Here is an open thread for the night. Rangers, Nets, a bunch of college basketball teams. All in action tonight. Talk about those games, Girardi’s new gig, or anything that isn’t religion or politics right here.
Over the last two seasons, no prospect in the farm system has shot up the rankings more than Estevan Florial. The Yankees signed Florial as part of their 2014-15 international signing spree, though he was not a high profile signing. He signed for $200,000 late in the signing period after being suspended by MLB for a paperwork issue. (He moved from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and his mother enrolled him in school using a different name.)
Florial, who turned only 20 in November, came to the United States in 2016 and blew the doors off the rookie Appalachian League, then dominated last season at mostly Low-A Charleston. He hit .298/.372/.479 (145 wRC+) with 13 homers and 23 steals in 31 attempts (74%). Florial also drew a walk in 10.5% of his plate appearances. The problem? He struck out in 31.1% of his plate appearances. That’s an awful lot.
The strikeouts combined with the undeniably excellent natural tools make Florial a divisive prospect. Check out where he slots into the various top 100 prospect rankings this spring:
- Baseball America: 38th
- Baseball Prospectus: 26th
- FanGraphs: 79th
- Keith Law: Just missed (101-110 range)
- MLB.com: 44th
Pretty big spread there, eh? Florial is ranked as high as 26th and as low as, well, unranked. There are always going to be differences of opinion and therefore differences in the rankings, but gosh, that is an especially huge gap. Florial is not necessarily difficult to evaluate. He’s difficult to project.
A few weeks ago Sunny looked at prospects who posted numbers similar to Florial in the minors, specifically prospects who combined great offensive output with high strikeout rates in Low-A. I want to examine Florial another way. I’m going to use MLB.com’s scouting grades. I’ve done the same exercise with Gleyber Torres and Blake Rutherford in the past.
Real quick primer on the 20-80 scouting scale: 20 is terrible, 80 is great, 50 is average. MLB.com’s scouting grades are future grades, not present grades. They’re what the player projects to have when fully matured. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m using this criteria to determine a prospect similar to Florial:
- Left-handed hitting outfielder. (The platoon advantage matters!)
- Spent his entire age 19 season in Single-A.
- Ranked as an MLB.com top 100 prospect going into his age 20 season.
Simple enough, right? MLB.com has been providing scouting grades for top 100 prospects since 2013, and from 2013-17, only nine players other than Florial fit my criteria. Smaller sample than I expected! Here are those nine prospects (and Florial) and their scouting grades going into their age 20 season:
Cells in green are tools that match or exceed Florial’s. Interestingly enough, eight of the nine prospects similar to Florial are drafted players. Only Mazara was signed internationally. Huh. A few thoughts and observations.
1. Wow is Florial unique. The nine other prospects all beat Florial’s hit tool by at least a full grade, and five of the other nine prospects match or beat Florial’s power tool. However, Florial dominates the other categories. He’s the only 70 runner among those prospects — only two others are even 60 runners — and only one matches his arm while two match his fielding.
So, put it all together and Florial has the worst hit tool of the bunch, a similar power tool as everyone else, and unmatched speed and defensive ability. No one else has such a run/defense heavy profile. MLB.com and the scouts evaluating these players had less confidence in Florial’s hitting ability than anyone else’s, but also trusted his speed and defense more. Pretty unique.
2. None of these prospects reached MLB in their age 20 season. And only one (Mazara) received more than a cup of coffee in his age 21 season. Mazara spent nearly his entire age 21 season in the show. Verdugo got a September call-up at age 21. Dahl reached the show at age 22, Winker and Williams debuted at age 23, and the other four (Meadows, Tucker, Clark, McKinney) have yet to make their MLB debuts.
Florial did play in the Double-A postseason at age 19 last season only because High-A Tampa’s season was over and Trenton’s was not, and the Yankees wanted him to keep playing. Last year Florial played 91 games with Low-A Charleston and another 19 with Tampa. Returning to Tampa to start this season before a midseason promotion to Trenton seems like the likely path, and based on our comparable prospects, that is a standard assignment. Five the other nine split their age 20 season between High-A and Double-A.
There are always exceptions, but recent history indicates that if you’re hoping to see Florial in the Bronx this season, even a brief stint as a September call-up, you’re going to be disappointed. Heck, you might not even see Florial as a September call-up next year, though he will be added to the 40-man roster next winter, so he has that going for him. Point is, these toolsy kids who spend their entire age 19 season in Single-A don’t always make it to the big leagues as quickly as you might expect.
3. Let’s compare their plate discipline numbers. This is going to tie back into the point about their hit tools. Florial swings and misses a lot and that is the long-term concern in his game. The other prospects in the sample? Well, look at the strikeout and walk numbers in their age 19 season:
|Age 19 K%||Age 19 BB%||Age 20 K%||Age 20 BB%||K% Change||BB% Change|
Florial has the highest strikeout by far. He’s over 30% while no one else was over 27.5%, and only two others were over 22.0%. Also, Florial’s walk rate, while impressive, is not exactly uncommon. Six of our nine comparable outfield prospects also had double digit walk rates in their age 19 season. Most saw a decline in walk rate in their age 20 season, which makes sense. They moved up a level, where pitchers are better and throw more strikes.
I suppose the encouraging thing is five of our nine comparable prospects lowered their strikeout rate in their age 20 season while another (Verdugo) saw basically no change. If there’s a reason to believe Florial can improve his strikeout rate, it’s his experience, or lack thereof. He didn’t play much baseball growing up — Haiti is not a baseball country at all — so the hope is the more he plays, the more adjustments he’ll make. That’s the hope.
* * *
I was surprised to see so few prospects with Florial’s profile, that speed/defense/raw tools guy with questionable contact rates. Seems like there are lots of those guys in the minors. I guess a bunch are right-handed hitters or middle infielders though, or didn’t play a full season in Single-A at age 19. Whatever. Point is, a left-handed hitting outfielder with Florial’s tools and contact issues is surprisingly uncommon. He’s probably not going to climb the ladder quickly, though there is at least some hope the contact rate will improve.
The Yankees like Florial enough that he was reportedly off-limits in trade talks this offseason — and supposedly at the trade deadline as well — so while he is unrefined and his contact issues are a concern, they’re willing to be patient with him. After all, the Yankees helped another toolsy minor leaguer with swing-and-miss issues become an MVP candidate recently. Be patient with Florial and the reward could be considerable.
The Yankees now have the best quarterback in New York.
According to Jerry Crasnick, the Yankees have acquired Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from the Texas Rangers for future considerations. This isn’t a joke. The Rangers controlled Wilson’s baseball rights and they traded him to the Yankees.
Here is the statement the Yankees released after the trade:
“We’ve admired Russell’s career from afar for quite some time,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. “This is a unique opportunity for us to learn from an extraordinary athlete who has reached the pinnacle of his profession.
“After talking to a number of our players, there is a genuine excitement in having Russell join us for a short time in camp. We are all looking forward to gaining insight into how he leads teammates toward a common goal, prepares on a daily basis for the rigors of his sport, and navigates the successes and failures of a season.”
Wilson, 29, has no plans to retire from football to pursue baseball, but, as the statement says, Wilson will show up to Spring Training at some point. The Yankees say Wilson will participate in pregame workouts and watch games from the dugout. I imagine he’ll also be a guest speaker and meet with young players, things like that.
Wilson released a statement earlier today:
“I want to personally thank the Texas Rangers for giving me the chance to experience professional baseball again. Growing up taking grounders, hitting BP, and throwing deep post routes early in the mornings with my dad and brother is where my love of sports came from, and those memories stick with me every morning I wake up. I remember how excited I was when Texas selected me in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2013. During my two springs in Arizona with the Rangers, I was reminded just how much I love the game of baseball.
“While football is my passion and my livelihood, baseball remains a huge part of where I came from and who I am today. I’ve learned so much on the baseball field that translates to my game physically and mentally playing quarterback in the NFL. I thank the Rangers and their great fans for making me feel at home and a part of the family! While I embrace the chance to be a New York Yankee, I will forever be grateful to have been a part of a world class organization like the Texas Rangers.”
Back in the day the Rockies selected Wilson in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and he played two years in their farm system, hitting .229/.354/.356 with five homers in 93 Single-A games as a second baseman. He continued playing college football at the same time and was later drafted by the Seahawks, and he’s been in the NFL ever since.
The Rangers selected Russell in the minor league phase of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and brought him to Spring Training as a guest speaker a few times. Now the Yankees will do the same.
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time the Yankees were talking about a transition year and dealing with growing pains as they incorporated several young players into the everyday lineup. Now the Yankees are a World Series contender. Those young players thrived last season and helped the Yankees get to Game Seven of the ALCS. Being the underdog was fun. Time for the Yankees to get back to dominating the sport.
The goal this offseason and every offseason is to improve the organization, both short and long-term. Rebuilding teams focus more on the long-term. Contenders like the Yankees do a little of both, though they may sacrifice the long-term for the short-term on occasion, and that’s okay. Success can be fleeting in this game and I applaud any team that does all they can to win now rather than focusing on a future that may never come.
With Spring Training a week away, the Yankees have made one big addition (Giancarlo Stanton) and three smaller subtractions (Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, Todd Frazier) this winter. That’s pretty much it, right? Minor league signings like Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson happen every year. Talented but erratic arms like Bryan Mitchell are dealt away every winter. Those are standard baseball moves. The Stanton, Castro, and Headley deals aren’t.
So, when camp opens next week, the 2018 Yankees are going to look fairly similar to the 2017 Yankees. I thought last year’s club was good enough to win the World Series. They just didn’t. Why, then, are the Yankees supposed to be better this coming season? I’ll give you five reasons.
Starting here because this is the obvious upgrade. The Yankees added the reigning NL MVP this offseason! And he also happens to be the game’s top power hitter, and he turned only 28 in November. Pretty awesome. It cost them Castro and some prospects, but who cares? Stanton is too good.
For all intents and purposes, Stanton is replacing Matt Holliday in the lineup. He’ll play some outfield this year, no doubt, but the Giancarlo trade effectively filled the DH spot because both he and Aaron Judge (and Brett Gardner) have to coexist somehow. A quick statistical comparison:
- 2017 Holliday: .231/.316/.432 (98 wRC+) and -0.1 WAR
- 2018 Stanton (per ZiPS): .273/.366/.656 (161 wRC+) and +6.4 WAR
ZiPS projecting 55 homers and a .656 SLG for Stanton blows my mind. I’ve been looking at ZiPS for more than a decade now and I don’t ever remember seeing the system spit out numbers like that. Anyway, yeah, the Yankees are improved because they have Stanton now, not Holliday, who by all accounts is a good dude. He just stopped hitting in mid-June.
Full seasons of Gray, Robertson, and Kahnle
When it became clear the Yankees were contenders and not pretenders last season, Brian Cashman acted decisively and upgraded his roster at the trade deadline. He dipped into the farm system and traded superfluous prospects for Frazier, Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Jaime Garcia. Frazier and Garcia were rentals and won’t be back this year. Or at least I don’t think Jaime will be back. You never know.
Anyway, the Yankees acquired multiple years of Gray, Robertson, and Kahnle. They weren’t rentals. Robertson is signed through 2018, Gray is under team control through 2019, and Kahnle is under team control through 2020. All will be back this season and they are all reasons the 2018 Yankees will be better than the 2017 Yankees. Gray effectively replaces Michael Pineda in the rotation. Robertson and Kahnle are replacing Tyler Clippard and, uh, I guess Jonathan Holder? Whoever it is, the Yankees are better off.
A full season of Bird, hopefully
Greg Bird did not come over at the trade deadline, but he was not available to the Yankees most of last season because of his ankle injury. The injury limited him to only 48 games and 170 plate appearances. Didn’t even play a third of the season. The Yankees gave way too many first base plate appearances to guys like Chris Carter and Garrett Cooper last year.
With any luck, Bird will (finally) stay healthy this season, and give the Yankees about 600 plate appearances and a bunch of dingers and walks. Some numbers:
- 2017 Yankees first basemen: .244/.317/.444 (83 OPS+) and +0.7 WAR
- 2018 Bird (per ZiPS): .240/.333/.480 (116 OPS+) and +1.1 WAR
Last season the Yankees ranked 25th among the 30 teams in first base OPS+ and 22nd in first base WAR. Bottom third of the league production at the position. We still have no idea what Bird can do across a full season. We’ve seen flashes of excellence, and gosh, his extreme fly ball tendencies make him a great mix for Yankee Stadium. A healthy Bird could be a considerable upgrade for the 2018 Yankees. Unfortunately healthy remains a big “if” with him, but fingers crossed.
More high-leverage work for Green
Chad Green started last season in High Class-A. True story. He didn’t join the big league team until May 8th, the day after the 18-inning game at Wrigley Field, and it wasn’t until late-July that he started pitching in high-leverage situations consistently. The cat is out of the bag now. Green is excellent, everyone knows it, and he will be used in important situations right from the get-go this season.
The Yankees started last season with Dellin Betances and Clippard as their bridge to Aroldis Chapman. Now that bridge is Robertson and Green, with Kahnle around as the third wheel. The bullpen is in much better shape right now than it was a year ago. It’s always fun when a young pitcher like Green comes up, dominates, and begins assuming high-leverage innings. It’s much more fun when you already know that young pitcher can dominate and you don’t have to wait to see him in important situations.
Come Opening Day, chances are Gardner will be the only player in the starting lineup over 30. The Yankees have an increasingly young roster, and talented young players have a tendency to get better. A lot better, in some cases. For some young Yankees, there is obvious room for improvement. Jordan Montgomery can cut down on the walks and be more efficient. Gary Sanchez can improve blocking balls in the dirt.
In other cases, it can be difficult to see how improvement is possible. Example: How in the world is Aaron Judge supposed to get better? With him, it’s a matter of gaining consistency to avoid another big midseason slump, and maybe cut down on the strikeouts as well. It’s possible Judge will be very good and a more complete all-around player this season while putting up inferior numbers to last season. In his case, improvement may be more subtle. With other young players, it probably won’t be.
* * *
There are plenty of other reasons the 2018 Yankees can be better than the 2017 Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka could stop giving up dingers. Betances could stop walking people. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar could outproduce Castro, Headley, and Frazier. I’d bet against that last one, but it is possible. The Yankees are young and talented, and they have more young talent on the way. That’s exciting.
More than anything, the Yankees figure to be better this year because they added Stanton, and because they’ll have full seasons of Gray, Robertson, Kahnle, Green, and (hopefully) Bird. Losing Frazier, Headley, and Castro is not insignificant. Those dudes combined for +5 WAR in pinstripes last year. Asking Gleyber and Andujar to do that is putting a lot on the rookies. Stanton is the single biggest reason to expect the Yankees to improve this year. There are a lot of smaller things that could add up to large improvement too.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton, I started thinking about the lineup possibilities. Heck, I started thinking about them even before the trade went down, during the rumor phase. I reckon most baseball fans — even non-Yankees fans — were thinking about the lineup with Stanton after the trade. How could you not? It’s part of the fun of being a fan.
“You know what? Really quick,” said Aaron Boone at the Winter Meetings (video link) when asked how quickly he started sketching out lineups after the Stanton trade. “I think that’s the first thing I did after I left (Brian Cashman)’s office hearing the possibility of it. I think I grabbed I piece of paper and a pen, and I sat right down — like I bet you guys have as well — to see the potential moving parts.”
Spring Training is not going to tell us anything about how Boone may arrange his regular batting order. Grapefruit League lineups are designed to let guys get their work in, then go home. That’s why veterans are always stacked high in the order. They get their two or three at-bats, then check out for the day. Spring lineups aren’t indicative of what we might see during the regular season.
The Yankees and Boone still have some positions to figure out in Spring Training, specifically second and third bases, but unless they swing a trade for Jose Altuve or Manny Machado, I don’t see those positions affecting the lineup. The basic outline of the batting order is fairly straightforward:
- Brett Gardner
- Really good hitter
- Really good hitter
- Really good hitter
- Really good hitter
- Really good hitter
- Really good hitter
- Second or third baseman
- Second or third baseman
There is a case to be made for batting Aaron Judge leadoff given his on-base ability, though as I explained in a recent mailbag, I don’t love that idea because it wastes some of his power. Batting Judge leadoff means roughly one-fifth of his at-bats will automatically come with the bases empty. Teams are batting power hitters leadoff these days — Charlie Blackmon, George Springer, and Brian Dozier are regular leadoff hitters — but a 50-homer guy? Nah.
You could also make a case for batting Aaron Hicks leadoff, or even Jacoby Ellsbury. I’m a Hicks believer, though I want to see him do it again before locking him into a premium lineup spot. Ellsbury? He’s not even a starter right now. Last season was his best offensive season in several years, and I think he has to earn that leadoff spot back, not be awarded it (and a starting spot) based on … his contract? Not sure what else it could be.
For better or worse, Gardner is the obvious choice at the leadoff spot right now. He’s one of the best count-workers in baseball, he gets on base plenty, and he has enough pop to sock a few quick strike leadoff homers throughout the season. (Gardner hit five leadoff homers last year.) Gardner is a natural fit at the leadoff spot until his performance says he should should hit lower in order, and he hasn’t reached that point yet.
Realistically, I’m not sure there’s anyone the Yankees could acquire for second and/or third base who should hit higher than eighth in the lineup. If they bring in Neil Walker and Eduardo Nunez, they’ll hit eighth and ninth. If they go with Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, they’ll hit eighth and ninth. Maybe Mike Moustakas would bat sixth or seventh? I suppose, though I’m not counting on the Yankees signing him, not with the luxury tax plan.
The middle of the order, the two through seven spots, have generated the most discussion this offseason because the Yankees have so many good hitters. How do you line them up? As long as Boone doesn’t do something silly like bat Judge or Stanton seventh, whatever he does will be fine. He’ll have really good hitters in the middle of the lineup no matter what. Let’s still talk about the lineup a bit.
1. How important is it to split up the righties? The lineup topic of the offseason. Stanton and Judge are two right-handed power hitters who will strike out, and because of that, I’ve seen an awful lot of people say the Yankees should squeeze a left-handed hitter between them in the lineup. We should include Gary Sanchez in this conversation too, because he’s another right-handed power hitter who will strike out from time to time.
The thinking behind putting a lefty between Stanton and Judge is it forces the opposing manager to do one of two things. Either he has to burn through multiple relievers to match up with the dangerous right-left-right portion of the lineup, or he’ll have to leave his righty in to face the lefty (or a lefty in to face the righty). Judge and Stanton are susceptible to righties with good breaking balls (aren’t all righties?) and you want to do something to counteract that. The thing about that though:
|vs. RHP in 2017|
|Aaron Judge||.298/.417/.662 (179 wRC+)|
|Giancarlo Stanton||.270/.354/.596 (144 wRC+)|
|Gary Sanchez||.282/.343/.530 (130 wRC+)|
|Didi Gregorius||.295/.325/.523 (120 wRC+)|
|Greg Bird||.168/.275/.370 (71 wRC+)|
Don’t think it’s fair to use Bird’s overall season numbers given his injury and how crummy he was in April? Okay, he hit .222/.306/.508 (110 wRC+) against righties after coming off the disabled list and .270/.341/.574 (147 wRC+) during his big league debut in 2015, which feels like a lifetime ago.
Point is, the three right-handed hitters all out-hit the two lefties against right-handed pitchers last season. Will they continue to out-hit them against righties this season? I don’t see why not. Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez are all in their primes — you could argue Judge and Sanchez haven’t reached their primes yet — and they’re all really good hitters. We’re not talking about some randos who BABIPed their way to a good year against righties in 2017.
The numbers say it’s not worth squeezing a lefty between Judge and Stanton (and Sanchez) because they hit righties just fine. Empirical evidence says managers do weird stuff all the time and, inevitably, some manager will burn through his bullpen to play matchups against the right-left-right portion of the lineup, and it’ll come back to bite him. A manager will bring in his lefty specialist to face the lefty and leave him in against Stanton or Judge or Sanchez. It’ll happen at some point. You watch.
Can you build your lineup around that though? Can you base your lineup on the idea that the opposing manager will make a silly pitching decision at some point? Teams are pretty smart these days. We’re seeing more true high-leverage relievers nowadays. Managers bring in their best reliever in the game’s biggest spot regardless of platoon matchups. Left-on-left specialists like Clay Rapada are a dying breed. There isn’t enough room for a guy like that in the bullpen with starters throwing so few innings these days.
Bottom line, squeezing a lefty like Gregorius or Bird between Judge and Stanton (and Sanchez) means giving an inferior hitter more at-bats. Remember how terrifying it was when David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez batted back-to-back? Now imagine if it was Ortiz-Trot Nixon-Manny instead. Trot Nixon was a pretty good hitter! But we all would’ve welcomed the one-batter reprieve between Ortiz and Manny. Just think about it. If you were a pitcher, would you rather face …
… or …
3. Gregorius or Bird
I know what I’d pick. Judge and Stanton (and Sanchez!) are great hitters. Not good hitters. Great hitters. Squeezing a lefty between them for a sake of platoon matchups strikes me as paralysis by analysis.
“Absolutely you can (bat the three righties in a row),” said Boone to George King at the Winter Meetings. “That will be one of those things that we flesh out. What’s Greg Bird’s continued development? What is the matchup? Do we feel like we want one of those lefties breaking those three guys up? It’s something that is a possibility, but I would have no reservation if we feel like it’s best to string those three dudes together.”
2. What about splitting up the lefties? Paul O’Neill complains about this all the time during YES Network broadcasts. If you’re a righty who can’t hit righties, no one thinks too much about it. But if you’re a lefty who can’t hit lefties, it’s a Really Big Deal. You get labeled a platoon player and opposing managers have (or had for a long time) a designated guy in the bullpen to get you out. Righty specialists were never as much of a thing as lefty specialists. Not even close.
When Gregorius first joined the Yankees, there was concern he’d never hit left-handed pitching, then he went out and hit .324/.361/.473 (125 wRC+) against lefties in 2016, and everyone stopped talking about his platoon issues. Look at Didi’s year-by-year numbers against southpaws though:
- 2015: .247/.311/.315 (74 wRC+) in 164 plate appearances
- 2016: .324/.361/.473 (125 wRC+) in 161 plate appearances
- 2017: .264/.299/.354 (72 wRC+) in 155 plate appearances
One of those things is not like the others. Bird is a .257/.346/.500 (127 wRC+) career hitter against lefties in a whopping 81 plate appearances. The sample sizes are inconvenient, but that’s the way it goes with platoon data. There are way fewer left-handed pitchers in baseball than right-handed pitchers. (That’s one possible explanation why some lefty hitters have so much trouble against lefty pitchers. They simply don’t see them much.)
Two things about this. One, I think splitting up Didi and Bird to potentially avoid unfavorable platoon matchups is more important than splitting up Judge and Stanton (and Sanchez!). And two, I don’t think splitting up Didi and Bird should be a top priority. Based on my observations, Gregorius can hang in well enough against southpaws, and will hit for an okay-ish average. Bird has a good eye will annihilate mistake pitches even against great lefties.
3. So what’s the best lineup? The best lineup and the lineup Boone is most likely to use are not necessarily the same thing. Using 2018 ZiPS projections and Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool, this is the best lineup the Yankees could run out there this season:
- Brett Gardner
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Greg Bird
- Aaron Judge
- Gary Sanchez
- Didi Gregorius
- Gleyber Torres
- Miguel Andujar
- Aaron Hicks
Interesting! Interesting because it wouldn’t be completely insane if that were the Opening Day lineup. I could see it. Stanton batted second a bunch for the Marlins last season and Hicks would serve as the “second” leadoff guy in the nine-spot. That lineup projects to score 5.482 runs per game, or 888 runs per 162 games, according to the lineup analysis tool.
The lineup Boone will use is a bit of a mystery because this is his first managerial gig and we don’t know what kind of manager he’ll be. Is he an old school type that wants a bat control hitter second? Is he so new school that he’s willing to bat Judge leadoff? How important is splitting up the lefties? We don’t know. My guess is the Yankees will go into the season with this lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- RF/DH Aaron Judge
- RF/DH Giancarlo Stanton
- SS Didi Gregorius
- C Gary Sanchez
- 1B Greg Bird
- CF Aaron Hicks
- Second or third baseman
- Second or third baseman
I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees will sneak a left-handed contact hitter into the middle of the three righties to compensate for the strikeouts. Hopefully I’m wrong. Squeezing Didi in at cleanup means you still have that Ortiz/Manny thing with Judge and Stanton, but also split up the lefties. Bird is the x-factor to me. If he stays healthy and produces early, he’ll find himself higher in the order.
“We’re hoping to see Greg Bird take another giant leap this year and be one of those guys that really makes a pitcher work,” said Boone during a radio interview in December. “We saw what Didi did last year. Obviously, Gary Sanchez. When an opposing pitcher looks at our lineup and thinks about having to work through it, it’s a team that you better make pitches against. Otherwise, this is a team that not only will make you pay with a base hit, but it will also make you pay with some damage.”
My preferred lineup is basically the same lineup as above, only with Sanchez and Didi flipped. I’m not going to sweat batting the three big righty bats in a row. Stack the best hitters together and let ’em eat. Ultimately, the Yankees have so many good hitters that the order won’t matter that much. As long as Boone doesn’t do anything crazy like bat Judge eighth or Ronald Torreyes leadoff, the Yankees will be fine. The lineup will evolve as the season progresses and, before you know it, the Yankees will settle into a lineup that just works.
“Those little lineup (ideas), they can happen at any time,” said Boone during a radio interview last month. “You could be sitting in traffic. You could be lying in bed and not fall asleep, grab out a pad and paper and scribble things down. That’s the fun part at this point, especially with some of the guys we have, picturing how they best go together in a lineup.”
So I guess MLB and the MLBPA are going to release daily statements sniping at each other now? Earlier today MLBPA chief Tony Clark released a statement saying the sheer number of tanking teams “threatens the very integrity of our game.” MLB then shot back with a statement saying the free agent market is the result of the “failure of some agents to accurately assess the market.” MLB also played the, “Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win” card, which is laughable. That said, blaming the league’s problems on the players’ greed rather than the owners’ greed is a guaranteed win for MLB, so it’s no surprise they went that route. Rough days ahead for baseball.
Anyway, here is the open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing tonight. Talk about those games, the end of baseball’s labor peace as we know it, or anything else where. Just not politics or religion. Thanks in advance.
A few weeks ago the deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to submit salary figures came and went with no major news for the Yankees. They signed all eight of their arbitration-eligible players before the filing deadline, so no hearings this year. Here, as a reminder, are those eight players and their 2018 salaries:
- Didi Gregorius: $8.25M
- Sonny Gray: $6.5M
- Dellin Betances: $5.1M
- Adam Warren: $3.315M
- Aaron Hicks: $2.85M
- Tommy Kahnle: $1.3125M
- Austin Romine: $1.1M
- Chasen Shreve: $0.825M
That is $29.2525M worth of arbitration-eligible players, and, as a reminder, these contracts are not guaranteed. The Yankees could release them in Spring Training and pay either 30 or 45 days of termination pay, depending on the date of the release. I don’t expect them to release anyone, but you never know. The Yankees released Chad Gaudin in spring 2010 and paid him only 45 days termination pay, so they’ve done it before.
Anyway, the Yankees signed all their arbitration-eligible players to one-year deals in lieu of long-term contract extensions, which would’ve had luxury tax implications. For example, giving Gregorius the Jean Segura contract (five years, $70M) would’ve raised his luxury tax hit from $8.25M to $14M. You can understand why the Yankees didn’t do that given the plan to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold, right? Every dollar counts.
Now that the Yankees have signed their arbitration-eligible players, the situation has changed. The Yankees can sign those players to extensions without changing their 2018 luxury tax hit. Andrew Baggarly recently explained this in a piece looking at a potential Madison Bumgarner extension:
For all you’ve heard about the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold, which the Giants are just barely staying under at the moment, extending Bumgarner now would have ZERO IMPACT on their CBT in 2018 depending on how they structure a deal.
The CBT payroll is calculated using the average annual value of salaries for players on multiyear contracts. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement is clear on this: the Giants could sign Bumgarner to anything — say, a six-year, $210 million extension that breaks Zack Greinke’s record-holding $34.42 million AAV for a pitcher — and as long as they sign it before Opening Day, and do not alter terms of his current contract for 2018, his CBT component would remain $12 million for this year. The league would recalculate his CBT number in 2019.
Long story short, as long as the Yankees sign someone to an extension before Opening Day, and the extension does not kick in until 2019, their 2018 luxury tax hit remains unchanged. Give Didi five years and $70M from 2019-23, and his luxury tax hit stays $8.25M in 2018. It would jump to $14M in 2019.
There is precedent for the Yankees doing this. In January 2014 they gave Brett Gardner a one-year deal worth $5.6M to avoid arbitration. Then, a few weeks later in February, they gave him a four-year extension worth $52M. Gardner’s luxury tax number remained $5.6M in 2014 before jumping to $13M from 2015-18. If they’d signed the extension after Opening Day, his 2014 luxury tax hit would’ve been recalculated to include the extension.
So, now that the Yankees have one-year deals in place with their eight arbitration-eligible players, they’re free to explore extensions without hurting the luxury tax plan, as long as the extension starts in 2019 and is signed before Opening Day. A few things about this.
1. This applies to pre-arbitration-eligible players too. Arbitration-eligible players get the most attention as extension candidates because they’re making decent money and are closer to free agency, but this extension rule also applies to players in their pre-arbitration years. For the Yankees, that includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Yankees can sign them to an extension that kicks in in 2019 without raising their 2018 luxury tax number.
I have no idea whether Judge, Sanchez, Severino or any other pre-arbitration player has actually signed a 2018 contract yet. That’s usually the last bit of offseason business and we rarely hear about those guys signing. It just happens at some point. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino will make something close to the league minimum this year and they are the keys to the luxury tax plan. Those three plus Greg Bird, Jordan Montgomery, and Chad Green. They’re providing big impact at dirt cheap rates. Once they sign their 2018 contracts, if they haven’t already, they’re able to sign an extension without having an effect on the 2018 luxury tax situation.
2. So who should the Yankees look to extend? It wasn’t too long ago that the Yankees had no extension candidates. No young players worth locking up long-term. Look at the 2014 Yankees. Who on that team was a serious extension candidate? I don’t see one. Now the Yankees are loaded with quality young players and therefore loaded with extension candidates. They want to keep these guys around long-term. I’d rank the extensions priorities in this order:
- Gary Sanchez: Catchers who hit like this are super rare. Keep him forever.
- Didi Gregorius: Quality two-way shortstop only two years from free agency.
- Sonny Gray: Quality pitcher only two years from free agency.
- Aaron Judge: Love the guy, but he’s already under control through age 30 and who knows how he’ll age at that size?
- Luis Severino: Pitchers break, man.
- Aaron Hicks: Two years from free agency and I’m a believer, but I need to see it again first.
- Greg Bird: Gotta see him stay healthy first.
Warren will be a free agent after the season and maybe it is worth extending him given the current bullpen market. Guys like Tommy Hunter and Juan Nicasio are getting upwards of $9M per year in free agency. Warren might too. Other relievers like Green and Kahnle are under control a while, so there’s no need to rush into an extension given the volatility of the position. Betances has two years of control left, but he needs to fix his control first.
Anyway, we could argue the exact order of those seven names above all day if we want, but that’s how I’d rank them. Sanchez is too special at the hardest to fill position. I know he’s under control though 2022 and his age 29 season, but man, you don’t let a player like him get away. Catchers like Gary are franchise building blocks. I feel everyone else falls in line behind Sanchez. Maybe you think Severino should be a higher extension priority. That’s cool. I think to makes sense to wait to extend a pitcher with five years of control remaining given the inherent injury risk. (The same applies to Montgomery.)
There’s one more extension candidate to discuss: David Robertson. He’ll be a free agent after the season, and even with the free agent market moving slowly in general, relievers are still getting paid. Robertson might be a $17M a year reliever when hits the open market next winter. He loves being a Yankee as far as I can tell. Robertson will turn 33 in April. Would he take something like two years and $28M now rather that wait out the year for free agency?
3. Does it make sense to extend anyone given the free agent market? There’s a chance baseball economics have changed forever. Teams are refusing to sign veteran free agents this offseason, and I think anyone saying “let’s see what happens next year before we worry” is being naive. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will get paid. Everyone else has to be worried. The days of paying big for decline years are coming to an end.
Given that, does it make sense to extend players now rather than see how their market shakes out in free agency? If Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are having trouble finding work this offseason, why rush into an extension with Gray? Gregorius is awesome. But how desirable will he be when he hits free agency in two years? For the most part, teams tend to be happy with extensions. There are always some exceptions. Pitchers gets hurt, blah blah blah. Usually extensions work out for the team. The calculus has changed though. Extensions may not make as much sense as they once did.
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The Yankees are in a good place right now. Their very best players (Sanchez, Judge, Severino) are under team control long-term, and many of their other top players (Gregorius, Gray, Gardner, Hicks) have two more years of control. Robertson and CC Sabathia (and Warren) are the team’s only notable impending free agents and the Yankees might be able to replace them from within. Controllable young players and a great farm system are a great mix.
There is no real urgency for the Yankees to sign anyone long-term. Maybe there is some urgency with Robertson, but even then the bullpen is deep and he’s entering his mid-30s. It’s not like Judge or Sanchez is two years away from free agency, you know? The Yankees have their arbitration-eligible players signed and will have their pre-arbitration guys signed soon enough, if they’re not signed already. With that out of the way, they can shift focus to extensions that start in 2019 without worrying about the 2018 luxury tax situation. If nothing else, the Yankees should touch base with their top players to see whether there’s mutual interest in a deal.