The Yankees now know, for certain, that Alex Rodriguez will not be available to them this coming season. Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz officially reduced A-Rod‘s suspension from 211 games to 162 games yesterday, but make no mistake, it was a huge win for MLB. They wanted Alex out of the game for the year and that’s what they got. The Yankees now have an extra $25M or so to spend but they also need a new third baseman.
With the ruling now handed down, the team will likely begin looking for a third base replacement in earnest. Here’s the latest on the hot corner situation courtesy of Anthony McCarron, Andrew Marchand, and Dan Martin:
- The Yankees continue to mull a reunion with Mark Reynolds, but they are only offering a minor league contract at this time. Such an agreement has been dubbed “unlikely.”
- Michael Young is also being considered and the two sides have been talking. It is “too early to tell” if anything will come from it, however. The Yankees tried to acquire Young at the trade deadline.
- The Yankees remain uninterested in Stephen Drew for whatever reason. Brian Cashman said they won’t be signing him last week. Drew has never played a position other than shortstop as a pro.
- Cashman said the team does not view Brendan Ryan or Eduardo Nunez as third base options, thankfully. Kelly Johnson is an option but his experience at the position is limited (16 games, all last year).
Barring further court action, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Argument, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz has decided. Horowitz has upheld A-Rod‘s ban but has reduced MLB’s penalty from 211 games to 162 (plus any Yankee playoff games). Essentially, A-Rod was allowed to play out the 2013 part of his suspension while appealing, but the initial penalty has been upheld.
Rodriguez has issued a statement vowing to appeal the suspension in federal court, but his faces long odds as federal courts are reluctant to overturn arbitration rulings absent obvious factual issues, gross misconduct on the part of the arbitrator or if the award was based on corruption, fraud, or undue means. Even then, courts grant broad discretion to arbitration rulings, especially those that arise out of collective bargaining arrangements.
“The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one. This is one man’s decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable. This injustice is MLB’s first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review.
I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court. I am confident that when a Federal Judge reviews the entirety of the record, the hearsay testimony of a criminal whose own records demonstrate that he dealt drugs to minors, and the lack of credible evidence put forth by MLB, that the judge will find that the panel blatantly disregarded the law and facts, and will overturn the suspension. No player should have to go through what I have been dealing with, and I am exhausting all options to ensure not only that I get justice, but that players’ contracts and rights are protected through the next round of bargaining, and that the MLB investigation and arbitration process cannot be used against others in the future the way it is currently being used to unjustly punish me.
I will continue to work hard to get back on the field and help the Yankees achieve the ultimate goal of winning another championship. I want to sincerely thank my family, all of my friends, and of course the fans and many of my fellow MLB players for the incredible support I received throughout this entire ordeal.”
For MLB, this suspension is largely unprecedented. The JDA allows for a 50-game ban for an initial failed test, but it also grants the commissioner power to suspend a player for “just cause.” Horowitz has apparently upheld a broad grant of power in this “just cause” provision, and ARod’s suspension becomes the largest in MLB history over PED use, suspected or otherwise.
For the Yankees, this leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the infield. Already filled with old or fringe players, the infield has no third base anchor, and the remaining free agent market is weak, to say the least. (Just say no to Michael Young.) The team will get to save $25 million of A-Rod’s salary, less a $3 million signing bonus, but I’d rather see a better team on the field than Plan 189 or more money in the Steinbrenner family’s pockets. The gap his bat leaves in the lineup is significant as well, and the team is, as currently constructed, worse without A-Rod than with him.
The Players’ Association, meanwhile, issued a statement as well: “The MLBPA strongly disagrees with the award issued today in the grievance of Alex Rodriguez, even despite the Arbitration Panel’s decision to reduce the duration of Mr. Rodriguez’s unprecedented 211-game suspension. We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision. In accordance with the confidentiality provisions of the JDA, the Association will make no further comment regarding the decision.” They are, in effect, washing their hands of this mess and, it seems, ceding power to Bud Selig and the Commissioner’s Office. That’s a risky move.
Some fans who despised A-Rod will rejoice; others who loved him, warts and all, and loved watching him hit will not. It’s not a good day for baseball though as shady dealings and PED use remain in the headlines.
A ruling in Alex Rodriguez’s appeal hearing is imminent, according to Steven Marcus. It’s unclear if that means a matter of minutes or hours or another day or two. Who really knows at this point. Marcus adds that arbitrator Frederic Horowitz’s ruling appears to be favorable for MLB. I’m not exactly sure any of this is new information at this point, really. · (7) ·
There are less than two weeks left in Masahiro Tanaka‘s signing period, and if the Yankees manage to lure him to New York, an argument can be made they signed the two best free agent starters this winter. The team re-upped Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $16M contract weeks ago, but because he was re-signed and not brought in from another team, it doesn’t really feel like an addition. It’s weird.
A few days ago, Kuroda spoke to Sponichi Annex about all sorts of interesting and important topics. A reader (@iyasuN) was kind enough to send me a translation … like a real translation, not some Google translate gibberish. Kuroda discussed a whole bunch of stuff, so here’s a point-by-point rundown.
On playing in 2014
Kuroda said he seriously considered retirement this offseason and spoke to Hideki Matsui — he holds Matsui in very high regard among his peers (they’re the same age) — about walking away at Mariano Rivera‘s retirement ceremony in September. Matsui told Kuroda he retired because “he did everything he could and he was done.” Because he is healthy and doesn’t have any physical problems (like Matsui’s knees), Kuroda decided to return for another season. He is very much year-to-year at this point of his career, however.
On re-signing with the Yankees
Once he decided to pitch another season, Kuroda gave the Yankees “top priority” during the offseason. The Hiroshima Carp (his former team in Japan) did contact him over the winter but by then he had already decided to return to New York. If he does ever return to the Japan, it will be for Hiroshima and not another club.
On the Yankees and a contract extension
The Yankees approached Kuroda about an extension the day after he beat the Angels for his 11th win of the season (so August 13th). Hal Steinbrenner specifically told him they were “ready to talk” that day in the Yankee Stadium weight room and soon opened negotiations with his agent. Kuroda was not ready to commit to another year just yet, so nothing came of it. Between Kuroda, Robinson Cano, and Russell Martin a few years ago, the Yankees appear to be loosening on that archaic “no extensions” policy.
On his late-season fade
Kuroda was unable to figure out why he struggled so much late in the season, but, in hindsight, he thinks he put too much pressure on himself and worked too hard early in the season, especially as the team struggled. From the beginning of May through the end of July, the Yankees scored a total of 41 runs in his 16 starts, an average of 2.56 runs per start. That’s an awful lot of stressful innings. Kuroda said he simply wore himself out both physically and mentally, and there was nothing in the tank those last few weeks.
On throwing 200+ innings
Although he has thrown at least 200 innings each of the last three seasons, Kuroda isn’t sure how important that is to him. He specifically cited Andy Pettitte, who scaled back his workload later in his career and was successful all season and into the postseason. (Pettitte last threw 200+ innings in 2008.) Given his age, Kuroda indicated he and the team might try to control his workload a bit better next year in an effort to stay fresh for all 162 games and a potential postseason run. He’d rather be a 180+ inning guy who is effective all season than a 200+ inning guy who is out of gas in September. Makes sense to me.
4:14pm: The Yankees have officially announced Matt Thornton’s two-year contract and confirmed Wells has been designated for assignment.
1:16pm: According to his Twitter feed, the Yankees have cut ties with Vernon Wells. Buster Olney says he was designated for assignment. The Yankees need 40-man roster space for both Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton and this clears one spot. Wells, 35, hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) last season and although he would have counted as $0 against the luxury tax in 2014, the team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars. The Angels owe him $18.6M. · (103) ·
3:42pm: Now Nightengale says the Dodgers “won’t spend wildly” on Tanaka. So, yeah. Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, John Shea hears Tanaka prefers to play in New York, Los Angeles, or Boston.
3:00pm: Via Bob Nightengale: The Dodgers have let it be known they “plan to go all-out” to sign Masahiro Tanaka and claim they will not allow themselves to be out-bid. That could just be posturing or, given how Los Angeles has spent these last two years, completely sincere. The Yankees are interested in Tanaka but it is unclear exactly how far they’re willing to go to sign him. The signing deadline for Tanaka is two weeks from today. · (59) ·
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees are one of several teams monitoring Johan Santana as he rehabs from his second torn shoulder capsule. He has not yet thrown off a mound. “I don’t know what to think of Johan right now. I haven’t looked at his medicals,” said Brian Cashman at the Winter Meetings. Joe wrote about Santana as a potential target last month.
Aside from monitoring Johan, McCullough also mentions Cashman has discussed replicating the team’s 2010-11 offseason pitching plan. They signed cheap guys like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon after missing out on Cliff Lee, as I’m sure you remember. If the Yankees fail to sign Masahiro Tanaka before his deadline in two weeks, the alternative might not be Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza. They could target cheaper options and that’s not necessarily a bad idea. · (19) ·
Five questions and five answers this week. If you want to send us a mailbag question, you probably know how to do it by now. (Hint: the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.)
Paul asks: Are there still deals that haven’t been made official yet? What’s the hold-up? Is it a 40-man roster thing?
The Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are still not official. I don’t know why but the Yankees tend to drag these things out. I’m guessing the holidays gummed up the works as well. The 40-man roster is full so they’ll have to clear up spot for both guys. They’ll need to do the same if they add another starting pitcher as well, Masahiro Tanaka or otherwise. I suppose they could be working on an Ichiro Suzuki trade to open one spot, but who knows. Roberts and Thornton are the only big league contracts that are still not official yet, however.
To the table:
Ellsbury was the better player overall in the three years prior to signing with the Yankees — Damon was way more durable; his ability to stay on the field was always a big part of his value — but remember that a lot of his production came during that outlier 2011 campaign. Like, 32 of the 45 homers and 9.4 of the 16.3 fWAR came that year. That season is getting further back in the rear-view mirror and I’m not all that confident Ellsbury will come close to that production again. Hopefully he proves me wrong.
I think the best way to answer this question is that Ellsbury is the more exciting player and he offered a greater upside, but Damon was more predictable and reliable. Ellsbury is a few years younger now than Damon was when he joined the Yankees and that’s a big deal. The team will, at least theoretically, get more of Ellsbury’s prime years. The Yankees are obviously counting on that considering the contract they gave him.
Alex asks: What about Joe Blanton as a depth signing? The Angels appear ready to release him this offseason and if the Yanks don’t add Tanaka (or even if they do), there could be value in a workhorse who underperformed his peripherals. What would his upside realistically be?
I mean this is in the nicest possible way:
Blanton was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, so bad that the pitching-starved Angels dropped him from their rotation. He hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since 2009 and he’s underperformed his peripherals in each of the last four seasons (5.09 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 540.2 innings since 2010). I have no reason to think a righty with a below-average fastball (averages a touch over 89 mph these days) will buck that trend in a small ballpark in the AL East. I don’t see Blanton as an upgrade over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. He’s not even worth a 40-man roster spot in my opinion. Easy pass, even if he comes for the minimum. The Yankees need to add good pitchers. Emphasis on good.
Nick asks: With all the talk of contract overpaying this winter, I’d like to bring up Alfonso Soriano. If the Cubs are paying $13m of the $18m he’s owed in 2014, and even at age 38, couldn’t he be a bit of a bargain? $5m for a .250/.310/.480 hitter with 30+homers seems reasonable no?
Oh yes, absolutely. The three projection systems at FanGraphs (ZiPS, Steamer, Oliver) work out to a combined .240/.293/.455 batting line with 25 homers and 11 steals per 500 plate appearances, and that’s with Oliver expecting him to fall off a cliff (-0.1 fWAR). That is definitely worth $5M right there, especially to the Yankees given where they sit on the win curve. Soriano just turned 38 and there’s a chance he will completely crash and show his age next year, but the upside is a 30-homer, 10-steal right-handed batter. Getting that for $5M is great in this market. Among the guys who are not still in their arbitration or pre-arbitration years, Soriano is probably the best dollar-for-dollar player on the roster.
Kevin asks: Am I the only one who really likes Nik Turley? I don’t think he’ll be more than a #4 but the Yankees need to stop walking away from these back-end starter prospects. We could really use a young guy to soak up innings, even if its not elite status.
I see Turley as another member of the Phelps, Warren, and Nuno group, just a notch below because he hasn’t spend significant time in Triple-A yet. Solid enough to be a back-end starter but not exactly someone who is going to come up and make a real impact in the rotation. There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. Teams need those cheap back-end types for depth and to help cover for injuries, and heck, every once in a while one will exceed expectations and turn into Doug Fister. Turley had a good year with Double-A Trenton in 2013 (3.88 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 139 innings) and as a left-hander with a good breaking ball, he’ll get a million chances in this league, at worst as a reliever. I wouldn’t call him untouchable but he’s certainly worth keeping around. The only problem is that the Yankees have a serious 40-man roster crunch and Turley is near the bottom of the pile.
Seven years ago today, the Yankees traded Randy Johnson back to the Diamondbacks for four players, the most useful of whom proved to be right-hander Luis Vizcaino. I looked for some highlight videos of Johnson during his time in New York, and, long story short, I got stuck in a YouTube wormhole and wound up at the Tino Martinez-Armando Benitez brawl. That was pure chaos. The whole video is worth watching but the best part is at the 6:00 mark. And no, I never did find a decent Randy Johnson highlight video to post.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Knicks are both playing, so talk about those games, the Tino-Benitez brawl, the upcoming A-Rod ruling, or anything else. Have at it.
Via NYDN: Alex Rodriguez could ask a judge for an injunction if he feels arbitrator Frederic Horowitz hands down an unfair ruling. He is unlikely to get one, as Wendy Thurm explained in November, but it is something he could pursue as part of his scorch the Earth legal battle with MLB. “The papers are all ready. They are just waiting for the announcement,” said one of the Daily News’ sources.
Meanwhile, the Daily News says Rodriguez would likely accept a 65-game (or less) ban without a fight. The legal fees to combat a suspension of that size would be greater than the salary he stands to lose, they say. Ryan Braun received 65 games and both he and A-Rod were considered MLB’s top targets as part of this whole Biogenesis investigation. Horowitz could hand down his ruling any day now, and the sooner that happens, the better. Let’s get this show on the road already. · (67) ·