Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Giants and Dolphins are the Monday Night Football game and the Nets are playing too. There’s no college hoops though. Talk about those games, Pete Rose, or anything else right here.
The last free agent ace is off the board. The Giants have agreed to a six-year contract worth $130M with right-hander Johnny Cueto, according to multiple reports. The deal also includes an opt-out clause after two years, which I’ve been told makes it team friendly, or something.
Cueto, 29, had a 3.44 ERA (3.53 FIP) in 212 innings for the Reds and Royals in 2015. He did struggled down the stretch with Kansas City, but he also had some ace-like moments in the postseason — ALDS Game 5 and World Series Game 2, most notably — and his track record is stellar. This guy has a 2.71 ERA (3.41 FIP) in his last 889.1 innings.
Like David Price and Zack Greinke, the Yankees were never in on Cueto as far as we know. They’ve apparently sworn off spending big this offseason and have instead focused on trades for younger players. Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir are the best of what’s left on the free agent market.
5:29pm: Murti tells me the Yankees and Nationals talked about Gonzalez at the Winter Meetings last season in San Diego.
4:30pm: According to Sweeny Murti, the Yankees “briefly” talked to the Nationals about left-hander Gio Gonzalez last year. I don’t know if that means at the 2014 trade deadline — the Yankees made a bunch of moves then, remember — or last offseason, or even earlier this year. Doesn’t sound recent though.
Jon Heyman says Washington asked for Christian Yelich when the Marlins called earlier this offseason, so obviously they’re not looking to give Gio away. Considering Gonzalez had the extra year of control last year and was better in 2014 than 2015, I’m guessing the asking price was even higher when the Yankees inquired. Yelich is both awesome and signed dirt cheap. No wonder Miami said no.
Gonzalez, 30, had a 3.79 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 175.2 innings in 2015. Look at his runs allowed numbers and you’d think he was on the decline — he’s gone from a 2.89 ERA in 2012 to 3.36 in 2013 to 3.57 in 2014 to 3.79 in 2015. His FIP has been sub-3.10 in three of those four years though, plus both his strikeout and walk rates have held steady. He also posted a career high grounder rate (53.8%) in 2015.
The Yankees are said to be looking for starting pitchers under control beyond 2017 and Gonzalez fits the bill, but only barely. He’s owed $12M next year with a $12M club option for 2017 and a $12M vesting option (based on innings) in 2018. So there’s a chance Gio would become a free agent after 2017 like pretty much every non-Luis Severino starter on New York’s roster right now.
At the moment, Gonzalez is penciled in as Washington’s third starter behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Some combination of Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, and A.J. Cole are slotted into the fourth and fifth spots at the moment. The Nats are looking to add a starter this offseason and I guess they could look to move Gio to offset salary, but that seems unlikely to me.
I don’t love Gonzalez but he would be a clear upgrade for the rotation and add a somewhat reliable innings guy. (Gio has thrown at least 175 innings in five of the last six seasons.) There are some available pitchers who wouldn’t move the need a whole bunch — think Doug Fister or Bartolo Colon — and are just extra bodies. Gonzalez would be a legitimate upgrade, and the Nationals understandably want a lot in return.
Over the last three years, the Yankees have been stuck somewhere between serious contention and rebuilding. They did make the postseason this past season, so they did have a chance to win the World Series, but they were hardly set up to be a force in October. At the same time, they weren’t bad enough that scaling back and rebuilding was necessary. They were in the middle of World Series contention and total rebuild.
Normally the middle is a bad place to be, especially for a smaller market team that may not have the resources to go for it and doesn’t want to risk alienating fans with an Astros style rebuild. A big market team like the Yankees can go all-in on contention at pretty much any time though. Sign some big name free agents and boom, you’ve at least generated buzz and given off the illusion of World Series contention, especially during the offseason.
The Yankees have stayed away from that approach this offseason. They haven’t signed any free agents — big name or small name! — and they insist they won’t spend much money. It’s clear the “World Series or bust” mentality no longer exists. Well, maybe it still exists, but it’s not being put into action right now. Trading Justin Wilson for two Triple-A arms is not a move that gets made by a team prioritizing contention in 2016.
At the same time, the Yankees are not undergoing a full blown rebuild because they can’t. Ownership insists they can’t rebuild in the New York market — “We can’t rebuild here. That’s not what we’re about, our fan base,” said team president Randy Levine to Brian Heyman recently — and while I’m sure many fans would accept a true rebuild, I think they’re in the minority. The casual fan still dominates the market and casual fans usually aren’t patient.
That said, there’s more to it than the market. The Yankees are not going through with a massive tear down rebuild because the roster doesn’t allow it. There are too many unmovable players on the roster. Unmovable because of no-trade clauses or declining performance or both. Wilson and Adam Warren were two of the few Yankees with positive trade value and they were dealt last week. Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller are two others and they’ve been in all sorts of rumors this offseason.
Beyond them, the Yankees don’t have a ton of desirable players to offer. They’re building a new young core — Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird appear to be the main pieces of that new core — and those guys are presumably off-limits. Maybe not completely off-limits, but the Yankees don’t figure to move them unless they get a substantial return. As Brian Cashman said last week, they don’t do “old and expensive” anymore.
Even if the Yankees were willing to tear the whole damn thing down and rebuild from the ground up, they can’t. The rosters clogged and there’s little they can do about it. So, instead, they wait. They’re waiting for the big contracts to expire, and thankfully that will start next offseason with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez and maybe Masahiro Tanaka will be gone the following offseason. Those are some huge contracts.
Shedding those salaries will give the Yankees a lot of money to play with — I can’t shake the feeling the team will prioritize getting under the luxury tax threshold at some point the next two years — and it also frees up some roster spots. Teixeira’s departure clears a spot for Bird. Beltran’s departure clears a spot for Aaron Judge. A-Rod‘s departure clears the DH spot for Brian McCann and thus the catcher’s spot for Gary Sanchez. So on and so forth.
It’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea. I’m sure the Yankees would love to trade Teixeira this offseason and install Bird as their full-time first baseman. They can’t do that though. Teixeira has full no-trade protection and has said in the past he doesn’t plan on going anywhere. So if you can’t trade him, what’s the best best thing? Try to win with him because the second wildcard makes it easier to get to the postseason than ever before.
So that’s the Yankees’ plan. Rebuild as much as possible and feign contention with the guys they’re stuck with. It sounds simple but it rarely is. The Yankees have made it pretty clear getting younger is the priority right now, not winning. If winning were the priority, the trade deadline would have gone differently and this offseason would be going differently. They are still good enough to at least be interesting, to win 80-something games and remain relevant for most of the summer. That’s better than a tear down in my book.
“I think at the end of the day, this is becoming a young players’ game, and I think it’s important to recognize that,” said Levine. “So I think you can win — and I think you need a blend of good young players and veterans and a lot of luck to go through the playoffs.”
Four years ago, the MLBPA collectively bargained away the earning potential of amateur players. Spending restrictions were put in place for both the draft and international free agency, and while the spending limits are a soft cap, they do come with harsh penalties. Teams are given a bonus pool for the draft and international free agency, and exceeding the bonus pool comes with a hefty price.
Two summers ago, the Yankees decided to flex their financial muscle and go on a massive international spending spree. Their bonus pool was only $2.2M, but they spent upwards of $16M on bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period. As a result, they were taxed 100% on the overage — that’s another $14M or so in tax, mean the total cost was $30M+ — and are unable to hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods.
The Yankees were willing to pay the penalties to haul in the vast majority of the top talent available. They signed about four years worth of high-end international prospects in one signing period. Other teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Royals followed suit this past summer and blew their bonus pools out of the water. I’m guessing MLB and the MLBPA will look to change the system when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next offseason.
Anyway, the 2014-15 signing period was very heavy on position player prospects. There weren’t a ton of high quality arms to go around, so almost all the prospects the Yankees landed are hitters. Yeah, some balance would have been nice, but more pitching prospects weren’t going to pop out of thin air. The Yankees hoarded position player talent and those players made their pro debuts during the 2015 season. Let’s look at the early returns.
Stellar Debuts in the States
Rather than be held back in the Dominican Summer League, a few of the international signees were brought to the U.S. to begin their pro careers this season. The best of the bunch was Venezuelan SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus), a 17-year-old switch-hitter who hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with 25 walks and 19 strikeouts in 39 Rookie Gulf Coast League games. He’s a solid defender and may wind up at second base long-term, but he offers high-end bat-to-ball skills.
Korean SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.16M) also had a strong debut. Park signed out of high school and is already 19, so it’s no surprise the Yankees brought him stateside for his first pro season. He hit .239/.351/.383 (109 wRC+) with five homers, 12 steals, a 19.1% strikeout rate, and a 13.0% walk rate in 56 games for the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. Park is a legitimate shortstop with strong defensive tools, and the left-handed batter showed this summer he can handle pro pitching, especially big fastballs. His pro debut was rather impressive considering he did not face great competition growing up.
Venezuelan RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000) is an interesting case because, as his bonus suggests, he was not a high profile prospect at all. The 18-year-old saw his velocity tick up in pro ball, and he now sits in the low-90s consistently. He also has a plan on the mound and the makings of an out-pitch curveball. Troya had a 1.80 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 27.4% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 60 GCL innings this summer. He, Garcia, and Park were the standouts who debuted in the U.S. in 2015.
The Big Money Prospects
When it comes to international free agency, bonuses can tell you quite a bit. The larger the bonus, the more the team likes the player. The bonus doesn’t necessarily reflect the market — you had to offer this much to get him because another team was offering a comparable bonus, for example — because teams zero in on these kids when they’re 14 or 15 years old. They agree to bonuses months or even years in advance, before other teams get a chance to scout them. I’m not joking when I say they hide these kids at their complexes so other scouts don’t see them.
The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period: Dominican SS Dermis Garcia ($3.2M), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M), Dominican OF Juan DeLeon ($2M), Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), Venezuelan C Miguel Flames ($1M), Wilkerman, and Park. Like Wilkerman and Park, Dermis Garcia made his pro debut in the U.S. this summer, hitting .159/.256/.188 (46 wRC+) with 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 scattered GCL games. (There was a ton of rain in Tampa this year. They went two or three days between games for a few weeks there.)
Garcia, 17, signed as a shortstop but has already moved to third base because he’s a big dude (6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) and lacks the defensive chops for short. He has huge right-handed raw power and a very strong arm, though he needs refinement at the plate and is very much a long-term project. The unteachable skills are there (power, arm, etc.). Now Garcia just needs to work on his approach and things like that.
DeLeon, 18, had a statistically underwhelming season, hitting .226/.344/.336 (108 wRC+) with three homers and a 66/25 K/BB in 53 DSL games, but he might be the most tooled up player from the international class. He has high-end bat speed from the right side and strong center field skills, including a very good arm that would be more than fine in right. Don’t read too much into DSL numbers. DeLeon is arguably the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of their spending spree.
The 17-year-old Amundaray was limited to 13 games in the DSL this summer, hitting .111/.346/.167 (72 wRC+) with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s another guy who is more athletic tools than baseball skills, if you catch my drift. Amundaray has good bat speed and he’s a good runner, but he’s very raw at the plate with less than stellar bat-to-ball ability. He has power from the right side but sells out for it even though he doesn’t need to.
Flames, 18, had the best statistical debut of the big bonus guys, hitting .317/.398/.454 (142 wRC+) with three homers, an 18.5% strikeout rate, and a 9.2% walk rate in 54 DSL games. He did spend most of his time at first base though (only nine games behind the plate) because he’s not a great defender, so he did most of his defensive work behind the scenes. Flames has a pro body (6-foot-2 and 210 lbs.) and his right-handed hit tool/raw power combo is awfully impressive. He was a third baseman who converted to catching shortly before signing.
The international market is not the place for instant gratification. These kids sign at 16 and begin playing at 17, so they’re extremely raw and underdeveloped. The tools are far, far, far more important than the performance. Wilkerman and Park are more advanced than the rest, though Dermis, Gomez, and DeLeon have loud tools and star upside. There’s just a lot of work to be done to reach that ceiling.
Low Cost Prospects
The Yankees have excelled at finding low cost Latin American prospects over the years. You can go back to Robinson Cano, who signed for a $150,000 bonus back in 2001. More recently, the Yankees landed Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) on relatively small bonuses. The million dollar guys get the most attention, understandably, but the mid-range market is where organizational depth is built.
The best six-figure bonus prospect is arguably Venezuelan SS Diego Castillo ($750,000), who put up a .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) line with five steals, an 11.6% strikeout rate, and a 6.1% walk rate in 56 DSL games. He’s similar to current Yankees farmhand IF Abi Avelino in that he has no standout tool, but is solid across the board with great instincts that allow everything to play up. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Venezuelan OF Antonio Arias ($800,000) hit .235/.316/.316 (87 wRC+) in 39 DSL games. The 17-year-old is a pure projection play: he’s a high-end athlete with bat speed who is still working to turn those natural gifts into baseball skills. Dominican OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000), 18, put up a .256/.376/.365 (117 wRC+) line in 57 DSL games. The lefty swinger doesn’t have exciting tools but does know his game as a lefty gap hitter.
Here are some of the other smaller bonus guys the Yankees landed during the 2014-15 international signing period. Again, “smaller bonus” is a relative term.
- Dominican OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000), 18: .291/.391/.355 (122 wRC+) in 41 DSL games. Top notch tools, including great bat speed and high-end athleticism.
- Venezuelan OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000), 17: .298/.367/.382 (116 wRC+) in 59 DSL games. His best tools are top of the line arm strength and an advanced approach at the plate.
- Dominican IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000), 18: .256/.328/.312 (94 wRC+) in 62 GCL games. Versatile infielder who is known for his bat-to-ball ability. The Yankees liked him enough to bring him stateside in 2015.
- Venezuelan C Jason Lopez ($100,000), 17: .240/.337/.301 (91 wRC+) in 42 DSL games. Recently converted third baseman with a very strong arm and some power potential.
- Dominican OF Erick Mendez ($250,000), 19: .281/.381/.465 (140 wRC+) in 51 DSL games. Good all-around ability — bat speed, power potential, arm, speed — but needs to face age appropriate competition to really develop.
- Venezuelan OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000), 17: .067/.125/.067 (-33 wRC) in six DSL games. Standout defensive center fielder with bat speed and a knack for trying to muscle up for power at the plate.
- Venezuelan OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000), 17: .267/.370/.359 (116 wRC+) in 32 DSL games. Another great defender in center with excellent athleticism. His line drive approach doesn’t project to produce much power down the road.
- Venezuelan IF Danienger Perez ($300,000), 19: .245/.311/.382 (104 wRC+) in 69 games between the DSL, GCL, and Short Season Staten Island. Perez is a slap-hitting defense first prospect.
The Yankees also signed Venezuelan RHP Servando Hernandez ($200,000), Venezuelan IF Wander Hernandez (unknown), and Dominican LHP Luis Pache (unknown) during the 2014-15 international signing period, but I can’t find any information on them. They didn’t play at all in 2015. It’s possible their contract agreements hit a snag, maybe due to age and identity issues. That stuff still happens on occasion even though MLB enlisted Sandy Alderson to crack down a few years back.
* * *
International free agency is a much different animal than the amateur draft. International prospects usually sign at 16 years old, so we’re talking sophomore in high school age. They’re very raw, and while recent pop-up leagues have helped, there’s not much high-caliber competition in Latin America. These kids aren’t on the high school showcase circuit strutting their stuff against other top high school talent from around the country, you know?
All the players the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period are just starting their pro careers. One season — it’s not even a full season, these guys played in short season leagues this year and are lucky to have 60 games under their belt — doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You’ve got to start somewhere though. That no one suffered a catastrophic injury or went through a growth spurt that sapped their athleticism makes year one a success.
2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees made two trades at the Winter Meetings. First they acquired Starlin Castro from the Cubs for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan. Then they sent Justin Wilson to the Tigers for minor league righties Luis Cessa and Chad Green.
- Here are our Winter Meetings open threads: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The Yankees were connected to Jose Fernandez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Flowers, Vincent Velasquez, and Marcell Ozuna, among others. The Dodgers and Astros were among the teams interested in Andrew Miller.
- The Yankees re-signed Domingo German and Diego Moreno to minor league contracts. They did not take anyone in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft but did lose outfielder Jake Cave and lefty Evan Rutckyj.
- Carlos Beltran seemed to indicate he may retire following next season.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
- Baseball is flush with cash right now. Just look at the spending this offseason. Deals worth $100M+ are commonplace and $200M+ deals are happening more and more often. Jared Diamond writes that the days of ever-increasing contracts may soon come to a halt because these monster television contracts will become a thing of the past as more people unplug and rid themselves of cable. Baseball will have to find a way to make up the lost revenue.
- Scott Miller’s piece on Yasiel Puig is a must read. Puig has become more than a distraction, he’s become something of a pariah in the clubhouse, so much so that some say his teammates want him gone. There are a bunch of damning anonymous quotes — going anonymous for something like this is kinda gutless, if you ask me — and anecdotes. It’s not just showing up late to the ballpark and stuff like that. Puig’s seen as a real bad dude.
- Remember Floyd Youmans? I don’t, but he pitched with the Expos and Phillies in the late-1980s. He was part of the trade that sent Gary Carter to the Mets. Youmans, now 51, had some addiction issues and was pretty much out of baseball by 1989. As Pedro Moura writes, Youmans now drives for Uber and desperately misses the game. “I can’t make this feeling go away. But it’s OK for me to feel that way, because I love the game. I’m not gonna go off the deep end,” he said.
Friday: Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers and Devils are playing and that’s pretty much it. There’s no college hoops on the schedule tonight. Talk about those games or anything else.
Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Army-Navy game is on right now, plus all of the local hockey and basketball teams will be in action except the Devils. There’s a while lotta college basketball on too. Enjoy.
Sunday: This is the open thread for the final time this weekend. You’ve got the afternoon slate of football plus the Patriots and Texans as the late NFL game. The Devils and Islanders are playing (each other) and there’s some college basketball on as well. Have at it.