Yankees non-tender Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and David Huff

Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)
Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)

3:16pm: The Yankees have announced the three non-tenders, so they’re official. Officially official.

12:27am: The Yankees non-tendered outfielder Slade Heathcott, right-hander Jose Campos, and left-hander David Huff prior to Tuesday’s midnight deadline, according to Joel Sherman. All of the team’s other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received a contract tender, it appears. The Yankees now have 36 players on the 40-man roster.

Heathcott, 24, was limited to only nine games with Double-A Trenton this past season due to knee surgery. He’s had a ton of shoulder and knee problems — including multiple surgeries on each — throughout his career and has only played in 309 minor league games since being the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, the pick the Yankees receive as compensation for not signing Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The 22-year-old Campos missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He missed most of the 2012 season with elbow problems as well. Campos was the second player New York received in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, though he’s only thrown 111.2 innings since the deal, all in Low Class-A. Like Heathcott, he was added to the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

I’m guessing the Yankees will try to re-sign both Heathcott and Campos to minor league contracts if they didn’t work out deals ahead of time. Non-tendering them is the easiest way to get them off the 40-man roster since they don’t have to pass through waivers, which they would have to do if they were released or outrighted. Despite their injuries, Heathcott and Campos are young enough that they would probably get plucked off waivers.

Huff, 30, had a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings for New York after being re-acquired from the Giants at midseason, which is pretty good by “last guy in the bullpen” standards. MLBTR projected Huff to earn only $700k through arbitration in 2015, though the Yankees have built up quite a bit of upper level lefty bullpen depth in Justin Wilson, Jose DePaula, Jacob Lindgren, and Tyler Webb. Huff’s 40-man spot is better used elsewhere.

Report: Yankees avoid arbitration with Esmil Rogers

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

7:50pm: Jon Heyman reports the one-year deal is worth $1.48M with only $750k guaranteed. So they reduced Esmil’s salary as much as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and only half of it is guaranteed. I’m still surprised they didn’t non-tender him though.

7:20pm: The Yankees have agreed to a contract with right-hander Esmil Rogers to avoid arbitration, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith. Terms of the deal are unknown at this point. This is surprising. Rogers was a pretty obvious non-tender candidate, though apparently the Yankees felt like he was worth keeping around.

Rogers earned $1.85M this past season and was projected to earn $1.9M through arbitration in 2015 by MLBTR. I’m guessing he agreed to a lower salary, otherwise the team would have non-tendered him. By rule, a player can not sign for less than 80% of his previous year’s salary, so the contract with Rogers won’t be for less than $1.48M.

It’s worth noting these one-year contracts for pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players are not guaranteed. The Yankees could release Rogers any time before mid-March and only have to pay him 30 days termination pay. If they release him after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years back.

Rogers, 29, had a 5.72 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 45.2 innings split between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2014. That includes a 4.68 ERA (4.17 FIP) with an 8.28 K/9 (21.7 K%) in 25 innings with New York after being claimed off waivers on trade deadline day. Rogers does have a nice fastball/slider combo, so I guess he’ll remain in the mix as a depth arm.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) posted his list of the top ten relievers in baseball. Craig Kimbrel unsurprisingly claimed the top spot, and was followed in order by Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis. Yankees free agent target Andrew Miller ranks fourth, current Yankee Dellin Betances ranks fifth, and potential ex-Yankee David Robertson ranks sixth. I can’t help but dream about seeing all three of those guys in pinstripes next year, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Sure would be cool though.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other and both the Devils and Islanders are in action as well. There’s also the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about anything and everything here.

Quiz!: Here’s a fun quiz to kill some time. You have to name every player who spent at least five seasons as Derek Jeter‘s teammate. I got 27 of 32 and missed one that was fairly obvious. Not super obvious, but I should have gotten it. Enjoy!

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

Caldera: Yankees haven’t shown much interest in Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Pete Caldera, free agent infielders Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera have “not gained much traction” with the Yankees this offseason. The winter has actually been rather quiet for both Lowrie and Cabrera so far even though most of the top free agent bats are already off the board. Neither player received a qualifying offer, by the way.

Lowrie, 30, hit only .249/.321/.355 (93 wRC+) with six homers in 566 plate appearances for the Athletics this past season. He had a great April (154 wRC+) but only mustered a 77 wRC+ the rest of the way. Lowrie is a switch-hitter who has been much better against righties the last three or four years, and he seems to have gotten over the injury problems that plagued him earlier in his career.

Cabrera put up a .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) batting line with 14 homers and ten steals in 616 plate appearances for the Indians and Nationals in 2014. He’s younger than you may realize — Cabrera turned 29 just last month — and, unlike Lowrie, he’s a switch-hitter with no significant platoon split the last few seasons. In two of the last three years, Lowrie and Asdrubal have been roughly equal at the plate:


Source: FanGraphsJed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera

Now, the thing is neither Lowrie nor Cabrera is a shortstop these days. They’re both below-average defensively — Cabrera has a knack for flashy highlight reel plays that has inflated the perception of his defense — and better suited for second base at third point of their careers. Cabrera played second for Washington at the end of the season and Lowrie did it a whole bunch earlier in his career.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs Crowdsourcing results peg Lowrie and Cabrera for essentially identical three-year contracts worth $30M or so. Neither is a perfect solution for the Yankees but they need infielders badly. If the trade market comes up empty — that’s where it appears they are focused at the moment — and the team’s unwillingness to give Chase Headley more than three years pushes him out of town, these two guys are probably the best of what’s left. Yuck.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Robertson and Andrew Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday morning we learned quite a bit about the free agent reliever market, specifically that the Yankees are in “serious pursuit” of Andrew Miller and are unwilling to give David Robertson a four-year deal. They’ve reportedly talked about trades involving bullpen help with the Marlins and Braves as well. The Miller and Robertson stuff is the big news though. It sure feels like one of those two will wear pinstripes next season.

As I said yesterday, I think the Robertson stuff is all posturing and they’re just trying to get his price down. The interest in Miller could be an attempt to apply some pressure as well. It goes without saying that both Robertson and Miller are excellent pitchers anyone would love to have in their bullpen. It makes perfect sense that the Yankees would have interest in both guys. But it sounds like it will only be one or the other, not both as much as I and everyone else would love it. Is one a better investment than the other? Let’s compare.

Recent Performance

Again, both Robertson and Miller are excellent. They’re elite relievers in the prime of their careers. Here are their 2014 seasons side-by-side:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% BABIP WPA LHB wOBA RHB wOBA
Robertson 64.1 3.08 2.68 37.1% 8.9% 44.2% 15.6% .288 1.79 .201 .336
Miller 62.1 2.02 1.51 42.6% 7.0% 46.9% 8.6% .263 1.58 .211 .208

Miller was better than Robertson this past season in nearly every way. The only thing Robertson did better was get left-handed batters out, which is pretty amazing because he’s a righty and Miller’s the lefty with the all-world slider. Robertson’s cutter and curveball are really great in their own right too.

The difference between these two guys this year is that Miller never had a season this good before and Robertson hadn’t had one this bad — “bad” — since 2010, before his breakout 2011 effort. Robertson’s been dynamite for four years now. Miller spent a very long time trying to figure out his mechanics — he had a 5.54 ERA (5.12 FIP) as recently as 2011 — and it wasn’t until last year that he turned into a super reliever. He was very good in 2012 (3.35 ERA and 3.27 FIP), but 2013 was when he joined the tier of relievers Robertson has occupied since 2011.

Here are Robertson and Miller’s performances side-by-side over the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% BABIP WPA LHB wOBA RHB wOBA
Robertson 191.1 2.59 2.59 33.0% 7.8% 46.9% 11.8% .302 5.61 .226 .318
Miller 133.1 2.57 2.37 37.0% 9.9% 47.8% 11.0% .283 2.69 .236 .258

Nearly identical. Miller has a slight edge in strikeout rate, Robertson a slight edge in walk rate. Miller’s platoon split is smaller. And, of course, Robertson has thrown more than 40% more innings. That’s not negligible. If we were to take Miller’s last ~190 innings to match Robertson’s total instead of the last three years, he’d have a 3.54 ERA and 3.27 FIP. (If we took Robertson’s last ~130 innings to match Miller’s total, he’d have a 2.55 ERA and 2.65 FIP.)

In the middle of the 2012 season, Robertson simply stopped walking guys. It was weird and pretty awesome. Throwing strikes was never his strong suit, but, out of the blue, he started pounding the zone and has done so since. Miller went through something similar that season though not as extreme. His walk problems were also much more severe than Robertson’s earlier in their careers:


Source: FanGraphsAndrew Miller, David Robertson

Long story short, Miller was better than Robertson in 2014 but Robertson’s track record as a top notch relief pitcher is nearly twice as long in terms of innings pitched. I think it’s pretty interesting Robertson has been better against lefties than Miller while Miller has been better against righties than Robertson. There’s a weird reverse platoon split thing going on.

Stuff Breakdown

Since they are relievers, it’s no surprise Robertson and Miller are basically two-pitch pitchers. They will both throw the occasional changeup but not often enough to be a factor. Robertson is a cutter/curveball pitcher — he’s all but abandoned the four-seam fastball in favor of the cutter at this point — while Miller is a four-seamer/slider pitcher. With an assist from Brooks Baseball, here is a comparison of their fastballs (FB) and breaking balls (BB).

FBv FB% FB Whiff+ FB GB+ BBv BB% BB Whiff+ BB GB+
2013 Robertson 92.7 72.4% 71 111 82.0 26.9% 173 125
2014 Robertson 92.6 62.1% 72 95 83.9 35.0% 209 125
2013 Miller 96.0 56.7% 120 118 86.5 43.3% 137 148
2014 Miller 95.1 56.7% 110 117 85.0 42.6% 172 132

Whiff+ and GB+ are the swing-and-miss and ground ball rates of the individual pitches relative to the league average. It works like wRC+ and ERA+ and all that. 100 is average, the higher the number, the better. Got it? Good.

It surprised me that Robertson’s cutter has been comfortably below-average at getting swings and misses, though I do suppose he gets a lot of called strikes with the pitch. Miller has the much better fastball in almost every way — velocity, swings and misses, and grounders — but Robertson’s curve is the better breaking ball when it comes to getting empty swings. Miller’s slider has a small advantage at getting ground balls.

So, I guess the best way to explain this is Miller has the more dominant two-pitch mix but Robertson has the best individual pitch with his curveball. That make sense? Curveballs historically have a much smaller platoon split than sliders, but Miller’s slider is so damn good it doesn’t matter what side of the plate the hitter is on. He’s a lefty and that’s nice, but he’s far from a lefty specialist.

Injury History

Robertson and Miller are the same age — Robertson is 42 days older — and neither has had any kind of major arm injury, so that’s good. Robertson missed two weeks with elbow stiffness back in September 2009 but hasn’t had any trouble since. He’s been on the DL only twice in his career: 33 days for an oblique strain in 2012 and 15 days for a groin strain this past April. Nothing serious or chronic. Muscle pulls happen.

Miller’s only career arm injury is a bout with elbow inflammation in Spring Training 2012. He’s been on the DL five times in his career: 19 days for a hamstring strain in 2007, 49 days for patellar tendinitis in his right knee in 2008, 25 days for an oblique strain in 2009, 41 days for another hamstring strain in 2012, and 116 days for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in 2013. The Lisfranc injury required season-ending surgery that forced him to miss the 2013 postseason.

Both guys have dealt with their fair share of pulls and grabs over the years, but, most importantly, neither has had any serious arm trouble. Miller has the more durable looking frame — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 210 lbs. while Robertson is only 5-foot-11 and 195 lbs. — yet his Lisfranc injury is by far the most serious injury between the two simply because he needed surgery, though he showed no ill effects in 2014 whatsoever. By reliever standards, these guys are pretty healthy. No major red flags at all.

Contract Estimates

Alright, so how much money are these guys going to end up getting when it’s all said and done? Based on what we heard yesterday, it seems inevitable both will get four years. Here is a roundup of estimates:

Robertson Miller
FanGraphs Crowdsourcing Three years, $10M AAV Three years, $8M AAV
Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) Three years, $13M AAV Three years, $8.5M AAV
Axisa’s Guess Four years, $12M AAV Four years, $9M AAV
Average 3.33 years, $11.7M AAV 3.33 years, $8.5M AAV

To be fair, the FanGraphs and Bowden predictions came weeks ago, before the market blew up and reports surfaced indicating Robertson and Miller were likely to get four years each. The AAV is the more important number there and I am pretty much in agreement with the FanGraphs crowd and Bowden. Using the average AAV spread across four years, we get $46.8M for Robertson and $34M for Miller. That seems reasonable to me.

The Yankees did make Robertson the qualifying offer, which he rejected. So if he were to sign with another team, New York would receive a supplemental first round pick in next June’s draft. They would not gain a pick for signing Miller (duh) nor do they have to forfeit anything for signing either Miller or Robertson. The only draft pick to consider is the one the Yankees would get is Robertson left. I don’t think free agent decisions should hinge on draft pick compensation, not when you’re talking about elite players at their position, but it could serve as a tiebreaker of sorts.

Wrapping Up

So, all of those words and tables and graphs tell us both Robertson and Miller are really freaking good. Picking between them is ultimately a matter of preference. They’re the same age and they’re both going to end up with four-year contracts. Do you prefer the big lefty with the much shorter track record of being elite on a slightly lower annual salary, or the short righty with a nice long track record at a higher salary? There’s a reasonable argument to be made either way. Let’s vote.

Assuming the Yankees will only sign one, who should it be?

Monday Night Open Thread

The Thanksgiving weekend is over and we were all welcomed back to reality today with a nice Andrew Miller rumor and a Nelson Cruz signing. Not with the Yankees, of course. Cruz reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $57M with the Mariners. Seattle actually agreed to sign Cruz to a two-year deal worth roughly $18M last winter — it was actually a one-year deal at $7.5M with a no-brainer club option at $9M — but ownership got up on their soap box and said no players with performance-enhancing drugs. I guess missing the postseason by one game while their DHs hit .190/.266/.301 this past season changed their opinion. Funny how that works.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Jets and Dolphins are on Monday Night Football, plus the Rangers are playing and I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about those games, the Miller rumor, the Cruz signing, or anything else right here.