Who remembers following the hot stove season in the days before MLB Trade Rumors? You could read the New York papers and get tidbits here and there about free agent negotiations and trade speculation, but the information came from a limited number of sources. I remember reading the Star Ledger in my high school years, seeing just a tiny blurb here and there about the Yankees’ plans during the off-season. Only when deals appeared imminent did we get full articles.
When Trade Rumors launched in 2005, it changed the way everyone follows the off-season. Tim Dierkes and his crew (which at points included both Mike and me) have aggregated the notes from the beat writers and columnists of all 30 teams, giving us a fuller view of what’s happening. The writers have seemingly responded to this newfound national attention, working harder to provide even the smallest morsel of information. In the last few years Twitter has given rise to notes, rumors, and speculation like we’ve never before seen.
This is a long way of introducing the latest in the Robinson Cano hoopla. Over the weekend the Seattle Mariners “emerged” as a potential suitor for Cano. They’re desperate to become relevant, and Cano is, by some accounts, desperate to land a mega deal. The saga took a new twist yesterday, when we learned that Cano’s representatives met with the Mariners in Seattle and might have even made an offer. Yet it’s what came next that spurred an uproar.
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik might have kicked off the fiasco with his comments to the press (as reported by Bob Dutton). “You have to adapt to the market. In some cases, you have to stretch more than you want to, you just have to.” He followed up by saying that he “always have felt there would be a time where we have to augment this club. I think we’re at that time.”
Those comments alone wouldn’t lead to rampant speculation, so Jason Churchill threw gasoline on the fire when he tweeted, “Just got a text from asst GM who think Seattle is about to make a ‘panic’ move…” Dave Cameron of FanGraphs fanned the flames when he said he received a similar text — which noted that the potential move could be “damaging.” Of course, given the reports of the meetings with Cano, people assumed that the Mariners were offering Cano an insane amount of money.
This morning George King took a fire extinguisher to the inferno (emphasis mine): “According to a person with knowledge of the Mariners’ involvement with the free-agent second baseman, the club’s ownership doesn’t have the stomach to pay one player $200 million across eight years even though they are doing the tango with Cano’s camp.” So perhaps the Mariners did make an offer. Chances are that if it topped the Yankees’ offer of around $170 million, it wasn’t by much.
Looking in from the outside, it is impossible to fully understand what’s happening behind the scenes. We can only piece together what we’ve heard. Clearly, it’s curious that Seattle “emerged” as a Cano suitor only after the Yankees met with Cano’s representatives last week. Obviously Cano and his people weren’t happy with the $80 million or so gap between their offers, so it makes sense that they’d try to get another team involved. Sensing desperation in Seattle, Cano’s team made a wise choice.
At this point it appears that Cano’s representatives at CAA are using Seattle in the same way they used the Mets. They’re trying to drum up interest wherever they can, in order to put the screws to the Yankees. Along the way perhaps they do elicit a bid from the Mariners that tops that of the Yankees. From what we’ve seen and heard, though, it does appear that Cano’s strongest option remains the Yankees. Perhaps the final contract will pay Cano a bit more than the roughly $170 million currently on the table ($188 million would mean an AAV $5 million higher than Ellsbury), but whatever the case, despite ridiculous odds reports, the safe bet is for Cano wearing No. 24 and batting in the Yankees’ lineup in 2014.
Assuming Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson pass their physicals and their contracts become official, how many games would the current Yankees’ roster win right now? I’m talking about the roster as it is today, with no Robinson Cano and a pitching staff that might be one of the worst in the league. Here’s the depth chart in you need a reminder of who slots in where at the moment. How many games would that team win?
Eighty wins seems like a good number to me. The Yankees won 85 games this past season because they outplayed their run differential (by six wins!) thanks to baseball’s very best record in one-run games. That 85-win/really 79-win team lost Cano, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Boone Logan, Curtis Granderson, and a bunch of lesser guys, which is somewhere along the lines of 17 wins worth of talent. (If you must know, it’s 16.2 fWAR and 18.5 bWAR.) That baseline 68-win team added about a dozen wins in Ellsbury, Brian McCann, a full season of Alfonso Soriano, and what we hope will be full seasons from Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. I’m just spitballing here, don’t get too caught up in exact numbers.
There are two points to this little exercise. You might think they’re an 83-win team right now and someone else might think they’re a 76-win team. Strong arguments can be made both ways, but the point is that we should all be able to agree the Yankees are not good enough to get back into the postseason as presently constructed. That’s okay though! The offseason is relatively young and Spring Training is still two months and nine days away according to our handy countdown in the sidebar. The Yankees have plenty of time to re-sign Cano and fix their pitching staff and do whatever else.
That’s the first point I was trying to make, that the team still needs to add pieces to get back to contention. The second and more important point has to do with where the Yankees sit on the win curve and the value of adding those necessary pieces. Forty-eight hours ago the Yankees were a baseline 75-win based on the numbers I just slapped together, but they added Ellsbury and now they’re an 80-win team. That’s a nice upgrade but, at the end of the day, they’re still just an 80-win team and no cares about 80-win teams. They don’t get anything, not even one of those little participation trophies they hand out in Little League. Eighty-win teams are afterthoughts.
Given where the Yankees are on the win curve right now, every move they make and every win they add to the roster going forward has a greater and greater impact on their postseason chances. Going from 75 wins to 80 wins with Ellsbury is nice but it doesn’t really do anything as far as the playoff race is concerned. Re-signing Cano, however, would take them from 80 wins to about 86 wins and that’s a huge, huge move up the win curve. Suddenly they’re on the postseason bubble. Re-sign Kuroda and they’re at 88 or 89 wins, which really puts them in the playoff picture. Add another starter (Masahiro Tanaka?) and a reliever or two on top of that and … well, you get the idea.
As we found out last night, missing the postseason can be very costly for the Yankees. Brian Costa reported the team saw a $58M decline in ticket revenue from 2012 to 2013 and they surely lost concession revenue on top of that. The value of adding wins 80+ to the ledger in the coming weeks is greater to the Yankees than it is any other club because the Yankees’ brand is built on winning, and the brand suffers in a big way financially when they don’t win. The Ellsbury signing (not so much McCann, in my opinion) shows the team is willing to overpay to add the wins they need to get back into the postseason because it will be too financially damaging if they don’t. Remember, at the end of the day, the Yankees are still a for profit business.
“The financial payoff at this juncture, coming off a missed postseason, is way more than any other team stands to gain by improving themselves by three, four, five, six wins — whatever the number might be,” president of SABR and consultant to MLB teams Vince Gennaro said to Costa. “The second-biggest problem the Yankees could have is overpaying for a free agent. The biggest problem is not getting the free agent they need to get back to the postseason and make a deep run into it … Let me tell you: If the Yankees were an 85-win team or an 83-win team for three or four years in a row, they would suffer financially orders of magnitude more than any other franchise.”
The win totals I’ve been using in this post are trivial; don’t get too caught up in the them. The point is that the Yankees were a mediocre team this past season and they got worse this winter because they lost several key players to retirement and potentially free agency. They improved a bit with McCann and Ellsbury but not enough to get back to being a serious contender. To do that, they need to add some pitching and (especially) re-sign Cano in the coming weeks. All the team has done so far this offseason is go from mediocre to bad to back to being mediocre. It’s the next few moves that will be the most important because the value of an individual win and getting back into contention is so high.
Via Brian Costa: The Yankees lost approximately $58M in ticket revenue this past season according to publicly available financial documents the team must file with the city as part of the bonds agreement for the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. Ticket sales and suite licenses totaled $295M in 2013, down from $353M in 2012, $377M in 2011, and $384M in 2010. The team attributes the revenue drop solely to missing the postseason.
“What this clearly shows is that the Yankees’ whole financial equation is built around winning. If you take that away, they become mere mortals from a financial standpoint,” said Vince Gennaro, president of SABR and consultant to MLB teams. That $58M, which doesn’t include lost concession revenue, is greater than what the club would reportedly save by getting under the luxury tax threshold in a given year. That might explain why the team has suddenly reversed course and gone on a spending spree after talking about getting under the threshold (and making moves to make it possible) for the last two years. · (88) ·
Wednesday: The Yankees and Johnson have agreed to a deal, according to Jon Heyman. It’s a one-year pact worth approximately $3M and is still pending a physical. Very nice addition and Joe told you why earlier today.
Tuesday: Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are close to signing Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth $2.75-3M. The 31-year-old makes a lot of sense for New York as a left-handed hitting role player who can provide some power and handle second, third, and left field if need be. Worst case scenario: here’s your Robinson Cano replacement. · (206) ·
Wednesday: According to Sanspo (translated article), NPB is likely to accept the proposal, which includes a maximum bid of only $20M. The player will be allowed to negotiate with every team who submits a max bid, creating almost a true free agency. I’m surprised NPB agreed to such a low max bid amount, and, unsurprisingly, Rakuten was the one team to fight the proposal. They want as much as possible for Tanaka.
Monday: According to multiple reports, MLB’s latest proposal regarding the posting system includes placing a limit on the size of bids. If more than one team places the maximum bid, either the player will choose who to negotiate with or his rights go to the team with the worst record in the previous season, depending on who you ask. Conflicting reports out there about that part.
Jon Morosi says a new posting agreement is not imminent, but the two sides are talking. MLB yanked their previous proposal a few weeks ago because they felt NPB was dragging its feet and slowing down the process. There is no timetable or deadline for an agreement. Nothing like that is in place far as we know. Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka can not be posted until a new posting agreement is in place and he is the Yankees’ primary pitching target, reportedly. Not sure how long they can wait around for this to be resolved. · (78) ·
These last 24 hours have been pretty hectic. Really the last 72 hours given all the trades and signings going on around the league that somehow trickle down and impact the Yankees. Brian McCann will be introduced tomorrow and it sounds like Jacoby Ellsbury will be introduced sometime in the next week. He took his physical today. I’m guessing the Yankees will have at least one more big introductory press conference after that, most likely for a pitcher. Just a guess. Would they have one for re-signing Robinson Cano? Probably not, but I suppose they could hold one in an effort to drive up interest heading into Spring Training or whatever.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Devils are the only local team in action, so this sounds like a Netflix night. Maybe catch up on some sleep. Talk about whatever, enjoy.
Wednesday: Cano’s representatives met with the Mariners’ brass in Seattle yesterday, according to Kevin Kernan. No word on whether Robbie himself was actually there. “The meeting went very well,” said one source to Kernan. Anthony McCarron hears the M’s are going after Cano with “guns-a-blazing” and may have made an offer during the meeting that exceeded New York’s.
Tuesday: Via Wally Matthews: The Yankees believe the Mariners may jump into the Robinson Cano sweepstakes and make a big offer, perhaps $200M across eight years. One official said the chances of Cano staying with New York are “less than 50-50″ while Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik acknlowedged speaking to pretty much every free agent available.
The headline and opening of Matthews’ article are scarier than the actual message. The Yankees think the Mariners could jump into the race but Seattle has not done that yet. I think the Dodgers could still get involved, but until it actually happens, it’s not worth worrying about. Cano’s camp is holding firm at nine years and $250-260M while the Yankees insist they won’t go near $200M. Things won’t get really interesting until another team gets serious and makes an offer. · (135) ·
No. That is the only appropriate reaction to any suggestion that the Yankees should trade for Brandon Phillips in the event that Robinson Cano signs elsewhere. It might make sense in a superficial way. Phillips plays second base! He’s viewed as a very good player! He’d instantly fit into the Yankees lineup!
Please, take a moment to review the pertinent information. The case for Phillips isn’t nearly as compelling as his reputation might suggest.
He’s not a very good hitter
Despite his reputation, Phillips has been decidedly average during his career, a 96 OPS+ in his 12-year career. Granted, the first four years came in Cleveland, where he performed poorly, to be kind. Even if you lop off those years, he has a career 100 OPS+ — exactly average.
It seems Phillips’s reputation stems from the power he generated early in his career, and the outstanding season he produced in 2011. His 30-homer season in 2007 certainly stands out, as do his 88 homers from 2006 through 2009. Unfortunately, his power has taken a bit of a dip, as he’s hit 72 homers in the four years that followed (the most recent four years).
In 2011 Phillips enjoy by far and wide the best season of his career, a 118 OPS+. Yet it appears that almost the entire difference between his 2011 and the rest of his career rests entirely in batting average. His walk rate and power were nearly identical to his 2010 campaign. The difference was that he hit .300 (.322 BABIP). For his career he is a .271 hitter (.291 BABIP).
Signs of decline
It’s easy to forget, but Phillips turned 32 last season. Granted, he’s right on the edge of the cutoff — had he been born three days later, 2013 would have been his age-31 season. The fact remains that he’ll turn 33 in 2014, and his contract (more on that later) runs through his age-36 season. As you might imagine, decline is a serious concern.
In making points against re-signing Robinson Cano, many commentators have noted the poor aging curve for second basemen. The thing with aging curves is that they take the aggregate of a very large sample. While that has use when evaluating average players — average, as in Brandon Phillips — it’s not so good at projecting outliers. Given his production and durability to date, Cano certainly appears more an outlier than an average 2B.
Phillips, on the other hand, saw his power take a dip after his 20-homer season in 2009, hitting 18 in each of the last four years. That might not seem so bad, until you compound that with a decline in the number of doubles he’s hit*. His walk rate did rise from 2012 to 2013, but it’s still lower than the 6.5 percent rate he produced from 2008 through 2011. What was once a pretty good bat might not be a good one any longer.
*He hit 38, a career high, in 2011, after hitting 33 in 2010. Going from a career high 38 to 30, and then to 24 in 2013 isn’t necessarily decline. But it looks more that way when you eliminate the outlier and see that he’s gone from 33 to 30 to 24 from 2010 to 2013, minus 2011.
Despite his pretty average bat, Phillips managed to cash in on his career year, signing a six-year, $72.5 million contract with the Reds. That contract runs through 2017 and still has $50 million remaining on it. That’s a huge chunk of change for a 33-year-old average player. People already love talking about how much the Ellsbury contract will hurt in 2020. I imagine the Phillips contract will hurt just as bad, if not worse, in 2017, and the Yankees aren’t even the ones who signed him to that deal.
Speaking of him signing that deal, he came to terms with the Reds just five days after teammate Joey Votto secured a 10-year, $225 million extension (which goes into effect starting this year). A little more than a year later he complained about how the Reds handled the situation — that is, he complained that they gave Votto, a superstar, his money before they gave Phillips, an average hitter coming off a career year, his. Yet he signed the deal anyway, probably because he knew that if he produced another average year in 2012, which he did, he wouldn’t get nearly that kind of money.
Given the current state of free agent contracts, perhaps Phillips’s isn’t among the worst in the game. But he’s still being paid like a very good player, when in fact he is average.
In the wake of the Ellsbury signing, I’ve seen more than one person suggest that trading Brett Gardner for Phillips makes sense. As I outline above, that’s not a great deal for the Yankees based on Phillips alone. But did you know that Gardner and Phillips share similar career numbers? Did you know that they have nearly identical OPS+s in the last four years (Gardner is a single point ahead, actually)?
Gardner will likely make half of what Phillips earns this year. I’m willing to bet that the Yankees can sign Gardner to a four-year deal worth less than the $39 million Phillips is owed in the final three years of his deal. True, there is something to be said about positional need. There is also something to be said about value. In the next four years I’m willing to wager that Gardner is worth every bit as much as Phillips, both at the plate and in the field. Add in a substantially lower contract, and it’s a no-brainer.
To give up anything of value for Phillips, without getting back about half of his contract, is sheer lunacy. The Yankees might, in the near future, have a need at second base. They’d be better off handing the position to Kelly Johnson. Hell, they’d be infinitely better off signing Omar Infante, who will be far cheaper than Phillips, to fill the role. Infante is also an average hitter.
Phillips has name value, no doubt. But the Yankees have added plenty of that this off-season. Do they really need to give up real, live baseball players for Brandon Phillips, an average hitter who is paid like a very good one? Paying for their own free agents is one thing. Paying for the mistakes of other teams? Only if it comes with a pot sweetener. Something tells me that’s not the mindset the Reds have in a potential Phillips deal.
For years we’ve seen comparisons drawn between new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury and entrenched Yankee Brett Gardner. Naturally, people speculated that the Yankees might trade the latter, given their $153 million commitment to the former. “Absolutely not,” according to an ESPN NY source. The source further speculated that both will bat atop the order, which might mean an ego hit for Derek Jeter (though Jeter could presumably hit second against lefties). It’s certainly an interesting approach, both atop of the order and in the outfield. Much of the success, I imagine, rests on the power that Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano, and hopefully Robinson Cano, generate behind these guys. · (167) ·
With focus on Jacoby Ellsbury and his new $153 million contract, the Yankees acquired another player last night. As many of us slept or vented our feelings about Ellsbury, the Yankees were working on a deal with Kelly Johnson. It’s a mere $2.75 million for one year, or about 1.8 percent of Ellsbury’s contract. But Johnson could be the kind of player the Yankees need to help round out their big-name roster.
During his tenure with the Rays last year, we got a glimpse at Johnson’s versatility. When he came up with the Braves in 2005 he played left field, but after he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2007 (more on that in a moment) he seemed entrenched at second base. That’s where he played for most of the next six seasons, until he hit free agency. When he signed with the Rays, though, he divided his time among four positions: 50 games started in LF, 14 at 2B, 12 at 3B, and 2 at 1B in addition to 18 at DH. That’s the kind of multi-positional player the Yankees have needed for years.
To date the Yankees have signed three free agents, and all three bat from the left side of the plate. That might seem odd for a team that got the league’s worst production from right-handed hitters in 2013. But Johnson can hold his own against same-handed pitchers. For his career he displays no real platoon split, and has actually OPS’d about 10 points higher against left-handed pitching. In recent years he’s performed better against righties; last year he hit all 16 of his homers against righties, though he did have a .337 OBP against lefties.
Johnson’s greatest attribute might be his durability. After missing the 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John, he’s spent just one stint on the DL, missing 17 games in 2009 with wrist tendonitis. Other than that he’s missed just a few games here and there with nagging injuries, although that has totaled just 11 games, not counting his DL stint, since the start of 2007.
One other interesting tidbit about Johnson is his increased production with runners in scoring position. His career OPS jumps from .762 overall to .808 with runners in scoring position — and he matched that .808 OPS with RISP last season.* As friend of RAB Tommy Rancel notes, this might be due to Johnson’s pull tendency. While, as we’ve seen with Mark Teixeira and others, teams will shift the infield on guys like Johnson, they’re less able to do that with runners in scoring position. The extra gaps give him enough room to knock through some ground balls.
*Even better, he hit only 3 of his 16 homers with RISP, and another 4 with a runner on first. In other words, he produced runs from nothing, and additionally knocked in runners with singles, 21 of them, with ducks on the pond. That seems like an ideal distribution to me. Homers are always welcome, and HR with RISP can often mean many runs, but singling in scoring position runners while hitting bases empty homers does have a certain intuitive value.
As long as the Yankees have signed Johnson as a guy who can play different positions on different days, the relationship should work. Johnson has proven himself versatile and durable over the years, traits the Yankees certainly must value after 2013. His ability to hold his own against both lefties and righties means he can reasonably play both sides of the platoon. If, on the other hand, Cano leaves and Johnson becomes his replacement, the Yankees have a lot more work to do. But that was the case with or without Johnson. At least with him they have someone who can competently play the position.