As of 12:01am ET today, free agents are able to negotiate and sign with any team. That means Robinson Cano could work out a deal with say, the Tigers, and ink a contract without ever giving the Yankees a courtesy call. He’s under no obligation to do so. I don’t think Robbie and his agent would do that, but they have the option. Here are some thoughts now that the offseason is truly underway:
1. It seems obvious the Yankees re-worked Derek Jeter‘s contract basically because he’s Derek Jeter. They upped his salary because they seem more concerned with the PR impact (another attendance/ratings drop?) than the on-field impact. Various reports indicate the team wanted to avoid a repeat of their contentious negotiations from three years ago, which leads me to believe Jeter’s camp hinted at declining the player option. The team caved even though the Cap’n had zero leverage other than “I’m Derek Jeter.” Seriously, no leverage at all. Thirty-nine-year-old shortstop coming off major ankle surgery and a whole 17 games played? Sorry, no one was rushing to offer him a contract, let alone eight figures. Would be nice if the club stood their ground a little more. They were in the driver’s seat in these negotiations. They just didn’t seem to realize it.
2. One more Jeter point: the contract was reportedly brokered one-on-one with Hal Steinbrenner, meaning ownership again went over the baseball operations department’s head to finalize a deal. This is happening more and more often these days, starting with the Rafael Soriano signing and continuing with the Ichiro Suzuki signing and Alfonso Soriano trade. That’s three times in the last eleven months alone that ownership went over Brian Cashman‘s head for a fairly major deal. I get that no GM ever truly has autonomy, but it seems silly that ownership sets this new payroll
mandate goal and continues to throw wrenches into the roster. If the baseball ops people could make the rest of the baseball moves this winter, that would be great.
3. Speaking of that new $189M payroll limit, the Yankees won’t be able to sweeten any free agent offers with incentives. Any bonuses or incentives that are triggered count against the luxury tax. So, for example, if they sign Roy Halladay to a one-year contract worth $2M with another $10M in incentives based on starts, they have to treat it is as a $12M deal for luxury tax purposes. They can’t go through all this trouble to position themselves to stay under the luxury tax only to have it blow up at the end of the season when some random player triggers a bonus based on plate appearances or a rogue MVP vote (remember Raul Ibanez getting a vote in 2012?). New York needs to stick to set salaries and not try to get cute with incentives. That makes their beloved one-year deals for over-the-hill veterans a bit tougher to sell.
4. This seems obvious but I can not emphasize it enough: the Yankees need to steer clear of bad players as much as possible this offseason. I really can’t stress that enough. I know, it sounds so obvious, and yet guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez are on the roster right now. They’re there and they were there all season, the damage has already been done. But the club has to avoid similar players going forward. The easiest way to get good is to not have bad players. No more getting cute with old guys who might be revived thanks to the Magic of the Pinstripes™, no more “if we platoon him and get him out of the field three times a week it might work” stuff, nothing like that. Focus on adding quality players who seem like safe bets to be productive in 2014. The Yankees have met their quota of “well, I guess this could work out” moves for the decade.
5. Given what we saw last year with the all the injuries, I think the Yankees should be very aggressive signing players to minor league contracts for depth. The left side of the infield and the bullpen stand out as particular areas of need. Obviously signing these players is much easier said than done — no one wants to sign with the Yankees only to sit in Triple-A and hope Jeter’s ankle gives out again, for example — so maybe that means they have to be extra aggressive on waivers, when the player has no say in the matter. The Bombers don’t have much help immediate help coming from the farm system, especially on the position player side, so they need to build their depth another way. This past season was a very harsh reminder of the importance of having backup plans in the minors. The less midseason scrambling they have to do, the better.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young player who failed to take advantage of a good opportunity.
After Russell Martin signed with the Pirates and the Yankees declined to bring in another catcher, it was obvious Austin Romine would get a chance to play at some point this past season. He was slated to open the year with Triple-A Scranton while Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart held down the fort at the big league level, but the opportunity was inevitable. Either someone would get hurt or play their way off the roster.
Sure enough, the opportunity came towards the end of April. Cervelli took a foul tip off his right hand and was expected to miss several weeks with a fracture, but a setback and a 50-game suspension eventually ended his season. For all intents and purposes, Romine was the backup catcher to Stewart this season. The opportunity came and it came early.
The first ten weeks in the show were a total disaster for Romine. He hit .132/.145/.176 with 17 strikeouts and zero walks (!) in 71 plate appearances from late-April through mid-July, a span of 23 starts and 32 games played. I get that playing sporadically — it was obvious Joe Girardi had an affinity for Stewart and would play him whenever possible — is tough to do, especially as a kid when you’re used to playing everyday, but man were the first weeks ugly for Romine. He looked completely overwhelmed.
Romine spent several weeks working with hitting coaching Kevin Long while also getting input from his father Kevin, a former big league outfielder with the Red Sox. His performance started to turn around in mid-July, right before the All-Star break. Romine played in three of four games before the break and went 3-for-8 with a double and his first walk of the season, which was something to feel good about. I think that “something to feel good about” part was rather important. There’s no doubt the kid needed a confidence-booster.
The playing time remained sporadic immediately after the break but Romine kept hitting, enough that Girardi started playing him a little bit more. He started ten of the first 25 games after the break and went 13-for-32 (.406) with five walks, four doubles, and his first big league homer, a monster solo shot to dead center field at spacious Petco Park. Three weeks later, he had his best at-bat of the season, working a nine-pitch bases-loaded walk against David Price.
The mini-hot steak came to an abrupt end in mid-August and Romine went only 3-for-27 (.111) with seven strikeouts the rest of the way. His season ended on September 10th against the Orioles, when he took a foul tip to the face mask and suffered a concussion. Romine was actually cleared to play late in the season but Girardi didn’t take a chance. They basically shut him down for the year, which was a wise move.
All told, Romine hit an awful .207/.255/.296 (48 wRC+) with just the one homer in 148 plate appearances this season. He only threw out eight of 38 attempted base-stealers as well, a well-below-average 21%. I thought he was okay on balls in the dirt and stuff like that, but who really knows. There isn’t an easy or reliable way to quantify that stuff.
What we do know is that Romine was terrible at the plate and at throwing runners out. Really terrible. The little hot streak was encouraging but who knows if it was a glimpse of what he can really do or just that, a hot streak. Either way, Romine was given a great opportunity this summer and he couldn’t capitalize. The starting catching job is wide open both right now and for the foreseeable future, yet he was unable to take advantage. Romine could have cemented himself in the team’s long-term plans with a strong showing this summer, but it just didn’t happen.
George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, and Billy Martin are part of the 12-man Hall of Fame ballot to be voted on by the 16-member Expansion Era Veterans Committee next month. Marvin Miller and former Yankee Tommy John are also on the ballot, which you can see right here. Twelve votes are required for induction. Electees will be announced on December 9th, the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. The Boss should be a lock, but who really knows with this stuff. · (12) ·
As expected, Mariano Rivera has been named the AL Comeback Player of the Year, the league announced. Francisco Liriano took home NL honors. Rivera was a lock for the award after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury, but he was certainly deserving based on merit as well. Congrats to Mo on what is likely the last award of his playing career. · (4) ·
Tim Dierkes at MLBTR published his annual list of the top 50 free agents with predictions last night, which are more educated guesses than super serious projections. He has the Yankees walking away with Robinson Cano (duh), Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Carlos Beltran, Grant Balfour, and A.J. Pierzynski. Tim has Masahiro Tanaka landing with the Dodgers and Curtis Granderson moving across town to join the Mets. I would be pleasantly surprised if the Yankees brought in a haul like that this winter, but, after sifting through the team’s payroll situation, I’m not sure they can afford all of that even if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all of next season. We’ll see.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Bears and Packers are the Monday Night Football Game plus the Rangers are playing as well. Talk about either of those games, the free agent predictions, or anything else here.
The appeal hearing of Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension does not resume until November 18th, but don’t worry, there is still plenty of nonsense being leaked to the media. A trio of New York Times reporters published this ultra-juicy look into the league’s investigation yesterday, which included six-figure payouts for evidence, an intimate relationship between an investigator and a witness, and an off-the-books investigative team approved by Bud Selig. Like I said, it’s ultra-juicy. Check it out.
Within that article we learn A-Rod reportedly tested positive for a stimulant during the 2006 season. The test result wasn’t made public and he wasn’t suspended because that’s what the Joint Drug Agreement says is supposed to happen. Only repeat offenders are punished for stimulants. A-Rod’s legal team denied the failed test in a statement, and, according to the New York Daily News, they’ve filed a formal complain with arbitrator Frederic Horowitz over MLB’s non-stop leaks to the media. Considering how much they’ve boasted about all of the evidence at their disposal, the league sure seems to be going out of its way to disparage Rodriguez publicly, no? Just let the evidence speak for itself. · (13) ·
Ever since the Red Sox won the World Series — and really, for weeks and months before that — sportswriters have praised the way the team rebuilt itself last winter. The conversation then moves to how other teams can replicate this model for their own turnaround successes.
The Yankees in particular could use an off-season like the Red Sox had last year. With CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, plus perhaps Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, eating up huge chunks of payroll, a bargain or two is just what the Yankees need this winter. But don’t expect them to approach their issues the same way the Red Sox did last winter.
Joel Sherman addressed this issue yesterday in the New York Post, and while he’s on the right track, he does miss a number of reasons why the Red Sox were able to turn around in a single off-season. Rather than rehash his arguments, I’d rather tackle the issue from the start.
The Red Sox were not a true-talent 69-win team in 2012. They had a number of talented players who either underperformed or were hurt. Perhaps having Bobby Valentine at the helm did cause further underperformance due to chemistry issues. Subtract the players that went to the Dodgers in August, and it’s easier to see why they finished so poorly.
When they started to reload in the off-season, they still had a quality core of players, especially on offense. In Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz they had the leadoff plus three and four hitters in the lineup. They retained a decent offensive option behind the plate in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, giving them starters at three of four up-the-middle positions. Combined with a superstar slugger, the Sox needed only to fill in the gaps with free agency. There were many, but they were at easier positions to fill.
In filling those positions, the Red Sox took a number of gambles. Mike Napoli was coming off a good year, but one not as impressive as his breakout 2011 season. Hip problems factored into that, which increased the risk for the Sox. Stephen Drew was coming off a major ankle injury. Shane Victorino dropped off a bit in 2012, and really started struggling from the left-handed batter’s box. The Sox bet on recovery from each, and won. There’s certainly a level of luck involved there.
Luck also came in the form of Mike Carp, who exceeded expectations by a mile in his nearly 250 PA, producing a 140 OPS+. (Skill came into play here as well, as the Sox limited him to just 28 PA against LHP.) Daniel Nava came through in an even bigger way, producing a 128 OPS+ in 536 PA. Add in quality platoon production from Jonny Gomes, and you have the makings of a quality team on offense. In fact, this highlights one major point of the 2013 Boston Red Sox:
They were bad at only one position.
At third base they had Will Middlebrooks, who did get sent to the minors mid-season for poor performance. His replacements weren’t much better. But at every other position the Sox had a player with an OPS+ of 110 or better. Even their bench guys performed well: only three players, including Middlebrooks, got more than 100 PA with an OPS+ under 100. The Red Sox carried very few bad players on their roster throughout the 2013 season.
The 2013 Yankees, as we all know painfully well, employed many bad players. Injuries did play a role in this, so it’s not completely the fault of shoddy roster construction (though that is a prominent culprit). But like the Red Sox, the Yankees do have a few core players that will play a significant role in the 2014 team.
The Yankees don’t quite have a core, but they do have a number of quality players who could be back for 2014. Mark Teixeira is, hopefully, free of injury and ready to return to something between his 2009 and 2010 levels of production. Robinson Cano can be among the best in baseball. Curtis Granderson provides power, if nothing else. Maybe Derek Jeter has something left in the tank, especially after a winter in which he can work out his legs. They might be weak at basically every other position, but the Yanks do have a few players who should produce next year.
Unfortunately, the free agent class looks particularly weak, especially where the Yankees need help. They need someone to man third base, even if Alex Rodriguez faces only a 50-game suspension; if he can’t stay healthy through 44 games, how is he going to play even 90 next year? They need a backstop who can hit even a little. And they need some pop from right field. If they can address one of these through trade and one through free agency, perhaps they have a shot to turn things around.
(They also need a backup plan at SS, but we all know that plan will be Eduardo Nunez for better or for worse.)
On the pitching side of the ball, the Sox saw similar results. While their staff lacked a real standout starter (Clay Buchholz was brilliant when healthy but barely cleared the 100-inning mark), no who got more than 10 starts was particularly bad, either. Put together, this no-horrible-starters scheme led to the fourth-best starters ERA in the AL.
The Sox bullpen was highly praised, and down the stretch it was unhittable. But during the course of the season it ranked just 10th in ERA, and actually behind the Yankees. There’s not much sense in comparing here, since bullpens form and grow largely in reaction to conditions. Injuries happen, guys hit walls, and other guys miraculously perform as they never have before. The Yankees seem to have a sound bullpen construction strategy, which is all you can ask for.
Can the Yankees pull off a 2013 Red Sox coup this off-season? It’s possible, but it’s not at all probable. They have their own set of conditions, their own existing players, and a completely different market, both trade and free agency, in which to play. No, the Yankees shouldn’t seek to replicate what the Red Sox did. But they can achieve similar results in their own ways.
The Yankees have officially extended qualifying offers to Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, and Curtis Granderson, the team announced. Qualifying offers are worth $14.1M this offseason. Players have until next Monday to either accept or reject the offer. If they reject and sign with another MLB team, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation regardless of whether their new team has a protected first rounder. All three guys are likely to reject the offer and test the open market. · (26) ·
Starting at midnight tonight, free agents will be free to negotiate and sign with any team. The offseason will finally get underway in earnest — up until now it’s been a lot of waiting and boring procedural stuff. Now the Yankees and the other 29 clubs can get down to business for real.
With that in mind, it’s worth figuring out how much money New York has to work with this winter. They’re trimming payroll and intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold next year, a threshold they can’t pass at all next season. The payroll is calculated at the end of the year for luxury tax purposes. They don’t get to spend freely after staying under on Opening Day or anything sneaky like that.
The Yankees have many holes to address and, for the first time in a long time, a finite amount of money to do it. Don’t get me wrong, the team never had a truly unlimited budget, but it sure felt like they did at times. None of us were worried about a hard payroll number, that’s for sure. This offseason will be a new experience. Here are the club’s current contract commitments for next season:
- Under Contract ($97.71M): Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($12.81M), Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5M), Alfonso Soriano ($4M), Vernon Wells ($0)
- Arbitration-Eligible ($17.2M projected): David Robertson ($5.5M), Brett Gardner ($4M), Ivan Nova ($2.8M), Shawn Kelley ($1.5M), Jayson Nix ($1.4M), Frankie Cervelli ($1M), Chris Stewart ($1M)
- Pre-Arbitration-Eligible: David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Ramon Flores, David Huff, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall, J.R. Murphy, Eduardo Nunez, Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Nik Turley, Adam Warren
- Potential Bonuses ($13M): Jeter (up to $7M based on awards), A-Rod ($6M for his 660th career homer)
Just to be clear: those are luxury tax numbers, which are based off the average annual value of multi-year contracts. Some players will actually take home a different salary next summer — the money in the Wells trade was structured in such a way that he won’t count towards the tax this year despite a $21M salary — but that is how much they will count against the tax.
I tend to be conservative with this stuff, but I wouldn’t expect even a perfectly healthy, in-his-prime A-Rod to hit the 60 homers he’d need to hit to trigger his second $6M milestone bonus. The team does have to plan for the first milestone though — he’s only six homers away, which is easily doable — ditto Jeter’s awards-based bonuses. That stuff counts towards the luxury tax. Between the guys under contract, the arbitration-eligible, and bonuses, the Yankees already have 14 players locked in at $127.91M for 2014. Add in the $12M or so every team has to contribute towards player benefits and it’s really $139.91M for 14 roster spots.
That $139.91M leaves the team $49.09M to spend on the remaining 26 40-man roster spots. The 15 players on the 40-man but not on the 25-man active roster are usually estimated at $2-5M total (they earn a lower salary in the minors), so assuming the high-end of that range leaves us with $44.09M for the final eleven 25-man active roster spots. Non-tendering Nix and Stewart would free up another $2.4M but also create two more spots to fill. With Cervelli, Romine, and Murphy around, I see no reason to keep Stewart at that price. Nix is a fine utility man but that projected $1.4M salary is a bit steep. Let’s assume those two are non-tendered. We’re now sitting on $46.49M to fill 13 25-man active roster spots.
So what 13 positions, exactly, does the team need to fill with that money? Here’s a look at the roster as it stands right now:
|Cervelli||1B Teixeira||LF Soriano||Sabathia||Robertson|
|2B ?||CF Gardner||Nova||Kelley|
|Designated Hitter||SS Jeter||RF Ichiro/Wells||Phelps||Warren|
|C Romine or Murphy||OF Ichiro/Wells||?|
I think it’s safe to assume Nunez, Phelps, and Warren will make the roster and fill three of those 13 open spots. Phelps and Warren have earned spots and the Yankees love Nunez. He’s not going anywhere. Either Romine or Murphy can fill in as the backup catcher. All four are in their pre-arbitration years and will make something close to the league minimum, leaving the Yankees with roughly $44.29M to answer those remaining nine ?s.
One of those nine ?s is at second base, meaning Robinson Cano. I feel it’s inevitable that he’ll sign a fat new contract, probably something in the $20-25M average annual value range. Splitting the middle and calling it $22.5M leaves the Yankees are left with $21.79M to fill their remaining eight roster spots. They are going to need to save some payroll space for midseason call-ups and acquisitions (trades, waivers, etc.), so let’s make life easy and call it an even $20M for those eight spots. Still with me? Good.
Obviously the two open rotation spots are the biggest concern. The Yankees have some cheap internal options for those last four bullpen spots — specifically Claiborne, Cabral, Huff, Betances, Daley, and Nuno — though I would like to see them add a veteran late-inning guy to pair with Robertson and Kelley. The bullpen has more openings but is not as much of a priority as the rotation at this point. It’s easy to see the appeal of Masahiro Tanaka here — his posting fee is expected to be gigantic but it doesn’t count towards the luxury tax. Only his contract counts towards the tax. Assuming he signs for a $10M average annual value like Yu Darvish, that’s a bargain for someone who many people expect to be a number two-ish starter. He’s a very luxury tax friendly option for the pitching-needy Yankees.
If the Bombers wind up spending $10-12M on Tanaka or another starter, they’ll be left with $8-10M for the remaining seven spots. Betances (league minimum) figures to get one bullpen spot because he’s out of options. The Yankees could find a fifth starter and long man out of the Warren, Huff, Nuno, and Marshall foursome with the other two guys going to Triple-A as the sixth and seventh starters. They’ll be needed at some point, no doubt about it. It’s worth noting Huff is out of options and would need to clear waivers to go to Triple-A. Either way, the fifth starter and long man would make something near the league minimum in this scenario. That leaves $6.5-8.5M for the last four ?s, which are a DH (Mark Reynolds?), another bench player (preferably a lefty bat with some pop), and two relievers. Maybe Huff makes the team as a lefty specialist with another guy filling in as the long man. That’s an option.
Now, for the elephant in the room: A-Rod. If he is suspended for all of next season, his $33.5M tax hit ($27.5M salary plus $6M bonus) is wiped off the books and the Yankees suddenly have a ton of extra money to spend. Someone like Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran or Matt Garza becomes a realistic option. Heck, they’d be able to afford two of those guys with Rodriguez off the books. If he is suspended for only part of the season, the salary portion of his tax hit would be pro-rated but the team would still have to prepare for that full $6M milestone bonus. Either way, A-Rod being suspended for any length of time leads to considerable payroll savings, though the Yankees would have to find someone else for third base. That’s a trade the team would be happy to make.
In addition to what feels like the inevitability of Rodriguez being suspended for some number of games, it’s also unlikely Jeter will reach all of the bonuses in his new contract. The Yankees have to go into 2014 prepared just in case he does, but this is something they can monitor as the season progresses. If July rolls around and it’s obvious he’s not an MVP candidate — seems silly to say now, but remember, he was in the MVP conversation as recently as 2012 — that’s suddenly $4M the team can allocate elsewhere, specifically towards a trade deadline pickup. That’s a nice chunk of change to have available at the deadline.
After running through all of this, it seems like the Yankees have enough payroll space to make one big Tanaka-sized splash in addition to re-signing Cano this winter. A-Rod’s appeal hearing will resume in mid-November, meaning the ruling may not come down until mid-December, after the Winter Meetings. They’ll have a lot more money to spend if he is indeed suspended, but some of the top players figure to be off the board by then. More than anything, I think this little exercise — which is just an estimation, remember, these numbers are not exact — shows just how much the Yankees will need a) Teixeira and Sabathia to rebound, b) Nova to put together a full productive season (not a half one like 2011 and 2013), and b) youngsters like Phelps, Warren, and various catchers to step forward and contribute. That seems like a lot to ask.
Via George King & Ken Davidoff: The Yankees have already checked in on free agent infielder Omar Infante. Teams can not talk dollars with free agents until midnight tonight and the Tigers have already confirmed they will not make him (or anyone else) a qualifying offer. “Calling them all,” said Brian Cashman when asked if he has sincere interest or is simply doing due diligence.
Infante, 31, hit a career-best .318/.345/.450 (117 wRC+) with ten homers in 476 plate appearances for the Tigers this season while missing a little more than a month with an ankle sprain. He’s a high contact (9.2 K% in 2013), low power (.132 ISO) guy from the right side. Infante has been a full-time second baseman the last three years after starting his career as a utility man. He’s a solid player but not someone the Yankees would consider if they had any confidence in David Adams, who has a very similar skillset but is several years younger and millions cheaper. · (40) ·