This is the nightly open thread. The Knicks and Nets are playing, and that’s about it for local sports. Talk about those games, Passan’s article, or anything that isn’t religion or politics right here. Thanks.
There are fewer than four weeks to go before the start of Spring Training, and so far the Yankees have done a pretty good job accomplishing their goals. They re-signed CC Sabathia to a reasonable contract, salary dumped Chase Headley, and are in position to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold. And they managed to pick up Giancarlo Stanton along the way. Not a bad winter’s work.
The Yankees still have some work to do before camp begins, however. At least it feels that way. Second and third bases are open, and the team has been trying to add another high-end starter for so long that it almost feels like they consider it a necessity. All things considered though, the Yankees are in good shape. The rotation is set, the lineup is formidable, and the bullpen is widely considered the best and deepest in baseball. Could be worse.
Generally speaking, these last few weeks before Spring Training are the time for small moves and tweaks, not huge pickups. There are always exceptions (see: Rodriguez, Alex), but in recent years the Yankees have made smaller, low-key moves in the weeks leading up to camp. Let’s look back at the team’s moves in the month (give or take a few days) leading up to reporting day, and see whether they tell us anything useful. Come with me, won’t you?
- 2013: Abe Almonte for Shawn Kelley
- 2014: None
- 2015: None
- 2016: Rob Segedin for Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Olson
- 2017: None
What does this tell us? The player(s) acquired in that seemingly minor trade could have more impact than you think. Kelley was a bullpen mainstay for two years with the Yankees after coming over from the Mariners, and while Olson was one (appearance) and done with the Yankees, Torreyes has become entrenched as the utility infielder. He might be starting at second or third come Opening Day! Who saw that coming?
The Yankees haven’t swung a significant trade this late in the offseason in a very long time. The last was probably the A.J. Burnett salary dump in 2012, and you have to go all the way back to the Randy Johnson trade in 2005 for the last time the Yankees added a notable player this late in the offseason. Recent history suggests the Yankees won’t make a significant trade before camp, but like I said, they are still looking for a high-end starter, so who knows.
Now, if the Yankees make a small trade between now and the start of camp, chances are they like the player(s) they add more than we realize. The new addition could hang around for a while. These late offseason trade pickups have a way of sticking around.
Free Agent Signings
- 2013: Travis Hafner (one year, $2M)
- 2014: Brian Roberts (one year, $2M), Masahiro Tanaka (seven years, $155M)
- 2015: Stephen Drew (one year, $5M)
- 2016: None
- 2017: Chris Carter (one year, $3M)
What does this tell us? First of all, the Tanaka contract is clearly a special case. The Yankees signed him in mid-January not because that’s when they decided to get involved and make a big offer. That’s when his 30-day negotiating window ended. The timing of the Tanaka signing was driven by his posting. The Yankees were always expected to make a big push to sign him. Everyone just had to wait a little longer than expected for him to be posted.
As for the other signings, the Yankees used the last few weeks of the offseason to patch those final few roster holes with low-cost veterans. Hafner, Roberts, and Drew were all signed on the cheap to be a short-term stopgap. In Carter’s case, the reigning NL home run king was sitting out there unsigned, so the Yankees decided to bet $3M on him being a useful bench bat/platoon first baseman. It didn’t work it. Such is life.
The Yankees currently have two great big openings at second and third base, though unlike previous years, they have exciting young players ready to step into the lineup. They signed Roberts in 2014 because they didn’t have a second base prospect on the cusp of the big leagues. The Yankees don’t have to sign anyone for second or third. It’s just a question of how comfortable they are with Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar (or Tyler Wade).
Minor League Contracts
- 2013: Thomas Neal, Dan Johnson, Juan Rivera
- 2014: Yangervis Solarte, Chris Leroux
- 2015: Eddy Rodriguez, Scott Baker, Kyle Davies
- 2016: Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Cloyd, Carlos Corporan
- 2017: Ji-Man Choi, Jon Niese
What does this tell us? Don’t laugh off these late offseason minor league contracts. Six of those 13 players spent time in the Bronx (Neal, Solarte, Leroux, Davies, Swarzak, Choi) and another (Rodriguez) became a three-year Triple-A mainstay. We complain when these players sign (“championship!”) and complain when they get called up, but they’re a necessary evil during a 162-game season.
Within the last week or so the Yankees have signed Jace Peterson and Wade LeBlanc to minor league deals and chances are more minor league signings are on the way. You just know one of those guys is going to end up spending, like, two months on the big league roster. Isn’t that usually how this goes? Once in a while you strike gold with a Solarte. More often you get a Swarzak, who annoyingly sticks around.
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This offseason is unlike any other in recent memory. Most top free agents remain unsigned and there are few (if any) indications the market will heat up before Spring Training. There’s talk about collusion and a potential work stoppage down the line to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. Whatever the cause — causes, really, since it’s never just one thing — this is a unique offseason.
And because of that, I’m not sure how instructive the Yankees’ recent late offseason activity really is. Yeah, they could swing a small trade and make a cheap free agent signing, which would be the norm. But would it really shock anyone if they made a blockbuster trade for a young starter? What if they signed Yu Darvish and moved David Robertson to make it work under the luxury tax threshold? For the most part, the late offseason has been a time for small tweaks for the Yankees. This year though, there’s the potential for something much greater.
Glenn Otto | RHP
The 22-year-old Otto grew up in the Houston suburbs and attended Concordia Lutheran High School in Spring, Texas, where he had a decorated baseball career. Despite that, Otto was not a highly regarded prospect out of high school — Baseball America did not rank him among their top 500 prospects for the 2014 draft — and he went undrafted. He followed through on his commitment to Rice.
Otto quickly took over as a trusted setup man during his freshman season with the Owls, throwing 41 innings with a 1.54 ERA and a 65/28 K/BB. He spent the summer with the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League, where he finished with a 3.80 ERA and a 58/16 K/BB in 42.2 innings, all as a starting pitcher. Baseball America ranked Otto as the sixth best prospect in the circuit.
As a sophomore at Rice, Otto worked 71.2 innings, all in relief, and posted a 2.26 ERA with a 76/30 K/BB. He saved eight games and was named to the All-Conference USA and All-Regional Teams. He traveled to Cuba with the U.S. Collegiate National Team during the summer, and was part of a Team USA roster that included future first rounders Keston Hiura, Alex Faudo, and Brendan McKay.
Otto was named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List prior to his junior season — that’s basically a watch list for baseball’s Heisman Trophy — but he battled a sore shoulder during fall ball and had a down year, throwing 59.2 innings with a 3.77 ERA and an 81/29 in his final season at Rice. He made two spot starts, but otherwise worked primarily in relief. Otto finished his career with the Owls with 2.62 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 172 innings.
Last spring MLB.com ranked Otto as the 96th best prospect in the 2017 draft class while Baseball America ranked him 170th. The Yankees selected Otto with their fifth round pick, the 152nd overall selection, and signed him quickly to a straight slot $320,900 bonus.
The Yankees had Otto begin his pro career with a pair of rookie ball tune-up appearances before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island. With the Baby Bombers he threw 17 relief innings with a 1.59 ERA (1.37 FIP) and a 25/5 K/BB. That works out to a 37.3% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate. Otto threw 2.2 scoreless innings in his lone postseason appearance with Staten Island, then headed to Instructional League after the season.
Built solidly at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., Otto is a pure power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball he can run up to 98 mph, though when he initially came back from his shoulder issue last year, it was more 91-93 mph. His velocity was all the way back by time he reported to Staten Island.
Otto’s go-to secondary pitch is a hard low-80s knucklecurve — you can see the grip in the photo at the top of the post — that drops off the table and allows him to miss a ton of bats. When he’s right, Otto goes out to the mound with two swing-and-miss pitches with his fastball and curve. His changeup is a distant third pitch and he basically never uses it, so Otto is a two-pitch guy.
It is notable Otto had a shoulder issue early last year — he didn’t have surgery, so that’s good, and as far as I can tell it has only been described as soreness — because Rice pitchers have a long history of breaking down in pro ball. The sore shoulder could be nothing, or it could be an indication of bad things to come. The Yankees were willing to bet a fifth round pick and $320,900 on it being nothing.
A few years ago the Yankees adopted a “let’s take all our best arms and make them starters” approach in the minors, and I assume that will apply to Otto next season. Give him a year in the rotation and see what happens. Maybe he’ll be the next Chance Adams! Or maybe it’ll be like Jonathan Holder’s year in the rotation, which was good statistically, but his stuff backed up so much as a starter that the Yankees decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. If the Yankees do decide to let Otto start, I imagine he’ll begin the season with Low-A Charleston. If they keep him in the bullpen, High-A Tampa is more likely.
I see Otto as a fairly generic relief prospect, which doesn’t mean I don’t like him. It just means I don’t see much to separate him from the Holders of the world. Otto has the velocity, has the quality breaking ball, and has the arm injury that took a bite out of his stock. That’s usually what these guys look like, right? Getting a big league reliever with a fifth round pick would be a big win for the Yankees. Otto could develop in a legitimate late-inning guy with good health, but for now, I see him as more of an interesting key-an-eye-on guy than a bonafide top relief prospect.
With Spring Training less than four weeks away, the Yankees do not have established second or third basemen, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You could do worse than going into the season with Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar at those positions. A lot worse. A lack of established players doesn’t mean a lack of options.
At the same time, going with rookies at two infield positions is risky, especially when one has not played in nine months due to an injury. The Yankees have already signed Jace Peterson to a minor league deal for depth, and in all likelihood, another infielder is on the way. Maybe it’ll be Josh Harrison. The Yankees have been connected to him for weeks and the Pirates are clearly selling.
If the Yankees don’t swing a trade for Harrison or sign a bigger name free agent like Neil Walker or Todd Frazier, they could seek out a lower cost option, which would fit nicely under the $197M luxury tax threshold. They’ve done this stuff before. Remember Brian Roberts? Kelly Johnson? Stephen Drew? All bargain pickups to plug roster holes. Here are some low-cost free agent infielders who could interest the Yankees.
2017 Stats: .253/.302/.358 (70 wRC+) and +0.1 WAR
ZiPS Steamer : .234/.301/.407 (86 wRC+) and +0.1 WAR
What does he offer? Drew has spent the last two seasons as a utility man with the Nationals, playing the three non-first base infield positions and occasionally running into a fastball off the bench. He’s still a fine defender — Drew’s always had that going for him — and as a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, there’s always a chance his offense will tick up. With Drew, you’re getting a good glove and at least a chance at some offense.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? We’ve been here before, right? Drew was terrible in his only full season with the Yankees, hitting .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) and falling out of favor. Even with a new manager — Aaron Boone would represent a fresh start after Drew played under Joe Girardi — the Yankees may not want to go down this road again. Been there, done that.
2017 Stats: .274/.333/.397 (100 wRC+) and +0.8 WAR
2018 ZiPS: .263/.319/.353 (87 OPS+) and +0.0 WAR
What does he offer? Escobar is one year removed from hitting .304/.355/.391 (107 wRC+) and he’s a high contact bat who would help balance out a lineup that probably has more strikeouts than the Yankees would like. He’s been a full-time third baseman for three years now, but he could play shortstop in a pinch. His second base experience is limited. Contact and some infield versatility. That’s what you’re getting here.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? At this point, Escobar’s value is tied up almost entirely in his batting average. He doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t hit for power, and the defensive stats hate him at the hot corner. Also, Escobar has long had a reputation for being a headache in the clubhouse. He wore out his welcome in Atlanta, in Toronto, in Tampa, in Washington, and in Anaheim. Even when he produced, those clubs weren’t sad to see him go.
2017 Stats: .173/.245/.278 (41 wRC+) and -1.0 WAR
ZiPS Steamer: .202/.280/.344 (66 wRC+) and +0 WAR
What does he offer? Espinosa is a more extreme version of Drew. He’s a worse hitter and better defender, plus he’s also played a little first base and left field. And he’s a switch-hitter, which is potentially useful. Keep in mind the Yankees have had interest in Espinosa before. So much so that I once wrote a Scouting The Market post on him. That was back when Espinosa was coming off a few good seasons with the Nationals and seemed salvageable. That interest could linger.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? Good gravy Espinosa was sooo bad last year. So bad he was released by two teams. This is a guy who has hit .207/.282/.353 (70 wRC+) in his last 1,839 plate appearances dating back to Opening Day 2013. Espinosa is Brendan Ryan with a lesser glove, basically. At the same time, it would be the most Yankee thing ever for them to sign Espinosa and have him inexplicably hit .280/.395/.500 for two months until Gleyber is ready.
2017 Stats: .217/.255/.323 (50 wRC+) and -0.6 WAR
2018 ZiPS: .232/.274/.330 (63 OPS+) and +0.1 WAR
What does he offer? Remember when there was some thought the Yankees would sign Hardy to replace Derek Jeter? Good thing that didn’t happen. Hardy signed an extension with the Orioles before becoming a free agent and the Yankees wound up with Didi Gregorius. Phew. Anyway, Hardy lost his shortstop job to a wrist injury and the Tim Beckham trade last season, but he still offers a good glove and a contact-oriented approach.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? The wrist problems and the fact he hasn’t been even a league average hitter in five years. Also, Hardy has never played a position other than shortstop in his big league career. Not even DH!. So, to sum it all up, the Yankees would be asking a guy who hasn’t hit much the last few years to learn a new infield position on the fly. What could go wrong?
2017 Stats: .285/.319/.416 (93 wRC+) and +1.6 WAR
2018 ZiPS: .267/.297/.375 (86 OPS+) and +0.3 WAR
What does he offer? Phillips for Brett Gardner, who says no? Remember those days? That was a long time ago now. Anyway, Phillips had arguably the best offensive season of any player in this post last year, and he also played third base for the first time in deference to some younger players with the Braves. The ability to play second (well) and third while being more than a zero at the plate seems like exactly the kind of low-cost veteran the Yankees would target.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? As with any 36-year-old player, there’s a chance Phillips will suddenly fall off a cliff, though the fact he’d be on a small one-year contract would mitigate the risk. If he stinks, you cut him. Also, Phillips has a rep for being a bit of a jerk, though I wonder how true that really is. Is he cool with his teammates and a jerk to the media? Being a jerk to the media is the fastest way to get a bad clubhouse rep. I mean, Phillips spent eleven years with the Reds. Would they have kept him around that long if he was really a bad clubhouse dude?
2017 Stats: .246/.315/.413 (94 wRC+) and +2.0 WAR
2018 ZiPS: .255/.311/.405 (93 OPS+) and +0.9 WAR
What does he offer? I’m surprised Reyes’ numbers are as good as they were given how much Mets fans complained about him last summer. (He bottomed out at .184/.261/.286 on June 15th, then hit .292/.356/.511 the rest of the way.) Reyes is a switch-hitter who makes contact and can still run a little — he went 24-for-30 in steal attempts last season — and last year he embraced a true utility role, playing second, third, short, left, and center. The defensive numbers weren’t good anywhere, however. They weren’t even average. The stats say Reyes is a bad defender all around the field.
Why should the Yankees avoid him? Even with that big finish last year, Reyes has hit .261/.315/.406 (92 wRC+) in his last 1,359 plate appearances, and he’s at the age when middle infielders tend to fall off a cliff. The versatility is nice and we can’t ignore his big finish last season, but the bad defense means that if he doesn’t hit, Reyes has no redeeming qualities at all.
* * *
There are other potential low-cost infielders out there like Darwin Barney, Alcides Escobar, Ryan Goins, and Cliff Pennington, all of whom are no bat/good glove players. If the Yankees were going to go that route, the defense-first route, I think they’d target someone who offers a little offensive upside, like Drew or Espinosa. Those guys are at least capable of making a pitcher pay for a mistake. Barney, Escobar, Goins, or Pennington? Nah.
Here’s what we know. One, the Yankees have about $22M to spend under the luxury tax threshold, minus what they set aside for midseason additions. And two, they want Torres to take over at second base sooner rather than later, and chances are they feel the same about Andujar at third. In a perfect world they would spend as little of that $22M as possible on a stopgap infielder who won’t block Torres or Andujar long-term. That could lead them to one of these flawed low-cost infielders who don’t appear to have much of a market right now.
This is the open thread for the night. The three local hockey teams are playing and that’s about it. Talk about those games, Granderson signing with the Blue Jays, or anything else here as long as it is not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
According to Jerry Crasnick, the Yankees have signed veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The deal will pay him $1M at the big league level. LeBlanc can also opt-out of the deal at the end of camp if he doesn’t make the MLB roster.
The 33-year-old LeBlanc was very briefly a Yankee back in 2014, allowing two runs in one inning in his only appearance with the team. He spent last season with the Pirates, throwing 68 relief innings with a 4.50 ERA (4.28 FIP) and okay-ish strikeout (19.1%) and walk (6.0%) rates. Lefties hit .216/.270/.389 (.279 wOBA) against him.
The Yankees have six relievers (Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Warren) for seven bullpen spots right now, so LeBlanc will compete against Chasen Shreve and a bunch of youngsters (Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Domingo German, etc.) for that final reliever roster spot.
So far the Yankees have signed LeBlanc and utility man Jace Peterson to minor league contracts. More are on the way, no doubt. The Yankees could use a Triple-A first baseman — free agent target Ji-Man Choi signed with the Brewers over the weekend — plus another infielder or two.
To date, the Yankees have made the single biggest move in baseball this offseason, acquiring reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in what amounts to a salary dump. Starlin Castro is a decent enough player and Jorge Guzman is a very good prospect, but yeah, if you’re the Yankees (or any contending team), that’s a trade you make eight days a week and twice on Sundays.
Over the last few days the Pirates have taken over as the center of attention by trading away staff ace Gerrit Cole and face of the franchise Andrew McCutchen. Cole went to the Astros over the weekend and yesterday the Pirates sent McCutchen to the Giants for two prospects. Those trades have no direct impact on the Yankees aside from potentially facing Cole and/or McCutchen down the line.
Those trades do, however, have indirect impact on the Yankees. On every team, really. The trades change the entire offseason market to some degree, and that will affect the still open to doing stuff Yankees. Each of the three branches to these trades — the Pirates branch, the Giants branch, and the Astros branch — means something different to the Yankees.
The Pirates are open for business
There’s no doubt about it now. Cole is gone, McCutchen is gone, and I have to think it’s only a matter of time until Josh Harrison is gone as well. Others like David Freese, Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson, and Ivan Nova could be on the chopping block too. If you’re going to trade Cole and McCutchen, you might as well listen to offers for everyone else on your roster. It only makes sense.
Even with Cole in Houston, the Pirates still have some players who could help the Yankees, namely Harrison (here’s our Scouting The Market post) and Freese (Scouting The Market). Picking up Rivero would be fun too, but the Yankees aren’t desperate for bullpen help, and I don’t see them moving significant prospects for a reliever, even one as good as Rivero. Harrison, who the Yankees have been connected to for weeks, and Freese are more likely targets.
The Pirates are clearly open for business and willing to trade, and, best of all, they didn’t knock it out of the park with either the Cole or McCutchen trade. Both deals are more quantity over quality. This is nothing new either. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has been trading his best players for eyebrow-raising packages since the days of Nate McLouth and Jason Bay. The Yankees might be able to get Harrison and/or Freese at a price that won’t hurt at all.
The Giants still need an outfielder (and more)
A few weeks ago in a mailbag I noted the Giants had the worst projected outfield in baseball for 2018. McCutchen is no longer the MVP caliber producer he was in his prime, but he’ll be a massive upgrade over guys like Gorkys Hernandez, Mac Williamson, and Jarrett Parker. Between McCutchen and Evan Longoria, the Giants made huge upgrades at two major problem positions.
And yet, because their outfield was so bad, the Giants still need another outfielder after acquiring McCutchen. Alex Pavlovic notes San Francisco was planning to play McCutchen in a corner — where he fits best at this point of his career — and add a quality defensive center fielder. (Their outfield defense was sooo bad last year.) Signing Lorenzo Cain would be the sexy move. Signing Jarrod Dyson would be the practical move.
The Yankees have outfielders to spare, so if the Giants are still in the market for another outfielder, it’s possible the two could get together for a trade. Jacoby Ellsbury would be ideal. The Giants reportedly don’t have much more money to spend and they definitely don’t have many top prospects to trade, so take on a few million in salary and give up a non-prospect and boom, they’ll have a quality defensive center fielder in Ellsbury. Easy enough.
Of course, trading Ellsbury remains a long shot, both to the Giants or anywhere else. What about Brett Gardner though? If the Giants are more willing to take on money than reported, they could be a destination for Gardner as the Yankees try to free up payroll space to sign Yu Darvish. Or what about Aaron Hicks or Clint Frazier? I have no idea what the Giants could send the Yankees in return, but hey, if they need an outfielder, Hicks or Frazier could be targets.
Furthermore, the Giants have made it clear they are looking to improve and get back to contention this coming season — that might not be possible after going 64-98 in 2017, but they’re trying — so they figure to look for upgrades in areas other than the outfield. What about the bullpen? If the Yankees need to clear money for Darvish or whoever, Adam Warren or Dellin Betances (or David Robertson) could be of interest to the Giants.
I’ll admit to this being a stretch. With the Pirates, the fact they’re open for business is plainly obvious, as are the potential Harrison and/or Freese fits. With the Giants, we’re more or less hoping they still want an outfielder (or reliever), and the two clubs can find a way to match up for a trade. Looks tough on paper. Possible? Sure. But difficult. I just think the more active San Francisco is, the more likely it is they could strike a deal with the Yankees, even if it is a long shot.
The Astros are the team to beat
Did anyone out there truly believe otherwise prior to the Cole trade? I hope not. The Astros are the defending World Series champs, they lost no one of consequence to free agency this offseason, and their core is (mostly) young and under control long-term. They’re the team to beat. Their roster says they are and they’ve earned every right to be considered the AL favorites going into the 2018.
Now the Astros have added Cole, a potential frontline starter, to a roster that was already good enough to have a legitimate shot at repeating in 2018. The Yankees are better today than they were in the ALCS because adding Stanton more than offsets the losses of Castro and Chase Headley (and Todd Frazier), but they’re still looking up at the Astros. Want to win the 2018 World Series? You’re probably going to have to go through Houston.
These days Brian Cashman & Co. are pretty good at not making knee-jerk, reactionary type moves. The Astros getting Cole won’t coax the Yankees into blowing up the luxury tax plan and signing Darvish. It is a reminder that the Yankees are not the best team in the league, at least not on paper, and that the teams they’re chasing are getting better. There is always room for improvement. The defending champs just reminded the Yankees and everyone else of that with the Cole trade.