At long last, our 2016 Season Review series comes to an end today. Every year I wrap the season review up with a post on some random stuff I found interesting or caught my eye or whatever. Just stuff that’s worth touching on but isn’t worth a full post, you know? Some quirky stats and whatnot. Time to put a bow on the season review. Here’s our last little bit of 2016 coverage.
Attendance at Yankee Stadium was down this season. We all saw it. We watched on television. It wasn’t entirely unexpected either, even after the wildcard berth a year ago. The Yankees have been mostly mediocre the last few seasons and that doesn’t exactly sell tickets. Here are the attendance numbers the last few seasons, via Baseball Reference:
- 2012: 3,542,406 (43,733 per game) — swept in ALCS
- 2013: 3,279,589 (40,489 per game) — Mariano Rivera‘s final season
- 2014: 3,401,624 (41,995 per game) — Derek Jeter‘s final season
- 2015: 3,193,795 (39,430 per game) — lost Wildcard Game
- 2016: 3,063,405 (37,820 per game) — missed postseason with no farewell tour
It’s worth noting the Yankees were second in the AL in total attendance this season behind the Blue Jays (3,392,099) and sixth in all of MLB in attendance. It’s not like they were near the bottom of the league or even middle of the pack. Relative to the rest of the league, attendance was very good this year. Relative to Yankees’ standards, attendance was down. Especially considering the attendance numbers are tickets sold, not tickets used. There were large swaths of empty seats late in the season.
On a per game basis, the Yankees’ attendance this past season was their lowest since drawing 36,484 fans per game in 1998. Not too many folks wanted to see a 114-win juggernaut, I guess. In all seriousness, the relatively low 1998 attendance is because there is a lag between team performance and attendance change, historically. Got a great team? The big attendance spike comes the following season, not that season. (The 1999 Yankees drew 40,651 fans per game.) That’s because most tickets are sold before the season and early in the season.
The Yankees made the Wildcard Game last year and there were reasons to feel good about the team coming into 2016, but they got off to a slow start, slow enough that they sold at the deadline. That’s a pretty significant event that could have an impact on attendance. Sure enough, the Yankees drew 38,588 fans per game before the trade deadline and 36,515 per game after the deadline. Can’t say a drop of 2,000 fans per game surprises me. The team essentially threw in the towel.
It’s possible if not likely attendance will drop again next season, even though a mediocre team with young players is far more exciting than a mediocre team loaded with veterans in my opinion. Given their attendance this year, it’s not unreasonable to think the Yankees could draw fewer than 3,000,000 fans in 2017 for the first time since 1998. If it happens, it happens. Whatever.
Over the last few seasons the Yankees have become one of the most shift happy teams in baseball. According to the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS, the Yankees used the seventh most shifts in baseball this season, though they were close enough to bunch of other teams that they were a few more David Ortiz and Chris Davis at-bats away from being third.
Overall, New York’s performance with the shift was not great, at least according to the data we have. Chances are the team sees something different with their internal data. Here are the numbers, via FanGraphs:
|No Shift||All Shifts||Traditional Shifts||Non-Traditional Shifts|
A shift qualifies as a traditional shift if one of three things happens: three infielders on one side of the infield, two players are significantly out of position, or one infielder is playing in the outfield. If any of those three conditions are met, it’s a traditional shift. Anything else is considered non-traditional.
Anyway, those numbers in table are both AVG and BABIP. They’re identical because strikeouts, walks, and home runs are not included in the shift data. Interestingly enough, the overall MLB batting average was essentially the same when there was a shift and no shift on this past season. You’d think batting average would be lower with the shift since that’s the whole point, but nope.
For the Yankees though, their overall AVG/BABIP allowed with the shift employed was 20 points higher than without the shift. That’s backwards. The whole idea is bringing down your AVG/BABIP allowed by using the shift. This could be a statistical blip, but last season the Yankees allowed a .292 AVG/BABIP without the shift and .322 with. The year before it was .298 vs. .299, and the year before that it was .302 vs. .304.
Over the last two seasons the Yankees have allowed a much higher AVG/BABIP while employing the shift than without, according to the numbers we have. That’s a problem! The shift should be helping your pitchers, not your opponent. I don’t know what the problem is either. Bad positioning? Pitchers not executing? A bad pitching plan? It could be many things. This has happened two years running now. The shift upped the opponent’s AVG/BABIP by 20 points this season. Last year it was 30. 30!
Does this mean the Yankees should stop shifting all together? Of course not. That’s an overreaction. Intuitively, placing your defenders where the batter is most likely to hit the ball is a very smart thing to do. I’m surprised it took teams so long to start doing it regularly. For all we know the AVG/BABIP numbers we have above are wrong. Remember, this stuff is being recorded by human stringers watching video, so there is scorer bias.
I’m not sure I fully buy the huge gap in AVG/BABIP the last two years, but based on the eye test, I won’t argue with anyone who says the Yankees allow more hits with the shift on than without. If the numbers we have are even close to right, this is something that has to be fixed. Can’t keep shooting yourself in the foot like that.
Ellsbury and the First Pitch
One thing I neglected to mention in Jacoby Ellsbury’s season review was his propensity to swing at the first pitch this season. He became such an extreme first pitch hacker at times that even Michael Kay noticed and commented about it. Here are the numbers, with an assist from Baseball Savant:
- 2013: Swung at the first pitch in 23.9% of all plate appearances.
- 2014: 27.6%
- 2015: 31.0%
- 2016: 30.5%
- MLB AVG in 2016: 28.3%
Those are all instances in which Ellsbury swung at the first pitch. It includes balls in play, foul balls, and swings and misses. If he swung at the first pitch, it’s included in those numbers regardless of outcome. That isn’t just the percentage of first pitches put in play.
Ellsbury didn’t swing at more first pitches this year than last year. Fewer actually, but by a tiny little amount. Compared to two and three years ago though, Ellsbury is swinging at way more first pitches these days. Swinging at the first pitch is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, I advocated for doing it more often coming into the season. Many times the first pitch of the at-bat is the best one to hit. Why let it go by? It’s not like starters pitch deep into games these days. You’re going to get to the bullpen eventually.
Swinging at the first pitch so often wouldn’t be so bad if Ellsbury had hit well in those situations. He hit .298 with a .131 ISO on the first pitch in 2016. That seems pretty good, especially compared to his overall season numbers (.263 AVG and .111 ISO). The problem is the league averages were a .346 AVG and a .236 ISO on the first pitch this year. Ellsbury was well below that. He rolled over and grounded out to second on a ton of first pitches.
Ellsbury has never been a guy who works deep counts. (He actually set a new career high with 54 walks in 2016.) He’s up there to swing and that’s fine. Hits are better than walks. He just hasn’t hit much the last two years, and when you’re not producing as expected, a lot of quick one-pitch outs gets mighty frustrating. Had Ellsbury hit, say, .350 with a .200 ISO on the first pitch, I don’t think anyone would care. But when his numbers are that far below league average, it gets old in a hurry.
Differences of Opinion on Baserunning
Depending who you ask, the Yankees were either one of the better baserunning teams in baseball this season, or one that was below average. They were successful with 77% of their stolen base attempts, fifth best in baseball, but they also attempted only 94 steals, which was 23rd most among the 30 teams. The Yankees took the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) only 37% of the time, the fourth lowest rate in baseball.
So the Yankees didn’t take the extra base all that often — obviously that is largely due to personnel, because guys like Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez aren’t burners — but they were sneaky efficient at stealing bases. They just didn’t do it often. Here’s what the all-encompassing baserunning metrics say:
- BsR via FanGraphs: +9.8 runs (sixth best in baseball)
- BRR via Baseball Prospectus: -2.9 runs (20th among the 30 teams)
Hmmm. Which one is correct? I lean towards BRR myself. The eye test told me the Yankees were not a good baserunning team overall, mostly because they had so many slow players. They didn’t take the extra base often, didn’t advance on wild pitches and similar opportunities all that much, and they didn’t steal often either.
The difference in BsR and BRR boils down to the way the two stats are calculated. Both essentially compare the team’s actual baserunning success to their expected baserunning success — how often does a runner go first-to-third on a single hit to that location? That sort of thing. BRR includes some more adjustments for ballparks and things like that, which are important.
You’re welcome to feel differently, but I agree with the BRR number more than the BsR number based on everything I saw this season. The Yankees weren’t a great baserunning team at all in 2016. Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann are all gone though, and with the new infusion of younger players, this number will hopefully tick up in the future. Baserunning is a weird thing. It’s easy to overlook but it’s very obviously important, and it can often be the difference in an individual game. It’s something the Yankees can improve going forward, for sure.
The mailbag returns from the Thanksgiving break with eleven questions. I hadn’t checked the inbox in so long that there was a question asking whether the Nationals could have interest in Brian McCann. True story. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions.
Many asked: What about Chris Carter?
The Brewers are planning to non-tender Carter later today unless they can trade him before the deadline, which seems unlikely. The 29-year-old right-handed hitter put up a .222/.321/.499 (122 wRC+) batting line this past season, during which he led the NL in home runs (41) and strikeouts (206). That’s Chris Carter. Dude is going to hit some bombs, draw walks (11.8%), and swing and miss a ton.
Milwaukee is opting to non-tender Carter rather than pay him a projected $8.1M salary through arbitration in 2017. Teams are unwilling to pay big for one-dimensional sluggers nowadays. That’s why Carter is getting non-tendered for the second straight offseason, why Mark Trumbo was traded for peanuts last year, and why Pedro Alvarez had to wait forever for a new contract last winter. Homers are cool, but you better be able to do other things too.
The Yankees have an opening at DH right now — I mean, they could use another young player there, but it seems unlikely right now — and Carter could certainly fill that role. He’d give the team some much needed power too. Carlos Beltran led the Yankees with 22 homers last season. Yikes. The last time the team leader had that few home runs was the strike-shortened 1995 season, when Paul O’Neill hit 22.
Carter can be had a cheap one-year contract — he made $2.5M this year and I don’t think he’ll get much of a raise even after leading the NL in dingers — so he fits what the Yankees need in that sense. I am hesitant because a) he can’t play defense, and b) he strikes out so much. The Yankees are probably going to have to put up with some deep Aaron Judge slumps next year. How many more strikeouts do you want in the lineup?
Right now, I’d have Carter third on the DH wish list at best. Beltran and Matt Holliday are my top two preferences. Carter is ahead of Mike Napoli and Brandon Moss for me though. All three guys will end up giving you the same production, and Carter will come the cheapest. He’s not a must sign for me at all. He’s a backup plan at DH.
Many asked: What about Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson?
Yes on Granderson, meh on Bruce. The Grandyman is forever cool with me. He’d fill that DH void and also provide extra depth in the outfield. Also, the Yankees are really short on left-handed power right now, and Granderson would help in that department for sure. There’s only one year left on his contract at $15M, and while that’s pricey, it’s not a deal-breaker. Among trade targets, Granderson is at the top of my DH list.
As for Bruce, he’d be an okay option at DH, I suppose. His numbers have really taken a nosedive the last few years for whatever reason. He would add left-handed pop and could also play the outfield (and even some first base), and heck, he’s six years younger than Granderson. And cheaper too (one year at $13M). In reality, it’s basically a toss up between the two. They’re similar. I prefer Granderson because a) he’ll get on base more, b) he’s been healthier the last few seasons, and c) he’s been here before and there will be no adjustment period, presumably. Just my preference.
Eric asks: Is there any chance that the Rockies, White Sox, Pirates, Marlins, Royals, or Astros sign any of the free agents who rejected qualifying offers, thus moving the Yankees up in the draft order? Assuming this isn’t affected by a new CBA.
It won’t be affected by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We know that now. The Astros are said to be in the mix for Edwin Encarnacion, and even if they don’t sign him, they could make a run at another qualified free agent like Jose Bautista or Ian Desmond to add offense. I wouldn’t call it 50/50. Maybe it’s more like 30/70 the Astros give up their first round pick to sign a free agent? I can’t see any of the other teams doing it though. They’re more likely to tear things down than make a real go-for-it move. The Yankees hold the 17th overall pick in the 2017 draft right now, and with any luck, the ‘Stros will give up their pick and New York will slide up to 16th. (Assuming the Yankees don’t give up their first round to sign a free agent.)
Frank asks (short version): With the free agent reliever market about to go insane, wouldn’t a Michael Pineda move to the bullpen be something to think about?
I think it’s worth considering at this point. Pineda’s about to enter his sixth year in the organization and he’s only thrown two full seasons because of various injuries. Both seasons were league average at best. Pineda has his pluses (misses bats) and minuses (far too hittable), and over a full season, the minuses seem to outweigh the pluses. I think he’d be pretty excellent in relief, to be honest. Airing out the cutter/slider combo for an inning at a time could be devastating.
There are two potential issues. One, Pineda would probably resist such a move in his contract year. His earning potential as a starter, even a league average one, would be pretty big. If he puts together a few strong months and finishes with, say, a 3.50 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 180 innings, he could be looking at a very nice contract. And two, the Yankees probably need him as a starter right now. Putting Pineda in the bullpen would almost certainly require adding a starter. I couldn’t imagine the Yankees going with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and three kids next year.
Steven asks: I’m not that interested in what we’d get back in return, I’m sure there’s some 19 yr old I never heard of who can throw 90+, but what teams could legit benefit/be interested in obtaining Brett Gardner?
Three teams immediately jumped to mind: the Nationals, Giants, and Cardinals. Washington needs a center fielder and Gardner would fill that role. (They don’t necessarily need a leadoff hitter anymore thanks to Trea Turner.) They’ve reportedly been talking to the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen, so they’re thinking big. The Giants need a left fielder but not a leadoff hitter because they have Denard Span. In that huge ballpark, they need a left fielder who can go get the ball, and Gardner can do that.
The Cardinals might be the best fit because they need both a center fielder and leadoff hitter. They’re moving Matt Carpenter down in the lineup to help replace Holliday, and they need someone atop the lineup who can get on base. St. Louis also doesn’t have a true center fielder on the roster. They’ve been playing Randal Grichuk out there and that can’t last. Gardner helps them offensively and defensively. The Indians are another possible suitor, I’d say. Depends on Michael Brantley’s shoulder as much as than anything.
Mike asks: The thought of having a prospect package large enough for Trout and the news the Yankees have given thought to trading Headley got me thinking, what about Nolan Arenado from the Rockies? What would a potential package look like and would the Rockies do it?
I don’t think they would trade him. The Rockies do have a history of locking up their star players. They signed both Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, two homegrown megastars, to massive contract back in the day. Carlos Gonzalez got a big extension too. Nolan Arenado is next in line for a Helton/Tulowitzki deal. He is so insanely good and I feel like people don’t realize it because he’s stuck on a crappy team and his numbers get discounted due to Coors Field.
I can’t really answer what it would take to get a player like this, a bonafide star three years away from free agency. This is like the Paul Goldschmidt question three weeks ago. Guys like this almost never get traded. The Yankees would have to put Gleyber Torres on the table — if you’re the Rockies, why would you trade Arenado without getting Torres? — plus a bunch more. Good prospects, too. Not Torres and crap. And it’d be worth it. Arenado’s a top five player in my opinion.
Rich asks: Sean Doolittle. What do you think as a another LH option for the bullpen?
Doolittle is exactly the kind of reliever I don’t want the Yankees to acquire. He’s had some shoulder problems the last few years and he throws basically nothing but fastballs. That’s usually a bad combination. Doolittle had a fine 2016 season, pitching to a 3.23 ERA (3.45 FIP) with 29.0% strikeouts in 39 innings, though I feel like it’s all downhill from here. His contract is not prohibitive at all ($19.5M from 2017-20 if the club options are picked up) but the prospect cost might be given the state of the bullpen trade market. When there are better relievers available in free agency for nothing but money, go for them, not Doolittle.
Kenneth asks: What’s your thoughts on potentially a trade for Tony Watson. I live in Pittsburgh and he along with Cutch and J-Hey have been in trade rumors. Wondering if you think he could be an interesting guy to add to the back of the pen.
The Doolittle logic applies to Watson — just sign one of the top relievers and keep the prospects. Watson is one year away from free agency and for some reason his ground ball (43.8%) and home run (1.33 HR/9) rates really took a step back in 2016. I mean, everyone’s home run rate went up in 2016, but his was 0.52 HR/9 from 2013-15. That’s a big jump. Could just be a fluke for all I know. Watson would be worth a longer look in a non-mailbag setting if, you know, there weren’t so many good free agent relievers available.
Sam asks (short version): I get why people say you couldn’t use relievers the way Miller was used in the post-season over the course of a regular season, but what if you constructed your pitching staff to have a guy you planned on using 40-50 times, for 120 premium innings?
It’s a great idea, in theory. The player would have to a) buy into that role, and b) be someone you could extend three innings and remain effective. A lot of relievers are relievers because they couldn’t go multiple innings. If you find the right player, that’s definitely a bullpen role I’d like to see. He’d be someone you could count on to give your other relievers a rest every few nights, and when you do run into those tight games, you can use a quality reliever for more than one inning at a time. Everything in baseball is trending towards using pitchers less and less, so I’d be surprised if someone tried this nowadays, but it’d be awesome to see. It’s a great way to maximize a quality reliever and a roster spot.
Michael asks: If the Pirates are open to trading Josh Harrison (we know the Pirate-Yankee trading history), would it make sense to pursue him given his team control and club options?
Harrison is surprisingly expensive! I thought the Pirates got a better deal when they signed him long-term. They owe him $7.75M next year and $10.25M the year after before his club options kick in ($10.5M and $11.5M). That’s a decent chunk of change for a guy who hit .283/.311/.388 (87 wRC+) this year and has been a +1 WAR player for two years now.
I’m not sure how much versatility Harrison offers at this point — he’s been a full-time second baseman for two years now — and if his bat keeps going backwards, he’s suddenly an expensive platoon player. I’m not surprised the Pirates are looking to move him. Back when the Yankees had a seemingly limitless payroll, Harrison would make some sense. But with the luxury tax plan in effect, that’s a pricey roll of the dice.
Carlos asks: With the lifespan of most stadiums these days getting shorter and shorter, could you ever foresee a day when the Yankees move away from the Bronx?
No. Not out of the Bronx. I think they’re too ingrained in the city and the culture at this point. It’d be like moving the Cubs to the South Side or something. The Yankees may one day build a new ballpark elsewhere in the Bronx, but I’d be surprised if the team ever moved to Manhattan or even Brooklyn. Relocating the Bronx Bombers is not something that should happen.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Cowboys and Vikings are the Thursday NFL game, all the hockey and basketball locals are in action except the Knicks, and you’ve got a bunch of college basketball on the docket too. Discuss any and all of that right here.
Last night MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement, meaning teams can finally move forward with their offseason plans. More and more details about the CBA are starting to trickle in, so let’s round ’em all up and analyze. This all comes via Ronald Blum, Ken Rosenthal, Stephen Hawkins, Jon Morosi, Jon Heyman, and Joel Sherman.
Disabled list reduced to 10 days
The 15-day DL is now the 10-day DL. The 7-day DL for concussions and 60-day DL are unchanged. The new 10-day DL means we’ll see fewer teams play shorthanded going forward, which is something the Yankees (and especially the Mets) have done from time to time. We also might see an uptick in “phantom” DL stints. Got a young starter who needs his workload kept in check? Stick him on the 10-day DL with an upset tummy and let him skip a start without playing shorthanded.
All-Star Game no longer tied to World Series
Thankfully, the All-Star Game will no longer determine homefield advantage in the World Series. It’ll instead go to the pennant-winning team with the better regular season record. Hooray for common sense. That’s still not a perfect solution because of unbalanced schedules and all that, but it’s the best possible solution, I think. Certainly better than alternating leagues each year or tying it to the damn All-Star Game.
Rather than homefield advantage in the World Series, players will instead play for a pool of money in the All-Star Game. That’s a pretty good way to get them motivated. No idea what that pool will be, but I hope it’s substantial. Like $1M per player on the winning team. Something like that. Want guys to play hard in the All-Star Game? Putting a million bucks on the table is a good way to do it.
Luxury tax details
The complete details about the luxury tax system … ahem, the competitive balance tax system … are now available. The thresholds the next five years are as reported yesterday: $195M in 2017, then $197M, $206M, $209M, and $210M in subsequent years. Here are the tax brackets:
- First time offenders: 20% (up from 17.5%)
- Second time offenders: 30% (remains the same)
- Third time offenders: 50% (up from 40%)
- $20M to $40M over threshold: 12% surtax
- $40M+ over threshold (first time offenders): 42.5% surtax and first round pick moves back ten spots
- $40M+ over threshold (repeat offender): 45% surtax and first round pick moves back ten spots
So a team over the luxury tax threshold three straight years and at least $40M over the last two years would be taxed at 95% (50% plus 45% surtax). It’s not a hard salary cap but it might as well be. That’s a major deterrent. Come 2019, when the tax threshold is $209M, the “soft” cap will essentially be $249M. Anything over that results in a 62.5% tax for first time offenders.
Also, those tax rates will be phased in next season. Apparently MLB is treating 2017 as something of a transition year for teams at or over the threshold. That doesn’t matter for the Yankees. They’ve been over the luxury tax threshold ever since the system was put in place, so they’re getting hit with a 50% tax right off the bat, plus whatever surtax applies depending on their payroll. My guess is they’re less than $20M over the threshold in 2017, so no surtax.
Free agent compensation and qualifying offer details
The qualifying offer itself remains relatively unchanged. It’s still a one-year contract set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and the player must be with the team the entire season to be eligible for it. There are two changes to the qualifying offer: players can only receive it once in their careers, and now they have ten days to accept or reject the offer rather than seven.
The free agent compensation rules are a bit convoluted now. Here’s how it works:
- Signing team receives revenue sharing money: Forfeits their third highest draft pick. Keep in mind this is not necessarily their third rounder.
- Signing team paid luxury tax during most recent season: Forfeits second and fifth highest draft picks, plus $1M in international bonus money.
- All other teams: Forfeit second highest draft pick plus $500,000 in international bonus money.
Got all that? The Yankees are going to be paying revenue sharing always and forever, so the first bullet point doesn’t apply to them. Once they get under the luxury tax threshold, they’ll only have to give up their second highest pick plus $500,000 in international money to sign a qualifying free agent. I doubt that’s enough to scare them away from top free agents. It shouldn’t be, anyway. Now here are the rules for the team that loses a qualified free agent:
- Players signs deal worth $50M+: Former team gets a compensation pick after the first round.
- Players signs deal worth less than $50M: Former team gets compensation pick after Competitive Balance Round B, which is before the third round.
- Former team pays luxury tax: The compensation pick is after the fourth round regardless of contract size.
This basically means older players like Carlos Beltran will never get the qualifying offer, ditto good but not great relievers. Those guys never sign deals worth $50M+, and the risk of them accepting the qualifying offer is not worth the reward of essentially a third round pick. This system should also eliminate free agents getting hung out to dry like Ian Desmond last year. That’s good for the union.
International free agency
As you know, there is now a hard cap on international spending, which is just awful. That was one of the last places the Yankees could really flex their financial muscle. The spending cap next year will be $4.75M for large market teams like the Yankees, $5.25M for mid-market teams, and $5.75M for small market teams. Well, I guess assigning the bonus limit by market size is better than using regular season record. The hard cap still sucks.
Because a hard cap isn’t enough, international players will now be exempt from the hard cap at age 25, not 23. They pushed it back two years. Jeff Passan confirmed with a team official that this applies to Shohei Otani, who is only 22. Rather than be posted next offseason, as expected, he has to wait until 2019 (!) to come over and not be eligible for the hard cap. So dumb. So, so dumb. Hopefully MLB comes to their senses and makes an exception for him (and other similar players). MLB and the MLBPA should want dudes like Otani playing their game.
(Aside: I wonder whether the hard cap will push some international free agents to play overseas for a few years, where they can make more money, then come over to MLB once they turn 25. Seems like a possible unintended consequence.)
Reports indicated the minimum salary would increase substantially with the new CBA, and, well, that didn’t happen. The league minimum will rise from $507,500 in 2016 to $535,000 in 2017. That’s a 5.4% increase in year one of the CBA. The last two CBAs had a 16% increase in year one. Womp womp. The minimum salary will increase to $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019. The players get cost of living increases in 2020 and 2021. Woof. Swing and a miss, MLBPA. Swing and a miss.
Here are some other miscellaneous details from the new CBA.
- Players no longer accrue service time while serving drug suspensions. In the past players accrued service time during drug suspensions, but not suspensions under the domestic violence policy.
- MLB will play regular season games outside the United States and Canada as early as 2018. London and Mexico are the leading candidates. MLB has played regular season games in Asia and Australia in the past.
- Roster limits remain the same. Teams will have a 25-man roster from Opening Day through August 31st, then from September 1st onward they can carry up to 40 players. Hooray for that.
- The Performance Factor of the revenue sharing system has been eliminated. That is going to save the Yankees a boatload of money behind the scenes. Wendy Thurm explained the system a few years ago.
- Chewing tobacco is banned for new players. Current players are grandfathered in and can still use it. Kinda silly, but whatever.
So, from the looks of things, the owners scored big wins with the luxury tax system, international free agency, and the minimum salary. The players get more lenient draft pick compensation rules and also a shorter disabled list, which means more call-ups through the season. They’ll also benefit from the international hard cap because it ostensibly means less money for amateurs and more money for big leaguers. I dunno, seems like the owners got the best of the players with this one.
What a difference ten months can make. Coming into the 2016 season the Yankees had a solid farm system that ranked in the middle of the pack among the 30 clubs. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the system 13th in baseball during the spring. Baseball Prospectus had them 16th and Baseball America had them 17th. Hard to get more middle of the pack than that.
Now, after Spring Training and the regular season and postseason, the Yankees boast one of baseball’s very best farm systems. Jim Callis calls it the “deepest” system in the game. Along with the Brewers and Braves, two teams making little effort to be competitive so they can build a stockpile of young players, the Yankees have one of the three best farm systems in the game. Maybe the best.
That sudden and drastic improvement in the farm system is the result of many things, most notably the trade deadline. The Yankees traded proven veterans for prospects for the first time in decades. They added a dozen new prospects at the deadline. That’s nuts. Also, the Yankees imported new talent in the annual amateur draft, plus some guys already in the organization broke out.
I’m not going to lie, I was not looking forward to writing the farm system season review. Well, I was and I wasn’t. I was excited because there are so many good players to write about, and I was also dreading it because there are so many good players to write about. This assignment was … daunting. Anyway, let’s review the year that was in the farm system. ‘Twas a great year.
It seems appropriate to start with the guys who are no longer prospects. The Yankees graduated several prospects to the big leagues this summer — by graduate I mean exceed the rookie limits of 50 innings or 130 at-bats — including three of my top seven prospects coming into 2016. The most notable was, of course, C Gary Sanchez (season review), who hit 20 homers in 53 games as a full-time catcher (lol) and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to someone everyone will say “oh yeah, he was Rookie of the Year once” about in a few years.
UTIL Rob Refsnyder (season review), UTIL Ronald Torreyes (season review) RHP Bryan Mitchell (season review) all exceeded the rookie innings limit this summer, as did RHP Luis Cessa (season review). Sanchez is the catcher of the
future present and is locked into a 2017 roster spot. The Brian McCann trade confirmed it. Torreyes is the odds-on favorite to hold the backup infielder’s job again. Refsnyder, Mitchell, and Cessa will all have to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training, and that’s fine. Competition is a good thing. Cessa and Mitchell had their moments as starters late in the season while Refsnyder did some solid platoon work.
The Erstwhile Top Prospects
Depending who you asked, New York’s top prospect coming into this season was either OF Aaron Judge (season review) or SS Jorge Mateo. Most folks jumped ship and went with Mateo. I stuck with Judge. To each his own. Judge made some adjustments and had a strong Triple-A stint before reaching the big leagues in the second half. He showed off some big power and some big swing-and-miss ability. Right now he’s the favorite to start in right field in 2017, though that’s not a lock. Judge will have to win the job in Spring Training.
Mateo’s season was disappointing by almost any measure. He stole the show during Grapefruit League play with his elite speed and high-end athleticism, and after a strong start to the High-A Tampa season, the 21-year-old basically stopped hitting in June. Mateo put up a .210/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) batting line in his final 72 games and 300 plate appearances of the season. He finished with a .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) line overall, and come playoff time, he was demoted to the bottom of the Tampa lineup. Yeesh.
The good news: Mateo set a new career high with eight homers, so he’s growing into some power. Last year he hit two homers, and one was an inside-the-parker. The bad news: Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in stolen base attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%). The other bad news: the Yankees suspended Mateo two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. He did homer in his first game back, but alas, there is no redemption story here. Mateo didn’t play well the rest of the way.
The suspension and the disappointing season do no kill Mateo’s prospect value. Does it take a hit? Absolutely. But giving up on a 21-year-old kid with this kind of ability is foolish. Sanchez had his fair share of maturity issues in the minors too, remember. (He was once suspended for refusing to catch a bullpen session.) With any luck, the down season and suspension will be a learning experience for Mateo, who will come out of this year more focused and driven. That’d be cool.
The New Top Prospects
Judge and Mateo have been replaced as the top two position player prospects in the farm system. At the deadline the Yankees swung a pair of blockbuster trades that netted them new top prospects. Aroldis Chapman went to the Cubs for a package headlined by SS Gleyber Torres, and Andrew Miller went to the Indians for a package headlined by OF Clint Frazier. Torres and Frazier are the Yankees’ new top prospects, in whatever order.
Torres, who doesn’t turn 20 for two weeks, spent the entire 2016 season at the High-A level, where he was nearly four years younger than the average player. Despite the age disadvantage, Torres hit .268/.349/.413 (116 wRC+) overall with 31 doubles, eleven home runs, and 22 steals. After the season Gleyber went to the Arizona Fall League, hit .403/.513/.645 (218 wRC+) with nearly twice as many walks (14) as strikeouts (8), and became the youngest MVP and batting champion in league history.
There’s talk Torres may be one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball right now. It’s good to be a tooled up right-handed hitting shortstop with power potential, hitting know-how, and strong defense. Gleyber is not lacking ability, that’s for sure. The hype is starting to get a little out of control — the inevitable Derek Jeter comparisons have arrived — but there’s no doubt Torres is a special, special player. Heck of a return for a half-season of Chapman.
As for Frazier, who turned 22 in September, he split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, and played exclusively in Triple-A after the trade. He hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 homers and 13 steals in 89 Double-A games, then .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with three homers and no steals in 38 Triple-A games. His strikeout rate jumped from 22.0% to 27.9% when he switched levels. That first exposure to Triple-A caliber pitching is not always pretty.
Frazier was nearly six years younger than the average International League player this summer, which is important context. The kid reached Triple-A at 21. Had he gone to college, he would have been draft eligible as a junior this year. Frazier is a righty hitter with big power potential and good hitting ability, plus he’s a good outfield defender who plays all out, all the time. He’ll be a fan favorite with his style of play. Frazier is likely to start 2017 in Triple-A and it would not be a surprise if he forces his way on to the big league roster in the first half. He has that type of ability.
Not to be overlooked here is LHP Justus Sheffield, who came over from the Indians with Frazier in the Miller trade. He’s a top 100 caliber prospect himself — Baseball America ranked Sheffield the 69th best prospect in baseball at midseason — who is arguably New York’s top pitching prospect right now. Sheffield spent almost the entire 2016 season as a 20-year-old in High-A — he did make one Double-A spot start — where he had a 3.19 ERA (3.48 FIP) with 23.7% strikeouts and 9.9% walks in 121.1 innings. Not bad for a kid three years younger than the competition.
Sheffield, who is not related to Gary, is a three-pitch southpaw with above-average velocity, which is the kinda guy the Yankees could use in the rotation long-term. Consistency with the curveball and changeup as well as general command will be the focal points going forward. Sheffield, like Torres, is ticketed for Double-A Trenton to start 2017. Because he’s still so young — Sheffield won’t turn 21 until May — I would bet on Sheffield spending almost the entire season in Trenton.
In Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield, the Yankees acquired three prospects at the deadline who would be a bonafide No. 1 prospect in an organization. Like, if Frazier was your favorite team’s top prospect, you’d be cool with it. Same with Torres and Sheffield. The Yankees made some difficult decisions at the deadline — no one actually wanted to see Miller go, right? — but they were necessary, and those decisions brought the team premium prospects. Turning two relievers into three top 100 prospects (and more!) at the deadline is a hell of a thing.
The Breakout Prospects
The farm system improved this summer and not only because of the trade deadline additions. Several incumbents took steps forward, and there was no bigger breakout prospect in the system this year than RHP Chance Adams, who went from promising bullpen prospect in 2015 to bonafide starting pitching prospect in 2016. The conversion couldn’t have gone any better. Adams, 22, had a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) with 29.1% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 127.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A. That’s best case scenario stuff right there.
Adams is still a fastball/slider pitcher at heart, though he made great strides with both his curveball and changeup this year, so much so that some scouting reports are calling him a true four-pitch pitcher. Also, Adams showed he can hold his mid-90s velocity deep into games, which is cool. That’s always a big question with reliever-to-starter conversions. At one point this year Adams allowed no more than one run 13 times in a 14-start span. Total domination. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A and could be a factor for the Yankees in the second half.
On the position player side, 3B Miguel Andujar finally put together the full consistent season we’ve been waiting to see. He has a history of starting slow and finishing strong. Andujar, who is still only 21, hit .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) with a career high 12 home runs in 137 games split between High-A and Double-A during the regular season before holding his own in the AzFL (109 wRC+). He did tire a bit late in the season, but by then he’d made his point.
Andujar is the closest thing the Yankees have to a third baseman of the future. His arm is true rocket — it’s a Gary Sanchez arm over at third base — and he has power potential, plus Andujar doesn’t get enough credit for his innate bat-to-ball ability. The kid struck out in only 12.7% of the time this season against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar, who was added to the 40-man roster last month to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, will start the season back at Double-A and could earn a promotion to Triple-A at midseason.
RHP Domingo Acevedo, the massive 6-foot-7 hurler, started to answer questions about his long-term viability as a starter this season by improving his breaking ball. The 22-year-old throws extremely hard — Acevedo was clocked at 103 mph in 2015 — and has a good changeup, but without a reliable breaking ball, it was unclear whether he’d be able to turn over a lineup multiple times. The improvement he showed with his slider this summer was encouraging. Acevedo had a 2.61 ERA (2.49 FIP) with 27.4% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 93 innings at Low-A and High-A in 2016. I’m guessing a return to High-A is in the cards to begin 2017.
Another massive pitcher, 6-foot-6 LHP Jordan Montgomery, had a statistically excellent season, throwing 152 innings of 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) ball at Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 22.7% of batters faced and walked 7.7%, and at one point he allowed seven earned runs total in the span of eleven starts. Montgomery, 23, has a low-90s heater and three secondary pitches (curveball, cutter, changeup), and he throws from an extreme over-the-top arm slot:
Montgomery is 6-foot-6, the mound is ten inches high, and he’s releasing the ball from way overhead. How high off the ground is the ball when he releases it, you think? Ten feet, maybe? Whatever the number, Montgomery throws with extreme downhill plane on his pitches. I do wonder if that arm slot will help righties get a better look at the ball, though to date his minor league splits aren’t extreme. Montgomery is heading back to Triple-A this season and looks very much like a potential back of the rotation option, and soon.
Behind the plate, C Kyle Higashioka broke out after battling injuries for years. The 26-year-old hit .272/.339/.496 (131 wRC+) with a farm system leading 21 home runs in 110 games between Double-A and Triple-A. That power potential along with reputedly excellent defense landed Higashioka on the 40-man roster after the season because the Yankees didn’t want to risk losing him to minor league free agency; they re-signed Higashioka last winter as a minor league free agent. A catcher who pops 21 homers at the upper levels is a no-doubt keeper.
The most interesting backstory among breakout prospects this year belongs to RHP Yefrey Ramirez, a former infielder the Yankees selected from the Diamondbacks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last winter. Yefrey, 23, had a 2.82 ERA (3.13 FIP) with 26.8% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 124.1 innings between Low-A and High-A this summer, which prompted the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster after the season. They didn’t want someone to take him in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year. Ramirez is a low-90s fastball/slider/changeup pitcher and might fit best in relief long-term, but there’s no sense is moving him to the bullpen just yet.
LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Jonathan Holder (season review), and RHP Chad Green (season review) all improved their stock this season. Enns, 25, continued the ridiculous run he’s been on since returning from Tommy John surgery last year, pitching to a 1.69 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 138.1 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. The 25-year-old Gallegos had a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) in 84.2 relief innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 36.5% of batters faced and walked 5.7%. Both Enns and Gallegos landed on the 40-man roster earlier this month, and the odds are strongly in favor of them making their MLB debuts at some point in 2017.
If not for the trade deadline, Adams’ breakout would be the story of the season from the farm system. Andujar, Acevedo, and Montgomery emerging gives the Yankees that solid base of second tier prospects while guys like Enns, Gallegos, Holder, Green, Higashioka, and Ramirez give the team even more depth. That’s what stands out most about the system. The high-end prospects are great, but holy cow, the Yankees have a ton of prospects who project to be average big leaguers. Those are insanely valuable, both on the roster and in trades because it’s cheap production.
The Double-A Duo
I don’t know about you, but when I think about SS Tyler Wade, I can’t help but think about OF Dustin Fowler as well, and vice versa. The two spent the entire 2016 season hitting first and second for Double-A Trenton in whatever order, and I guess because of that it’s hard to think of them apart. It is for me, anyway. They should star in a buddy cop YouTube series or something.
Anyway, the 21-year-old Fowler had a strong season with the Thunder, hitting .281/.311/.458 (109 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers, and 25 steals in 132 games. Those 15 triples were second most in all of minor league baseball. Only Padres OF Franchy Cordero had more. He had 16. Fowler rarely walks (3.8%) but he doesn’t strike out a ton either (15.0%), plus he has a sweet lefty swing with gap power to go with great speed and athleticism. Not too bad for a kid picked in the 18th round pick.
Wade, 22, authored a .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) batting line with 16 doubles, seven triples, five homers, and 27 steals in 133 Double-A games. He hit four home runs total in the first three years and 306 games of his pro career. Wade’s skill set is not conducive to sexy stat lines. He’s a bat control guy who draws walks (11.3%), runs the bases well, and plays very good defense. It’s a really old school leadoff hitter profile. No power, good contact and OBP, and good baserunning.
Both Wade and Fowler figure to begin the 2017 season at Triple-A, which puts them on the doorstep of the big leagues. The Yankees had Wade get acquainted with the outfield in the AzFL, so they’re preparing him for a utility role. They’re creating a path to MLB for him. Wade and Fowler are still really young — neither guy is even Rule 5 Draft eligible yet — so they probably need a full season in Triple-A before helping the big league team, but they are bonafide prospects at Triple-A. That’s pretty cool.
The Rebound Players
Not everything is going to go well in the farm system each season. Players are going to hurt and players are going to disappoint. It happens. This season the Yankees had a few players bounce back from tough 2015 seasons to reestablish themselves as prospects in 2016.
1B/OF Tyler Austin (season review) is the best example. He was so bad last season that the Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster and he went unclaimed him on waivers. This season Austin hit big at Triple-A and reached the show in August. OF Mason Williams (season review) rebounded well from his shoulder surgery and returned to MLB in September. He could get a pretty long look for a big league roster in Spring Training, especially if Brett Gardner gets traded.
LHP Ian Clarkin, who was one of the team’s three first round picks in 2013 along with Judge and the since traded 3B Eric Jagielo, missed the entire 2015 regular season with an elbow injury. The 21-year-old was able to accumulate some innings in the AzFL after the season, and this season he was able to throw 98 innings at High-A before catching a spike and tearing the meniscus in his knee. Blah. Clarkin needed season-ending surgery in July. At least it wasn’t his arm.
Before the injury Clarkin pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 7.3% walks in those 98 innings. I’ve seen mixed reports about his stuff. Some say it’s all the way back following the elbow injury, others say it’s down a tick. Both can be true — Clarkin was probably razor sharp some days and less than stellar on others. The fact he made it through the season with a healthy elbow is a big plus. Hopefully next season, which he should spend at Double-A, will give us some clarity about the quality of his stuff as he gets further away from the injury.
Further down in the minors is C Luis Torrens, 20, who missed the entire 2015 season following shoulder surgery. That was a brutal injury. He missed a year of development at a crucial age and shoulder injuries for catchers are significant because so much of their defensive value is tied up their arm. Torrens suffered a relatively minor setback in Spring Training, which was enough for the Yankees to really slow things down and take their time with him.
Torres made his season debut with Short Season Staten Island in mid-June, and he finished the year at Low-A. He hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 15.0% strikeouts, and 11.9% walks in 52 total games. There was some rust, for sure. Torrens has always stood out most for defense. He’s a converted infielder and he took to catching extremely quickly, so much so that he already projects to be above-average at the position. Offensively, contact and walks are his game, not power. I’m looking forward to seeing what Torrens does as he gets further away from shoulder surgery in 2017. He has the talent to be a top ten organizational prospect, even in a farm system this deep.
Both RHP Domingo German and RHP Austin DeCarr returned at midseason after missing 2015 with Tommy John surgery. German, 24, had a 3.29 ERA (3.82 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 54.2 innings split between Low-A and High-A. Baseball America says he hit 100 mph with his fastball, so the Yankees added him to their 40-man roster after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. DeCarr, 21, had a 4.12 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 9.6% walks in 39.1 innings with Short Season Staten Island. He struggled with location, which isn’t unusual after elbow reconstruction.
The Inevitable Injuries
Like I said, injuries happen. To every farm system every year. They’re unavoidable. Teams just hope to limit them. The biggest injury in the farm system this year was, by far, RHP James Kaprielian‘s flexor strain. He made only three starts with High-A Tampa before his elbow started barking. Kaprielian did not need surgery and he healed up in time to pitch in the AzFL, where he made seven starts. All told, the 22-year-old had a 3.20 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 45 total innings.
The good news is every report from the AzFL said Kaprielian’s stuff had returned following the flexor injury. His fastball was still living in the mid-90s and all three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) were there too. That’s great news. Losing all that time stunk — there’s a pretty good chance we’d be talking about Kaprielian as a 2017 Opening Day rotation candidate had he stayed healthy in 2016 — but at least Kaprielian finished the season strong and will go into next season with a healthy arm and feeling good about things.
Other pitchers weren’t so lucky. The Yankees lost three relievers, all of whom pitched in MLB in 2015, to Tommy John surgery this year: RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Branden Pinder (season review). Rumbelow, 25, started the season in Triple-A and the Yankees were actually planning to try him as a starter this season, but during warms-up for the second inning of his first appearance of the Triple-A season, he felt the pop in his elbow. Blah.
The warning signs with Lindgren were there in Spring Training. He walked seven and hit two batters in 9.2 Grapefruit League innings, then went to High-A and walked nine in seven innings before the elbow started to bark. (He also hit a batter and uncorked six wild pitches.) Location issues are a common symptom of elbow trouble. Lindgren landed on the DL in April but didn’t have his Tommy John surgery until August. He had been throwing bullpens as part of his rehab in Tampa when the elbow gave out. Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season.
OF Carlos Vidal, 21, was a potential breakout prospect coming into the season, but a variety of injuries limited him to only 19 games, and in those 19 games he hit .194/.280/.239 (62 wRC+). LHP Chaz Hebert missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old broke out with a 2.73 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 20.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks in 148.1 innings at four levels a year ago. He’ll try to build on that with a new elbow in 2017.
Among the other prospects to lose significant time to injury this past season were RHP Brody Koerner (elbow), RHP James Pazos (unknown), RHP Drew Finley (elbow), and OF Trey Amburgey (hamstring). Koerner got hurt early in the season but returned in the AzFL. Pazos and Amburgey missed a chunk of the time early in the year but returned at midseason. Finley got hurt late in the year and has since returned to the mound during offseason workouts. I like Finley an awful lot, but in this farm system, I’m not sure he cracks the top 30 prospects after a relatively minor injury.
The Fond Farewells
Inevitably, the Yankees said goodbye to several prospects this season. Former first round pick OF Slade Heathcott had a tough 23-game stint (58 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton before hurting his knee again. The Yankees released him after that. Slade, now 26, hooked on with the White Sox and hit .258/.407/.366 (131 wRC+) in 34 Triple-A games. He became a minor league free agent after the season and remains unsigned.
RHP Vicente Campos, the second piece in the Jesus Montero–Michael Pineda trade back in the day, stayed healthy and pitched very well (3.20 ERA and 3.08 FIP) at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton before being traded for Tyler Clippard at the deadline. The Diamondbacks called the 24-year-old Campos up in September and he allowed three runs (two earned) in 5.2 innings. The poor kid broke his damn elbow throwing a pitch and will be out until midseason 2017. Arizona dropped Campos from the 40-man roster earlier this offseason and the Angels claimed him on waivers.
Both LHP James Pazos (season review) and RHP Conor Mullee (season review) spent the entire season in the Yankees organization. Mullee was lost on waivers to the Cubs last month — they claimed him a few hours before Game Seven of the World Series — and Pazos was traded to the Mariners in a minor deal to clear a 40-man roster spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible players a few weeks ago.
OF Ben Gamel (season review) spent most of the season with the Yankees and did make his Major League debut in May. He went up and down a few times before being traded to the Mariners for two pitching prospects on August 31st, the last day teams could acquire a player and have him be postseason eligible. Gamel had such a good season in Triple-A (126 wRC+) that he was named International League MVP. His few weeks in Seattle didn’t go as well (72 wRC+).
It’s worth noting the Yankees recently released Rumbelow, so he belongs in this group too, I suppose. He was designated for assignment to clear 40-man spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible guys last month. The Yankees will probably look to bring Rumbelow back on a minor league contract. Either that or his elbow rehab is not going well and they don’t think he’s worth bringing back. we’ll see.
The Other New Additions
All told, the Yankees acquired 12 new prospects at the trade deadline, including Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield. They then brought in five additional prospects with the Gamel, McCann, and Pazos trades. Here are the 14 non-Torres/Frazier/Sheffield prospects: RHP Albert Abreu, OF Rashad Crawford, RHP Juan DePaula, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Nick Green, RHP Jorge Guzman, RHP Zack Littell, RHP Billy McKinney, RHP Jio Orozco, OF Tito Polo, LHP Stephen Tarpley, RHP Dillon Tate, RHP Erik Swanson, and RHP Ben Heller (season review). Got all that?
The best of those 14 prospects is Abreu, who came over in the McCann trade. He might pop up on some top 100 lists next spring, though it’ll probably be a year too soon. The 21-year-old had a 3.71 ERA (4.07 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 104.1 innings at mostly Low-A. Abreu throws really hard and flashes a dominant slider, plus his changeup is coming along. He needs to iron out his command more than anything. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the farm system right now. Abreu figures to open 2017 in High-A.
Tate (prospect profile), who was part of the Carlos Beltran trade, is probably the biggest “name” prospect among those 14. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft last year. Not three years ago. Last year. 2015. Tate, 22, had a hamstring injury this year and his stuff really backed up while with the Rangers. The Yankees put him in relief so he could work on his mechanics, his stuff reportedly ticked back up, and they’re going to put him back in the rotation in 2017. Probably in High-A, where he’ll presumably join Abreu, Kaprielian, and Acevedo in the rotation (/drools).
I have two personal favorites among these 14 trade pickups: McKinney (Chapman trade) and Littell (Pazos trade). McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft and the Athletics later traded him to the Cubs in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija deal. This season the 22-year-old hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) with five homers in 130 total Double-A games. That’s down from his .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) line at High-A and Double-A last year.
McKinney’s 2015 season ended in August because he fouled a pitch off his knee and suffered a hairline fracture Mark Teixeira style, and he was coming back from the injury this season. McKinney’s pure hit tool is excellent and the reason he was drafted so high. Whether he can hit for enough power and play enough defense to avoid becoming a ‘tweener is another matter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next year, as he gets further away from knee surgery. The Yankees might start McKinney back at Double-A for the time being.
Littell, 21, threw an insane 173 innings between Low-A and High-A this year — the last Yankees farmhand to throw 170+ innings in a minor league season was Steven White in 2006 (175.1) — during which he had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 5.0% walks. Littell is a low-90s fastball/curveball pitcher with an okay changeup and a very aggressive approach. He’s a bulldog who goes right after hitters. That’s a pretty nice return for a guy like Pazos, who was arguably the 40th man on the 40-man roster.
Swanson (Beltran trade) is the sleeper here. The 23-year-old missed most of the 2015 season with a flexor injury, and when he came back this year, he had a 3.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 23.1% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 96.1 innings, all at Low-A. Swanson’s velocity returned to the low-to-mid-90s this summer and he has three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) he can locate. With good health, he has a chance to climb the ladder quickly and be a swingman candidate in the David Phelps/Adam Warren mold.
Feyereisen (Miller trade) hit 100 mph with Double-A Trenton and could carve out a bullpen role long-term. Tarpley (Ivan Nova trade) has good stuff from the left side but needs to work on his location. Guzman (McCann trade) hit 103 mph this summer and is really raw. Domingo Acevedo two years ago raw. Crawford (Chapman trade) has crazy tools and is still working to put them together. Polo (Nova trade) has a fourth outfielder’s skill set. Green (Beltran trade) has a big fastball and iffy secondary stuff. Orozco and DePaula (both Gamel trade) are rookie ball kids.
The Step Back Prospects
It’s not all good news, of course. Some players had poor seasons overall and saw their prospect stock take a hit. RHP Brady Lail managed a 4.34 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 14.6% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 137 innings at mostly Triple-A this season. The Yankees deserve a ton of credit for turning an 18th round pick out of a Utah high school into a legit prospect, but at this point Lail lacks the put-away pitch needed to be successful at the next level. Triple-A hitters have made it abundantly clear.
LHP Jeff Degano, the team’s second round pick last year, developed a case of the yips in 2016. It was a bit odd when he wasn’t assigned to Low-A Charleston to start the season despite being completely healthy, but when he showed up to rookie Pulaski in June and walked 25 batters with ten wild pitches in 5.2 innings, we knew why. Yeah. Degano throws hard and has a good breaking ball, at least when things are going right. The 24-year-old is dealing with extreme control issues right now though.
The Best of the Rest
But wait! We’re still not done. Callis wasn’t joking when he said the Yankees have the deepest system in the game. In addition to everyone above, the Yankees have several others who deserve at least an acknowledgement of their status as prospects. Top prospects? No. But potential big leaguers in some form. Here’s the best of the rest this season:
- IF Abi Avelino, 21: Hit .252/.313/.352 (93 wRC+) with 21 steals between High-A and Low-A. Speedy middle infielder with maybe the best baseball instincts in the system. He’ll be someone’s utility infielder at some point. You watch.
- RHP Will Carter, 23: Last year’s 14th rounder reached Double-A and had a 4.76 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 117.1 total innings. It was worth trying him as a starter, but I’m guessing Carter and his 97 mph sinker (65.4% grounders in 2016) find themselves back in the bullpen soon.
- OF Jake Cave, 23: Managed a .274/.339/.435 (119 wRC+) batting line in 124 games at Double-A and Triple-A. Lefty swinger with a little pop and good defense. He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible again.
- LHP Nestor Cortes, 21: A total of 553 pitchers threw 100+ innings in the minors in 2016. None had a lower ERA than Cortes (1.53). The finesse southpaw also had a 2.74 FIP and made it as high as Triple-A.
- IF Thairo Estrada, 20: Personal fave hit .283/.338/.378 (110 wRC+) with eight homers and 18 steals at Low-A and High-A. Thairo makes consistent hard contact and has already shown he can play any non-first base infield position.
- OF Isiah Gilliam, 20: Just a dude who hit ten homers in 57 rookie ball games. Gilliam hit .239/.301/.440 (102 wRC+) overall and has power from both sides of the plate. The Yankees moved him from first base to the outfield to get more value out of him.
- 1B Chris Gittens, 22: Tied Higashioka for the system lead with 21 homers. Hit .253/.359/.478 (140 wRC+) overall, but also struck out 27.9% of the time against Low-A pitchers. Huge power, questionably hit tool.
- OF Jeff Hendrix, 23: Streakiest player in the system hit .293/.380/.378 (125 wRC+) between Low-A and High-A. At one point he went 53-for-113 (.469) during a 29-game span. Hendrix is a bit of a ‘tweener. Not enough power for a corner and maybe not enough defense for center.
- RHP Ronald Herrera, 21: Threw 132 innings with a 3.75 ERA (3.27 FIP) in Double-A. Finesse four-pitch pitcher with very good command. The Yankees got him in the Jose Pirela trade with the Padres and added him to the 40-man roster last month.
- SS Kyle Holder, 22: Defensive whiz hit .290/.323/.347 (93 wRC+) in Low-A. Holder is a better prospect than he gets credit for. Dude can get the bat on the ball and save about 20 runs a year in the field.
- OF Jhalan Jackson, 23: Muscled his way to a .236/.311/.415 (108 wRC+) line with eleven homers in Low-A. Jackson has power and a strong arm. It’s just a question of whether he can refine his approach and hone his hit tool.
- OF Leonardo Molina, 19: One of the most tooled up players in the system hit .226/.290/.382 (87 wRC+) between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston. A 19-year-old kid hitting nine homers in 85 games is no small feat.
- OF Alex Palma, 21: Quietly hit .265/.292/.420 (102 wRC+) with six homers in 64 Low-A games. Also had ten outfield assists. Palma is a bit of a hacker, but he’s got some tools, most notably his power and defense.
- OF Mark Payton, 24: The 5-foot-8 outfielder hit .280/.356/.424 (119 wRC+) with 20 doubles and ten homers at three levels in 2016. He’s a scrappy lefty hitter who does enough things to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder.
- LHP Josh Rogers, 22: Had a 2.50 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 147 innings at Low-A and High-A. Low-90s heater from the left side with an okay slider and a much improved changeup. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on.
- C Donny Sands, 20: Hit .286/.328/.375 (102 wRC+) with only 10.7% strikeouts in 30 games with various rookie ball affiliates. The former third baseman converted to catching full-time this year. In most other systems, he’s probably a top 20 prospect.
- LHP Tyler Webb, 26: Had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 72.2 innings while repeating Triple-A. As a lefty with some velocity and a history of missing bats, he’s as good as gone in the Rule 5 Draft.
Some players who had a strong statistical seasons and could be considered fringe prospects: LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Simon De La Rosa, RHP Jordan Foley, RHP Mark Montgomery, LHP James Reeves, RHP Adonis Rosa, LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Daris Vargas, and OF Zack Zehner. Smith is probably a goner in the Rule 5 Draft as a hard-throwing southpaw who has had success at Double-A.
Keep in mind that even with all the players mentioned in this post — I unofficially count 83 of them, is that overkill? that seems like overkill — I didn’t mention 2016 draft picks or the 2014-15 international free agent class at all. Those players got their own season review posts and yes, they include more very good prospects, including 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, who Keith Law recently said he’d take over every other hitter in the 2016 draft.
The Yankees have build their strongest farm system in a very long time. Since the early-1990s when they had two future Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera) and two borderline Hall of Famers (Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte) in the system, plus useful other dudes like Sterling Hitchcock, Carl Everett, Russ Springer, and Russ Davis. Does that mean the Yankees are going to pump out a few future Hall of Famers soon? Of course not. That’s an unrealistic expectation. But the Yankees do have an incredible farm system right now, one loaded with high-end talent and an unbelievable amount of depth.
Last night, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will run from 2017-21. Baseball’s unprecedented streak of labor peace has been extended to 26 years. Back in the day nearly every CBA negotiation was met with some sort of work stoppage. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the new CBA and what it means for the Yankees.
1. First things first: I’m relieved MLB and the MLBPA hammered out the new deal, though I never expected it to get to the point of a work stoppage. There were no outstanding issues worth doing something that extreme. At worst, I thought the two sides would agree to continue negotiating beyond last night’s “deadline” while operating under the terms of the old CBA. I’m glad this is over though. It was hanging over everything this offseason. Now we can forget all about the CBA stuff and focus on the Hot Stove season and next week’s Winter Meetings.
2. As expected, the luxury tax threshold has been increased, though not by a whole lot, and that’s a big win for the owners. It’s going to slow down payroll inflation, in theory. The threshold will increase a mere $9M over the next two years, going from $189M in 2016 to $195M in 2017 to $198M in 2018. That’s obviously important for the Yankees, who are dead set on getting under the threshold at some point soon. The 2018 season, with the $198M threshold, seems like the year to do it. Hal Steinbrenner has indicated that’s the goal. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will be off the books by then, possibly Masahiro Tanaka as well, which will give the Yankees much more flexibility. We don’t know exactly what getting under the threshold means with the new CBA — I assume the tax rate resets, but is that it? — though at least now we have a target number. The goal is $198M in 2018.
3. The free agent compensation rules are much more lenient. A team over the luxury tax threshold has to give up their second rounder, fifth rounder, and $1M in international bonus money to sign a qualified free agent. The draft picks aren’t a big deal. I don’t think any team will hesitate to give up their second round pick to add a quality player. The expected return on a second rounder is pretty small. Losing the associated draft pool money stinks, but even that isn’t a huge deal. Using the 2016 slot numbers, New York’s first rounder had a $2.442M pool value. Their second plus fifth rounders had a $1.382M pool value. See? Not a big deal. This is close to a true free agency. I can’t imagine we’ll see any players get hung out to dry a la Ian Desmond last year because no team wants to give up their second rounder and fifth rounder, plus $1M in international money. That would be silly. (Teams under the luxury tax threshold, which is most of them, only have to give up their third rounder.) This is much better for MLBPA.
4. The hard cap on international bonus pools — losing that $1M to sign a free agent is much more meaningful with a hard cap, though I still don’t think it’s much of a deterrent — really stinks. Especially since it’s only $5M to $6M, which is nothing. Individual players were getting more than that the last few years. This system ensures no top international amateur will be paid as well as a top U.S. amateur who goes through the draft. The only people who benefit from an international hard cap is the owners. That’s it. It stinks for the teams because they can’t spend as freely — the teams that invest the most in scouting and state of the art facilities may have an even bigger advantage luring premium talent going forward — and it really stinks for the players, who now have their earning potential extremely limited. Make no mistake, this is a cost-cutting move, not a competitive balance move. The biggest international spender this year was the Padres. The Royals, Pirates, and Indians were among the top spenders in 2011, the year before the bonus pools were implemented. The hard cap is a result of the owners wanting to save money, and since international amateurs are not union members, the MLBPA has no problem collectively bargaining away their rights. This bites. The international kids got hosed big time. This isn’t any better than international draft for the players. It might be worse.
4.5. The only thing I do like about the new international system is that every team gets the same bonus pool. There are too many rewards for being bad in baseball. Now that teams know they’re getting the same international bonus pool now matter how many games they lose, there’s less of an incentive to be bad. Now that much less, but less.
5. I’m so glad the roster rules are staying the same. No 26th man, no weird September rules. I get why the union wants the 26th man — that’s 30 new full-time jobs around the league — and I do think that’s coming in the future, especially with starters not pitching deep into games anymore and teams needing more innings from their bullpen. Maybe the 26th man is added as part of the next CBA in five years. As for the September rules, I am very pro roster expansion, so I’m happy that’s staying the same. Reward the teams with depth and reward the minor leaguers who had strong seasons. As long as every team has the opportunity to call up 40 players in September, the system is fair to me. If one team calls up ten players and another calls up three, whatever. That’s their decision. Hooray for 25-man rosters and hooray for September call-ups.
6. The elimination of the Performance Factor in the revenue sharing system is huge news for Hal and the Yankees. Wendy Thurm explained how it works a few years ago. In a nutshell, there’s the general revenue sharing pool, plus a supplemental pool based on market size and revenues. Because the Yankees are in the biggest market and generate the most revenue, they were paying a ton into that supplemental pool. That’s gone now. As long as the Yankees stick to the luxury tax threshold, all the revenue sharing money they’re saving won’t be put back into the team, so it won’t have much of an impact on the field. Behind the scenes though, my goodness. The elimination of the Performance Factor will save them tens of millions of dollars a year. Remember, they Yankees paid $90M+ into revenue sharing in 2014 and 2015. Not combined, $90M+ each year. It’s a significant chunk of change. (This, by the way, is the new CBA’s way of dealing with small market teams that pocket revenue sharing. The Yankees no longer have to pay into the supplemental pool and the small market clubs no longer take from it. Less revenue sharing dollars for them.)
7. One thing that hasn’t changed as far as we know: service time rules. Players are still going to kept in the minors just long enough for teams to gain that extra year of control, which stinks. The best players should be in MLB when they’re ready, not when it’s most convenient to the team. I’m not sure how this problem could be solved — teams are always going to find a way to manipulate service time to their advantage — and maybe the best possible solution is the current system. It takes only eleven days in the minors to delay free agency a year. That gets the player to the show pretty quickly, as we saw with Kris Bryant last year.
8. Okay, now for the Yankees. Now that the CBA is done, I suspect we’re going to see the team really get down to business. They have a history of targeting the free agent they want and making an aggressive offer for a quick strike, and since they’re said to really want one of the top free agent relievers, my guess is they’re gearing up for a run at someone very soon. Probably Aroldis Chapman. That’s something that could come together pretty quickly now that the free agent compensation rules (not that they apply to Chapman, I’m just saying in general) and luxury tax thresholds are in place. I’m sure other big market teams have been operating the same way. They wanted to see the new CBA before committing big dollars anywhere. Now that the CBA is done, the Yankees and Dodgers and Red Sox and whoever else can begin to move forward with their offseason plans in earnest.
9. What are those plans, exactly? I think the Yankees are looking to add three things right now. One, a top reliever. Duh. Two, a veteran bat to plug in at DH, and I think they want to limit it to a short-term deal to ensure they can get under the luxury tax threshold soon. And three, a starting pitcher. A young one would be preferable. If the Yankees can’t get a young starter, I think they’ll make a serious run at Rich Hill despite his obvious red flags. He’s the only free agent starter who qualifies as an impact pitcher. The guy dominates when healthy. The Yankees will just have to hope they get Hill for 180 innings a year and not 80. I’m on the fence about Hill and right now I lean no. That feels like a move a win-now team makes, not a team in transition, but what do I know? Either way, things are going to start happening now. I’m sure of it.