Thoughts ten days after the end of the regular season

Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)
Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)

It has now been ten days since the Yankees played their final regular season game. The postseason has kept me from missing the Yankees so far, though that’ll change eventually. Probably after the playoffs. Anyway, I have some thoughts about the 2016 season and the offseason ahead.

1. This is a very important Arizona Fall League season for the Yankees. Usually it’s just a bunch of guys getting extra at-bats. This year the Yankees have one rehabbing big leaguer (Greg Bird), one rehabbing prospect (James Kaprielian), and one reclamation project (Dillon Tate) in the desert. Bird will hopefully be the full-time first baseman next season, and he’s finally getting at-bats in the AzFL after missing the season due to shoulder surgery. Kaprielian, arguably the most talented pitcher in the system, will get a chance to make up for lost time after missing close to the entire season with an elbow problem. Tate’s stock took a hit this summer as his velocity and stuff wavered. The Yankees want to get all three back on track, especially Bird and Kaprielian. They’re important to the future of the franchise.

2. I’m usually paranoid about pitching depth. I’m always in favor of signing that one extra veteran to be the fifth starter and push the kids down to Triple-A. I’d rather have the arms and not need them then need them and not have them, you know? Despite that, I’m weirdly comfortable with the pitching depth the Yankees have at the moment. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell all logged big league time this year, and then there’s Jordan Montgomery and presumably Chance Adams in Triple-A. Severino is the only one of those pitchers with a really high ceiling, but I think they’re all big leaguers, and I think the odds are pretty good we’ll see each of them next season. Definitely the first four, assuming Green is healthy. Is a rotation featuring four of those guys going to win a championship in 2017? Nah. But I like all the live arms that are big league ready or close to it. It’s been a while since the Yankees were this deep in potential starters.

3. Now, even with that pitching depth in mind, I do think the Yankees need to add a starter this offseason. A young controllable guy with high upside would be ideal. Someone like, say, Carlos Rodon or Jon Gray would be the dream scenario, just to throw some names out there. I’m not sure if that’ll happen though. Plan B might be some riskier pitchers either due to injury or poor performance. Rich Hill will be the big free agent name this offseason, and I suspect he’s going to get himself a nice contract. When I say riskier pitchers, I’m thinking more along the lines of Brett Anderson and Jaime Garcia (assuming his option is declined), or a trade for Tyson Ross. There’s a chance they’ll come reasonably cheap, and if healthy, they’ll be pretty good. If not, then the Yankees can turn it over to the kids. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the young starters. I’m known to do that in the offseason. It just seems like there are zero sure things in free agency. Not even a reliable veteran innings guy to be your fourth starter. So if no trade can be worked out, then taking shots on risky pitchers with upside and using the kids as a backup plan seems like a fine idea.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I’m not sure how this can be fixed aside from getting an entirely new offense, but the Yankees really need to improve their on-base ability going forward. They had a team .314 OBP (25th in MLB) and a 7.8% walk rate (19th). They also averaged only 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 22nd in baseball. Their 77 games with no more than two walks were ninth most in baseball. That’s a problem. The best thing a hitter can do in any given plate appearance is not make an out, and the Yankees were among the worst teams at not making outs this past season. Furthermore, one of their best count-workers (Mark Teixeira) is retiring and two others (Brett Gardner and Brian McCann) might get traded. Hopefully Bird’s return and a full season of Aaron Judge will help correct this somewhat. With others like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, this is just who they are. They’re going up there swinging. Want the Yankees to score more runs? Then adding some more on-base guys to the lineup would be a good start. Gardner and McCann were the only full season regulars with a .331+ OBP in 2016. That ain’t enough.

5. The Yankees re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract last week, which means Rothschild, Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman will be all be free agents next offseason. Probably the other coaches too, though I don’t know their contract statuses. Point is, things are set up well for the Yankees to wipe the slate clean after next season should ownership decide to go in that direction. No one has to be fired. They can all be let go. I don’t expect that to happen, at least not right now, but if the Yankees miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years, who knows. It would be easy to justify making sweeping changes. Either way, Cashman’s contract and Girardi’s contract are up after the season, and that’s going to be a pretty huge story, especially if the club doesn’t play in October again.

DotF: Greg Bird returns on first day of Arizona Fall League

The 2016 Arizona Fall League season started this afternoon, which means 1B Greg Bird returned to the field for the first time since having shoulder surgery in February. That’s grounds for a special edition of DotF, right? Right. In other AzFL news, RHP James Kaprielian will start for the Scottsdale Scorpions tomorrow. Hooray for that.

AzFL Scottsdale (9-6 win over Glendale)

  • DH Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — pretty standard Greg Bird game in his first day back
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-2, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 BB — nice AzFL debut for him
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 17 of 30 pitches were strikes (57%) … Josh Norris says Tate sat 94-96 and topped out 97, and got swings and misses on both his slider and changeup, so that’s promising
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — 12 pitches, seven strikes

SS Gleyber Torres, SS Tyler Wade, RHP Josh Roeder, and Kaprielian are all at the AzFL as well, though they didn’t play today. Torres is going to see time at second and Wade is going to play some outfield.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

The ALCS is now set. The Blue Jays and Indians will meet for the AL pennant after sweeping the Rangers and Red Sox, respectively. Pretty easy to side with the Indians in that one, isn’t it? Go Fightin’ Millers! Anyway, here is today’s postseason schedule:

  • NLDS Game Four: Nationals at Dodgers (Ross vs. Kershaw), 5pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Nats up 2-1)
  • NLDS Game Four: Cubs at Giants (Lackey vs. Moore), 8:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Cubs up 2-1)

Wins today by the Nationals and Cubs would mean no baseball until Friday. No. Just, no. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. A pair of Game Fives on Thursday sounds great to me.

Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s some preseason NBA action on tonight in addition to the two postseason games. Talk about that stuff and more right here. Have at it.

Solano and Young elect free agency as Yankees continue 40-man roster purge

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Both outfielder Eric Young Jr. and infielder Donovan Solano have elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster, the Yankees announced in recent days. I didn’t realize Young was still under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017. No surprise they cut him loose though. He was never a long-term piece.

Young, 31, was acquired from the Brewers in a cash deal on August 31st to serve as the designated September pinch-runner. He appeared in six games with the Yankees, pinch-ran four times, and stole one base. On two occasions Young pinch-ran and the next hitter immediately hit a homer. He also played some outfield late in two blowouts.

The 28-year-old Solano went 5-for-22 (.227) with a home run in nine late-season games with the Yankees. He was only called up after Starlin Castro went down with a hamstring injury. Solano hit .319/.349/.436 with seven homers and an International League leading 163 hits with Triple-A Scranton this past season. Nice little minor league pickup, I’d say.

The Yankees have now dropped five players from the 40-man roster since the end of the regular season: Young, Solano, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, and Kirby Yates. Parker and Yates were both claimed off waivers by the Angels. Swarzak elected free agency. J.R. Graham was also outrighted in late-September, so the Yankees have six open 40-man spots.

One of those spots went to Greg Bird; he was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. That had to happen so he could play in the Arizona Fall League, which opens its season today. So the Yankees now have five open 40-man spots with six players on the 60-day DL: Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Conor Mullee, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They have to be activated the day after the end of the World Series.

Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler will become free agents after the postseason, giving the Yankees seven open spots. They’ll go to the six 60-day DL guys and Kyle Higashioka, who Brian Cashman confirmed will be added to the 40-man roster to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. The Yankees will then have to open 40-man spots for Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects in November, most notably Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, and Domingo Acevedo. Dietrich Enns and Tyler Webb will be Rule 5 Draft eligible as well.

Looking over the roster, other potential 40-man roster casualties include Mullee, James Pazos, Johnny Barbato, and Richard Bleier. Not getting a September call-up was probably bad news for Barbato. I also expect the Yankees to release Eovaldi and Ackley sooner rather than later given their injuries. No sense in waiting until the December 2nd non-tender deadline given the 40-man situation.

The Boringly Adequate Chase Headley [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three years ago the Yankees came to a realization: Alex Rodriguez was no longer a capable third baseman. He had hip surgery during the 2012-13 offseason and was suspended for all of 2014, plus he was closing in on his 40th birthday, and guys who go through all of that don’t stay at a demanding infield position. It was time to find a new full-time third baseman.

In 2013 the Yankees turned to Kevin Youkilis, which was a disaster. In 2014 they went originally with Kelly Johnson, but Yangervis Solarte forced the issue in Spring Training. At midseason, the Yankees went for the more proven commodity and sent Solarte to the Padres for Chase Headley. Headley played well enough in the second half of the 2014 season to earn a new four-year, $52M contract as a free agent. The 2016 season was year two of four.

The Inexcusably Awful April

Last season was the worst full season of Headley’s career. He hit .259/.324/.369 (92 wRC+) with eleven homers in 156 games, plus he stopped played top notch defense. Headley went from being a big time asset in the field to being a big liability. Getting his defense back on track was priority No. 1 this year, perhaps so much so that it hurt his offense. Headley spent a lot of time working on his throwing in Spring Training.

In the first month of this season, Headley hit an unfathomable .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) in 71 plate appearances. Yeah, he drew plenty of walks (14.1%), but holy cow was he bad. No extra-base hits? No extra-base hits! In terms of OPS+, Headley had the second worst April by a regular player in franchise history. He had a 21 OPS+. Roger Peckinpaugh had 16 OPS+ in April 1918. Yeah.

Headley had two-hit games on April 12th and 19th. He had five hits the rest of the month. You can blame poor luck on balls in play (.191 BABIP) if you want, but a 17.0% soft contact rate and a 21.3% hard contact rate doesn’t exactly scream “this guy isn’t being rewarded.” Headley was awful in April. Inexcusably so, really. Ronald Torreyes took some at-bats away from him, though ultimately the Yankees needed to get Headley on track, so he remained in the lineup.

The Return to Normalcy

May 12th. That was the date of Headley’s first extra-base hit this season. It was team game No. 33 and his 103rd plate appearance. Headley’s first non-single was an opposite field home run, because of course it was. Ex-Yankee Ian Kennedy served it up. To the action footage:

“It’s been pretty crummy all year, to be honest,” said Headley following the game. “There was never a question in my mind that I was going to come out of it … I’m very confident in who I am as a player. But you have to produce. When you’re playing here and the team’s not playing well, you know you have to get it going. The confidence in the short term wasn’t as high as it usually is, so it was frustrating. But never have I thought, ‘I’m not going to hit anymore.'”

Naturally, Headley’s second extra-base hit came the next day. That was also a home run. Against Chris Sale of all people. Two days later Headley hit his first double of the season. The floodgates were open! By Headley standards, anyway. He got the monkey off his back — I can’t imagine the lack of extra base hits wasn’t weighing on his mind — and his performance started to improve into the warm summer months. It almost couldn’t get worse, really.

Early in the season Headley said he was rolling over on too many pitches and pulling too many grounders, which killed his production. He was doing it from both sides of the plate too. Once Headley was able to hit the ball in the air a little more often — and impact the baseball harder in general — his production began to tick up. Check out his rolling ground ball and hard contact rates:

Chase Headley GB rateThe hard contact rate climbed steadily and peaked north of 50% in July. That’s really good! Headley’s ground ball rate was up close to 60% at the start of the season before coming down to 40% or so at midseason. That’s much better. It makes sense for some hitters to hit the ball on the ground. Not Headley. He’s no speedster. He needs to elevate the ball to be productive and he wasn’t doing that in April.

From the start of May through the end of the season, Headley hit .265/.338/.418 (103 wRC+) with 18 doubles and 14 homers in 458 plate appearances and 121 games. That’s after putting up a 102 wRC+ from 2013-15. April 2016 was the outlier for Headley. Not May through early-October. He had a bad month — a terrible, awful, horrible, abysmal month — and went right back to being the guy he’s been the last few seasons.

All told, Headley hit .251/.329/.383 (92 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 2016. He also stole eight bases and always seemed to do so in big moments. Headley was a sneaky good base-stealer. The miserable April dragged his overall numbers down, but that miserable April happened, so we can’t ignore it. Headley was basically a league average hitter after April and there’s nothing exciting about that. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is.

The Defensive Rebound

For all the questions about Headley’s bat, there were never any concerns about his defense, at least not until last season. Last year Headley became alarmingly error prone, especially on throws. He was very tentative. There was no conviction behind any of his throws. It looked like he had the yips. No doubt about it. I mean:

Chase Headley error

That is not a man who is confident in his throwing ability. We saw an awful lot of that last season. Headley worked and worked and worked on it all season, and when Spring Training opened up, he worked and worked and worked on it some more. He and infield coach Joe Espada went out to the back fields every day to work on footwork and things like that.

To the surprise of many (I’m guessing), Headley did rebound defensively this past season. His throwing issues were gone and he appeared more confident in the field as the season progressed. Look at the last four seasons:

2013: +5 DRS and +7.0 UZR
2014: +13 DRS and +20.9 UZR
2015: -6 DRS and -3 UZR
2016: +7 DRS and +6.6 UZR

One of those things is not like the other. Headley’s been a really good defensive third baseman his entire career except for last season, when he lost his way for whatever reason. Players have bad years defensively. It’s just like offense. You can go into a defensive slump, and Headley did last season. He worked hard to get himself out of it and this year we saw a comfortably above-average gloveman at the hot corner, which is what we all expected when Headley first arrived in 2014.

The total package, meaning a bit below-average bat with an above-average glove, works out to an average-ish player. Headley ranked 15th among third basemen with +2.6 fWAR and 15th with +2.6 bWAR. Freaky. That’s pretty much exactly where he belongs. Middle of the pack. Headley’s a league average third baseman, someone who mans the position adequately and without any flash. Unexciting. Reliable. Safe. Boring. Those are good words to describe Headley. He leaves you wanting more but won’t sink your season either.

Outlook for 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees put Headley on the market at the trade deadline — it seems they did that with all their veterans — but obviously no team bit. Or at least no one made an acceptable offer. The Yankees don’t have  a replacement everyday third baseman in house, so it would have been interesting to see what happened had Headley been dealt. Torreyes? Rob Refsnyder? Donovan Solano? Who knows.

Whenever a team puts a player on the trade market at the deadline, chances are they’ll do the same in the offseason. The free agent third base market is weak, especially after Martin Prado‘s extension with the Marlins, meaning teams that don’t want to pony up for Justin Turner will turn to the trade market. Of course, the Yankees themselves would have to figure out how to replace Headley should they trade him. They need competency at the hot corner too.

My guess right now is Headley remains with the Yankees next season. There’s two years and $26M left on his contract and that’s pretty much exactly what he’s worth. These days $13M a season doesn’t buy you much in free agency. The Yankees will listen to offers for Headley this winter, I’m sure of it, but his value to the team in the field is probably greater than whatever he’d fetch in a trade.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.

Monday Night Open Thread

The first postseason series came to an end last night as the Blue Jays swept the Rangers on Rougned Odor’s walk-off error. They’re loving that in Toronto. Texas won 95 games with a +8 run differential this season. Imagine that. Life in the AL West must be nice. Anyway, here is today’s postseason action, which is why the thread is up early:

  • NLDS Game Three: Nationals at Dodgers (Gonzalez vs. Maeda), 4pm ET on MLBN (Series tied 1-1)
  • ALDS Game Three: Indians at Red Sox (Tomlin vs. Buchholz), 6pm ET on TBS (Indians up 2-0)
  • NLDS Game Three: Cubs at Giants (Arrieta vs. Bumgarner), 9:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Cubs up 2-0)

There’s also Monday Night Football (Buccaneers vs. Panthers), so talk about any of those games or anything else right here. Just no politics or religion, please. This ain’t the place for that.

(Today is the anniversary of the Raul Ibanez game, by the way. That’s why I picked that video.)