Mailbag: PTBNL, Weeks, Zobrist, Kuroda, A-Rod

Got a big mailbag this week. Thirteen questions, so it’s rapid fire with short-ish answers. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

T.J. asks: Do the Yankees owe any of their trade partners PTBNL (Player(s) To Be Named Later)? If so, when might we hear who is going back to said team? I only ask after the whole Zach McAllister/Austin Kearns deal, back in the day.

The Yankees owe the Indians a player to be named later (or cash) for Josh Outman and they also owe the Diamondbacks a player to be named later (or cash!) for Martin Prado. I thought that deal was straight up for Peter O’Brien, but apparently not. The official release says there’s a player to be named heading to Arizona. The Yankees will probably just send cash to Cleveland for Outman, but I suppose the player going to the D’Backs could be somewhat notable. It won’t be a top prospect or anything like that, but maybe a bullpen prospect or something. PTBNL have to be named within six months of the trade, so sometime before December for these deals. Also, it’s time to move on from McAllister. He’s not very good. The definition of replacement level.

Matt asks: We’ve seen, as you’ve mentioned before, teams employ co-hitting coaches, could you see in the near future a team employ co-managers? I know bench coaches are viewed upon as a second manager, and sometimes are former managers themselves, but do you see it possible to have two actual “co-managers?”

I don’t think that will happen. I think you need to have one guy making the final decisions and calling shots. The bench coach is there to help the manager out and stuff, but at some point it needs to come down to one person saying yes or no. Having co-managers seems like it would be too many cooks in the kitchen. There should be one clearly defined person in charge.

NYYFan14 asks: Thoughts on going after Rickie Weeks this offseason?

Weeks, 32, had a nice year in a part-time role for the Brewers this summer, hitting .274/.354/.452 (127 wRC+) with eight homers and 19 doubles in 252 plate appearances. He’s hit .243/.347/.448 (122 wRC+) against lefties the last two years and the various defensive stats say he’s been below-average at second for a while now. The FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing has a two-year, $12M deal for Weeks and while I don’t think that’s unreasonable, I would rather not see the Yankees lock themselves into a second baseman like that. I really want them to give Rob Refsnyder a legitimate chance at the job at some point in 2015.

Mark asks: Given the complete mess the Rays are in now and that the new GM likely will want to rebuild, should the Yanks become aggressive in trying to acquire Ben Zobrist? What do you think it would take to acquire him?

I’m guessing the Rays will go into total rebuild mode now, and Zobrist figures to be among the first to go since he can be a free agent after next season. He would obviously be a great fit for the Yankees — switch-hitter with a ton of patience and some power, very good defensively, can play almost anywhere (second base until Refsnyder, right field thereafter?), and will be owed only $7.5M in 2015 once they pick up his no-brainer option. My guess is it would take three pieces — a top prospect, a decent MLB-ready piece, secondary prospect — at a minimum. That’s what it cost to get one year of Matt Holliday back in the day, and acquiring offensive help has only gotten more expensive. Plus Zobrist will be in very high demand. The Rays will have their pick of offers.

Meulens (right) managing in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Pool/Getty)
Meulens (right) managing the Netherlands in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Pool/Getty)

Seb asks: Hensley Meulens is a free agent. Is he the best fit as the new hitting coach in New York?

No idea. Meulens has been the Giants hitting coach since 2010 and during that time they’ve had a number of veteran players have surprisingly big seasons after looking washed up (Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres). Was that his doing? Who in the world knows. I don’t think we can say who is and who isn’t a good hitting coach candidate for the Yankees. I don’t think there’s any way we can accurately evaluate coaches, really. Meulens has been the hitting coach for a very good team the last five years. That’s reason enough to interview him in my book.

Joe asks: Here’s a softball down the middle … who is the Yankees biggest acquisition this offseason?

I honestly don’t think the Yankees will sign any of the top free agents (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, etc.), but they are still the Yankees and they have a lot of roster holes to fill. My guess — and this is a total guess — is they open up the wallet to keep Brandon McCarthy and give him a three-year contract worth $15M per season. Again, just a guess. They need pitching and they know him. McCarthy’s a very good fit.

Nick asks: If the Yankees had to choose between McCarthy and Hiroki Kuroda for next season, Who do you think they should go with?

I love Kuroda. He’s been one of my favorite Yankees the last few years. But he’s going to turn 40 in February and he wasn’t quite as good in 2014 as he was in 2012-13, enough to make me nervous about him going into next season. McCarthy is nearly ten years younger and he’s very good in his own right. I know he has a history of shoulder problems — McCarthy did stay healthy in 2014 for the first time in a long time — but I’m not sure his health is any riskier than that of a 40-year-old whose thrown over 3,000 innings in his career. Love Kuroda, but I’m taking McCarthy for 2015.

Anonymous asks: Is improving the offense the most important task on the agenda this off-season?

Yep, clearly. Improving the infield defense relative to last year will be important as well, but they need offense first and foremost. Trying to contend with a below league average offense in a small ballpark in a division with three other small ballparks in the DH league ain’t gonna work out to well for them. Run prevention is great! But you need to score too. A lot more than the Yankees have the last two years. Offense is priorities one, two, and three this winter.

Darrin asks: With the 3b situation unfolding I don’t see why there is much of a debate between going after Pablo Sandoval or keeping Chase Headley. To me — and his stats show — Headley is barely average offensively while Sandoval puts up nice consistent numbers and is very good in the postseason. I would much rather have Sandoval instead. What do you think?

Sandoval is clearly the better player and he is two years younger. I don’t think anyone will dispute that. The question is whether Sandoval at five years and $80M (again, FanGraphs’ crowdscouring) is better than Headley at four years and $56M. That is very much up for debate. Sandoval’s conditioning has been a problem his entire career and part of me worries that if you drop $80M in front of him, he’ll eat his way out of baseball before long. In a vacuum, I’d take Sandoval in a heartbeat. But Sandoval for $80M over Headley at $56M? Eh, probably not.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Rick asks: Would you prefer the Yankees to go with Shane Greene as the fifth starter or to sign two starters this offseason and assume that one of the starters is going to break down/be awful?

Sign two starters, definitely. Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) are all going into next season with some kind of injury concern. Whoever goes into next season as the number five starter could end up the number two starter before the end of April. I’m totally cool with signing two starters — Nova won’t be back until midseason, remember — and pushing Greene into the sixth starter’s role. You know as well as I that he’ll end up making like 20 starts anyway.

Sam asks: With as much as playoff performance seems to weigh in debates over who is a true superstar across all sports, is Madison Bumgarner catching Clayton Kershaw as best lefty in the game?

Bumgarner was historically great in the postseason. Like all-time great kind of stuff. But Kershaw is on another level. I’m not going to let this last month outweigh the last four years, when Kershaw has been clearly the best pitcher on the planet. I mean, it wasn’t even close this year. He was far ahead of everyone else. Right now, I’d have Bumgarner as the third best southpaw in baseball behind Kershaw and Chris Sale. You could make a very strong case that David Price should be third too. Bumgarner was absurd in the playoffs this. Off the charts great. But there’s more pieces to the puzzle than October.

Nick asks: Would the Yankees have any interest in Kyuji Fujikawa?

On a minor league contract, sure. The 34-year-old Fujikawa was a big deal a few years ago when he came over from Japan as the top closer in the country, but he blew out his elbow after signing with the Cubs and needed Tommy John surgery. He had a 5.04 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 25 innings scattered cross the last two seasons. I’m not sure that guy deserves a guaranteed contract, but I’m sure someone will offer him one anyway. Fujikawa is someone to keep in mind though. Maybe he’ll slip through the cracks.

J.R. asks: Reading that the Yankees reinstated A-Rod from his 162 game suspension got me thinking: If there had been a game 163, could A-Rod have played in that? He had a 162-game suspension and was ineligible for the postseason, my understanding is that game 163 is technically a regular season game. Your thoughts?

Game 163 is considered a regular season game and yes, technically Alex Rodriguez would have been eligible to play. I don’t know if that means the Yankees would have had to reinstate him off the restricted list — I suppose A-Rod could have filed a grievance if they tried to keep him out while he was eligible to play — but I guessing they would have declined to do so if it was at all possible. The suspension only covered the 162-game regular season and postseason. Knowing MLB, I’m sure they just would have finagled the rules to make sure the suspension covered Game 163 as well.

Thursday Night Open Thread

The first day of the offseason is in the books. Only another 113 of these left to go until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. The Yankees and Phillies did not play on this date in 2009 because it was a travel day between Games Two and Three, so our little recap of the 2009 World Series will continue tomorrow. Kinda crazy that series was only two games old on this date and this year’s World Series is already over after the full seven games.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Saints and Panthers are the Thursday NFL game and both the Devils and Knicks are playing as well. From what I hear, the Knicks are playing the Cavaliers in LeBron James’ return to Cleveland. That’ll be cool. Talk about whatever you like right here.

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

2014 Season Review: The Sometimes Setup Men

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

Because they dealt with so many rotation injuries, the Yankees had to rely on their bullpen a ton this past season. Joe Girardi asked his bullpen to throw 501.1 innings this summer, the sixth most in the league. Dellin Betances soaked up a ton of innings, especially early in the year, but it wasn’t until late into the season that he settled into a traditional setup role. For most of the year, that responsibility belonged to Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley.

Adam Warren, Workhorse

Last season the Yankees used Warren as a true swingman and he was pretty damn good at it, especially by swingman standards. Getting 77 innings of 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) ball out of the last guy in the bullpen is really good. The Yankees moved Warren into a more traditional short relief role this season and he excelled. First and foremost, his fastball velocity ticked up noticeably:

Adam Warren velocity

Warren was Girardi’s regular seventh and eighth inning guy in the first half while Kelley and David Robertson missed time with injuries. The second half was a bit rough — nine runs in his first 14 innings after the All-Star break, perhaps due to fatigue — but Warren settled down and finished very strong thanks to some mechanical tweaks suggested by pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

“Larry pointed out one day, maybe move your hands a little this way and and all of a sudden it’s like, oh that feels a little bit better and you roll with it from there and you just kind of tinker with things until it feels right,” said Warren to Brendan Kuty in September. “Once things started to click it was like, oh, why didn’t I think of that two weeks earlier? It’s a process.”

Warren allowed just two runs (both in one outing) on six hits and three walks in his final 15 appearances and 20 innings of the season. He struck out 21, including ten of the final 18 batters he faced on the year. Warren closed out 2014 with a 2.97 ERA (2.89 FIP) in 78.2 innings with a very good strikeout rate (8.69 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and solid walk (2.75 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) and ground ball (45.4%) numbers.

Last season, Warren’s main problems were the long ball and left-handed hitters. He allowed ten homers in those 77 innings (1.17 HR/9 and 13.2 HR/FB%) and lefty batters hit .301/.370/.526 (.387 wOBA) against him. This year it was only four homers in 78.2 innings (0.46 HR/9 and 6.0 HR/FB%) with a .170/.253/.271 (.239 wOBA) line by opposite hand hitters. That’s quite the improvement. Probably too much of an improvement. Not sure if he can sustain that going forward, but it happened in 2014 and that’s all that counts.

Anyway, given the team’s rotation issues — there was plenty of talk of moving him back into the rotation after the injuries struck in the first half —  Warren was especially valuable because of his durability. He recorded at least four outs in 29 of his 69 appearances, the second most in baseball behind Betances (35!). Sure, Warren has been a starter his entire life, but throwing multiple innings two or three times a week is no easy task. Outside of that little hiccup after the All-Star break, Warren was very good and very valuable to the 2014 Yankees. He soaked up a ton of important innings.

Shawn Kelley, Intermittently Awesome

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

When the season started, Kelley was Robertson’s primary setup man. That was plan coming into the season after Mariano Rivera retired and the Yankees opted not to bring in some kind of veteran replacement. For a while, Kelley was excellent, pitching to a 1.88 ERA with 15 strikeouts and three walks in his first 14 appearances and 14.1 innings. He even went 4-for-4 in save chances while filling in for the briefly injured Robertson in April.

Then it all fell apart on May 5th in Anaheim. Kelley walked four of the six batters he faced and allowed three runs to blow a game. He landed on the disabled list with a back issue two days later and missed six weeks. Kelley looked shaky — his slider lacked its usual bite, specifically — but was generally effective in his first few outings back before settling down. He struggled in mid-July (seven runs in the span of three appearances at one point) and again in late-September (four runs in his last four outings) to close out the year.

Kelley finished the season with a 4.53 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 51.2 innings. He struck out a ton of batters (11.67 K/9 and 30.5 K%) but also walked a few too many (3.48 BB/9 and 9.1 BB%) and didn’t get any ground balls (33.6%). Kelley actually kept the ball in the park (0.87 HR/9 and 8.9 HR/FB%) and handled left-handed batters (.221/.311/.301, .269 wOBA) better than I remember. Like most middle relievers, there were times he was really great and times he made you pull your hair out.

After starting the season as the first option behind Robertson, Kelley closed the year behind Betances and Warren on the setup man totem pole. The injury really seemed to knock him off track in May, but, as we’ve seen these last two years, Kelley is prone to spectacular meltdowns. That’s baseball. The good generally outweighs the bad — few guys can miss bats like this, that’s a valuable skill — and at times Kelley was a very important member of the bullpen in 2014.

Thoughts at the end of the 2014 World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Giants won their third World Series title in the last half-decade last night. If that’s not a dynasty in this parity filled age of baseball, I don’t know what is. They rode Madison Bumgarner’s left arm to the championship just like they rode Tim Lincecum in 2010 and Matt Cain in 2012. As good as those two were, Bumgarner was better this year. He was unreal. Historically great. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts now that the offseason is set to begin.

1. I enjoyed watching the Giants win again because they go against so many baseball axioms. Need youth to win in today’s MLB? The Giants had literally the oldest roster in MLB. Need a strong rotation? The Giants had one good great starter in Bumgarner. Their non-Bumgarner starters had a 4.23 ERA during the regular season (in that ballpark!) and a 5.59 ERA in the postseason. Need your highest paid players to be your best players? Cain and Lincecum were non-factors at best and detriments at worst in 2012. How many people said it wouldn’t be worth it if the Yankees only made the postseason as a wildcard team? There were countless comments like that here. Well, the Giants were the second wildcard team. Not even the first. And they won the whole damn thing. Just get in and you can win. I can’t say that enough. The Giants have won three titles in five years with three very different rosters and philosophies. There’s no magic formula, no right way to build a winning team. Just be good at as many things as possible, hope everyone performs at the right time, and roll with it. Baseball in a nutshell.

2. The Yankees still have not yet hired a new hitting coach or first base coach, though I suppose that could happen as soon as today now that the World Series is over. MLB doesn’t like clubs making any announcements that could draw attention away from the Fall Classic. (Unless you’re Joe Maddon, I guess.) I do wonder if the Yankees have been waiting so long to name new coaches because they plan to interview someone on the Giants and/or Royals staff. There are a ton of Yankees connections on the San Francisco coaching staff, including hitting coach Hensley Meulens, assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre, and first base coach Roberto Kelly. Those three played all played for the Yankees once upon a time, as did Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum. So maybe they’re on the radar and the club just hasn’t been able to interview them these last few weeks. Either way, I’m sure this is a loose end that will be tied up fairly quickly.

3. Speaking of Maddon, isn’t it amazing how he managed to steal headlines from not one, but two World Series games with zero backlash? He did it last week when he opted out and again yesterday when Jon Heyman reported he was joining the Cubs. And he got Rick Renteria fired. Think about all of that. Maddon said he intended to manage in 2015 when he opted out, but only the Twins had a managerial opening at the time. So either he already had something lined up (tampering!), or he opted out thinking “some team will just fire their manager and hire me.” What a dick move. So small time. Can’t wait for Maddon to be hailed a tremendous leader and a great guy at his press conference in a few days. At least Alex Rodriguez only interrupted one World Series game and didn’t get anyone fired when he opted out in 2007. (Aside: Renteria was the Padres hitting coach from 2008-10. Maybe the Yankees will interview him now.)

4. Since the end of the 2012 season, the Yankees have acquired five veteran outfielders either through trade or free agency: Ichiro Suzuki (re-signed), Vernon Wells (trade), Alfonso Soriano (trade), Jacoby Ellsbury (signed), and Carlos Beltran (signed). I’m talking about guys who were not picked up off the scrap heap, just to be clear. Not Chris Young or Thomas Neal, for example. Those guys cost nothing but the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Here is what the Yankees gave up to acquire those five outfielders:

  • A good but not great pitching prospect (RHP Corey Black for Soriano).
  • Two super fringy prospects (LHP Kramer Sneed and OF Exicardo Cayones for Vern).
  • Two supplemental first round picks (the compensation picks for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson were surrendered for Ellsbury and Beltran).
  • Committed to $231.7M in total salary spread across 15.5 contract seasons (Soriano was a midseason pickup). Approximately $161.9M and eight contract years of that is still pending.

So, in return for all of that, those five outfielders combined to hit .254/.301/.382 (~88 wRC+) in 2,963 plate appearances from 2013-14, totaling 4.5 fWAR. You don’t want to know what those numbers are without Ellsbury. Okay, yes you do: ~83 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR in 2,328 plate appearances. That’s really bad! I mean, really really bad. Like, what the hell happened here bad. How many of those acquisitions were the result of pure desperation? At least four, right? Ellsbury and Beltran after Cano left, Soriano because no one was hitting, and Wells because of all the injuries in Spring Training last year. Maybe you can argue one of Ellsbury or Beltran wasn’t out of desperation, but three out of five still isn’t good. The Yankees collectively invested an awful lot in these five players the last two years and didn’t get much return at all. Yeesh.

5. As I was scrolling through the FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing results yesterday, none of them stood out to me as a real bargain. Granted, these are just FanGraphs readers voting in a poll, but I figured there would be one or two players (out of 55) who struck me as undervalued by the masses. I guess not. Sergio Romo at $12M across two years is a nice short-term deal for a late-inning reliever who misses a ton of bats and never walks anyone, and Mike Morse at one year and $7M is pretty good considering he can rake, but that’s about it. I think the problem is me, not everyone else. I need to recalibrate what I consider market value, because right now free agent prices are insane. Teams have a ton of money to spend and there are so few quality free agents to spend it on. That’s why Brandon McCarthy got two years and $18M two offseasons ago and will end up with three years at like $12M annually this winter despite being two years older and not pitching all that well for the Diamondbacks the last year and a half. Man, the Yankees have to get away from building through free agency. It ain’t happening anymore.