Weekend Open Thread

Three weeks from today, the Yankees will open the exhibition season with their first Grapefruit League game. Three weeks. Only three weeks. We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, folks. Here are a few baseball-related links to check out this weekend:

  • I enjoyed Jon Tayler’s article on players who have bounced around on waivers all offseason, like Richie Shaffer (Mariners to Phillies to Reds to Indians) and David Rollins (Mariners to Cubs to Rangers to Phillies to Rangers to Cubs). “Every call I get from a number I don’t know, I’m always like ‘What is this.’ My wife panics every time I’m talking on the phone,” said Shaffer.
  • On a similar note, check out Dan Lumpkin’s post on the different ways the Rule 5 Draft has helped players. “Everyone started paying more attention to me. I got more chances to play and prove myself. It was for the best but I know it’s not the same for everybody,” said Ender Inciarte, who didn’t stick as a Rule 5 Draft pick with the Phillies back in the day, but received more attention after being returned to the Diamondbacks.
  • And finally, don’t miss Andy McCullough on the rise and fall and rise again of Rich Hill. Hill learned to throw left-handed after his brother literally tied his right hand behind his back, and after years of injuries, he decided to stop listening to coaches and do things his way two years ago. After a decade of failure on the field, Hill finally found success and cashed in big at age 36.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders, Devils, and Nets are all playing tonight, and that’s it. No college hoops on the schedule. Discuss those games, the links, or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Islanders, Devils, and Knicks are all in action, and there’s some college basketball on too. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. As I’m sure you know, the Patriots and Falcons are playing in the Super Bowl tonight (6:30pm ET on FOX). The Rangers are also playing right now. That’s about it. Enjoy the game.

Attempting to “Optimize” the Lineup

Using one of these guys probably won't help much nowadays.
(Using one of these guys probably won’t help much nowadays.)

Even though it’s something we will never have control over, and even though it’s something that doesn’t matter much at the end of the day, we as fans love to obsess over lineup construction. I’ve probably written as many posts about it in my illustrious writing career as I have about any other topic. Forgive me for dipping into that shallow pool again, but in the days leading up to the pitchers and catchers report date and Spring Training proper, most of the other pools have been completely drained.

The new conventional wisdom says that the most important spots in your lineup are numbers 1, 2, and 4, so your best hitters ought to go there. I don’t think I’m taking a big leap of faith here when I assume that the Yankees’ three best hitters this year will be some combination of Matt Holliday, Gary Sanchez, and probably Brett Gardner. To be fair, I’m getting an assist from ZiPS on this one, which projects those three to have the highest wOBAs on the team at .329; .342; and .321 respectively. A note: Aaron Judge is also projected for a .329 wOBA, but we’ll get to him later.

For lineup spot one, you want your best OBP guy who’s also fast, so that obviously goes to Brett Gardner. No need to consider anyone else, really, as he’s got the best on-base skills on the team and is still fast, even if he doesn’t steal as much. He can use his speed to take extra base when the hitters behind him–who are more powerful–knock the ball into the gaps, and that has just as much value as steals.

The New School (as if this theory is still new) generally states your best overall hitter should go second. By ZiPS projected wOBA, that’s Gary Sanchez. However, he also has the highest projected slugging at .490 and the second highest ISO at .235. Those signs point to him being in the number four slot to take better advantage of his power. This leaves Matt Holliday–who also comes withe some pop–and his slightly better on base skills (his projected OBP beats Sanchez’s .325 to .313) to take up the two spot and Sanchez for the clean up spot.

Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Looking to the future. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

That leaves the three spot for someone like Aaron Judge, a slugger who’s not likely to be a high OBP guy, but will also come up with the bases empty and two outs quite often. Given that, putting his power at the third spot in the lineup–he’s projected for the highest ISO on the team at .244 and a .473 SLG, second highest on the team.

This old post has a rather vague description for the fifth spot in the lineup:

The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns. After positions #1, #2, and #4 are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball.

The only guy who really fits this bill is the returning Greg Bird. Of the remaining players, he’s got the most power and probably the best batting eye. The only other option for this could be Chase Headley, but his power has waned enough that his on-base skills wouldn’t quite make up for it.

Spots six through nine are also a little broadly defined, with a stolen base threat occupying the six spot so he can be driven in by singles hitters behind him. Of the players left, Jacoby Ellsbury is the only stolen base threat. Behind him, you can slot one of Starlin Castro, then Didi Gregorius to avoid stacking the lefties too much. These guys bring a potential bonus because both did show some power last year. Chase Headley can bring up the rear, a switch hitter at the bottom to avoid any platoon snarls.

So our “optimized” lineup?

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Matt Holliday, DH
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Gary Sanchez, C
  5. Greg Bird, 1B
  6. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  7. Starlin Castro, 2B
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Chase Headley, 3B

It’ll never happen this way, but I think that’s a pretty okay looking, if top heavy lineup. If you really wanted, you could swap Ellsbury and Gardner without too much difference and the same goes for Judge and Bird, probably. We’ve gotta remember, though, that little lineup adjustments like this don’t make a ton of difference over the course of the season and as long as the guys at the top aren’t at the bottom, everything’ll end up about the same. Still, on the even of the preseason, it’s fun to talk about.

Saturday Links: Otani, Spring Training Caps, A-Rod, Fowler

For the first time I can remember, a Steinbrenner has backed off the “World Series or bust” mantra. While speaking to David Lennon earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have the potential to be a postseason team in 2017. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but hey, give Hal points for honesty. Here’s some stuff to check out as we wait for Spring Training to begin.

Otani won’t play in Arizona, WBC

Shohei Otani, the best non-MLB player in the world, will not play in Arizona with the Nippon Ham Fighters this month or the World Baseball Classic next month, reports the Kyodo News. Otani is nursing a nagging ankle injury. There was some hope he would be able to DH in the WBC, but nope. He’s being removed from Japan’s 28-man roster entirely. They don’t want to push it.

The (Ham) Fighters are scheduled to hold Spring Training in Arizona at the Padres’ complex for the second straight year. It was going to be a great chance for MLB clubs to get their eyes on Otani, even the Spring Training version of him, right in their own backyards. Now they’ll have to wait for the regular season, and, to be fair, they were going to scout him during the regular season anyway. They just won’t get an early start in camp or the WBC.

The biggest question remains whether Otani will actually come over to MLB next season. Reports indicate he will, but the new international hard cap means his earning potential will be severely limited. He could wait three years until he turns 25, make good money in Japan in the meantime, then come over when he’s no longer subject to the hard cap. We’ll see.

MLB unveils new Spring Training caps

Last week we got a sneak peak at the Yankees’ new Spring Training caps, and yesterday morning, MLB made it official. The pinstriped brim is part of this year’s Grapefruit League ensemble. Thankfully the team’s road cap is much more … normal.

2017-spring-training-hats

Well, I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy either one of those. Whatever. The jerseys, thankfully, look like normal Spring Training jerseys. You win some and you lose some.

A-Rod‘s coming to camp … twice

Earlier this week Steinbrenner confirmed Alex Rodriguez will serve not one, but two stints this spring as a guest instructor, according to Lennon. They haven’t yet mapped out a plan for the regular season, however. A-Rod’s official title is special advisor, though he’s really more like a special instructor, going around and working with various prospects. What are the chances Gleyber Torres will be Rodriguez’s pet project this year, 90%? I’ll take the over.

Fowler is Law’s sleeper prospect

Yesterday Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrapped up his annual prospect rankings package by naming one sleeper prospect for each team. He defines a sleeper as a prospect “not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.” Outfielder Dustin Fowler is his pick for the Yankees.

Fowler has the right mix of ability, some performance and youth to end up squarely in the top 100 next winter. Teenage prospects such outfielder Estevan Florial or shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are probably a year from that kind of status.

Pretty much the only thing Fowler doesn’t do is walk, and while minor league walk rates aren’t very predictive, the scouting report says he is a bit of a free swinger. With a little more patience, Fowler could develop into a 20-20 center fielder with solid on-base percentages. And it’s not even clear he is one of the ten best prospects in the organization right now. Wild.

Hal Steinbrenner desperately wants you to like Aroldis Chapman

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Eleven days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. Among those who will show up for work that day is Aroldis Chapman, the team’s new old closer. The Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year deal worth $86M back in December. It includes an opt-out after year three.

Yesterday, at the quarterly owners’ meetings, Hal Steinbrenner spoke to Bob Nightengale about Chapman’s return to New York, and, well, look:

“Quite frankly it was manageable the minute he got here last year,’’ Steinbrenner said at the quarterly owners’ meetings Thursday. “He was great. Look, he admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life. He did everything right, and said everything right, when he was with us.”

To be fair, Steinbrenner later told David Lennon he meant to say “forgive,” not “forget,” which is only slightly better. Anyway, Hal’s agenda became pretty clear after he acknowledged the Yankees re-signed Chapman in part because he puts butts in the seats.

“They love him,’’ Steinbrenner said. “There are so few baseball players that I feel can really get fans to buy a ticket and brings their kids to their game, and he’s one of them.’’

Please like my temperamental $17M a year closer. That’s what this all sounds like. Forget about the ugly stuff and look at those 105 mph fastballs wowie!

The thing is, there is no forgetting, and it’s not really up to the fans to forgive. Last winter’s alleged domestic violence incident stays with Chapman the same way performance-enhancing drugs stayed with Alex Rodriguez. It’s always there with you, subconsciously. You never really forget. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. (Also, domestic violence is roughly a bazillion times worse than PEDs, but I digress.)

Steinbrenner committed an awful lot of money to Chapman and he wants fans to like him. I get it. But dude, don’t tell people they should forgive him or worse, forget about it. That’s one of those things that, even if you believe it, say it in your head and not out loud, you know? This is a sensitive subject. Telling people to forget it ain’t cool. As with anything in life, telling people how to feel isn’t a great idea.

The Yankees have a chance to be really exciting this coming season because Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to sock dingers, because Didi Gregorius is going to flash leather at shortstop, and because Masahiro Tanaka is an artist on the mound. Chapman will be part of that excitement too. Fans are under no obligation to forgive him or forget about his history though, whether Hal likes it or not.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2012

Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Now that the calendar has flipped to February and Spring Training is creeping closer and closer, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. February can be a sneaky busy month for rumors and transactions. Teams are looking for last minute roster fillers and free agents rush to take whatever jobs they can find. Lots of small moves happen in February.

The Yankees addressed their rotation in one fell swoop in January 2012, when they acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda on the same day. They then spent much of February shopping A.J. Burnett, who they no longer needed, and making minor signings for the bench and Triple-A depth. Time to look back at the surprisingly busy month that was February 2012.

February 2nd, 2012: AL West Notes: Rangers, Trumbo, Morales, Mariners

The Mariners inquired about Yankees prospect Mason Williams during the Michael Pineda trade talks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

At the time, Williams was 20 years old and coming off a .349/.395/.468 (148 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 28 steals in 68 games with Short Season Staten Island. Baseball America ranked him the 85th best prospect in the game right around the time this rumor came out, four spots ahead of Chris Archer. That wasn’t Mason’s peak as a prospect — that came the following year — but he was someone on the rise.

I would have traded Williams for Pineda instead of Montero a hundred times out of a hundred back then. Williams was a super tooled up and interesting young player. Montero was an elite prospect who raked during his September cameo in 2011. I was ready for Montero to go all Miggy Cabrera on the AL East when they traded him for Pineda. Alas. By the way, Williams has Montero beat in career fWAR (+0.5 to -0.8) and bWAR (0.0 to -0.1).

February 7th, 2012: Yankees Sign Bill Hall

The Yankees have signed utility infielder Bill Hall, based on his tweet, “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!”  He signed a minor league deal, tweets Erik Boland of Newsday.  Hall is a client of Gaylord Sports Management.

I have nothing to add to this. I just thought the “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!” stuff was pretty funny. Hall was very excited to be a Yankee … then he got released at the end of Spring Training and spent the season in Triple-A with the Orioles. Life comes at you fast.

February 8th, 2012: Yankees Sign Russell Branyan

The Yankees signed first baseman Russell Branyan to a minor league deal with a spring training invite, reports Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Oh man, I completely forgot the Yankees had Branyan. They were looking for a cheap left-handed designated hitter at the time and Branyan was as good a candidate as anyone. He split 2011 between the Diamondbacks and Angels, hitting .197/.295/.370 (84 wRC+) with five homers in 146 plate appearances. Still, Big Russ could do this:

Branyan, who was 36 at the time, never did play for the big league Yankees. He was hurt and played only 33 games with Triple-A Scranton in 2012, during which he hit .309/.438/.655 (199 wRC+) with eleven homers. Branyan didn’t play at all in 2013, resurfaced in the Mexican League in 2014, and has been out of baseball since.

February 9th, 2012: East Links: Yankees, Jones, Cespedes, Rays, O’s

The Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any trade involving A.J. Burnett reports ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Pittsburgh isn’t interested in moving him and talks haven’t progressed (Twitter links). Yesterday we learned that the Pirates are not on Burnett’s no-trade list.

The Yankees were after Jones a long time before finally getting him as part of the Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi trade. They tried to get him from Pittsburgh a few times and tried to sign him as a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason. You’ll notice a trend in this post. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch players who ended up wearing pinstripes at one point anyway.

February 13th, 2012: AL East Links: Vlad, Theo, Red Sox

Vladimir Guerrero has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot,” tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Raul Ibanez remains the frontrunner.

The Yankees never did sign Vlad — he hooked on with the Blue Jays, played a handful of minor league games in 2012, then retired — but this rumor reminded me just how badly I wanted them to sign Guerrero back during the 2003-04 offseason. He had just turned 29 and had hit a) .330/.426/.586 (152 wRC+) with 25 homers in 2003, and b) .324/.405/.581 (145 wRC+) with 98 homers from 2001-03. George Steinbrenner wanted Gary Sheffield though, so the Yankees signed Sheffield and Vlad went to the Angels. Bah. I mean, Sheffield was pretty great, but he was no Vlad.

February 14th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Tuesday

The Hafner for Burnett deal is no longer on the table, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets.

Like I said, the Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of guys who ended up being Yankees at some point anyway. Travis Hafner was entering the final year of his contract and had just hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 66 games around injuries in 2011. He would have slotted in as the team’s left-handed hitting designated hitter in 2012. Instead, Hafner had to wait until 2013 to get that job.

February 15th, 2012: Latest on Jorge Soler

TUESDAY, 2:18pm: The Yankees have serious interest in Soler, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets.

12:33pm: Many teams remain involved in the bidding for 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The Cubs have been extensively linked to the outfielder, but they’re not the only club involved. 

Has it really only been five years since Soler was a free agent? Seems like it was much longer ago. Anyway, the Yankees did what they usually do with a big name Cuban free agent, which is bring him in for a workout and feign interest, but ultimately don’t come particularly close to signing him. The Cubs gave Soler a nine-year deal worth $30M, and while he would go on to develop into a top prospect, he’s yet to put it together at the MLB level. Chicago traded him straight up for Wade Davis this winter, which still blows my mind. Somehow the Yankees got much more for a half-season of Aroldis Chapman than the Royals did for a full season of Davis.

February 15th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The Yankees tried to convince the Angels that Burnett could be their fifth starter, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.  The Yankees would have obtained Bobby Abreu in the proposed trade, but Burnett rejected the deal because he’d prefer to play on the East Coast.

Abreu played for the Yankees before the Burnett trade, but I’m still counting this. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of dudes who played for them at one point or another. Abreu, who was about to turn 38 at the time, had lost all his power by this point — he hit .242/.350/.342 (96 wRC+) with eight homers in 2011 — and he was so bad in 2012 that the Halos released him before the end of April. The Yankees and Angels had a deal though. Burnett for Abreu. Burnett said no because he and his wife preferred the East Coast though. That was his right.

February 18th, 2012: Yankees Sign Clay Rapada

The Yankees have signed lefty reliever Clay Rapada to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, reports David Waldstein of The New York Times (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Zack Meisel first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal. The Meister Sports Management client was released by the Orioles a few days ago.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a cheap lefty reliever these days, and five years ago, they were in the exact same position when Rapada fell into their laps. He was nails in 2012, throwing 38.1 innings in 70 appearances (lol) with a 2.82 ERA (3.20 FIP). Lefties hit .183/.263/.255 (.238 wOBA) with 28.7% strikeouts and 44.9% ground balls against him. Pretty awesome for a scrap heap pickup. Rapada hurt his shoulder in Spring Training 2013 and spent the next few seasons bouncing around the minors. He retired following the 2015 season.

February 19th, 2012: Pirates Acquire Burnett From Yankees

After more than a week of back-and-forth discussion, the Yankees and Pirates formally announced the deal that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh.  The trade allows the Bombers to unload $13MM of the $33MM still owed to the veteran pitcher over the next two years.  Aside from shedding payroll, the Yanks also receive outfielder Exicardo Cayones and right-hander Diego Moreno in the trade.

And there it is. Most trades involving the Yankees these days come together quickly. We’ll hear a rumor or two, then bam, the deal is done. Some come out of nowhere, like the John Ryan MurphyAaron Hicks swap. A press release just showed up in everyone’s inbox when that trade was made. The deal was done. No rumors at all.

The Burnett trade was not like that. This one dragged on for a little while. Burnett went on to have two good years with the Pirates, throwing 393.1 innings of 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) ball from 2012-13, while the Yankees received little more than salary relief from this trade. Moreno hung around the system for a few years and did reach the big leagues in 2015. You may remember his 5.1 innings of no-hit relief against the Rangers:

The Yankees release Moreno last summer and he’s since hooked on with the Rays. Cayones was one of the two players the Yankees sent to the Angels for Vernon Wells in 2013. The Halos released Cayones after the 2015 season and as far as I can tell he hasn’t played anywhere since. (The other player the Yankees traded for Wells, lefty Kramer Sneed, spent last year in indy ball and the Mexican League.)

February 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Chavez, Martin, Rivera

Catcher Russell Martin told Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal he talked this winter about a three-year deal with the Yankees, but the discussion never progressed beyond the initial stages.  Martin avoided arbitration with a $7.5MM contract for 2012.

At this point the “no extensions” policy was in full effect, though the Yankees were willing to make an exception for Martin. Quality catchers are hard to find. The two sides never did reach a deal and Martin left as a free agent following the 2012 season. We were then subjected to a year of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli before Brian McCann arrived.

I wonder how the long-term catching situation would have shaken out had the Yankees and Martin agreed to a three-year deal. It would have meant no Stewvelli in 2013, first and foremost, but also no McCann. It could have played out like this:

  • 2012: Martin and Stewart
  • 2013: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2014: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2015: Murphy and Austin Romine
  • 2016: Murphy and Romine
  • 2017: Gary Sanchez and Murphy

Eh, who knows. Fun to think about it. I’m glad the Yankees have Sanchez now and we didn’t have to sit through any more Stewvelli than we had to.

February 21st, 2012: Yankees Sign Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have found their new designated hitter, officially announcing an agreement with Raul Ibanez that was first tweeted by ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday.  The framework for a deal was done weeks ago with the ACES client, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who pegs the value at $1.1MM.  Plate appearance incentives can bring the total to $4MM, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

After being unable to trade Burnett for a lefty hitting designated hitter, the Yankees signed Ibanez. And you know what? He kinda stunk for most of the season. Ibanez was hitting .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) on August 31st, which, when combined with his terrible defense (Brett Gardner missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, forcing Ibanez to play the outfield fairly regularly), meant he was sub-replacement level. Then Raul started smacking clutch dingers left and right in September and October. That was pretty cool. He made everyone forget about those rough few months in a hurry.

February 22nd, 2012: Yankees Notes: Rivera, Betances, Rodriguez

Joel Sherman of the New York Post doubts the Yankees will spend on the best free agent closer available, though it’s a strategy they might have chosen in the recent past. Brian Cashman believes it’s unwise to sign relievers other than Rivera to significant contracts, and the GM aims to keep payroll under $189MM by 2014.

How times have changed, eh? Then again, you could argue Chapman is the closest thing we’ve seen to Rivera in terms of year in, year out dominance. Also, the game has changed a lot these last five years. Teams lean on their bullpens much more heavily now than they did in 2012. For example, relievers threw 34.0% of all innings back in 2012. Last season it was 36.7%. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but that number is only trending up.

February 22nd 2012: Yankees Sign David Aardsma

11:21am: The Yankees have signed 30-year-old right-hander David Aardsma, the team announced. It’s a Major League deal worth $500K that includes a club option for 2013. The deal includes $500K in incentives and the 2012 option is worth $500K, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times tweets. Aardsma underwent Tommy John surgery last July and won’t be ready to contribute until midway through the 2012 campaign.

I, like many others, was irrationally excited about the Aardsma signing. He had a few nice years with the Mariners, then blew out his elbow. The Yankees picked him up and rehabbed him, and were rewarded with one whole inning in 2012. And he gave up a homer to J.P. Arencibia in that one inning too. It was worth a shot, but it didn’t work out. Aardsma has bounced around the last few years and is currently unsigned.

February 27th, 2012: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez is returning to the Yankees for 2012, officially signing a one-year, $900K deal with incentives.  Chavez, 35, will reprise his role as a backup corner infielder and DH for the Yanks. The left-handed hitter posted a .263/.320/.356 line with two homers in 175 plate appearances in the Bronx in 2011, his first season in New York after spending 13 in Oakland.

Chavez’s second season with the Yankees was far better than the first. He hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) with two homers in 2011, which obviously isn’t great. Chavez then managed a .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) line with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances in 2012. Hell yeah. He played a fair amount of third base too while Alex Rodriguez nursed various injuries. Chavez played two years with the Diamondbacks after that before joining the Yankees as a scout. Billy Eppler poached him and now Chavez is an assistant general manager with the Angels.

February 27th, 2012: AL East Notes: Johnson, Pettitte, Blue Jays

Andy Pettitte visited Yankees camp and told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, that he doesn’t plan on making a comeback. Pettitte said he’s “loving life” away from the ballpark and enjoying time with his family.

Good times. Good times. Pettitte un-retired 18 days after this report. He said he got the itch to continue playing after coming to Spring Training as an instructor, and the rest is history. That was pretty cool. I remember Joe and I were recording an episode of the RAB podcast (RIP) when news of the Pettitte signing broke, and we were both just kinda speechless. I’m pretty sure we scrapped that podcast all together so we could write about Andy’s return. That was fun.

Mailbag: Sabathia, Montgomery, Ellsbury, Wood, Pineda

I’ve got 14 questions for you this week, in the penultimate mailbag before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Feels good. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us your questions, comments, links, guest post proposals, whatever.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Ben asks: Is CC Sabathia a Hall of Famer and does he go in as a Yankee?

Right now, no on the Hall of Fame. Sabathia was on a Hall of Fame track earlier in his career, but those dreadful 2013-15 seasons really threw a wrench into things. Sabathia is sitting on 223 wins and getting over 250 feels like a must — heck, Mike Mussina can’t get in and he has 270 wins, how long until someone does that again? — and he probably can’t afford to let his career ERA climb any more. It was 3.50 (125 ERA+) prior to 2013. Now it’s 3.70 (117 ERA+). Also, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system says Sabathia is well below the established Hall of Fame standards for starting pitchers.

Now, should Sabathia actually get into the Hall of Fame at some point, it’s possible he could go in as a Yankee. He did come up with the Indians and win his Cy Young with Cleveland, but he has more top five Cy Young finishes with New York (three to two) and the same number of All-Star Games with each team (three). And Sabathia also won his World Series with the Yankees. Here are the side-by-side stats:

GS W-L IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
Indians 237 106-71 1,528.2 3.83 115 3.72 27.5 30.2
Yankees 228 106-68 1,509 3.75 114 3.72 25.6 28.6

Holy cow that’s close! Barring injury, Sabathia will have made more starts and thrown more innings with the Yankees than the Indians by the end of the upcoming season. He could have more bWAR and fWAR too. Crazy.

Sabathia has said he wants to keep pitching as long as he’s healthy. If he spends a few more years with the Yankees, preferably on perpetual one-year contracts a la late career Andy Pettitte, he could very well wind up with the interlocking NY on his Hall of Fame bust. I never would have guessed it. Then again, Sabathia has to get into the Hall of Fame first, and right now it appears his case is borderline at the absolute best.

Several asked: Is Jordan Montgomery comparable to Andy Pettitte?

A few people asked this after the Montgomery prospect profile went up earlier this week. Montgomery and Pettitte are similar in that they’re tall fastball/cutter/changeup/curveball left-handers, and that’s really about it. I get why Yankees fans are eager to see the next Pettitte, but he’s a borderline Hall of Famer, and it’s not fair to Montgomery to compare him to Andy. Let Jordan Montgomery be Jordan Montgomery.

The differences between the two are the quality of their cutter and curveball, and their overall command. Pettitte was a master at busting righties in on the hands with the cutter, a pitch Montgomery only learned two summers ago. Pettitte also had a true out-pitch curveball, and better command across the board. Montgomery has a chance to be a rock solid big league starter for a long time! Pettitte was a borderline ace for a while and an above-average starter for close to two decades though. It’s hard to compare any prospect to him.

Jaremy asks: Since Ellsbury broke the record for catcher’s interference last year – if it was factored into batting statistics (I believe it isn’t a factor for OBP), would it be enough to make Ellsbury a league average hitter?

It’s not factored into batting stats at all. A catcher’s interference goes into the books as an error on the catcher and the hitter is not charged with an at-bat, so, if anything, it helps the hitter’s AVG and SLG by removing an at-bat. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .263/.330/.374 last season. If we count his 12 catcher’s interferences as a time on base equal to a walk or hit-by-pitch, his batting line jumps to .263/.340/.374. Ten extra points of OBP. Ellsbury’s OPS+ goes from 88 to 94 — calculating wRC+ is way too complicated, so we’ll stick with OPS+ — so no, they wouldn’t have been enough to make him a league average hitter.

Andrew asks: Are you surprised that Travis Wood hasn’t latched on anywhere yet? We know he’d be a pretty good fit with us, but do you think there’s any chance he winds up here?

Based on my experience following baseball far too closely for far too long, when a potentially useful player is unsigned this late into the offseason, there’s usually a reason. Maybe Wood’s medicals don’t check out or teams are unwilling to bet on him repeating his success against lefties from a year ago. Or maybe he just wants a ton of money. Wood is not attached to draft pick compensation, so that’s not an issue. If the Yankees could scoop him up as a potential swingman, say on a one-year deal worth $3M or so, it would probably be worthwhile. Would any other club top that offer and/or give Wood a clearer path to the rotation? So far the answer seems to be no.

Wood. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Wood. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Jonathan asks: As a fan its frustrating to watch the Yankees try to “contend” when everyone knows they have no chance of getting anywhere past the wild card. If you were the GM would you have traded Tanaka and Dellin last year, essentially punting until 2018? They could really use a couple of top 25/50 pitching prospects. The system may be loaded but no one projects as higher then a 2 starter even in the best case scenario, and those are ridiculously expensive (and risky) in free agency.

Who’s to say they have no chance of getting past the wildcard? You mean to tell me the Yankees, with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman backing up Masahiro Tanaka, don’t have a chance to win a wildcard game? Come on now. Get to the postseason and you have a chance to win the World Series. ( I have no idea why people continue to say the wildcard isn’t really the postseason. It’s so silly. The players get postseason shares and everything.)

As for the question, I’ve said repeatedly I’d be open to trading anyone on the roster, including Tanaka and Betances. In fact, if they’re not going to sign Tanaka to an extension soon, trading him is probably the smart move. I also appreciate the team’s attempts to remain competitive rather than tank. Everyone loves the idea of a tear down because you can dream on the future, but that’s all you have, dreams about the future. The current club in that scenario is a disaster and no fun to watch. You could argue the Yankees should have torn things down after, say, 2013. And if they had, maybe they’d have a farm system as good as the one they have right now? Yeah, no complaints here.

Dan asks: Assuming expansion, what are the chances MLB moves to an East/West conference format like NBA, NHL & MLS? You could keep the existing divisions intact, just reorganize each league geographically. (e.g., NL East joins the American League and AL West to National League.) Plus, going back to only playing teams in your league should mean less jet lag, fewer 10pm starts and meaningful interleague play. And, just maybe, we finally get DH in both leagues!

I can’t see it. The National League and American League are too ingrained in the sport to change now. And besides, how much will switching to an East-West format help anyway? Teams only play two series a year against clubs in the other two divisions in their league these days, so it wouldn’t reduce travel that much. The AL-NL format has been in existence for over a century now and it’s one of those things that defines baseball. Old school fans are freaking out about the possibility of adding the DH to the NL even though it would, unquestionably, increase scoring and add more excitement. Imagine how much of an uproar there would be if the league tried to eliminate the AL and NL to go with an East-West format? Gosh.

Andrew asks: If we define a successful major league starting pitcher as someone who is league average of better for at least four years, do you think Jordan Montgomery or Chance Adams is more likely to succeed?

This is an interesting question. Adams is the better prospect in my opinion, but I’d go with Montgomery as being more likely to put together four league average or better big league seasons. He’s a safer bet to remain in the rotation long-term. Adams, on the hand, has the higher ceiling, though it also comes with a little more risk because he’s on the short side and his fastball is pretty straight. He could end up fly ball and home run prone in the big leagues. I’m more confident in Montgomery remaining a starter, even if he has a lower ceiling than Adams.

Ryan asks: Yankees get 90 home runs and 9.5 WAR from Sanchez, Judge and Bird (ZiPS has them at 7 WAR) And 25+ starts from four of their starters, how many games do they win and do they make the playoffs?

I suppose that depends on the quality of those 25+ starts from each guy, right? If Tanaka is Tanaka, Sabathia and Michael Pineda repeat what they did last year, and one of the kids gives the team 25 average or better starts, I could see the Yankees winning 89 or so games, which would put them right on the postseason bubble. Maybe I’m underselling the Yankees in this case since they always seem to be a few wins better than everyone projects. Either way, the club’s ability to contend this year will depend heavily on the kids. If they can limit the growing pains, the Yankees have a real chance to contend.

Sam asks: Have you heard about the new type of TJ surgery some injured pitchers qualify for, that cuts recovery time down dramatically? Early evidence shows it might even have a better percentage of full recovery outcomes. Seth Maness is looking to be the first MLB pitcher to have had the surgery & return to the big leagues. You should research this if you haven’t heard about it. It’s definitely worth a post on RAB.

Yeah, I’ve heard about it. Not every player is a candidate for the new procedure. It only works with a tear near the bone, not in the middle of the ligament. Derrick Goold has some details:

The “UCL repair with internal brace construction” – its full clunky name – begins with repairing the ligament and anchoring to the bone. A bracing system is then constructed out of tape to help promote healing in the area. That’s the recent advancement, one made possible by Arthrex tape. Paletta said he and others are borrowing from procedures used to repair ankles and knees to address an injury in the elbow. The clear benefit of this “primary repair” is that it addresses the native ligament, and thus doesn’t require a graft and the time that takes for a rebuilt ligament to assimilate.

Dr. George Paletta, who performed the surgery on Maness, told Goold he’s performed roughly 150 of these surgeries, and so far it has a 100% success rate. Thirty-two of those pitchers have pitched two full seasons since their surgery. These days of a 12-month rehab for Tommy John surgery are basically over. It’s a 14-16 month rehab now. Teams are being extra cautious. This new procedure can get players in game action in about seven months, according to Paletta.

I don’t know whether anyone with the Yankees has had this procedure or is a candidate for it — Tanaka has a partial tear, but we don’t know where that tear is in the ligament, exactly — but the important thing is that this seems to be a legitimate alternative to Tommy John surgery, assuming the conditions are right. That’s exciting. The more we can keep the best arms on the field, the better.

David asks: After looking over your preseason top prospects from 2016 I started looking for information on Austin DeCarr and Jeff Degano but found very little. Can you tell what’s happened to them?

DeCarr, 21, returned from his Tommy John surgery last June, and pitched to a 4.12 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 9.6% walks in 39.1 innings with Short Season Staten Island. I’m not sure where he’ll begin 2017. It could be back in Extended Spring Training, or maybe the Yankees think he’s ready for full season ball and send him to Low-A Charleston. We’ll find out in April. The important thing is he’s healthy.

Degano, on the other hand, is a mess. He has the yips. It was odd when the 24-year-old wasn’t assigned to a full season team to begin 2016, then, when he showed up to Rookie Pulaski in June and walked 25 batters (with ten wild pitches) in only 5.2 innings, it made sense. He faced 47 batters with Pulaski, so that’s a 53.2% walk rate. Yikes. He’s broken. The yips are a tough thing to overcome and I have no idea where Degano is right now in trying to get back to normal. Hopefully he can right the ship. He has a promising arm.

Ryan asks: Mike, were you surprised by the lack of veteran or reclamation project SPs/ RPs on the non-roster invites to Spring Training? I thought a few minor league deals would have been dealt out. Only real surprise was that Pete Kozma is back.

Yes and no. When I put together my little non-roster preview, I had the Yankees signing as many as four extra pitchers. Then, once I laid out the Triple-A Scranton roster situation, I saw the Yankees have basically no room for guys like that. They’re going to have to send Triple-A caliber arms to Double-A to start the season because there’s simply no room for them in Scranton. These things have a way of working themselves out, of course, but the Yankees are pretty deep on the mound. I’m so used to teams scooping up depth arms that I never bothered to notice the Yankees don’t really need them.

Also, keep in mind free agency is a two-way street. Free agent pitchers and their agents are surely looking at New York’s depth chart and wondering where the heck they would fit in. You could guarantee, say, Travis Wood a big league spot as a swingman. What about guy looking to hang on who is willing to start in Triple-A in exchange for a potential call-up down the road, like Anthony Swarzak last year? That guy may look at the club’s pitching depth and say forget it, I’ll have a better shot elsewhere. The Yankees have sneaky good pitching depth right now, so good they don’t really need a veteran reclamation project guy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Daniel asks: How does payroll work for Spring Training? Is it a huge deal for the NRI guys, financially speaking?

Players don’t get paid in Spring Training. Or in the offseason or postseason, for that matter. They get paid during the regular season only. (I remember Sabathia had it put into his contract that he gets paid year-round, but I can’t remember hearing anyone else doing that.) Teams have to provide players a place to stay and meals during Spring Training, and I’m pretty sure transportation to and from the park too.

For most big leaguers, that’s no big deal. They pass on the housing the team provides and rent their own condo for the spring, drive their own cars to the park, whatever. For rookies, that stuff is a little more important. Much like the regular season, big league camp accommodations are way better than minor league camp accommodations. Players don’t get paid, so they’re not getting a higher salary as a non-roster player, but they get a nicer place to live and better meals/more meal money.

Yogi asks: We’re starting to hear about the results of arbitration hearings, but I can’t seem to find the date for Dellin’s hearing. Has a date been set? Any chance the hearing doesn’t happen until after pitchers report? I would think both parties would want to get it finished and get to work.

I haven’t seen anything. I’m sure it’s been set though. We just don’t know about it. The way these things usually work is one day we hear the player and the team had their hearing that day, and the next day the panel’s decision is announced. That’s what happened with Fernando Abad. On Monday it was reported Abad and the Red Sox had their hearing that day, then Tuesday morning the ruling was announced. (The Red Sox beat Abad and will pay him $2M instead of $2.7M.) The hearings have started, so I assume Betances’ is any day now. Chances are we’ll hear they had their hearing that day at some point, with the decision coming the following morning.

Rich asks: So if Yanks repeat last year’s results leading up to the deadline, besides the obvious guys (Clippard, CC, etc.), wouldn’t moving Pineda make the most sense?  And if so, what type of prospect package could he yield?  Has to be more than Nova did, right?  Also, any rumblings on an Eovaldi reunion on a multi-year incentive deal like they’ve done in the past?

I answered a similar question last week and completely forgot about Pineda. Yes, trading Pineda at the deadline would be a smart move if the Yankees are out of it. He’s an impending free agent and it’s hard to think he’ll be a qualifying offer candidate. Remember, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the most the Yankees could get for any qualified free agent next winter is a pick after the fourth round. Not nearly enough of a reward to be worth the risk.

Pineda’s value at the trade deadline is going to depend entirely on how he actually pitches. If he repeats what he did last year, could he get any more than what the Yankees acquired for Ivan Nova? The best case scenario would be the Andrew Cashner trade. He was an enigmatic impending free agent like Pineda last summer, when the Marlins traded arguably their best prospect (Josh Naylor) to get him. Then again, Miami has a history of paying big in trades. Hey, maybe that works for the Yankees. The Marlins were said to have interest in Pineda last trade deadline, and they could have interest again this year. Either way, yes, trading Pineda would be a no-brainer if the Yankees are out of it.

Thursday Night Open Thread

I enjoyed Jayson Stark’s article on why so many free agent home run hitters remain unsigned, so I’m passing it along here. Long story short, teams prefer more well-rounded players and are steering clear of one-dimensional sluggers like Chris Carter and Mike Napoli. Also, if you’re the Yankees, why give Tyler Austin‘s roster spot to a guy like Carter? Austin won’t hit as many homers, but he’ll do many other things better, and at a much lower price. Anyway, check it out.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers are the only local team in action, and there’s a handful of college basketball games on the schedule too. Talk about that stuff, baseball’s phobia of one-dimensional sluggers, or anything else here (as long as it’s not religion or politics). Thanks.