Ten years ago today, the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez and $67M from the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias. New York landed the best player in baseball at age 28 on what amounts to a seven-year, $112M contract. Things with A-Rod are terrible now, but he was a monster from 2004-07 before using his opt-out clause. It was one of the best trades in history.
Joel Sherman has a look inside how the trade went down, including the failed deal with the Red Sox. It’s similar to ESPN’s 30 for 30 video but it includes some more big picture and long-term information. For example, Rangers owner Tom Hicks hoped signing A-Rod would lead to developers gobbling up the 270 acres he owned around The Ballpark in Arlington. Texas also came close to flipping Soriano for Jose Reyes after the trade, and the opt-out was designed to help Rodriguez finish his career with the Mets, his favorite team growing up. Check it out, there’s some pretty interesting stuff in the article. · (24) ·
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding pitchers and catchers reporting now in the rear-view mirror, the Yankees held their first official workout today. Here is a recap of the day’s news from Tampa:
- Chad Jennings has the day’s bullpen and and batting practice groups. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova were among those to throw off a mound with various coaches and front office staff watching. Tanaka and Kuroda are catch partners and appear to have struck up a friendship already. Neato. [Meredith Marakovits, Dan Barbarisi]
- Joe Girardi and the rest of the staff are very pleased with how Tanaka how adjusted so far and were impressed with his bullpen session. Tanaka said he was surprised by how much running they do, however. “The four laps we did at the end were pretty hard,” he joked. [Bob Nightengale, Marakovits, Bryan Hoch]
- Manny Banuelos‘ elbow feels great and he expects to make his MLB debut at some point this year. He was touching 94 mph during simulated games late last year. ”It’s been a long time and I’m happy to be back,” he said. Banuelos will throw live batting practice on Wednesday. [Hoch, Marakovits, Jennings]
- Nova said he views Sabathia, Kuroda, and Tanaka as the only rotation locks and will treat this spring as if he’s competing for a job. “I’m still in a competition. Nothing is sure … I’m one of the young guys. I’ve got to be doing the best out there in the competition,” he said. [Hoch, Jennings]
- Mark Teixeira went through some infield drills with first base coach Mick Kelleher and then did some work in the batting cage with hitting coach Kevin Long. He’s working his way back from season-ending wrist surgery. [Wally Matthews]
- J.R. Murphy is going by John Ryan Murphy now. Apparently he had always gone by John Ryan, but people started calling him J.R. after he was drafted and he never bothered to correct anyone. [Sweeny Murti]
- Right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama is not yet in camp because of a visa issue. He is a long shot to make the bullpen anyway. [Jennings]
- And finally, there have been a number of upgrades made at George M. Steinbrenner Field. A new high-definition video board has been installed in left field and there’s a new scoreboard as well. [Hoch]
Here is tonight’s open thread. The NBA All-Star Skills Competition is on, as are the Olympics. You folks know how this stuff works by now, so have at it.
According to multiple reports, utility man Emilio Bonifacio has signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. Jon Heyman says he turned down big league contract offers from other teams because he felt Chicago gave him the best opportunity. There were never any reports indicating the Yankees had interest in Bonifacio, but he did make some sense for that final option bench spot. Oh well. · (14) ·
Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees continue to have no interest in Stephen Drew even though they now know Derek Jeter will retire following the season. For what it’s worth, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says several teams are concerned about the infielder’s medicals, specifically regarding his right ankle. He suffered a severe break and torn ligaments when he caught spike sliding into home plate back in 2011.
I’ve said I believe Drew is a good fit for the Yankees more times than I care to count by now, though I think the team may be waiting to see what happens with Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz before pursuing Drew. Diaz, as I explained in yesterday’s mailbag, is eligible to sign next Wednesday and the Yankees have been scouting him since last summer. If they spend big bucks on an infielder, they might prefer to spend it on the 23-year-old Diaz rather than the 30-year-old Drew. I dunno, we’ll see. · (69) ·
Happy pitchers and catchers day, everyone. Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day as well. But who cares about that. The Yankees officially opened Spring Training this morning and it sounds as though everyone other than Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman reported on time. Their flights from New York were delayed by the weather and they got in later this afternoon. We had a recap of Girardi’s press conference earlier, now here is the first day’s worth of camp notes.
- The first official workout is tomorrow, but Brian McCann, Frankie Cervelli, and Austin Romine spent time with Kevin Long in the batting cage today while Michael Pineda threw a bullpen session. Adam Warren and David Phelps have been in town for weeks and are already facing hitters. [Chad Jennings]
- CC Sabathia told reporters he is at 275 lbs., down from 315 lbs. a few years ago and his lowest weight since he was with the Indians. He believes he lost too much weight too quickly last year, costing him power and stamina, so that was his focus this winter. Sabathia also blamed himself for missing the postseason a year ago. He was bad, but that’s a bit much. [Richard Justice & Bob Nightengale]
- Masahiro Tanaka met with the media and said he’s willing to make whatever adjustments are needed as he transitions to MLB. He has spoken to Hiroki Kuroda about the differences in leagues as well. David Robertson, meanwhile, said he is focused on being more efficient in 2014. [Dan Barbarisi]
- McCann said the team wasted no time helping him get acclimated with the pitching staff and opposing hitters. “I got an iPad in the mail two days later with everybody’s two good games, two bad games, all the hitters in the AL East,” he said. “As soon as we signed Tanaka, I got all his starts, so I’ve seen it. Now I want to get to know everybody and what their mindset is.” [Bryan Hoch]
- The Yankees are “quietly encouraged and excited” by what they’ve seen from Pineda so far. He is in better shape than he had been in the past and his velocity has shown signs of increasing. [Buster Olney & Andrew Marchand]
- If you care about such things, Mariano Rivera‘s old locker went to Tanaka. “I was like, ‘I’m not really sure if I should be here,’” he said when he found out. Alex Rodriguez‘s old locker remains vacant though Carlos Beltran took over the adjacent locker. Jacoby Ellsbury got Kevin Youkilis‘ old spot. [AP]
- Here is the full list of number assignments [Hoch]. Some notables: Brian Roberts will wear 14, Scott Sizemore 24, Kelly Johnson 33, and Matt Thornton 48. They gave out Robinson Cano‘s number right away, huh? Cold.
- Position players are scheduled to report next Wednesday and Derek Jeter will hold a press conference to discuss his impending retirement at 11:30am ET that day. He said “everything’s good” with his surgically repaired ankle. [Dan Martin]
Here is your open thread for the night. The NBA (All-Star) and NHL (Olympics) are both on breaks, so the only sports tonight are college basketball and the Olympics. Talk about whatever here. Have at it.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and a few hours later Joe Girardi showed up to camp. His flight from New York was delayed because of all the snow. My goodness there is so much snow. Anyway, here is a not at all complete recap of Girardi’s annual start-of-Spring Training press conference, culled together from the Twitter accounts of reporters in attendance.
On Derek Jeter
- Girardi had “no inkling” Jeter was planning to retire after the season until the announcement was made. “We are going to miss him,” he said. “You want a guy like that to play forever.”
- Jeter’s playing time both in the field and at DH against left-handers is going to be based on how he feels on a daily basis. They won’t put a firm plan in place at this point.
- As for batting Jeter second, Girardi said “we’ll have to see,” but indicated he would like to split up the left-handed hitters. I wonder if that means Brett Gardner will bat leadoff and Jacoby Ellsbury will bat third. Or maybe Ellsbury at leadoff with Brian McCann batting third. We’ll see.
On the new players
- “It is the biggest transition I’ve been through … I think its important I get to know these guys,” said the skipper.
- Girardi believes Masahiro Tanaka loves the spotlight and will handle the move to MLB well.
- Kelly Johnson is the backup first baseman for the time being. They have not discussed playing McCann at first.
On the fifth starter competition
- Girardi plans to tell David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and everyone else to make sure they take it easy early in camp and gradually build themselves up. They don’t want anyone getting hurt by doing too much too soon.
- “Anything is possible,” said Girardi when asked if they would be willing to use Pineda out of the bullpen. “When we traded for him, we expected him to be in our rotation,” he added. “We envision him as a starter.”
The 2011-12 seasons were not particularly kind to Austin Romine, who was limited to only 108 games due to concussion and back problems. Sure, he made his big league debut in September 2011, but it wasn’t until last April that he returned to the show, and that was only because a foul pitch broke Frankie Cervelli‘s hand. Romine spent last season as Chris Stewart‘s backup and, aside from a few weeks in July, he wasn’t very impressive.
Stewart was traded away this winter but the Yankees replaced him in a big way, committing $85M to free agent Brian McCann. Cervelli’s hand (and elbow) is healed and his 50-game Biogenesis suspension is over, plus J.R. Murphy jumped up the organizational depth chart with a breakout season. Romine was arguably the best catcher in the organization for much of last year, but now, just an offseason later, he is widely considered no better than the fourth best backstop on the team.
“First of all, it’s a business. Second of all, I thought it was awesome,” said Romine to Adam Berry earlier this week when asked about the McCann signing. “I get a chance to study and be under a guy that’s been an All-Star forever. You’d be stupid not to pick his brain and learn something. I see it as a great opportunity to learn more about this game from a guy that’s been around for a long time. I’m actually really excited.”
There’s no doubt Romine can learn a lot from a veteran guy like McCann, but he might not get that opportunity. At least not after Spring Training. Cervelli, who is out of options and can’t go to the minors without passing through waivers, is expected to backup McCann with Romine and Murphy opening the year in Triple-A. Considering that the 25-year-old Romine has hit .258/.321/.355 with 12 homers combined over the last three years, the 22-year-old Murphy figures to get playing time priority with the RailRiders.
Now, there is no such thing as too much catching depth, but right now Romine is in a weird spot. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was the best catching prospect in the organization yet now he’s an afterthought behind McCann, Murphy, and Cervelli. All it takes is one injury to move him up the pecking order and catchers sure do get hurt a lot, but there is no obvious place for him at the moment. Romine will essentially be the Triple-A backup this coming year because he hasn’t forced the Yankees to consider him anything more.
“Anyone that told you that they didn’t want to be a starting catcher is lying to you,” he added. “That’s my goal. That’s been my goal since I was a little kid. Everybody wants to be a starting catcher. Right now, the backup job’s open, so that’s what you focus on. You get to be behind a guy that’s done it all and learn some stuff, and maybe they’ll give you a chance … I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in a while. I’m just looking for some time to show them I can still do it. It’s going to be a fight.”
I’m inclined to think this situation will work itself out. Someone will get hurt somewhere along the line and Romine will assume a more important role, even if that role is nothing more than the starter with Triple-A Scranton. Trading him is always an option but his stock isn’t all that high and I don’t think the return would be great. Having the extra young catcher around would be more beneficial than whatever he could fetch in a trade. Romine’s long-term role with the Yankees may not be clear now, but that doesnt’t mean he isn’t worth keeping around.
I’ve got six questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, as you probably know.
Many people asked: What about Aledmys Diaz?
Diaz, 23, will be eligible to sign next Wednesday after being suspended for a year because he lied about his age. Believe it or not, he tried to pass himself off as older than his actual age so the international spending restrictions wouldn’t apply to him, allowing him to receive a much larger bonus. How about that? A Cuban player trying to trick people into thinking he was older than he really is.
Anyway, the suspension ends next week and he can indeed sign for any amount now that he is 23. The Yankees had a “large presence” at one of his workouts last year and they were among the teams to scout him just yesterday, says Jon Morosi. Their interest level is unknown but if they’re still on him, they probably like him. Here’s a scouting report from Ben Badler, dated last January:
Age questions and unblocking issues aside, scouting reports on Diaz’s talent remain modest. Though Diaz has played shortstop in Cuba, scouts have said he doesn’t have the lateral range, quickness or footwork to stay at the position. Diaz has shown some ability with the bat, hitting .315/.404/.500 in 313 plate appearances for Villa Clara in his final season in Cuba, albeit in a high-offensive environment in which he ranked 30th in the league in OBP and tied for 20th in slugging.
That’s everything I know about Diaz right there. I don’t know if he is ready to step right into the big leagues but I assume he will need some time in the minors. Most guys do. (Yoenis Cespedes is the only big name Cuban player to jump straight into MLB in recent years). The Yankees need long-term help at both second base and shortstop, and Diaz is as good a candidate to plug one of those holes as anyone. As always, his asking price will be a factor.
Jamie asks: 5th starter competition: of Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Michael Pineda, none of these guys threw more than 86 IP last year. Can we really expect 150 innings out of any of these guys in 2014? Isn’t that kind of an IP jump from one season to the next a big stretch?
Pineda is the one I worry about the most because of his injury. The Yankees will have to watch him very carefully. I’m not worried about the other guys at all though. For starters, they aren’t particularly young. Warren is the youngest and he’ll turn 27 in August, so these aren’t 22 or 23-year-old kids. Secondly, all three threw at least 120 innings (postseason included) in both 2011 and 2012, plus both Warren (2011, 2012) and Phelps (2009, 2010) have multiple 150+ inning seasons to their credit. I don’t know if the Yankees can run these guys out there for 200+ innings this summer, but I wouldn’t sweat 150 innings at all.
Dominik asks: Now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended, will he be drug tested during his suspension? Are there still increased testing protocols for once he gets reinstated and do they apply during the suspension if he is tested? Thanks!
Oh yes, he will absolutely continue to be drug tested. In fact, he will be tested even more now that he’s been suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. That continues even after he is reinstated. Even if the Yankees plan to release A-Rod at some point, they won’t do it during the suspension because he could potentially fail a test and be suspended again, saving them an even bigger chunk of his contract.
Christopher asks: Should the Yankees pass on Stephen Drew this year and look to replace Derek Jeter with next year’s bountiful crop of Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera?
They could do that but it would be really risky, not to mention it doesn’t help the 2014 team at all. There is no guarantee those guys will actually hit free agency, and Hardy is the only true shortstop of the bunch. The other three are terrible defenders and that figures to be even more evident after another season. Hanley’s bat makes his defense less of an issue, but he recently said he wants to be a Dodger for life. The Yankees could, conceivably, sign Drew now and still add Ramirez (third base) or Lowrie (second) next winter. (Asdrubal is pretty bad and has been trending down for several years now.)
Gilbert asks: Instead of just basing how good of a contact hitter someone is by their batting average, is there a stat like keeps track of the percentage of pitches a batter sees that he makes contact with (in play or foul)? This way we can say “He makes contact 47.1% of the time.”
Definitely. Thanks to PitchFX we have all sorts of neat information and most of it is easily available. Here is the contact rate leaderboard from 2011-13, courtesy of FanGraphs:
So, over the last three years, Marco Scutaro has made contact on 95.2% of his swings, the most in baseball. O-Contact% is contact rate on pitches out of the zone, Z-Contact% is contact rate on pitches in the zone. Pretty simple, right?
Ichiro is 15th in baseball with a 89.6% contact rate since 2011 while Brett Gardner is 18th at 88.9%. On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Reynolds is dead last with a 66.7% contact rate over the last three years. Ryan Howard (67.0%) and Giancarlo Stanton (67.3%) are second and third worst. Batting average can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year — Robinson Cano is a career .309 hitter, but he hit .342 one year and .271 another — but contact rates tend to be very steady. It is important to remember that not all contact is created equal though. Some guys simply hit the ball harder than others.
Matt asks: If teams usually sign Japanese players from the posting system for six years, since they would be under team control for six years anyway, and would be only arbitration eligible at the end of the contract if they only signed for say, four years. Why is this working differently for Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out clause? It seems if he opts out, of the contract, he should still be under team control for the remainder of the six years.
This is just a courtesy MLB extends to veterans of the Japanese leagues. Rather than maintain the full six years of team control, they’re treated as regular free agents, guys who have already accrued that much service time. Hideki Matsui became a free agent when his original three year contract expired following the 2006 season, for example. Yu Darvish’s contract works the same way as Tanaka’s. He can opt-out after the fifth year and become a free agent. I think it’s fair and a good thing. Those guys have served their time.
Just a heads up, the Yankees announced individual game tickets will go on sale on Monday, February 24th at 10am ET. The Mastercard pre-sale runs from February 19th though February 23rd. Here is the press release with all the information. Derek Jeter’s final regular season home game is scheduled for Thursday, September 25th, though I suspect they’ll have his big going away ceremony the prior weekend like they did with Mariano Rivera. · (10) ·
Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, so this is officially the last open thread of the offseason. Thank goodness for that. The camp notes start tomorrow but there is already some news worth passing along now, specifically Masahiro Tanaka throwing his first bullpen session this morning. Erik Boland says he threw 23 pitches to Frankie Cervelli. Tanaka and pitching coach Larry Rothschild spent time hashing out a Spring Training program yesterday, according to Dan Martin. Baseball … it’s a comin’.
Here is your nightly open thread. The Nets are playing tonight plus the Olympics are still going on, so talk about any of that stuff and more right here. Have at it.