As expected, C Gary Sanchez sits atop Baseball Prospectus’ list of the top ten Yankees prospects. The list and half of Sanchez’s write-up is free, but you need a subscription to see everything else. RHP Jose Ramirez somewhat surprisingly shows up as the number two prospect, and I say surprisingly only because he’s had trouble staying healthy and is looking more and more like a reliever long-term.
The rest of the list after Ramirez is followed by the usual suspects, no real surprises there. RHP Luis Severino, C Luis Torrens, and RHP Jose Campos get mentioned as guys on the rise while LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Rafael DePaula, and RHP Bryan Mitchell are mentioned as prospects who may contribute at the MLB level in 2014. I’d like to see DePaula get High Class-A hitters out first before penciling him in for big league time next summer. As for the top ten talents age 25 or youngers, it’s just the top ten prospects with RHP Michael Pineda sandwiched between Sanchez and Ramirez. I think you could make a case Pineda should be ahead of Sanchez even after the shoulder surgery and two lost years. · (26) ·
After several weeks of haggling, MLB and NPB have officially announced the new posting system agreement. It’s a three-year deal. The new system does not include a bidding process, the NPB team simply sets a “release fee” of up to $20M for the player, and any team willing to pay the fee can negotiate with him. Only the team that signs the player has to pay the fee. The details are here.
Now that the new system is in place, the Rakuten Golden Eagles can finally post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. There is no guarantee they will do that, however. The $20M maximum release fee is less than half of what they were expecting under the old system. At the Winter Meetings last week, the Rakuten team president said he will speak to Tanaka this week before determining whether to post him. They will reportedly try to convince him to remain in Japan for another season after helping the team win a championship in 2013.
Update: This Sanspo report (translated article) says Tanaka will be posted, but nothing is official yet. We should know soon either way. · (55) ·
In the high and low search for bullpen depth, the Yankees should explore all angles. This includes closers, even though David Robertson is probably their best bet. It can also include guys like Joaquin Benoit, who can provide setup help and a safety net at closer. But adding just one arm, even a high-end one, probably won’t be enough. The Yankees would do well to add a couple of arms for the bullpen.
Jesse Crain’s name hasn’t come up very often this off-season, and for good reason. After a superb first half of the season, Crain suffered a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for the remainder of 2013. The Rays traded for him, and even activated him from the disabled list, but Crain’s shoulder just wasn’t ready. He’s now a free agent, for the second time in his career. The first time around he signed a three-year, $13 million contract that was roundly mocked at the time (as are essentially all reliever contracts, so pay no mind), but he pretty much lived up to it during his three years in Chicago.
Jon Morosi reports that Crain has multiple offers. Given their needs in the bullpen, it’s possible the Yankees are among the interested teams.
- Crain has pure strikeout stuff, and it has seemingly developed since moving from Minnesota to Chicago. His mid-90s fastball helps set up a quality changeup, which he uses sparingly but effectively.
- Despite having just his second go-round in free agency, Crain is just 32 years old. He could help the setup corps for a couple of years if healthy.
- At the same time, he’ll probably only get a one-year guarantee, helping reduce risk.
- Crain is absolute death to right-handed hitters, especially in the last two years.
- During his three-year contract with the White Sox he produced a 2.10 ERA, 206 ERA+.
- Crain’s shoulder injury is certainly of concern. He didn’t require surgery, which is a positive sign. This also isn’t his first shoulder injury. In 2007 he underwent surgery on both his labrum and rotator cuff.
- Then again, he had a 3.16 ERA (143 ERA+) before the surgery, and a 2.98 ERA (143 ERA+) since.
- Then again again, he missed 22 games with a shoulder strain in 2012 as well, so his health history isn’t looking great here.
- In terms of production, the one downside is his walk rate, 3.5 per nine for his career. This is most pronounced against lefties: 4.55 BB/9 for his career, compared to 2.81 per nine against righties.
While Crain remains a risk due to his shoulder, he still warrants a look on a one-year deal. Even with his performances in the last two years and the demand on the market, it would take an especially crazy team to go beyond one year and a team option. That would seem to work for the Yankees, especially given 1) the weakness of the 2014 bullpen and 2) the probability that the farm system will soon produce some bullpen-ready arms such as Dellin Betances, Rafael DePaula, and Jose Ramirez. Crain could provide a nice one-year stopgap, albeit a risky one.
The Yankees have spent more than $300M so far this offseason, but only a small part (roughly 5%) of that money has gone towards the pitching staff. Specifically, it went to Hiroki Kuroda‘s new $16M deal. That’s it. The other $285M or so has gone towards improving the offense for pretty obvious reasons.
Finding another starting pitcher remains atop the winter agenda at this point, but the Yankees also have to start digging around for reliable bullpen help. The bullpen was pretty average this past season (3.66 ERA and 3.91 FIP), and that was before Mariano Rivera retired and the generally reliable Boone Logan left via free agency. There’s a lot of uncertainty beyond the right-center field wall right now.
“Oh, I [think so],” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings when asked if there are any givens in the bullpen aside from David Robertson. “I think (Shawn) Kelley’s going to be in the bullpen. I think, obviously, (Preston) Claiborne’s going to be in our bullpen. Then you have a mixture of (David) Phelps or (Adam) Warren, depending on if they’re in the rotation, those type of guys. So some of the guys that possibly are competing for rotation spots, the ones that don’t make it are probably going to slide to the bullpen. That’s why it’s hard to tell where everyone’s going to be.”
That’s the bullpen right now. Robertson and Kelley, maybe Claiborne, and whoever doesn’t win a rotation spot. Not exactly promising. Sure, someone like Dellin Betances or Cesar Cabral or Jose Ramirez could emerge as a bullpen force, but a team that just spend $300M+ shouldn’t go into the season counting on those guys to be a factor. Girardi has a skeleton crew behind Robertson at the moment.
“In terms of the bullpen, we need to improve all the options,” said Brian Cashman at the Winter Meetings. “So when people compete in Spring Training for slots in the bullpen, hopefully it’ll be pretty obvious who slots where. There’s nobody I’m anointing as our closer. Let’s put it that way … We’d like to improve if we can. I’m looking to improve our bullpen. I’m looking for guys to come in and compete for that spot.”
Last week we heard the Yankees were in on Joaquin Benoit, who has yet to sign but appears headed to the Indians or Padres. Jen Royle reports Grant Balfour is seeking a three-year deal worth $8M annually (plus a vesting option), which seems very reasonable considering how reliable he’s been the last four or five years. The Yankees were said to have interest in him at one point a few weeks ago. The list of unsigned free agent relievers includes Jose Veras, Scott Downs, Jesse Crain, and Francisco Rodriguez, among others.
Relievers are the riskiest investment in baseball because they’re so very unpredictable, but the Yankees are stuck in a position now where they have to spend some money on bullpen help. The farm system hasn’t provided much help and outside of Kelley, the haven’t really traded for many bullpen arms in recent years. Thanks to the Rivera-Robertson tandem, the team was always able to roll the dice a bit in the middle innings because they knew the final two were locked down.
Unless the Yankees surprise everyone and add two quality starters in the next two months, they’re going to head into next season with a whole lotta question marks in the rotation. That makes the bullpen, especially the middle innings, even more important. The pitching staff as a whole is weakness right now and the bullpen stands out as something that could really derail the team next season if not addressed. The Yankees spent a ton of money to improve the club this winter, but they still have to spend a little more to upgrade the relief corps.
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Top stories from last week:
- The Winter Meetings brought lots of rumors (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) but no major transactions for the Yankees, though they did reject a Brett Gardner-for-Brandon Phillips offer from the Reds. Joaquin Benoit, Dustin Ackley, Johan Santana, Mark Reynolds, Justin Masterson, Didi Gregorius, Kevin Youkilis, Danny Espinosa, Michael Young, and Homer Bailey were among the other players connected to New York.
- Both Omar Infante (Royals) and Mark Ellis (Cardinals) agreed to sign elsewhere, taking the two best second base options off the board. The Yankees talked to the Cubs about Darwin Barney at some point this offseason and they seem to have “little interest” in Brian Roberts.
- Gary Sanchez was ranked as the team’s top prospect by Baseball America. Brian Cashman confirmed Dellin Betances has a minor league option for 2014. The Yankees lost Double-A right-hander Tommy Kahnle and four others in the Rule 5 Draft. They did not make a selection.
- Joe Torre was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era committee and the Yankees will retire his number at some point. River Ave. outside of Yankee Stadium will be renamed Rivera Ave. in honor of Mariano Rivera.
- The Yankees acquired righty Kyle Haynes from the Pirates to complete the Chris Stewart trade.
- Mark Teixeira (wrist) is hoping to return to game action by the first week of March.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
This was a pretty busy week because of the Winter Meetings and all that stuff, so I don’t have any links for you today. Sorry. You should see how many tabs I have open right now. Instead, I’ll leave you with the video from Jacoby Ellsbury‘s introductory press conference from earlier today. The Yankees still have not yet officially announced the Carlos Beltran deal, but I’m guessing that will happen next week. If not, it might have to wait until after the holidays.
Friday: Here is your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, so talk about those games or anything else on your mind. Or go out, it’s Friday. Have at it.
Saturday: This is your open thread for the night, again. The Devils, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing, plus I’m sure there’s college something on somewhere. Talk about whatever. Enjoy.
Sunday: Once again, here is your open thread. Bengals-Steelers is the late NFL game plus the Rangers are playing. You folks should know how this works by now, so have it.
Via Derrick Goold: The Cardinals and free agent second baseman Mark Ellis have agreed to a one-year contract, pending a physical. He was reportedly on the Yankees’ radar during the Winter Meetings. With Omar Infante heading to the Royals, the free agent infielder pickin’s are mighty slim nowadays. · (268) ·
Via Bruce Levine: The Yankees and Cubs discussed infielder Darwin Barney at some point earlier this offseason. He speculates the two sides could reconnect now that Robinson Cano and Omar Infante have picked new teams, indicating the talks weren’t particularly recent.
Barney, 28, is pretty much the second base version of Brendan Ryan. He’s a terrible hitter (67 wRC+ in 1,799 career plate appearances) but a standout defender, a legitimate 10+ runs saved guy. Matt Swartz projects Barney to earn $2.1M in his first trip through arbitration this winter, which is nuts. If you’re going to spend that kinda cash on another no-hit/all-glove infielder, just sign Mark Ellis and keep whatever prospect you’d have to send to Chicago. At least Ellis hits lefties. · (63) ·
In replacing the 145 bullpen innings they’ve lost, the Yankees certainly need outside reinforcements. They might have a few internal players to fill some of those innings, but we can’t expect them to find all 145 within the organization. A couple of acquisitions seem probable.
One name linked to the Yankees is Joaquin Benoit, formerly of the Tigers. He seems pretty solidly in the former column, since Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski indicated that with the acquisition of Joba Chamberlain, he’s finished with his bullpen. Benoit, 36, has a number of suitors, the Yankees among them. The Padres and Indians reportedly have offers of two years and $14 million on the table, which seems reasonable. So where are the Yankees on this?
In 2013 Benoit, for the first time in his career, became a regular closer. He’d finished double-digit games in each of the previous three seasons, picking up a few saves in each, but he was never the full-time closer. Detroit, absent a “proven closer” in 2013, slid Benoit into the role with much success. The money is with closers, even older ones, as Joe Nathan proved with those very Tigers. It could be that Benoit seeks a full-time closer role, which would seemingly give the closer-absent Indians an advantage.
(The Padres have a “proven closer” of their own in Huston Street, which leaves their pursuit curious. In fact, reports have indicated that they are “in the lead,” whatever that means, so perhaps Benoit doesn’t value a closer role beyond all else.)
The Yankees could add a closer for the 2014 season, leaving David Robertson in the setup role he has so tremendously played for the past three or four seasons. That might be his ideal role, given his strikeout stuff and penchant for wiggling out of jams. But that doesn’t mean it’s the role he’ll play in the future. Ballplayers want to maximize their earnings during their relatively short window. Again, the money is there for closers.
If the Yankees don’t move Robertson into the closer’s role, they’ll probably lose him after next season to a team that will give him that opportunity. Sure, the Yankees could keep him in a setup role for 2014, and then re-sign him to be the closer in 2015 and beyond. That hardly makes any sense. Why give the guy closer money, and the closer role, when he hasn’t closed games for more than a couple weeks in his career? The prudent move, it seems, is to move Robertson into the closer role and sign a capable setup man. That way you can see what Robertson is made of, while giving him a safety net.
In that way, Benoit makes perfect sense. He’s a setup man who has had success as a closer, so if Robertson falters he could become the man. It will cost the Yankees — two years and $14 is a lot for a 36-year-old, and with three teams in the running the bidding could get higher — but he seems the perfect fit. Given the rest of the free agent market, and the unpredictable trade market, Benoit might be the Yankees best chance to help fill some of those 145 departed innings.
For the same reason, trading for a proven closer makes little sense for the Yankees. Yesterday, for instance, Buster Olney reported that the Phillies are “EXTREMELY motivated to move [Jonathan] Papelbon.” His time with the Red Sox sours him on Yankees fans, but looking beyond that he could be a good fit. You know he wants a trade to the Yankees, making him the heir to Mariano Rivera. He’d be more motivated than ever, going up against his former team six times a year.
It’s not even the money remaining on Papelbon’s deal, three years and $39 million if his 2016 option vests, that makes this a poor move. It’s the idea that with a proven closer in their ranks, Robertson could bolt for more money and a more prominent role on another team. Hell, he could bolt for the Red Sox, which is the worst possible idea. Imagine the Red Sox having an in-his-prime Robertson closing games while the Yankees have an over-the-hill (but still potentially effective) Papelbon closing theirs.
By itself, acquiring Papelbon wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Yankees obviously have the money, and Papelbon has made some adjustments to compensate for his diminishing stuff as he ages. The X factor is how this affects Robertson. If the Yankees bring in a proven closer, Robertson stands a better chance of leaving to find a closer role, and closer money, elsewhere. Why not just give Robertson the closer job in 2014 to see what he’s made of? Then they can spend that Papelbon money on Robertson if they’re satisfied.
Given the lack of relievers on the market, it might be easier to add a closer and keep Robertson in the setup role. But the easy move is rarely the correct move. The Yankees have to think beyond 2014, when they’ll need quality late-inning relievers like Robertson. To deny him the closer role in 2014 could be to lose him for 2015 and beyond. Given the mass exodus of relievers this off-season, that’s a scenario the Yankees can ill afford.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees seem to have “little interest” in free agent second baseman Brian Roberts. They’re looking for an infielder after Robinson Cano left for the Mariners and had a three-year, $24M offer out to Omar Infante before he signed with the Royals.
Roberts, 36, hit .249/.312/.392 (90 wRC+) with eight homeruns in 296 plate appearances for the Orioles this past season, his most playing time since 2009. Back, abdomen, hamstring, hip labrum, and concussion problems have limited him to only 192 of 648 possible games over the last four years. Roberts is incredibly risky and I think the Yankees need to add someone a little more reliable right now. The time for taking risks is later in the offseason, after the major needs are addressed. · (71) ·