10:53am: The Mariners and Cano are close to a deal worth “at least” $225M, reports Jon Heyman. Enrique Rojas says it’s a ten-year, $240M contract, for what it’s worth.
10:20am: Ken Rosenthal says talks between Cano and the Mariners are “still alive.” I get the sense that one side (Mariners) leaked the initial report of the snag and the other side (Cano) leaked the report that things were alive. Posturing!
8:26am: Via Mark Feinsand: The Mariners have broken off contract talks with Robinson Cano due to Jay-Z’s excessive demands. Feinsand says the team was led to believe the nine-year, $225M offer would get it done, but Jay-Z asked for ten years and $252M at the last second. CEO Howard Lincoln “exploded” and ended the meeting. Scott Boras must be loving this. · (165) ·
After landing two big position players in Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees have started to address their pitching staff. Joel Sherman reports the team finalized a one-year contract worth $16M with Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday night. He will earn an extra $250k for both 190 and 210 innings pitched, plus he gets an interpreter. The Yankees won’t receive a supplemental first round pick for re-signing their own player.
For the second time in three years, Kuroda is a complete afterthought on the day he signed with the Yankees because of the Mariners. When the team first brought him on board back before the 2012 season, he signed the same day they acquired Michael Pineda from Seattle. Today, Robinson Cano agreed to a ten-year, $240M contract to leave New York and join the Mariners. Flying under the radar is Kuroda’s thing, apparently. More to come.
In 32 starts this past season, the 38-year-old righty pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 201.1 innings. He was in the Cy Young conversation as late as mid-August before crashing hard late in the season, allowing 38 runs in 46.2 innings in his final eight starts. Fatigue has been an issue for Kuroda in each of the last two years — he stopped throwing his usual between starts bullpen session in September in both 2012 and 2013 — so it’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees do anything to manage his workload early in 2014.
Brian Cashman said the Yankees were seeking two starters this winter and Kuroda is just one. He’ll join CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, plus someone like David Phelps or Adam Warren or Michael Pineda figures to fill the fifth spot. Masahiro Tanaka seems like a perfect fit for the other rotation spot, but he might not even be available this winter given the unfavorable posting system changes. The team has dropped big bucks on Kuroda, McCann, and Ellsbury already this offseason, but they they still have quite a bit work to do.
We got a frickin’ ton of mailbag questions this week, probably the most ever. It didn’t help that I skipped last week’s mailbag because of Thanksgiving either. So, to make up for it, here’s a massive 17-question rapid fire mailbag. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to the best way to send us anything, but based on this week, you knew that already.
Many asked: Why didn’t the Yankees get in on Doug Fister? What would have been a comparable package?
Here is a quote from Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, courtesy of Andrew Stoeten: “[Tigers GM Dave Dombrowsiki] was looking for very specific things. He said, look, for a deal like this, and what he was going to look to do, we didn’t necessarily have the right fit.”
The Tigers took what they took for Fister because that’s what they wanted, not because it was the best value. They’re obviously very high on Ian Krol and Robbie Ray. Eduardo Nunez is basically Steve Lombardozzi, but the Yankees don’t really have a Krol (big league ready shutdown lefty reliever) or a Ray (high-end lefty starting pitcher prospect at Double-A). Cesar Cabral and Nik Turley are several notches below Krol and Ray. Fister is awesome; if Brian Cashman could have gotten him for a comparable package — pretty much everyone agrees it was a very light return — I’m sure he would have pulled the trigger.
Biggie asks: With the Cubs still a few years away from contending could the Yanks try to pry Mike Olt loose from them to man third? The Yankee prospects of value seem like they might fit the Cubs timetable to contend better than other teams. If so, what package gets that done?
Olt, 25, hit a weak .197/.302/.368 in 104 Triple-A games this season while battling vision problems. He got pretty overrated last winter but is a quality prospect, with big right-handed power and plenty good enough defense to remain at third. I don’t love him as a long-term solution at the hot corner but I think he’d be a great piece to have during his pre-arbitration years. The Cubs reportedly seek pitching and prospect-for-prospect trades rarely happen. Would David Phelps be enough? Does that make sense for the Yankees, who also need young pitching in the worst way?
Friday: The Yankees are close to re-signing Kuroda, reports Jon Heyman. It’ll be a one-year deal worth about $16M. Brian Cashman acknowledged being on the “one-yard line” with “more than two” players at a charity event this morning. Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Johnson? Sounds about right.
Thursday: While speaking to reporters this afternoon, Brian Cashman said Hiroki Kuroda intends to pitch next season. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will do it for the Yankees — he could still opt to return to Japan or sign with another MLB team — but retirement is no longer being considered. That’s a good thing. The Yankees offered Kuroda a one-year deal worth $15-16M a few weeks ago and Cashman said the two sides continue to talk. Obviously they want him back for 2014. · (71) ·
8:03pm: Jon Heyman says the Mariners are preparing to offer Cano nine years and $225M. I would be surprised if the Yankees went that high. Cano might have to leave money on the table to return to New York.
6:16pm: Ken Rosenthal says Cano asked the Mariners for ten years and $240M. The team did make an offer but it was not over $200M. Last we heard, Robbie asked the Yankees for $250-260M or so. His price just came down again.
4:10pm: Via Enrique Rojas (translated article): The Mariners let Robinson Cano know they would be willing to offer him a ten-year contract worth $230-240M during a private meeting today. Robbie flew out to Seattle to speak to the club personally. It doesn’t sound like they gave him a formal offer, but either way, this is the first time another club has talked dollars with Cano (as far as we know). If they do offer him ten years and $230M or so, the Yankees would have no choice but to up their offer from seven years and roughly $165M, probably into the $200M range they reportedly want to avoid. Unless, of course, they’re willing to walk away. · (484) ·
The Yankees officially introduced a beardless Brian McCann — does he not look like a cop? Officer Brian McCann might stick as a nickname — during a press conference at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. The videos are above. McCann will wear #34 in honor of his close friend and former teammate Eric O’Flaherty, but Jack Curry says he originally asked for #21. The Yankees said no to that. Would be nice if they did something with that number other than hold it in limbo.
Anywho, here is tonight’s open thread. The Texans and Jaguars are the Thursday night NFL game plus the Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are all playing. Talk about whatever you like here. Have at it.
- Gary Tuck is likely to get the bullpen coach job now that Mike Harkey has been officially introduced as the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach. We heard he was a strong candidate earlier this week. Tuck was the team’s bullpen coach in 1990 and he held the same role with the Red Sox from 2007-2012. He was also Joe Girardi‘s bench coach with the Marlins in 2006, so he’s not a stranger.
- Trey Hillman has joined the Yankees in a development/consultant role. I figured this would happen. Hillman coached in the Yankees’ farm system from 1990-2001 and he is supposedly very close friends with Brian Cashman, close enough that he was considered a dark horse for the manager’s job before Girardi was hired. The Dodgers replaced Hillman as their bench coach a few weeks ago and it felt like only a matter of time before wound up in New York.
- The Yankees have hired Mike Quade as a roving outfield instructor. He served as the Cubs manager from 2010-2011 under GM Jim Hendry, who is now a special assistant in the Yankees’ front office. Quade has tons and tons of coaching and managerial experience in the minors.
At some point very soon, MLB and NPB are expected to finalize a new posting agreement allowing Japanese players to come across the pond prior to qualifying for international free agency. Reports indicate the maximum allowable bid will be $20M, and any team who bids the max will be allowed to negotiate with the player. It’s a really crummy deal for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who were surely expecting $50M+ for ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this winter.
The new system essentially creates true free agency with a $20M tax. Only the team who signs the player has to pay the posting fee, so there’s really no reason for any team not to submit a max bid for a player like Tanaka. There’s always a chance he shows up to negotiations and says “You know, I’ve always wanted to pitch in Denver” or something like that. For small market teams who can’t afford a player like Tanaka, such as the Rays or Padres or Athletics, there is some value in simply throwing your hat in the ring and making things slightly more difficult for your rivals.
For the Yankees, the new system makes Tanaka less desirable from a financial standpoint. That goes for all big market teams, really. The posting fee does not count against the luxury tax, so New York could have submitted a huge bid, then signed Tanaka to a below market contract (which does count against the luxury tax) because they had exclusive negotiating rights. The setup was great even if the Yankees weren’t trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Now the posting fee will be relatively small and the contract much larger because the player will be on the open market.
As far as the luxury tax goes, the new system does hurt the Yankees. That said, Tanaka remains the best pitcher available this winter, at least in some ways. If you’re looking to maximize 2014 impact, guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Bartolo Colon and Matt Garza are probably better bets. That first year always seems to be something of an adjustment period for Japanese hurlers. Long-term, the just-turned-25-year-old Tanaka seems like a better investment than the 30-year-old Garza and the soon-to-be 30-year-old (and spectacularly inconsistent) Ubaldo Jimenez, assuming he’s as good as everyone says he is. Plus he won’t cost a draft pick (Garza won’t, Ubaldo will).
The Yankees were expected to make a very hard push for Tanaka before the posting system changes, so they obviously like him and think he can handle the transition into the AL East and a tiny home ballpark. The favorable contract and luxury tax system really made him a perfect fit. Does the new system change that? It doesn’t change Tanaka as a pitcher, it just means he’ll be more expensive if they go over the luxury tax threshold. The new system figures to actually lower the total cost — $70M posting fee plus $50M contract under the old system vs. $20M posting fee plus $80M contract under the new system, sound about right? — it just gives the majority of the money to the player rather than his former team in Japan.
The Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays, Rangers, Angels, and Mariners were expected to be in on Tanaka before the posting system changes and I assume they will remain serious bidders. I’m sure teams like the Orioles and Diamondbacks will submit max bids, but when push comes to shove, they don’t stand much of a chance when it comes to offering a competitive contract. Wooing Tanaka will not be easy for the Yankees even if they throw a ton of money at him. I think the Dodgers are a very real threat because, in addition to all their money, there’s a big Japanese community in Los Angeles and the travel back to Japan is way easier. Same goes for Seattle. If Tanaka is all about the money and will go to whichever team offers the most, the Yankees are in better shape to land him. They have every reason to overpay for guys right now.
Under the old posting system, Tanaka was a near perfect fit for New York. He was luxury tax friendly and, more importantly, they can really use a high-end 25-year-old starter. The plan to get under the luxury tax threshold was predicated on a young rotation built around Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Manny Banuelos, but that hasn’t materialized for many reasons. Under the new posting system, Tanaka remains just as good a fit on the field but won’t come with the same luxury tax friendly cost. He is still the best available pitcher on the market and the Yankees should still make a very strong push to land him, it’ll just be much more difficult now.
Update: Jerry Crasnick reports Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said the team may simply hold onto Tanaka rather than pawn him off for $20M. “We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it’s fair. There’s a possibility we won’t take the next step,” he said. They could hold onto him for a year and post him next year if the posting agreement changes again.
Who remembers following the hot stove season in the days before MLB Trade Rumors? You could read the New York papers and get tidbits here and there about free agent negotiations and trade speculation, but the information came from a limited number of sources. I remember reading the Star Ledger in my high school years, seeing just a tiny blurb here and there about the Yankees’ plans during the off-season. Only when deals appeared imminent did we get full articles.
When Trade Rumors launched in 2005, it changed the way everyone follows the off-season. Tim Dierkes and his crew (which at points included both Mike and me) have aggregated the notes from the beat writers and columnists of all 30 teams, giving us a fuller view of what’s happening. The writers have seemingly responded to this newfound national attention, working harder to provide even the smallest morsel of information. In the last few years Twitter has given rise to notes, rumors, and speculation like we’ve never before seen.
This is a long way of introducing the latest in the Robinson Cano hoopla. Over the weekend the Seattle Mariners “emerged” as a potential suitor for Cano. They’re desperate to become relevant, and Cano is, by some accounts, desperate to land a mega deal. The saga took a new twist yesterday, when we learned that Cano’s representatives met with the Mariners in Seattle and might have even made an offer. Yet it’s what came next that spurred an uproar.
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik might have kicked off the fiasco with his comments to the press (as reported by Bob Dutton). “You have to adapt to the market. In some cases, you have to stretch more than you want to, you just have to.” He followed up by saying that he “always have felt there would be a time where we have to augment this club. I think we’re at that time.”
Those comments alone wouldn’t lead to rampant speculation, so Jason Churchill threw gasoline on the fire when he tweeted, “Just got a text from asst GM who think Seattle is about to make a ‘panic’ move…” Dave Cameron of FanGraphs fanned the flames when he said he received a similar text — which noted that the potential move could be “damaging.” Of course, given the reports of the meetings with Cano, people assumed that the Mariners were offering Cano an insane amount of money.
This morning George King took a fire extinguisher to the inferno (emphasis mine): “According to a person with knowledge of the Mariners’ involvement with the free-agent second baseman, the club’s ownership doesn’t have the stomach to pay one player $200 million across eight years even though they are doing the tango with Cano’s camp.” So perhaps the Mariners did make an offer. Chances are that if it topped the Yankees’ offer of around $170 million, it wasn’t by much.
Looking in from the outside, it is impossible to fully understand what’s happening behind the scenes. We can only piece together what we’ve heard. Clearly, it’s curious that Seattle “emerged” as a Cano suitor only after the Yankees met with Cano’s representatives last week. Obviously Cano and his people weren’t happy with the $80 million or so gap between their offers, so it makes sense that they’d try to get another team involved. Sensing desperation in Seattle, Cano’s team made a wise choice.
At this point it appears that Cano’s representatives at CAA are using Seattle in the same way they used the Mets. They’re trying to drum up interest wherever they can, in order to put the screws to the Yankees. Along the way perhaps they do elicit a bid from the Mariners that tops that of the Yankees. From what we’ve seen and heard, though, it does appear that Cano’s strongest option remains the Yankees. Perhaps the final contract will pay Cano a bit more than the roughly $170 million currently on the table ($188 million would mean an AAV $5 million higher than Ellsbury), but whatever the case, despite ridiculous odds reports, the safe bet is for Cano wearing No. 24 and batting in the Yankees’ lineup in 2014.
Assuming Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson pass their physicals and their contracts become official, how many games would the current Yankees’ roster win right now? I’m talking about the roster as it is today, with no Robinson Cano and a pitching staff that might be one of the worst in the league. Here’s the depth chart in you need a reminder of who slots in where at the moment. How many games would that team win?
Eighty wins seems like a good number to me. The Yankees won 85 games this past season because they outplayed their run differential (by six wins!) thanks to baseball’s very best record in one-run games. That 85-win/really 79-win team lost Cano, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Boone Logan, Curtis Granderson, and a bunch of lesser guys, which is somewhere along the lines of 17 wins worth of talent. (If you must know, it’s 16.2 fWAR and 18.5 bWAR.) That baseline 68-win team added about a dozen wins in Ellsbury, Brian McCann, a full season of Alfonso Soriano, and what we hope will be full seasons from Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. I’m just spitballing here, don’t get too caught up in exact numbers.
There are two points to this little exercise. You might think they’re an 83-win team right now and someone else might think they’re a 76-win team. Strong arguments can be made both ways, but the point is that we should all be able to agree the Yankees are not good enough to get back into the postseason as presently constructed. That’s okay though! The offseason is relatively young and Spring Training is still two months and nine days away according to our handy countdown in the sidebar. The Yankees have plenty of time to re-sign Cano and fix their pitching staff and do whatever else.
That’s the first point I was trying to make, that the team still needs to add pieces to get back to contention. The second and more important point has to do with where the Yankees sit on the win curve and the value of adding those necessary pieces. Forty-eight hours ago the Yankees were a baseline 75-win based on the numbers I just slapped together, but they added Ellsbury and now they’re an 80-win team. That’s a nice upgrade but, at the end of the day, they’re still just an 80-win team and no cares about 80-win teams. They don’t get anything, not even one of those little participation trophies they hand out in Little League. Eighty-win teams are afterthoughts.
Given where the Yankees are on the win curve right now, every move they make and every win they add to the roster going forward has a greater and greater impact on their postseason chances. Going from 75 wins to 80 wins with Ellsbury is nice but it doesn’t really do anything as far as the playoff race is concerned. Re-signing Cano, however, would take them from 80 wins to about 86 wins and that’s a huge, huge move up the win curve. Suddenly they’re on the postseason bubble. Re-sign Kuroda and they’re at 88 or 89 wins, which really puts them in the playoff picture. Add another starter (Masahiro Tanaka?) and a reliever or two on top of that and … well, you get the idea.
As we found out last night, missing the postseason can be very costly for the Yankees. Brian Costa reported the team saw a $58M decline in ticket revenue from 2012 to 2013 and they surely lost concession revenue on top of that. The value of adding wins 80+ to the ledger in the coming weeks is greater to the Yankees than it is any other club because the Yankees’ brand is built on winning, and the brand suffers in a big way financially when they don’t win. The Ellsbury signing (not so much McCann, in my opinion) shows the team is willing to overpay to add the wins they need to get back into the postseason because it will be too financially damaging if they don’t. Remember, at the end of the day, the Yankees are still a for profit business.
“The financial payoff at this juncture, coming off a missed postseason, is way more than any other team stands to gain by improving themselves by three, four, five, six wins — whatever the number might be,” president of SABR and consultant to MLB teams Vince Gennaro said to Costa. “The second-biggest problem the Yankees could have is overpaying for a free agent. The biggest problem is not getting the free agent they need to get back to the postseason and make a deep run into it … Let me tell you: If the Yankees were an 85-win team or an 83-win team for three or four years in a row, they would suffer financially orders of magnitude more than any other franchise.”
The win totals I’ve been using in this post are trivial; don’t get too caught up in the them. The point is that the Yankees were a mediocre team this past season and they got worse this winter because they lost several key players to retirement and potentially free agency. They improved a bit with McCann and Ellsbury but not enough to get back to being a serious contender. To do that, they need to add some pitching and (especially) re-sign Cano in the coming weeks. All the team has done so far this offseason is go from mediocre to bad to back to being mediocre. It’s the next few moves that will be the most important because the value of an individual win and getting back into contention is so high.