Weekend Open Thread

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope your first day of 2016 went well. I made a bunch of resolutions like everyone else, most of which I probably won’t keep. So it goes. Here are the weekend links:

  • The end of the year means it’s time for Jayson Stark’s annual Strange But True columns. Here’s the regular season and here’s the postseason. There’s a bunch of Yankees-related stuff sprinkled throughout, though the fun is catching up on all the weird, crazy stuff that happened in baseball last year. They’re must reads, as always.
  • Here are David Laurila’s best quotes of 2015. My favorite, from MLB historian John Thorne: “It’s as if you had a competition between Fred Flintstone and Bill Gates. Hitters are primitive. There’s strategy involved in pitching, and there ought to be with batting — not mere swinging.”
  • This David Garrick article about the ownership of Petco Park is pretty wild. A mentally-ill man named Derris Devon McQuaig currently holds the legal title to the ballpark because he walked into the San Diego County Recorder’s Officer and submitted a properly filled-out deed transfer. That’s all it took. McQuaig has created quite a headache for the Padres.
  • And finally, check out this Tim Rohan piece on Tommy John surgery. I forgot I had it sitting in my bookmarks, so it’s a few weeks old. My bad. Anyway, one thing I learned: there are different Tommy John surgery methods, so different doctors perform the surgery in different ways. They all leave different size scars too. Who knew?

Friday: Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing, plus there’s some college football and college basketball on as well. Talk about those game, the links, or anything else right here.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Rangers, Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, and there’s a bunch of college football and basketball going on too. Have at it.

Sunday: This is the open thread for the last time. I’m posting it a little earlier than usual because the Jets are playing a pretty big game this afternoon (vs. Bills, 1pm ET on CBS). They’ll clinch a playoff spot with a win, from what I understand. You’ve got that game, the rest of the NFL slate, plus the Knicks, Islanders, and some college hoops.

Room for Improvement: Didi Gregorius

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

By any and all accounts, Didi Gregorius had a career year in 2015. After being traded to the Yankees in the winter, he notched career highs across the board, most importantly in playing time. A slick fielder with a rocket arm, he overcame some early fielding hiccups and (let’s be nice and call it) aggressive baserunning and was as successful as one could be in replacing a legend at one of the three most important positions on the field. Were he to repeat last year going forward, there wouldn’t be much to complain about. He’s a good fielder at shortstop and he doesn’t embarrass himself with his bat; in today’s MLB, that’s as good as gold. Of course, the goal of a younger player is to improve each year and there’s one spot that Didi could stand to improve, and that’s his walk rate.

As a lower order hitter, it’s not imperative that Didi act like a table-setter or a take-and-rake slugger. He makes good contact and can move around the guys on base in front of him because of that. As Didi’s never likely to be a big power guy–his ISO has actually dropped in each year as he’s gotten more playing time–it’d be good for him to augment his  offensive game with a little bit more patience at the plate.

To be fair to Didi, his walk rate wasn’t awful last year at 5.7%. Still, it was a drop from 2014 (7.4) and two points below the league average of 7.7%. His career rate is a more palatable 7.1%, but that’s buoyed by 2014 and 2013 (9.2%) and, as we can see, his rate has dropped each year as he’s gotten more time at the plate. So, what can he do to increase his walk rate?

Like anyone looking to increase his or her walks, the first thing he could do is limit his pitch-chasing. In 2015, his out-of-zone swing percentage, per FanGraphs, was 33.8%, about 3% higher than league average (30.9%). Still, this is painting with a broad brush and Didi’s chase-rate isn’t so much higher than league average that we should be panicking that he’s turning into ’03 playoffs Alfonso Soriano or anything. In fact, at 62%, Didi was just about average (62.9%) at making contact with pitches out of the zone. That’s a double-edged sword, of course, as that could lead to weak contact on bad pitches.


If we note the table above, which shows Didi’s whiff/swing% on various pitch locations, the lower part of the image stands out. On pitches just outside the zone, low and either inside or out, Didi is whiffing quite a bit when he takes a cut. To start improving his walk rate, that’s where Didi can start: by avoiding those tempting pitches below the knees.

Didi Gregorius is never going to be an elite hitter, and he doesn’t need to be, given his position and his defense at that position. Still, any improvement helps and since it’s unlikely that he starts popping homers over the short fence any time soon, Didi should focus on improving his discipline to round out his offensive game a little bit. He’s already given Yankee fans plenty to be happy about, so hopefully more is on the horizon.

DotF: Gamel, Mitchell, Austin wrap up winter ball seasons

Former Yankees speedster Rico Noel has signed with the Dodgers, he announced on Twitter. It’s a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Noel was New York’s pinch-running specialist in September, going 1-for-2 at the plate and 5-for-7 in steal attempts. Looks like the Yankees will have to find someone else to be their late season runner next year. Here are some other minor league notes:

  • Check out this mailbag post from J.J. Cooper about the toughest classification jumps in baseball. The jump from Triple-A to MLB is the toughest for obvious reasons, but, in the minors, scouts consider the jump from High-A to Double-A the toughest. That’s when players really start to pair raw tools with refinement. Double-A has always been the level where suspects start getting weeded out from the prospects.
  • Cooper ranked the top 25 prospects traded this offseason. SS Dansby Swanson, who went from the Diamondbacks to the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade, claims the top spot. He was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. RHP Rookie Davis (No. 14), 3B Eric Jagielo (No. 17), RHP Luis Cessa (No. 23), and RHP Caleb Cotham (No. 25) all made the list.
  • With Davis and Jagielo having been traded to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman, RHP Nick Rumbelow and LHP James Pazos slid into the vacated spots on MLB.com’s Top 30 Yankees Prospects List. I’ve started to sketch out my annual top 30 list and I still have no idea what to do after the top four spots. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.
  • Joel Sherman says OF Aaron Judge spent time at the Tampa complex earlier this offseason to work on staying back for breaking ball recognition, and will do so again sometime this month. This’ll be made into a big deal because it’s Judge, but players routinely spend time in Tampa for “mini-camps” in the offseason. Follow ’em on Twitter. They shuttle in and out of Tampa all winter.
  • The Yankees have re-signed IF Jose Rosario and signed OF Juan Silva, according to Matt Eddy. Rosario, 24, has been something of a roving infielder over the last six seasons, reaching as high as Triple-A. Silva, 24, hit .212/.321/.304 (85 wRC+) in 98 games split between Double-A and Triple-A for the Reds last year. I’m guessing he’s heading to Double-A Trenton to serve as a depth outfielder in 2016.
  • Double-A Trenton manager Al Pedrique will be bumped up to manage Triple-A Scranton next season, he confirmed to Matt Kardos. “I will be managing Scranton next year,” said Pedrique. Longtime Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley was let go following last season.
  • And finally, Jack Curry reports Alex Rodriguez gives amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer scouting reports on Miami area players. “(Alex has) a passion for amateur scouting,” said Oppenheimer. Neat.

Now for the updated stats. This will be the final update of the offseason because the various winter ball regular seasons are either over or will end this weekend. Most Yankees farmhand stopped playing before the holidays anyway. The 2016 minor league regular season begins Thursday, April 7th. See you then.

Arizona Fall League (regular season is over)

  • OF Tyler Austin: 21 G, 22-81 (.272), 13 , 5 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 9 BB, 18 K, 7 SB, 2 CS (.272/.344/.444)
  • OF Dustin Fowler: 16 G, 17-61 (.279), 14 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 7 K (.279/.313/.410)
  • C Gary Sanchez: 22 G, 26-88 (.295), 16 R, 6 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 8 BB, 19 K, 4 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.295/.357/.625)
  • IF Tyler Wade: 14 G, 9-41 (.220), 6 R, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.220/.313/.268)
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 7 G, 12 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 1 HR, 2 RBI (2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)
  • LHP Ian Clarkin: 6 G, 6 GS, 24.2 IP, 34 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 14 BB, 17 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 3 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.95 WHIP)
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 7 G, 1 GS, 14.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 10 BB, 12 K, 1 WP (4.40 ERA and 1.60 WHIP)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 9 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 12 K, 1 HR, 2 WP (5.84 ERA and 1.30 WHIP)

Dominican Summer League (regular season is over)

  • IF Abi Avelino: 5 G, 0-10, 1 R, 4 K
  • OF Cesar Puello: 25 G, 11-43 (.256), 7 R, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 9 K, 3 SB, 2 CS, 2 HBP (.256/.347/.302) — former top Mets prospects signed a minor league deal a week or two ago
  • IF Jose Rosario: 1 G, 1-3, 1 2B, 2 K
  • 3B Rob Segedin: 14 G, 7-34 (.206), 4 R, 1 2B, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HBP (.206/.289/.235) — the 3B Eric Jagielo trade likely means Segedin will start the season as the regular third baseman with Triple-A Scranton
  • LHP Richard Bleier: 7 G, 7 GS, 31.2 IP, 30 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, 4 HR, 1 HB (2.84 ERA and 1.07 WHIP) — signed a minor league deal a few days ago … he had a 9.5 K% at Double-A and Triple-A during the regular season

Mexican Pacific League (regular season is over)

  • C Sebastian Valle: 37 G, 24-128 (.188), 9 R, 9 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 6 BB, 35 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.188/.225/.305) — depth catcher signed a minor league deal not too long ago
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 13 G, 0 GS, 9 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 WP (10.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) (season ends Monday)

  • IF Cito Culver: 6 G, 2-19 (.105), 1 R, 1 BB, 6 (.105/.150/.105)
  • OF Juan Silva: 24 G, 16-67 (.239), 13 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 23 BB, 16 K, 6 SB, 2 CS (.239/.433/.343) — that’s an interesting stat line
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 5 G, 5 GS, 21.2 IP, 21 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 12 BB, 14 K, 1 HB, 2 WP (4.15 ERA and 1.52 WHIP) — he’s up to 126.1 innings on the season … his career high is 145.1 innings in 2013

Venezuelan Winter League (regular season is over)

  • OF Tyler Austin: 8 G, 7-25 (.280), 5 R, 4 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 CS (.280/.333/.440) — headed down here for some extra playing time after the AzFL season … next season is definitely a make or break year
  • C Francisco Diaz: 15 G, 5-19 (.263), 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K (.263/.300/.316) — signed a minor league deal earlier this offseason
  • OF Ben Gamel: 25 G, 22-87 (.253), 8 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 11 BB, 18 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.253/.327/.402)
  • OF Teodoro Martinez: 52 G, 50-203 (.246), 23 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 17 RBI, 7 BB, 22 K, 2 SB, 2 HBP (.246/.277/.291)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 6 G, 0 GS, 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (9.00 ERA and 2.20 WHIP)
  • RHP Jaron Long: 8 G, 8 GS, 43 IP, 44 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 11 BB, 23 K, 1 HB, 2 WP (2.30 ERA and 1.28 WHIP) — finished the 2015 calendar year at 197.1 innings
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 14 G, 0 GS, 12.1 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 2 HR (6.57 ERA and 1.38 WHIP) — former top bullpen prospect went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft for the second straight year

Reports: Dodgers to sign Kenta Maeda, Yankees were not interested

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Dodgers and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda have agreed to a contract. No word on the terms yet, but Joel Sherman calls the deal “complicated” and says it will be for at least five years. Apparently it might be as long as eight years. Maeda was posted during the Winter Meetings and his 30-day negotiating period was due to end sometime next week.

The Yankees did not have interest in Maeda, reports Jon Heyman, and presumably they did not make much of a push to sign him. Maeda reportedly visited with teams in Los Angeles in recent weeks — Masahiro Tanaka did the same thing two years ago, he went to LA and clubs went to him to make their presentations — and it’s unclear if the Yankees even made a pitch.

Maeda, 27, had a 2.09 ERA with a 21.3% strikeout rate and a 5.0% walk rate as Hiroki Kuroda‘s teammate with the Hiroshima Carp in 2015. Here’s our Scouting The Market post. Maeda is generally viewed as a mid-rotation starter at best in MLB, not a potential ace like Yu Darvish and Tanaka. Then again, the same was said of Kuroda and Hisashi Iwakuma, and they turned out fine.

The Yankees haven’t been connected to any big name free agents this offseason, though they have taken on some money in the Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman trades. Castro has four years and roughly $40M left on his contract while Chapman will earn $13M or so through arbitration in 2016. Maeda’s contract will count against the luxury tax but the $20M release fee owed to the Carp will not.

Even this late in the offseason, there are still some quality free agents on the board. Wei-Yin Chen is the most notable at this point, and the Yankees are said to be monitoring his market. Yovani Gallardo and Ian Kennedy are out there, as are reclamation projects Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Doug Fister. At this point, I would be surprised if the Yankees signed a notable free agent. They may trade for a starter, but I don’t see a free agent happening.

Heyman: Lengthy suspension is “unlikely” for Chapman

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds even though MLB is still investigating the left-hander for an alleged domestic violence incident that occurred in late-October. Here’s a report on the incident, if you haven’t seen it. There’s no word when the investigation will be complete.

MLB’s domestic violence policy is brand new and so far no suspensions have been handed out, so there’s no precedent. Chapman is one of three players currently under investigation, joining Jose Reyes (for this) and Yasiel Puig (for this). According to Jon Heyman, word is any suspension imposed on Chapman would not be lengthy.

Word is going around that a long suspension is unlikely in the case of Aroldis Chapman’s alleged domestic violence incident. MLB is taking the domestic violence issue very seriously but word is the evidence may be thin in this case. The Yankees aren’t saying anything beyond that they did their “due diligence” in making the trade. But suffice it to say, they wouldn’t have made the deal if they thought he was in for a long suspension

A “long suspension” means different things to different people. A 30-day suspension seems pretty long to me, for example, but it might not in the eyes of commissioner Rob Manfred. Players do not accrue service time when suspended under the domestic violence policy, so a suspension of 46 days or more will push Chapman’s free agency back one year. He’s currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason.

There are two ways to look at this, I guess. One, the Yankees checked in with MLB before the trade to get an idea of what kind of suspension may be coming, and they decided to pull the trigger because it’ll be short. Two, the Reds checked in with MLB before the trade and decided to get whatever they could for Chapman this offseason rather than wait until deadline because they were uncomfortable with the length of the suspension. Or maybe none of that happened. Who knows.

“Certainly, there is some serious issues here that are in play. That’s why it’s going to play out. And I acknowledge that it’s an area of concern. There’s risk, and I understand that,” said Brian Cashman to reporters following the Chapman trade. It’s possible if not likely the Yankees will lose Chapman for some period of time at the start of next season. Maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks. They have the bullpen pieces to cover a short suspension, but obviously they want to get as much out of Chapman as possible in 2016.

Mailbag: Johnson, Chapman, Iglesias, Appel, Blazek, Upton

Got a dozen questions in the first mailbag of 2016. The first ever RAB mailbag was posted back in July 2010. Someone asked me how Nick Johnson‘s wrist rehab was going. Good times. Our email address for mailbag questions and anything else is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Johnson. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Johnson. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Many asked: What about Chris Johnson?

Lots of people asked about Johnson, even before he was released a few days ago. The Indians designated him for assignment on December 17th and released him five days later, eating the $17.5M left on his contract. I didn’t realize this is the rule, but because Johnson has 5+ years of service time, he still would have received his full salary if he elected free agency after clearing waivers. I thought players forfeited the remainder of their contract once they elect free agency. That only applies to guys with less than five years of service time.

Anywho, I do think Johnson is a good candidate for that final bench spot. He’s proven he is not an everyday caliber player these last few years, but he does mash lefties — .326/.354/.391 (108 wRC+) in 2015 and .372 (!)/.405/.499 (154 wRC+) from 2013-15 — and can play both corner infield spots. Not well, he is a butcher in the field, but he can play them once a week to rest guys. Again, we’re talking about the last bench spot. Johnson would give the Yankees a real backup third baseman and another option to help them against lefties.

Because the Indians released Johnson, any team can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. It’s super low risk. The Yankees could sign him, and if they decide at some point he’s no longer worth a roster spot, they can cut him with no strings attached. Joe Girardi is typically very good with platoon matchups, so as long as Johnson is limited to spot starts in the field and at-bats against lefties, he could be a nice weapon off the bench. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Cut him and move on.

P.J. asks: What is the chance that Tanaka exercises his opt-out clause after the 2017 season and what kind of deal would he be looking for? He will only be 29 years old heading into the 2018 season. Assuming his arm doesn’t fall off and he remains relative healthy he most certainly should be able to get a deal both much longer and for a lot more dollars than the $67MM over the following 3 years he would be entitled to if he doesn’t opt-out.

If he stays healthy these next two seasons, I think it’s a lock Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his contract. That $67M he’d be walking away from ain’t much these days. Yes, everyone knows about his elbow, but if Tanaka stays healthy in 2016 and 2017, it’ll be less of a concern come free agency time. Johnny Cueto, for example, landed a six-year contract worth $130M this offseason at age 29 despite some red flags with his elbow. That seems like a starting point for Tanaka. Plus the market is going up, remember. As long as Tanaka stays healthy — a big if for any pitcher — I think Tanaka’s opting out.

Jarrah asks: Would you rather Chapman weren’t suspended and played the entire season with NYY before becoming a FA, or have him suspended for a month and gain another year from him? He’s a great asset, but it seems plausible the Yankees could cover his absence for the month of April.

I’m probably in the minority, but I’d rather Aroldis Chapman just play out the season so the Yankees can get their draft pick and move on next offseason. The domestic violence stuff really bugs me — no arrests were made, but he also admitted to firing a gun eight times in his house, wtf? — and while I fully acknowledge he’s a tremendous baseball player, I kinda don’t want to root for him as a person. It’s one thing to give a guy a second chance following drug or alcohol addiction. But alleged domestic abuse? Nah. If the suspension tacks on another year of team control, I’d hope the Yankees take advantage by trading him for a young starter. That’s how I feel. You don’t have to agree with me.

Arjun asks: Assuming that one day the Yankees go back into the free agency market, the rise of the opt out has to be a net positive for them, right? Young players signing extensions meant fewer stars made it to the market but opt outs mean that the trend should reverse over time. Do you think that opt outs are generally good for the Yankees as a macro trend?

Yes, I think so. Those opt-outs will allow some good players to re-enter the free agent market and make them available to the Yankees, who one day will spend big on free agents again. (I think.) That said, isn’t the entire argument in favor player opt-outs is that they give the team the potential to walk away and let someone else pay for his decline? Why be the team that pays for the decline in that case? After all, these players are available right now. They’re only going to be older and closer to the end of the line by time the opt-out rolls around.

Iglesias. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Iglesias. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Seb asks: Does Raisel Iglesias, in your opinion, fit the mold of a young starting pitcher under team control beyond 2018 that would be a good addition? Would he be available at the right price and could that price be Brett Gardner?

I’ll answer the last question first: no. The rebuilding Reds are not taking on 32-year-old Gardner. If they trade Iglesias, it’ll be for prospects. Iglesias, 25, had a 4.15 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 95.1 innings across 16 starts and two relief appearances for the Reds last season, the first year on his seven-year, $27M deal. His strikeout (26.3%), walk (7.1%), and ground ball (47.2%) rates were very encouraging. Here’s some video:

As you might expect give that low arm slot, lefties hit Iglesias pretty hard last year. They put up a .284/.348/.405 (.332 wOBA) batting line while righties were held to .173/.251/.367 (.271 wOBA). PitchFX says Iglesias throws four pitches (four-seamer, sinker, slider, changeup) though I didn’t watch enough of him to know if his command is good enough to start long-term.

Iglesias is worth a longer look in a non-mailbag format. I do think he’s an interesting outside the box starter candidate, especially since his contract is so affordable. It’s long, yeah, he still has six years to go, but an average annual value of $3.86M is nothing. That’s affordable even if he winds up in relief long-term. The Reds may consider Iglesias part of their core going forward. He might be tough to pry loose.

Michael asks: Given the current market, what kind of contracts do you think Starlin Castro and Adam Warren would have earned in hypothetical free agency? I have to assume Castro would be worth a good deal more than his current wages but I’m really not sure what Warren would get with so much back-end free agent pitching.

Yeah, I think Castro would get quite a bit more than the four years and $41.5M left on his contract. He is still only 25 and even though he’s been pretty bad two of the last three years, he has natural hitting ability and is athletic enough to play the middle infield. Castro wouldn’t get Jason Heyward money, but would six years and $100M with an opt-out after three years make sense? Maybe it’s more like five years and $80M. Either way, Starlin would get way more than his current contract.

Warren’s free agency would be really interesting. He’d surely market himself as a starter, but he’s never had a chance to spend a full MLB season in a rotation, so his career sample as a starter is only bits and pieces stitched together. Warren has shown he is a very good reliever at worst though. The Royals signed Joakim Soria to a three-year, $25M contract this offseason that includes $12M in incentives based on games started (no, really). Maybe that’s the framework for Warren’s deal? I’d give him that contract in a heartbeat, personally.

Ethan asks: Looking at the recent Ken Giles trade remarks you made, you mentioned Mark Appel and how he is a backwards prospect. I can see the negatives in him, but wouldn’t he be a cheap option as another starter that the Yankees obviously desire. I could see him as a first call AAA back-up for an inevitable injury to one of the Yankees pitchers this next year. What would the Yankees have to trade for him?

Appel had a 4.45 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 141.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A this past season. The scouting reports all indicate he still has good stuff, but is way too hittable because he lacks deception and his command is shaky, causing him to come over the heart of the plate too often. If he was Joe Prospect instead of Mark Appel, Former No. 1 Pick, he’d be just a guy to keep an eye on. He’d be a younger Ivan Nova.

Now a young Ivan Nova can be pretty valuable, though Appel would be considered a big disappointment if that’s all he became. The trade was good for him, I think. He gets a fresh start with an organization that didn’t prop him up as the pitching centerpiece of their look how smart we are rebuild. If the Yankees can pick Appel up as a depth arm and not as the solution to their young pitching problem, then do it. He’s worth the flier. Expectations have to be readjusted for Appel though. He’s a back-end guy until he figures out how to stop giving up loud contact to minor leaguers.

Michael asks: With regards to Cashman’s buy-low policy, is it possible he’s been doing this longer than we’ve fully realized? I went back through MLBTR’s transaction tracker as far as the A-Rod trade, and the only instances I could find where he bought high on a player were Xavier Nady (lol) and Michael Pineda. Swisher, Granderson, Abreu, even the first Justin Wilson trade (4.20 ERA and too many walks in 2014)…should Cashman be picking stocks?

Yes this has been going on for a while now. The difference now is Cashman focusing on young players. In the past he targeted veteran players like A-Rod and Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson. The A-Rod and Swisher trades stand out as Cashman’s best buy low deals. The Rangers had little leverage with A-Rod after their deal with the Red Sox fell through, so the Yankees swooped in and got age 28-31 A-Rod while Texas paid a big chunk of his salary. Pretty great. The Yankees have been trying to buy low on players for years now — to be fair, every team has, but some have been more successful than others — except instead of veterans, the Yankees are now looking for young players who’ve not yet had sustained success as the MLB level. (Castro’s the notable exception here.)

Blazek. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Blazek. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Justin asks: With the Brewers presumably in sell mode, and the Yankees in need of relief help, what about Michael Blazek as a trade target? How well do the Brewers match up in a trade?

The Brewers are tearing it all down and are in the early stages of a full blown rebuild, and they’ve focused on prospects in recent trades, not big leaguers. Matching up isn’t really a problem. The Yankees have all kinds of prospects to offer. It’s just a matter of the two teams agreeing on a package, which is true of every trade.

Blazek, 26, is the guy the Brewers got from the Cardinals in the John Axford trade a few years ago. He’s had some control problems in the minors (10.7 BB% in 376.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A) but settled down last season, throwing 55.2 relief innings with a 2.43 ERA (3.17 FIP) for the Brewers. Blazek struck out 21.2% of batters faced and walked 8.1%.

I’m not really sure how to value five years of a good reliever — Blazek’s not Ken Giles or anything — especially one whose history of average control is only about one year. This question was sent in before the Chapman trade, so the need for bullpen help isn’t as great now. The Yankees are set at the back of the bullpen and I think I’d rather see the Yankees give some of their young arms a chance rather than give up pieces for a guy like Blazek.

Frank asks: Do we have any stats on Chapman pitching more than 3 outs in any game over the last year or so?

Chapman has appeared in 324 big league games (all relief appearances) and he’s recorded four or more outs 29 times. Only eleven of those 29 multi-inning appearances have come since 2013. Chapman got four or more outs four times in 2015, five times in 2014, and twice in 2013. Here’s the game log. He has a 0.54 (~1.36 FIP) with a 43.9% strikeout rate in 50 innings in those 29 multi-inning appearances, so yeah, Chapman’s dominated in those spots.

Closers don’t throw multiple innings very often these days — Andrew Miller recorded four or more outs eight times in 2015, but four of those were in the final month, when the Yankees were trying to make the postseason — so it’s not surprising to see Chapman throw multiple innings so few times. I don’t know of any physical reason why he couldn’t do it on occasion. That’s just reliever usage these days.

Dan asks: If Justin Upton can be had on a 1 year deal (and assuming the Yanks can find a satisfactory trade for Gardner), should the Yankees sign him? His righty power would be a really nice asset, and he’ll be highly motivated to not have similar issues as a FA next year.

I don’t think Upton will have to settle for a one-year contract but yes, if he’ll take one, sign him up. The Yankees wouldn’t even have to trade Gardner to make it work. Just think about to our Heyward conversations — rather than trade someone, the Yankees could rest Carlos Beltran and A-Rod (and Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) a little more often and have them split time at DH. Not ideal, but doable. (It’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt anyway.) I’d rather have Yoenis Cespedes on a one-year deal than Upton — comparable hitter, better defender and base-runner, no draft pick attached — but the question didn’t ask who I’d rather have, so I’m not sure why I wrote this. Like I said though, I think Upton will get paid in due time.

Jamie asks: Would you say ERA is a flawed stat for starting pitchers at this point, or just doesn’t show the whole picture? How much am I missing by looking at ERA for starters and WHIP for relievers? Meaning, do I need to learn FIP?

It’s a little of both. ERA is flawed and it doesn’t show the whole picture. I don’t think it’s useless though. If anything, ERA might be getting underrated, especially when evaluating past performance. (It doesn’t have much predictive value though.) WHIP is okay. The biggest problem with WHIP is it considers a walk equal to a home run, etc., and we know that’s not the case. Limiting base-runners is good in general. A little more context would help though.

FIP is really pretty simple. It’s on the same scale as ERA — so a 3.00 FIP is good and a 5.00 FIP is bad — and it considers strikeouts, walks, and homers only. Getting strikeouts while limiting walks and dingers is a pretty great way for a pitcher to be successful, right? Right. We still haven’t found a good way to measure quality of contact and things like that, which absolutely impact a pitcher’s performance. A lot goes into it. Is the pitcher giving up rockets? Is the defense making the plays it’s supposed to make? Stuff like that. Personally, I look at both, ERA and FIP. There’s no need to pick one or the other. They’re both useful in their own ways. I can’t say I’m much of a WHIP guy though.