stuff, all for free, so check it out. · (4) ·