Mailbag: Indians, Giants, Avila, Rule 5 Draft, IFA Money, Ohtani

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the last mailbag before the Winter Meetings, which kick off Monday. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)
Perez. (Al Bello/Getty)

Michael asks: Why would a free agent catcher want to sign with the Yankees? With the limited playing time opportunities. Wouldn’t a trade for a catcher with a fair amount of team control remaining make sense? The Indians have some depth, Perez Gomes, and Mejia, what would it take to get either one of the vets?

Yeah, I don’t get why a free agent catcher would sign with the Yankees to back up Gary Sanchez, unless they blew him away with an offer or the guy had nowhere else to go. The Indians definitely have some catching depth — Francisco Mejia is pretty close to MLB ready and I think he’s a top ten prospect in baseball, maybe top five — so maybe it is something they would dip into to make a trade. I prefer Roberto Perez to Yan Gomes, personally. The 2017 stats comparison:

AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR CS% FRAA Remaining Contract
Gomes .232/.309/.399 87 14 42% +3.2 $12.95M from 2018-19 plus two options
Perez .207/.291/.373 75 8 43% +14.4 $7.875M from 2018-20 plus two options

Neither guy can hit much, but Perez is the better defender, he’s a year and a half younger, and he’s considerably cheaper. I think it’s pretty interesting Terry Francona went with Perez as his starter the last two postseasons even though Gomes was the starter during the regular season. He must trust Perez more behind the plate, and hey, when they’re both below average hitters, why not go with the superior gloveman?

I have no idea what it would take to acquire Perez. Trades involving no-hit/all-glove backup catchers signed long-term are pretty darn rare. Does the Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson trade work as a benchmark here? Cervelli was a better hitter than either Gomes or Perez, but he wasn’t signed long-term either. I don’t have much interest in Gomes. Or any interest, really. Perez would be fine though, depending on the price.

Brian asks: Building upon your CBA thoughts in the article posted today, do you think the Union will ever get 6 years of team control and/or 3 years of league minimum reduced? It seems much more prohibitive/management friendly than other leagues.

The rule stating players need six years of service time to qualify for free agency has been around since free agency became a thing in 1976, so this has been the status quo for a while. Getting it down to five years of control would be a huge win for the MLBPA, and because of that, the owners will fight it tooth and nail. The union might have more luck pushing for two pre-arbitration years and four arbitration years instead, essentially making everyone a Super Two and putting more money in their pocket early in their careers. Generally speaking, MLB players do have to wait longer to qualify for free agency than players in other sports, and this seems like one of those things the owners will never budge on. They might lock the players out before agreeing to five years of control before free agency.

AJ asks: Do you think the Players should hire Scott Boras to lead the MLBPA?

I think Boras would be better at the job than Tony Clark because he’s proven himself to be a master negotiator, though there’s no way this happens. Boras won’t take the pay cut. Eric Fisher and Liz Mullen reported that Clark earned roughly $2M in 2014, his first year on the job. Boras undoubtedly clears that given the players he represents. This offseason he has J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas in free agency. Even if his commission is a mere 2% (I’m sure it’s quite a bit higher), he’d make what, $6M off those guys alone this winter? The MLBPA needs someone in charge who can get them some real benefits and not concede concede concede. Maybe Boras is that guy, but it’s hard to think he leaves his own agency for the job.

Nicholas asks: If the Giants trade Panik for Stanton-they’ll be in the market for 2b and 3b…maybe the Yankees trade Castro and Headley and sign Frazier?

There are conflicting reports about the Giancarlo Stanton trade package. Some say it includes Joe Panik, some say it doesn’t. I don’t really know. The larger point here is the Giants need more than just Stanton to contend — this a team that went 64-98 this season, after all — so if they’re going to trade for him, it doesn’t make sense to stop there. Stanton doesn’t put them over the top himself.

Even after a potential Giancarlo pickup, the Giants would still need a third baseman (and possibly a second baseman if Panik is traded), a bench, and pitching help. Chase Headley and/or Starlin Castro could make sense for them, sure. San Francisco doesn’t have much to trade these days, so maybe that means Headley as a salary dump is the best fit. I don’t love the idea of trading Headley (or Castro) then signing Frazier though. I feel like we’d end up right back in the same place next winter, talking about ways the Yankees could unload Frazier.

Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Avila. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Michael asks: Did you see Avila said his main concern is not playing time, but playing for a team that is going to contend? Do you think this makes the Yankees a reasonable landing spot. He would be a pretty huge upgrade over Romine, he can play some first, he compliments Sanchez as a lefty bat, etc.

Yeah, I saw it. Alex Avila made those comments on the radio. No offense to him, but I’m going to have to see this to believe it. Would he really pass up more money elsewhere to back up Sanchez because he thinks the Yankees have a chance to win? The big problem for the Yankees’ is the salary given the luxury tax situation. If Avila is willing to back up Sanchez but wants a starter’s salary, it won’t work. If the Yankees could get him to back up Sanchez at something like $3M a year, great. I would be shocked if a guy who hasn’t really broken the bank in his career (Baseball Reference puts Avila’s career earnings at $18.3M) is truly willing to take less to be a backup behind a great starter, especially since Avila is only 30 and his earning potential will never be higher than it is right now given the year he just had. I heard his comments and immediately thought it was just one of those things a player says in an interview because it makes him sound good, not because he means it.

Jackson asks: Can you explain the minor league phase of the rule 5, the portion where once the player gets chosen there’s no chance of him returning? I understand that Alex Palma will likely get selected and if so he won’t get offered back.

The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft works differently than the Major League phase. If a player gets picked in the minor league phase, that’s it. He’s gone. No getting him back. The Yankees lost Ty Hensley to the Rays in the minor league Rule 5 Draft last year. (Hensley didn’t pitch this year as he rehabbed from his second career Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t pitched at all since 2014.)

Anyway, the minor league Rule 5 Draft eligibility rules are the same as the Major League phase. You’re either eligible for the entire Rule 5 Draft phase or you’re not. There are two levels of protection:

  • Players on the 40-man roster are protected from both the Major League and minor phase phases.
  • Players on the 38-man minor league reserve list are protected from the minor league phase only.

There used to be Triple-A and Double-A phases, but the talent was so sparse in the Double-A phase that MLB and the MLBPA did away with it in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, so now it’s just the Major League phase and minor league phase. There used to be a Major League phase, Triple-A phase, and Double-A phase.

Rule 5 Draft eligible players the Yankees did not add to the 40-man roster this winter, like J.P. Feyereisen and Nestor Cortes and Mike Ford and a bunch of others, will be included on that 38-man reserve list for sure. That 38-man reserve list is usually plenty big enough to protect anyone worthwhile. Most minor league Rule 5 Draft picks are guys like Hensley, who are hurt and have been hurt for a long time, or complete non-prospects teams bring in to fill roster spots. I’m sure the Yankees will find room for Palma on the 38-man reserve list. There are not 38 Rule 5 Draft eligible players in the organization worth protecting ahead of him. Not even close.

Asher asks: Any thought about an “Aroldis Chapman” rule- preventing a team from signing a free agent that that traded at the deadline? Perhaps we can call it the “Sidney Ponson” rule.

I don’t see the need for one. I’m not sure who that rule change would be helping. It would likely lead to fewer trades — would the Yankees have traded Chapman knowing they couldn’t re-sign him? I doubt it considering they tried to extend him before trading him — and it would limit the player’s market by taking away a potential suitor. How many times does this happen anyway? The Yankees did it with Chapman, the Cubs did it with Jason Hammel, and the Orioles did it with Ponson way back in the day. I can’t think of any others. This seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Chris asks: With all the international money the Yankees accumulated, is there any chance they try to trade some of it to a West Coast team and get someone useful in return?

Sure. The Yankees are going to do something with that $3.5M they have left over. Earlier this week the Angels (2017 third rounder Jacob Pearson) and Mariners (2017 fifth rounder David Banuelos) traded actual prospects to the Twins for $1M in bonus money. One of those teams traded away a legitimate prospect and won’t get Shohei Ohtani. Maybe both!

Anyway, clearly the market for international bonus money is inflated right now. Matt Eddy says the Yankees received $1.75M in bonus money from the Orioles for Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez. Geez. Now guys like Pearson and Banuelos are getting traded for $1M in bonus money? The Yankees absolutely should see what they can get for their bonus money from the teams chasing Ohtani.

Here’s the thing though: the Mariners, Angels, and Rangers are the only teams that can add money. The other clubs in on Ohtani (Padres, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants) are all limited to $300,000 bonuses, so it doesn’t make sense for them to trade for bonus money. I get the sense the Yankees are going to use that $3.5M to sign prospects, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what the Mariners, Angels, or Rangers would give up for some of it in a trade.

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Assume a team signs Ohtani. If that team were to trade him prior to the season what do you think he would bring in return? Equivalent to the Chris Sale to the Red Sox package? Substantially less? How many top-25 prospects? top-50? top 100? What package of Yankees prospects would RAB give up to acquire Ohtani via trade?

Can’t trade him before the season. Players can not be traded until six months after signing their first pro contract, which means whichever team signs Ohtani won’t be able to trade him until next June at the earliest. Hypothetically though, it would take a monster package to get him. He’s a potential ace, he’s only 23, and he’s under control for six more years. And that’s ignoring whatever he might give you with the bat.

If Ohtani were on the trade market right now, his team would be asking for the moon. Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. They might even aim higher and ask for Luis Severino or Aaron Judge, plus others. Chris Sale was traded with three years of control and he fetched two top 25 prospects plus two others. Ohtani doesn’t have Sale’s track record, but he has three more years of control, and that’s huge. I feel like Ohtani for Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield would be a win for the Yankees. Ohtani is insanely valuable given his talent, his age, and his salary/team control situation.

Rich asks: How possible is it that the Boone hiring hurt the Yankees’ chance of getting Ohtani? Shutting out big market teams on the East Coast just sounds silly to me and the timing seemed suspicious too.

Nah. Ohtani ruled out every single East Coast team and pretty much every Midwest team as well. The timing of the Aaron Boone news and Ohtani’s rejection was just a coincidence. Boone did joke about it the other day at his press conference — “I called Cash and said, ‘Sorry I couldn’t get Ohtani for you.’ I got named and Ohtani wanted no part of it,” he said — but nah, I don’t think there’s anything to this. Ohtani doesn’t want to play for the Yankees, or on the East Coast in general, apparently, and that’s his choice. Sucks, but what can you do?

Pete asks: It seems pretty clear that Ohtani never intended on signing with the Yankees (and other teams) based on how quickly he whittled his list down to 7 teams. Reports indicate the Yankees delivered a very strong presentation and Ohtani’s agents implored him to interview with them, but he still said no. That being said, what do you make of reports that teams are annoyed at the decision process and feel they got “played”? They just bitter or do they have a point – after all, they could have used that “wasted” time and resources to recruit other players.

I think they should stop whining. Ohtani is making a major life change here. He’s moving halfway around the world and jumping into a new culture. Asking (not making) the 30 clubs to put together the recruiting letter/presentation is basic due diligence. Seven teams are still in the running and apparently some of them are convinced Ohtani has not only already made a decision, but made his decision a long time ago. Maybe instead of complaining about it they should be thankful they had an opportunity to meet with him in-person and potentially change his mind. Won’t someone think of the poor front offices? I’m sure teams will complain about getting “played” next time they rake a player over the coals in arbitration for having the audacity to seek fair compensation.

Many asked: Why is the font on RAB smaller???

Yes, the font on RAB is smaller. More accurately, we added another layer of security to the site and the font defaulted to Times New Roman for whatever reason. I have no idea how to fix it. If it bothers you that much, take out the “s” in “https” in the site address and things will go back to normal. You are forewarned though, that is a less secure version of the site, so you’d be at risking the general badness of the internet infecting your device.

Update: The font issue is fixed. Stick with the “https” site for our own good, folks.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Another lukewarm day on the hot stove. The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood (three years, $38M), which is fine. Chatwood is one of those guys who was underrated coming into the winter and quickly got overrated once everyone caught on. Also, the Mariners traded for Dee Gordon and will make him a center fielder for some reason. Huh. The Yankees weren’t connected to either Chatwood or Gordon at any point. Whatevs.

Here is an open thread for the night. The Saints and Falcons are the Thursday night NFL game, plus the Islanders and Nets are playing. That’s about it. Talk about anything here as long as it is not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Back-Up Catchers

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

The average major league catcher slashed .245/.315/.406 in 2017, good for an 89 wRC+ – and the average back-up catcher was much, much worse than that. And that puts Austin Romine‘s offense in an incredibly unflattering light, as he was the worst hitter among the 49 backstops that amassed 200 PA last season. The baseline is incredibly low, and he fell about as far beneath it as is possible (to be fair, he ranked 62nd among the 67 catchers that had at least 100 PA). And his defense doesn’t really make up for it, either.

As a result of this, the Yankees might just be in the market for a better back-up option behind the dish. Whether or not one is available on the free agent market is an intriguing question; particularly when Mike already wrote about Alex Avila. Given that he stands to make a fair bit of money, though, he does not seem like a terribly likely candidate to accept a back-up role. That leaves us with the following free agent catchers, listed along with their 2017 production (framing and blocking runs courtesy of Baseball Prospectus):

catchers

The pickings are rather slim, as one might expect given the value of a passable catcher. Only a few of these guys grade out as strong defenders across the board (the league-average CS% is around 27%), and Chris Iannetta was the only one to be an asset with the bat (though, Rene Rivera was above-average for the position). I’ll dig into each of the names a bit:

A.J. Ellis

Okay, to clarify, Ellis isn’t terribly interesting. However, he does seem like the exact sort of player that the Yankees would value, given his reputation as a clubhouse leader (lest we forget Clayton Kershaw’s reaction when he was dealt) and experience in big markets. Ellis is also 36, hasn’t hit well since 2015, and has never graded out well as a framer or a blocker. Hard pass.

Nick Hundley

Hundley has been an average-ish hitting catcher throughout his career, with a career slash line of .249/.300/.406 (89 wRC+). He’s also a subpar pitch-framer, grading out as well below-average in three of the last four years, and a middling blocker and thrower. He might be an upgrade over Romine with the bat, but defensively he’s not up to snuff – and I think the team would want a large upgrade in one aspect to move on from the status quo.

Chris Iannetta

Iannetta checks a great many boxes for the Yankees. He walks (career 13.6% walk rate) and hits for power (.176 ISO), and he was a strong pitch framer in 2017, with slightly below-average marks in blocking and the throwing game. His offense has been up and down throughout his career, but the patience and power are always there; but defense is another matter entirely. Consider his framing over the last three years, as per BP and StatCorner:

  • 2015: +13.1, +14.4
  • 2016: -13.8, -12.3
  • 2017: +6.1, +0.0

Publicly available catcher metrics are still a work in progress, but it’s strange to see a catcher bounce from elite to awful to average/above-average in a span of three years. That’s especially true with Iannetta, who vacillated between average and awful prior to 2015. If he is as good as last year’s numbers indicate on defense, he’s a massive upgrade over Romine; if he’s as bad as 2016, he’s not. I have faith in his bat, though.

Jose Lobaton

If you think last year’s framing numbers were an aberration, Lobaton is essentially a slightly better version of Romine, having been worth between 2.3 and 4.5 framing runs in his other major league seasons. Otherwise, he’s one of the few catchers that are worse.

Jonathan Lucroy

I have to imagine that Lucroy will get a starting gig somewhere, as he’s only a season removed from being a very good hitter (123 wRC+ in 544 PA in 2016) and a solid defender (4.0 framing runs, 1.8 blocking runs, 39% CS%). He graded out as absolutely horrendous on defense last year, though – and BP was far more generous than StatCorner, which had him at -29.2 framing runs. I would be happy to see the Yankees take a flier on Lucroy, given his high marks in the past (and his ability to play some first base) – but there are enough catching gigs around the league for him to wait for a better opportunity.

Miguel Montero

Montero appears to be in the decline phase of his career, at least as a hitter. 2017 was the worst offensive season of his career, and that came on the heels of another subpar season (82 wRC+). He also ruffled feathers this past summer, when he criticized Jake Arrieta (and the Cubs pitching staff as a whole) for slow delivery times. That earned him a DFA, and a trade to the Blue Jays, and makes one wonder if there were other behind the scenes issues. That factor may well make Montero a non-option for the Yankees; though, his left-handed pop and strong framing and blocking could mitigate that concern.

Rene Rivera

Mike summed up the appeal of Rivera in his off-season plan. He’s a good to great defender with a reputation for working well with pitchers, and he has a bit of pop in his bat, too. In short, he’s what the Yankees hope(d) Romine could become.

Carlos Ruiz

Scroll up and read my take on A.J. Ellis (which is kind of funny, as they were dealt for each other), and you’ll have a good idea of Ruiz’s potential appeal and clear-cut flaws.

Hector Sanchez

Sanchez is probably the worst all-around catcher on this list, and is included largely as a means to hammer home the scarcity of good options at this position. He doesn’t grade out well at anything, other than running into a few home runs over the last two years (he had a .212 ISO in 189 PA as a San Diego Padre, which is actually fairly impressive).

Geovany Soto

Soto missed the majority of 2017 due to elbow surgery, but is said to be ready to go for 2018. And, depending on his medicals, he could be an interesting target for a team willing to roll the dice. He has always been a good hitter for a catcher, with a career 102 wRC+, and his defense has long graded out as roughly average. The warning signs are obvious, in that he’ll be 35 in January and each of his last two seasons have been cut short by elbow injuries, but he has the makings of a more than competent back-up.

Chris Stewart

Stewart’s defense has slipped noticeably over the last two years, with his framing runs dropping precipitously as per BP and StatCorner. Given his own struggles with the bat, it’s likely that Romine is actually a better option than Stewart right now.

Contract Estimates

Lucroy is the only name of consequence on this list, and neither FanGraphs (3-years, $33 MM) nor MLB Trade Rumors (2-years, $24 MM) sees him as a tremendous bargain. Though, I suppose he would be a bargain at either price if he bounces back.

As for everyone else, I don’t really see an offer for more than a few million per year.

Do They Make Sense for the Yankees?

Lucroy is a pipe dream for the Yankees; even if he signs for peanuts, he’ll seek and find a starting role. With that being said, I think any of the following players – listed in order of preference – would be fine options to replace Austin Romine: Chris Iannetta, Rene Rivera. Iannetta would outhit him by a significant margin (and might be a better defender), and Rivera would just be better across the board.

That’s a short list, but the rest of these catchers all have a serious flaw that is not mitigated by a legitimate strength. I might be interested in some on a minor league deal (Soto comes to mind), but otherwise I’d stay the course with Romine. And I think the Yankees would, too.

The litany of below-average first basemen [2017 Season Review]

Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees had a lot of first basemen this year. Too many? Too many.

In total, 11 different people manned first this year with Greg Bird probably the finest after he overcame his ankle issues. Chase Headley is the runner-up there, filling in admirably there once Todd Frazier took third base from him.

But there were many others at first. And so let’s dive in, beginning with the person who could have claimed the job for himself if he hadn’t hit so poorly.

Chris Carter

Carter signed in mid-February with the Yankees. At the time, the plan was simple: Bird would be the starting first baseman while Carter was the backup who’d get some tough lefties as well as some time at DH. Not much glamour for a guy who’d just led the National League with 41 home runs in 2016, but it was $3.5 million he wasn’t getting elsewhere.

So when Bird went 6-for-60 in April and landed on the disabled list, the job was Carter’s to lose. And boy did he lose it!

In 62 games for the Bombers, the slugger didn’t live up to his reputation, hitting for 14 extra-base hits in 208 plate appearances, including just eight home runs. Meanwhile, he found a way to strike out even more than he did in Milwaukee while drawing fewer walks. His .201/.284/.370 (73 wRC+) line doesn’t do it justice. He was hovering below or at the Mendoza line for the entire first half.

Of course, this wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue if he was a good defensive player. However, that’s never been Carter’s calling card. He had a -2.3 UZR at first.

Carter did come up with some clutch hits in pinstripes. He came up with a much-needed seeing-eye single to give the Yankees a run in a 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Apr. 15. A week later, he hit a go-ahead pinch-hit three-run shot to put the Yankees up for good against the Pirates.

And on May 3, he had a bloop single to tie a game against the Blue Jays.

Finally, on June 15, just a week before he was designated for assignment, he tied a game against the Athletics with a solo homer in the eighth inning. After an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts game, he was DFA’d on June 23. However, he was brought back a week later when Tyler Austin strained his hamstring. This stint would be short-lived as he was again DFA’d after going 0-for-2 with a walk against the Blue Jays on July 4. From there on out, it was a mix of first basemen in the Bronx.

Rob Refsnyder

While Carter was struggling in late May, the Yankees decided to give Rob Refsnyder a go at first. However, he was somehow less adequate with the bat than Carter. In four starts from May 30 through June 4, he went just 2 for 13 with a walk. That’s a .154/.214/.231 line. Yikes.

While he’d play a little too much in the outfield for the rest of the month, he wouldn’t get any more time at first base, a place where he actually wasn’t too bad in 2016, at least relative to the rest of his performance. His last game in New York was July 2 before he too was sent packing like Carter. The Yankees traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays for minor league first basemen Ryan McBroom.

Ji-Man Choi

Ah, the Ji-Man Choi era. This was perhaps the best part of the season. He started at first the day after Carter was DFA’d, literally taking his spot on the roster. His first at-bat was an unremarkable groundball to first, but he struck gold with a homer into the bleachers in his second at-bat.

He’d hit a homer in his second game against the Brewers — a much less impressive ball that cleared the short porch in right — and that was about it for him in New York. After the second homer, he went hitless for seven straight at-bats until pick up a pair of hits — and a sacrifice fly — in his final game, a 3-0 win over the Red Sox on July 16.

Choi was sent down after that and would be removed from the 40-man roster later on. In his six games, he went 4-for-15 with two homers, a double, two walks and a sac fly, good for a .267/.333/.733 line. That’s a 162 wRC+, second on the team behind Aaron Judge for players with at least 10 plate appearances.

Cooper (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Cooper. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Garrett Cooper

After Carter was let go, Brian Cashman looked for cheap first base help and found it with Garrett Cooper, who was in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers. A 26-year-old tearing up the Pacific Coast League isn’t a huge shocker, but it was something the Yankees didn’t have, so they traded left-handed reliever Tyler Webb to get him.

Cooper started at first in the Yankees’ first two games after the All-Star break and struck out in five of his first seven plate appearances. He didn’t get a hit until his third game.

While he didn’t hit for any home runs with the Yankees, he did launch a lot of doubles. Five of his 14 hits were two-baggers while he also added a triple. He just didn’t walk much (once in 45 PAs) and he struck out 26.7 percent of the time.

Still, he posted a .326/.333/.488 (113 wRC+) line and likely would have held the job until Greg Bird’s return. However, he didn’t play after Aug. 16 due to hamstring tendonitis.

He was traded this offseason to the Marlins to free up 40-man space. We’ll always have his eight hits in three days against the Blue Jays this August.

Tyler Austin

Austin could have been the Yankees’ starting first baseman for multiple months this season. All he needed to do was stay healthy.

However, he broke a bone in his left foot during Spring Training and was out until June. He was called up to replace Carter and hit a home run in his third game back, just to strain his right hamstring a day later. Oh well.

Austin got another week of starts at first base and DH in August when Cooper went down and picked up two hits in his first game back. However, once Bird was healthy, it was back to the bench for the 26-year-old Austin. Unlike everyone listed above, he’ll be back in 2017 as of now, although he’ll likely be in Triple-A to start the year if he makes it through the offseason.

Other adventures with first base

I’ll be brief, but here are the other highlights at first base outside of Bird and Headley.

Gary Sanchez played three innings over two games at first base. He made seven putouts in seven chances. No errors!

Matt Holliday started seven games at first and made two errors. He was not smooth in the field and it would have been fitting if the Yankees had put together a Carlos Beltran-esque ceremony to retire his glove.

– Despite having 82 starts at first in his career, Todd Frazier didn’t play a single inning at first for the Yankees.

Austin Romine started four games at first base. He actually didn’t look too bad at first and as crazy as it is to say now, it was a relief to see him there compared to their other options at the time.

– And finally, the best moment at first base non-Bird/Headley edition all year: Bryan Mitchell’s unfortunate inning. Perhaps my favorite Yankees loss of the year.

Scouting the Trade Market: Scott Alexander

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Now that the Yankees are out of the Shohei Ohtani race, they can move forward with the rest of their offseason plans. The question now is what the heck are they going to do next? They need another starting pitcher, that’s fore sure, and re-signing CC Sabathia seems like the logical outcome there. Otherwise there are no glaring needs. The Yankees are in “improve on what we have” mode. That’s a good place to be.

The Yankees have been looking for a reliable left-handed reliever since last offseason (much longer than that, really), and while it doesn’t seem to be a top priority, it is something they could try to acquire this winter. Any worthwhile free agent will probably cost upwards of $6M a year, if not more, and that may not jive with the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. The Yankees could try to trade for a more luxury tax friendly southpaw instead.

One such potential trade target is Royals lefty Scott Alexander, who Ken Rosenthal hears Kansas City “might consider moving” given the fact they have to rebuild now that nearly their entire core (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, etc.) became free agents this winter. When you’re rebuilding, the last thing you should hold on to is relievers. They’re too volatile. Cash ’em in as trade chips quick. Let’s see whether Alexander makes sense for the Yankees.

Who is Scott Alexander?

Might as well start here, since I suspect more than a few of you reading this have never heard of the guy. Alexander, 28, was a sixth round pick out of Sonoma State in 2010, and he gradually climbed the minor league ladder as a full-time reliever before making his MLB debut as a September call-up in 2015. He went up and down in 2016 before sticking for good this season. His 2017 numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. wOBA
vs. RHB 50 3.26 19.3% 9.4% 76.2% 0.36 .281
vs. LHB 19 3.16 24.7% 11.1% 67.3% 0.47 .303
Total 69 2.48 3.23 20.9% 9.9% 73.8% 0.39 .293

There have been 5,225 individual pitcher seasons with 50+ innings since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002, and only four of those 5,225 posted a higher ground ball rate than Alexander this year: Zach Britton in 2016 (80.0%), Zach Britton in 2015 (79.1%), Zach Britton in 2014 (73.8%), and Brad Ziegler in 2012 (75.5%). Only ten of those 5,225 pitchers generated a grounder on seven out of every ten balls in play. That’s all.

Clearly, Alexander is an elite ground ball pitcher, or at least he was in his only full MLB season to date. He does walks a few too many and he was better against righties than lefties this year, so he’s not your typical left-on-left matchup guy. He’s a quality reliever who just so happens to throw left-handed. Those guys are great. Carrying a Clay Rapada type, a true matchup lefty who might throw 35 innings in 60 appearances in a season, is tough to do these days with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings. (Alexander threw two full innings 15 times this year, so he’s definitely more than a matchup guy.)

Current Stuff

Given the ground ball rate, it should not surprise you Alexander throws a sinker. In fact, he throws almost nothing but sinkers. Here is his pitch selection in his limited time as a big leaguer:

scott-alexander-pitch-selection

Alexander threw his sinker, a 93.5 mph bowling ball that topped out at 96.8 mph, a whopping 91.0% of the time this year. The other 9% was mostly sliders (6.1%) with a few straight four-seamers (1.1%) and changeups (1.8%) mixed in. Basically, Alexander would pound away with the sinker, and if the hitter was giving him trouble, he’d break out the slider or maybe the changeup to try to put him away. And if he needed to throw a strike in a 3-0 count or whatever, he’d chuck a four-seamer down the middle.

There are no extended videos of Alexander available (can’t believe no one made a highlight video of a random middle reliever), so instead I give you this thoroughly unexciting clip of Alexander using that sinker to get an inning-ending double play, just so you can see what the guy looks like:

It’s an unconventional approach, throwing basically nothing but sinkers, but it can work. I mean, if you’re going throw only one pitch, the sinker is a good one to throw. Alexander’s control isn’t perfect, hence the 9.9% walk rate, but he mitigates the walks by getting so many ground balls, which allows him to avoid homers and generate double plays. (The Royals turned 13 double plays behind Alexander this year, the second most for any reliever behind the 18 the Indians turned behind Bryan Shaw.)

Injury History

Alexander missed a month with a hamstring strain this season, and back in the day he missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury that was bad enough to require surgery. That stinks, but the good news is Alexander’s shoulder hasn’t given him any trouble since. And the hamstring injury this year is whatever. Those happen and it’s not like Alexander has a history of them.

It is also worth noting Alexander is a Type 1 diabetic. He was diagnosed in June 2016, so he’s had to adjust his lifestyle and learn how to manage the disease these last 18 months. “I take insulin and watch what I eat. I limit my sugar intake and carbs. It’s been different. Still learning. I’ll see how it goes. Right now, I feel good,” said Alexander to Jeff Flanagan back in Spring Training. This isn’t really an injury, but it is a physical condition that has to be managed.

Contract Status

Alexander has one year and 97 days of service time, so he still has two pre-arbitration years and three arbitration years to go before qualifying for free agency. He won’t even qualify as a Super Two. It is important to keep in mind Alexander was essentially a 27-year-old rookie this year, so he’s a late bloomer. This is his peak right now, and given the inherent volatility of relievers, it may end up he’s not worth keeping for all five of those years of control. That’s the reliever circle of life.

Also, Alexander has two minor league options remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A, if necessary. Then again, if you trade for him and have to send him to the minors, something’s gone wrong.

What Will It Take To Get Him?

This is difficult to answer because there are so few trade trade benchmarks out there. Relievers with one good season under their belt and five years of team control don’t get traded all that often. I’ve found two recent trades we can reference:

  • Ken Giles: Traded with a low level prospect (Jonathan Arauz) for Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, two mid-range prospects (Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman), and a low level prospect (Harold Arauz).
  • Enny Romero: Traded for a non-top 30 organizational prospect (Jeffrey Rosa).

That’s pretty much all we’ve got. I’d say Alexander slots in somewhere between Giles, who had a year and a half of excellence under his belt at the time of the trade, and Romero, who was pretty terrible with the Rays before ending up with the Nationals. He shouldn’t cost as much as Giles nor as little as Romero, which doesn’t help us at all.

Last year the Royals traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler and Jarrod Dyson for Nate Karns, both straight up deals, which could mean they want MLB ready pieces in return to try to speed up the rebuild. Then again, their goal last year was to strengthen the big league roster in an effort to win one last time before their core players became free agents. The goal now might be getting the best and most talent possible regardless of proximity to the big leagues.

The good news is the Yankees are pretty loaded in the farm system, so if the Royals want MLB pieces, they can offer that. If they want higher upside players who are further away, they can offer that too. I’d prefer to see the Yankees dip into all those pitching prospects to make a trade. They’re loaded with arms and inevitably a few of those guys will get hurt or otherwise flame out. Cashing some in as trade chips now seems wise. That’s just me.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

Yes for multiple reasons. One, Alexander is left-handed and pretty good! The Yankees have been looking for someone like that for an eternity. An extreme ground-baller would fit well in Yankee Stadium. Two, he’s still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’s cheap and under control for a while, which fits the luxury tax plan well. These days even middle of the road relievers are getting $4M a year, and that’s $4M the Yankees wouldn’t be able to spend elsewhere.

And three, I don’t think Alexander will cost a ton to acquire. It won’t be a reverse Andrew Miller trade or something like that, with multiple top prospects going to Kansas City. Are the Royals really in position to demand more than two good, but not great, prospects? Maybe they are, a bidding war could jack up the price, but Alexander’s track record is short and he’s already 28. Is his trade value as high as, say, Justin Wilson‘s two years ago? I’m not sure.

The Yankees may want to save their one open bullpen spot for younger pitchers, though given the way they’ve operated over the last however many seasons, I don’t think they’d let that stand in the way of adding another good big league reliever. Alexander comes with risks (limited track record, shoulder surgery, only throws one pitch) but at the right price, he’d be a worthwhile add to the bullpen. The Royals figure to make him available, so it’s up to the Yankees to decide what that right price is.

Coaching Staff Notes: Beltran, Willits, Mendoza, Harkey

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees officially introduced Aaron Boone as their new manager earlier today — that still sounds weird as hell — and if you missed the press conference, you can watch it here. Now that Boone has been hired, the next step is building his coaching staff. Brian Cashman said today that process could take “a couple of weeks.” Here’s the latest.

Boone’s contract worth $4M

According to Joel Sherman, Boone’s contract will pay him $4M across the three guaranteed years before the club option for 2021 comes into play. Other rookie managers hired this offseason, like Mickey Callaway (Mets) and Dave Martinez (Nationals), all received between $2M and $3M on their three-year contracts. Boone received a little more because he was leaving a lucrative deal with ESPN.

Joe Girardi earned $4M per year on the contract he just completed, so the Yankees are saving quite a bit of cash with their managerial choice. I’m sure the cynics out there will say that is Hal Steinbrenner‘s reason for making the managerial change, but nah. That’s just the way it goes when you bring in new managers. The new guy almost always makes less than the old guy.

Experience not necessary for bench coach

Interestingly enough, both Cashman and Boone said today they’re not prioritizing experience with their bench coach. They’d like a bench coach with managerial experience, sure, but they want a good baseball mind and hard worker above all. “Experience is important, but it’s not the be all, end all. I want smart sitting next to me. I want confident sitting next to me,” said Boone today.

Boone is a complete rookie and he knows it — “As far as the in-game stuff, there’s obviously going to be some stuff that I’m green at,” he said today — so I figured they’d want a bench coach who has been there, done that. Someone who has seen pretty much everything the game can throw at a manager. Apparently not. We’ll see where this goes. I’d be surprised if the Yankees hire a bench coach with zero prior managerial or bench coach experience.

Beltran could join Yankees in some capacity

I had a feeling this was coming. Carlos Beltran told Neil Best that it is very possible he will join the Yankees despite not getting the manager’s job. As I said earlier today, I think the managerial interview was out of respect for Carlos, and the Yankees’ way of letting him know they want him in the organization. From Best:

“There’s no doubt that they showed interest in having me back in a different role,” he said. “I basically have to have a conversation with the organization and see which role they want me to be back in and see if that’s something I really want to do after I just retired from the game.”

Beltran could join Boone’s coaching staff, or he could join the front office as a special advisor, similar to Hideki Matsui. He is very highly regarded within baseball, especially among Latin American players, and has an awful lot of knowledge to share. Beltran has been taking young players under his wing for years and it’s no surprise the Yankees want him around. I think it’ll happen. They’ll do whatever they have to to accommodate him.

Willits, Mendoza being considered for coaching staff

Reggie Willits and Carlos Mendoza are being considered for Boone’s coaching staff, reports George King. Willits, 36, played with the Angels from 2006-11, and has been the organization’s minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator for three years now. The 38-year-old Mendoza has been with the Yankees since 2009 and has held a variety of minor league coaching and managerial roles. He’s been the team’s minor league infield coordinator since 2012.

Neither Willits nor Mendoza have big league coaching experience, though they are among their best instructors in the minors, and have been considered potential coaching candidates for a while now. Mendoza in particular has a lot of fans in the front office. He’s worked with all the organization’s top prospects in recent years, from Gleyber Torres to Miguel Andujar to Tyler Wade to Jorge Mateo. This would jibe with the talk about not necessarily wanting an experienced person on the coaching staff, but a smart person.

Yankees officially bring back Rothschild, could bring back Harkey

As expected, Larry Rothschild will indeed return as pitching coach next season. The Yankees made the official announcement earlier this week. It’ll be his eighth year as pitching coach. In more surprising news, King reports “there are indications” Mike Harkey will return as bullpen coach. Huh. Didn’t see that coming.

Harkey, 51, is in his second stint as bullpen coach (2008-13, 2016-17) after spending the 2014-15 seasons as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. He is a Girardi guy. Girardi hired Harkey because they’re very close friends dating back to their playing days. I’ve been assuming he’s as good as gone because of that, but I guess not. Tuns out Rothschild might not be the only coaching staff holdover.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Yankees introduced Aaron Boone as their new manager at a press conference at Yankee Stadium. The video is above. Boone definitely seemed a little nervous at the podium, but when he met with a smaller group of media later, he was much more comfortable and outgoing. He’s a funny guy. He also talked about being able to pick the brains of all 30 managers over the years while at ESPN. I thought that was interesting. Anyway, the Yankees officially have their new manager. Now it’s on to the rest of the offseason.

Here is an open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing and there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about those games, the Boone press conference, or anything else here that isn’t religion or politics. Have at it.