Five years ago today, the Yankees agreed to an eight-year contract with Mark Teixeira. The signing came amid reports that Teixeira was close to a deal with the Red Sox, so close that an agreement was deemed imminent. The Yankees swooped right in and grabbed him. I remember thinking the initial report of the signing must have been a mistake — everything happened so fast that someone probably just made a typo and meant Red Sox instead of Yankees, right? — but nope. Just an unexpected Christmas gift. That day was a lot of fun.
Here is your open thread for the night. Falcons-49ers is the Monday Night Football Game plus all five hockey and basketball locals are in action. Lots to watch while you wrap presents. Talk about Teixeira, any or those games, or anything else right here. Have at it.
Via Jon Heyman: The Rangers and Shin-Soo Choo have agreed to a seven-year contract worth $130M. The Yankees reportedly offered the outfielder seven years and $140M before signing Carlos Beltran, but Choo might still come out ahead financially because there’s no income tax in Texas. I dunno, whatever.
I preferred Choo to Jacoby Ellsbury this winter — apparently that puts me in the minority — simply because I thought he fit New York’s roster better. Forget about the contracts, a super-high OBP guy with 20+ homer power addressed two of the Yankees’ biggest needs (OBP and power!) way better than another singles-hitting speedster. Don’t get me wrong, Ellsbury is really good, but Choo made more sense in my opinion. Oh well. Joel Sherman says Texas was Choo’s first choice anyway. · (91) ·
Earlier this week, the Orioles agreed to a two-year contract worth $15M with right-hander Grant Balfour. He was slated to take over as their closer after the team dumped Jim Johnson and his projected $11M salary on the Athletics. It was a nifty series of moves and a very reasonable contract considering how well Balfour has pitched the last three or four seasons.
That deal has fallen apart, however. Orioles GM Dan Duquette confirmed to reporters yesterday that the contract agreement is off after the pre-signing physical revealed an issue with his right shoulder. It’s no surprise Baltimore walked away in that case. Balfour and his agent responded by insisting he is healthy, unsurprisingly. Here is the statement they released yesterday:
“Grant is completely healthy and that was told to us today by Dr. Koco Eaton, a well-respected club physician. Dr. Eaton’s opinion is based upon the fact that the MRI which was taken today is the same as the MRI which was taken in 2011 as a condition of the 3-year contract that Grant signed with the A’s. Dr. Tim Kremchek, another well-respected club physician, reviewed the Orioles’ medical report and advised that he is remarkably impressed that there has been little change in Grant’s arm for almost 10 years. Now factor into the equation that Grant was a 2013 All Star, pitched 65 games and another 3 scoreless innings in the post season with a 94-95 mph fastball. The only reasonable conclusion is that Grant is healthy and the Orioles at the last moment changed their minds.
“Grant is an ALL STAR CLOSER who has converted 55 of 58 save opportunities. Talent wins at the end of the day and if a club wants to win then they need Grant coming out of the pen in the 9th inning”
Eaton and Kremchek also spoke to Ken Rosenthal, if you’re looking for direct quotes from the two doctors. “I would say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that his shoulder would not be a problem going forward any more than it was a problem over the past three years, and there was no problem over the past three years,” said Eaton.
Balfour, who turns 36 in about a week, had both his labrum and rotator cuff surgically repaired way back in September 2005. He has been relatively healthy since then, only landing on the DL with oblique strains in 2010 and 2011. Balfour did have surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee back in February, but he was healthy for Opening Day and went on to have a strong season (2.59 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 62.2 innings).
The Yankees were said to have interest in Balfour weeks ago, just like they were said to have interest in a lot of players. I assume he was looking for a chance to close and New York hasn’t been offering that to anyone. All they’re offering is a closer competition in Spring Training, basically. It’s easy to understand why Balfour and Joe Nathan and other guys like that would gravitate to other clubs. Everyone wants that ninth inning.
Regardless of what his agent and the doctors say, Balfour’s stock took a big hit yesterday. The Yankees are still looking for late-inning bullpen help are there may now be an opportunity to swoop in and land Balfour at a discounted rate. Obviously they would have to perform their own physical and thoroughly check him out, but that goes for any team that signs him. The Mariners, Rockies, White Sox, Rays, Rangers, and Astros are all looking for closers and could represent competition.
What would be an appropriate contract? I don’t really know at this point. That shoulder complicates things. In a perfect world, Balfour would take an incentive-laden (based on days on the active roster?) one-year deal with a $3-4M base salary and a vesting option for 2015. If he hits all the incentives and triggers the option, the contract would be the worth the original two years and $15M he agreed to with the O’s. That is the perfect world contract, right? Balfour gets fairly compensated if he is as healthy as his agent suggests while the team gets some protection in case his shoulder explodes. Makes sense for both sides, at least in theory.
Balfour was a really good fit for the Yankees heading into the offseason, but, on the other hand, the Yankees were not a good fit for Balfour because he wanted to close. The failed physical and non-deal with the Orioles has changed his market considerably. Closing might be off the table completely now and his asking price — at least in terms of guaranteed money — figures to have come down. The two sides could be more compatible now and as long as the medicals check out (not a given, obviously), the Yankees would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity. Balfour has been really good the last few years and there’s a lot to like about adding a high-end reliever with a chip on his shoulder to the bullpen.
The Yankees have officially announcing the hiring of Gary Tuck (bullpen coach), Matthew Krause (strength and conditioning coordinator), Trey Hillman (special assistant, major and minor league operations), and Mike Quade (roving outfield and baserunning instructor). The moves have been in the works for weeks. Tuck replaces Mike Harkey, who left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach a few weeks ago. Here’s the press release if you’re looking for background info on all four new hires. · (4) ·
Via Ken Rosenthal: The players’ union expects Brett Gardner’s salary for next season to be “considerably higher” than the $4M projected by Matt Swartz. Rosenthal notes Michael Bourn, a more prolific base-stealer who had a lower career OBP and SLG than Gardner, earned $6.845M in his final trip through arbitration two years ago.
Gardner, 30, hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) with eight homers and 24 steals this past season. His skillset — okay AVG, good OBP, little power, good amount of steals, great defense — is not one that pays well through the archaic arbitration system, which loves things like homers and RBI and awards. The injuries, particularly the lost 2012 season, will hurt his earning power as well. Gardner made $2.85M in 2013 and the projected $1.15M raise does seem a little light to me. We’ll find out how each side values him when they file their arbitration numbers next month. · (13) ·
The Yankees are handcuffed. It’s not as bad as feared earlier this off-season. They managed to add a number of players who will help in 2014 and beyond. But at the moment, despite their stated need for a right-handed infield bat, the Yankees will not make a move. The reason, once you break it down, is fairly obvious.
On the roster the Yankees have 11 position players under contract, though only one catcher. The backup catcher brings the total position players to 12, one short of the typical 13 they carry during the regular season. It might seem as though they have room for one more, but this projection doesn’t account for the man in limbo, Alex Rodriguez. Given the roster numbers, the Yankees really can’t do anything until they know his fate.
At this point, a complete overturning of the suspension is the best-case scenario. It didn’t always feel that way; with the shackles of Plan 189 looming, a full-season suspension seemed like the only way the Yankees could spend this off-season. Yet they’ve spent plenty of money before knowing how Fredic Horowitz will rule in the A-Rod matter. If he overturns the suspension completely, or even reduces it to 50 games, the Yankees will soar past the $189 million luxury tax limit without making a single other move.
“I think if people think there’s some sort of benefit by losing that talent, I mean, you can’t replace it. It’s not like, all right, well, Alex is gone. If he winds up getting suspended and it’s upheld, how do you replace that? It’s not easy.
“It’s not like, all right, we’ll take that money and go in this direction. I think … our fan base saw when we lost significant players at various positions, it was not easy to plug holes because the talent just doesn’t exist.”
No infielder on the market comes close to even an aged and injury-prone A-Rod. Even Yankees fans who hate the man’s guts should be rooting for him to stand at third base on Opening Day. We root for the laundry, right? Mark Reynolds or Jeff Baker might successfully play a role on the 2014 team with A-Rod suspended, but neither will match him in terms of overall production. Since they are role players, chances are they’ll remain on the board until the decision. Even if not, missing out on them is no huge loss.
True, the Yankees also seem handcuffed by the Masahiro Tanaka situation, but that’s another post for another day (or maybe today, who knows). That handcuffing seems a bit more damaging for a number of reasons, including the implications on spending. But with A-Rod, a complete overturn or even 50 games is a pure win for the 2014 team, while a full-season suspension leave them looking for an inferior right-handed-hitting infielder.
Got seven questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Anonymous asks: Why not an A.J. Burnett reunion? He could easily eat up 200 innings and wouldn’t be that expensive and doesn’t require a draft pick.
I mentioned this to Joe yesterday. If it wasn’t for 2010-2011, wouldn’t Burnett be the perfect one-year stopgap for the Yankees if Masahiro Tanaka is not posted? He has a 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) over the last two seasons, he misses bats (8.90 K/9 and 23.6 K%), the walks aren’t out of control (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), he gets grounders (56.7%), his velocity has been steady, and he’s thrown 180+ innings in each of the last six years. What more could you want?
Of course, it’ll never happen. Burnett was a disaster during his final two seasons in New York and I think the Javy Vazquez wound is still fresh enough to keep the team from trying a reunion. Burnett has said he will either pitch for the Pirates or retire next season, so maybe he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of coming to the Yankees. If he was open to it and his name was anything but A.J. Burnett … man he’d be a perfect fit.
Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka or he doesn’t get posted, what do you think of the Yankees offering Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza a one-year contract with a promise of not extending a qualifying offer? Yankees get a decent pitcher for one year that they can replace with one of the man good pitchers next off season, and Ubaldo/Garza can get to negotiate without having a pick attached to them. Do you think this is at all possible?
First, Garza will not cost a pick this winter, so that’s not an issue for him. He was traded at the deadline and a player has to be with their team for the full season to be eligible for the qualifying offer. Second, the Collective Bargaining Agreement strictly prohibits teams from promising they won’t extend the qualifying offer to help entice a free agent. I guess they could still do it under the table, but MLB is watching.
Third, I don’t think either guy would go for that. Ubaldo and Garza (and Ervin Santana for that matter) should have no trouble getting a nice multi-year contract as soon as the Tanaka situation is resolved. That is holding everything up, teams just want to know if he’ll be available before moving on to the alternatives. It would be hard for Ubaldo and Santana in particular to improve their stock in 2014 given their 2013 seasons. If any of those three are still sitting there unsigned when Spring Training rolls around, sure, make them a fat one-year offer. I just don’t expected them to still be on the board that long.
Kameron asks: Trey Haley was designated for assignment by the Indians yesterday. Do you think the Yankees should make a run at him? He has been around the 100 mph mark his entire career.
Yes, definitely. Haley’s name caught my eye when I saw the Tribe cut him to make room on the roster for John Axford. The 23-year-old had a 4.71 ERA (4.31 FIP) with 46 strikeouts and 39 walks in 44 innings at Double-A this season, so he’s a project. He has two minor league options remaining, so a team can afford to be patient with him.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Haley as Cleveland’s 14th best prospect before the season, saying his “fastball now operates at 93-98 mph (and) has touched 100 (with) late, heavy life” and his “curveball had good depth … it shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.” The raw stuff is awesome — the Indians paid him $1.25M as a second round pick in 2008, so he didn’t come out of nowhere — but the general strike-throwing ability needs a lot of work. The Yankees have a tight 40-man roster but they could make room for an arm like this. Someone is going to trade for Haley or claim him off waivers and it would be cool if it was the Bombers.
Dale asks: If Seattle needs a backup catcher and are trying to move one of Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin, would a Austin Romine for one of the two of them be fair enough? Or would we have to include another outfield prospect?
I don’t think Romine would be enough for either guy but especially not Franklin, who hasn’t been a Mariner long enough to have his value destroyed. A package of Romine plus a second prospect (Nik Turley? Jose Ramirez? Peter O’Brien? I have absolutely no idea) might be enough to land Ackley at this point, who I prefer to Franklin. I like the idea of buying super low on a guy who is only 25 and two years removed from being arguably the best hitter in the minors. Franklin is expected to be more of a solid regular long-term, and while that’s pretty good, I’d rather take a shot on Ackley’s talent while he’s still relatively young.
Adam asks: Thoughts on Carmol Marmol for the pen? Could he be a fit or is he done?
I don’t think he’s done, he’s just incredibly erratic. Marmol, 31, struck out 59 batters in 49 innings this past season (4.41 ERA and 5.19 FIP), but he also walked 40 (!). He’s got a 7.33 BB/9 and 18.0 BB% over the last two seasons. Few batters can miss bats as well as Marmol but few hit the strike zone less often. I’d take him on a minor league contract in a heartbeat — there’s always a chance it clicks and he has a Kimbrelian year or something — but I’d be wary about guaranteeing him a roster spot.
Jorge asks: Would you rather have a lineup composed of all 100 OPS+es or half 150 OPS+es and half 50 OPS+es?
Well, there are nine lineup spots, so let’s call it four 150 OPS+es, four 50 OPS+es, and one 100 OPS. The idea is that the nine spots would average out to a 100 OPS+ but that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. The four 150 OPS+es would be stacked at the top of the lineup and they’d get more at-bats than the 50 OPS+es. Instead of averaging out to a 100 OPS+, that lineup would average out to a 105 OPS+ or something like that.
Anyway, I’d much rather have a lineup of nine 100 OPS+ players. I prefer a deep and circular lineup to a top-heavy one. Those four 50 OPS+ spots are just killers. That’s three full innings in any given game where you have close to no chance to score. The lineup of league average hitters might not be sexy but the more good hitters you have, the better your chances are of scoring. Simple as that.
Jamie asks: What’s the difference between WAR used on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com? And why can’t they just agree on one? I think a universal WAR algorithm would go a long way towards old school guys taking it more seriously than they do.
I agree that having one universal WAR would lead to it being taken more seriously, but I also think the different versions (we could throw WARP from Baseball Prospectus into this ring) are a feature, not a bug. The WAR model isn’t perfect and as long as the various systems are coming up with different numbers, they will continue to be tinkered with and improved. I consider that a good thing.
As for the differences, B-Ref uses Total Zone for position player defense while FanGraphs uses UZR. The different defensive stats lead to different player values. On the pitching side, B-Ref’s WAR is built on runs allowed while FanGraphs’ WAR is built on FIP. I prefer FanGraphs for position players and B-Ref for pitchers — FIP is theoretical and if you want to but a number on a player’s value, it should be based on what he’s done, not what we think he should have done — but either way WAR is not definitive. It’s one tool in the shed. The concept of WAR (combining everything a player does into one number) is a really good but it’s not close to being a finished product.