For Nathan Eovaldi, not all adjustments will be physical

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Earlier this week in our little poll, RAB readers voted right-hander Nathan Eovaldi as the Yankees’ most important pickup of the offseason. (He received 40% of the 2,500+ votes.) He beat out the likes of Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and various relievers because he’s a hard-throwing starter with obvious upside and three full years of team control remaining. He’s a rotation building block going forward.

Although he already has 79 career starts and 460 big league innings under his belt, Eovaldi is still just a kid. He turned 25 less than two weeks ago. He’s almost two full years younger than reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. He’s younger the all five of the top five finishers in last year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting. At his age, Eovaldi is far from a finished product, and the Yankees know that. He’s a work in progress.

“He kind of defies some of the logic with the analysis, as far as velocity and location and then giving up so many hits,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Billy Witz over the weekend. “I’ve watched the tape, but I want to sit and watch during the game and try to figure out, how do you eliminate that? There’s not any great explanation.”

Eovaldi throws very hard — his fastball averaged 95.5 mph last year, fifth highest among the 88 qualified starters — and he doesn’t really walk many batters (5.0 BB% in 2014), yet he led the NL in hits allowed last season (223 in 199.2 innings) and only struck out 16.6% of batters faced, well below the 20.4% league average. An argument can be made all those hits were the product of bad luck (.323 BABIP was fourth highest among qualified starter), especially since his batted ball profile held steady.

Clearly though, there’s some kind of disconnect here. You’d expect someone who throws as hard as Eovaldi to strike out more batters, especially since he throws so many strikes. Eovaldi ranked 32nd out of those 88 qualify starters in first pitch strike percentage (62.9%) last year and he ranked 21st in percentage of 0-2 counts (22.0%), right alongside noted control artists like Jon Lester (22.3%), Zack Greinke (22.0%), and Doug Fister (21.8%). Getting in favorable counts wasn’t a problem.

Getting strike three has been an issue and Eovaldi knows that — “That’s one of the big issues I’ve had, not being able to finish the batters off. I try and do too much,” he said to Mark Feinsand recently — so he spent the weekend working on elevating his fastball with Rothschild, according to Chad Jennings. High fastballs are an excellent swing-and-miss pitch due to effective velocity. High fastballs look faster to the hitter and make it appear like they have less time to react.

There’s also an experience component to this that’s tough (impossible?) to quantify. It’s been said Eovaldi tries to throw harder when he’s in a jam like many pitchers his age, but the numbers don’t back that up. According to Baseball Savant, Eovaldi’s fastball has averaged 95.5 mph with the bases empty in his career, 94.9 mph with men on base, and 95.3 mph with runners in scoring position. Batters have a 94, 108, and 115 OPS+ against him in those situations, respectively.

The radar gun might not say Eovaldi is trying to throw harder in big spots — remember, trying to throw harder doesn’t automatically result in throwing hard. The result could be the same velocity but a “rushed” delivery and therefore bad location — but that doesn’t necessary mean the game doesn’t speed up on him in certain situations. Baseball is hard, man. It’s even harder when you’re young. It can be overwhelming.

“Sometimes, I think (his competitiveness) takes him into territory where he needs to back off a little bit, and not be not competitive, but get it under control. Or not always run it into the middle of everything. Step off and gather yourself and not try to necessarily power yourself through the inning,” said Rothschild to Witz. That sounds like a pitching coach describing a pitcher who needs to learn how to slow the game down in certain spots.

I’m not going to quote Yogi Berra here but you all know the saying. Eovaldi has the natural gifts — the big fastball, the solid slider, the work-in-progress changeup — but his development into a top flight pitcher will take more than physical adjustments. There’s a mental component to the game that can be easy to overlook but is also really important. I’m not saying Eovaldi is stupid or anything. He’s just a young kid and the game can spiral out of control on occasion. It’s normal. Learning to slow things down and stay in control will be an important part of his development, and that’s not something we can stick a number on.

Thoughts before position players report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
#TeamShorts (Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers have been in camp since last Friday, and today position players officially join them in Spring Training. Many of them — including Alex Rodriguez! — have already been in Tampa for a few days now. I’ve already said what I had to say about Yoan Moncada. Let’s move on to some Spring Training related thoughts now.

1. A-Rod reported to camp on Monday and apparently the Yankees were upset he showed up early without letting them know. “He’s learned nothing. He’s the same old guy. He just did what he wanted to do,” said one executive to Mark Feinsand. This has to be, hands down, the stupidest possible thing to be upset about, especially since Feinsand says A-Rod has showed up to the complex without advance notice lots of times in the past. This isn’t some kind of isolated incident. It’s so dumb I refuse to believe it’s true. Maybe Feinsand’s source is just one guy with a grudge? I hope so. Alex did not play at all last year and has barely played the last two years. Most people — well, rational people, and maybe that’s not most people — would be happy he showed up early to camp to get prepared for the season. Good grief.

2. CC Sabathia said he regained some weight this offseason because it made him more comfortable. “I lost a bunch of weight drastically, pretty quick, two years ago, and was kind of off-balance. I didn’t know really how my body was working,” he said to Feinsand. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this in the past: I wonder how much the weight loss led to Sabathia’s ineffectiveness the last two years. Not necessarily the reduced fastball velocity, I don’t expect that to come back at all at his age (he’ll probably lose more velocity going forward, if anything), but it seemed like his command was all over the place. Sabathia was leaving pitches up in the zone and over the plate way more often than he had from 2009-12. I wonder if his mechanics were all out of sync because of the weight loss. There’s no real way to prove this. It’s just a thought. Hopefully the extra weight — reportedly only ten pounds — gets his mechanics and command back in place without further complicating his knee issue.

3. I hate that this is happening but I now find myself optimistic about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow because of some stupid early Spring Training bullpen sessions. I’ve been doing this blog thing for a while now. I know early spring optimism is for suckers, but dammit, I can’t help myself. Tanaka said he is “absolutely fine” the other day and revealed an MRI in October came back clean. Dammit. Stop saying that. I spent all winter accepting Tanaka had a pretty severe elbow injury and would need Tommy John surgery, likely sooner rather later, yet here I am thinking he might actually make 30 starts and dominate this summer. I’m setting myself up for some major disappointment because of two stupid bullpen sessions in February. Spring Training optimism is just the worst.

4. I have nothing to back this up, but my hunch is the Yankees want Andrew Bailey to win the final bullpen spot. That would be the perfect world scenario. Bailey shows he’s healthy and effective in Grapefruit League play — he said he feels a “night and day difference” between this spring and last spring following shoulder capsule surgery — then claims the last bullpen spot. That doesn’t mean he’ll close or anything like that, I just think they want him to be healthy enough to make the team. They have all this bullpen depth and Bailey will give others like Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve more time in Triple-A. And if Bailey stinks, they can cut him loose early in the season and move on. He wouldn’t be hanging around in the minors wasting bullets.

5. Last week I said I was most interested to see Nathan Eovaldi in camp, and among the position players, I’m most interested in seeing Didi Gregorius. Yes, I know those two are the new additions and that’s a bit of a cop-out, but they are important long-term pieces and this will be my first extended look at them. Didi’s defensive reputation is top notch but the numbers say he’s been average in his relatively short big league career, so I want to see him with my own eyes. It appears there is evidence he is capable of highlight plays but will occasionally have a brain fart and botch the routine one. If true, he’s not unlike many young middle infielders. I also want to see his at-bats. Gregorius has a slightly above-average 8.1% walk rate in his career, but 56.5% of his career plate appearances have come batting eighth in the NL. Opposing pitchers pitched around him to get to the pitcher on more than a few occasions, I’m sure. So I just want to see his at-bats. Does he really know the zone? Is he overmatched by good velocity? Can he handle breaking pitches? So on and so on.

Open Thread: 2/24 Camp Notes

Sir Didi. (Presswire)
Sir Didi. (Presswire)

One week from today, the Yankees will open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Phillies in Clearwater. Actual baseball games are right around the corner. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley, and Bryan Mitchell all threw live batting practice while CC Sabathia, Andrew Bailey, Dellin Betances, Scott Baker, Michael Pineda, and Adam Warren were among those to throw bullpen sessions. The catchers all hit and Carlos Beltran went through a full workout. Beltran is allowed to work out on the main field before position players report because he’s coming off offseason surgery. [Chad Jennings]
  • Ivan Nova threw his third bullpen as part of his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He threw 25 pitches, all fastballs, and will likely throw one more all fastballs bullpen before starting to incorporate changeups. Breaking balls are next after that. [Meredith Marakovits]
  • Chase Headley reported a day early to camp and worked out alongside Alex Rodriguez. He said all the right things (A-Rod isn’t a distraction, etc.). Alex said he has been getting support from teammates and thinks he’ll need 2-3 weeks to shake off the rust. Cole Figueroa and Chris Young has also reported a day early. [Jack Curry, Marakovits, Brendan Kuty]
  • Bailey said he appreciates the team’s patience with him and he wants to make the Opening Day roster. Joe Girardi cautioned they still need to see him in games. Slade Heathcott said his twice surgically repaired knee feels great and he’s ready for games right now. [Jennings, Dan Barbarisi]
  • And finally, third base prospect Eric Jagielo has a special tutor this spring: Scott Rolen. New farm system chief Gary Denbo asked Rolen to come down to camp to work with the defensively challenged Jagielo. Denbo and Rolen know each other from their days with the Blue Jays. [Kuty]

Here is the nightly open thread. Both the Rangers and Islanders are playing and there is some college basketball on as well. Feel free to talk about those games, Spring Training, or anything else right here.

Yankees may have missed an opportunity to bring back Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy in his new digs. (Jon SooHoo)
McCarthy in his new digs. (Jon SooHoo)

At the start of the offseason, it seemed like the most sensible moves for the Yankees were to bring back the guys they acquired at the trade deadline last year, specifically Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy. Stephen Drew on a cheap one-year deal is fine but those other two made the most sense. They filled pressing needs and weren’t going to require a massive long-term deal.

The Yankees eventually did re-sign Headley, and while they expressed interest in re-signing McCarthy, it didn’t happen and he signed with the Dodgers. Brian Cashman confirmed the team never made him an offer back in December, saying he “figured the market would take him at a level that we couldn’t play on.” That’s sort of a silly thing for a Yankees executive to say but whatever.

McCarthy made it no secret he enjoyed playing in New York at the end of last season, enough that returning to the Yankees was his top priority going into the winter. Here’s what McCarthy told Andy Martino a few days ago:

“In my mind, I thought (re-signing with the Yankees) definitely was going to be the case,” he says, sitting at his locker at the Dodgers’ complex. “At least that’s where I was saying I wanted to go. At that point, I wasn’t considering anywhere else. It was perfect. It’s the Yankees. You don’t think money is going to be an issue. This is just going to be, ‘we’ll just find a way to make this fit.’”

“That was my hope, in that five-day window after the postseason before everybody becomes free — I was really hoping, this is where something gets done.”

Not only did McCarthy want to return to New York, he was willing to re-sign during the five-day exclusive negotiating period before free agency to make it happen. That no doubt made his agent cringe. McCarthy had just completed his first 200-inning season and finished strong in pinstripes. His agent surely wanted to get him out onto the open market to create a bidding war. Ultimately, that’s what happened.

Going into the offseason, I thought a three-year contract would get it done with McCarthy — regardless of whether he re-signed with the Yankees or not — but he ended up with a four-year deal from the Dodgers. McCarthy did tell Martino he would have at least considered a three-year contract with the Yankees.

“That’s a good question (whether he would have taken a three-year deal),” he says. “At that point, probably … (My agent) knew full well going in that ‘I want to go to the Yankees, and we need to make it work.’ And I think that five-day window just passed, and it became — It wasn’t like ‘you’re priority one, let’s do this.’ That’s where we started to open up and say, ‘Ok, what are plans B and C?’”

“It’s hard to say (if I would have taken it) for sure, but I certainly would have had a long discussion about it,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees engaged McCarthy in any serious contract talks during the exclusive negotiating period — his comments make it sound like they didn’t — but obviously he was open to doing so, and this may have been a missed opportunity for New York. Potentially keeping him off the open market and away from a bidding war is a pretty significant piece of news. He would have had less leverage and the Yankees might have been able to strike a favorable deal to shore up the rotation.

McCarthy ended up with four years and $48M. Let’s say the Yankees would have been able to retain him with a strong three-year offer, say three years and $39M. With both Headley and Andrew Miller, the Yankees ultimately caved and added the fourth year in exchange for a lower average annual value, suggesting they would have been open to paying more per year if the deal was shorter. Three years and $39M seems realistic to me give McCarthy’s desire to return to New York.

How would re-signing McCarthy have affected the rest of the offseason? That’s a complicated question we can’t really answer. Re-signing McCarthy could have meant no Headley since the money had been spent. (I think the Yankees would have signed Miller anyway, it seems like a high-end reliever was a priority.) No Headley means Martin Prado is probably the third baseman, and that means no Nathan Eovaldi. Or maybe it makes no difference whatsoever and the Yankees re-sign Headley anyway and still trade Prado. Re-signing McCarthy during the exclusive negotiating period changes the entire offseason dynamic.

With the obvious caveat that we don’t know how the rest of the offseason would have shaken out, the Yankees’ rotation would look much sturdier with McCarthy than it does without it. I mean, duh. A four-year deal for someone with his injury history is bonkers in my opinion — McCarthy did change his offseason workout routine last winter and believes it led to staying healthy for a full season the first time in his career, for what it’s worth — but three years would have been much easier to swallow. That’s the market these days.

If nothing else, I think the Yankees should have been a little more aggressive during the exclusive negotiating period. The injury concerns in the rotation were no secret, we all knew about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and CC Sabathia‘s knee in October, so trying to get out in front of the market and seeing if McCarthy would return on favorable terms would have been a smart move. I also don’t think letting him go was a catastrophic decision either. At the end of the day, he would have another injury concern in a rotation full of ‘em, albeit a very talented one.

Random YouTube Videos of Current and Ex-Yankees

I don’t know what y’all do on spare times but for me, sometimes (or more than I’d like to admit), I like to look for random baseball videos on YouTube. Once in awhile, I run into a gem that I end up bookmarking … and watch again in an hour or two or so. It’s not that I don’t get bored too easily — I’m graduating from college this May so can’t really afford to goof too much (applying to jobs and whatnot) — it’s that YouTube … basically dominates a lot of facets of my internet life. It’s inescapable … but it’s not like I ever tried to give up YouTube for lent or anything

Anyways, because I’ve remembered several interesting videos involving current and former Yankees, I thought I’d write this post. Baseball is fun, watching video is fun, watching older YouTube videos of Yankee players can be really fun so … yeah.

1. David Cone is desperate for his own dance move

I assume this is quite well-known but it’s so fabulous that I want to write about it

I didn’t become a constant Yankees watcher until 2005. If I were at the time of the late-90’s golden age, I would’ve been the biggest El Duque fan — the story of his escape, the charm of his career as the ace of Team Cuba, the craftiness on the mound and, most importantly, the leg kick.

This 1999 Adidas commercial features the clubbers enjoying the trendy dance move, the “El Duque” — basically doing Hernandez’s leg kick and a throwing motion. I don’t think it ever became a real life thing but maybe it could’ve if El Duque ever became a Clayton Kershaw-caliber pitcher. just a fun thought.

The real gem of this video is on David Cone though. The pitcher who was known for his love for nightlife seems just befuddled with everything in this commercial. And towards the end, the reaction he makes after being caught making a (presumably conehead-related) dance move is just priceless.

2. Masahiro Tanaka, in a big Japanese spotlight … as a hitter

Some of you may know that high school baseball is a big deal in Japan. Every year, schools in Japan fight for the much-coveted national Koshien tournament title. To give you an idea on how romanticized it ix, think NCAA March Madness.

In 2006 Koshien, two high schoolers in the finals grabbed national attention — RHP Yuki Saito of Waseda Jitsugyo High and RHP Masahiro Tanaka of Komadai Tomakomai High. The final of the tourney was the one for ages — Saito and Tanaka had a 15-inning duel that ended in a 1-1 draw, prompting a re-match. By the way, Saito threw 178 pitches in the game and Tanaka threw 165 — which is just insane.

Yet, in the next game, which took place the next day, both pitchers dueled again. Saito’s Waseda Jitsugyo held a 4-3 lead in the bottom of 9th inning. With two outs, and the righty an out away from sealing the biggest honor for any high school athlete in Japan, none other than Tanaka stepped up to the plate. You can’t write any sports drama narratives like this.

As you can see from the video, after an intense seven-pitch battle, Saito struck out Tanaka on a 90-mph fastball. The victorious right-hander became a national sensation and was dubbed as the “Handkerchief Prince” for his habit of wiping his face with a blue hanky during the game.

Saito went on to play for the Waseda University and turned pro in 2011. So far, the righty saw his potential squashed by series of injuries, mostly on his shoulder. Also, even though he enjoyed a legendary amateur career, his skillset did not translate over to pros — he had enough stuff to overpower high schoolers and college players, but not much so in NPB. Tanaka, in the other hand, turned pro right after high school and we all know what happened from there.

3. Freddy Garcia shows off his soccer skill

Venezuela is not exactly known for their soccer prowess — I am a fan of their burgundy jersey (probably because I live in the Redskins country and only thing I like about them is their uniform color scheme) but they have never managed to qualify out of the CONMEBOL group to get to the World Cup finals.

But check out this Venezuelan juggling a ball. This video shown in the Taiwanese broadcast shows Freddy Garcia (who signed with the EDA Rhinos of the Taiwanese league in 2014) show off some good balance. Well, the guy hasn’t had a walk rate higher than 3.0 since 2003 so I guess balance (at least in pitching delivery) isn’t a huge concern for the good ol’ Sweaty Freddy.

For those curious, Garcia went 11-9 in 25 starts with 3.19 ERA in 161.0 IP in Taiwan in 2014. During the winter leagues, he was looking to sign to play in Japan but nothing new has surfaced yet for Freddy.

4. Bobby Abreu trips getting out of the batter’s box

This happened during a Venezuelan Winter League action. First off, we see the former-MLer Carlos Zambrano pitching. If you spotted Abreu tripping out of the batter’s box from the get-go, great, but you gotta wait till the replay — that’s the REAL gem of the video. Go to 0:35 if you aren’t patient enough. Or, er, look below.

Sometimes I forget that Bobby Abreu with the Yanks for two and half seasons. In 372 games in New York, the man had a 120 OPS+ with a healthy .295/.378/.465 line. Boy, would we love to have a production like that in the lineup for this season.

5. Gi-am-bi, Gi-am-bi, Gi-am-bi!!!

Back in 2004, when I was psyched to finally get an XBOX system, I went to the nearby Hollywood Video (R.I.P.) and got a copy of ESPN MLB Baseball 2K4, for two reasons: 1) it got good reviews across the board 2) Jason Giambi, the coverboy. Before buying the game, I would go to game websites like IGN and Gamespot to watch the available gameplay and trailers to ready myself and this one is my favorite, by far.

I didn’t notice this bit until I recently revisited the commercial. Check out this screengrab.

That’s Giambi whiffing on a 71 mph fastball because he’s late, and it was thrown by a Marlins lefty (assumed based on the side of the mound he ends up on) … who threw it on an max effort. I don’t recall any 2004 Marlins junkballer that averaged around mid-to-high-60’s with the fastball. Interesting! (I’m definitely overthinking this one, ignore me!)

After having Giambi as their baseball game series coverboy for 3 years (World Series Baseball, World Series Baseball 2K3 and ESPN MLB 2K4), 2K Sports moved onto a different Yankee for their following edition, ESPN MLB 2K5, and again, they filmed another offbeat commercial for it.

Now that it’s 2015 and I don’t really care who’s on the cover, I wish I had gotten MVP Baseball 2004. I got to play it at friend’s place few years later and it was much better.

6. An 8 minute, 11-pitch showdown between Hiroki Kuroda and Hideki Matsui

I have no clue what year this took place — it’s gotta be sometime between 1997 and 2002. Kuroda did not debut into ichi-gun of NPB until 1997 (Matsui had played for the Giants since 1993) and Matsui left Japan for the Yankees after the 2002 season.

What we can see from the video is that it’s the bottom of the 8th, at the Giants home, and there’s a runner on first. Matsui was an established slugger for the Japan’s most popular team so I’d imagine it would take a lot of nerves for anyone to pitch to him in a high-pressure situation like that. Nevertheless, #Hirok gave #Hidek a hell in this at bat, and vice versa.

I’m not going to give a full spoiler to how this at-bat ends, but let me say that it’s quite nasty, in a visually-pleasing way. Just watch.

7. El Duque, back when he was in Cuba with the Havana Industriales. Date unclear

This is a short one but it speaks to me like an interesting vignette. It’s hard to tell when this video is from but the uploader may or may not be the former big leaguer and a fellow Cuban defector Rene Arocha.

8. “Dellin being Dellin”

I actually remember watching this video back around 2007. I once searched for videos of Betances pitching (because 18-year old 6’9’’ pitching prospects that hit 98 mph are very rare and attractive commodities) and while I managed to find one or two, I also ran into the above one — in which it seems like the tall righty as goofing off with friends from back home. Flash forward to February 2015, while writing this post, I remembered of this video’s existence and searched for it, and thankfully, it is still online! Hallelujah!

Some notable highlights: At around 0:20, Betances starts doing some dance moves on the chair. At 0:54, you can see him do the cha-cha slide (if that doesn’t remind you of the 2000’s, I don’t know what will) while holding a baseball bat like a guitar. At 2:28, Betances takes down a high school mascot and eventually dances with it. And at 2:57, well, this happens:

What can I say? After watching so many strikeout highlights from 2014, watching something like this, being a kid and having no care in the world, is so fun and endearing to see. He may be a strikeout machine on the mound. But this video, to me, is as human as it gets out of any athlete that I’ve revered and rooted for.

When New York drafted Betances in 2006, he was a very raw product. If I recall correctly, he was projected as a first-rounder due to his sky-high upside, but didn’t get picked until the 8th round due to commitment to Vanderbilt (imagine if he pitched in the same rotation as David Price, who went no. 1 overall in 2007). Yanks ended up giving the lanky righty $1 million to turn pro and I remember following his journey through the minors — there were a lot of ups and downs. He had a TJ surgery, then had a beastly 2010 campaign that brought him Josh Beckett comparisons, then he couldn’t find a strike zone in 2012 and almost reached to a failed prospect status. In 2013, he went to bullpen full-time and never looked back. I’m very happy to see him as one of the best relievers in the game, perhaps sharing a closer spot in the team with another 2006 MLB Draft alumnus, Andrew Miller.

2006 was the season that I first cared about the MLB draft and the international free agent signings and boy, Yankees had some haul that year from both: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Jesus Montero, Zach McAllister, George Kontos, Mark Melancon, David Robertson, etc.

Oh, and lastly, if you want to see how much things changed, here’s the video of him pitching from 2006. Gotta say he looks much better nowadays with a more filled-out frame in pinstripes with a less herky-jerky delivery.

Thoughts after the Yankees lose out on Yoan Moncada

At least I don't have to look for photos anymore. (El Nuevo Herald)
At least I don’t have to look for photos anymore. (El Nuevo Herald)

After three private workouts and several weeks of waiting, 19-year-old Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada finally signed yesterday … with the Red Sox. Needless to say, the reaction was not a pleasant one in Yankeeland. Not after all the buildup and anticipation. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the whole Moncada situation. Read ‘em and weep.

1. At this point it’s clear passing on Moncada was a financial decision, not a scouting decision. All reports indicate the Yankees loved him as a player but were unwilling to up their offer from $27M. Here’s what Brian Cashman told reporters about losing out on Moncada yesterday, via Chad Jennings:

“We made our final and best (offer) yesterday,” Cashman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. I would doubt there’s any disagreement on the scouting assessment of the player. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit. We put our best foot forward yesterday, it was a significant offer, but it fell short of where he’s rumored to have signed.”

“If we were going to go all out, there would have been more,” Cashman said. “We went to where we were comfortable going, and it was an uncomfortable number to put forth. But it still fell short. We’re proud of the players that we did sign and the work we’ve done on the international side, but we’re continuing to look at what’s available out there, and we were involved in the Moncada efforts until the very end. Yesterday they said they were going to make a decision and wanted your best offer. We presented that. It just didn’t work.”

Alright, so if the baseball people liked the player but the offer fell a few million short, then it was stupid Hal Steinbrenner’s fault, right? Except later in the day Wally Matthews and Jon Heyman reported Hal had “strong interest” in Moncada and it was “others” in the organization who weren’t comfortable going the extra mile and dropping $60M+ on a teenager. Who the hell overrules the owner? This seems like damage control. It looks like someone is trying to save face.

I mean really, who could those “others” possibly be? There’s not many non-Steinbrenners between Cashman and Hal in the organizational hierarchy. Did president Randy Levine say no? Was it Anthony Bruno, the team’s CFO? Did the four other Steinbrenners overrule Hal? Or was a trusted advisor like Gene Michael not sold? We’re probably never going to know the answer to that, obviously. This was pretty clearly a decision made over the baseball operations department’s head and that’s always a tough pill to swallow. Those are the decisions that always seem to turn out the worst.

2. The Yankees are not cheap. Let’s stop that nonsense right now. They just committed $175M to an unknown (like Moncada) in Masahiro Tanaka last winter. Their offer to Moncada was roughly 325% greater than the previous record for an international player under the current system. The problem is that they’ve spent a lot of money in recent years and gotten nowhere near the return they expected. Some of that was surprising, like Mark Teixeira turning into a dud by year four of an eight-year contract, and some of it we could see coming from a mile away. (Shockingly, 36-year-old Carlos Beltran was not immune to aging.)

All that dead money — Teixeira, Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia will make $83.125M in 2015 and I’ll set the over/under at a combined 3.0 WAR right now — seems to have made the Yankees gun shy with huge contracts. And here’s the thing: I’ve been hoping the Yankees would scale back their spending the last year or two. At the least the spending that involves committing top dollar for decline years in bulk, like most major free agent contracts. Passing on Robinson Cano at that price was 100% the right move for the organization in my opinion. Same with passing on Max Scherzer at that price. It’s only a matter of time until those contracts go horribly wrong, and enough contracts have already gone horribly wrong around these parts.

But Moncada is a different story. We’re talking about a 19-year-old with his entire career ahead of him who most people consider a future star. That doesn’t seem like the type of player the Yankees should show restraint with, not after spending all offseason talking about how important it was to get younger. They let David Robertson walk because they valued the dinky little supplemental first round draft pick, remember. If the Yankees want to scale back their spending because they’re tired of being burned by huge contracts, fine. But it shouldn’t be a blanket policy. Not all free agents are created equal. Moncada is a franchise cornerstone type of player and if they’re not going to step outside your comfort zone to sign someone like that, when should we ever expect it to happen?

3. Losing out on Moncada is pretty bad, and to make matters worse, this might be the last time the Yankees ever have access to a player like that for nothing but money. Like, ever. Because they exceeded their spending pool last year, they can’t sign an international amateur for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Unless another Moncada shows up and is cleared to sign before June 25th (almost certainly not happening), the Yankees are out of the mix until the 2017-18 signing period. And by then an international draft may be implemented. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2016 and MLB has been pushing for an international draft for years. The Moncada bonus coupled with New York’s spending spree last year is probably going to rekindle those efforts.

Now, just to be clear, this doesn’t mean the Yankees are out on all top Cuban players, just the ones subject to the international spending pools like Moncada and Andy Ibanez. Guys are over the age of 23 — like Jose Abreu, Rusney Castillo, and Yasmany Tomas last year — are not subject to the spending pools and New York can still sign them as if they were any other free agent. Those guys are good! But the Yankees are now completely out of the mix for anyone younger than that. This isn’t an “oh well we didn’t get Moncada, we can get the next guy instead” situation. There’s a hard cap on the club’s international spending the next two signing periods and they simply won’t be able to compete for the top talent.

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

4. Moncada is not the first Cuban player the Yankees have failed to sign in recent years. I don’t remember them being seriously involved for Abreu or Yasiel Puig, but they were very much in the mix for Castillo, Tomas, Adeiny Hechavarria, Aledmys Diaz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Aroldis Chapman. (If I’m remembering correctly, the Yankees invited Chapman to Yankee Stadium for a game during the 2009 World Series in an effort to woo him to New York.) Obviously they ended up with none of them. The team hasn’t signed a top Cuban player — sorry, Ronnie Mustelier, Adonis Garcia, and Omar Luis — since Jose Contreras a baseball lifetime ago.

This is a problem. It’s a talent source the Yankees have not necessarily ignored, but one they haven’t tapped into. They’re continually coming up short. Almost every other big market team has signed a top Cuban talent at this point — the only exceptions I can think of are the Mets, who haven’t acted like a big market team in years, the Giants and Tigers — and even the smaller market teams have gotten in on the act. Remember where Cespedes, Chapman, and Tomas ended up. Maybe this is a case of the Yankees being timid after getting burned by Contreras — it did seem like they were scared of Japanese players for a while after Kei Igawa, right? — but it can’t last. If Dermis Garcia busts, are they going to ignore players from the Dominican Republic? Of course not. That’d be silly. At some point they’re going to have to take the plunge and dive back into the Cuban talent pool. These players have generally shown a very high rate of return so far. The league is too competitive to do nothing but dip your toe.

5. For the record, I totally expected the Yankees to sign Moncada. Once we found out last week that they had brought him back for second and third private workouts, I was convinced he was theirs. I never bought the Dodgers as a real threat — they reportedly already have deals in place with 2015-16 international prospects and can’t renege on those unless they want to destroy their relationships with Latin American agents — and I figured that if it came down to an old fashioned bidding war, the Yankees would win. Like Tanaka last year. They wanted him and they got him. I thought the same would happen with Moncada. Joke’s on me, I guess.

Open Thread: 2/23 Camp Notes

Another A-Rod photo because that's all anyone took today. (Presswire)
Another A-Rod photo because that’s all anyone took today. (Presswire)

Two days before position players are scheduled to officially report to Spring Training, Alex Rodriguez showed up to the complex today and got a workout in. It was his first day around the team since the end of the 2013 season. Here’s a recap of his workout and the ensuing media scrum, and here’s a recap of everything else that went on in Tampa:

  • It was a relatively light day for the big league pitchers. Andrew Miller and Andrew Bailey threw bullpen sessions. That’s about it. Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren, and Jose Ramirez were among the minor leaguers to throw live batting practice. Carlos Beltran and all the catchers took regular ol’ batting practice. [Chad Jennings]
  • Bryan Mitchell said he is working on throwing his curveball in the zone for strikes. “I want to be able to pitch backward. Dump it in early,” he said. Ivan Nova is scheduled to throw off a mound tomorrow for what I believe is the first time since Tommy John surgery. [Brendan Kuty, Jennings]
  • Joe Girardi joked that having A-Rod work out on a minor league field is “already making my life easier” because none of the media is around. Girardi also said it’s important for him to maintain a good relationship with Alex, because duh. [Erik Boland, Kuty]
  • And finally, ex-Yankees righty reliever Matt Daley has retired as a player and now works for the team as a pro scout. Daley will always be the guy who replaced Mariano Rivera in Mo’s final game. [Dan Barbarisi]

This is your open thread for the night. The Devils and Nets are both playing and there’s some college hoops as well. Talk about A-Rod, Yoan Moncada signing with the Sawx, Spring Training, or anything else right here.