Seven questions in this week’s mailbag, which feels pretty damn long by mailbag standards. Lots of wordy answers this week. As a reminder, we now have a “For The Mailbag” widget in the sidebar that you can use to send us questions each week. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does. We’re working on that.
Many asked: What about Kris Medlen? Any other interesting players among this year’s non-tenders?
Medlen is definitely the most interesting non-tender. He’s rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years and the Braves opted to cut him loose rather than pay him a projected $5.8M in 2015. Medlen, 29, had a 2.45 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 337.1 innings across 43 starts and 41 relief appearances between elbow reconstructions from 2011-13. That includes a 3.11 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 197 innings as a full-time starter in 2013.
The second Tommy John surgery has a much lower success rate than the first — Chris Capuano is pretty much the only guy who had the procedure twice and both stayed healthy and returned to his previous level of performance. Medlen has shown he can be effective as both a starter and a reliever, though there’s also the possibility of getting zero return, especially in 2015 since he’s still rehabbing. Chances are he won’t be ready until midseason. I’d still like to see the Yankees sign him, obviously to something with a low-base salary and incentives. Maybe Brian McCann can talk him into coming to New York or something.
I wrote about this at CBS the other day: I like the idea of signing Medlen to a Josh Johnson-esque contract, meaning a contract with a club option that kicks in only if he makes fewer than a certain number of appearances. (Johnson’s contract including a $4M option the Padres could only exercise if he made fewer than seven starts.) That would allow Medlen to hit the market again next winter if he stays healthy and contributes, and allow the team to keep him and try again in 2016 if he doesn’t. Both sides get some protection.
As for the rest of the non-tenders … there’s not much to see there. We already discussed Everth Cabrera yesterday. John Mayberry Jr. would have been interesting had the Yankees not already re-signed Chris Young. We now have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Gordon Beckham can’t hit (career 83 wRC+), but I’d probably still give him $750k and see what happens. Alexi Ogando and Brandon Beachy are both coming off elbow injuries (Beachy had his second Tommy John surgery in the span of three years). I like them considerably less than Medlen.
J. Wong asks: A few years ago as I recall the Yankees “traded up” to pick up someone they liked in the Rule 5 draft. Since they now have officially 2 spots open to make selections, do you think they have anyone specific in mind they want to take, and if it’s necessary to move to one of the top slots what it’ll take in terms of talent to pick earlier?
They actually have four spots open right now, but they won’t take four players in the Rule 5 Draft. Two is a stretch. Four would be ridiculous. The Yankees “traded up” to get the first overall pick in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft (Jamie Hoffmann) and again to get the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft (Cesar Cabral). Technically they were trades for players to be named later — they sent Brian Bruney to the Nationals in 2009 and $100,000 to the Royals in 2012, then those teams took the players New York wanted and sent them to the Yankees as the player to be named. You can’t trade the actual Rule 5 Draft pick.
So, if the Yankees do want to move up again this year, it won’t cost very much to do it. Some cash or a fringe big leaguer (out of options Austin Romine?). J.J. Cooper put together an excellent Rule 5 Draft preview and, as usual, the vast majority of the players available are relievers and extra outfielders. The Yankees could use a shortstop but the best shortstop available in the Rule 5 Draft is probably Cito Culver. I’m not joking. Rockies shortstop prospect Taylor Featherston is available — “Featherston isn’t the traditional utility infielder. But he can play on either side of second base and he has the arm to play third base if needed as well,” wrote Cooper — after hitting .260/.322/.439 (116 wRC+) and 16 homers as a 25-year-old in Double-A last year. Meh.
If the Yankees do take a player(s) in the Rule 5 Draft next week, chances are it’ll be a bullpen arm(s). Relievers represent like 95% of the players taken in the Rule 5 Draft. I made that up but it feels like it could be true. Looking over Cooper’s list, Tigers righty Edgar De La Rosa (“The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable changeup”) and Marlins righty Jake Esch (“Esch has a plus fastball (91-95 mph) and a hard slider that sometimes looks more like a cutter as well as a downer curveball … with excellent athleticism and steady development, he’s turning into something interesting”) seem most intriguing to me. The Yankees do love their super tall pitchers. De La Rosa seems like someone they might target.
Jonathan asks: It seems like every offseason everyone waits to see when/where one particular FA lands before everyone else starts signing. This year that player seems to be Jon Lester. Why is that? And who’s signing first, Lester or Max Scherzer?
I’ll answer the second question first: I think Lester will sign first simply because there are many more rumors about him going around right now. The Scherzer market has been very quiet and that is not uncommon for a top Scott Boras client at this point of the offseason. As for the first question, I think it’s because no one wants to set the market. Boras and Scherzer want to see what Lester gets, because then they can ask for more than that because a) Scherzer is better, and b) there’s one fewer high-end starter on the market to compete against. That’s why Chase Headley didn’t sign before Pablo Sandoval — now that Sandoval is off the board, he is clearly the number one third baseman available.
In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, players sign as soon as possible because they’re salary cap leagues and no one wants to be left unsigned when everyone runs out of cap space. In MLB, with no cap, it seems like the top free agents are willing to wait for a GM (or an owner) to get desperate later in the offseason.
New Guy asks: With recent rumors that there may be dissention between Bryce Harper and the Nationals, any chance Yankees try to put something together to bring him to the Bronx? Do they even have enough to get it done?
Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals and Harper are likely to go to a grievance hearing later this month because of a dispute over an opt-out clause in his contract. The Nationals say there is no opt-out, Harper (and Boras, his agent) say there is supposed to be. The opt-out would allow Harper to forego the final year of the five-year Major League contract and instead file for salary arbitration. His contract says he will earn $2.25M in 2015, but MLBTR’s projections say he could earn $2.5M through arbitration in his first year as a Super Two. That doesn’t sound like much, but it carries over into future years and boosts his future salaries. The difference could be millions over his four years of arbitration-eligibility.
Anyway, I don’t think the Yankees have enough to swing a trade for Harper. He just turned 22 — fun fact: Harper has never faced a pitcher younger than him in a professional game, Majors or minors — and he’s a career .272/.351/.465 (125 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,500 big league plate appearances who also happens to have a rocket arm and play strong defense. Also, he can do this:
Even with the injury concerns, Harper would command a massive haul because of his age, production, and four remaining years of team contract. Would you really say no to, say, Masahiro Tanaka plus Luis Severino and Aaron Judge for Harper? I sure as hell wouldn’t. (Judge is six months older than Harper, by the way.) Outside of his stupid haircut, Harper’s a franchise player in every way. Incredibly productive and marketable. Stick him in the middle of the lineup and in every commercial for the next decade. I don’t think the Nationals are open to moving him even with this recent contract dispute and I don’t think the Yankees have enough to get him even if he was available. Other clubs would surely outbid them.
I liked Niese a few years ago, but he’s had a lot of nagging arm injuries the last two or three years. Both shoulder and elbow. Nothing major, but some inflammation here, some soreness there, stuff like that. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he blows out completely. That said, he just turned 28 in October and he has a 3.49 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 521 innings over the last three years, so he’s a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter. His contract isn’t onerous either — Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016, with $10M and $11M club options for 2017 and 2018, respectively. I’m not quite sure what the Mets want in return — they need a shortstop but the Yankees don’t have one to give — but if it’s just a salary dump situation where they’re willing to take some prospects to clear money, then I think Niese would make sense for the Yankees. Risky, sure, but he’s a quality MLB starter when on the mound.
Liam asks: Who is batting fourth if the season started today?
I would think McCann. If the season did start today, I’m guessing the regular lineups would look something like this:
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury||1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury|
|2. LF Brett Gardner||2. 3B Martin Prado|
|3. RF Carlos Beltran||3. RF Carlos Beltran|
|4. C Brian McCann||4. 1B Mark Teixeira|
|5. 1B Mark Teixeira||5. DH Alex Rodriguez|
|6. 3B Martin Prado||6. C Brian McCann|
|7. DH Alex Rodriguez||7. LF Chris Young|
|8. 2B Rob Refsnyder||8. 2B Rob Refsnyder|
|9. SS Brendan Ryan||9. SS Brendan Ryan|
That’s just what I think the lineups would be given the current roster, not the lineup I would use. Based on his platoon splits the last few years, Beltran should be the one sitting in favor of Young against lefties, not Gardner. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Pirela started the year at second instead of Refsnyder either. If the Yankees go into Spring Training with those two competing for the second base job, I do think it would be a true competition, not a fake competition rigged in favor of someone, which the Yankees have been known to do in the past.
Mark S. asks: Derek Jeter will still probably have the most jerseys sold in 2015. What active Yankee player do you think will have the most sold?
Yeah I think it’s a safe bet Jeter will still lead the team in merchandise sales next year, especially if they bring him back for some kind of number retirement ceremony. Among active players, I think Tanaka would probably sell the most jerseys. He’s the biggest star on the team in terms of name value, plus he’ll tap into the Japanese market. Ellsbury and Beltran and whoever else can’t do that. So Tanaka’s my guess.