Here is tonight’s open thread. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing, and there’s no college basketball on the schedule either. You’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about anything except religion or politics here. Thanks in advance.
There are four new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Tonight it was announced Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman have been voted into Cooperstown by the BBWAA. Hoffman just snuck over the 75% threshold for induction. The other three sailed in with ease. Edgar Martinez fell only 20 votes short of induction. Ouch.
Thome and Chipper were both on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and were no-brainer selections as far as I’m concerned. Thome is eighth all-time in home runs (612) and was one of the best sluggers of his generation. Chipper is simply one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball history. In fact, he’s the only switch-hitter with at least 3,000 career plate appearances in the .300/.400/.500 club.
Last year both Guerrero and Hoffman fell only a handful of votes short of induction, and historically, when you get as close as they did last year, you get voted in the next year. That’s what happened here. Guerrero was a five-tool star in his prime — I’m still annoyed the Yankees signed Gary Sheffield and not Vlad back in the day (and Sheffield was awesome) — and Jeffrey Loria tried to trade him for Derek Jeter. True story. Hoffman? He had a lot of saves.
Former Yankee Mike Mussina was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the fifth time and he is gradually inching closer to induction. His voting percentage from 2014-18: 20.3%, 24.6%, 43.0%, 51.8%, 63.5%. That is a positive trend. Mussina is on track for induction before his ten years on the ballot are up. That’s awesome. Mussina will (and should) go into the Hall of Fame as an Oriole, but I still love him. He is 24th all-time in pitcher WAR and ninth since the mound lowered in 1969.
Other former Yankees on the Hall of Fame ballot this year include Sheffield (11.1%), Roger Clemens (57.3%), Andruw Jones (7.3%), Johnny Damon (1.9%), Hideki Matsui (0.9%), and Kerry Wood (0.5%). Clemens and Barry Bonds haven’t gained much ground in recent years, and this was the sixth year on the ballot for both guys, so they only have four more years of eligibility remaining. They might run out of time. The full Hall of Fame voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.
Next year both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will join the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Derek Jeter joins the ballot the following year. Rivera and Jeter will be first ballot Hall of Famers for sure. Pettitte is on the bubble and I don’t think he’ll get in when it’s all said and done. We’ll see. Jorge Posada dropped off the ballot last year, in his first year of eligibility. A damn shame.
Cody Carroll | RHP
Carroll, who turned 25 in October, grew up outside Nashville in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He was not a significant prospect at Mount Juliet High School — Baseball America did not rank him among the top 41 prospects in the state or the top 500 prospects in the country for the 2011 draft — and Carroll’s stock dropped even further when he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery as a senior. He went undrafted out of high school.
Carroll followed through on his commitment to Southern Mississippi and took a medical redshirt as a freshman as he rehabbed from elbow reconstruction. He completed his rehab in time to pitch for the Center Moriches Battlecats, then of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, during the summer. It did not go well. Carroll had a 7.39 ERA with a 34/32 K/BB in 28 innings. Ouch. Chalk that up to post-Tommy John surgery rust.
Injuries continued to hamper Carroll in 2013 and 2014. He was limited to two relief appearances as a redshirt freshman in 2013, allowing three runs on two hits and a walk in three innings. In 2014, Carroll was limited to eleven starts and 49.2 innings, during which he had a 3.99 ERA and a 39/19 K/BB. Not bad at all for a guy who hadn’t pitched all that much in the three previous years. The nature of his 2013 and 2014 injuries is unknown.
Finally healthy in 2015, Carroll broke out in his final college season, pitching to a 3.08 ERA with an 87/47 K/BB in 96.1 innings. That put him on the draft map. Baseball America ranked Carroll as the third best prospect in Mississippi and the 444th best prospect nationwide going into the 2015 draft. The Yankees selected him with their 22nd round pick (663rd overall) and signed him quickly to a $70,000 bonus, below the $100,000 allotment for picks after the 10th round.
The Yankees took it easy on Carroll during his pro debut after his big spring workload at Southern Miss and all his injuries from 2011-14. He worked exclusively as a reliever with the rookie level Pulaski Yankees after signing, throwing 25.2 innings with a 1.75 ERA (3.36 FIP) and a 26/14 K/BB. That works out to a 25.0% strikeout rate and a 13.5% walk rate.
Carroll spent 2016, his first full pro season, with Low-A Charleston. He made six spot starts and 20 relief appearances, and finished the season with a 3.15 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 91.1 innings. His strikeout (22.7%) and walk (10.3%) rates were a bit underwhelming. At the time, Carroll appeared to be nothing more than an organizational depth arm, which is par for the course for a 22nd round pick.
The Yankees moved Carroll to the bullpen full-time last year. He started the season with High-A Tampa and dominated (2.25 ERA, 2.16 FIP, 38.0 K%, 10.1 BB%) in 20 innings before getting bumped up to Double-A Trenton. Carroll threw another 47.1 innings with the Thunder (2.66 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 29.8 K%, 11.1 BB%). All told, he had a 2.54 ERA (3.04 FIP) with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.8% walks in 67.1 total innings during the 2017 regular season.
The move to the bullpen worked so well the Yankees had Carroll report to the Arizona Fall League after the season for a little extra work. He tossed 11.2 scoreless innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions, allowing only two hits and five walks while striking out 18. Great finish to a great season.
At 6-foot-5 and 210 lbs., Carroll is built like the prototypical pitching prospect, and he is one of many pitchers who added velocity after turning pro and joining the Yankees. Carroll worked in the 90-92 mph range as a starter in college and touched 95 mph here and there. With the Yankees last season he sat 96-98 mph each time out and reached triple digits more on more than a few occasions. Obviously some of that velocity gain comes from the move to the bullpen, but not all of it.
The fastball is Carroll’s bread and butter. He throws two inconsistent secondary pitches in his slider and splitter, both of which are hard upper-80s offerings that will rate as above-average at their best. Carroll is still working to harness both — the slider is his go-to secondary pitch over the splitter — and the Yankees are letting him throw both. They haven’t taken a pitch away to make him a true two-pitch reliever. At least not yet.
Last season’s success at Double-A Trenton would normally land Carroll in the Triple-A Scranton bullpen to begin this season, but the Yankees have a lot of bullpen arms and it is possible the numbers crunch will force him to start the season back in Trenton. Either way, he figures to be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and spend much of the season with Scranton. Carroll will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so he’s pitching for a 40-man spot this year. If he does well, the Yankees could add him to the 40-man early and bring him up at some point this year, though there are several 40-man roster relievers ahead of him on the depth chart.
I’m mostly indifferent about Carroll. Hard-throwing minor league relievers with good stats tend to get overrated quickly as prospects, even when they have obvious flaws. Carroll has an injury history, he needs to gain consistency with at least one of his secondary pitches, and he doesn’t throw many strikes. Guys like this are everywhere in the minors nowadays. That all said, throwing 100 mph will get you opportunity after opportunity in this game, and the Yankees have turned a 22nd round pick and a $70,000 bonus into a legitimate relief prospect. Carroll could help as soon as this year, and if he figures out how to throw strikes consistently, he could carve out a long-term big league role.
We’re rapidly approaching the end of January, and Jacoby Ellsbury is still a Yankee. That’s not much of a surprise, given that he’s 34 years old and owed a minimum of $68.3 MM over the next three calendar years (including the buyout for 2021’s team option), but the vast majority of the team’s fans – and, one imagines, the front office – is disappointed. And, to be perfectly blunt, I count myself among those disappointed fans.
In trying to wrap my head around the increasing likelihood that Ellsbury is going to be donning the pinstripes in 2018, I began to realize that his presence on the roster is, in a vacuum, somewhat defensible; and for several reasons, at that.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury is not a complete sunk cost.
For all of the handwringing over Ellsbury’s awfulness, his actual performance in 2017 is perpetually overlooked. He batted .264/.348/.402 (101 wRC+) with 7 HR, 22 SB (3 CS), and 4.7 BsR (FanGraphs’ all-encompassing baserunning metric). That production came in just 409 PA, and his 4.7 BsR, which is a counting stat, ranked 18th in baseball. The league-average center-fielder hit .262/.333/.426 last year, which translates to a 101 wRC+ … which is right in-line with Ellsbury’s production.
Defense is another issue, of course. Both DRS (-3) and UZR (-3.7) saw him as a negative last year, but that was the first time those numbers agreed with each other in his Yankees tenure:
- 2014: -3 DRS, 0.5 UZR
- 2015: 1 DRS, -3.2 UZR
- 2016: 8 DRS, 0.7 UZR
- 2017: -3 DRS, -3.7 UZR
There’s a distinct possibility that Ellsbury’s defense took a legitimate tumble last season, given his age and the wear and tear on his body. At the same time, though, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was still an average defender in the position. Or, alternatively, if he could be something of an asset in the corners. What we do know is that, per Statcast, he isn’t slowing down.
The overarching point is simply this: he was surprisingly solid last year, and was really only truly bad in 2015.
2. The Yankees have injury concerns.
Aaron Hicks missed nearly half of 2017 with oblique injuries, and he missed time in 2014 and 2016 with assorted leg injuries (mostly involving his hamstrings). Aaron Judge battled a shoulder injury for the last third or so of 2017, and needed surgery to correct the issue after the season ended. Brett Gardner is almost always battling nagging injuries, and he’s actually a few weeks older than Ellsbury. Clint Frazier missed a month with an oblique injury. And Greg Bird (more on him to come) missed all of 2016 and the majority of 2017 with injuries.
And then there’s Giancarlo Stanton. My excitement over him being in pinstripes has yet to settle down, but the reality of his injury history is staggering. Sure, some of it can be chalked up to freak accidents – but last year was the first time since 2011 that he didn’t spend time on the disabled list, and it ended a stretch of three straight seasons that ended with a DL stint.
Ellsbury is no portrait of health, but the simple fact is that the Yankees were not a terribly healthy team last season, and the injury bug did hit their outfield.
3. There are four positions to fill in some combination.
Much of the off-season’s discussion has revolved around having five or six outfielders (Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Gardner, Ellsbury, and Frazier) for three spots. That’s not quite accurate, though, as the Yankees don’t have a designated hitter at this point in time. It’s true that Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t traditional DH’s, and you don’t want to lose defensive value by having a good defender DH – but somebody needs to start there.
And Bird’s injury history comes into play here, too. If the Yankees end up with semi-full-time DH, it’ll almost certainly be someone that can take over in the event of a Bird injury. There are still options out there, to be sure, but with the team clinging to the luxury tax plan it may behoove them to utilize what they have. Why not let Ellsbury take a whack at first base? He’s not a traditional fit, but the team isn’t exactly brimming with options otherwise.
Or, alternatively, if Judge or Stanton learns first and is needed there, there’d be an opening in the OF/DH rotation.
4. The other outfielders aren’t all sure things.
I’m a believer in Hicks, but he is far from a sure thing. His career has been incredibly up and down through five major-league seasons, and, again, he has had injury issues. Frazier is still essentially a rookie, and is entirely unproven. And, in a non-performance way, his apparent availability in trade talks coupled with his prospect shimmer make his place in the organization a bit less certain. We all know about Judge’s slump in the second-half, as well as the fact that he overachieved relative to all reasonable expectations last year. And Gardner is 34, and Stanton has his injury issues.
Ellsbury is obviously not a masterstroke of an insurance policy, but he is more than competent. And he’s already here. Which, well…
5. He’s already here.
Ellsbury is under contract with the Yankees. He probably isn’t going anywhere, because he’s not a hugely desirable asset and he has a no-trade clause and doesn’t seem to want to leave. And dead money kind of sucks, lest we forget the $5.5 MM they’re sending to the Astros for Brian McCann this year; and that may well be the difference between Yu Darvish and staying the course.
So, clearly, this is a massive exercise in playing devil’s advocate. This team would probably be better with Ellsbury gone and an extra $5 MM or so to play with this year, and there’s a real possibility that his absence wouldn’t be felt at all. And yet there is a distinct possibility that his small role on this team could turn into something larger, and he is capable of filling a major league role competently. Maybe that’s a good enough silver lining to stop worrying about pairing him with a real asset just to free up a bit of payroll space.
Perhaps quietly, the Yankees fielded one of the best defensive outfields in baseball last season. Brett Gardner has always been very good in left field, Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury are strong defenders in center, and Aaron Judge showed the world he is much more than a one-dimensional slugger. Judge is an asset in right field.
Here, for reference, are baseball’s best defensive outfields from a year ago:
- Red Sox: +48 Defensive Runs Saved
- Rays: +46
- Yankees: +33
- Twins: +24
- Mariners: +21
The Yankees figure to again field a good defensive outfield this season because not only are they bringing back the same personnel — Gardner and Ellsbury are at risk of seeing their defense slip given their age, it should be noted — but also because they added Giancarlo Stanton. Like Judge, Stanton is much more than a one-dimensional slugger. The 2017 right field DRS leaderboard:
- Mookie Betts: +31
- Yasiel Puig: +18
- Jason Heyward: +18
- Giancarlo Stanton: +10
- Aaron Judge: +9
We only have one season’s worth of data for Judge, but for Stanton, the good defensive performance is not a one-year blip. Only once in his eight seasons has he rated as below-average defensively, and that was 2013 (-6 DRS), the year he battled a nagging hamstring injury. In his other seven seasons, Stanton never finished below +3 DRS. He has six seasons of +6 DRS or better. He’s a good defender. I promise.
Adding another top defensive outfielder to an already very good defensive outfield is, generally speaking, pretty awesome. Now the Yankees have to figure out how to deploy these guys. Not counting Clint Frazier, they have five outfielders (Ellsbury, Gardner, Hicks, Judge, Stanton) for three outfield spots, and both Judge and Stanton are career right fielders. Stanton played one emergency inning in center field back in 2011. Otherwise neither he nor Judge has played a position other than right field in the big leagues.
“DH, right field, maybe left field. Just depends on the circumstances of our club at the time and who is needing more time in the DH role,” said Brian Cashman at Stanton’s introductory press conference when asked about his defensive home. “(Stanton’s) attitude’s been great. It’s like, ‘Hey, whatever you need me to do, I’m there. I’ll do whatever you guys think is best.’ So we have spots for everybody.”
Stanton said he is willing to play wherever the Yankees need him to play — “I’m fine with (left field). I can bounce around. Wherever they need me, I’m okay with that. I always liked DHing when we played the AL teams in previous years,” he said at his press conference — and Judge has since said the same thing, unsurprisingly. That’s good. If one guy came out and said he’s only comfortable in right field, it would’ve created some headaches.
There are a few things to keep in mind about the outfield situation. One, the Yankees have a strikeout/ground ball pitching staff, meaning they could maybe get away with a suboptimal outfield alignment. (They allowed the third fewest fly balls to the outfield in the AL last year.) Two, right field at Yankee Stadium is tiny. There’s not much ground to cover out there. And three, left field at Yankee Stadium is pretty spacious, especially in the left-center field gap. Ideally you’d want the better defender in left. Let’s talk about this some more.
1. Here are at the numbers. Judge was a very good defensive right fielder last season and Stanton has been a very good defensive right fielder for pretty much his entire big league career. We know that much. Let’s dig a little deeper and look at some numbers beyond DRS, shall we? We shall.
|Sprint Speed||<50% Catch Probability||Hold Rate|
There is so much more to range than pure speed. You need to get a good jump and take a good route as well. But, speed helps make up for poor jumps and/or routes, and there are times an outfielder has to simply get on his horse and run a ball down. According to Statcast’s sprint speed, Judge and Stanton are equally fast at their fastest, if that makes sense. We don’t know who reaches their top speed quicker — that is kinda important! — because Statcast doesn’t provide that information. All we know is both guys are equally fast once they get going.
As for their arms, Judge did a much better job preventing runners from taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) last season — the league average right field hold rate was 47.7% in 2017 — though the ballpark plays into that. Right field at Yankee Stadium is tiny, allowing Judge to play in a few more steps, and thus giving him a better chance to hold the runner because he was that much closer to the infield. Stanton didn’t have that luxury in spacious Marlins Park. We know Judge has a strong arm anyway. We saw it all year. Stanton has a strong arm too.
According to the ol’ Statcast machine, Judge made considerably more difficult plays than Stanton last season. By difficult plays, I mean outs recorded on batted balls that went for base hits more than 50% of the time based on their exit velocity and launch angle. If the hit probability is 75%, the catch probability is 25%. And on plays with a catch probability no greater than 50%, Judge made the play 43.7% of the time. Stanton? Only 23.0%. Huge difference. Yuuuge.
Okay, so what does that mean, exactly? All it tells us is Judge made more (way more) difficult plays than Stanton last season. Will he make more difficult plays going forward? Who knows! This is the tricky part. We know what each player has done defensively in the past. The Yankees are concerned about their defensive performance going forward. Who has the tools to be the better defender in the future? They both have prototypical right field tools. Judge made more tough plays last year, and maybe that means he will continue doing so in the future, which in theory means he’d be better suited for the more spacious left field at Yankee Stadium.
2. Judge has moved around more recently. Judge has played right field exclusively as a big leaguer, but he hasn’t been a big leaguer very long. He was in Triple-A as recently as August 2016. And during his Triple-A stint in 2016, Judge played seven games in left field as well as three in center field. It’s not much, but it is something. Aside from that one emergency center field inning that means nothing, Stanton has been a full-time right fielder for a decade now.
Personally, I don’t think those seven games in left field two years ago means a whole lot. Or at least they won’t mean much during the decision-making process. Maybe Judge is ever so slightly more comfortable playing left than Stanton, but I can’t imagine seven games two years ago means much. It is a piece of information the Yankees could consider, however. Maybe Judge showing he’s capable of moving around makes them more likely to put him in left going forward. Who knows?
3. There has already been talk about moving Stanton to left. A year ago at this time Marlins manager Don Mattingly said the team was considering putting Stanton in left field so Marcell Ozuna and his superior arm could play right. They’d already moved Ozuna to left and Christian Yelich to center because Yelich is the superior and rangier defender. Their numbers also suggested Stanton could be better in left. From Joe Frisaro:
“Obviously, right now Giancarlo is a guy that’s been comfortable in right,” Mattingly said. “Marcell is a guy that’s showed he can play left, center or right. We are digging into the metrics of Giancarlo and Marcell.
“We want to put the best club on the field, and what’s best for each guy and how [we’re] the best team. We are just getting up to speed, I think, with the analytics within our organization. … We’re trying to put the right people in the right spots and make sure metrically we are paying attention. With the analytics, there’s so much information. We do want to be able to evaluate our guys, and that’s part of it.”
Ultimately, the Marlins did not move Stanton to left. He stayed in right and Ozuna stayed in left. Why? I’m not sure. I don’t know if Stanton said he wanted to say in right, if Ozuna said he wanted to stay in left, or if the club determined Stanton in right and Ozuna in left was their best defensive alignment. It’s probably the last one. I don’t think Stanton or Ozuna made a stink about possibly changing positions.
Should we read anything into the Marlins considering Stanton in left field, then deciding it was not the right move? They have a very small analytics department — Tim Healey says their analytics department didn’t even exist until two years ago, if you can believe that — and they haven’t been the most well-run organization in the game. Maybe we should just ignore their conclusion entirely? The Yankees have a state of the art analytics department and huge scouting department. I’d trust the Yankees over the Marlins every day of the week, though I did think it was interesting and noteworthy that Miami did think about moving Stanton to left last year.
4. Don’t forget about the DH spot. One reason the Yankees were comfortable acquiring Stanton and his massive contract is the DH spot. They know once he gets into his 30s and inevitably begins to slow down, they can move him to DH. Tying down the DH spot with an expensive older player a la Alex Rodriguez isn’t ideal, but it exists as an option. The Dodgers, Stanton’s first choice, couldn’t offer him a chance to DH.
In reality, the Yankees will rotate five outfielders between the three outfield spots and the DH spot, not rotate five players between the three outfield spots only. Stanton and Judge are going to play everyday, Hicks and Gardner will play most days, and Ellsbury will play a few days. That seems like the plan until further notice. The Yankees will use the DH spot to give Stanton and Judge, two very large humans, regular days to rest and take it easy on their legs. They want to preserve them for the long haul.
“First and foremost, I talked to Stanton, I talked to Judge, about the use of the DH spot to get them some time out of the outfield. I think they’ll both benefit,” said Cashman at Stanton’s press conference. “Clearly right field and DH work, but I think they’re athletic enough to be considered elsewhere. But the very easiest aspect of it is right field and DH, and I think both players will benefit from the DH rest. You won’t have to run somebody into the ground every day.”
Neither Judge (limited MLB time) nor Stanton (career NL player) have much experience as a DH, but even if they did, I’m not sure how predictive their performances would be anyway. They’re both full-time outfielders, so their DH at-bats are scattered over time. Here are their career DH numbers for the sake of having all the information:
- Judge: .294/.467/.647 (191 wRC+) with three homers in 45 plate appearances
- Stanton: .333/.390/.630 (166 wRC+) with four homers in 59 plate appearances
Both crushed it in their limited at DH. I’m glad neither guy has crummy numbers at DH because if one of them did, you know we’d be hearing “he hasn’t been good at DH so he should play the field full-time” arguments. No. Just no. Both Stanton and Judge should get regular turns at DH in an effort to preserve their bodies long-term. These are big, big dudes. Running around the outfield day after day, year after year will do a number on their knees.
So, thanks to the DH spot, neither Stanton nor Judge has to play left field regularly. They’ll just have to play it once in a while, specifically whenever Gardner gets a day off or the Yankees are in an NL park for an interleague game. That’s the ideal scenario. Everyone stays healthy, Gardner sees the most action in left field, and Judge and Stanton split their time a right field and DH. Hopefully the Yankees don’t have to move Judge or Stanton to left on a full-time basis at any point this year. That will mean something’s gone wrong.
* * *
Based on everything we just talked about, it seems like Judge is better suited to slide over to left field than Stanton, though the evidence is hardly overwhelming. Judge played some left field as recently as 2016, and his big advantage in making difficult plays (per Statcast) suggests he is better suited to play the larger left field at Yankee Stadium. The argument is not convincing, and in a way that’s a good thing. The Yankees are picking between two good options, not two bad options.
At the end of the day, this is going to be decided in Spring Training. All those words up there? Meaningless. The Yankees figure to give both Judge and Stanton left field time during Grapefruit League play, and whoever looks more comfortable out there will probably slide over. The players will decide this for the Yankees. If both look comfortable, great! It’s a good problem to have. Let’s see what they both look like in left field first.
“We’re going to juggle it. Those are things that we’ll flesh out in Spring Training. Who do we believe potentially would move over to play left field in a 20, 30-game situation? Use the DH role strategically, play different matchups that give certain guys days off depending upon the matchups,” said Aaron Boone at the Winter Meetings. “It’ll be a collaborative effort. What’s the best fit, who’s the most comfortable moving over and changing positions every now and then? The one thing we don’t want to disrupt is what they bring to the table offensively.”
We’re not going to know the Yankees’ best possible outfield alignment until we see Stanton and Judge go out and actually play left field in games. These things have a way of taking care of themselves. Ideally neither guy would spend much time in left field during the season because they’re splitting time at right field and DH while Gardner runs down everything in left field. That seems like the best outfield alignment. Gardner in left, Hicks or Ellsbury in center, and either Judge or Stanton or right. If one has to move to left full-time, so be it. The Yankees will adjust.
This is the nightly open thread. All the local hockey and basketball teams are playing except the Islanders, and there’s a bunch of college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it isn’t religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
Defining the winners of the 2017-18 MLB offseason is a difficult task. Free agent signings have been sparse and few blockbuster trades have reshaped the competitive landscape. There hasn’t been one team, perhaps outside the Angels, that has clearly gone from pretender to contender in the past few months.
Surely, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna won by getting out of Miami. Same with mid-to-upper-tier relievers who were the only group of players seemingly in demand. Finally, the owners have certainly won because it’s easier to run up profits when you don’t spend on players.
But an unlikely winner thus far has been Masahiro Tanaka, who looks like a genius for deciding to take his money and sit out the offseason.
The choice was simple for the 29-year-old starter and his agent, Casey Close: Remain a Yankee and take $67 million guaranteed for the next three seasons or wade in the uncertainty of free agency with the chance of striking another $100+ deal.
And when the opt-in date was creeping up, the decision to opt-in wasn’t so clear-cut. Almost exactly half of RAB readers thought he’d opt-out despite questions about his bloated 2017 ERA and continuing concerns over his partially torn UCL. His home run, walk and hit totals all surpassed his 2016 numbers in 21 fewer innings and he alternated between dominant and horrid even in his better-looking September.
But Tanaka was coming off 20 innings of superb postseason pitching and the assumption was that he’d be third in line among the top starters behind Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, perhaps at a similar level to Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. In a previous offseason, he could even have been the second guy to sign with Arrieta and Scott Boras holding out until late December or January. Unlikely as it was that Tanaka would surpass the $22.33 million per season he already had, a five-year, $100 million contract (as MLB Trade Rumors estimated he’d receive) appeared to be a reasonable expectation for the open market.
However, based on the reality of the market, Tanaka would still be looking for a new home if he had chosen to opt-out. The Yankees likely would have moved to other options and may have been more aggressive on the trade market. Maybe we’d have just witnessed an introductory press conference for Gerrit Cole in pinstripes. The extra money off their books could have allowed the Yankees to be a larger player for an infielder like Todd Frazier or Neil Walker.
That would have left Tanaka starved for options, waiting desperately for Darvish and Arrieta to find homes so the teams that missed out could move on to him. His best-case scenario may have been coming back to the Yankees around this time for a commitment closer to 3 years, $60 million, though who knows if Brian Cashman would still be entertaining a reunion after an opt-out.
As one of the younger starters to reach free agency, there’s the chance that he would have been a more sought-after option than what’s currently out there. Yet it seems just as likely that he’d have to settle for a three-year deal less than his current deal or a four-year deal that narrowly surpassed the mark and would have pushed his next free agency back to when he turns 33.
Another point to emphasize is that Tanaka would have had to look for a new home. He’s become comfortable in New York playing in the Bronx the last four years and that’s worth something. He cited that comfort when choosing to opt-in and it’s hard to think he’s looked back with regret or wonder since early November. So by not hitting free agency this winter, Tanaka looks like a big winner in a slow offseason.