Just nine days remain in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Chances are we’ll know the winner even before that, since nine days is the deadline by which he must sign on the dotted line. He could come to an agreement within a week.
Speculation has run rampant, but we’ve had little in the way of actual reports about Tanaka. It seems as though his agent, Casey Close, has done a good job of preventing leaks from MLB teams. A few “reports out of Japan” have circulated, but since the original “reports out of Japan” indicated Tanaka wouldn’t be posted at all, it’s easy enough to dismiss those.
It does seem as though most media outlets agree that the Yankees and the Dodgers hold the best shots of signing Tanaka. Early in the process the Mariners looked like a good bet, and the Diamondbacks continue to linger. But right now, it would be a surprise to see him sign anywhere in between the two coasts.
At this moment the Yankees could be in an advantageous position. Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Dodgers attention is now on their own ace, Clayton Kershaw. With arbitration figures due on Friday, the Dodgers are eager to lock up Kershaw, likely to a record deal.
This situation could present the Yankees with an opportunity: make Tanaka an offer in mold of the one they made CC Sabathia in 2008. No, it shouldn’t be six years and $140 million, but it should certainly be a bold and aggressive offer, one Tanaka would have trouble rejecting. It shouldn’t be their best offer, either; as we saw with Sabahtia, there has to be at least a little upward flexibility.
Given that Tanaka has nine days to sign, regardless of an offer, he could simply defer a decision until after the Kershaw situation becomes clearer. But that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from stepping in and making an aggressive move while the opposition focuses elsewhere. Strike now.
The Yankees didn’t get much help from their farm system as the injuries mounted last season, but one of the few (only?) young players who stepped up to grab a job was right-hander Adam Warren. He made the Opening Day roster as the long man and, aside from one short stint in the minors that had more to with adding a fresh bullpen arm than his performance, he stayed with the team all season, pitching to a 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) in 77 innings.
Warren, 26, earned himself a spot in Spring Training‘s fifth starter competition with that performance. He’s all but guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster given the state of the pitching staff, but his role is unknown. Warren might be a starter, might be a long reliever, or he might be shoe-horned into a short relief role. Joe Girardi used him in what amounts to a seventh inning setup role three times during a four-game series against the Orioles last September, when David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Shawn Kelley were nursing injuries. He retired seven of the nine men he faced.
The Yankees need bullpen help, particularly a late-inning arm to pair with Robertson and Kelley. Warren hasn’t been considered for that role and understandably so, but it’s possible his skillset would make him a great fit for a one inning, air-it-out bullpen role. First and foremost, he excels the first time he faces a hit …
|1st PA in G, as RP||32||223||2.16||.276||.341||.438||.779||.312||126|
|2nd PA in G, as RP||14||67||2.50||.279||.343||.475||.819||.356||118|
|3rd+ PA in G, as RP||2||7||0.00||.200||.429||.200||.629||.200||48|
… crap. There goes that idea.
Well, maybe not. We are talking about 74 plate appearances the second and third time through the lineup, which is nothing. I’m not sure there’s enough information here to tell us how Warren fares each time through the order. He was worse the first time around last year, yes, but is that a true measure of his ability? Probably not given the limited amount of data. It would be nice if we had more than 32 games — he also made two starts, which are not included in the table — worth of stats to look at it.
What we do know about Warren is that he throws five different pitches and used all five in relief last year. Prior to last season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “pitches off his four-seamer and mixes in a two-seamer at times, then goes to his curveball, slider and changeup,” which the PitchFX data backs up. With a big assist from Brooks Baseball, here is how Warren approached right-handed batters in 2013:
|Total Thrown||% Thrown||Whiff %||GB%||Opp. AVG||Opp. ISO|
It’s important to add context to those hitting stats. The .283 opponent’s average against fastballs seems high, but the league hit .284 against fastballs overall in 2013. Warren’s fastball was exactly league average, for all intents and purposes. The .192 opponent’s average against the slider was a bit better than the .229 league average.
Warren was primarily a fastball-slider guy against same-side hitters, and he held them to .231/.304/.322 (.281 wOBA) batting line overall. He didn’t thrown enough sinkers, curves, or changeups for the numbers in the table to tell us anything useful about the effectiveness of those pitches. It would be cool if his curveball was impossible to hit in the air, but I doubt that’s the case. Now here is how he approached lefties last year:
|Total Thrown||% Thrown||Whiff %||GB%||Opp. AVG||Opp. ISO|
Left-handed hitters destroyed Warren last summer. I mean .301/.370/.526 (.387 wOBA) destroyed him. Hopefully someone on the Yankees hits that well this year. Warren was mostly fastball-changeup against lefties and man did his heater get crushed. His changeup was very effective though — the .160 opponent’s average was way better than the .257 league average. A changeup that generates a miss once out of every five swings while getting a grounder on more than half the balls in the play is pretty damn awesome. There are some good looking changeups in here, for your viewing pleasure:
As a long reliever who faced hitters more than once, using five pitches was a necessity for Warren. Being limited to one or even two innings at a time would allow him to scrap his fourth and fifth offerings and go fastball-slider against righties and fastball-changeup against lefties. Pretty basic stuff. The thinking (hope, really) is the more he sticks to his very best offspeed pitches, the more his fastball would play up. It’s similar to what Kelley has done these last two years, emphasizing his slider and using his fastball as a show-me pitch. Warren isn’t an Al Aceves type, a guy with a full bag of tricks who can throw anything at any time. He needs to stick to his strengths, and that’s sliders against righties and changeups against lefties.
Warren earned the opportunity to compete for a starting job after his performance last year and if he impresses in camp, he absolutely should be given the chance to start. If that doesn’t work out though, he might be most valuable to the team as a traditional short reliever rather than a long man. Someone with a late-game responsibility while Vidal Nuno or David Huff or Bruce Billings or whoever handles long relief duty. Maybe those struggles against lefties continue and Warren is nothing more than a righty specialist, but if that’s the case, they could simply move him back into a lower leverage long relief role. It would be an easy move to back out of.
To answer the question in the title of this post: I don’t know. I don’t know if Warren is capable of stepping forward to become a solid if not an impact setup reliever. I want to believe he can but until he actually does it, we’re just guessing. His slider and changeup are good enough pitches against righties and lefties, respectively, to think he can pull it off if he uses them a bit more often and strategically. I am curious to see what Warren can do if he airs it out for one inning at a time. Considering the state of the bullpen, he just might get the chance to do some setup work in 2014.
Via Buster Olney: Grant Balfour failed his pre-signing physical with the Orioles last month due to concerns about his wrist and knee. I assume it’s the knee he had surgically repaired (torn meniscus) last February. It was initially reported that the deal fell through because something scary popped up in his shoulder, which is obviously a big deal for a pitcher.
The Yankees were said to have renewed interest in Balfour shortly after things fell apart with the Orioles. It has now been 24 days since that deal fell through and, aside from some rumors within the first two or three days, things around Balfour have been very quiet. Very few reports of interested teams, stuff like that. The medicals just might be pretty bad. I’d love to see the Yankees swoop in and get him cheap, but if the guy isn’t healthy, then the guy isn’t healthy and you have to look elsewhere. · (18) ·
We hit two round number benchmarks today. Ten days from now, Masahiro Tanaka will be signed with someone, and I’m guessing it won’t be the Rakuten Golden Eagles. One month from now, pitchers and catchers will report for work in Tampa. Yeah, I’m really stretching the definition of benchmark here, but this is the slow time of the baseball year and we need something to look forward to. Tanaka’s signing deadline and pitchers and catchers are as good as anything.
Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. All of the local hockey and basketball teams are playing except the Nets, so there’s lots to watch tonight. Talk the games, the Paul O’Neill chant, Tanaka, pitchers and catchers, whatever. Enjoy.
As expected, the Yankees’ five eligible players all filed for salary arbitration prior to today’s deadline. Those five players, with their projected 2014 salaries courtesy of Matt Swartz, are David Robertson ($5.5M), Brett Gardner ($4M), Ivan Nova ($2.8M), Shawn Kelley ($1.5M), and Frankie Cervelli ($1M). The players’ union expects Gardner’s salary to be “considerably higher” than projected.
Filing for arbitration is just a procedural move. Had these guys not filed today, the Yankees would have been able to pay them whatever they wanted this coming season, as long as it was at least 80% of last year’s salary. The two sides have to exchange figures by Friday, meaning the team says what they want to pay while the player says what he wants. Arbitration hearings will be held next month and the Yankees have not been to one since beating Chien-Ming Wang prior to the 2008 season. The two sides can work out a contract of any size right up to the hearing. · (17) ·
Unless the team changes course in the next few weeks, the Yankees are unlikely to add another infielder on a guaranteed Major League contract this offseason. They’ll attempt to replace the suspended Alex Rodriguez with a bunch of scrap heap pickups and hope one of them sticks at some point. I don’t like that approach but that’s what the team seems to be doing. So be it.
While signing a player to a big league contract may be off the table, the Yankees could still trade for a 40-man roster player. They have a 40-man logjam of their own and would be able to clear a spot (or two) in a deal. Jon Morosi reported yesterday that New York called the Padres about their infield depth in the not too distant past, perhaps right after they learned A-Rod‘s fate. San Diego has so many extra infielders that they had no room on the 40-man for Dean Anna earlier this winter, so they shipped him to the Yankees for a Single-A reliever.
Do any of the Padres’ extra infielders make sense for the Bombers? Surely at least one does, right? Let’s look at what they have to offer.
UTIL Logan Forsythe
Forsythe, who turns 27 today, is the reason for this post, really. Morosi mentioned he was the “most realistic target,” but I don’t know if that is him speculating or reporting the Yankees are targeting him. Either way, Forsythe definitely makes sense for a team in need of both second and third base help. He has extensive experience at both positions — his defense is okay at best, more likely below-average if he plays regularly — and he even started to mix in some corner outfield work last year as well.
Thanks to a year-long battle with plantar fasciitis that prevented him from playing at 100%, Forsythe hit only .214/.281/.332 (73 wRC+) with six homers and six steals in 243 plate appearances last season. Foot and knee problems have hampered him over the years. Forsythe did show a lot of promise during an extended stint as San Diego’s everyday second baseman in 2012, hitting .273/.343/.390 (110 wRC+) with six homers and eight steals in 350 plate appearances. His career numbers in Triple-A are off the charts: .314/.446/.540 (154 wRC+) with 11 homers and 11 steals in 325 plate appearances.
“Forsythe is a natural third baseman who’s below-average at second but is good enough to fill in there for a team without a clear in-house option, and his high contact rates give him offensive value even with his lack of power,” said Keith Law (subs. req’d) following that strong 2012 season. Forsythe is a) still in his pre-arbitration years, b) a right-handed hitter who has mashed lefties in the show (124 wRC+), c) capable of playing two positions of need, and d) a buy-low candidate because his stock is down following the disappointing year and injury. If the Yankees aren’t going to spend big on a third baseman, he makes an awful lot of sense as a low-profile trade target.
2B/3B Jedd Gyorko
Gyorko is probably the least available Padres infielder. The 25-year-old hit .249/.301/.444 (110 wRC+) with 23 homers in 525 plate appearances as a rookie last season while playing solid defense at second and third bases. Scouting reports and his minor league track record suggest the power is real and his walk rate will eventually come up. San Diego is going to build around Gyorko and they’re more likely to sign him long-term than trade him for help elsewhere. His age, right-handed pop, and defensive versatility would be perfect for the Yankees. Acquiring him just isn’t all that realistic, however.
3B Chase Headley
The Yankees have been trying to trade for Headley for years, but the team’s lack of viable trade chips has hurt their pursuit. He is entering his walk year and is projected to make $10M, which isn’t all that pricey for the Padres anymore thanks to their local television deal as well as the new national television contracts. Signing him to a long-term extension is probably off the table though.
Headley, 29, was an MVP candidate in 2012, hitting .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers and 17 steals to go along with excellent third base defense. He dropped down to .250/.347/.400 (113 wRC+) with 13 homers and eight steals last year after breaking a thumb sliding into a base in Spring Training and coming back sooner than expected. A broken finger sabotaged his 2011 season, but otherwise Headley has consistently been an above-average hitter with double-digit homers, double-digit steals, and strong defense since becoming a full-timer in 2008.
I’ve always been a big Headley fan and think he’d be a pretty damn close to a star if you get him out of Petco Park. A switch-hitter with power and patience (11.8% walk rate since 2011) who steals bases and plays the hell out of third base? I’ll take that player on my team everyday of the week. Trading for Headley would be an enormous boost for the 2014 Yankees but it doesn’t seem like the two clubs match up for a deal right now. They’ll have to wait and pony up nine figures in free agency next winter.
SS Ryan Jackson
The Yankees don’t have much need for the 25-year-old Jackson, who is an excellent defender but can’t hit a lick. They have the same player in the older and more expensive Brendan Ryan. The Padres would probably be much more open to moving Jackson than incumbent shortstop and stolen base machine Everth Cabrera despite his 50-game Biogenesis suspension. If the Yankees and Padres are going to get together for a trade involving an infielder, Forsythe is the most realistic target by far.
The Yankees have officially signed Brian Roberts to a one-year contract, the team announced. He gets a $2M base salary plus another $2.6M in plate appearance-based incentives. Joel Sherman has a breakdown of the incentives, which don’t kick in until 250 plate appearances but escalate rapidly thereafter. Roberts gets the 40-man roster spot that was vacated by Alex Rodriguez when he was placed on the restricted list following the announcement of his 162-game suspension. · (33) ·
Thanks to the magic of free agency, the Yankees completely overhauled their offense this offseason. Brett Gardner is the only player from the 2013 Opening Day starting lineup who projects to be in the 2014 Opening Day starting lineup, but there’s still a chance he will be traded in the coming weeks. All that turnover isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Yankees had their worst offense since the early-1990s last year and they needed the overhaul.
As I mentioned last week, all the lineup turnover should lead to longer at-bats and more walks this summer. The Yankees were a pretty impatient club in 2013, especially by the team’s usual standards. Patience and plate discipline aren’t the only things that will change though. All the new faces will impact the team’s running game as well. No one thinks of New York as a running team, but they’ve stolen at least 100 bases in seven of the last eight seasons (including last season) and have had a positive base-running value (per FanGraphs) in three of the last four years. Last year was the exception.
The 2013 Yankees ranked fifth in the league with 115 stolen bases and third with a 79% success rate. Only the Red Sox (87%) and Royals (83%) were better. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki both topped 20+ steals while Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix were also in double-digits. Curtis Granderson and Alfonso Soriano managed eight steals apiece in their limited time. The team really lagged at taking the extra base, meaning going first-to-third on a single or scoring from first on a double. Stuff like that. They successfully took that extra base in only 35% of their opportunities, second lowest in the league (Tigers at 33%) and well-below the 39% league average. Here’s how the regular lineup (using the guys with the most playing time at each position) fared on the bases:
|Players||2013 SBA%||2013 SB%||2013 XBT%|
|C Chris Stewart||4%||100%||19%|
|1B Lyle Overbay||1%||100%||23%|
|2B Robinson Cano||3%||88%||38%|
|SS Eduardo Nunez||10%||77%||40%|
|3B Jayson Nix||11%||93%||36%|
|LF Vernon Wells||7%||70%||39%|
|CF Brett Gardner||14%||75%||45%|
|RF Ichiro Suzuki||10%||83%||38%|
|DH Travis Hafner||2%||100%||32%|
First things first, some definitions are in order:
- SBA% or Stolen Base Attempt Rate: This is how often a player attempted to steal a base when presented with a stolen base opportunity. That is whenever they were standing on first or second base with no runner on the next base. The league average was 6%.
- SB% or Stolen Base Success Rate: Pretty straight forward. How many times did you try to steal a base and how many times were you successful? The league average was 74%.
- XBT% or Extra Base Taken Rate: I mentioned this above. It’s the rate of which a player successfully took the extra base on a hit, meaning first-to-third on a single, etc. The league average, as I said, was 39%.
Simple enough, right? Last year’s regular lineup attempted about an average number of steals relative to their opportunities, and they were usually successful. Nix was caught only once in 14 attempts and Ichiro was caught only four times in 24 attempts. Gardner was not nearly as prolific or successful stealing bases last year as he has been in the past, and my theory is that he often put on the brakes to make sure there was someone on base for Cano. When you struggle to score like the Yankees did, having men on for your best hitter is a necessity.
The slow guys like Stewart, Overbay, and Hafner managed to go a combined eight-for-eight in stolen bases attempts but those are anomalies. Usually when someone like that steals a base, it’s on the back-end of a double-steal or because the pitcher completely stopped paying attention to them. The core base-stealers, the guys you expect to run like Nunez, Nix, Gardner, and Ichiro, were average or better on the bases in the three categories above. They carried the lineup to those strong overall marks, but most of those players are gone now. Either gone as in off the roster or gone as in relegated to a bench role.
Obviously, the club’s biggest base-running addition this winter was Jacoby Ellsbury. He led baseball in both stolen bases (52) and FanGraphs’ base-running value (+11.4 runs) in 2013, and those 52 steals came with only four (!) caught stealings. The guys was an animal on the bases. Ellsbury has three 50+ stolen base seasons to his credit and he’s been successful in 84% of his career attempts. I don’t think it’s crazy to think he will be the Yankees’ most dangerous base-running threat since Rickey Henderson way back in the day. Here’s how the rest of the projected lineup has done on the bases these last three seasons:
|Players||2011-13 SBO%||2011-13 SB%||2011-13 XBT%|
|C Brian McCann||2%||67%||16%|
|1B Mark Teixeira||2%||75%||28%|
|2B Brian Roberts||7%||77%||42%|
|SS Derek Jeter||5%||71%||33%|
|3B Kelly Johnson||8%||76%||29%|
|LF Brett Gardner||21%||77%||48%|
|CF Jacoby Ellsbury||19%||83%||49%|
|RF Carlos Beltran||4%||68%||37%|
|DH Alfonso Soriano||8%||68%||38%|
Teixeira and McCann are two of the very worst base-runners in baseball. Teixeira has never been fast and McCann has nearly 9,000 innings worth of squatting behind the plate on his legs. Amazingly, they might be downgrades from Overbay and Stewart on the bases, respectively. Thankfully they do almost literally everything else on a baseball field better.
Roberts and Jeter are almost complete unknowns due to injury. Roberts has barely played the last few years and Jeter missed almost all of last season due to a variety of leg and ankle problems. He wasn’t a particularly good base-runner before that, as the table shows, but there’s a chance he’ll be Teixeira-esque on the bases this coming season due to his age and injuries. Roberts has been effective when healthy — a touch better than league average across the board in the table — but he’s day-to-day at all times.
It’s interesting that Beltran and Soriano had nearly identical success rates for stealing bases and taking the extra base from 2011-13, but the latter attempted twice as many stolen bases. Of course, Beltran’s knees are a disaster while Soriano is perfectly healthy. That’s a bit factor. Regardless of who is in right and who is at DH on a given day, they’ll be a downgrade from Ichiro but an upgrade over Hafner. Ellsbury effectively replaces Wells and that’s a huge upgrade. Johnson is solid on the bases — moreso while stealing bases than taking the extra base — but a downgrade from Nix.
The Yankees have a lot of age in their starting lineup (putting it lightly), so I think they’re more likely to underperform on the bases compared to recent years than maintain the status quo. At least guys like Roberts, Beltran, Soriano, and Jeter. Ellsbury, Johnson, and Gardner should be fine, and in fact I think Gardner might go nuts and try to steal 50+ bases in his contract year. I would. Overall, given their rates these few years, the Yankees’ rebuilt starting lineup may wind up stealing (substantially) more total bases in 2014 than 2013, but they may do so with less efficency and without doing a better job of taking the extra base on hits.
As I mentioned earlier, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz’s sealed ruling in Alex Rodriguez’s case was opened when A-Rod’s camp filed a suit seeking an injunction earlier today. You can read the entire 77-page ruling right here (PDF link), but, if you don’t have time, here is a breakdown of the major points from my stomping grounds at CBS. The suit was filed against both MLB and the players’ union, which was necessary if they intend to show the deck was stacked against them. Here is the union’s statement on the suit. What a complete and total mess. · (129) ·
As expected, Alex Rodriguez‘s camp filed a suit with a federal court today regarding his 162-game suspension. Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz’s ruling has been unsealed as part of the suit — you can read the whole thing right here (PDF link) — which was filed against both MLB and the players’ union. They need to show the MLBPA didn’t do enough to help Rodriguez to get this thing off the ground. The Earth has officially been scorched.
As you know by now, former Biogenesis chief Anthony Bosch appeared on 60 Minutes last night to discuss the scandal. Bud Selig and MLB COO Rob Manfred were on as well. There wasn’t a great deal of investigative reporting done and they missed a golden opportunity to ask Bosch why he changed his story after agreeing to cooperate with MLB. There were a few softball questions about the “integrity of the game” and stuff like that. Kinda silly. I did enjoy watching MLB’s chief witness, who they’ve sunk seven figures into between legal fees and personal security and all that, insinuate pretty much every player is doing PEDs on national television. That was great. Otherwise everyone involved comes out of the segment looking like a slimeball.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks are the only local team playing tonight, so I guess you’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about the 60 Minutes piece, the Knicks, or anything else here. Go nuts.