Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s some college hoops on the scheduled too. Talk about those games, Castro’s post, or anything else here.
The 2016 Hall of Fame ballot was announced Wednesday night, and two new players are heading to Cooperstown: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. Jeff Bagwell fell a handful of votes short of induction. Griffey was on the ballot for the first time, Piazza the fourth time. Both are super duper deserving of Cooperstown. The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s website.
Griffey appeared on 99.3% of the ballots, a new record. Tom Seaver held the previous record at 98.8%. Piazza received 83.0% of the vote. Players need 75% for induction. Interestingly, Piazza received 19 fewer votes than last year, but his voting percentage increased because the BBWAA eliminated 109 legacy voters. Those are voters who have not actively covered baseball for ten years.
Believe it or not, Griffey is the first No. 1 overall pick to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He was the top pick in 1987. Reggie Jackson had been the highest drafted Hall of Famer (No. 2 in 1966). Piazza, on the other hand, is now the lowest drafted Hall of Famer ever. He was a 62nd round pick in 1988. John Smoltz had previously been the lowest drafted Hall of Famer (22nd round in 1985).
As for the former Yankees, Tim Raines received the highest voting percentage at 69.8%. Next year is his final year on the ballot and I think he’ll get in. Mike Mussina received a nice bump from 24.6% to 43.0%. Lee Smith (34.1%), Gary Sheffield (11.6%), Mike Lowell (0.0%), and Randy Winn (0.0%) all fell well short of induction. So did Barry Bonds (44.3%) and Rogers Clemens (45.2%). Blah.
Among the notable players joining the Hall of Fame ballot next year are Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero, and Jorge Posada. Posada is the first member of the Core Four to hit the Hall of Fame ballot and that’s pretty cool. Hip hip!
A new year is upon us. We’re now in 2016, the holidays are in the rear-view mirror, and Spring Training is less than seven weeks away. There are a lot of really good free agents still available, so January figures to be busier than usual. Will the Yankees be among those who make is busy? We’ll find out soon enough.
The Yankees right now are not a finished product because there is no such thing as a finished product in baseball. There are always upgrades to be made, with every roster. Even the 1998 Yankees had room for improvement. (Do you remember Mike Stanton had a 5.47 ERA that year? I totally forgot.) The 2015 Yankees are certainly no different.
So far this offseason the Yankees have upgraded at second base (Starlin Castro), on the bench (Aaron Hicks), and in the bullpen (Aroldis Chapman). They’ve also added some Triple-A rotation depth (Luis Cessa and Chad Green), which is not insignificant. What’s left on the offseason? These four items, in no particular order.
The Last Bench Spot
Assuming the Yankees go with a normal four-man bench and don’t try to get fancy with an eight-man bullpen or six-man rotation, the bench right now figures to be Hicks, Dustin Ackley, the backup catcher, and a fourth player. Gary Sanchez or Austin Romine or someone else entirely will be the backup catcher. For now we’re only interested in that fourth player.
The Yankees’ willingness to play Castro at third base — as well as Castro’s ability to play third base — will have a big impact on that fourth bench player. Castro hasn’t played third since rookie ball, and even that was only a handful of games. If he’s comfortable at the hot corner, the fourth player can be pretty much anything. An infielder, an outfielder, a third catcher, whatever. Every position would be covered.
But, if Castro is not capable of playing third on occasion, the Yankees will need to use that fourth bench spot on a player capable of backing up third. (Ackley doesn’t have the arm for third at all.) That player should not be limited to third — that’d be a real waste of a bench spot — but he’d have to be able to play it. Someone who can play the infield corners and maybe a little left field in a pinch would be ideal, I guess.
With any luck, Castro will be willing and able to play third whenever Chase Headley needs a day off or has to be lifted for a pinch-runner. The fourth bench spot could then be almost something of a revolving door — Rob Refsnyder when some lefty starters are coming up, Slade Heathcott when an outfielder is banged up, stuff like that. Determining the backup third baseman is pretty important.
The Middle Innings
The Yankees have a great end-game bullpen (Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances) and a few long man candidates. With any luck everyone will get through camp in one piece and Ivan Nova can assume the swingman role. Those three middle reliever spots are wide open and the Yankees have no shortage of candidates. Here’s a list:
Every single one of those guys except Green is on the 40-man roster. Surely the Yankees can cobble together three reliable middle relievers from that group, right? You’d think so, but who knows. None of the shuttle relievers impressed last summer and Shreve seemed to wear down big time late in the season. And yet, he’s the most established of this group.
The Yankees showed an awful lot of faith in their young players last year and that figures to carry over to next season, so it’s entirely possible they’ll stick with in-house options for that final bullpen spot. Minor league signings and waiver claims could factor into the equation, but generally speaking, that’s the list of candidates. If the Yankees prefer a more established player, they could swoop in to sign a free agent.
Either way, the Chapman/Miller/Betances three-headed monster is going to cure a lot of bullpen ills next season, especially since Joe Girardi can now be a little more liberal with the way he uses Dellin. The Yankees have been very good at building bullpens in recent years and regardless of which direction they decide to go with those three open spots, I’m sure they’ll find some quality arms.
Third Base Depth
This is kind of a big deal. Right now the Yankees have a Grade-A backup plan for Mark Teixeira at first base in Greg Bird, and behind Castro at second is Ackley and Refsnyder. Castro is backing up Didi Gregorius at short and Pete Kozma was signed to a minor league deal for middle infield depth. The first base, second base, and shortstop depth charts looks solid.
Third base is where it gets a little tricky. Eric Jagielo, who was slated to start the season at the hot corner for Triple-A Scranton, was included in the Chapman trade last week. That leaves Rob Segedin and Dante Bichette Jr. as third base candidates for the RailRiders, and, well, no. The Yankees don’t have a true backup third baseman — maybe Castro can handle it, but that’s nothing more than a maybe right now — and don’t have a Triple-A third baseman.
Regardless of whether the Yankees go with Castro as their backup third baseman at the MLB level, bringing in someone to handle the position in Triple-A is almost a necessity. Cole Figueroa did the job just fine last season. It doesn’t need to be a star. A minor league free agent like Conor Gillaspie would work. The Yankees have basically zero third base depth right now, not even in the minors. That has to be rectified.
A Young Starter, If They Can Find One
This isn’t really an offseason item. It’s an always item. Teams are always looking for young pitching and the Yankees are looking extra hard right now because of the state of their rotation. Five of their six starters can become free agents within the next two years, assuming their current injury concerns don’t throw a wrench into things first.
It’s much less likely now the Yankees will obtain a young starter than it was at the start of the offseason. I’d be surprised if they landed one now, but hey, you never really know. If that is indeed the case, the search for a young starter will carry over into the regular season, which means Miller and Brett Gardner aren’t going anywhere for the time being, and we’ll have several more weeks of rumors to deal with.
Over the last two seasons Austin Romine has become a forgotten man in the Yankees organization. He spent almost the entire 2013 season as Chris Stewart’s backup (what a sentence) before falling behind John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez on the catching depth chart in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Yankees removed Romine from the 40-man roster last spring.
Now, with Spring Training less than seven weeks away, Romine finds himself in a surprisingly good spot. Relatively speaking, of course. Murphy has been traded and Sanchez may or may not need additional time in Triple-A, so the backup catcher’s position is potentially up for grabs. I definitely wouldn’t call Romine the favorite for the job, though he is a legitimate candidate for it, and that’s something we couldn’t say a few months ago.
“You look at the two catchers that we have. Sanchez is very talented, had a very good Fall League. Austin Romine I think made some huge strides last year in Triple-A and we feel good about our catching,” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings, a few weeks after the Murphy trade. Girardi and Brian Cashman have both been careful not to anoint Sanchez the backup catcher, and I think it’s easy to understand why. It gives the players involved some extra motivation.
Romine turned 27 last month and the 2015 season was close to a make or break year for him. He’s a catcher and catchers are always in demand, so he had that going for him, but once he was dropped from the 40-man roster, he was going to have to earn his way back, whether he was still with the Yankees or in another organization. Romine had a solid summer with the RailRiders (99 wRC+) and found himself back in the show in September.
Of course, Romine was only back in the big leagues because Sanchez got hurt. Sanchez pulled a hamstring running the bases about a week before rosters expanded, and when he still wasn’t healthy on September 1st, the Yankees called up Romine to be the third catcher. They dropped Tyler Austin from the 40-man roster to make room for him. Hey, in an organization with Murphy and Sanchez, it was going to take a break like that for Romine to get back to the Bronx.
Sanchez’s relatively minor hamstring injury has extended Romine’s tenure with the Yankees. Had Sanchez stayed healthy, he would have come up as the third catcher on September 1st, and Romine would not have been re-added to the 40-man roster. He would have then become a minor league free agent after the season and gone looking for a better opportunity. Perhaps losing Romine as a depth piece means Murphy is never traded. Seems unlikely but who knows.
The Sanchez injury and the Murphy trade have given Romine a pretty big opportunity. He’ll come to camp with a chance to win a big league job and that does not necessarily mean with the Yankees either. Yes, Romine will physically be in camp with the Yankees, but he’ll be working to show the other 29 teams he has something to offer too. If Sanchez gets the job, Romine wants another team to want him in a trade or on waivers.
Because he’s out of minor league options and has already been outrighted off the 40-man once before, it seems as though Romine is either going to make the team or leave the organization at the end of Spring Training. The Yankees can’t send Romine to the minors without first passing him through waivers, and if he clears, he can elect free agency, which he would likely do simply to get a fresh start in a different organization. I wouldn’t blame him.
Baseball is cruel. There was a time when Romine looked to be on track to become the catcher of the future — assuming he beat out Jesus Montero for the job, of course — but others have since jumped over him on the depth chart. A unique set of circumstances — Sanchez’s injury and Murphy’s trade — have kept Romine in the organization longer than expected. The result could very be a big league job in 2016, either in New York or elsewhere.
Later tonight the 2016 Hall of Fame class will be announced. A couple of former Yankees are on the ballot — Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, etc. — though I don’t think any of them will get in this year. I wasn’t planning to write anything about the Hall of Fame, but then some stuff popped in my head, and, well, here we are.
1. I don’t think I’ve ever cared less about the Hall of Fame than I do right now, and that’s a shame. All of the focus these days is on guys with performance-enhancing drug ties, and we end up having the same inane arguments year after year. Remember when we used to spend time arguing about borderline candidates instead? That was so much more fun. I’d rather argue over whether Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer. Or Fred McGriff. Or Edgar Martinez. That used to be fun because fans are passionate and the internet allows you to seek out smart folks to debate with. Now everyone spends their time ballot shaming because someone didn’t vote for a player for PED reasons. This isn’t good for baseball.
2. I’m not sure who decided keeping a player out of the Hall of Fame is an appropriate punishment for PEDs, but I think it’s garbage. I watched Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire race to the home run record in 1998 and it was the coolest thing ever. They helped save baseball following the 1994 strike and pushed the league into an era of unprecedented prosperity. And now the Hall of Fame voters — full disclosure here: I’m in the BBWAA and am on track to have a Hall of Fame vote in nine years — are basically trying to tell me my memories of that era as a fan don’t matter because McGwire cheated and Sosa and whoever else may have as well? Get outta here. Players cheat. They always have cheated and they always will cheat. That’s just the way it is. The baseball I remember and fell in love with as a kid is no more tainted than any other era in the game’s history.
3. All of this PED nonsense can be avoided if the Hall of Fame just comes out and makes some sort of ruling on how to treat these players. If there’s hard evidence a player used PEDs — a failed test, an admission, etc. — then vote as you see fit. If there’s no hard evidence, the player is to be assumed clean. Boom. There’s the solution right there. Maybe not that exact standard but something along those lines. Something to provide clear guidance. That would help move things along. Instead we have this ridiculous ongoing PED issue and some of the greatest ballplayers in the history of baseball are being left out of the club built specifically for the greatest ballplayers in the history of baseball.
4. Know what’s crazy? Jorge Posada will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. It still feels like he just retired, but Jorge hasn’t played in four years now. Geez. The Core Four is a dumb nickname — oh hi Bernie Williams and David Cone and everyone else, sorry but you weren’t important enough for a catchy nickname — but Posada will be the first member of the Core Four to hit the Hall of Fame ballot, and that’s going to be a big deal. (Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will appear on the ballot for the first time in 2019 while Derek Jeter will follow in 2020.) I’m curious to see what kind of support Posada gets when the time comes. He was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation and also an important piece of the most recent Yankees dynasty. I think it’s fair to say Posada is a borderline candidate. He seems like someone who might fall into Edgar Martinez cult hero status.
5. I guess I might as well close with a prediction: I’ll say both Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza get in tonight while Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines fall just short. American hero @NotMrTibbs is collecting all the public ballots, and right now both Bagwell and Raines are over the 75% needed for induction. The non-public ballots have historically dragged everyone’s voting percentage down — I guess the voters who don’t make their ballots public are small Hall guys — so I think Bagwell and Raines will fall just short of the threshold. We’ll see. In the words of Marc Topkin, “the Hall is a museum to tell the story of the game’s best and most successful players, not a cathedral to deify those deemed worthy by arbitrary holier-than-thou standards.” One day all of the best players will get in. I think.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers and Knicks are playing, plus there’s all sorts of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games, the upcoming Hall of Fame announcement, or anything else here.
The Marlins have had interest in right-hander Ivan Nova this offseason, according to Nick Cafardo. Joe Frisaro says Miami is close to signing Edwin Jackson, but he mentions they still want to add more pitching. They’ve been connected to reclamation project guys like Jackson and Doug Fister. I’d say Nova qualifies as a reclamation project given his 2015 season.
Right now the Marlins have two open rotation spots behind Jose Fernandez, Tom Koehler, and Jarred Cosart. Jackson would presumably fill one. David Phelps, Adam Conley, Brad Hand, and Justin Nicolino are among the guys in line to compete for a rotation spot in camp. There’s an openings there and buying low on Nova or Fister or whoever makes a lot of sense for Miami.
Realistically, what can the Yankees get for Nova at this point? Probably not a whole lot. Martin Prado would be a wonderful fit for that last bench spot, but that’s not happening. No team is trading their starting third baseman for Nova. Derek Dietrich would be both an interesting lefty utility man and totally redundant with Dustin Ackley. (Dietrich can play third base though, which is not insignificant.)
Chances are the Marlins would be looking to trade prospects for Nova, and while prospects are cool, the Yankees are probably better off keeping Nova for depth than trading him for a few Grade-C minor leaguers. I do think there’s a chance Nova will perform better next season as he gets further away from elbow surgery, and if that happens, the Yankees could always look to move him at the deadline. Plus it’ll be good to have the depth given all the injury concerns in the starting five.
The Yankees have spent much of the offseason shopping (or at least gauging interest in) Nova, Brett Gardner, and Andrew Miller. Right now I think they’re going to end up hanging on to all three. Then again, I might feel differently next week, so who knows. I would be surprised if the Yankees went the rest of the offseason without doing anything though. They’re not done adding pieces.