This past season the Yankees started their youth movement in earnest. It kinda sorta began with the Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups last year, but it wasn’t until the team started trading veterans for prospects at the deadline that their direction was clear. The Yankees are going young, so much so that they’re moving productive veterans for kids in Single-A. It’s a whole new world.
Once again, the Yankees called up a bunch of young players in the second half this year, most notably Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Others like Tyler Austin and Luis Cessa were around too. So was Severino. The young guy who wasn’t around was Bird. The presumed first baseman of the future spent the entire 2016 season rehabbing from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
The 2016 season was a lost season for Bird. He didn’t get to advance his career in any way, which stinks for a guy who would have played the entire season at age 23. That’s a crucial development year, especially after his successful MLB cameo last year. Let’s review Bird’s lost year and its big picture impact on the Yankees.
How Did He Get Hurt?
Bird hurt himself during an offseason workout, though the shoulder trouble was not new. He spent a month on the Double-A disabled list with a shoulder problem in the middle of the 2015 season. Apparently the shoulder was never really healthy the rest of the season. Bird admitted to not necessarily playing through pain, but playing through occasional discomfort. He hit those eleven homers in 46 games with the Yankees with a less than 100% shoulder.
The offseason workouts exacerbated the problem and led to the surgery. It was not one awkward movement or one exercise that caused it. This was a wear and tear injury. It started in Double-A and gradually got worse and worse. In February, the shoulder finally gave out and Bird needed surgery. Maybe the Yankees could have done something differently to keep Bird healthy. I have no idea. I’m no doctor. Won’t change anything now.
By all accounts Bird’s rehab went according to plan. His surgery came with an 8-9 month recovery timetable, which meant there was a chance he could return late the season, but the Yankees were never going to push it. Bird spent the summer rehabbing in Tampa and the rehab went well enough for him to get at-bats in Instructional League in September. That was our first indication Bird was getting better.
Following the stint in Instructs, the Yankees sent Bird to the Arizona Fall League for more playing time, where he hit .215/.346/.354 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 17 games and 78 plate appearances. I’m not worried too much about the statistical performance given the long layoff. Bird had to get his swing back. The most important thing is he made it through the AzFL healthy and didn’t miss a game. He was limited to DH because he hasn’t been cleared to throw at 100% effort yet, but everything else is going well. The rehab is right on track.
The Service Time Situation
Bird spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list following the injury. I know he started last season in Double-A, but he was a big league ballplayer at the time of the injury. He played in the 2015 Wildcard Game, remember. Bird was a big leaguer when he got hurt and that means he spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list collecting big league salary and service time. Good for him.
For the Yankees, it’s not so good. They lost one of Bird’s dirt cheap pre-arbitration years to injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and eligible for free agency following the 2021 season, which is the same as it would have been had Bird been healthy and spent the entire year at first base and DH. Injuries are part of the game. They happen. It stinks when they happen to good young players when they are in the most cost effective years of their careers.
The Yankees Really Could Have Used Him
Geez, did the Yankees miss Bird this season or what? He hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games during his 2015 cameo, and last winter ZiPS pegged Bird for a .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) batting line with 26 homers in 2016. That would have been really useful! The Yankees got nothing from the first base and DH positions this past season. Bird would have been a huge, huge help. Enough to get them into the postseason? Doubtful. But enough to make them more competitive and fun to watch.
Outlook for 2017
Hitters who have surgery to repair a torn labrum in their front shoulder are known to lose pop for some length of time. Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp both had the same surgery as Bird and needed a year or so to get back to normal. On the other hand, Brian McCann had the same surgery while with the Braves in 2012, and he bounced back just fine in 2013. There was no short-term power loss.
The Yankees are hoping Bird follows the McCann path and not the Kemp/Gonzalez path. The good news is the timing of the injury is on their side. Bird is going to be a full year out from surgery by time Spring Training rolls around. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had surgery after the season and were racing against the clock to get ready for Opening Day. There are no such issues with Bird. He’ll have a nice long rehab.
Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Bird to grab the first base job in Spring Training and run with it. That would be ideal. I also think they’re prepared to send Bird to Triple-A should he need time to get back on track following surgery. There’s little doubt Bird is the first baseman of the future. That’s the plan. Is the first baseman of the present? The first few weeks back from shoulder surgery will determine that.
Three weeks ago today, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years. It still doesn’t seem real, does it? I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where the Cubbies are no longer the Lovable Losers. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things, so let’s get to ’em.
1. The Yankees have made one major move in the early going this offseason (the Brian McCann trade) but they’ve been involved in an awful lot of rumors. They’re checking in on every free agent and they’ve popped up in some trade rumors too. That’s unusual. Over the last few years the Yankees managed to keep things very quiet. Moves came out of nowhere. The Jacoby Ellsbury signing, Didi Gregorius trade, the Nathan Eovaldi trade, the Aaron Hicks trade … one day a press release showed up and that was it. There was no indication the Yankees were in talks at the time. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, the Yankees keep things close to the vest. The opposite is true this offseason. They’re in on everyone and we all know it. I wonder what’s changed?
2. The McCann trade shows the Yankees have a lot of confidence in not only Gary Sanchez as the starter, but also Austin Romine as the backup and Kyle Higashioka as the backup backup. We’ll see what happens, maybe the team will sign a veteran backup or something, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I think it’ll be Sanchez and Romine to start the season with Higashioka waiting in the minors. Catcher is usually not a position where teams like to throw a young guy to the wolves without a veteran safety net. Managers like to have that experienced backup around to lean on in the tough times. The Yankees had Joe Girardi behind Jorge Posada for a few years, for example. A Sanchez/Romine catching tandem is definitely not a thing I thought would happen, yet here we are.
3. Is it weird I like the James Pazos trade more than the McCann trade? It is weird. I know it is. The Yankees traded McCann for two big Single-A arms and that’s exciting. You can’t teach triple digit heat and both Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman have it. The Pazos trade, on the other hand, was a clear organizational upgrade. The Yankees turned an erratic lefty reliever into a starting pitching prospect in Zack Littell who figures to reach Double-A at some point next year. The Yankees took a sure thing and turned it into two lottery tickets (and some cash savings) with the McCann trade. The Pazos trade was one lottery ticket for another with a higher payout. I thought Pazos was a potential 40-man roster casualty — as in someone who might get designated for assignment — not someone who could fetch a solid prospect in a trade. Well done, Yankees.
4. I’m curious to see how this 26th roster spot will work, assuming it is indeed put in place with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just about every team will use it to carry an extra reliever because starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before, which ostensibly means more pitching changes and a slower pace of play. At the same time, the last guy in the bullpen usually doesn’t pitch a whole lot anyway. Richard Bleier was on the active roster for 66 straight team games from May 26th to August 9th this past season, and in those 66 games he made only 13 appearances. At one point Ronald Torreyes appeared in seven of 37 games from May 21st to July 1st. The last bench guy and the last bullpen guy don’t play a whole lot as it is with 25-man rosters. How much action will that 26th man actually see? Managers will love to have the extra arm for blowouts and extra innings, and that’s about it. Good for the MLBPA getting those 30 extra full-time jobs though.
5. MLB still hasn’t announced the Comeback Players of the Year and basically no one has noticed or cared. The Sporting News and the MLBPA Players Choice announced their Comeback Players of the Year — both gave it to Mark Trumbo and Jose Fernandez — but those are different than MLB’s official award. They get confused often. MLB’s official Comeback Players of the Year are still a mystery. Conspiracy theory: One of the winners was popped for performance-enhancing drugs and the appeal process is still pending, and MLB doesn’t want to make the announcement. Another conspiracy theory: MLB doesn’t feel comfortable giving it to Fernandez posthumously. I dunno, just seems weird a pretty notable award has gone missing this year. I guess everyone is just going to pretend this didn’t happen if it comes back next year?
6. Did we see the anti-Yankee awards bias in action in the Rookie of the Year voting? Michael Fulmer winning the award was not egregious in any way, but he received 26 of the 30 first place votes, so it was a relative landslide. For a Yankee to win a major award, he usually needs to have a season that is so far better than anything anyone else did so the choice is obvious, like Alex Rodriguez and the 2007 AL MVP. If it’s close, like it was with Fulmer and Sanchez, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee. Fulmer had a remarkable season that was slightly worse than Collin McHugh’s rookie season in 2014. Sanchez did things we’ve never seen done by a rookie before, and he did them as a full-time catcher. It was unprecedented.
7. I was pleasantly surprised Mike Trout was named AL MVP. He means far more to the Angels than Mookie Betts means to the Red Sox or Jose Altuve means to the Astros or Zach Britton means to the Orioles. He’s more important to his franchise than any other player. I do not think this means a sea change is coming to the voting though. A bunch of guys on non-postseason teams aren’t going to start winning MVP the same way pitchers with 13 wins didn’t start winning the Cy Young after Felix Hernandez in 2010. This was basically randomness at work. The 30 voters this year just so happened to vote Trout over Betts, and it was a close vote. Trout won by a mere 45 points (356-311). Pick some other random combination of 30 voters from the 600+ BBWAA members and Betts probably wins. Heck, give all 600+ a vote and Betts probably wins. By at least one measure, Trout is the greatest player in history through age 24. Having just one MVP after these five seasons would have been ridiculous. Two is much better.
8. The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot was announced earlier this week, and it includes some notable first-timers. Among them is Manny Ramirez, who is going to give us a decent preview of A-Rod‘s Hall of Fame chances. Manny is the litmus test. Both Manny and A-Rod have first ballot Hall of Fame credentials, and they also both served suspensions stemming from PEDs. Manny served two, in fact. I don’t think either player will get into Cooperstown for that reason. If Ramirez gets, say, 10% of the vote in his first year on the ballot, he (and A-Rod) have basically zero shot at induction. If he gets something like 40% or 50% of the vote, there’s at least a small ray of hope. Assuming Rodriguez’s playing career is over, he’ll be Hall of Fame eligible for the first time in 2022. Will enough change between now and 2031, the final year of A-Rod’s ten years on the ballot, to get Alex in? Possibly, sure. I think he (and Manny) are facing long odds though.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on as well. Discuss those games or whatever else right here.
There are only nine days remaining until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. MLB and the MLBPA insist they are optimistic a new deal will be reached and I continue to believe them because both sides have too much to lose with a work stoppage. Besides, they could agree to continue negotiating after December 1st while operating under the current rules. We’ll see what happens. Here are some bits of news and notes.
Chapman would “love” to be a Yankee again
Apparently Aroldis Chapman‘s brief stint with the Yankees has left him wanting more. He would welcome the opportunity to wear pinstripes again. “I would love to be a Yankee again,” said Chapman to Ray Negron. “This is business and the Yankees know that … They took a chance on me (during the legal trouble last year) and I will always be grateful.”
The Yankees are reportedly in on all the big free agent relievers and I feel like a reunion with Chapman is inevitable. They know him and he won’t cost a draft pick. Plus he’s still pretty young (29 in February) and should have plenty of prime years left. I do wonder how Chapman will perform when he inevitably loses some velocity, but that’s a question for another time. The Yankees want another elite reliever and Chapman is their top target.
Yankees to play first game of 2017
The Yankees are going to play the very first game of the 2017 season. ESPN released their Opening Day(s) broadcast schedule, and the Yankees and Rays are slated to open the season at 1pm ET on Sunday, April 2nd. The Giants and Diamondbacks will play the second game of the year at 4pm ET the same day. Here’s the full ESPN broadcast schedule for the Opening Day festivities.
Two years ago the Yankees played the last first game of the season, if that makes sense. They were in Houston to open the season and didn’t play until Tuesday night. The other 28 teams had all played at least one game by then. This year the opposite will be true. The Yankees and Rays will have all eyes on them that afternoon. There will be no other games at the same time.
Roster limit changes “likely” coming in 2017
According to Tyler Kepner and Ken Rosenthal, the upcoming CBA is “likely” to increase the roster size to 26 players. Also, there will be some sort of roster limit after September 1st. Teams would still be able to call up their 40-man roster, though they’d only be allowed to have 28 active players per game. The 28 players wouldn’t change every day. Perhaps every series or something like that.
The 26-man roster essentially means every team will carry an extra reliever — the Yankees almost certainly will — which means more pitching changes and even slower pace of play. Sigh. As for the September roster limit, I hate it. I’ve long been a fan of September call-ups. Reward the kids and reward the teams with depth. Call them up, let them play. Give teams access to all those extra pitchers late in the season so they don’t have to push fatigued arms any harder than they have to.
Roman Rodriguez leaves Yankees
Longtime bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez has left the Yankees for a scouting position with the Angels, reports Mark Feinsand. He’s the latest member of the organization to leave New York for Billy Eppler’s Angels. Scout Eric Chavez (yes, that Eric Chavez) and manager of pro scouting Steve Martone were also hired away from the Yankees by Eppler. Probably some others too.
Rodriguez, 47, had been New York’s bullpen catcher since 2003, which means he was the longest tenured member of the field staff. In addition to his bullpen catcher duties, Rodriguez also helped chart pitches and things like that. He also used to serve as an interpreter for Spanish speaking players when they spoke to reporters before the Yankees hired a full-time translator. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees need a new bullpen catcher.
It’s time to do the impossible with our season review series: evaluate coaches. It can’t be done from where we sit. We can try, but ultimately we never do anything more than project player performance onto the coaching staff, and that’s sorta dumb. The offense isn’t clicking? Time to get a new hitting coach. The pitchers stink? New pitching coach. Same old story, year after year, all around the league.
These guys are coaches, not miracle workers. Almost all of their work takes place behind the scenes, and for every little mechanical adjustment that generates headlines, there are dozens that go unreported. Teams have far more insight into what their coaches do or do not do well. As fans, all we can do is speculate. Evaluating coaches from here is basically impossible. That won’t stop us though. Let’s review the year that was with the coaching staff.
Bench Coach: Rob Thomson
Gosh, Thomson has been with the Yankees a long time. He originally joined the organization back in 1990 as a minor league coach. Since then he’s held all sorts of roles, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development before joining the Major League coaching staff. Thomson spent the 2008 season as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach and the 2009-14 seasons as the third base coach before resuming his role as bench coach last year.
As the bench coach, Thomson is Girardi’s right hand man, who from what I understand has a lot of responsibility communicating with players before and after games. I know a lot of folks think the bench coach is supposed to whisper sweet nothings into the manager’s ear and help him make strategic decisions, but that’s only part of the job. I have no real opinion of Thomson as the bench coach. He’s been at it a very long time and I have no doubt he has an awful lot to offer the team. Boring review is boring.
Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild
This was somehow Rothschild’s sixth season as the Yankees’ pitching coach. Geez, does time fly or what? Rothschild came under more criticism this year than any other season with the Yankees, mostly because Michael Pineda continued to be frustrating as hell and Luis Severino went backwards. “Who has he improved?” was a popular refrain, as if that could ever be answered with some level of certainty.
In 2016, CC Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher and had his best season in four years. Masahiro Tanaka transitioned from four-seam fastball pitcher to sinker pitcher (and back to four-seam fastball pitcher) to combat his home run woes. Severino took a massive step back, first with his command and then with the disappearance of his changeup. Chad Green learned a cutter and that was cool. Bryan Mitchell (walks) and Luis Cessa (homers) had good superficial stats but worrisome trends under the hood.
Overall, New York’s pitching staff was ninth in baseball with +18.2 fWAR this year despite being 15th in ERA (4.16) and 27th in innings (1428.1). That’s because their team strikeout and walk rates were, once again, excellent. They were fifth in baseball with a 23.1% strikeout rate and fourth with a 7.4% walk rate. During Rothschild’s six years as pitching coach, the Yankees are third in strikeout rate (21.5%), third in walk rate (7.3%), and third in fWAR (+115.2).
How much of the credit or blame goes to Rothschild? Beats me. All I know he’s highly regarded around baseball — “Larry is a master of psychology with big arm guys. He gets them to believe in their secondary pitches,” said a scout to Andrew Marchand and Wally Matthews last year — and he will be back next season, like it or not. The Yankees gave Rothschild a new one-year contract after the season.
Hitting Coaches: Alan Cockrell & Marcus Thames
For the third straight year, the Yankees had a new hitting coaching coach in 2016. In 2014 it was still Kevin Long. Last year it was Jeff Pentland with Cockrell as his assistant. This year it was Cockrell with Thames as his assistant. It appears the revolving door of hitting coaches will stop with Cockrell and Thames. If one or both was going to be replaced, they’d be gone already.
In 2016 the Yankees ranked 22nd in runs (680), 19th in home runs (183), 20th in AVG (.252), 25th in OBP (.314), 21st in SLG (.405), and 21st in wRC+ (92). (wRC+ is park adjusted, so it accounts for hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.) Below-average by any measure. That is partly due to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez giving the Yankees 681 plate appearances of nothing, which I have a hard time blaming on the hitting coaches. Old players got old. News at 11.
“Good and bad. I’ll leave it at that,” said Cockrell to Brendan Kuty when asked to evaluate his season. “You always reflected on what you did or didn’t do or would do differently. In all honesty, I’ve done some of those things already. I’ve looked at some of those things and when it comes to our three, four, and five hole guys … We’ve been looking for offense in a lot of different ways. It’s a tough league, man. It’s been a grind.”
Going forward, the Yankees are going to give Cockrell and Thames much more young talent to work with, players whose best years are still ahead of them (hopefully). There’s Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. Don’t forget about Clint Frazier either. Thames, who has a history with many of these guys from his days as a minor league hitting coach, and Cockrell will be in charge of helping these players become impact big leaguers.
First & Third Base Coaches: Tony Pena & Joe Espada
The Yankees had a 77% success rate stealing bases this season, fifth highest in baseball, which I guess means Pena did his job as first base coach? He’s out there with the stopwatch timing the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time, determining whether his runners can steal second. There’s more to it, of course, and besides, Pena’s primary focus is working with the catchers. He’s going to put Sanchez through a full year of catching boot camp in 2017.
Espada is … well … not very popular as third base coach. Are any third base coaches popular? I don’t think so. At best, they’re overlooked because they’re not making mistakes. The Yankees had only 12 runners thrown out at the plate this year, tied for the second fewest in baseball, but gosh, more than a few of those 12 were egregious. Remember this?
Espada is generally conservative when it comes to sending runners home — he waved 55% of runners home from second on a single and first from a double, below the 68% league average — which is out of necessity more than anything. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only above-average runners on the roster. Espada’s not going to send guys like Sanchez and Bird home too often. They’re just not fast. Even with the conservative approach, there are still too many obviously bad sends for my liking. It’s bad. Bad bad bad.
Bullpen Coach: Mike Harkey
Harkey rejoined the Yankees this season after the team parted ways with Gary Tuck, who reportedly had some run-ins with the front office about their use of analytics. Harvey was New York’s bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving to join the Diamondbacks as their pitching coach. Arizona let him go after last season, so back to the Yankees he came.
The bullpen coach is effectively a second pitching coach, though during games, he stands out in the bullpen and answers the phone. The most memorable part of Harkey’s season came on September 26th, when Girardi and Rothschild were ejected following Severino’s hit-by-pitch war with the Blue Jays. Harkey had to go to the dugout to take over as pitching coach.
With no coach in the bullpen, Tyler Clippard took over as the bullpen coach for the remainder of the game because he is the team’s most veteran reliever. It was Clippard’s job to answer the phone and wave his hat at the dugout to let them know the reliever was ready:
Out of all the GIFs I’ve made for this stupid site, that might be my favorite. How ridiculous. This has been, rather easily, the most exciting bullpen coach season review in RAB history.
Last week the Yankees made their first major move of the offseason when they sent Brian McCann to the Astros for a pair of Single-A pitching prospects. The move cleared quite a bit of salary ($11.5M in both 2017 and 2018) and also freed up the DH position. That was McCann’s only real ticket to regular at-bats now that Gary Sanchez is entrenched behind the plate.
Even before the trade, the Yankees were connected to many of the top free agent sluggers available. I have no doubt some of that is the general “the Yankees are in on everyone” nonsense we hear every offseason. Chances are there is some legitimate interest too. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. The McCann trade created a need at DH and the team is exploring their options. It’s what they do.
One of those options is ex-Yankee Carlos Beltran, who was traded away as part of the youth movement a few months ago. The Yankees signed him during he 2013-14 offseason, and he spent the next two and a half years in New York before being traded to the Rangers for three prospects at the 2016 trade deadline. Beltran is a free agent now and the Yankees are said to have interest in a reunion. Does bringing him back make sense? Let’s dive in.
Because Beltran spent all that time with the Yankees, we’re familiar with his work at the plate. He hit .304/.344/.546 (135 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 99 games before the trade this year, which is right in line with the .295/.357/.505 (135 wRC+) batting line he put up after April last season. Remember how bad Beltran was last April? Woof. He followed that with over 800 plate appearances of 135 wRC+ baseball. Cool.
Beltran didn’t perform quite as well with the Rangers after the trade — he hit .280/.325/.451 (103 wRC+) with seven homers in 52 games with Texas — though I’m not too concerned about that. He was healthy and I’m sure there was something of an adjustment period after joining a new team in a new division in the middle of a postseason race. The end result was a .295/.337/.471 (119 wRC+) batting line with 29 homers in 593 plate appearances in 2016.
Of course, when you sign a free agent, you’re getting what he does in the future, not what he’s done in the past. That’s the tricky part. Beltran will turn 40 soon after Opening Day and it is very reasonable to wonder what he has to offer at that age. Batted ball data is a pretty big deal when it comes to players approach 40, so here is Beltran over the last three seasons:
An increase in ground balls is a classic “he’s losing bat speed” indicator, and while Beltran’s ground ball rate was higher in 2016 than it was in 2015, it wasn’t a huge increase. A 42.1% ground ball rate isn’t all concerning anyway. It starts to get scary when hitters, especially middle of the order power hitters like Beltran, start getting up closer to 50%. Carlos is not close to that yet.
As you can see in the graph, Beltran’s ground ball and soft contact rates did tick up late in the season, while he was with the Rangers. That helps explain why his numbers slipped after the trade. That could be nothing more than a small sample size blip though. Carlos could have been worn down after a long season, especially after playing a chunk of it in the Texas heat. Could be nothing, could be something. We can’t possibly know.
Point is, there are no major red flags in Beltran’s batted ball data over the last few years. He’s still elevating the ball and he’s still making hard contact overall. From both sides of the plate too. The sudden late season increase in ground ball and soft contact rates this past season is a little red flag. It’s something to consider. It’s not enough to avoid signing Beltran completely, I don’t think.
Defensive & Baserunning Value
This is easy: none. Less than none, really. Beltran is a negative in the field. He’ll cost you runs. Forget saving them. Once upon a time he was as good as any center fielder in the game. Now he’s a barely mobile right fielder who fits best at DH. Age and years of knee injuries will do that to a guy. With McCann gone, the Yankees are in position to play Beltran at DH exclusively in 2017, which is where he belongs.
As for the baserunning, it’s the same deal. Beltran’s doesn’t run well anymore. It’s not just the lack of stolen bases either — Beltran stole one base in 2016, none in 2015, three in 2014, and two in 2013 — it’s the other aspects of baserunning too. This past season Beltran took the extra base only 30% of the time. That’s going first-to-third on single, scoring from first on a double, things like that. The MLB is average was 40%. He was far below that.
According to the numbers at FanGraphs, Beltran cost his teams 4.2 runs on the bases and in the field in 2016. Baseball Prospectus says it was 5.0 runs. That doesn’t sound like much, but remember, he played only 69 games in the outfield compared to 73 at DH. The playing time split limited the defensive damage. Given his age, there’s no reason to think Beltran’s defense or baserunning will improve. He’s a bat-only player.
For the first time since 2013, Beltran managed to avoid the disabled list this past season. He did miss time with knee, hamstring, and quad problems — Carlos had to have his knee drained in June — but they were all day-to-day injuries. Last season Beltran was sidelined with an oblique strain. The year before he had a bone spur in his elbow that required season-ending surgery.
Beltran’s knees are the biggest concern going forward. Guys pull obliques and hamstrings get tight. It happens. More and more with each passing year too. Beltran’s knees are pretty messed up though. The left, the one he had drained his year, has given him on and off problems over the years. The right knee required microfracture surgery back in 2010. The move to the full-time DH should help Beltran’s knees stay healthy. His medical history isn’t pretty though.
First things first: Beltran did not receive the qualifying offer this offseason. He was not eligible to receive it after being traded at midseason. I’m pretty sure there was better than a 50/50 chance Carlos would have taken the $17.2M qualifying offer, but who knows. Either way, he’s not attached to draft pick compensation. No worries there.
Unlike some other big name DH candidates, most notably Edwin Encarnacion, Beltran figures to come on a short-term contract given his age. No draft pick and a short-term deal for a guy who hit 29 homers with a 119 wRC+ in 2016? Pretty sweet. Here are some contract estimates:
- Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Two years, $30M.
- FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year, $15.8M.
- MLB Trade Rumors: One year, $14M.
I include Bowden in these things because his free agent contract predictions have been insanely accurate over the last few years. He might not get them right down to the last dollar, but he’s almost always in the ballpark. It’s kinda freaky, really, to be that close year after year after year.
MLBTR and the FanGraphs crowd project a one-year contract, which is what common sense tells you a soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent should receive, no matter how productive he was this past season. Common sense doesn’t always win out in free agency. With teams like the Red Sox and Blue Jays and Red Sox and Astros and Red Sox said to be in the mix, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Beltran gets two years. The team that offers the second year might be the one that gets him.
So What About The Yankees?
This is what I think: I think Beltran is Plan A for the Yankees at DH now that McCann is gone. He’s the guy they want. He won’t cost them a draft pick and he’ll come on a short-term deal, plus they know him. They know Beltran’s work habits and what he’s like in the clubhouse. Also, he adds lineup balance as a switch-hitter, and because he’s played in the Bronx the last few years, there should be no adjustment period. It’ll be like he never left.
I also think the Yankees are unwilling to go two years to get Beltran. Maybe one year with an option, but not two guaranteed years. Every indication they’ve given the last year or so points to getting under the luxury tax threshold — whatever that number winds up being — during the 2018 season, and two years for Beltran compromises that. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia will all be off the books after next season. That’s their best chance to get under the threshold.
Also, what about Beltran? What does he want? Chances are his top priority next season is being with a contender. He wants a World Series ring. The guy has banked over $200M in contracts in his career. Chasing after every last dollar doesn’t seem like a thing that will happen. Beltran figures to join a no-doubt contender. He’s not stupid. He knows the Yankees are a team in transition — heck he was traded for prospects as part of the transition — and that means there’s a pretty decent chance they won’t contend in 2017.
Bringing Beltran back for a year to serve as the DH and mentor the young kids seems like a great idea, and really, it is. The question is whether Beltran is on board with that plan. Another team could offer a better chance of contention and/or a guaranteed second year, which throws a wrench into things. I’m not going to lie, bringing Beltran back makes me nervous after watching A-Rod, Teixeira, and Alfonso Soriano fall apart in the blink of an eye. I’d be okay with a one-year deal, but I wouldn’t be too upset if he winds up elsewhere either.