The Yankees still have an open bench spot and are said to be done with their major offseason moves, meaning low cost guys like Scott Sizemore, Dean Anna, and Eduardo Nunez will compete for the utility infield role. Another relatively low cost option hit the market on Saturday as the Royals designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. The move cleared a 40-man roster spot for the recently re-signed Bruce Chen.
Bonifacio, 28, was pretty terrible with the Blue Jays and Royals last year, hitting only .243/.295/.331 (71 wRC+) with three homers and 28 stolen bases in 461 plate appearances. He had a big year with the Marlins in 2011 (109 wRC+ and 40 SB) but he’s been unable to build on it. Bonifacio is a switch-hitter with no real platoon split (91 wRC+ vs. RHP and 88 wRC+ vs. LHP from 2011-13), so platooning him doesn’t figure to help much.
In the field, Bonifacio has a ton of experience at second base, third base, left field, and center field. He’s also spent some time at shortstop and right field, so he offers a lot of versatility. The various defensive stats say he’s a bit below-average in center and average just about everywhere else. I suppose a breakout season could be right around the corner at his age, but at this point it’s safe to consider Bonifacio a role player who provides speed off the bench and can play almost anywhere on the field. Nothing more.
Is he better than Sizemore, Anna, Nunez and whoever else? I don’t think we can say. Is it worth adding him to that Spring Training competition? Yeah, I think so. Bonifacio is owed a lot of money this year ($3.5M), so if he clears waivers, he won’t elect free agency and forfeit that salary. The Yankees could try to claim him if they’re willing to take on that money, but it’s more likely they’d have to swing a small trade because the infield-needy Dodgers figure to be interested. Bonifacio hasn’t been all that good these last two years, but he could make sense for New York as the 25th man on the roster, or at least as part of a competition for that spot.
UPDATE: I got the contract stuff wrong. Bonifacio can’t elect free agency because he’s never been removed from the 40-man roster before. The Royals can release him and would only owe him one-sixth of his salary since it’s a non-guaranteed contract.
Seven months ago today, Mark Teixeira had surgery to repair a torn ECU tendon sheath in his right wrist after a rehab regime failed to strengthen the joint. The Yankees were without their first baseman essentially all of last season and the result was a whopping 86 wRC+ from the position, fourth worst in baseball and by far the worst in the AL (Twins were next at 93 wRC+). The timing of the injury — Teixeira got hurt in early-March during pre-WBC workouts — left them with few alternatives at first.
Teixeira, who turns 34 just after Opening Day, has been rehabbing for months and recently started some light hitting off a tee and soft toss. He had been taking dry swings for weeks and is slated to start hitting against MLB quality velocity (90+ mph) sometime this month. Game action will follow in March. Teixeira acknowledged the wrist is still stiff — “I’m expecting until June, and maybe even through this entire season, it’ll be a little tight,” he said to Dan Barbarisi recently — which isn’t uncommon even this far out from surgery.
The Yankees do not have an obvious backup for Teixeira but I suspect that will work itself out something before Opening Day. My biggest concern right now isn’t necessarily a setback that shelves Teixeira for a few weeks or months, but his actual performance. That’s the great unknown. Will the wrist hamper his power production? Will his left-handed swing be hindered while his right-handed swing is fine? How long will it take to shake off what amounts to a full season of rust?
“My entire career, April has not been my optimal baseball performance,” said Teixeira to Barbarisi. “Then throughout the year, I get stronger, I get better, and that’s the goal, to have 162 good games, not 30 good games … Am I going to go out and say, ‘OK, I’m going to hit this, have so many home runs, this many RBIs in April?’ I have no idea. Nobody has any idea.”
As Barbarisi noted in his article, both David Ortiz and Jose Bautista suffered similar injuries and saw their performance slip the following year. Ortiz did not have surgery for a partially torn ECU tendon sheath late in 2008 and then had the worst year of his career in 2009, with reduced power (.224 ISO) and overall effectiveness (100 wRC+). It wasn’t until 2010 that he got back to being the .260 ISO, 150 wRC+ monster he usually is. Bautista went from .322 ISO and 165 wRC+ from 2010-12 to a .239 ISO and 134 wRC+ in 2013 following surgery late last year. He was still obviously very good, but there was a dip in performance.
Wrist injuries are known for sapping power for several months even after the doctor says the player is healed, though only heard that about broken bones (hamate, specifically). Ortiz’s performance in 2009 and beyond fits that timetable and we’ll just have to wait and see how Bautista rebounds this summer. The issue with Teixeira is that his performance had been in decline even before the injury (wRC+ from 2008-12: 152, 142, 128, 124, 116), though his power production was consistently in the .240 ISO range. Given his declining batting average (and subsequently declining OBP), power is Teixiera’s redeeming offensive quality and if that is compromised because of the wrist, he won’t be of much use to the Yankees at the plate in 2014.
I guess the good news, if you want to take it that way, is that the team’s first basemen were so very bad last year that Teixeira almost can’t help but be an upgrade even if the wrist injury saps his power. A perfectly league average hitter will be a big step down for Teixeira but an improvement for the team at first base overall. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were brought in to solidify the middle of the lineup (a full year of Alfonso Soriano will help as well) so even without Robinson Cano, the Yankees won’t need Teixeira to carry the load as the cleanup hitter. There are enough bats in the lineup to bat him sixth if his production warrants it. That said, the team can’t afford a half season of Lyle Overbay-esque production at first base either. Teixeira is an important part of the team but it’s impossible to know how much he can contribute this year.
It has been less than two weeks since the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract, and two weeks from today pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa. That doesn’t leave much time for Tanaka to get his affairs in order, including securing a visa.
In an effort to make sure their new pitcher arrives to camp in time, the Yankees enlisted the help of New York Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure the paperwork was taken care of properly. From Anthony McCarron:
“My office works tirelessly to help constituents every single day, but it’s not often you get a call from a constituent like the New York Yankees,” Schumer said. “You see, the Yankees called me a couple of days ago to say they were worried about Masahiro Tanaka getting to Spring Training on time due to the length of time it can take for foreign players to get a visa.
“Foreign baseball players apply for something called a P-visa and the whole process can take up to a month; but with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14th, it was very possible he wasn’t going to make it. So I made sure we had someone go to the mailroom at USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), pull his application and get it processed quickly – something I have done in the past for the Mets as well, when they had a similar issue with Jose Reyes.”
“Now the Yankees’ star free agent will be able to join the team at spring training with everyone else,” Schumer added. “As a lifelong Yankee fan who is hoping for another World Series this year, I could not be happier.”
Imagine if the Yankees had spent all that time waiting for the posting system to be revised and negotiating with Tanaka only to have his debut be delayed by paperwork. Must be nice to have those kinda connections, eh?
(I’m leaving the comments open but I reserve the right to close them if things get too politicy.)
Got 12 questions for you this week, but some of the answers are really short. Like two sentences short. I also trimmed some questions a bit. A few were pretty long. Send us anything via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.
Hey, you can make a case Matsui wasn’t robbed. He hit .287/.353/.435 (109 wRC+) with 16 homers as a bad fielding left fielder while Angel Berroa hit .287/.338/.451 (101 wRC+) with 17 homers as an average fielding shortstop. If you want to take fWAR/bWAR at face value (fine for something like this), Berroa edges Godzilla out (Berroa: 2.7/2.5, Matsui: 0.2/2.2).
Anyway, yes Tanaka has a legitimate shot at RoY this season. The last three RoY starting pitchers (Jose Fernandez, Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Verlander) averaged a 14-8 record with a 2.94 ERA (~143 ERA+) and 4.7 bWAR in 180-ish innings, if you want a performance benchmark. That’s doable but a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East and at Yankee Stadium will probably take some luck. Tanaka is going to have some stiff competition in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Abreu (my early RoY pick), plus the voting has been skewed heavily in favor of position players these last ten years (13 position players, four closers, three starters).
Craig asks: How about John Mayberry Jr.? He could double as the fourth/fifth outfielder and first base back-up. If they are looking for a lefty we could eat Ichiro Suzuki‘s contract or send Brett Gardner and get some bullpen help.
Mayberry, 30, had that huge season in 2011, hitting .306/.358/.595 (157 wRC+) against lefties with a 132 wRC+ overall. He hasn’t hit much since then, just .259/.309/.481 (111 wRC+) against lefties and an 86 wRC+ overall. There was talk the Phillies might non-tender him earlier this winter, but they kept him for $1.59M instead. Mayberry can play first and the two outfield corners, but he’s a net negative on defense. His only redeeming quality is his power against lefties. There’s no way I’d trade Gardner for him — the Phillies have been looking for bullpen help all winter, so I doubt they’d kick in a reliever, and I’d need a great reliever to even out a Gardner-for-Mayberry swap — but a straight up Ichiro-for-Mayberry deal would make some sense given the current roster. You’d wind up the same replacement level-ish extra outfielder, just instead of doing it with defense, he’d do it with power.
Should this happen? Yes, absolutely. Will it? I don’t think there’s any chance unless Jeter shows he is completely immobile following the leg injuries. If that happens, the team will have a bigger problem to worry about other than simply replacing Jeter for defense in the late innings. If he’s not used a defensive replacement, I’m not sure how the team will use Ryan this year aside from giving Jeter and Brian Roberts the occasional day off.
Did you know Betemit is still only 32 years old? He just turned 32 in November too. I figured he would 35 or 36 by now. Anyway, he missed almost the entire 2013 season due to a knee injury, and he only has 81 games and 515.1 innings worth of experience at first base in his career. Betemit has played a ton of third but the defensive stats crush him there, and he’s a switch-hitter who should be a platoon bat because he punishes righties (127 wRC+ since 2011) but can’t touch lefties (36 wRC+). As a bench bat who backs up first and plays third base in an emergency, the 24th or 25th man on the roster, yeah it might work. It would be worth bringing Betemit to camp as a non-roster player, but I’m not sure he’s clearly better than Sizemore, Nunez, Canzler, or whoever else at this point.
UPDATE: Betemit agreed to a minor league contract with the Rays this morning, according to Jon Heyman. So scratch that idea.
Eric asks: Can and should the Yankees employ a six-man rotation this year or at least for part of it? You can lighten the load on Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia, help Tanaka transition from pitching every seven days in Japan, and give the young arms a better look other than just Spring Training.
I feel like the six-man rotation idea comes up every offseason around this time. The obvious question is this: do the Yankees even have six starters worthy of a rotation spot? Do they even have four at this point? No one really knows what to expect out of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Ivan Nova in 2014. Taking starts away from your top guys for someone like Vidal Nuno isn’t a luxury a team like the Yankees can afford. They’re going to have to fight for a playoff spot, remember. Kuroda’s and Tanaka’s (and Michael Pineda‘s) workloads are going to have to be monitored, no doubt about it, but I don’t think a straight six-man rotation is the answer. It sounds so good on the paper, but successfully pulling it off is so difficult.
Michael asks: I’m trying to find out what Tanaka’s nickname “Ma-kun” translates to English as, but i’m not having any luck. Do you know what it means?
Jason asks: If I remember correctly, prior to being injured, there was an advantage to keeping Pineda in Triple-A until at least mid-May to push back his arbitration clock. Does that benefit still exist if the Yankees did that this year?
Pineda was the on the DL until the team activated him and sent him to Triple-A in early-July last year. He was down long enough to both delay his free agency and arbitration clock one year. Pineda will be a Super Two now (four years of arbitration rather than three), but they get to keep him for another season (through 2017) and that’s the important thing. They’ve already received the benefit and would have to keep him in the minors pretty much all season to push things back another year. If Pineda goes yet another year without pitching in the big leagues, it would be close to time to write him off completely.
Adam asks: When a player gets a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, what compensation does he receive?
Non-roster players don’t get paid anything during Spring Training. They get meal money and some kind of housing arrangement/allowance. That’s all. Guys on minor league contracts get paid a salary during the regular season only.
Most teams have a sliding salary scale based on service time for pre-arbitration players. Murphy was in the big leagues for a month, hence the extra $2,700. Teams can simply renew a pre-arb player’s contract for any salary as long as it is at least 80% of the previous year’s salary, but that’s a good way to get your players to hate you. A sliding scale based on service time (with adjustments for awards, All-Star Games, etc.) makes it nice and easy.
Anonymous asks: Would you guess Shawn Kelley is Opening Day setup man on this current Yankee roster?
Yeah, that’s the safe bet, but I wouldn’t count on him holding the job all summer. We’ve been spoiled these last few years by David Robertson. Here’s a quick recap of the team’s primary eighth inning guys from 2007-11, the five years before Robertson emerged.
|Opening Day Setup Man||End of Season Setup Man|
|2011||Rafael Soriano||David Robertson|
|2010||Joba Chamberlain||Kerry Wood|
|2009||Brian Bruney||Phil Hughes|
|2008||Joba Chamberlain||Joba Chamberlain|
|2007||Kyle Farnsworth||Joba Chamberlain|
Remember, Joba moved into the rotation at midseason in 2008. He only wound up in the bullpen late in the season after hurting his shoulder. Farnsworth took over as the primary setup man when Joba gave the starting thing a shot. Point is: don’t sweat who holds what bullpen role on Opening Day. They’ll all change. They almost always do.
Mike asks: Assuming it was allowed, how would you look at a Robinson Cano – Jacoby Ellsbury trade before the season starts? Would Ellsbury fit better with Seattle and would Cano fit better with NY than the way things stand now? Would either NY or Seattle have to throw in a player or pay part of a contract?
I completely understand why the Yankees didn’t match the Mariners’ offer to Cano, but there’s no doubt Robbie makes more sense for the current roster than Ellsbury. The team could go with an Alfonso Soriano-Gardner-Carlos Beltran outfield with Cano at second and a low-cost DH (or an expensive one like Kendrys Morales). The Mariners are going to let Dustin Ackley sink or swim in center this year while Nick Franklin slides into a utility role thanks to Cano, so they need the outfielder and not the infielder. Cano makes more sense for the Yankees, Ellsbury makes more sense for Seattle. I assume the Yankees would have to add another player to facilitate a trade (despite the salary difference) because Cano is the considerably better player.
According to Ken Rosenthal, Michael Young has decided to retire so he can spend more time with his family. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and Rosenthal said three (unknown) teams had offers on the table. Young could have served as a part-time third baseman and backup first baseman, though his last two years have not been pretty offensively: .278/.322/.381 (90 OPS+). · (18) ·
I was in the mood for some Brett Gardner highlights earlier today, so here are some Brett Gardner highlights. I’m pretty sure this coming season will be Brett’s last with the Yankees, mostly because I don’t think the team wants to pay two no power outfielders top dollar via free agency. Plus I’m sure Gardner would prefer to play center field and bat leadoff, all other things being equal. Will he be worth the qualifying offer in a year? That’s the interesting question to me. He could turn down a one-year, ~$15M offer if he and his agent think a Michael Bourn deal (four years, $48M) is out there.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Devils are both playing, so talk about those games or whatever else. You folks know how this works by now, so have at it.
The Yankees announced five additions to their Major League/pro scouting staff today: Kendall Carter, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Espada, Dan Giese, and Dennis Twombley. Background info on all five is right here. Carter and Twombley are moving over from the amateur scouting staff and Espada was hired away from the Marlins. You probably remember Giese from his brief 2008 stint in pinstripes.
Duckworth, who bounced around the league as a journeyman right-hander for more than a decade, is the most interesting of the new hires simply because he spent the last two years as Masahiro Tanaka’s teammate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Did they hire him to help ease Tanaka’s transition, or did they get to know Duckworth while scouting Tanaka and felt he could help them as a scout? Either way, the Yankees haven’t dug up many hidden gems since Billy Eppler was promoted from pro scouting director to assistant GM two years ago. Hopefully that changes with the new additions. · (12) ·
Ivan Nova‘s relatively short big league career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He was okay during the first half of 2011 (4.12 ERA) and dominant in the second half (3.18 ERA). The 2012 season was atrocious from start to finish (5.02 ERA), and that carried over into early 2013 (5.16 ERA in April and May). But, after returning from a brief DL stint and a trip to the minors, he was again dominant and arguably the best pitcher on the staff the rest of the season (2.70 ERA). This graph tells the story:
Yeah, these last three years have been pretty up and down for Nova, but that’s okay. Not every young guy comes into the league and dominates right away like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. Most young pitchers take their lumps before learning what works for them and how to make the necessary adjustments. Heck, some guys never learn that stuff. It’s just the way it goes. Pitching is hard.
To his credit, Nova has already shown the ability to make some adjustments. That excellent second half in 2011 came after he started using his slider more often. When he was demoted to Triple-A last season, he focused on his curveball and rode that pitch to a successful second half. I don’t think anyone would question the quality of Nova’s stuff — he shows some nasty, nasty stuff when he’s on — but learning how the command it well and get by on days when one or two pitches aren’t working has been a challenge. Again, that’s part of the learning process.
Now, that said, Nova turned 27 earlier this month and he’s about to enter his fourth full season with the Yankees. He’s also earning some decent money ($3.3M in 2014) now that he’s gone through arbitration for the first time as well. The learning process never stops, but Nova is at the point where that rollercoaster ride should end and he puts together a consistent and productive season, from Opening Day through Game 162. The days of posting an ugly first half and going to Triple-A for a wake-up call before finding success down the stretch should be in the past. They have to be — Nova is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers.
“When I got hurt and went to Tampa [for rehabilitation], I really thought about what I want to do and what I want to be. I forgot about the past and focused on doing what I have to do,” said Nova to Ken Davidoff last September, after his complete-game shutout against the Orioles. It certainly appeared as though the figurative light bulb had turned on late last year, but I felt the same way in the second half of 2011. Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but Nova has given me some reason to doubt whether that success last year will carry over into this coming season.
At this point, three full years into his big league career, we still don’t know what Nova is. Is he the guy who’s slung to a 3.00 ERA for a half-season on two occasions? Or the guy with a 5.something ERA for the season and a half in between? Reality is probably somewhere in the middle and that’s fine. He has shown he can get ground balls and strikeouts, two skills that are a pretty good recipe for success. Chris Moran took an in-depth look at why Nova might be ready to emerge as a steady rotation presence earlier this winter, but we need to see that emergence actually happen.
The Yankees spend a boatload of money to make Masahiro Tanaka the centerpiece of their rotation going forward, and now they need Nova to shed the “enigma” label and become Tanaka’s running mate as CC Sabathia declines. I wouldn’t call this a make-or-break year, but the time has come for Nova to stop being an interesting young pitcher and become a reliable member of the rotation. This is the year for him to show the team he is a building block and not just more back-end fodder.
One day after posting his top 100 prospects list and two days after posting his organizational rankings, Keith Law released his top ten prospects lists for each of the 15 AL clubs today (East, Central, West, subs. req’d). The NL will be released tomorrow, if you care. Here are the Yankees’ top 11, according to KLaw:
- C Gary Sanchez (68th on the top 100)
- OF Tyler Austin (85th)
- OF Mason Williams (87th)
- C J.R. Murphy
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- RHP Luis Severino
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Jose Ramirez (Law said he is #11 in the write-up)
Judge is mentioned as a breakout candidate (video link) who could jump not just into the top 100 next year, but into the top 25 with a strong season.
In his write-up, Law says Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody” while Bird’s “patience/power game could make him a second-division regular down the road.” Severino might not stick as a starter long-term but his “three-pitch mix might be three pluses out of the pen, and it’s a grade-65 or 70 fastball [on the 20-80 scale] even in the rotation.” Law also quotes a scout who said Heathcott is “legitimately a crazy person,” which is kinda funny. The kid always seems to have his dial set to 11.
“The Yankees have to be excited about Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens, whom they signed for $1.3 million in July 2012,” added Law, picking Torrens as the organization’s sleeper prospect. “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”
Sanchez is the clear top prospect in the organization right now. I’m not sure anyone will disagree with that. After him though, there really isn’t much separation between the guys Law has ranked from two through about eight. You can rank those players in almost any order and it would be tough the argue. Either way, the Yankees need better results from their minor league system and that starts with rebound seasons from guys like Austin and Williams. Both will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so hopefully that 40-man roster spot serves as a nice carrot this summer.