Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Islanders are playing, and there are a few college basketball games as well. I am so ready for baseball to come back. Please hurry. Talk about anything except religion or politics here.
Spring Training is three weeks away and that means it is top 100 prospect season. All the usual publications will be updating their lists in the coming days and weeks.
Earlier today the gang at Baseball America released their 2018 top 100 prospects list, which is topped by Braves OF Ronald Acuna. Angels RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani is second and Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. is third. Six Yankees made the top 100:
6. SS Gleyber Torres
38. OF Estevan Florial
41. LHP Justus Sheffield
59. 3B Miguel Andujar
77. RHP Albert Abreu
81. RHP Chance Adams
Athletics SS Jorge Mateo (No. 64), Marlins RHP Jorge Guzman (No. 87), and Athletics OF Dustin Fowler (No. 88) all made the top 100 as well. Mateo and Fowler went to the A’s in the Sonny Gray trade, and Guzman went to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. White Sox OF Blake Rutherford, the headliner in the David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade, did not make the top 100.
I always find it amusing when the prospects are in different orders in the top 100 list and the team top ten list. When Baseball America posted their top ten Yankees prospects last month, Adams was ahead of Andujar and Abreu. Now he’s behind them in the top 100. Such is life when one person ranks team prospects and a group of people rank top 100 lists. That’s okay. Differences of opinion are good.
Anyway, the Braves have eight top 100 prospects and are the only team with more than the Yankees. Considering Mateo, Guzman, and Fowler came out of the system — Mateo and Fowler were originally signed/drafted by the Yankees, Guzman came over in the Brian McCann trade — that’s some collection of Yankees-bred talent in the top 100. It doesn’t even include OF Clint Frazier, who exceeded the rookie threshold by four at-bats last year and is no longer prospect eligible. Good times in the farm system.
The other day, Steven wrote about the rationale of trading David Robertson to clear some salary room to fit Yu Darvish’s hypothetical contract under the $197 million luxury tax threshold. Today, I’m here to make a case for trading away another established veteran player with a +$10M salary: Brett Gardner.
We’ve talked about the Yankees’ commitment to stick to the current luxury tax plan all winter. As of this moment, the Yankees stand at $175 million for 2018, which gives them around $22 million of wiggle room. Trading away ~$10 million worth of of room will comfortably fit another big contract. It’s the ol’ subtract-to-add situation.
While Gardner is penciled in as a big part of the 2018 Yankees, he is not untouchable. Darvish can put the Yankee rotation in a solid spot for the next few years. This idea does not have my 100% endorsement, but there are reasons why it would make sense.
1. Gardner’s value. There are two sides here. First off, Gardner had one of his finest seasons in the majors in 2017, hitting .264/.350/.428 with 21 home runs, which is good for a 108 wRC+ and a 3.8 fWAR. Among outfielders with qualifying amount of plate appearances, Gardner ranks 16th in the majors in fWAR, which is pretty good. He is definitely a starter on any team. While the fielding metrics have not been as high on him as they used to be, he still rates as a good fielder and, of course, he brings speed on the bases.
While there are teams out there with OF needs, Gardner is currently a good enough player that he could go to a team with three spots all set and take one of the jobs. He’s also set to be paid $11 million in 2018, which is lower than what he would get in open market if he were a free agent.
What am I getting at? It’s that Gardner would be more than just a salary dump. He could net the Yanks something interesting in return while the Yankees clear $11 million in the payroll.
There are two things that limit his value: 1) his age, and 2) only one year left in his contract. If Gardner put up a season he did in 2017 when he was 27, Cashman’s phone would be buzzing quite a bit. Gardner is currently 34 and will turn 35 in August. Studies have shown that speedy guys tend to age more gracefully but as you have seen with Jacoby Ellsbury, it is not always a guarantee.
As you may know, 2018 is the last year of Gardener’s four-year, $52 million contract. There is a $12.5 million team option for 2019, by the way. Basically, whoever has him has a choice to keep Gardner for another season, which helps his overall value. While Gardner is a very good MLB player, teams will be wary of his age and for how long they can have him. At the same time … he is much more tradeable than Ellsbury.
2. It could clear the OF logjam. So, at this moment, the Yankees have four sure everyday guys in Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Gardner, and two bench guys in Ellsbury and Clint Frazier (don’t forget about Jabari Blash either). Depth is important and the Yankees have a lot of outfielders. Both of these can be true.
Let’s talk about the two bench guys here though. Ellsbury, with the decline he has shown since joining the Yankees, has become somewhat of an albatross and the team has not made it much of a secret they want to trade him away. At the same time … he’s not awful. He may be average at best, but he’s capable of good usage here and there.
Frazier, on the other hand, could be a guy who could use some exposure against big league pitching in 2018. When he makes contact, man, he can hit’em hard. Frazier had 31 base hits in the ML last year and 16 of them were for extra bases. He just needs to be more seasoned at the highest level. He’s a young talented outfielder who warrants patience. Giving him ample opportunity to experience growing pain in 2018 may pay off big time sooner than later.
3. One less OF or one less bullpen pitcher? Steven talked about how the Yankees bullpen has depth and can afford to subtract a piece for a overall greater good. I don’t disagree with him. However, bullpen pitchers can tend to be a bit more volatile. Uber-consistent relievers like Mariano Rivera are quite rare. In 2017, we saw Aroldis Chapman, one of the most sturdy closers in the recent history, get into some serious slumps that cost the team some games. Heck, even Tommy Kahnle had a bit of an unreliable stretch before the playoffs.
Because of the high bust rate of the relievers, it becomes hard to project how consistent the bullpen unit can be. Because the Yankees pitching is built to rely on late-inning arms, maybe it is not a bad idea to keep the best relievers for depth. Also, by having a loaded bullpen, the team will have an easier time limiting Darvish’s workload and keep him fresh.
At the same time, the Yankees do have a history of giving up an offensive piece to either acquire starting pitcher. Trading away Nick Johnson for Javier Vazquez back in 2003-04 offseason comes to mind. Sending Melky Cabrera to Braves to re-acquire Vazquez was also a thing. Both played as regulars for the Yankees prior to the deals, but Brian Cashman pulled the trigger to add another arm to the rotation.
What did Cabrera and Johnson have in common at the time? They were a bit superfluous to the team based on the position they played. Johnson was blocked by Jason Giambi and his long-term deal. Cabrera was traded away only a few weeks after the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson in a three-way deal. Cashman didn’t trade away players that had clear positional dominance in the roster – he chose to part with those who were a little extra at the position.
Which brings us to Gardner. As I said, he’s a clear starter for every ML team. However, the Yankees have a big OF depth and the team could always use more starting pitching. Because of his value and contract, he is very tradeable and it might make sense to make a sacrifice to add a bigger boon.
Losing Gardner would obviously put a dent in current offense – but at the same time, they can rotate Judge – Hicks – Stanton – Ellsbury – Frazier. The first three can do a lot of damage year-round and Ellsbury/Frazier and be sub’d in once in awhile to give them rest.
4. Yu Darvish is pretty good. The Yankees need more rotation depth, etc. Yup. Steven covered this in his post.
Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa three weeks from tomorrow, and at some point soon, likely within the next two weeks, the Yankees will announce their 2018 Spring Training invitees. These are non-40-man roster players who get a chance to come to big league camp to strut their stuff. Some non-roster invitees are top prospects, some are middling prospects, and some are veteran journeymen trying to hang on.
Generally speaking, teams bring 20-25 non-roster players to Spring Training each year. Last year the Yankees initially invited 23 non-roster players before adding a few more within the first few days of camp. It was a World Baseball Classic year, so they needed extra bodies around while guys were away playing for their country. This is a normal year though, so 20-25 non-roster players. That sounds about right.
The Yankees still have a strong farm system despite the recent trades and graduations, and many of their top prospects are already on the 40-man roster, so they’ll be in camp automatically. Four of MLB.com’s top seven Yankees prospects are on the 40-man, so yeah. Spring Training is a great time to prospect watch. We’ll get a chance to see pretty much all the team’s best prospects at some point, 40-man roster or otherwise.
So, with Spring Training inching closer and non-roster invitees soon to be announced, now is a good time to preview the non-40-man roster players the Yankees could bring to camp this year. Last year I predicted 24 non-roster players and 20 of the 24 actually got the call, so go me. Hopefully I’ll have a similar success rate this year. Anyway, let’s get to the potential non-roster players.
Every team brings lots of catchers to Spring Training each year because hey, who is supposed to catch all those bullpen sessions? That’s really all there is to it. There are lots of pitchers in camp who need regular work to get up to speed, and teams can’t overload three or four catchers early in camp. Imagine making Gary Sanchez squat four hours a day to catch bullpens before games even start? Nope. Not gonna happen. The Yankees will again bring plenty of non-roster catchers to camp.
My Prediction: Francisco Diaz, Erik Kratz, Chace Numata, Jorge Saez. Kratz re-signed on a minor league deal a few weeks ago and as a big league veteran who spent September with the Yankees and traveled with the team in the postseason, it’s safe to assume he’ll be in camp as a non-roster player. Diaz and Saez are organizational depth catchers who were in camp last year. (Diaz re-signed as a minor league free agent earlier this winter.) The Yankees picked up Numata a few weeks ago and given the fact he has Double-A experience, it makes sense that he’d get the call for Spring Training. Sanchez, Austin Romine, and Kyle Higashioka are on the 40-man, making it seven catchers total for Spring Training.
The infield mix this spring should be pretty interesting. The Yankees have openings at second and third bases, and while youngsters like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar may be the favorites for those jobs, I have to think the team will cover their bases and bring in plenty of options. Torres, Andujar, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Ronald Torreyes are all on the 40-man already. Those are your top five second/third base candidates.
On the prospect front, Nick Solak strikes me as a logical non-roster player given his status as a recent high draft pick (second round in 2016) and success at Double-A last season (.286/.344/.429 for a 112 wRC+), even though it came in a 30-game cameo. My hunch is Kyle Holder will get some non-roster time as well. He’s another recent high draft pick (supplemental first round in 2015) who had a good-ish year in 2017. The Yankees like him enough that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League. I think Holder gets the invite as basically the last infielder and is among the first cuts.
Younger lower level infield prospects like Hoy Jun Park, Dermis Garcia, Diego Castillo, and Oswaldo Cabrera aren’t non-roster material. Big league camp isn’t the appropriate place for them at this point in their careers. The Yankees will, however, bring another first baseman to camp. Greg Bird and Tyler Austin are the only 40-man players at the position now. The Yankees tried to re-sign Ji-Man Choi, who recently signed with the Brewers. I imagine they’ll target another Triple-A first baseman. Looking at the list of free agents … maybe Tyler Moore? We’ll see.
I also expect the Yankees to bring in another veteran infielder on a minor league deal. They’ve already signed Jace Peterson, but remember how many infield spots they have to fill. There’s second, third, and the backup spot at the MLB level. Then there’s second, third, short, and the backup spot in Triple-A. That’s seven infielders. Right now the Yankees have Torres, Andujar, Wade, Estrada, Torreyes, and Peterson for six of those seven spots. So yeah, another minor league contract infielder is coming.
My Prediction: Holder, Solak, Peterson, an infielder yet to be signed, and a first baseman yet to be signed. If the Yankees don’t sign a first baseman — that would really surprise me, but I suppose it’s not impossible — Ryan McBroom would be the third Spring Training first baseman almost by default. Billy McKinney, who is on the 40-man and started playing first in the Arizona Fall League, also figures to see time at the position.
Last year the Yankees invited two non-roster outfielders to camp: Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler. Frazier, assuming he isn’t traded between now and reporting date, is on the 40-man and will be in camp automatically. Fowler is with the A’s. The Yankees are overloaded with outfielders at the moment, so they have more than enough bodies to cover all those innings during Grapefruit League play.
Now, that said, the Yankees tend to bring their very best prospects to camp each season, which means Estevan Florial is a good bet to receive a non-roster invite. He went to the Futures Game last year, finished the season with a quick Double-A cameo, and went to the Arizona Fall League. And he is one of the 100 or so best prospects in baseball. Even though he turned only 20 in November, Florial is sufficiently top prospecty enough for a non-roster invite at this point of his career.
My Prediction: Florial. That’s it. Other outfield prospects like Isiah Gilliam, Rashad Crawford, and Alex Palma are a no. Keep in mind the Yankees have nine outfielders on the 40-man at the moment: Frazier, McKinney, Jabari Blash, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Peterson and Wade can also play the outfield. The Yankees are plenty covered.
The Yankees have more high-end young pitching in the farm system than at any point in the last 10-15 years. One small problem: Most of it is in the low minors. Teenagers like Matt Sauer, Luis Medina, Roansy Contreras, and Deivi Garcia aren’t coming to big league camp. They don’t belong there. They’re not ready for it. Even the Single-A guys in their early-20s like Freicer Perez and Taylor Widener won’t get invited. It’s not their time. Clarke Schmidt, last year’s first round pick, is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so he won’t get a non-roster invite. There’s no point.
Even ruling out the generally inexperienced lower level guys, the Yankees have no shortage of quality right-handed pitching prospects to invite to camp. Chief among them: Chance Adams and Dillon Tate. Adams was in camp last season and could be the first guy called up when a sixth starter is needed this season, so of course he’s coming to camp. Tate was not a non-roster guy last year, but now that he has some Double-A time under his belt, it stands to reason he’ll get the invite.
On the bullpen side, I think J.P. Feyereisen will return to big league camp this spring — he was in camp last year — even though he didn’t have a great 2017 season and was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft. He’s someone who could find himself in the big leagues rather quickly if he starts the season well and the Yankees have a need. The Yankees will want the new coaching staff to get to know him. Same with Cody Carroll, last year’s breakout relief prospect, who finished the season in Double-A and dominated in the Arizona Fall League.
My Prediction: Adams, Carroll, Feyereisen, Tate, Brady Lail, and a minor league contract guy yet to be signed. I get the feeling a depth arm signing is coming. As for Lail, he was a non-roster player each of the last two years, so the Yankees like him. Maybe they don’t like him as much now after a tough Triple-A season last year (5.17 ERA and 4.76 FIP), but I’m going to play it safe and say he gets another invite. There are always innings to be soaked up. Reminder: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, and Jonathan Loaisiga are all on the 40-man roster. They’ll be in camp. I’m looking forward to seeing Johnny Lasagna. Moreso than another other non-40-man prospect this spring.
Realistically, there’s only one worthwhile left-handed pitching prospect in the organization: Justus Sheffield. Sheffield is the Yankees’ top pitching prospect overall and he was in camp as a non-roster player last year, so of course he’ll be back this year. He made only two appearances totaling 3.2 innings last spring. I’d bet on a little more action this time around.
James Reeves and Stephen Tarpley are the two other non-40-man southpaws worth a mention. Reeves was actually in camp as a non-roster player last spring, but he suffered an elbow injury early on and didn’t pitch. Once healthy, he had a 1.96 ERA (2.18 FIP) with 26.6% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 46 innings, and he reached Double-A. Reeves has a classic low arm slot left-on-left matchup profile …
My Prediction: Sheffield, Reeves, Tarpley, and Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc is on a minor league contract with an invite to camp, so he’ll be there. I think Tarpley gets an invite because the Yankees are short on 40-man roster lefties — the only southpaws on the 40-man are Aroldis Chapman, Jordan Montgomery, CC Sabathia, and Chasen Shreve — and clubs generally like to bring in plenty of lefties just to take inventory. See who could be an option at some point, you know?
* * *
Putting it all together, we come away with 20 non-roster players. Here is the breakdown:
- Catchers (4): Diaz, Kratz, Numata, Saez
- Infielders (5): Holder, Solak, Peterson, mystery infielder, mystery first baseman
- Outfielders (1): Florial
- Right-handers (6): Adams, Carroll, Feyereisen, Lail, Tate, mystery minor league signing
- Left-handers (4): Reeves, Sheffield, Tarpley, LeBlanc
That’s probably not enough players. Last year the Yankees had 23 non-roster players initially before adding a few others during the first days of camp. They had 26 non-roster players in camp in both 2015 and 2016. My total of 20 potential non-roster players is light. There will be a few more players in camp.
Like I said, the Yankees are almost certainly not done signing journeymen like Kratz, Peterson, and LeBlanc to minor league deals. The Yankees had five veterans (Choi, Jason Gurka, Ruben Tejada, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma) on minor league deals in camp last spring, for reference. A few more signings are coming and will get the non-roster list over 20 names.
Also, it’s entirely possible the Yankees will be more open to bringing lower level prospects to camp this spring. Maybe they let Donny Sands catch some bullpens, or give Park a taste of big league life, or let someone like Perez or Widener air it out for a few innings to showcase them as trade chips. Those 20 names above are the core non-roster players. A few minor minor league signings and a surprise prospect or two (like Daniel Camarena last year) figure to round out this year’s crop of invitees.
2017 Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
2017 Postseason Record: 7-6 (51 RS, 42 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, lost ALCS
Top stories from last week:
- There continue to be rumors connecting the Yankees to Yu Darvish. Unless he signs dirt cheap, there’s no way to fit him under the $197M luxury tax threshold without making other moves.
- The Yankees signed lefty Wade LeBlanc to a minor league contract. They also signed shortstop Angel Rojas as an international free agent, and worked out Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez.
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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
(If you get an error when you vote, remove the “s” in “https” in the address bar.)
Friday: Here is an open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are playing, and there’s a whole bunch of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about anything except religion or politics here. This ain’t the place for that.
Saturday: This is the open thread again. I thought the NFL playoffs resumed today, but apparently not. Both games are tomorrow. Anyway, the three local hockey teams are playing and there’s a ton of college hoops on as well. Have at it.
Sunday: This is the open thread for the last time. The NFL playoffs resume today with the Patriots vs. Jaguars (3pm ET on CBS) and Vikings vs. Eagles (6:30pm ET on FOX), plus the Rangers, Knicks, Nets, and some college basketball teams are playing. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.
In waiting for baseball to begin again, I find myself asking “When will then be now?” Regardless of the actual time between the end of one season and the beginning of a new one, it seems to feel longer each year. Perhaps that’s especially true this year as my non-baseball diversions–college basketball and the New York Giants–have run into a rough patch, to put it mildly. Add in the fact that the Yankees had a surprisingly good year and things are looking up and it all equals a lot of baseball-related impatience for me. So, on with the thoughts to help keep us warm in this cold (though thankfully more mild of late), baseball-less hellscape.
Despite the fact that we’re less than a month away from pitchers and catchers, the relative inactivity of the offseason means the market isn’t necessarily out of its early stages yet. The Yankees could still grab an extra infielder, but it’s feeling more and more like they’re just going to roll with what they have, at least until Gleyber Torres is “ready,” whether that means he’s fully recovered from injury, hitting his way onto the team, or has stayed down long enough for the Yankees to get more service time out of him down the road. If they go with Miguel Andujar at third and Tyler Wade at second–which I’d be fine with–they would likely bat, in that order, eighth and ninth in the lineup. While that doesn’t necessarily ring to the tune of the 2009 batting order, it’s still a pretty potent combo in the bottom two spots. A right hander with power potential and a lefty who can walk and steal a bag? Sounds about right. Whatever struggles they have should be covered up by the top of the lineup.
Sonny’s Four-seam Four-baggers
Is it just me or have we all kind of collectively forgotten about Sonny Gray? It makes a bit of sense, I guess; he’s maybe the least interesting of the rotation members right now. He’s not as exciting as Luis Severino or a mystery like Jordan Montgomery is in his second year and Masahiro Tanaka might be after a strange 2017. He’s not (yet?) a fan favorite like CC Sabathia. He’s just…there. Anyway, his first stretch with the Yankees last year wasn’t bad, wasn’t spectacular, and there’s some room for improvement. It might be just a return to normalcy that he needs.
With the Yankees, Gray gave up 11 homers in just 65.1 innings. That’s a lot. The main culprit? His fastball. Up until the trade to the Yankees, Gray gave up a HR/LD+FB rate of 6.65 on his four seam fastball. With the Yankees, that skyrocketed up to 18.52! Why? It has to do with some extreme results on location. Check out the isolated power on his fastballs in the top part of the zone and down the middle. They’re high! A lot higher than his career numbers suggest they should. Gray also put more fastballs in those locations than he normally has. Improving the location on his fastball will hopefully cut out the homers for Sonny, which will definitely make him less nondescript going forward.
Pitch Clock and Pace of Play, Quickly
So, it seems that we’re gonna see a pitch clock this year along with some mound visit rules. When the idea was first introduced, I was wholly against a pitch clock. Now? I don’t really care so much. Sure, why not? It doesn’t seem to interrupt anything in minor league games, so why not? I think the league may be going a little too far with the mound visit stuff, but it’s not that serious at the end of the day.
Baseball seems deadset on cutting down dead time during games, which is completely understandable. But is it really gonna have that much of an impact? Are new fans going to see that games last 2:50 instead of 3:00 and come running? I doubt it.
The Luxury Tax
I never fully wanted the Yankees to get under the luxury tax. Sure, I accepted the fact that they were trying to do it, but it always seemed a bit unnecessary given their finances. I still think that. Forget the luxury tax. The only people served by getting under the luxury tax are the Steinbrenners. They have enough money, more than enough. It’s the players who should get to pocket that money, not the owners. The players are the game.