Mailbag: Murphy, Betances, Kuroda, Ellsbury, Severino

Got a dozen questions for you in the mailbag this week. Our mailbag email address is nice and simple: RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. There you go.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Babe Murphy. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Many asked: So what about Daniel Murphy?

We got a bunch of Daniel Murphy questions this week. It was inevitable. He’s had a monster postseason and will be a free agent soon, plus he plays a position of need for the Yankees, so at the very least he’s worth discussing. Just don’t overvalue him based on October. What Murphy does this postseason has no value to the Yankees. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking this postseason makes him a must sign.

Anyway, Murphy turns 31 in April and he hit .281/.332/.449 (110 wRC+) this season, which is almost identical to his career .288/.331/.424 (109 wRC+) batting line. Murphy hit a career-high 14 home runs this year, including nine in the second half, and it’s worth noting the power spike came after he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long. Long has a history of helping guys reach their power potential by teaching them to better pull the ball. See Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano for examples.

Murphy has consistently graded out as a well-below-average defender — the defensive stats said he was about average this year, but the Mets moved him between second and third and first, and playing multiple positions always seems to screw up the numbers — and the only thing he does at an elite level is make contact. His 7.1% strikeout rate this year was the lowest in baseball. (He has a career 12.2% strikeout rate.)

I think Murphy’s going to end up with something like four years and $13M annually, plus he’ll cost a draft pick since the Mets will make him a qualifying offer. He’s a fine player having an out of this world postseason, and would be an upgrade for a lot of teams at second base, including the Yankees. I think I prefer trying Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder though.

Jonathan asks: Looking at the Yankees roster, the guy with the most value seems to be Betances. Even with his September slump, he was arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball for two years in a row. Do you think the Yankees could get a good young player for him? You could argue you are selling high on Betances.

I’m certain the Yankees could get a good young player for him. Maybe even two if the other team is desperate. As good as he was this year, Dellin Betances did struggle with his control, extremely so late in the season. He walked eleven batters in his last 13.2 innings. That’s not good. I know Betances has a history of control issues, but that’s the problem, right? You don’t want pre-2014 Dellin.

I don’t advocate trading Betances but I don’t think it should be off the table either. If another team really values him and is willing to give up, say, a quality young starter with similar service time, how could the Yankees say no? Dellin is always going to be a very boom or bust type. When he’s on, he’s untouchable. But I feel like when it goes, it’ll be quick and ugly. Among guys on the active roster, I’d say Luis Severino has the most trade value, followed by Didi Gregorius and Betances.

#HIROK (Japan Times)
#HIROK (Japan Times)

Michael asks: How about an update on our old friend Hiroki Kuroda?

Kuroda was pretty great for the Hiroshima Carp this year, pitching to a 2.55 ERA with a 15.5% strikeout rate and a 4.2% walk rate in 26 starts and 169.2 innings. He didn’t get any run support though, so he only had an 11-8 record. Poor Hiroki never gets run support. The Carp went 69-71 and missed the postseason, though Kuroda allowed two hits in eight shutout innings against the Hanshin Tigers last month to keep their playoff hopes alive. “I thought I did okay,” he told the Japan Times.

There has not yet been any sort of official announcement, but the expectation is Kuroda will retire this offseason. He left MLB because he wanted to go home to pitch one final season with his original club. Kuroda is an all-time favorite of mine. He was a great Yankees during his three years with the team. If this is it, congrats to him on a pretty excellent career that spanned two continents.

Daniel asks: Do you think the Cubs would entertain a trade of Ellsbury and some combination of cash and/or mid level prospects for Starlin Castro? The Cubs could use Baez at 2nd and the Yankees could move Gardner to center, while using a combination of Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel or even Rob Refsnyder in left.

I think the Cubs might be the most (only?) realistic destination for Jacoby Ellsbury, not that I expect a trade to happen. He has a history with Theo Epstein & Co., and the Cubs are contenders now, so you don’t have to sell him on the idea of going to rebuilding team. Plus the Cubbies need a center fielder and leadoff hitter. I think Chicago would at least entertain the idea.

I’m not sure if Ellsbury for Castro is realistic — there might have to be other stuff involved, especially since the money is so uneven — though I get the sense Castro is not someone the Yankees would pursue because he’s bad defensively and, fair or not, has a reputation for having makeup issues. He performed much better after moving to second base this year, though it could be sample size noise.

Christopher asks: There is often talk of MLB expanding the active roster from 25 to 26 or 27. If that happens, could you see a jump of the 40 man roster to 42 as well? It would seem the MLBPA would be for that and would also prevent teams from losing players that they really don’t want to during the season. Also gives more flexibility during the year too.

The MLBPA would definitely be in favor of a larger 40-man roster — the more roster spots the better from their perspective — but that might end up being a concession. The owners say “we’ll give you a 26-man active roster but it stays a 40-man roster,” that sort of thing. So the union doesn’t pick up more members, but some members (30, to be exact) get more pay and benefits and stuff. I think rosters will expand to 26 players reasonably soon and I guess there’s a chance the 40-man will become a 41 or 42-man roster as well. I’m not sure I could give a better answer than that. Sorry.

Shane asks: Can you do a quick projection of what the 2017 season salary looks like? I know some players come off the books and some of the young guys are going to take over some positions by opening day 2017. Getting under that salary cap in 2017 seems very possible.

The Yankees will start shedding their huge money contracts after next season. Right now, Cot’s says the Yankees have $120.6M in guaranteed contracts on the books for 2017, and their most notable arbitration cases will be Gregorius, Betances, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Adam Warren. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after next season, and I have to think the luxury tax threshold will go up at that point. It has to, right? The current $189M threshold is too low given MLB’s sky high revenues. It should be closer to $200M, if not even higher. Who knows what will happen to the roster in the next 18 months, but right now it looks very possible for the Yankees to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2017, whatever it may be.

Chen. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Chen. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Jeff asks: What are the chances the Yankees go after Wei-Yin Chen? He’s solid, shouldn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money and we all know the Yanks could use a reliable lefty starter.

I think the chances are small because the Orioles are expected to make Chen a qualifying offer after the season. He is only 30, he’s productive, and he’s a Scott Boras client. Chen is definitely going to reject the qualifying offer and test the open market, where he could end up getting four or five years at $15M annually. He’s a solid pitcher and would help the Yankees. I just think if the Yankees are going to give up their first round pick for a starter, they’d aim a little higher. Maybe they’d give up their second rounder to sign Chen if they give up their top pick to sign Jason Heyward or something like that.

Paul asks: Is Severino going to have an innings limit next year? Think they’ll try to get him extra rest here and there to avoid an issue? They’re likely to do a sixth starter when possible anyway, right?

Probably, right? I know Brian Cashman said Severino has no restrictions on his workload this year, but I never really believed that. I think they said that to avoid a Stephen Strasburg/Matt Harvey situation where his workload became a daily question. Severino is only 21 and he threw 161.2 total innings this season, up from 113 last year. I could see the Yankees pushing him up into the 190-inning range next year, maybe even 200 if he really dominates. So I guess the answer is yes, Severino will have some sort of innings limit next year — I doubt they’d let him throw like 230 innings or something — but it’ll probably be high enough that we won’t have to stress about it all summer. (I’m sure the team will look to use a spot sixth starter at times anyway.)

Vidhath asks: There’s a few areas of depth that we have right now in both our farm system & mlb roster. With John Ryan Murphy seemingly able to hold his own both at the plate and behind it, what are your thoughts on a package deal of him and one of our lefty outfielder prospects and triple A relief pitchers. Are there any teams that would line up well and have these types of needs? What could we expect to get back in return?

I’m the world’s biggest Murphy fan but I could totally see trading him this winter. I don’t think the lefty outfielders or the Triple-A relievers have much value though — of all those guys, I’d say Mason Williams has the most trade value, and he’s coming off shoulder surgery — so they wouldn’t help net anything spectacular. After all, the Yankees traded a lefty outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this summer and got … Dustin Ackley. So yeah, not a ton of value there. Murphy would drive the package himself. There are a ton of teams that need catching. If the Yankees made JRM available, they’d have plenty of suitors. A young starting pitcher with similar service time makes the most sense from New York’s point of view. I say keep Murphy and start scaling back Brian McCann‘s workload.

David asks: Hey Mike, as a long time Yankees fan from Canada I’d love to hear your thoughts on your visit to TO and the Rogers Centre.

I was only there for three days and I didn’t have much time to explore, but the city itself is wonderful. I really enjoyed it. (My hotel was downtown, walking distance from the park.) Rogers Centre was neat in a retro ballpark kinda way. I wish the roof had been open though. I’m not a fan of indoor baseball. The crowd was very loud but not the loudest I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard postseason crowds at the old Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park (I was there for the 2013 ALCS) that were deafening and sent you home with a brain-splitting headache. I wish I had more time to explore the city. Everyone told me it’s great and I saw nothing to the contrary.

Mattingly. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Mattingly. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Joe asks: I am a big Girardi supporter and feel like he doesn’t get as much credit as he should because of the Yankees payroll and the expectation to win every season. But could you see Don Mattingly ever coming back in the next 5-10 years to manage the New York Yankees?

Yes, I could see that, after Mattingly gets a little more experience. I know there’s always some concern about hiring legacy players as managers because they’re unfireable — could you imagine if the Orioles hired Cal Ripken Jr.? — but I don’t think that would be an issue with Mattingly. At least not if Cashman is still around. He’s pretty ruthless. He’d probably enjoy firing Mattingly. Anyway, yeah I could see the Yankees going after Mattingly whenever the Joe Girardi era ends, which doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. The real question is whether Mattingly wants to come back after being snubbed for the job eight years ago.

Anonymous asks: Go ahead, burst my balloon, but Mark Reynolds looks like a fit for a Yankee reunion.

They do need the right-handed thump, and Reynolds could back up both first and third bases, so in that sense he’s a fit. The bench would then be backup catcher (Murphy), backup middle infielder (Brendan Ryan?), backup outfielder (???), and Reynolds. Ackley would be the backup outfielder almost by default, and he may end up platooning with Refsnyder at second. I doubt many will agree with me but I think Reynolds fits the roster better than Greg Bird. It would be awesome to find a right-handed hitter who could play first base, third base, and the corner outfield for the bench. The rich man’s version of Jose Pirela, basically. I just have no idea who that player is. Does one even exist?

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for this baseball-less night. The NLCS is over and the ALCS resumes tomorrow night in Kansas City. The Thursday NFL game is the Seahawks at the 49ers, and the (hockey) Rangers are playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Dodgers part ways with manager Don Mattingly

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As expected, the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly have parted ways, according to multiple reports. It’s being called a mutual decision, though Mattingly had a year left on his contract, so the front office kinda nudged him out the door.

Mattingly’s job security has been in question for probably two years now. It seemed like only a matter of time until he was let go so the new front office could bring in their own manager. By all accounts Mattingly and the Andrew Friedman-led regime were on good terms though.

The Yankees do have several openings on the coach staff — they fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland over the weekend — and I’m certain we’ll hear Mattingly mentioned as a candidate. Joel Sherman says Mattingly wants to manage though, and that won’t happen here. Joe Girardi‘s entrenched as manager.

The Yankees also have a front office opening with assistant GM Billy Eppler leaving for the Angels. I’m not sure if that would interest Mattingly or vice versa. Anyway, expect to hear some stuff about the Yankees and Mattingly in the coming days and weeks. It’s inevitable.

Thoughts on a random Thursday in October


At this time next week the 2015 World Series will be underway. We already know one pennant winner (Mets!) but are still waiting on the other. Regardless of which team wins the ALCS, this is the first time in history two expansion era teams will meet in the World Series. At least one of the original 16 franchises has played in every other World Series. Wild. Anyway, I have some miscellaneous thoughts to share.

1. Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow surgery stinks. It’s not the surgery we’ve all been fearing, the seemingly inevitable Tommy John surgery, but getting a bone spur removed is not nothing either. The Yankees said Tanaka has been pitching with it since his time in Japan, so if he’s having surgery on it now, it must have acted up at some point and bothered him this season. Who knows how long he pitched with discomfort? Maybe he didn’t even say anything. Anyway, the surgery means Tanaka will again come to Spring Training as a question mark due to health. He is expected to be ready in time for camp, sure, but you never really know until he gets to Tampa and begins throwing with some real intensity. Blah. Just more uncertainty in the rotation, I guess.

2. I was and wasn’t surprised the Yankees fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland over the weekend. Pentland always felt like a stopgap coach — he turned 69 in September, and let’s be real, no one is a long-term coaching solution at that age — but I was thinking two or maybe even three years, not one. It seems Marcus Thames is being groomed for the job — he was the hitting coach at Double-A Trenton last season and Triple-A Scranton this past season — though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll take over the job right now. They might want to him to get his feet wet as an assistant hitting coach first. Perhaps assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell takes over as the main hitting coach with Thames as the understudy? The Yankees fired Kevin Long on October 10th and hired Pentland on January 12th last offseason. I would be surprised if they waited that long to hire a new hitting coach this winter.

3. On the other hand, I was 100% surprised the Yankees fired bullpen coach Gary Tuck, only because they value catcher defense very highly and Tuck’s regarded as a top notch catching coach. Brian McCann credited Tuck for improving his throwing — McCann threw out 24% of attempted base-stealers with the Braves and is at 36% with the Yankees, so yeah — and both John Ryan Murphy and Frankie Cervelli had good things to say about him the last two years as well. I’m sure there was a reason Tuck was let go and chances are we’ll never know what that reason is. That’s just the way it goes. Based on the little I know, it was a surprise. I guess catcher coaching duties will again fall on the shoulders of Tony Pena, who certainly knows a thing or two about the position. I have no idea what a bullpen coach actually does during a game besides answer the phone, but I’m still curious to see who the Yankees hire to replace Tuck.


4. Despite yesterday’s loss, I really underestimated the Royals not just coming into the postseason, but all season long. They were obviously very good, that was clear, though I did attribute at least some of their regular season success to playing in a crummy division. When you look at their Baseball Reference page it’s hard to understand where all the success comes from, but when you watch them play, they’re clearly a team where the whole is greater than the some of the parts. It’s tough to explain. They seem impossible to put away in big spots and don’t give away anything. At-bats at the plate or outs in the field. The Royals are an entire team of pests, even the big names like Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon. They had a vision — contact, speed, and defense — and GM Dayton Moore stuck to it, and it’s working. They might never win a World Series with this group — Gordon is a free agent this winter and the trio of Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas are free agents after 2017, so the window’s not open forever — but they’re a very good team. An unconventional one, sure, but still good.

5. Going to close with a few quick rapid fire thoughts. One, remember when the Yankees had interest in acquiring Elvis Andrus last year? Thank goodness that didn’t happen. He was a total disaster on both sides of the ball in Game Five of the ALDS after another disappointing regular season. Give me Didi Gregorius all day, every day. Two, I was happy the Astros were eliminated during the ALDS. Not because they beat the Yankees in the wildcard game, but because I hate to see “tanking” rewarded. I am very much against losing on purpose. Three, I still don’t like all these off-days during the postseason, though I understand why they’re necessary. It would be cool if they could play a best-of-seven series in seven consecutive days, similar to the regular season. That would reward teams with depth, in theory. Fourth and finally, how about them Mets? I think it’s pretty damn cool they’re going to the World Series.

Wednesday Open Thread

We’ve got another afternoon postseason game today — potentially the final one of 2015! — so I’m again going to post the open thread earlier than usual. Here is today’s playoff schedule:

  • Royals at Blue Jays (Volquez vs. Estrada): 4pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Royals lead 3-1)
  • Mets at Cubs (Matz vs. Hammel): 8pm ET on TBS (Mets lead 3-0)

None of the local hockey teams are in action tonight, so it’s postseason baseball or bust. I’m totally cool with that. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Heyman: Yanks not expected to pursue Yoenis Cespedes this offseason

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

You knew this was coming at some point. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are not expected to pursue Yoenis Cespedes as a free agent this offseason. Apparently part of it may have to do with his representatives at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. I guess the Yankees don’t have too good a relationship with them. Maybe that dates back to talks with Robinson Cano a few years ago?

Cespedes, 30, hit .291/.328/.542 (135 wRC+) with a career-high 35 home runs in 159 games split between the Tigers and Mets this year. It was his best all-around season since coming over to MLB by a decent margin. Cespedes had a good but not great .251/.298/.446 (106 wRC+) line from 2013-14, after all. I wouldn’t bank on the 2015 version being the real Cespedes going forward, but that’s just me.

The Yankees may or may not spend big on a free agent this winter, but, if they do, it’s hard to think they’d do it for another over-30 outfielder. They already have three of those making big money in Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner. Jason Heyward would be a different story because he’s so young, but Cespedes? I’m not sure that makes sense.

Of course, the Yankees could always trade Gardner to clear a spot for someone like Cespedes, and they do desperately need the right-handed power, so in that respect he would fit the lineup. But again, they’d be committing huge money — Cespedes is going to wind up with $150M or so, I think — to guy on the wrong side of 30. Seems like the Yankees want to stop doing that.

Cespedes and Heyward are the two biggest free agent outfielders this winter, along with Justin Upton. After them, the best of the bunch is probably Dexter Fowler. The Yankees would have no trouble finding a suitor for Gardner — would you rather trade for Gardner or give Fowler five years and $75M or so? — to clear a spot for someone else. Is there a way to trade Gardner and improve the team without handing out a nine-figure contract? I’m not so sure.

Yankeemetrics Season Review, Part II (The Players)

(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

Whether you think this 2015 Yankees team underachieved — heck, they had a eight-game lead in the AL East in late July — or overachieved — among the 31 experts from ESPN, SI, CBS Sports and Yahoo! Sports, only one (Buster Olney) picked the Yankees to make the playoffs — there is no doubt that this team had its share of historic and record-breaking statistical performances.

Without further adieu, here’s the second part of our season-ending “Yankeemetrics,” with a look at some notable feats by the individual players. In case you missed, yesterday we looked at some of the best (and worst) accomplishments from a team perspective.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod finished with 33 homers and 86 RBIs, both of which are the most by any Yankee in his age 39 season or older. The previous records were set by Babe Ruth in 1934, when he hit 22 homers and had 84 RBIs.

It was also A-Rod’s 14th career season with at least 30 homers and 20 doubles, the most in major-league history. The only others with 13 such seasons are Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron.

Of course, he reached a couple notable round-number milestones — 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs and 2,000 RBI. Combined with his 326 career stolen bases, A-Rod is now the only player in baseball history with at least 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs, 2,000 RBI and 300 steals.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira hit 31 homers in 111 games, the ninth time in his 13 seasons he’s reach the 30-homer mark. The only other switch-hitter in baseball history with nine 30-homer seasons is Mickey Mantle.

Carlos Beltran
Beltran hit 34 doubles, the most by a Yankee in his age 38 season or older, surpassing the 33 that Paul O’Neil hit in 2001. He also reached the 500 career doubles mark in September, joining Chipper Jones and Eddie Murray as the only switch-hitters in that club.

Brian McCann
McCann’s 26 homers were a career high and the ninth time he’s hit at least 20 homers in a season, including each of the last eight years dating back to 2008. He is one of three catchers all-time with eight consecutive 20-homer seasons. Both Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza reached 20 home runs in 10 straight campaigns.

Brett Gardner
Gardner joined Derek Jeter (8), Hal Chase (8) and Wid Conroy (6) as the players in franchise history with at least six career 20-steal seasons. He also reached 200 career steals, the second Yankee to steal 200 bases in his first eight MLB seasons. Chase piled up 243 steals in his first eight seasons from 1905-12.

Greg Bird
Bird’s rookie season ended with this terrific line: 46 games, 178 plate appearances, 31 RBIs, 11 homers, .261 batting average, .343 on-base percentage and .529 slugging.

Only three other Yankees had a higher slugging percentage than Bird in their age-22 season or younger: Mickey Mantle (1952), Lou Gehrig (1925) and Joe DiMaggio (1936, 1937).

His numbers were also historic for a guy that has played in just 46 career games. Before Bird, no other Yankee had ever hit at least 11 homers and nine doubles this early into his career, within his first 46 major-league games.

Masahiro Tanaka
Despite missing several months with injuries, Tanaka still managed to rack up 141 and 139 strikeouts in each of his first two seasons, respectively. His 280 career strikeouts are the second-most in franchise history for a player in his first two major-league seasons, trailing only El Duque Hernandez (288).

Tanaka finished this season with a 0.994 WHIP, the lowest among AL pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched in 2015. It was also the second-lowest WHIP by a Yankee pitcher in a single season (min. 150 IP), behind Russ Ford (0.881) in 1910.

Nathan Eovaldi
Although Eovaldi pitched much better once he figured out how to use his splitter, he still ended up with a 4.20 ERA to go along with his gaudy 14-3 record, mostly because the Yankees loved to score runs with him in the game. Among all Yankees with at least 15 decisions in a season, no other pitcher in franchise history had as high an ERA (4.20) as Eovaldi and as high a winning percentage (.824).

Luis Severino
Severino’s 2.89 ERA is the third-lowest for any Yankee in his age-21 season or younger (min. 10 starts). The two guys ahead of him are Whitey Ford (2.81 in 1950) and Hank Thormahlen (2.48 in 1918).

Dellin Betances
With 131 strikeouts this season (four shy of his total last year), Betances became just the third relief pitcher in major-league history with consecutive 130-strikeout seasons, joining Rob Dibble (1989-90) and Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz (1962-64).

He also nearly matched his ERA from last year (1.40), finishing at 1.50 after a couple rough outings in September. Still, Betances is the first pitcher with back-to-back seasons of at least 100 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.50 or lower since Walter Johnson in 1918-19.

Andrew Miller
Miller’s first season pinstripes couldn’t have gone much better: 36 saves, 100 strikeouts, 2.04 ERA. He is the first pitcher in franchise history with at least 35 saves and 100 strikeouts in a single season.