The Official RAB 2016-17 Offseason Plan

Me too, Brian. Me too. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Me too, Cash. Me too. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to the countdown in our sidebar, we are three months and three days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. That’s an awfully long way away. Between now and then the Yankees and the other 29 teams will remake their rosters, in some cases drastically so, all with an eye on winning the 2017 World Series. Well, except for the rebuilding teams. They’re looking ahead to 2018 and 2019.

The Yankees need offensive help in the short-term and pitching help in the long-term. It’s a weird spot. The offense was so very bad this past season, even with Gary Sanchez going bonkers for two months, but the Yankees also have some talented young hitters either in the big leagues or on the cusp. The same is not true for the pitching staff. Almost all the team’s best pitchers can leave next offseason. That is … bad.

Because the offseason is still very young, I figure it’s a good time to put together a fantasyland offseason plan. These are the moves I’d make this offseason if I were running the Yankees. Trades, free agent signings, the works. After all, I once built a team that went 146-16 in MLB: The Show, so I know what I’m talking about. Building a title contender is not as hard as they make it out to be.

In all seriousness, this exercise is for fun. We all love to rosterbate, right? Right. I encourage you to bookmark this post for future mocking purposes. It’ll look silliest 2-3 years down the line. It’s worth the wait, I promise. So, without further ado, here is the Official RAB 2016-17 Offseason Plan. Enjoy.

Arbitration

Not the most exciting place to start, but the arbitration process is easy enough, plus it’s part of the offseason, so we might as well begin here. The Yankees have nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason. Here are the nine and the salaries I’d pay them:

Easy stuff first: Warren, Hicks, Layne, and Romine are all at their MLBTR projected salaries. I have Betances a bit above his $3.4M projected salary because, frankly, the projection seems too low to me. That $4M salary is on par with what first year arbitration-eligible relievers Jeurys Familia ($4.1M), Cody Allen ($4.15M), and Hector Rondon ($4.2M) received last offseason. Dellin doesn’t have the same saves total as those guys, but he’s been better at pretty much everything else.

Now for the extensions. Historically, when a player signs long-term the year before free agency, he gets paid like a free agent. That’s why Stephen Strasburg got seven years and $175M earlier this year. That’s free agent money for a player of that caliber. Pineda is a year away from free agency, and in this market, I think he’d get $13M a year as a free agent. That’s Ubaldo Jimenez/Matt Garza money.

Keep in mind Pineda was not a huge bonus guy as an amateur. The Mariners signed him for $35,000 back in the day. To date, Pineda has made $8.4M as a big leaguer, which is a very nice chunk of change, but it’s not a massive payday. This guy has major shoulder surgery in his recent past too. Between the small amateur bonus and scary arm injury, Pineda might jump at the guaranteed extension and forego free agent next year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Didi. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

As for Gregorius, his deal is essentially Dee Gordon’s five-year, $50M contract adjusted down for the lack of All-Star Game selections, stolen base titles, and batting title. Gordon signed his deal at the same service time level as Gregorius though, so that’s the model I’m following. I worry I may be light — the proposed deal is $8.5M annually and MLBTR projects Didi to get $5.1M through arbitration next year, so yeah — but I’ll stick with it for now.

In Pineda’s case, signing him long-term is about retaining pitching at a reasonable rate at a time when the cost to acquire pitching is anything but reasonable. If nothing else, the extension makes him more valuable as a trade chip. With Gregorius, signing him long-term is about keeping a very valuable player at a hard-to-fill position. Shortstops with good defense and 20-homer pop are hard to come by. That five-year deal would buy out two of Didi’s free agent years.

Ackley and Eovaldi are obvious non-tender candidates. MLBTR projects a $7.5M salary for Eovaldi next year and there’s no way you can pay that to guy you know is going to a) miss the entire 2017 season rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, and b) become a free agent next offseason. It would be money for nothing. Ackley missed most of the season following shoulder surgery, and even when healthy, he wasn’t very good. MLBTR projects a $3.2M salary in 2017. Nope.

Rule 5 Draft Protection

The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by adding Aaron Judge and Ben Heller to the 40-man roster, and calling them up in the second half. Tyler Austin, Kyle Higashioka, and Domingo German were all added to the 40-man roster as well. Those three guys would have become minor league free agents, not just been Rule 5 Draft eligible.

Even after those moves, the Yankees still have more than a few quality prospects up for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to navigate the 40-man roster. The deadline to add Rule 5 Draft eligible players to the 40-man roster is next Friday, November 18th, so it’s coming up soon. It’s not weeks away. It’s right around the corner. Here’s who I would protect:

  • Add to 40-man roster: Domingo Acevedo, Miguel Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Jorge Mateo.
  • Leave exposed to Rule 5 Draft: Jake Cave, Cale Coshow, Rashad Crawford, Gio Gallegos, Ronald Herrera, Brady Lail, Mark Montgomery, Tito Polo, Stephen Tarpley, Luis Torrens, Tyler Webb.

Mateo and Andujar are easy calls to protect as two of the best prospects in the farm system. Acevedo is still pretty raw, but dudes with triple-digit gas always get popped in the Rule 5 Draft, and I don’t want to risk losing him. I don’t think Enns is as good as his minor league numbers indicate, but he has three pitches and can locate, so he’s a cheap lefty option for the rotation or bullpen. That guy is worth keeping around.

Cave was selected in the Rule 5 Draft last year, which means if he gets selected again and doesn’t stick, he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees. You have to leave him exposed with the understanding you’re probably going to lose him forever. So it goes. Torrens is the best prospect in that “leave exposed” group, but the kid is a 20-year-old catcher who missed a year and a half following shoulder surgery, and has never played above Low-A. Even if he gets picked, Torrens is coming back.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Gallegos and Webb, two relievers with pretty good Triple-A numbers, are most likely to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Webb especially, because he’s a lefty. My decision came down to either Enns or Webb, and I’ll keep the guy who can start. Easy call for me there. Tarpley might get popped too as a lefty with good velocity. The Yankees have a really deep farm system right now — Jim Callis says it’s the deepest in baseball — and the downside is having to leave useful players exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. What can you do?

To clear the necessary 40-man space (four spots), I am releasing Eovaldi and Ackley ahead of the non-tender deadline, and outrighting Richard Bleier and James Pazos off the 40-man roster. The non-tender deadline is December 2nd, and releasing Eovaldi and Ackley ahead of that has no real consequences. In fact, it does them a favor, because it gives them more time to hook on with another team. I don’t see Bleier or Pazos as having any real value aside from being up-and-down arms. Meh.

Free Agents

Alright, now comes the fun stuff. We’re going to have to make some payroll assumptions here. Since taking the reins, Hal Steinbrenner has consistently pumped whatever money has come off the books back into the team. I don’t think that will be the case this offseason though. He clearly wants to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and the best chance to do that it next year, when CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez are off the books. Maybe Masahiro Tanaka too.

The Yankees started this past season with a $226M payroll and ended it around $214M after shedding salary at the trade deadline. Unloading Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova freed up some cash. We don’t know what the luxury tax threshold will be next season. I imagine it’ll be around $200M. The Yankees won’t be able to drag payroll down that far without some serious trade action, and I’ll be surprised if that happens.

I’m going to assume Steinbrenner gives the green light to open next season with a $215M payroll. That sound okay? It’s right around where they finished this past season. Then, once Sabathia and A-Rod come off the books next winter, they’ll focus on getting under the luxury tax. Okay, so with that in mind, here are my free agent signings. I wish I could wait to see the non-tenders, but alas:

  • Mark Melancon: Four years, $50M.
  • Brad Ziegler: Two years, $18M.
  • Steve Pearce: Two years, $10M
  • Brett Anderson: One year, $4M with another $6M in incentives based on innings.

This isn’t a great free agent class, so I’m not going to go wild and pay mediocre players huge dollars just because there’s no one else to spent it on. I said earlier this week I’m warming up to the idea of signing Rich Hill, but with the free agent pitching class so light, I think the projection everyone has been throwing out there (three years, $50M) is going to end up light. I’m steering clear at a higher price.

Melancon is my big signing. The Yankees are said to be in on the top free agent relievers and I’m cool with that. A dominant bullpen is a necessity for contention nowadays. I’m going against the grain and signing Melancon over Chapman and Kenley Jansen for a few reasons. One, he figures to come substantially cheaper, perhaps at 60% of the guaranteed money. Two, he won’t cost a draft pick. And three, there’s no off-the-field baggage. See? Nice and easy.

Melancon. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Melancon. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Rather than commit an ungodly amount of money to Chapman or Jansen, I’ll spread it around and sign Melancon and Ziegler. Ziegler just turned 37 last month, but the guy remains very durable and very effective. He’s appeared in at least 64 games in each of the last eight seasons, and this past summer he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with a 20.1% strikeout rate and a 63.3% ground ball rate, which are in line with his career norms.

Another thing about Ziegler: he has a small platoon split. He pulls it off by throwing a changeup from his unusual arm slot. Eno Sarris wrote about it two years ago. You don’t see many submariner pitchers throwing changeups, but Ziegler does and has for years now. I’m guessing the Yankees would have to pay him handsomely to forego a potential closer or setup job elsewhere. In New York, he’d be at best third on the bullpen depth chart behind Melancon and Betances.

Pearce would do a lot of things for the Yankees. He’d give them some nice depth at first base in case Greg Bird needs more time in the minors following shoulder surgery and/or Tyler Austin can’t hack it. Pearce would also be corner outfield depth and another DH option. He can even play second and third bases in an emergency (but only in an emergency). The guy has hit .266/.348/.485 (129 wRC+) over the last four years and offers some positional flexibility. There’s a place for him on my roster.

As for Anderson, I’m going to take the “acquire a few risky starters and hope it works out” approach. He missed most of last season following back surgery, but he was healthy late in the year, and he’ll have a full offseason to strengthen up. Anderson is still only 28, and he’s an extremely ground ball heavy left-hander, which would fit well in Yankee Stadium. In 2015, his lone full healthy season with the Dodgers, the guy had a 66.3% ground ball rate. It’s 58.2% for his career. That’ll play.

Trades

Free agent signings are fun in their own way, but for my money, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned trade. There are so many different roster ramifications for multiple teams. With free agents, there’s only money involved, and that’s kinda lame. Trades are a challenge. I’m betting these guys I’m giving up won’t help me win as much as the players I’m getting from the other team. I love it.

The Yankees have been pretty active on the trade market the last few years, and with the free agent class looking so thin, I’m guessing the same will be true this offseason. In real life, I mean. In my hypothetical offseason plan, I’m going to make a few trades, but not a crazy amount. Let’s get to them.

First things first: Yes, I am keeping Brian McCann. I think he’s way more valuable to the Yankees on their roster as a part-time catcher/part-time DH than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade. He’s the perfect guy to mentor Gary Sanchez, and hey, if Sanchez falls on his face next year like Severino did this year, it’ll sure be nice to have McCann around. Quality lefty hitting catcher: worth keeping. Now for the actual trades.

Gray. (Brian Bahr/Getty)
Gray. (Brian Bahr/Getty)

1. The Gray Trade. The Athletics have made more than a few truly baffling trades in recent years and I’m banking on them doing it again with Gray. He was a Cy Young candidate a year ago, but in 2016, the 27-year-old had a 5.69 ERA (4.67 FIP) in 117 innings around back trouble and a forearm muscle issue. His value is down but I don’t think the A’s are going to move him unless they get a big return.

That package qualifies as a “big return” in my opinion, though maybe I’m just a raging homer. Mateo is a top shortstop prospect, Severino is an MLB ready young pitcher with a lot of upside, Fowler is a dynamic center field prospect slated to open 2017 in Triple-A, and Refsnyder … well, Refsnyder just seems like one of those random players the A’s seem to acquire in every trade they make.

Would the A’s make that trade? Nah, probably not. Then again, they did make that Josh Donaldson trade. And the Addison Russell trade. And they swapped Drew Pomeranz for Yonder Alonso, so maybe. They’re getting two really good prospects, the highest upside young starter the Yankees have to offer, and a useful player in Refsnyder. It’s about time the Yankees benefit from one of those wonky Oakland trades, isn’t it?

Gray is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019. MLBTR projects a $3.7M salary next year, which seems a little low to me, but let’s go with it. At his best, Gray is a command pitcher who throws five pitches and gets a lot of weak contact. He’s basically the opposite of the Yankees’ non-Tanaka starters. And he’s a Grade-A competitor too. Dude is fearless on the mound. You might not get the best version of Gray. He might be broken forever. I’m taking the chance.

2. Gardner for Jaime. The Yankees are stuck having to trade Gardner, even after dealing Fowler for Gray. They have way too many young outfielders who are either MLB ready or close to it. There’s Hicks and Judge, plus Austin and Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier isn’t far away either. I’d much rather trade away Jacoby Ellsbury, but that’s not happening. Gardner it is.

The Cardinals are one of the few teams with excess pitching. There was even some talk they would decline Garcia’s $12M option and let him walk as a free agent. The 30-year-old had a 4.67 ERA (4.49 FIP) in 171.2 innings this past season, though he’s only a year removed from a 2.43 ERA (3.00 FIP) in 129.2 innings. That’s the guy you hope you get in 2017, and if you do, you can make Jaime the qualifying offer next winter. Assuming the qualifying offer still exists, of course.

St. Louis is in need of a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. They played Randal Grichuk in center most of the time this year and that just won’t work. He’s a corner outfielder. The Cardinals are also going to move Matt Carpenter down in the lineup with Matt Holliday no longer around, so they need a table-setter. Gardner solves both problems. It’s a surplus for surplus trade. The pitching needy Yankees trade a surplus outfielder to the outfield needy Cardinals for a surplus pitcher. See? Beautiful.

Garcia. (Jeff Curry/Getty)
Garcia. (Jeff Curry/Getty)

The money is essentially a wash next season. Garcia will make $12M in 2016 while Gardner will take home $12.5M. Gardner is also under contract for $11.5M in 2018, so the Yankees would be shedding some future payroll as well. The Cardinals take on a little extra cash in exchange for the Yankees taking on a pitcher with an extremely ugly injury history. The Cardinals get their center fielder and leadoff hitter, the Yankees get a rental starter.

3. Bye Bye Romine. With Sanchez and McCann entrenched at the big league level and Higashioka waiting in Triple-A, there’s no more room at the inn for Romine. The Phillies need a backup behind Cameron Rupp until top prospect Jorge Alfaro is ready, and Romine will do the job just fine. Klein is basically the pitcher version of Romine. A fringe roster guy who is pretty replaceable. He has an option left and can be stashed in Triple-A. Added bonus: Klein is 6-foot-7. The Yankees love their tall pitchers.

4. The obligatory Pirates trade. I felt the need to include a trade with the Pirates for posterity. Pittsburgh needs bullpen help, particularly from the right side, so they get the bat-missing Goody. They’ll probably turn him into Wade Davis 2.0 or something. Moroff is a 23-year-old light-hittingĀ Triple-A utility infielder. The Yankees will need some Triple-A infield help next year, especially with Refsnyder gone, and Moroff fits the bill. Boring trade is boring.

Okay, now we need to figure out the 40-man roster. The 40-man was full after we finished protecting all the Rule 5 Draft players. The Gray trade clears up two spots; it’s three 40-man players (Mateo, Severino, Refsnyder) for one 40-man player (Gray). The other three trades are all straight one-for-one, 40-man guy for 40-man guy, so they don’t help us any. So, with two spots open and four free agent signings, we still need to clear two more 40-man spots.

To do this, I’m non-tendering the injured Jacob Lindgren and re-signing him to a minor league contract. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire 2017 season. The Yankees pulled the non-tender and re-sign trick with Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos two years ago, and again with Domingo German last year. It allows them to get the player off the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers.

To clear the other spot, I’m just going to designate the recently acquired Joe Mantiply for assignment and outright him off the 40-man. If he gets claimed, he gets claimed. I’ll live. The Yankees have enough lefty relief depth (Layne, Enns, Chasen Shreve) as far as I’m concerned. Mantiply won’t make a big difference in that department anyway.

Minor League Contracts

Paulsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Paulsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

And finally, it’s time to scoop up some depth players. A few items on the Triple-A shopping list: a scrap heap starter to soak up innings so the kids don’t get overworked, a backup catcher, a third baseman, a first baseman/DH, a spare infielder, and a spare outfielder. These players will do just fine:

  • RHP Jason Berken: The former Oriole has spent the last few years bouncing around Triple-A. He has experience starting and relieving, and he hasn’t thrown fewer than 100 innings since 2012.
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: Rodriguez has been the backup catcher at Triple-A Scranton the last two years, so why fix what isn’t broken? He can’t hit, but he’s a top notch gloveman.
  • 1B Ben Paulsen: Quintessential Quad-A lefty masher. Has some big league time with the Rockies, and as an added bonus, he can also play a little outfield.
  • 3B Matt Dominguez: Dominguez was the 12th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He has some pop and is a truly great defender as well. If there’s an injury, you could run Dominguez out at the hot corner for a month and get like +0.5 WAR out of him.
  • IF Zach Walters: Classic utility guy who can play anywhere. Infield, outfield, whatever. Also, Walters is a switch-hitter who knows how to take a walk, so he’s not a total zero at the plate.
  • OF Ryan LaMarre: Speed guy capable of double-digit homers and steals … at the Triple-A level. The Yankees were connected to LaMarre prior to the 2010 draft. They might still like him.

Don’t like my minor league pickups? Well, I don’t know what to tell you. These guys are just filling out the Triple-A roster and are serving as third string depth. They get a chance in the big leagues when the starter and the backup get hurt. Minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. All of ’em.

Final Product

Okay, so after all of that, we’re rolling into Spring Training with a full 40-man roster and a $210,113,525 payroll for luxury tax purposes. Here’s my payroll worksheet. Reports indicate the minimum salary is expected to rise considerably with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, so I estimated the pre-arbitration guys at $700,000. That sound good? I dunno. The minimum salary this year was $507,500.

Earlier I assumed Hal Steinbrenner would okay a $215M Opening Day payroll and I came in below that, but we’ve got $6M in incentives floating around for Anderson. Hal has been pretty good about adding payroll in season. If Anderson stays healthy and pitches well enough to hit some of those incentives, I’m sure ownership will be okay paying a little more. Here’s the projected 25-man Opening Day roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Gary Sanchez 1B Greg Bird LF Aaron Hicks Masahiro Tanaka Mark Melancon
Brian McCann 2B Starlin Castro CF Jacoby Ellsbury Sonny Gray Dellin Betances
SS Didi Gregorius RF Aaron Judge CC Sabathia Brad Ziegler
3B Chase Headley OF Mason Williams Michael Pineda Tyler Clippard
IF Ronald Torreyes UTIL Steve Pearce Garcia/Anderson Adam Warren
1B/OF Tyler Austin Tommy Layne
Garcia/Anderson

On 40-man roster in minors: Domingo Acevedo, Miguel Andujar, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Dietrich Enns, Domingo German, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Phil Klein, Bryan Mitchell, Max Moroff, Nick Rumbelow (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), Chasen Shreve.

That roster looks not awful on paper. Hooray for not awful! The kids are going to be important, obviously. Sanchez, Bird, Austin, Hicks, and Judge are going to be asked to do a lot offensively, and it might not happen. Such is life when you’re a team in transition. A few more thoughts on that roster.

1. There aren’t many spare position players. Twelve of the 15 extra players on the 40-man roster are pitchers. Andujar, Higashioka, and Moroff are the only position players. That’s kind of a problem, especially since Andujar is an actual prospect on a development plan. He’s not someone you can just call up to fill a need like Moroff. Guys like Barbato and Klein could be cast aside pretty easily should the Yankees need 40-man space for another position player, but heading into the season, the 40-man would be really pitching heavy. The minor league signees like Dominguez and Walters are of some importance here.

2. There’s some uncertainty on that roster. Bird may need a few weeks worth of Triple-A at-bats after shoulder surgery, which would push Pearce and Austin into the first base mix and create a bench opening. Judge might strike out 157 times in Spring Training and play his way back to Scranton, which would leave right field wide open. Pearce and Williams would be the go-to options there, in that case. What if the Yankees decide the best plan for Austin and/or Williams is playing everyday in Triple-A instead of sitting on the big league bench? The lack of position player alternatives on the 40-man could create some problems if the young guys don’t come through as hoped.

3. That’s a lot of rotation depth in the minors, huh? The Triple-A Scranton rotation would be some combination of Cessa, Green, Mitchell, Enns, Jordan Montgomery, and Chance Adams. Maybe it’s time to move Mitchell to the bullpen for good? Then again, chances are someone will get hurt in Spring Training, creating an opening somewhere. Garcia and Anderson aren’t the most durable guys, remember. We spend all winter talking about the pitching depth, then before you know it Brian Gordon and Esmil Rogers are making spot starts. Baseball, man.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

4. Two catchers might be a bit of a problem. Or at least it might be if the plan is to have McCann play DH regularly, and that is indeed the plan. You’d like to be able to pinch-run for Sanchez in the late innings of a close game and not lose the DH, you know? And if the starting catcher gets hurt, you have to lose the DH to fill-in behind the plate. Then again, how often does this actually happen? The “OMG you can’t use the backup catcher!” fear is generally overblown. If this becomes a consistent problem, we can adjust the roster in-season.

5. What did the offseason accomplish? That’s the key question. I laid out this wonderfully fun offseason plan, and how did it improve the Yankees going forward? A few ways. One, they added a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Gray. He’s the headliner. Two, they bolstered the bullpen with Melancon and Ziegler, and did it somewhat affordably. Three, they opened up playing time for youngsters by trading Gardner. Four, they brought in some rotation lottery tickets in Garcia and Anderson. If either work out, they could be trade chips, qualifying offer candidates, or even extension candidates. And five, they were able to get Pineda and Gregorius signed long-term. That’s kind of a big deal, especially Didi.

Our official offseason plan is far from perfect — I’d really like a better lefty bench bat than Williams — but that’s okay, it doesn’t need to be. This was only for fun. Point is, the Yankees have the ability to make some significant moves this offseason. They have some cash to spend, enough that it won’t derail the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon, and they have the prospects to make some trades. I don’t know if the Yankees can realistically do enough this winter to become no doubt World Series contenders in 2017. They can definitely take some steps to improve the future of the franchise though.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

One of the Baby Bombers is officially another year older today. Happy 24th birthday to Greg Bird, who unfortunately missed the entire 2016 following shoulder surgery, but still figures prominently into the Yankees’ long-term plans. With all due respect to Tyler Austin, I think everyone is pulling for Bird to take the first base job and run with it in Spring Training, including the team itself. That would be cool.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other tonight, and that’s pretty much it for local sports. Talk about that game, Bird’s birthday, or any other non-politics stuff right here.

Prospect Profile: Clint Frazier

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Clint Frazier | OF

Background
Frazier, who turned 22 in September, attended Loganville High School in the Atlanta suburbs. He was named Perfect Game National Player of the Year as a junior after hitting .424 with 24 home runs, and playing in the Under Armour All-American Game. The next year Frazier hit .485 with 17 home runs as a senior, and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year and Baseball America High School Player of the Year.

Both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Frazier as the fourth best prospect in the entire 2013 draft class — and the best high school prospect overall — behind Kris Bryant, Jon Gray, and Mark Appel. The Indians selected him with the fifth overall pick after Appel (Astros), Bryant (Cubs), Gray (Rockies), and Kohl Stewart (Twins) went with the top four picks, in that order. Cleveland bought Frazier away from the University of Georgia with a $3.5M bonus.

The Yankees acquired Frazier, along lefty Justus Sheffield and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 trade deadline. “There is excitement about coming to terms for a guy that we targeted. At the same time, there was a pit in your stomach because we knew we were trading really good players,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti to Andrew Marchand after the trade.

Pro Career
The Indians assigned Frazier to their Rookie Arizona League affiliate after signing, and he hit .297/.362/.506 (137 wRC+) with five home runs in 44 games in his pro debut. In 2014, the Tribe sent him to their Low-A Midwest League affiliate for his first full pro season, where he hit .266/.349/.411 (120 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 120 games as a 19-year-old. Frazier was 2.5 years younger than the average Midwest League player.

As expected, the Indians moved Frazier up to their High-A affiliate in the Carolina League in 2015. He hit .285/.377/.465 (147 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 133 games during the regular season — Frazier was 2.7 years younger than the average Carolina League player — then put up a .281/.347/.438 (115 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 22 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.

Frazier started the 2016 season with the Indians’ Double-A Eastern League affiliate, with whom he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 homers in 89 game before being promoted to the Triple-A International League. He was promoted one week before the trade, after participating in the Futures Game. Frazier went 5-for-21 (.238) in five games with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate before authoring a .228/.278/.396 (90 wRC+) line with three homers in 25 games with Triple-A Scranton.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve let other people make me feel pressure.’ And that’s never happened before, I’ve never felt pressure,” said Frazier to Kelsie Heneghan when asked about his mindset after the trade. “You go through that feeling of that you have weight on your shoulders the whole time. Every time I stepped into the box, I was trying to impress people.”

Frazier is a career .273/.353/.444 (128 wRC+) hitter with 54 home runs, a 25.8% strikeout rate, and a 10.0% walk rate in 2,027 minor league plate appearances and 457 games. He’s done that despite being at least 2.5 years younger than the average competition in each league. (He was almost four years younger than the competition for his levels in 2016.) Needless to say, Frazier has appeared on many top 100 prospect lists over the years.

Baseball America MLB.com ESPN Baseball Prospectus
Pre-2014 48th 48th 45th 36th
Pre-2015 DNR 53rd 92nd 89th
Pre-2016 44th 47th 72nd 53rd
Mid-2016 21st 15th 34th 26th

At this point Frazier is a lock for all pre-2017 top 100 prospect lists. Had he followed through on his commitment to Georgia out of high school, he would have been draft-eligible this summer. Instead, Frazier reached Triple-A at age 21, and is now only a phone call away from the show.

Scouting Report
Brian Cashman called Frazier’s bat speed “legendary” after the trade and that has long been the right-handed hitter’s calling card. Frazier has an insanely quick bat and strong hands that generate big raw power. That power doesn’t always show up in games though because he hits the ball on the ground too frequently. Frazier’s ground ball rates in his three full minor league seasons are 41.6%, 42.8%, and 45.0%. Those are a wee bit too high for a high-end prospect. He needs to generate more loft.

Over the years Frazier has worked to tone down his setup at the plate, which featured a lot of unnecessary movement back in the day. He used to waggle his bat, things like that. Frazier has good knowledge of the strike zone and recognizes spin, though he tends to get too swing happy at times and chase out of the zone. It’s not so much an approach problem as it is a “hey, calm the hell down” problem. Frazier plays very hard with an all-out style that will endear him to fans, but sometimes the aggressiveness carries over into his at-bats. Here’s some video from his stint with the RailRiders:

In addition to the bat speed, Frazier is an above-average runner and that allows him to be a weapon on the bases and track down balls in the outfield. He’s played all three outfield spots in his career and has the defensive prowess to remain in center for the foreseeable future. Frazier, who is listed at a stocky 6-foot-1 and 190 lbs., also has an above-average arm that would fit well in right field. Point is, he’s not a one-dimensional player. He contributes at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.

2017 Outlook
Frazier won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until next offseason, so he’s not on the 40-man roster and won’t have to be added until after the 2017 season. The Yankees will surely bring him to Spring Training next year as a non-roster player though, and given his talent, Frazier is the kind of player who could force the issue quick and get called up next summer. My guess is he’ll be added to the 40-man and reach the show before being Rule 5 Draft eligible, which doesn’t happen often for high school draftees, even ones selected fifth overall.

My Take
I really like Frazier as prospect, have for a long time, and I was thrilled the Yankees were able to get him (and more!) for Miller. I didn’t think they would be able to pry a prospect of this caliber (and more!) loose for a reliever, even one as good as Miller. The bullpen market really blew up over the last 12 months or so.

Frazier is not without his flaws. He’s going to swing and miss some, and it’ll probably take him some time to get his footing in the big leagues, but the offensive potential is very high, and Frazier is going to play a well-rounded game too. With all due respect to guys like Aaron Judge and Austin Jackson, Frazier is probably New York’s best outfield prospect since Ruben Rivera was in his heyday in the late-1990s.

A Down Season for Dellin Betances is a Great Season for Most Relievers [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s not often a team can have a reliever as dominant as Dellin Betances be the third best option in their bullpen. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that never once happened in baseball history prior to this season. Coming into 2016, Betances was third on the Yankees’ bullpen depth chart behind Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Wild.

Betances was the only one of those three to make it through the season with the Yankees, but I’m guessing had another team presented Brian Cashman with a massive offer at the trade deadline, Dellin would have been gone too. Instead, he remains with the Yankees and is coming off his worst full season in the big leagues. Of course, Betances was still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

The Same Ol’ Dellin (For Five Months)

When the season started, Betances was back in a familiar role: eighth inning guy. Chapman had to serve his 30-game suspension, which meant Miller closed and Betances set up. And on Opening Day, Dellin took the loss after allowing three unearned runs on one hit and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. It was his own error that opened the floodgates.

The Yankees actually played that game under protest. Joe Girardi argued Carlos Correa was in the baseline and impeded Betances’ throw, but that wasn’t going to hold up, so the protest was dropped after the game. The Astros won the game thanks to the error and Dellin was saddled with New York’s first loss of the new season. So it goes.

Following that game, Betances went on a two-month rampage. He took all his frustration out on opposing hitters. In his next 23 appearances following the error, Dellin struck out 45 (!) in 22.2 innings. He allowed five runs and walked only three. That’s a 54.2% strikeout rate and a 3.6% walk rate. At one point Betances struck out 21 of 29 batters faced in mid-April. I mean, geez.

Weirdly enough, that insane early-season stretch included a stretch of games in which Betances allowed a home run in three straight outings. He’d never done that before. It proved to be just a blip though; Dellin allowed zero home runs in his next 45 games and 45.2 innings. Betances finished the first half with a 2.66 ERA (1.17 FIP) with 45.1% strikeouts and 5.8% walks in 44 innings. That earned him his third straight All-Star Game selection. He’s the only reliever selected to each of the last three All-Star Games.

Dellin threw a scoreless seventh inning with a two-run lead in the Midsummer Classic, and it went strikeout (Corey Seager), single (Daniel Murphy), fly out (Paul Goldschmidt), strikeout (Nolan Arenado). Then, in his first seven outings after the All-Star Game, he allowed one run and struck out eleven in 6.1 innings. That took the Yankees to the trade deadline. Chapman and Miller were gone, so Betances took over as closer.

In his first five weeks as closer, Betances went nine-for-ten in save chances — in the one blown save, he inherited a runner on third with one out in the eighth and allowed a game-tying sac fly — and struck out 21 in 12.1 innings. Typical Betances. On September 4th, he needed 12 pitches to strike out two and retire all four batters he faced. On September 5th, he needed ten pitches to fan two and retire all three batters he faced. That was the last time we saw a consistently effective Betances in 2016.

The Stumble to the Finish

Following that September 5th game, Dellin had a 2.05 ERA (1.43 FIP) with excellent strikeout (44.7%) and walk (7.8%) rates in 66 innings. It was a typical Betances year. It all started to fall apart on September 6th, in his third straight day of work. Betances allowed two runs on two hits and three walks — only 22 of his 40 pitches were strikes — in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays. Blake Parker had to bail him out with an assist from Brett Gardner‘s leaping catch.

Three days later, Betances allowed a run on three hits in one inning of work. Five days after that, he allowed two unearned runs in an inning thanks in part to his own throwing error. (A Starlin Castro error opened the inning.) Dellin shot-putted a comebacker to the backstop. Yuck. Then, the following night, Betances served up the most devastating home run of the season, Hanley Ramirez’s postseason hopes crushing walk-off blast. I’m not even sure why I’m embedding this video but:

Welp. That was: bad. Worst game in a long, long time. And because that wasn’t bad enough, Betances allowed two runs on a hit and two walks ten days later. And the day after that, he allowed another two runs (one earned) on two walks while retiring zero batters. That’s 13 runs (ten earned) in the span of eight games and six innings. Dellin closed out his season by striking out the side with authority in Game 161, but by then the damage had been done. His September was dreadful.

The Sudden Loss of Control, Again

Following 136 games of total domination, Betances hit a wall in the final 26 games, and I thought he looked worse than he had at any point since arriving in the show for good back in 2014. The problem was control; Dellin walked eight in his final seven innings. This was the second straight year he was completely unable to locate late in the season too.

Dellin Betances walks1

Once is a blip, twice is a trend. I know Betances has a long history of control issues, so it’s not completely unexpected anytime he loses the strike zone, but when it happens so suddenly late in the season two years in a row, it’s hard to chalk it up to coincidence. Fatigue sure seems like a potential problem, especially since he looked visibly gassed on the mound. He had to put more effort into each pitch and that’s never good.

Now, Dellin’s workload has declined each of the last three years, at least in terms of total innings. He threw 90 innings in 2014. It was 84 innings last year and 73 innings this year. The problem is Betances has had to work harder with each passing year. He averaged 15.2 pitches per inning 2014, 16.3 pitches per inning in 2015, and 17.2 pitches per inning in 2016. Also, there’s the cumulative effect. All the innings add up year after year.

I have no idea whether fatigue is the root cause of Betances’ late season control problems the last two years. The circumstantial evidence points in that direction but we don’t really know. Whatever it is, it’s now happened two years in a row, and this year was much worse than last year. The Yankees want to win the World Series against some day. The sooner the better. If Dellin is running out gas in September, what happens in October?

The Unignorable Inability to Hold Runners

It’s become a bigger and bigger problem with each passing season. Two years ago runners went 12-for-15 stealing bases against Betances. Last year it was 17-for-21. This year it was 21-for-21. 21-for-21! Runners had 118 chances to steal against Dellin — that’s the number of runners on first or second with no runner ahead of them — and they went 21 times, or 17.8%. The MLB average is 5.5%.

This is a big problem. It’s not a fatal flaw the same way Jon Lester’s inability to hold runners isn’t a fatal flaw, but it is a big problem. Betances mostly pitches in the late innings of close games, when those extra 90 feet can be a pretty big deal. He doesn’t even had a pickoff move. If he does, I can’t ever remember seeing it. Betances varies his times to the plate and he has a slide step, but obviously they’re not enough. Runners are still going at will.

Now here’s the thing: Dellin is never going to be good at holding runners. Tall right-handed pitchers rarely are. Base-stealers have an 87.2% success rate against 6-foot-10 Chris Young, for example. At least tall lefties like CC Sabathia and Randy Johnson had the advantage of staring the runner down at first base. Betances, with that high leg kick and slow delivery to the plate, doesn’t give his catcher a chance. Even with Gary Sanchez‘s rocket arm behind the plate, runners still went 6-for-6 against Dellin.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Betances doesn’t have to develop an Andy Pettitte pickoff move (or a Nathan Eovaldi pickoff move!). But he has to develop a pickoff move. Something he can put in the back of the runner’s mind. Even if it’s only a lob over to first, it’s better than nothing. Betances is so insanely good that he’s been one of the two or three most dominant relievers in baseball without holding runners the last three years. This is a flaw teams are going to take advantage more and more in the future though, so it’s something he has to work on.

Outlook for 2017

The idea Betances can’t handle the pressure of being the closer would hold water if, you know, he hadn’t completely dominated in his first five weeks on the job. Also, he’s been throwing high-leverage innings for the Yankees for three years now. The guy has excelled in pressure situations since 2014. He’s shown us he can do it. If you don’t think he can handle the ninth inning, then there’s nothing I can tell you to change your mind.

Anyway, as it stands right now, Dellin is the Yankees’ closer. There’s a pretty good chance that will change this offseason because the Yankees are in big on the top free agent relievers, including Chapman. And you know what? Signing Chapman or Kenley Jansen to close would make the Yankees a lot better. I mean, duh. Those guys are great. It wouldn’t make them better because Dellin can’t close, but because he can slide back into that dynamic setup role where he has been such a weapon the last few years.

By many measures, the 2016 season was Betances’ worst since arriving for good three years ago despite a career high strikeout rate (42.1%) and a career high ground ball rate (53.9%). He had a career high ERA (3.08) and a career high WHIP (1.12). Hitters put up a .201/.279/.299 batting line against Dellin this year. That’s outrageously good! But it was .157/.266/.244 a year ago and .149/.218/.224 two years ago. This is not a positive trend!

Betances is still excellent and the Yankees are lucky to have him in their bullpen. I think they have to seriously consider lightening his workload next year — that doesn’t mean he can’t ever go multiple innings, just that he can’t do it as often — perhaps getting it down into the 60-65 innings range. A normal short reliever workload. Also, working on controlling the running game is a must. Betances is still great despite those flaws. He’s just not quite as overwhelming as he was two years.

The Yanks have shown interest in Kendrys Morales, who’d be a pretty good fit, actually

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

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are among the teams to show interest in designated hitter Kendrys Morales early this offseason. He became a free agent a few days ago when he declined his half of the $11M mutual option in his contract. That’s not surprising. He’ll get more as a free agent. The Royals did not make Morales the qualifying offer, so he won’t cost a draft pick to sign.

Morales, 33, hit .263/.327/.468 (110 wRC+) with 30 home runs in 618 plate appearances last season. He put up a .290/.362/.485 (130 wRC+) batting line with 22 homers in 639 plate appearances the year before, when the Royals won the World Series. Morales is a switch-hitter, and throughout his career he’s had a tiny platoon split and been consistently excellent with runners in scoring position, if that’s your thing. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Something would have to happen with McCann first, right? As it stands right now, Brian McCann will be the primary DH for the Yankees next season. Gary Sanchez is entrenched behind the plate, so the only way to get McCann and his 20+ homer power into the lineup is at DH. Either that or they’d have to stick him at first base, and … no. Just, no.

McCann’s name has popped up in trade rumors for a few weeks now and reports indicate the Yankees will continue to entertain offers for their erstwhile catcher. The thing is, even if they find a trade to their liking, McCann is in total control here. He has a full no-trade clause and can shoot down any deal. I doubt McCann would approve a trade to rebuilding team, or a team he perceives as a non-contender, but who knows.

Also, Morales is not going to come to the Yankees if he feels he has to compete with McCann for DH at-bats. He’s also not much of a first base option either. He’s a bat-only player. The Yankees would have to move McCann first to clear way for Morales, or at least be far enough down the line with a McCann trade — that means knowing whether he’ll sign off on a deal — for Morales to be comfortable coming to New York.

2. Morales would add some nice lineup balance. The Yankees are in a weird place. Their lineup has been very left-handed heavy the last few years, but right now, most of their up-and-coming young bats are right-handed. Greg Bird is the only notable lefty. Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Clint Frazier are all righties. Should the Yankees trade McCann this winter, their best lefty power threat will be Didi Gregorius. I like Didi! But yikes.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As a switch-hitter, Morales would help balance out the lineup and create matchup headaches for opposing managers. He could slot right in as the cleanup hitter behind Sanchez and ahead of … Starlin Castro, I guess. The Yankees only have one switch-hitter at the moment, Chase Headley, and he’s not exactly a big offensive threat. Morales would replace Mark Teixeira as the team’s middle of the order switch-hitter with power, and it’s hard to think he’d be anything but a huge upgrade over 2016 Teixeira at the plate.

3. Morales offers no defensive value or versatility. This is the biggest drawback. Morales is a DH. You could make him go stand at first base a few times a year during interleague play, but he’ll cost you runs. He’s a DH, plain and simple. That hinders roster flexibility. Sanchez couldn’t stay in the lineup on days he doesn’t catch, for example. We saw how much of a roster headache Alex Rodriguez created the last two years. Morales would be more of the same.

Also, it’s worth noting Morales is a negative on the bases too. He was never fast to begin with, but since shattering his ankle celebrating that walk-off home run a few years ago (remember that? ouch), you’ve been able to measure his home-to-first time with a sundial. It takes three singles to score the guy from first. You live with it if he mashes. Otherwise Morales will really clog the bases in a not good way.

4. He should come on a short-term contract. Two years ago Victor Martinez signed a four-year deal worth $68M, and Edwin Encarnacion is going to get something insane this offseason, so there is some precedent for a DH in his mid-30s getting a huge contract. Martinez and Encarnacion had established themselves as truly elite hitters at the time, however. Morales is pretty good. He’s definitely a notch or two below those guys though.

MLBTR projects a two-year deal worth $26M for Morales. Sounds about right to me, but what do I know. Point is, it’s really unlikely you’ll have to offer him a three or four-year contract to get a deal done this winter. A two-year contract should be enough. Maybe even a really rich one-year contract. Say one year at $15M with a vesting option based on plate appearances. Something like that.

The price is right with Morales. The Yankees could bring him in as short-term offensive help, build the lineup around him as the kids get comfortable, then cast him aside when those young players are ready to do the heavy lifting themselves. Sounds great! Chances are it won’t work out that way, but that’s life. Morales would create some roster flexibility issues, but he’s also add a middle of the order presence, and he’d be that on a relatively short-term contract. That’s a pretty good fit for the Yankees.

Brett Gardner wins first career Gold Glove

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Earlier tonight, MLB and Rawlings announced the 2016 Gold Glove winners, and Brett Gardner took home left field honors in the American League. How about that? He was up against Alex Gordon and Colby Rasmus. Here are all the Gold Glove winners. No other Yankees won (or were finalists).

This was Gardner’s third year as a finalist — he was also a finalist in 2011 and 2015 — and first actual Gold Glove award win. Long overdue, I’d say. Gardner’s been really good in left field for a long time now. I’m a bit surprised Gordon, who had won four of the last five left field Gold Gloves, didn’t win based on reputation.

Gardner is the first Yankee to win a Gold Glove since Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano both won back in 2012. He’s the first Yankees outfielder to win a Gold Glove since Bernie Williams won four straight from 1997-2000. Pretty cool. Congrats, Gardy.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Day Two of the GM Meetings came and went today, again with no real big news. I thought maybe we’d see a trade by now. Not necessarily involving the Yankees, just in general. Alas. There’s a lot of offseason left though. Plus I’m sure the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement is gumming up the works. Clubs want to know what they’re getting themselves into before making any major decisions.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing tonight, so talk about those games or anything else right here. Just not politics, please. I know it’s Election Day, but this is a baseball blog. People come here to forget about the real world. Thanks in advance.