Front office perception and the Yankees

They ate how much money and traded him for what? (Harry How/Getty)
They ate how much money and traded him for what? (Harry How/Getty)

The 2014 Winter Meetings came and went last week, and although the Yankees didn’t make any moves, it was the busiest Winter Meetings I can remember. The 2008 Winter Meetings were pretty hectic — the Yankees signed both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett that week — but nothing compared to this year. There were a ton of high profile signings and trades in San Diego last week, and yet there are still more on the way. Max Scherzer and James Shields are unsigned and Justin Upton is still on the trade block.

The busiest team during the Winter Meetings last week was the Dodgers, who swung three major trades and landed a notable free agent in the span of about 18 hours from Wednesday afternoon into Thursday morning. As those deals were going down, I saw nothing but approval for the job ex-Rays GM Andrew Friedman was doing. Whether it was real time reaction on Twitter or analysis posts filed later, it was nothing but love for what the Dodgers were doing. Universal praise.

And yet, of all their moves, the only one that struck me as great was the Jimmy Rollins trade. (I really like Rollins as a one year stopgap shortstop.) The Dee Gordon trade? I mean, didn’t anyone actually stop to think that maybe he’s good now? (Drew Fairservice did.) Or that the Marlins are legitimately excellent at player development, so maybe there’s a reason top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney was available? Trade four years of Gordon for six of Heaney? Brilliant! Flip six years of Heaney for one of Howie Kendrick? Somehow also brilliant! Also, isn’t it amazing how almost no one is questioning four years for Brandon McCarthy now?

Then there’s the Matt Kemp trade, in which the Dodgers ate so much money that they turned his contract into a five-year, $75M deal. Isn’t that entirely reasonable for a just turned 30-year-old who is one of only 18 players to slug .500+ over the last four years? All the Dodgers got back was a catcher who has been lauded for his pitch framing (Yasmani Grandal), a broken young pitcher (Joe Wieland), and a Single-A prospect (Zach Eflin). The ultimate win now team just traded one of their two best hitters for that package. I guess I don’t see that as deserving of the instant, unquestioned praise it received.

So anyway, those moves and the reaction to those moves got me thinking about how people perceive certain front offices. If anyone other than Friedman had made those moves, I’m pretty sure they would have been viewed differently. No doubt about it in my mind. Theo Epstein & Co. are treated the same way as Friedman. On the other side of the coin, we snicker at everything Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik or Royals GM Dayton Moore does. Or at least we did until Moore’s team went to the World Series. Giants GM Brian Sabean was the butt of many jokes until he built a dynasty.

How do people perceive the Yankees front office? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. Based on what I’ve seen and read over the years, it seems like the majority of non-Yankees fans generally like the team’s moves more than Yankees fans. I’ve seen very few non-Yankees fans think the Didi Gregorius trade was a mistake, for example. Almost zero. Is that because they hadn’t seen enough of Shane Greene to fall in love with him? Or because they better understand just how hard it is to get a young shortstop because they haven’t been watching Derek Jeter for two decades? I don’t know. Could be both.

Here is a relevant tweet from a non-Yankees fan:

Patrick’s talking about handing out some market value contracts and making one big trade. The Yankees, because of their payroll, tend to buy big money free agents rather than mid-range free agents like the ChiSox, but the idea is the same. Market value signings and a big trade. When the Yankees do it, it’s bad. When the Rick Hahn does it, it’s genius. (Full disclosure: I really like what Hahn’s done this winter.)

These biases exist and that’s perfectly fine. It’s human nature. We have biases about players and that extends into the front office. The Dodgers’ moves drew praise last week because Friedman was excellent while with the Rays, consistently building a contender with a shoestring budget. He earned the benefit of the doubt. But these days it isn’t so much benefit of the doubt as it is unquestioned approval. We don’t even consider the “what if Friedman just made a big mistake?” option. Doesn’t even cross our minds. Meanwhile, it feels like “what if Cashman just made a big mistake?” is the default setting for many fans.

As someone who writes a lot about baseball, especially about the Yankees, I can’t tell you how many times a move has been made, my initial reaction is “it sucks” or “this is awesome,” and I find myself writing a post that fits my opinion. Happens way too often, especially when I’m trying to crank something out quickly. I’m not going to sit here and tell people what to think. I just think we’d all be better served if we removed our preconceived notions — that’s very difficult! — and took a second to consider the alternative. What if Friedman did make a mistake? What if this relatively quiet Yankees offseason is, in fact, the best thing for the Yankees long-term?

Yankees re-sign Chase Headley to four-year deal


4:57pm: Sherman says the contract does not include any no-trade protection. Headley will receive a $1M assignment bonus if he is traded during the life of the contract, however.

1:54pm: The Yankees have officially announced the signing, so it’s a done deal. Here are the (very favorable) ZiPS projections for the contract, if you’re into that sort of thing. Steve Adams says it’s a four-year deal worth $52M guaranteed, plus Headley can earn an additional $1M each season when he reaches 550 plate appearances, so the contract can max out at $56M. As with the Gregorius trade and Andrew Miller signing, the Yankees went from rumor to agreement to press release in less than four hours. They run a pretty tight ship in the Bronx. Not many leaks at all.

10:53am: After doing not much of anything at the Winter Meetings last week, the Yankees handled one of their most important remaining pieces of offseason business on Monday by filling out the infield. The club has agreed to re-sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract worth approximately $51M to $52M. There are no option years and the deal is still pending a physical. Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and Joel Sherman all had a hand in breaking the news.

A few weeks ago we heard Headley had a four-year offer worth $65M in hand from an unknown team (rumored to be the Astros), and Jack Curry says Yankees officials do believe that offer was legitimate. If true, Headley took a whole lot less money to return to New York. The Yankees, for what it’s worth, initially said they wouldn’t give Headley four years until caving last week and saying they would do it as long as the contract came with a lower annual salary.

Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 58 games with the Yankees after being acquired at the trade deadline this past season. He hit .243/.328/.372 (103 wRC+) with 13 homers in 135 games overall between New York and San Diego in 2014. That came with his usual standout defense at the hot corner as well. That’s where he’ll have his biggest impact, in the field. All you need to know about Headley — including his often overstated history of back problems — is in our Scouting The Market post.

After the season, Headley reportedly told friends he enjoyed playing in New York more than he thought he would, and that he would consider returning as long as he was an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said after the season, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”

With Headley on board, the Yankees figure to play Martin Prado at second base and use A-Rod as the primary DH. It also means Carlos Beltran will see most of his action in right field. At least as long as he and Alex are both healthy at the same time, anyway. Rob Refsnyder will presumably return to Triple-A and wait until injury strikes. When that happens (inevitable), Prado can move around to fill in and Refsnyder can take over at second. Jose Pirela still has a clear path to a bench job.

Although Headley will probably never get back to being the hitter he was in 2012 (31 homers and a 145 wRC+), he’s still no worse than a league average hitter and a well above average defender, making him a huge upgrade at third based compared to whom the Yankees have been running out there the last two or three years. With Didi Gregorius recently acquired to play short, the Yankees now have an average or better defender at all four infield positions. The ground ball heavy pitching staff will appreciate that.

Now that the lineup and position player group has been settled, the Yankees can focus on improving the pitching staff, which still needs at last two starters and maybe another reliever as well. Max Scherzer and James Shields remain unsigned but the team continues to insist they will not hand out the massive contracts it would take to sign them. They’ll scour the second and third tier pitching options, maybe hope Hiroki Kuroda returns, and go from there.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 15th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

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Weekend Open Thread

Between RAB and CBS, the Winter Meetings really wore me down this week, especially Wednesday and Thursday. I didn’t have much time to reach anything worthwhile, so I don’t have any links to pass along this weekend. Sorry. I do want to point that, during a conference call this afternoon, Didi Gregorius told reporters he was knighted back in 2011. The Yankees literally have a knight at shortstop. Sir Didi of Gregorius now roams the infield in the Bronx. Amazing.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, plus I’m sure there’s some college basketball on somewhere. Talk about anything and everything right here. Enjoy.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Rangers, Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s college sports too. Have at it.

Cashman on Tanaka: “He is a healthy player so there’s nothing to report”

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
I love this photo so much. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

While talking with reporters late last week, Brian Cashman confirmed there is nothing new to report on the status of Masahiro Tanaka and his partially torn elbow ligament. “He is a healthy player so there’s nothing to report on him other than you keep your fingers crossed that problem doesn’t rear its ugly head again,’’ said the GM to George King.

Keeping your fingers crossed that Tanaka’s elbow holds up next year is not exactly an ideal strategy, but there’s really not much more the Yankees can do at this point. The rehab treatment was complete and the doctors cleared him to pitch, then he made it through two late-season starts healthy, which was encouraging. Adam Wainwright and Ervin Santana pitched with small tears in their UCL for years.

Tanaka’s health might the biggest x-factor for the 2015 Yankees. If he stays on the mound, he’s an impact pitcher who greatly improves the team’s chances to contend. If he gets hurt, especially early in the season, it’s a huge loss because the drop-off from Tanaka to whoever replaces him in the rotation is substantial. I like Bryan Mitchell and Manny Banuelos, but c’mon, they’re not Tanaka.

The Yankees came into the offseason needing at least one starter and now they need multiple starters after using Shane Greene to get Didi Gregorius. They have to protect themselves against not only Tanaka’s elbow, but also CC Sabathia‘s knee and Michael Pineda‘s shoulder. The good news is that there is still quite a bit of pitching available in free agency. All shapes and sizes too. Aces, mid-rotation guys, reclamation projects, you name it.

Win a pair of tickets to PITCH: Talks on Baseball at B.B. King’s

Pitch Talks at BB Kings

There are still plenty of interesting players on the market, but they’ll soon find homes. By mid-January we’ll be in the depths of the off-season, with transactions behind us and Spring Training still a month away.

To help baseball nuts stay sane during this trying period, the PITCH: Talks on Baseball series is holding an event at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on January 14.

And RAB is giving away two pairs of tickets. to the event on January 14, 2015 Doors open at 6 p.m., and they kick off at 7:30.

Check out the event at the B.B. King Blues Clubs & Grill website.

The speakers

Pete Abraham, Boston Globe (Moderator)
Matthew Cerrone, Metsblog
Joel Sherman, New York Post
Tyler Kepner, New York Times
Jay Jaffe, Sports Illustrated
Adam Rubin, ESPN
Sweeny Murti, WFAN
Buster Olney, ESPN

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The catch: In order to win, you have to be signed up for the RAB Daily Digest. We’ll check the entrants list against the email list when we pick a winner on the 30th. And hey, the Daily Digest is good fun, too. Just take it from reader Benjamin:

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David Phelps, Adam Warren will come to Spring Training as starters

Warren in the rotation? As a last resort maybe. (Presswire)
Warren in the rotation? As a last resort maybe. (Presswire)

It’s no secret the Yankees came into the offseason needing rotation help. So, after the end of the regular season, the team told both David Phelps and Adam Warren to report to Spring Training next year ready to compete for a spot in the starting rotation. “We could always collapse them back into the (bullpen), but they were told to be physically ready to take a shot at a rotation spot,” said Brian Cashman to Brendan Kuty last week.

Phelps, 28, has been a true swingman the last three years, bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen on numerous occasions. He’s performed a bit better as a reliever but not overwhelmingly so. It makes perfect sense to bring Phelps to camp ready to start. The 27-year-old Warren did a nice job in long relief in 2013 but really seemed to find a niche in short relief this past season. His velocity ticked up a bit and so did his strikeout rate. I understand bringing him to camp as a starter but I think he’s much more valuable as a one-inning reliever.

Despite their inactivity at the Winter Meetings, I definitely expect the Yankees to add a starter this offseason and probably two starters. They need the depth given the injury concerns in the rotation. It makes perfect sense to have Phelps and Warren prepare for a possible starting role, and while starting Phelps every fifth day is a fine fallback plan, I think putting Warren in the rotation should be a last resort. Hopefully he’s an emergency option and nothing more.