Update: Yoan Moncada declared free agent by MLB

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Update (12:23pm): Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB, according to Jesse Sanchez. He must still be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign, however. No word on when that may happen. The important thing is that it appears Moncada will be cleared to sign well before June 15th and count towards the 2014-15 international signing period, putting the Yankees in great position to sign him, as explained below.

10:00am: Highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada held a showcase event for scouts in Guatemala on Wednesday, and the Yankees had a “significant” presence of at least four scouts in attendance, according to Ben Badler and Jonathan Mayo. Every club was there but apparently some were are serious than others. Badler says Moncada took several rounds of batting practice and fielded balls at different positions. “After a long day and a lot of swings so scouts could see him from both sides of the plate, he did seem to wear down,” added Badler.

Moncada still has to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB before he is eligible to sign, which could still be months away. Because he is only 19 and has limited experience in the Cuban leagues, Moncada will be subject to the international spending restrictions. The Yankees exceeded their 2014-15 spending pool and will not be able to sign a player for more than $300k during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, but if Moncada is declared a free agent by June 15th, he would count towards the 2014-15 signing period and the Yankees would be able to sign him for any amount. Here are some more notes:

  • “Moncada had a great workout, showing his five-tool potential. He is in great shape. Unfortunately, he was not able to hit off live game pitching. We will need to see him off of live pitching to command the top dollars they are looking for,” said one scout to Mayo. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Moncada received 60s for his hit, power, and arm tools, a 70 for speed, and 50 for fielding. That’s five average or better tools.
  • Moncada is expected to receive a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, according to Jeff Passan. Badler notes Moncada can only sign a minor league contract. Every team would exceed their spending pool with a bonus that size, so when you add in the 100% tax, it’s really a $60M to $80M total investment.
  • In another piece, Badler says the Yankees have an advantage over other clubs because they’ve already exceeded their pool and are subject to bonus restrictions in the future. Other clubs have verbal agreements in place for the 2015-16 signing period worth seven figures, but if they sign Moncada, they would have to renege on those deals because they wouldn’t be allowed to hand out bonuses of more than $300k. Make sense?
  • And finally, Kiley McDaniel has some more information on the showcase and Moncada’s background. Apparently the Cuban government gave him a visa and a passport and allowed him to leave the island, so there’s no crazy defection story. Also, Moncada’s agent is just some random public accountant from Florida, not one of the usual suspects. Make sure you check it out.

Moncada will hold more showcase events in the coming weeks and months — teams want to see him face live pitching — and I’m sure the Yankees will continue to have a “significant” presence at these events. The 100% tax is tough to swallow, but every team is facing that. The playing field in level in that regard. The Yankees are at an advantage because this is a simply bidding war — whoever is willing to spend the most will win, and the Bombers have more money than everyone.

Obviously Moncada presents a very special case, both in terms of his talent and signing situation. This isn’t someone like, say, Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas, a toolsy player who is expected to be more of a solid regular than anything. Moncada is incredibly young and everyone agrees he has star potential. If you’re going to step out of your comfort zone and spend huge money on a Cuban player — something the Yankees have been very hesitant to do since Jose Contreras flopped — this is the type of player you do it for. Everything is lined up for the Yankees to spend big for Moncada and land a potential star. If they’re not going to do it now, then when?

Heyman: Marlins, Stanton close to record 13-year, $325M deal

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

This isn’t Yankees-related — not directly, anyway — but holy crap, Jon Heyman says the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton are close to finalizing a 13-year contract worth $325M. The record contract would include a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause. It would be the first no-trade clause in franchise history. Stanton had been scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season.

Depending on the date of the opt-out, this contract may actually increase the chances of Stanton becoming a Yankee down the line. Very few franchises can afford to absorb that kind of money in a trade. Either way, hell yeah Giancarlo. Dude is worth every penny in my opinion. He just turned 25 last week and he’s the top power hitter in baseball at a time when power is rare. Plus he has marquee value that transcends on-field performance. What a world.

2014 Season Review: Brendan Ryan and the Random Infielders

Remember last season, when the Yankees had a revolving door at shortstop just about all summer? They had seven players start at least five games at short at year ago. This summer it was only four players, and two of them made fewer than nine starts. The Yankees still cycled through a healthy collection of random backup infielders in 2014, though thankfully it was not as substantial a group as 2013. Let’s recap their seasons.

Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Brendan Ryan

Giving Ryan a two-year contract with a player option for a third year definitely flew under the radar as a LOLWTF move last offseason. I mean, I get it, the Yankees had to protect themselves in case Derek Jeter‘s ankle and legs couldn’t hold up, but still. One year in, that’s a weird contract even though it only pays him peanuts. You don’t see players like this get multi-year contracts all that often.

Ryan, 32, actually started this past season on the disabled list after hurting his back in Spring Training — he suffered a pinched nerve in his upper back during drills, then re-aggravated it sitting on the bus during a long Grapefruit League road trip — and he didn’t join the team until early-May. He was a seldom used backup infielder, appearing in only 49 games and starting only 33. Ryan hit a weak .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) with no homers, four walks, and 30 strikeouts in 124 plate appearances. He had two (2) multi-hit games.

The Yankees did get their money’s worth out of Ryan defensively by playing him at all four infield spots. Yes, that includes first base. The image of Ryan playing first while Jeter plays short will forever be my lasting memory of the 2014 Yankees. Everything was just so backwards. Ryan is still a quality gloveman but he is clearly no longer elite defensively. That’s sort of the problem. He can’t hit — he’s never hit and never will — and if he’s not going to dominant defensively, then he’s not really worth a roster spot. Of course, if the 2015 season started today, Ryan would be the starting shortstop.

Zelous Wheeler

Because of Jeter’s lost 2013 season, Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension, and Robinson Cano‘s free agency defection, the Yankees hoarded some infielders on minor league contracts last winter. The 27-year-old Wheeler was one of those players, and he put himself on the map with a strong Spring Training and an excellent (132 wRC+) first few weeks with Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up in early-July when Yangervis Solarte played his way down to the minors, and in his very first MLB game, Wheeler did this:

Not a bad way to start your big league career, no? Wheeler swatted another solo homer a week later and didn’t do much else offensively the rest of the season, finishing the year with a .193/.230/.298 (43 wRC+) batting line in 62 plate appearances. He went back down to Triple-A at one point and was recalled in August.

Wheeler is actually still on the 40-man roster, though now that I think about it, it isn’t all that surprising. First off the Yankees have some open 40-man spots, so it’s not like they need to get rid of someone, but also the infield is one giant question mark. They don’t have a second baseman, a third baseman, or a shortstop right now. Wheeler could always go to the minors and I guess he’s worth keeping around as depth for the time being.

Dean Anna

Man, what a season this was. Guys named Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte actually made the Opening Day roster. The Yankees acquired Anna from the Padres in the offseason — they sent reliever Ben Paulus to San Diego, and he had a 4.65 ERA (4.49 FIP) while repeated High-A this summer — and he beat out Eduardo Nunez for the spare infielder’s job in Spring Training. Both he and Solarte did, fair and square.

Anna, 27, played very sparingly in April, though he did record his first career hit in his first career game, a single off Jeremy Jeffress. Anna took Clay Buchholz deep for his first career homerun a week later, though that wasn’t the highlight of his time in pinstripes. One day after sparing the bullpen and throwing a scoreless inning in a blowout loss (video), Anna drew a bases loaded walk in the 12th inning to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead over the Rays:

I wish there was video of the entire at-bat somewhere. It was great. Anna saw eight pitches, fouled off a few tough sliders, and took some others for balls. You can even see Mark Teixeira say it in the video, “that’s a great at-bat.” Ken Singleton said the same thing.

The Yankees sent Anna to Triple-A when Michael Pineda was suspended for the pine tar incident — the suspension forced them to play with a 24-man roster, so they sent down Anna and called up a pitcher to replace Pineda — and he spent the rest of his time in the organization there before being designated for assignment in early-July to clear a 40-man spot for Wheeler. The Pirates claimed Anna off waivers and he spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A club. Anna hit .136/.200/.318 (38 wRC+) in 25 plate appearances with the Yankees.

Jose Pirela

Unlike everyone else in this post, Pirela is actually homegrown. The 24-year-old spent most of the last three years tearing the cover off the ball in Double-A, and he opened this past season with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 stolen bases in 130 games with the RailRiders but did not get called up on September 1st. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster but would have been eligible for minor league free agency  after the season (again), and the team opted against adding him to the roster.

This looks like ... not the right way to hit. (Presswire)
This looks like … not the right way to hit. (Presswire)

That all changed when Martin Prado‘s season unexpectedly ended due to an emergency appendectomy in mid-September. The Yankees did indeed call up Pirela after that, though he sat on the bench for about a week before finally getting into a game. He tripled off Wei-Yin Chen in his first career plate appearance — it was a bomb off the wall in left-center, I thought it was gone off the bat — and sliced a single to right next time up. Pirela went 2-for-3 with the triple in his first career game and was a mainstay in the lineup after that, starting six of the team’s final seven games and coming off the bench in the seventh.

All told, Pirela went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples (149 wRC+) during his brief time in pinstripes at the end of the year. He started three games at DH and the final three games of the seasons at second base, after the Yankees had been eliminated. Pirela is one of those guys who has done nothing but put up great numbers in the minors even though the scouting reports aren’t glowing. The Yankees were able to re-sign him when he became a minor league free agent last winter, but after his strong season in Triple-A, another team might have offered more opportunity this offseason. Adding him to the 40-man will keep him in the organization, and, right now, Pirela has the inside track for a big league job in 2015, either at second base or on the bench.

Scott Sizemore

Sizemore was part of that group of infielders the Yankees brought in as minor league free agents last winter. The 29-year-old spent most of the season with Triple-A Scranton but did get called up to New York a few times, going 5-for-16 (.313) with three doubles and eight strikeouts (107 wRC+). He also drove in four runs in his limited time, which is kinda neat. Sizemore had a 108 wRC+ in Triple-A, was released at the end of July, then re-signed a few days later. He spent a bunch of time on the disabled list with an unknown injury as well as on the restricted list with some kind of off-the-field problem. In a season of mostly forgettable random infielders, Sizemore was the most forgettable.

RAB Live Chat

Heyman: Yanks have called Angels about Howie Kendrick

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among the teams that have called the Angels to ask about second baseman Howie Kendrick. The Halos aren’t necessarily shopping him, but they are open to offers and will consider moving him if they can get the right (i.e. young and cheap) pitcher in return. They open to moving third baseman David Freese as well.

The Angels are bumping up against the $189M luxury tax threshold and owner Arte Moreno has made it clear in recent years he does not intend to go over. Trading Kendrick and/or Freese would be as much about clearing payroll as it would be improving the pitching staff. Kendrick is owed $9.5M next year while Freese is projected to earn $6.3M through arbitration. Both will be free agents after the 2015 season. Here’s a piece of what I wrote about Kendrick in last week’s mailbag:

Trading for Kendrick would automatically add a win or two to the Yankees’ season total because he flat out destroys them whenever they play the Angels. At least it feels like it would. The 31-year-old Kendrick hit .293/.347/.397 (115 wRC+) with seven homers this past season and has hit .292/.336/.410 (111 wRC+) over the last three years. He’s also solidly above-average in the field and has been for years according to the various defensive stats. Kendrick isn’t the multi-time batting champ most expected him to become when he was in the minors (seriously, look at his MiLB stats) but he’s a damn good all-around second baseman.

The Yankees aren’t exactly in position to give away young pitching considering the injury concerns with their rotation, though that doesn’t automatically mean a trade for Kendrick is impossible. The Angels might like, say, David Phelps and/or Bryan Mitchell more than most, and it’s early enough in the offseason that New York could replace the pitching depth via free agency.

Kendrick is a very good player and would be an enormous upgrade at second base, perhaps along the lines of three or four wins over the current in-house options. (Martin Prado would be at third in this scenario.) It wouldn’t be a long-term commitment — Rob Refsnyder would still have a clear path to the long-term second base job — and it would take basically a total collapse in 2015 for the Yankees to not make Kendrick the qualifying offer next offseason. He’s an excellent fit for the roster and the team’s needs. I just don’t know if the Yankees and Angels match up well for a trade.

Mailbag: Kemp, McCann, Morrow, Betances, Expansion

Got nine questions for you in this week’s mailbag, so the answers are kinda short. In case you haven’t noticed, the new design eliminated the Submit A Tip box. There’s now an email button in the sidebar (right below the YES Network video widget) that you can use to email us mailbag questions each week. The email address is riveraveblues (at) gmail (dot) com. Nice and easy.

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

James asks: Dodgers are reportedly shopping Matt Kemp hard, and willing to eat money depending on the return. His defense in CF is declining, so why not try him in the favorable RF dimensions of Yankee Stadium? Also, his power came back a touch last season. Is he a fit?

Kemp moved from center to right field midway through last season and looked okay there, based on what I saw. (I probably watched more Dodgers games last season than any other non-Yankees team. I enjoy Vin Scully. So sue me.) He was still below-average in right, though that could have due to inexperience. Even if Kemp is a below-average defender in right, it won’t matter if he hits 25 homers with a 140 wRC+ again. That guy would be a fit for just about any team including the Yankees. The Dodgers are reportedly trying to trade him but I doubt Andrew Friedman will give him away. Kemp is a fit for the Yankees, no doubt about it, I just don’t know if the two sides can match up for a trade. I have no idea what Los Angeles is looking for in return. Friedman’s history suggests the best possible talent regardless of position.

Isaac asks: It seems the Dodgers had the worst offensive production from catchers last year. With Hanley possibly leaving, what are the chances that the Dodgers take Brian McCann‘s contract in exchange for one of their surplus outfielders like Joc Pederson or Kemp?

I see zero chance of this happening now that Friedman is calling the shots. Ned Colletti? Maybe they could pull it off. But I think Friedman is going to avoid those types of contracts — top of the market dollars for a players over 30 and in their decline phase — even now with a huge payroll. He’s too smart and the Dodgers already have enough of those contracts on the books anyway. Besides, McCann has a full no-trade clause and I don’t know if he’d be willing to accept it to go so far away from home (he’s from the Atlanta area) and back to the NL, where he won’t be able to DH as he ages.

Mark asks: Let’s say that the latest news on Alex Rodriguez gets him permanently banned from MLB. If this were to happen and you were the GM, how would your offseason wish list change?

I’m honestly not sure it would change much. I’m not expecting A-Rod to contribute anything next year, though getting banned would free up a roster spot and a ton of cash. Maybe make a bigger push for someone like Mike Morse? Maybe go all-in on Andrew Miller in addition to David Robertson? I wouldn’t do anything crazy, like suddenly go after Max Scherzer just because Alex is no longer around. In reality, losing him wouldn’t change much on the field. The extra money would definitely help if spent wisely, which is easier said than done. Pumping it into one huge contract only continues the cycle the team is in right now, trying to contend around a mess of bad contracts.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

John asks: I have had an irresponsible man-crush on Brandon Morrow since his first season with Seattle, and have pondered the possibility of the Yankees acquiring him many times (and was subsequently disgusted when he was traded for Brandon League). Now that he is a FA, how much would you be willing to pay for a guy that could be, when healthy (big IF), a K Machine in the bullpen or back-end of the rotation?

I thought the Blue Jays were going to exercise their $10M option for Morrow after the season, but they walked away instead. That’s something of a red flag, no? He’s hurt all the time and they know him better than anyone, and they decided to let him go rather than pay a reasonable $10M salary. Morrow has huge stuff and I think it’s time to stick him in the bullpen because it’s obvious the rotation isn’t working out health-wise. Maybe a Betances-esque multi-inning setup role is in his future? That would be awesome. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing predicts a one-year deal worth $6M for Morrow and that seems like the kind of roll of the dice the Yankees can afford to take, especially if Robertson bolts.

Constantine asks: Now, before I ask this, I’d like to say that I’d much rather keep the status quo with Dellin Betances. Keep him as the 8th inning guy, or even move him to the closer role if D-Rob leaves. But just to play scenarios here, how do you think theoretically moving Dellin to the rotation thanks to his immensely dominant season?

I wouldn’t even think about it. He flat out failed as a starter in the minors. Betances couldn’t throw strikes and he got hurt a whole bunch. He’s said himself that being a reliever has helped him better repeat his delivery and I wouldn’t mess with that. Nothing in Dellin’s history suggests he can succeed as a starter long-term. It’s just way too risky to change his role. Stick Betances back in the rotation and you’re likely to get Daniel Cabrera in return. That was the comp way back in the day and I still think it’s true today.

William asks: It is readily apparent that the new free agent/draft pick/qualifying offer set up is not working. Not a single player has taken the deal, teams are losing good players and getting little to nothing in return, and players are getting screwed over with the increased love of prospects. The issue is where do we go from here? Could the change be to make the qualifying offer a multi-year deal which a player like D-Rob might take at $13M a year? Maybe make the team automatically get a sandwich pick by merely offering the deal and getting a second if a team picks up the free agent?

I think there will be a big push to completely sever ties between free agency and the draft in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would make big trades more common, at least in theory, which would be fun and create headlines for the league. Maybe the solution is giving the player’s former team a draft pick without forcing his new team to forfeit him? I don’t remember where I read this, but someone suggested making the qualifying offer a standing offer all offseason, and I like that idea. Teams will be more hesitant to make the offer because that’s a big chunk of money they have to be prepared to absorb at any time in the winter. There would be fewer qualifying offers in that case. Again, in theory. Either way, the system is still broken and I have little reason to think MLB and the MLBPA will find a solution that actually makes sense. They’ve shown they are pretty damn good at implemented solutions with unintended consequences.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Shaya asks: Will the pickup of Justin Wilson have any effect on Jacob Lindgren and/or Tyler Webb? Since Lindgren and Wilson both seem to not have platoon splits will they bring both of them to NY? Do they have room for both of them?

Adding Wilson doesn’t really change anything with Lindgren or Webb going forward. Maybe it means David Huff is more likely to be non-tendered, but that’s not a big deal. There is plenty of room in the bullpen for all three of Wilson, Lindgren, and Webb, if that’s what it comes to. All three guys have multiple minor league options remaining — Wilson has two left and the other guys have all three (they haven’t been added to the 40-man roster yet) — and that creates some competition, which I view as a plus. Make guys earn their spot and keep the best.

Christopher asks: Is the MLB fanbase over interleague games or do they still draw bigger crowds? If the league were to expand with one team each in the NL and AL, which cities would land teams?

I don’t know how to easily look up the attendance numbers, but I’m guessing interleague games draw better because MLB is still doing them year after year. Now they kinda have no choice because there’s an odd number of teams in each league. I do think expansion is on the horizon, within the next 10-15 years or so. Baseball is super healthy financially and there are no shortage of cities for new franchises. Portland and San Antonio are the two cities I’ve seen mentioned most often as potential landing spots. I definitely think the New York market could support a third team (Brooklyn?) but it’ll never happen because of territorial rights. Montreal and Monterrey are other options if MLB wants to expand outside the United States. The talent pool would be further diluted, sure, but as long as there is gobs of money to be made, it’ll happen.

Brian asks: Why aren’t the Yankees making keeping Hiroki Kuroda more a priority? He was unbelievably consistent the last three years and didn’t show any signs of slowing down the stretch last year. Every year injuries to pitchers crop up so I don’t see an issue in developing a lot of starting pitching depth.

Oh I think Kuroda is a priority, I just don’t think he’s decided whether he will pitch again next season. Earlier this week Brian Cashman said he has been in contact with Kuroda’s agent and seemed to indicate they’ll pursue him if he decides to pitch again. I wouldn’t mistake waiting for Kuroda to make a decision — he’s re-signed in late-November/early-December the last two winters — for the Yankees not wanting him back. I think they’ll take him back in a heartbeat if he doesn’t retire.

Thursday Night Open Thread

I was hoping to dig up a Francisco Cervelli highlight video for the open thread tonight, but apparently no such thing exists. Instead, here’s video of what I consider his most memorable moment as a Yankee, the solo homer in Atlanta back in 2009. The Yankees were struggling to score in a big way at the time — they scored 13 runs total in their previous seven games — and Brian Cashman flew down to meet the team and reportedly tore them a new one. Cervelli hit the homer, the Yankees went on to win that game and the next six games as well. Following the Cervelli homer game, the Yankees went 64-27 (.703) the rest of the season and won the World Series. Good times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Thursday NFL game is the Bills and Dolphins, plus the (hockey) Rangers and Nets are also in action. Talk about those games, Cervelli’s homer, or whatever else is on your mind right here.