Guest Post: Who Punched the Delicatessen Man? The Yankees at the Copacabana

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, and Jerry Kenney.

(Books on Baseball)
(Books on Baseball)

The early part of the 1957 season for the Yankees would qualify as extremely interesting, considering the season wrapped up with the Yankees losing to the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, 4 games to 3. The early Yankees were very streaky, and by mid-May, the team was starting to show some signs of getting out the streaky form, only to revert back. However, May and June became more famous for an event that occurred off the field, and the delicate history between Billy Martin, George Weiss and Casey Stengel, all of which changed as a result.

May 15 – The Game Before

The Yankees won a game at Yankee Stadium against the Kansas City Athletics on May 15, 1957. The winning pitcher was Tom Sturdivant, who was coming off a complete game loss against the Cleveland Indians and Herb Score/Bob Lemon (the future Yankee manager). That game on May 7 also happened to be the game where Herb Score was nailed in the eye on a liner from Gilbert McDougald. That ball managed to deflect to third and McDougald was thrown out at first. Score would be carted off the field in a stretcher while Lemon came in and threw 8.1 innings of one-run baseball. Tom Sturdivant gave up 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks and 9 strikeouts.

Sturdivant was in the middle of one of his better streaks. Sturdivant had thrown a 7-hit complete game against the Athletics earlier in the month (May 2). On May 15, he threw a complete game shutout (called by Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylak) against the Athletics. This game had 5 hits, 1 walk and 3 strikeouts, complete opposites of the loss the week prior. The next start was yet another complete game against the Washington Senators on May 24. This time, he gave up 4 hits, 1 run, 7 walks and 6 strikeouts. (You wouldn’t see a 7 walk player throw a shutout in this day and age!)

That stretch of excellent starts for Sturdivant was ruined in his next start, also against the Washington Senators on May 29. The starter gave up 6 earned runs in 6.1 innings and 7 hits. Ralph Terry and Bob Turley wrapped up the game with 1.2 clean innings. The Yankees that day had a complete game thrown against them instead by Pedro Ramos, one of those extremely rare switch-hitting pitchers (who would become a Yankee in 1964 for Terry!).

May 15-16 – A Trip to the Nightclub

Billy Martin was due to have his 29th birthday on May 16, 1957. Martin was an eccentric infielder for the Yankees and a particularly fond student of manager Casey Stengel. However, his personality had become a burden on General Manager George Weiss. Weiss felt that a Yankee should be a professional on and off the field and that his behavior was a poor influence on stars Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. It has been noted that they didn’t need Martin’s encouragement to be unprofessional off the field, and that became evident on the night of May 15.

Mantle, Ford, along with catcher Yogi Berra, pitcher Johnny Kucks and outfielder Hank Bauer took Martin to a nightclub on West 47th Street, the famous Copacabana. On that particular night, the headline entertainment for attendees was the great Jazz artist Sammy Davis, Jr. Things went pretty smoothly for the clan of Yankees who attended the nightclub, until a group of white bowlers entered the Copacabana. These bowlers began to heckle Davis, who had big fans in the Yankee players. Though they were drunk from their party, they came to the back of Davis.

It is at this point where details become hard to find, and some of the players deny their participation or lack thereof. The reports were that Bauer had baited and punched Edwin Jones, a 40-year-old owner of a delicatessen in the Bronx. Berra claimed that “nobody did nothing to nobody,” while Mantle noted in a later civil trial that he was so wasted that he was unsure who threw the first punch. This broke out at 2:30 AM on May 16, and the New York Daily News claimed potentially on the blocking of Jones’ view. Words were exchanged between the clan and Jones’ which contained 19 people. Jones was taken to the hospital with a busted nose and jaw.

May 16 – The Evening After

After reports of all this came out in the news, Casey Stengel became red-faced. Stengel generally had been a hands-off manager since taking over in the 1949 season, but this took things to another level. Stengel noted to the press that the players would have to pay extra for their “entertainment.” Stengel noted that he would talk to front-office officials about the nightclub escapades and deal with it.

Daily News front page dated May 17, 1957 Headline: YANKS BENCH 2 IN COPA BRAWL Beck Repays Another 100G It Was a Hit, Say Jones, But Hank Calls it Error Delicatessen owner Edwin Jones, 40, feels his battered jaw as he rests at 602 W. 188th St. Jones says he's still a Yankee fan, but he's going to sue Hank Bauer for $250,000, charging Hank slugged him at the Copacabana. Hank, hoisting a couple of bats for last night's Stadium game, said he did not strike Jones. Casey Stengel, irked at his players' nightclubbing, bench Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra.

At the same time, Stengel made punishment immediate. Whitey Ford was pulled from the start he was due to make on May 16 for Bob Turley and Yogi Berra was benched in favor of Elston Howard. He put Bauer in the 8-hole (just above the pitcher, since there was no designated hitter at the time), but left Mantle alone. Stengel’s justification for leaving Mantle in the three-hole, was that he was not going to sacrifice an attempt to the win the pennant because of the brawl.

Neither Billy Martin nor Johnny Kucks were scheduled to play in the May 16 game and were unaffected. The moves proved to be magical, like most of the Professor’s. Turley threw a 4-hit shutout of the Athletics with 5 walks and 8 strikeouts. The lineup jumped on Alex Kellner and tagged him for 2 runs in 3 innings. Mickey McDermott finished the last 5 innings and gave up 1 run on 3 hits. One of those three runs came from a solo shot by Mantle.

As for fines, Dan Topping, president of the team, laid out 6 fines, totaling $5,500 (1957 USD; $46,000 today) on June 3. $1,000 fines were levied against Bauer, Berra, Ford, Mantle and Martin for their behavior. A $500 fine was also given to Kucks because he had a lesser salary. Stengel noted that he was upset over the stiff fines, but Weiss noted that it was not because of anything between the manager and the front office.

May 21 & June 24 – Jones v. Bauer

On May 21, Edwin Jones came to Bauer and made a citizen’s arrest, because no one would have him arrested (neither the NYPD nor the NY District Attorney’s Office). Jones had Bauer fingerprinted, booked on felonious assault charges, photographed with a mugshot and arraigned on the charges. He was released without bail to his attorney. Bauer’s attorney, Sidney O. Friedman noted denied the charges against him and that they would sue for false arrest despite it being legal unless Jones could prove the charge against him. Bauer told the press that he never hit anyone while being accompanied by two police officers and fans along the street were supporting Bauer.

Jones’ attorney, Anthony Zingales, noted that he would produce two witnesses to help support Jones’ story. One was his brother-in-law, Phil Esposito who claimed that it was in an alcove where Jones was hit. Jones however claimed that that he did not see his assailant. Zingales also noted that they intended to sue Bauer for $250,000 in damages. The hearing for Bauer’s felonious assault charges would be held on June 21.

Testifying in front of a grand jury, Mantle told the prosecutor that “I think Roy Rogers rode through the Copa, and Trigger kicked the man in the head.” This caused the jury to break out in laughter. Ford, Kucks, and Berra also testified in Bauer’s behalf. However, Bauer never came to the stand himself. The grand jury voted “no bill,” meaning there was not sufficient evidence to indict. By this point, Bauer had left the courtroom with his wife. Because of the decision, Jones now became liable for damages relating to the arrest on May 21. Bauer sued him for $150,000, but the records of either lawsuit have never been released.

June 16 – The Final Judgement

Well, while Bauer was dealing with the upcoming grand jury testimony, George Weiss finally got his wish: he was rid of Billy Martin. The infielder was traded with Ralph Terry to the Kansas City Athletics for Suitcase Sampson, pitcher Risold Duren, outfielder Jim Pisoni (both who were sent to Denver) along with Milt Graff, who was an infielder acquired and sent to Richmond. Weiss used the incident, along with a brawl on June 14 against the White Sox as an excuse to trade Martin at the trade deadline (which was June 15 back at the time). The rest is known history, but the fight at the Copa is by far the most famous off-field event in Yankee history aside of Thurman Munson’s funeral in 1979. The true answer of who punched the delicatessen man may never be fully known due to death of players, their denial and their state of intoxication at the time.

King: Yankees looking to add free agent starter on minor league contract

Beachy. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Beachy. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

In addition to targeting young pitchers in trades, the Yankees are also looking to add a free agent starter on a minor league contract this offseason, reports George King. They don’t want to commit significant dollars to a free agent. “They are looking for a starter,” said an executive to King.

As of right now, the Triple-A Scranton rotation figures to include Brady Lail, Jaron Long, and recent pickups Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Bryan Mitchell could be in that mix too, though I’m sure he’ll be given an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job in Spring Training. Matt Tracy, Kyle Haynes, Caleb Smith, and Eric Ruth are other possibilities.

Looking over the list of unsigned free agent starters, pitchers like Brandon Beachy, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnson, and Shaun Marcum stand out as minor league contract candidates. All four were hurt and/or ineffective this past season, which is why we’re talking about them as non-roster players. I suppose we could include Cliff Lee in this group too.

It’s worth noting the current Collective Bargaining Agreement introduced Article XX(B) free agents. Those are players with 6+ years of service time who sign minor league deals. The CBA entitles them to a $100,000 retention bonus if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, and their deal automatically includes a June 1st opt-out if they’re not called up. Beachy does not qualify as an Article XX(B) but the other guys I mentioned all do.

The Yankees tend to pay minor league free agents well, so the retention bonus is no big deal, but the opt-out date can throw a wrench into roster construction. There’s been a flurry of minor deals leading up to June 1st in recent years as teams traded their Article XX(B) free agents to clubs willing to add them to the 40-man roster rather than lose them for nothing when they opt out.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I write this post every offseason. The Yankees always seem to be on the lookout for a veteran starter who is willing to go to Triple-A, though they haven’t had much luck finding any. Among the veteran starters they’ve signed to minor league deals in recent seasons are Kyle Davies, Scott Baker, Chris Bootcheck, and Chien-Ming Wang. Not the most exciting group.

If nothing else, I expect the Yankees to sign someone to serve as the designated Triple-A innings guy. They grab one of those each offseason just to soak up innings in the minors to protect the actual prospects. It’s a thankless but necessary job. Whether the Yankees can nab someone who might actually contribute at the MLB level remains to be seen. When it comes to non-roster invites, the answer is usually no.

Assessing possible trade partners for Brett Gardner


Things have slowed down of late, but Brett Gardner has been a popular name on the trade rumor circuit this offseason. He’s one of the few Yankee veterans with positive trade value, so it’s not a surprise the team is at least listening to offers as they aim to get younger. The Mariners and Cubs both checked in, possibly the Indians as well.

“I think it’d be more likely that we keep them than move them,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch at the Winter Meetings, referring to Gardner and Andrew Miller. “I say that recognizing that if somebody wants to ring a bell that I’ve put out there, then that could happen as early as tomorrow. But if I’m predicting anything, I’d predict that they would be here, not somewhere else.”

It’s easy to say clubs looking for outfield help can simply turn to the free agent market, where quality players like Adam Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton remain unsigned, but not every team can afford them. Gardner is owed $37.5M over the next three years. That might buy you a year and a half of Cespedes or Upton. Gardner also has the advantage of being a legitimate center fielder.

I don’t necessarily want the Yankees to move Gardner, but there are reasons to do so. There are still plenty of teams that need outfield help at this point of the offseason. Some teams are more realistic candidates than others — for example, no rebuilding club wants Gardner, so it’s contenders only — especially if the Yankees stick to their demand of a young starter under control beyond 2017. Let’s run down the possible suitors.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Outfielders? A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas.
Young Starters? Robbie Ray and Chase Anderson. I assume Archie Bradley is off-limits.
Cash? Lots, apparently. Their massive new television deal just kicked in, as Zack Greinke found out.

The D’Backs had enough outfield depth to include Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller trade, and it stands to reason they’re committed to Tomas after giving him $68.5M last offseason. If so, they’re not a fit for Gardner. Pollock and Peralta aren’t going anywhere. They’re way too good. Arizona may have a young starter to spare and chances are they can afford Gardner, but the outfield is currently too crowded. A Fit? No.

Baltimore Orioles
Outfielders? Adam Jones, Hyun-Soo Kim, and, uh, Nolan Reimold? Egads.
Young Starters? Outside of Kevin Gausman, no one worthwhile.
Cash? Yeah. They just offered Chris Davis $150M or so.

Man, is Gardner not a perfect fit for the O’s? He gives them a solid left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to put Manny Machado in the middle of the lineup. Gardner’s also affordable, he knows the ballpark, knows the division, and his lefty bat would help balance their righty heavy lineup. It’s such a great fit.

Of course, Orioles owner Peter Angelos would sooner play with a 24-man roster than make a significant trade with the Yankees. He had a contentious relationship with George Steinbrenner and he still holds the grudge to this day. Never say never, but it’s hard to see Angelos signing off on a significant trade with New York. That they lack a suitable non-Gausman young starter to send back also complicates things. A Fit? No.

Heyward. (David Banks/Getty)
Heyward. (David Banks/Getty)

Chicago Cubs
Outfielders? Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler. Kyle Schwarber plays an outfielder on TV.
Young Starters? Adam Warren! But seriously folks, no.
Cash? Oh indeed.

The Cubbies are no longer up-and-coming. They’re all-in. That much is clear. Right now the plan is to play Heyward in center field with Soler and Schwarber in the corners, though there’s talk they may move Soler for a young starter, which would push Heyward to right and free up center. Gardner would fill that center field hole perfectly. The problem? The Cubbies don’t have a young starter to send back to New York. That’s why they signed John Lackey and are open to flipping Soler for an arm. I mean, I guess Kyle Hendricks counts, but I’m not a fan. A Fit? Maybe.

Cleveland Indians
Michael Brantley will be out until May following shoulder surgery, leaving only Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Collin Cowgill, and Lonnie Chisenhall. (Chisenhall’s an outfielder now.)
Young Starters? Plenty. Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar would be ideal, Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin are more likely.
Cash? Unlikely. Payroll has hovered around $85M for a few years now, and they have $64.5M on the books plus another $15.1M in projected arbitration salaries.

The payroll situation is a significant obstacle. The Yankees could always eat salary to facilitate a trade, but I can’t imagine they’d pay Gardner to play for another team, especially another AL contender. The Indians just went on a mini-spending spree (Davis, Mike Napoli) and the front office indicated they won’t be spending any more money. The Yankees have an outfielder to spare and the Indians appear to have a starter to spare. The finances are messing things up. A Fit? Maybe.

Detroit Tigers
Outfielders? Anthony Gose, Cameron Maybin, J.D. Martinez.
Young Starters? I assume Daniel Norris is off-limits, leaving Shane Greene and Matt Boyd.
Cash? For shizzle.

The Tigers are going for it next season. They’ve added Maybin, Justin Wilson, Jordan Zimmermann, and Francisco Rodriguez so far this offseason. There’s an obvious opening in left field — Gose and Maybin would platoon in center, ideally — and Gardner would fill that spot well. He plays strong defense for spacious Comerica Park and gives them a nice leadoff option.

As for the young starters Detroit has to offer … eh. Boyd is an extreme fly ball guy who is as generic as generic lefties get. Greene? I know more than a few people out there would be cool with the idea of bringing him back, except I’m sure no one would think that if he wasn’t an ex-Yankee. If Greene came up and debuted with any team other than the Yankees, no one would love the idea of acquiring him after the season he just had. A Fit? Maybe.

Kansas City Royals
Outfielders? Lorenzo Cain is currently flanked by Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Yeah.
Young Starters? Yordano Ventura is presumably off-limits. Danny Duffy might not be. That’s it.
Cash? Seems likely. They had a $113M payroll last year and are currently at $108M for 2016, including arbitration projections. They just won the World Series and I assume payroll will increase. Payroll increased $10M following their 2014 postseason run, after all.

The Royals have a clear need for outfield help. They wisely let the unproductive Alex Rios walk as a free agent and will likely lose Alex Gordon to a club with a larger payroll. GM Dayton Moore has said they’re willing to give Dyson a chance as a starting outfielder, but Orlando? He was a nice story as a 29-year-old rookie in 2015, but he didn’t hit at all. Starting him should be a non-option.

Assuming the money works out, the only really issue is finding a suitable return. Duffy is interesting, though the Yankees are looking for guys they can control beyond 2017, and he doesn’t fit. He’ll be a free agent after 2017. That’s pretty much all the young pitching the Royals have to offer. They’re been scouring the market for an extra arm this offseason just like New York. A Fit? Maybe.

Los Angeles Angels
Outfielders? Woo Mike Trout! Kole Calhoun’s good too. Then there’s Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry.
Young Starters? Andrew Heaney ain’t happening. Nick Tropeano and the not-so-young Matt Shoemaker might.
Cash? Indubitably.

GM Billy Eppler told reporters he’s ready to roll with the Nava/Gentry platoon in left field, which sounds so unappealing. That would have been a good idea from, like, 2012-13. In 2015? Nah. The Angels also could use a left-handed bat to balance their lineup. Gardner would slot right in as the leadoff hitter and allow them to use Calhoun in a run-producing spot.

Furthermore, the Angels have some young pitching to offer, specifically Tropeano. I wrote about him in last week’s mailbag. Heaney would be ideal but it’s just not going to happen. It’s not realistic. The Gardner for Tropeano framework could make sense for both clubs. Eppler and Cashman certainly have a good relationship, which could help expedite things. A Fit? Yes.

St. Louis Cardinals
Outfielders? Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham.
Young Starters? Yes. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha ain’t happening. Think Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, or maybe personal fave Marco Gonzales instead.
Cash? Yeah. They offered Heyward $200M and David Price $180M, reportedly.

Gonzales. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Gonzales. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

This has been a tough offseason for the Cardinals. By bWAR, they lost their best pitcher (John Lackey) and position player (Heyward) to the rival Cubs. They made runs at Price and Heyward but fell short. Yesterday they added Mike Leake, who will probably end up throwing 230 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA in 2015 because of Cardinals Devil Magic™.

Even with all those outfield bodies, the Cardinals lack a true center fielder. Grichuk is the center fielder by default and he’s no better than average out there. Gardner would give them a real center fielder and allow Matt Carpenter to move into a run-producing lineup spot — did you know Carpenter hit 28 homers in 2015 after hitting 25 total from 2011-14? Like I said, Cardinals Devil Magic™ — plus they have some young arms to spare. Gardner for Cooney or Gonzales could be a thing. A Fit? Yes.

San Francisco Giants
Outfielders? Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco.
Young Starters? No. That’s why they had to sign Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
Cash? Yes. They had a $173.2M payroll in 2015 and are currently at $160M right now, counting arbitration projections.

The Giants do have some young outfielders they could try in left field, specifically Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker, but I can’t imagine they’d commit $220M to Cueto and Samardzija only to cheap out on the outfield. Pagan is declining and has missed a lot of time to injuries in recent years. They can’t count on him to contribute much.

Gardner fits their roster perfectly as the everyday left fielder, part-time center fielder, and leadoff hitter. They can also afford his salary, it appears. (They’re shedding Pagan’s contract next offseason too.) They just don’t have any young pitching to offer, and no, Chris Heston doesn’t count. I explained why in last week’s mailbag. The Giants didn’t sign Cueto and Samardzija because they had nothing better to do. They needed pitching in a big way. A Fit? Maybe.

Washington Nationals
Outfielders? Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor.
Young Starters? A few. Joe Ross and A.J. Cole are the most notable.
Cash? Yep. They reportedly offered Heyward $200M.

The Nationals are in a weird place. They had a very disappointing 2015 season, then lost several key players to free agency, yet they’re still in position to contend in 2016. Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Max Scherzer is a pretty strong core. They do need help though, especially with Werth and Ryan Zimmerman showing their age.

Gardner would step in to replace Denard Span as the center fielder and leadoff hitter, two obvious needs for Washington. The Nationals also have some young pitching to offer — Ross and Cole are the most notable (here’s my Scouting The Market post on Ross), but I guess Tanner Roark counts too — money to spend and incentive to win. Last year’s performance was embarrassing and they want to turn things around in a hurry. These two teams seem to match up awfully well for a trade. Whether they can agree to the particulars is another matter, but the puzzle pieces fit. A Fit? Yes.

* * *

So after all of that, I count three yeses (Angels, Cardinals, Nationals), two nos (D’Backs, Orioles), and five maybes (Cubs, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Giants). In the case of the Cubs, I think it’s worth noting Cashman and Theo Epstein are both pretty smart dudes with a willingness to be creative, so I wouldn’t rule out a three-team trade that sends Gardner to the Cubs and a young pitcher from the third team to the Yankees.

For now, it appears there are several possible suitors for Gardner, though I’m not really sure whether time is on the Yankees’ side. On one hand, if they hang onto him until after the top free agent outfielders sign, teams won’t have anywhere else to turn for outfield help. On the other hand, once the top free agents are off the board, there might not be any teams looking for outfield help. Quite the pickle, that is. The Yankees say they’re not shopping Gardner, but my guess is they would move him quickly if the right offer comes along. These ten teams stood out as the best possible suitors.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

A group of MLB players and officials recently completed a goodwill trip to Cuba, and The Players’ Tribune posted a photo recap. It’s really, really cool. The players participated in youth clinics and met fans while on the trip, plus they did all sorts of other stuff. The people in Cuba were thrilled to see them. Make sure you check it out.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers and Devils are both playing, there’s a bunch of college hoops on the schedule, and ESPN is showing the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (BYU vs. Utah), if that’s your thing. Have at it.

Aaron Judge claims top spot on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Prospect season is in full swing now. One day after Baseball America published their top ten Yankees prospects list, the crew at Baseball Prospectus did the same. For BP, the top ten list plus the write-up for the top prospect are free. Everything else is behind the paywall. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. SS Jorge Mateo
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP James Kaprielian
  5. OF Dustin Fowler
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. RHP Drew Finley
  8. 3B Eric Jagielo
  9. RHP Brady Lail
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Again, as a reminder, both RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible, which is why they’re not on the list. They both exceeded the rookie playing time limits this past season.

Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, and Kaprielian are very clearly the top four prospects in the organization right now, as I said yesterday. We could argue the precise order until we’re blue in the face, but those are the four guys. It’s them, then everyone else right now.

The BP gang appears to be quite high on Fowler — “If he isn’t an everyday center fielder at the highest level, he could be a very good fourth outfielder,” said the write-up — and I’m glad to see someone shares my Finley affection. I’m not sure Finley’s a top ten guy, but he’s close.

Both Jagielo and Clarkin were understandably dinged in the rankings after losing so much time to injury in 2015, but the BP crew opted not to ignore their ceilings. I don’t know where Jagielo will play long-term, but he can mash. Clarkin didn’t have surgery and showed his pre-injury stuff in the Arizona Fall League.

“Recent success with early-round draft picks and aggressive tactics in the July 2nd market have given the Yankees a deep system with a healthy mix of almost-ready major-league regulars and teenagers with loud tools,” said the write-up, which also listed SS Wilkerman Garcia, OF Leonardo Molina, C Luis Torrens, 3B Dermis Garcia, and LHP Jacob Lindgren as other interesting prospects to watch. One of those things is not like the others.

The Baseball Prospectus feature also includes a ranking of the top ten players in the organization age 25 or younger. Severino sits in the top spot, followed by Judge, Mateo, Sanchez, Bird, Kaprielian, Fowler, Refsnyder, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Chasen Shreve. SS Didi Gregorius, 2B Starlin Castro, and RHP Nathan Eovaldi all missed the age cutoff by a few weeks and weren’t eligible for the 25 and under list.

Of nothing else, the 25 and under list shows how much better shape the Yankees are in right now than a year ago. Last year Molina was in the top ten under 25 list and, uh, no. This year eight of the ten are either in MLB or will be very soon. “The Yankees of the future likely won’t take shape for a year or two at least,” said the write-up, “but if the end of 2015 was any indication, we’ll get an increased glimpse into its promise in 2016.”

The 2018-19 free agent class looks great, but waiting is not a good idea

Harper. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Harper. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Without question, the current free agent class is the best in quite some time. Teams are locking up their best young players to long-term extensions, so they’re rarely hitting free agency in their primes, yet this winter several star-caliber players were available. Heck, there are still plenty of great outfielders and solid starters on the market.

There’s no doubt this was a great free agent class. Now fast forward three years, and the mother of all free agent classes is approaching. People are already writing about the 2018-19 free agent class because, well, look at the list of players scheduled to hit the market (via Anthony Castrovince):

Manny Machado
Josh Donaldson
Dee Gordon
Jose Iglesias

Jason Heyward *
Bryce Harper
Andrew McCutchen
A.J. Pollock
Michael Brantley
Adam Jones

Starting pitchers
David Price *
Clayton Kershaw *
Jose Fernandez
Matt Harvey
Dallas Keuchel
Shelby Miller
Garrett Richards
Jose Quintana

Craig Kimbrel
Trevor Rosenthal
Andrew Miller
* Can opt out of current contract after 2018 season

Harper is clearly the top prize because he’s no worse than the second best player in baseball right now and will hit free agency at age 26. Beyond him there is another top five caliber player (Machado), a few MVPs (Donaldson, McCutchen, Kershaw), and a couple Cy Youngs (Kershaw, Price, Keuchel). That’s an incredible group of talent.

That free agent class is also three seasons away. Price will be 33 and Kershaw will be 30 during the 2018-19 offseason, and both will have a million innings on their arms. Harvey and Richards will be a few months shy of 30 too. Donaldson and Jones will be 33, McCutchen will be 32, and Pollock and Brantley will be 31. Don’t even get me started with the relievers. You can barely project relievers from one year to the next. Looking three years ahead is a waste of time.

These players are all super talented and I’d love to have them on my team right now. In three years? That’s a different story. Three years ago guys like Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Ryan Braun, Michael Bourn, and Austin Jackson were among the best players in baseball. Does anyone want them on their team right now? Not really. (Look at the list of top 2012 relievers. Good gravy.)

Also, we’ve gone through this before, the whole “wow look at the free agent class that’s X years away” thing. A few years back Verlander, Kershaw, and Felix Hernandez were all supposed to hit free agency at the same time. remember that? We were all talking about the Yankees spending $400M to sign both Kershaw and Felix. It was going to be awesome. Then all three guys signed extensions. Future free agent classes tend to only get worse because the number of guys who take themselves off the market by signing extensions far outnumber the guys who break out and improve their stock.

That 2018-19 free agent class looks awesome and I’m sure we’ll talk about it lots in the coming years. I also have a hard time getting worked up about a free agent class that’s three years away. So much can and will change! Yes, the Yankees and every other team have to plan ahead, but gosh, you can’t plan that far ahead with any certainty. No team can justify passing on a player today because he may interfere with their 2018-19 (!) offseason plan.

Remember how risky it was when the Yankees declined to trade for Johan Santana because they wanted to sign Sabathia the following offseason? That was insanely risky. It could have blown up in their face completely. Luckily it didn’t. Now imagine trying to do that with a player not set to become a free agent for two years, or even three. Can’t do it. Too many teams are content to push the present aside for the sake of the future, but no one would go that far into the future.

“You can’t predict free agency multiple years out,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings earlier this month. “I can’t project availability. Obviously if you turn the clock back and look at projecting Price’s availability, (it was impossible to know), would he be healthy? He’s been with three teams since. It’s such a guessing game when you go through that process that far out to forecast.”

For now, that stellar looking 2018-19 free agent class is nothing more than eye candy. It doesn’t factor into the Yankees’ plans at all. They’re trying to get under the luxury tax threshold because it’ll save them a boatload of cash, not because they have their eye on Harper and Machado in three years. There are two and a half offseasons between now and then, and if all goes according to plan, the Yankees will have a young core in place and be ready to spend on high-end complementary pieces come 2018, assuming some are actually available.

Slow moving market may give Yankees a chance to land a bargain in January

Chen. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Chen. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

The New Year is right around the corner, and usually by now most of the top free agents have picked new teams. Clubs like to get their major offseason business out of the way early. Even with the tippy top free agents off the board, several other quality players remain unsigned. Scott Kazmir, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis, Howie Kendrick … guys like that come to mind.

In most years only one or two solidly above-average free agents would remain available by time the holidays rolled around, and usually one of ’em would be a big name Scott Boras client, but that’s not the case this year. Ken Rosenthal did a great job the other day explaining why so many quality free agents are still on the board. It’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of things.

The Yankees have been unwilling to spend this offseason, at least spend big on long-term contracts, which is why they’ve sat out free agency to date. I don’t expect that to change, especially not the long-term contract thing because that’ll impact the luxury tax going forward, and Hal Steinbrenner desperately wants to get under the threshold at some point soon. He’s made it pretty clear.

I do think the Yankees would be open to a pricey one-year contract under the right circumstances, however. Especially if there’s a chance the player will be a qualifying offer candidate next offseason. They would have to pay a little extra luxury tax in 2016 but would clear the salary next winter, still giving them a chance to get under the luxury tax threshold when some big contracts begin to expire. And the longer these top free agents go without choosing a team, the more likely it is one of ’em will take a one-year contract.

That said, finding a fit won’t be easy. The Yankees are set at all eight defensive positions — a Brett Gardner trade would open up left field, obviously — and there are no enticing free agent relievers. That leaves the rotation. There are some pretty damn good starters out there, but Yankee Stadium and the AL East is not the place a pitcher goes if he’s backed into a one-year contract. The ballpark is more likely to hurt a pitcher’s value than help it.

Think about it. You’re a free agent starting pitcher willing to take a one-year contract because you didn’t get a big offer this winter and want to try your luck again next offseason, in a miserable free agent class. Where are you signing? With the Yankees to play your home games in Yankee Stadium, plus play a bunch of other intradivision games in hitter friendly parts? Or with, say, the Dodgers in spacious Dodger Stadium in the pitcher friendly NL West? Exactly.

The longer all these free agents go unsigned, the better the odds the Yankees can land a quality player on a favorable contract. And for them, a favorable contract is probably a one-year deal. At the same time, the Yankees aren’t going to sign a player simply for the sake of signing a player. The player has to fit their roster, and right now their only openings are on the pitching staff. With no high-end relievers available, that leaves starters, who probably aren’t keen on coming to Yankee Stadium.

So, long story short, I guess we should consider this a developing situation. I have a hard time believing players as good as Upton and Gordon and Davis and all the others will go unsigned for long, not with so much money in the game and so many teams projected to be in the postseason hunt. There might be a mad rush of signings in early-January, after the holidays. I don’t expect the Yankees to find some kind of free agent bargain next month, but, right now, the odds of it happening are much greater than they were at the outset of the offseason.