Weekend Open Thread

Six weeks from today, pitchers and catchers will officially report to Spring Training for the 2015 season. It seems so close and yet so far at the same time. Here are the weekend links:

  • My pal Carson Cistulli put together a post looking for the next Garrett Richards, meaning a prospect with big time velocity, very good control, and no changeup. This is actually a follow-up to Carson’s work in 2012 looking for the next Michael Pineda — another big velocity, very good control, no changeup guy — which cranked out Richards as the next Pineda. There are no Yankees prospects in his year’s results but it’s still a fun study.
  • In a two-part series (part one, part two), Noah Baron looked at ways to try to improve fWAR, specifically by using FIP-based park factors and what amount to division factors. His work shows fWAR is overvaluing AL pitchers and undervaluing NL pitchers, by as much as 5%.
  • Jeff Wiser wrote about players only elite skill is base-running, like Eric Young Jr. and Emilio Bonifacio. Those types of players tend to be overvalued and given more playing time than they deserve, but there is a place for them on some rosters.

Friday: This is your open thread for the night. The Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about anything and everything right here.

Saturday: Use this as your open thread again. The NFL playoffs are in full swing — the Ravens and Patriots are playing right now (on NBC), and later tonight the Panthers and Seahawks play (8pm ET on FOX). The Knicks already lost but tonight the Nets, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Sunday: This is the open thread one last time. The Colts and Broncos are playing right now (on CBS) and there’s also some college basketball, but that’s it. Have at it.

Curry: Yankees to name Joe Espada infield coach

(Steve Mitchell/Getty)
(Steve Mitchell/Getty)

In addition to naming Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell their new hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, respectively, the Yankees are also expected to name Joe Espada their new infield coach, reports Jack Curry. The hiring is not yet official but it’s only a matter of time.

It’s unclear if Espada will also take over as the team’s first base coach — Mick Kelleher had served as New York’s infield and first base coach these last several years. There was some talk the Yankees would move some coaches around, so it could be that Espada will fill another role with someone else taking over at first base. We’ll see.

Espada, 39, joined the Yankees as a special assistant to Brian Cashman last year. He had been the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 and also spent several years in Florida’s minor league system as a hitting coach and infield coordinator. Espada’s playing career spanned ten seasons in the minors but he never did reach the show.

With Espada, Pentland, and Cockrell now on board, the Yankees have fill out their coaching staff for the 2015 season. We just have to see if Espada is going to be the first base coach as well. I suppose he could be taking over as third base coach with Robbie Thomson moving over to first base. We’ll find out soon enough.

Curry: Yankees expected to name Jeff Pentland hitting coach, Alan Cockrell assistant hitting coach

Pentland. (Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

According to Jack Curry, the Yankees are expected to name Jeff Pentland their new hitting coach and Alan Cockrell their new assistant hitting coach. This is the first time the team will employ an assistant hitting coach, which is a relatively new fad around the league. No word on a first base coach or when an official announcement will be made.

Pentland, 68, was first mentioned as a candidate last month. He has a lot of connections to people with the Yankees — he was the Royals hitting coach when Tony Pena was the manager, and he was the Cubs hitting coach when Joe Girardi played there and Larry Rothschild was the pitching coach. Jim Hendry, who is a special assistant to Brian Cashman, was also in Chicago’s front office while Pentland was there.

Pentland is a veteran hitting coach who started out on the UC Riverside and Arizona State coaching staffs before working his way up through the minors and to the big leagues. He has been a hitting coach with the Marlins (1996), Cubs (1997-2002), Royals (2003-05), Mariners (2005-08), and Dodgers (2010-11) over the years. He spent the 2014 season as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Marlins.

Cockrell, 52, was the Rockies hitting coach from 2006-08, so he was part of their trip to the 2007 World Series. He then replaced Pentland as the Mariners hitting coach and held the position from 2009-10. Cockrell spent 2011-12 as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Diamondbacks and was most recently working as a roving hitting coordinator in the Yankees farm system, so he’s being promoted from within. He played nine games in MLB with the 1996 Rockies before getting into coaching.

Curry says the Yankees were impressed with both Pentland and Cockrell during their interviews and are “very comfortable” with having two hitting coaches. The Yankees fired former hitting coach Kevin Long three months and one day ago, so they took their time coming up with his replacement. They still need to replace Mick Kelleher at first base coach, and reports say they’ve been talking to former Yankees player and coach Willie Randolph.

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton announce coaching staffs

Thames is movin' on up. (Times of Trenton)
Thames is movin’ on up. (Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have yet to hire a new hitting coach and first base coach, but they have finalized the coaching staffs for their top two minor league affiliates. They were officially announced a few days ago. There was quite a bit a turnover — which isn’t uncommon at the minor league level —  and some of it appears to have long-term big league implications. Here are the new staffs:

Triple-A Scranton

Manager: Dave Miley
Hitting Coach: Marcus Thames
Pitching Coach: Scott Aldred
Defensive Coach: Justin Tordi
Trainers: Darren London (head trainer) and Lee Tressell (strength and conditioning)

Miley, Aldred, and London are all returning. Miley has been managing New York’s top farm team since 2006, when they were still affiliated with the Columbus Clippers. Aldred was considered for the big league pitching coach job a few years ago before Larry Rothschild was hired. Tordi was the first base and bench coach with Low-A Charleston last summer.

The most notable name here is Thames, who was said to be a candidate for the big league hitting coach job earlier this offseason. In fact, at one point it was erroneously reported he would take over as the team’s assistant hitting coach, but obviously that isn’t the case. Thames was the hitting coach for High-A Tampa in 2013 and Double-A Trenton in 2014, so he’s moving up another level. He has a lot of supporters in the organization and it appears the team is grooming him for an MLB coaching job in the future, perhaps as soon as 2016. Maybe that whole assistant hitting coach report thing was a year early.

Double-A Trenton

Manager: Al Pedrique
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Defensive Coach: Michel Hernandez
Trainers: Lee Meyer (head trainer) and Orlando Crance (strength and conditioning)

Hernandez, Meyer and Crance are all returning to the team. Rosado is joining the Thunder after spending the last four seasons as a pitching coach with one of the team’s two rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliates.

Pilittere, who longtime RAB readers will remember as a player from Down on the Farm, was High-A Tampa’s hitting coach last year, Low-A Charleston’s hitting the coach the year before that, and the Rookie GCL Yanks hitting coach the year before that. The scouting report on him as a player always said he was smart guy with top notch makeup, which made him a good coaching candidate down the line. Like Thames, Pilittere seems to be a faster riser up the coaching ranks.

Pedrique is replacing longtime Thunder skipper Tony Franklin, who had been managing the team since 2007. Pedrique has some big league managerial and coaching experience — he spent 83 games as interim manager of the awful Diamondbacks in 2004 — and has been with the organization since 2013. He managed Low-A Charleston in 2013 and High-A Tampa in 2014.

Franklin, meanwhile, will manage the Pulaski Yankees in 2015, the organization’s new rookie ball affiliate, according to George King (subs. req’d). King notes that under new player development head Gary Denbo, the Yankees want to put veteran managers at the lower levels of the minors to work with their youngest prospects. I like the idea. I have no idea if it’ll make any real difference, but I like it.

The Yankees are not on Ryan Howard’s no-trade list but Ryan Howard should be on the Yankees’ no-trade list

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

A few days ago, friend of RAB Mike Petriello tried to find a home for Ryan Howard, who the Phillies have been shopping in earnest since the trade deadline. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. went so far as to tell Howard the team would be better off “not with him but without him.” He really said that. Ouch. Needless to say, Petriello had trouble finding a trade fit.

Howard is owed $60M over the next two years and he’s hit 48 homers with a 98 OPS+ over the last three years, so he still has some power, but he’s useless against lefties and in the field. The Phillies are willing to eat a ton of money to move Howard soon, specifically before his ten-and-five rights kick in on May 2nd. Until then, he has a 21-team no-trade clause. The Yankees are one of the nine teams the Phillies can trade Howard to without his consent:

Of course, the fact the Yankees are not included on Howard’s no-trade list means very little. It takes two to tango and the Yankees have no reason to pursue him. Maybe you could have argued Howard would have made sense as a part-time DH and part-time first baseman earlier in the offseason, but Garrett Jones fills that role now. There’s simply no place for him on the roster.

The only possible way Howard would fit with the Yankees is if Philadelphia took Alex Rodriguez in return. That’s it. Trade Mark Teixeira for Howard and you’re getting a worse player with a bigger contract. The money owed to A-Rod and Howard is basically a wash — A-Rod still has $61M left on his deal — but Rodriguez’s deal still has three years remaining. Howard has two. The motivation would be to get rid of the bad contract earlier. That’s it.

For obvious reasons, A-Rod for Howard ain’t happening. The Phillies want to dump Howard badly but not that badly. They won’t take on a broken down third baseman — especially since they’re in the non-DH league — with one extra year left on his contract to get rid of Howard, especially when A-Rod comes with so much baggage. Either way, at one point in time maybe Howard would have made sense for the Yankees. Maybe. Now he definitely doesn’t.

Cuban Free Agent Notes: Moncada, Lopez, Olivera

Got some updates to pass along on three Cuban free agents the Yankees are said to be pursuing. Maybe they’ll actually sign one of these guys. Could be cool.

Yankees are “heavy favorites” for Yoan Moncada

According to Kiley McDaniel, the Yankees and Red Sox are currently the “heavy favorites” for 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada. That’s consistent with everything we’ve heard the last few weeks and months. Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB but Jesse Sanchez says he still hasn’t been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he can’t sign yet. Private workouts are coming later this month.

In order for the Yankees to have a shot at signing Moncada, he needs to be unblocked by the OFAC before the end of the current international signing period on June 15th. (Really well before that so they have to time to negotiate.) As a result of their massive international spending spree last summer, the Yankees won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, and that simply won’t be enough to get Moncada. He’s expected to receive a $30M to $40M bonus, which will be taxed at 100% no matter which teams signs him.

Also, make sure you check out the video embedded at the top of post. It’s a part of a recent documentary about baseball in Cuba called El Trogon. The clip above is video of Moncada with Ben Badler providing commentary about his skills and all that sort of stuff. It’s basically a video scouting report. Make sure you check it out. By all accounts, Moncada is a budding star.

Yoan Lopez now able to sign, Yankees interested

Right-hander Yoan Lopez is now free to sign after being unblocked by the OFAC and declared a free agent by MLB, according to Sanchez. The 21-year-old is expected to sign before Spring Training and the Yankees are one of several teams to “express strong interest” in Lopez. Here’s a scouting report from Sanchez:

Lopez throws a cut fastball, a change, a curve and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range. In Cuba, Lopez played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island’s top league. He sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.

Because of his age, Lopez will be subject to the international spending restrictions, meaning the Yankees can sign him for any amount prior to June 15th. After that, they can only offer $300,000. I’m guessing that won’t get it done. That doesn’t figure to be a problem since Lopez seems likely to sign within the next few weeks.

Lopez held a showcase for teams in November and has participated in private workouts the last few weeks. The consensus seems to be that he is not quite MLB ready and will need at least some time in the minors, so Lopez isn’t someone who can step in and help New York’s shaky rotation right away. That doesn’t mean he isn’t worth signing, of course. Sign all the Yoans!

First showcases scheduled for Hector Olivera

Third baseman Hector Olivera will hold his first showcase for teams later this month, at the Giants’ academy in the Dominican Republic on January 21st and 22nd, according to Badler. Olivera has established residency in Haiti but has not been unblocked by the OFAC or declared a free agent by MLB. Since he will turn 30 in April, he is not subject to the international spending rules.

The Yankees are among the teams connected to Olivera, though that was reported before they re-signed Stephen Drew. There isn’t a spot on the roster for another infielder now, and I doubt Olivera is looking to go to Triple-A. The Yankees should be focusing on the 19-year-old Moncada and the 21-year-old Lopez. Olivera is expected to be a solid player, not a star, and at his age he’s simply a lower priority for New York.

MLB Notes: Pitch Clocks, Domestic Abuse Policy, Umps

Mark Appel and thepitch count in the AzFL. (Presswire)
Mark Appel and the pitch clock at Salt River. (Presswire)

Got some general MLB notes to pass along this Friday afternoon. Believe it or not, the league also has a bunch of official business to take care of each offseason. It ain’t all trades and free agent signings.

MLB unlikely to implement pitch clocks for 2015

After testing a 20-second pitch clock at Salt River Fields in the Arizona Fall League a few weeks ago, it is “highly unlikely” MLB will adopt the system for the 2015 season, according to Jon Morosi. Games with the pitch clock at Salt River averaged two hours and 39 minutes per 77 plate appearances (average number in an MLB game) this fall after averaging two hours and 52 minutes last year.

MLB tested several other pace of game rule changes in the AzFL — batters couldn’t step out of the box, no-pitch intentional walks, etc. — and those will be voted on next week at the quarterly owners meetings in Arizona. The owners will also look at requiring managers to call for instant replay more quickly. I never did like the idea of a pitch clock, but I’m all for MLB improving the pace of play. Games take way too long.

MLB, MLBPA discussing domestic violence policy

MLB and the MLBPA have been discussing parameters for a domestic above policy these last few months and will meet again this month, reports Morosi. The two side are likely to hammer out an agreement and formally announce new protocols before the start of Spring Training. It’s unclear what the discipline will look like at this point.

At the moment, domestic violence cases are handled through a jointly administered treatment program. In the wake of the Ray Rice case, the NFL’s policy calls for a six-game suspension without pay for first-time offenders. That’s the equivalent of 60 games in MLB. (First-time offenders get 80 games for PEDs.) It’s no surprise MLB and MLBPA want to get an agreement in place before the season. Shame it took something the Rice case to put the wheels in motion.

MLB, umpires’ union agree to new five-year contract

Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLBPA won’t expire until after the 2016 season, but MLB’s agreement with the umpires expired this offseason. According to the Associated Press, MLB and the World Umpires Association agreed to a new five-year contract before their previous deal expired on December 31st.

No word on the terms or anything, but Jon Heyman had previous reported umpires were looking to be paid like “low-level players,” meaning $500,000 or so per season. Under the previous agreement, umps made up to $300,000 per year with a $357 per diem (!) depending on years of experience. I’m glad MLB and the umpires knocked this out. As much as we all complain about the umpires, replacement umps would have been a million times worse.