If the Phillies are selling, the Yankees should be interested in buying. At the start of the off-season it didn’t seem likely that the Phillies were in any kind of selling mode. Does a team that spends $44 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd sound like a team that is ready to trade away its best players?
In the last few days, though, the rumor mill has churned out plenty of Phillies content, mostly related to them potentially trading their most expensive players. It started when we learned that they want to trade Jonathan Papelbon and his entire contract, using the cash savings for a starting pitcher. Peter Gammons took the issue further, saying the Phillies might even attach OF Domonic Brown to a Papelbon trade to sweeten the pot.
Trading a high-salary closer doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of the Phillies’ off-season moves to date. If they can free up enough cash to sign one of the free agent starters while losing only Papelbon, they could be better off in the long run. The rumors from this morning, on the other hand, will make you scratch your head. They might also make you say “gimme gimme gimme.”
Buster Olney reported that the Phillies “have indicated to other teams they are ready and willing to talk about Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in trades.” So, to review: the Phillies want to trade Papelbon to free up cash to sign a starting pitcher, but also are seeking to trade one of their very good starting pitchers. OK. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Ruben Amaro, Jr. It’s his club and he can run it how he sees fit. It just so happens that the Yankees could be beneficiaries here.
Hamels, at age 30, might seem the more attractive of the two. Yet he has five years and $118.5 million left on his contract, including a $6 million buyout on a $20 million option for 2019. It’s not the worst contract for a 30-year-old; I’m sure he’d get more than that if he were a free agent today. Of course, his age and general effectiveness (2013 notwithstanding), he’ll probably fetch a decent price in a trade.
Lee, on the other hand, has two years and $62.5 million left on his contract — though that could be three years and $77.5 million, given his vesting option. That’s a lot of money annually, but the short-term nature of the deal, combined with Lee’s general elite level of play, makes that deal more palatable. It would certainly free up payroll for the Phillies, who could then sign another player to a dumb contract.
Plenty of roadblocks exist between the Yankees and Lee. For starters, Lee can block trades to 21 clubs, and surely the Yankees are on his list. It’s tough to forget that he spurned more guaranteed money from the Yankees — six years and $140 million at least, and it was rumored that the Yankees added a seventh year to the deal — in order to sign with the Phillies. Throughout the process we heard of Lee’s reluctance to play in New York, citing their older roster* and an incident wherein New York fans allegedly spit on his wife.
Time, of course, can change matters. The Yankees are looking a bit better than the Phillies right now, so Lee, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011, could be more amenable to a trade. That’s when we hit another roadblock: the Phillies’ demands. According to Jayson Stark, the Phillies will want the receiving team to take on all of Lee’s salary, plus give up a “huge return.” That makes the deal seem less likely — not only because the Yankees don’t have much in the way of major prospects, but because Brian Cashman has shown no indications of trading prospects for a player with a huge salary (paying twice, as he says it).
Few teams can afford a contract of Lee’s size, even though it runs only two or perhaps three years. That gives the Yankees an advantage. Given their need for pitching, and the immense help that Lee would provide on that front, they should look into a trade. Yet it’s unlikely anything gets done here. The Phillies want it all, and it doesn’t make sense for teams to give that up. Yet given the Yankees’ needs, we can all dream a little.
Boy have things changed since we last looked at the Yankees’ payroll situation. They lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to free agency but responded with four significant signings (plus one smaller one) of their own. There was also the non-tender deadline, which brought about some change. These last few weeks have been quite busy for the Bombers.
Needless to say, the chances of the Yankees staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold next season have taken a big hit. The team has been talking about staying under the threshold (at every opportunity, it seemed) for a good two years now, plus just about every move they made was geared towards achieving that goal. Just look at the way they structured the money in the Vernon Wells trade last spring.
Here is an updated look at the team’s payroll situation heading into next season. These are “luxury tax hits,” not actual 2014 salary. The two can be different. For reference, here are Part One (January), Part Two (August), and Part Three (November) of the series.
- Under Contract ($172.61M): Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.9M), Brian McCann ($17M), Hiroki Kuroda ($16M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Derek Jeter ($12.81M), Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5M), Alfonso Soriano ($4M), Kelly Johnson ($3M), Brendan Ryan ($2M), Wells ($0)
- Arbitration-Eligible ($14.8M projected): David Robertson ($5.5M), Brett Gardner ($4M), Ivan Nova ($2.8M), Shawn Kelley ($1.5M), Frankie Cervelli ($1M)
- Pre-Arbitration-Eligible: Zoilo Almonte, Dean Anna, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Jose Campos, Preston Claiborne, Ramon Flores, Shane Greene, Slade Heathcott, David Huff, Brett Marshall, Bryan Mitchell, J.R. Murphy, Eduardo Nunez, Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Nik Turley, Adam Warren
- Potential Bonuses ($13.5M): Jeter (up to $7M based on awards), A-Rod ($6M for his 660th career homer), Kuroda (up to $500k based on innings)
- Other ($12.085M): Benefits (approximately $12M), Kuroda’s translator ($85k)
Yes, Kuroda’s translator counts against the luxury tax, at least according to Dan Martin and Ken Davidoff. I know, it’s silly, but it is what it is. Eight-five grand doesn’t sound like much, but it is one month’s worth of the league minimum salary. That means one fewer September call-up if the team wants to stay under the luxury tax threshold. Like I said, silly.
Anyway, add the guys under contract to the arbitration eligibles to the possible bonuses to the “other” and you get $212.995M. The 15 guys on the 40-man roster — there are 41 players listed above because the Beltran deal is not official yet, but they will have to make a move to accommodate him once the deal is final — but not on the active 25-man roster are usually estimated at $2-5M, so let’s use the high end and go with $5M. Now we’re up to $217.995M. The Bombers opened this past season at $228.1M and ended it at $236.2M, in case you’re wondering.
Obviously, the Yankees are not getting under the threshold without A-Rod getting suspended for all of next season. Not unless they trade Teixeira and Ichiro or something. Subtract out Alex’s salary and homer bonus and we’re down to $184.495M. Basically $4.5M under the luxury tax. Feel comfortable saying Jeter won’t win the MVP? I think that’s a safe assumption — he hasn’t won an MVP yet and is now coming off what amounts to a lost season at age 39. Eliminating the “win MVP” bonus from his contract frees up another $4M and brings us down to $180.495M.
What does that $180.495M buy the Yankees? Here is the projected 25-man roster as of right now:
|McCann||1B Teixeira||LF Gardner||Sabathia||Robertson|
|2B Johnson or ?||CF Ellsbury||Kuroda||Kelley|
|DH||SS Jeter||RF Beltran/Soriano||Nova||? (Warren)|
|Beltran/Soriano||3B Johnson or ?||? (Phelps)||? (Huff)|
|C Cervelli||OF Ichiro||?|
|IF Ryan||OF Wells|
There are eight total ?s but we can eliminate four with internal solutions. Those are the guys in parentheses. Phelps, Warren, Huff, and Betances — Huff and Betances are both out of minor league options (can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers) and that could give them a leg up when cut day comes around at the end of camp — will all earn something close to the league minimum, so that’s another $2.2M or so spent right there with four ?s still to be answered.
I assume those four ?s will go to veteran players yet to be acquired. That would be ideal, anyway. I guess they could go with Cabral and Clairborne for those final two bullpen spots, or maybe re-sign Matt Daley, but that would be a really sketchy relief corps behind Robertson. The Yankees would have just $6.305M to fill those four holes ($189M – $180.495M – $2.2M), which isn’t much. A big name starting pitcher like Masahiro Tanaka or Matt Garza or whoever isn’t happening without going over the threshold. Ditto Omar Infante. We’re talking $6.305M for a second/third baseman, a starter, and two relievers. Plus they’ll need to leave a little something for midseason call-ups and additions. Gonna be tight.
I see only three ways the Yankees could realistically trim payroll. They could dump Cervelli and replace him with the cheaper Romine or Murphy, but if they were going to do that, they would have non-tendered Frankie last week. That would only save about $450k anyway. The other two ways to clear some payroll space are by trading Gardner and/or Ichiro. There is “significant interest” in Gardner and the team is shopping Ichiro, so the wheels are in motion. Saving even $3M by dealng Ichiro would be a win. They could replace him with Almonte at the league minimum and see basically no drop in production (Steamer and Oliver projections both have them as sub-1.0 WAR players in 2014, if you care). Zoilo would add some nice versatility to the bench as a switch-hitter as well, but I digress.
Obviously this whole exercise is just an estimate, a ballpark figure. We can only be so precise from the outside. The arbitration-eligible guys could come in at a higher or lower salary than projected, for example. Ditto the benefits package all 30 teams must pay.
Maybe the Yankees are comfortable saying Jeter won’t even finish in the top six of the MVP voting, nevermind win it. That would free up another $2M of potential bonus money. (I’m an idiot, disregard that last part.) There’s plenty of wiggle room here, but I think we can say that while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold is still possible, it will be very difficult to actually pull off following the team’s recent moves.
According to David Waldstein, Hal Steinbrenner has given the okay to go over the threshold despite his recent public insistance that it remains their goal. Perhaps he’s softened his stance given how much revenue declined from 2012 to 2013 ($58M in ticket sales alone). They have already spent as if A-Rod is being suspended, after all. The Yankees have some payroll space left before getting to $189M, but they also have some roster holes to address. Their next move will be telling — if they sign a starter to a big money deal, forget it. They’re going over. If they sign someone cheap or shed salary in a trade, they might plan on seeing this thing through.
The Yankees have already re-signed Hiroki Kuroda and they will conduct a fifth starter’s competition in Spring Training, but they still need to add another starter on top of that. There’s a chance Masahiro Tanaka will not be posted, but, even if he is, it might not happen anytime soon. Negotiations and finalization of the new posting agreement have dragged on for a while. The Yankees have been connected to him but it’s unclear how long they’re willing to wait.
The best available free agent starters right now are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, all of whom come with red flags. Garza was hurt the last two years, Santana was terrible in 2012, and Jimenez was terrible as recently as the All-Star break. It seems like those guys are in something of a holding pattern until the Tanaka situation is resolved, which isn’t all that surprising. He’s the more desirable target. Earlier today we heard New York checked in on with Garza and Jimenez, but nothing on Santana yet.
Rather than hand out another huge contract this offseason, the Yankees could opt for a lower cost starter on a one-year contract if Tanaka is not posted anytime soon (or at all). Another Kuroda type, basically. One of the top such available pitchers is 40-year-old former Yankee Bartolo Colon, who is coming off two very good years with the Athletics (2.99 ERA and 3.49 FIP), good enough that he’s priced himself out of Oakland. Is a reunion for 2014 a good idea? Let’s look at what he brings to the table.
- Colon pounds the zone and does it with fastballs almost exclusively. He has thrown 87.1% fastballs — 36.4% four-seamers and 50.7% two-seamers — during his two years in Oakland while barely throwing his slider (8.2%) and changeup (4.7%). Colon’s veocity (four-seamer and two-seamer) had held pretty steady these last two years despite his advanced baseball age.
- Bart has been an extreme strike-thrower these last two years. He has a 1.37 BB/9 (3.7 BB%) over the last two seasons, and during that time he led all of baseball by throwing 59.7% of his pitches in the strike zone. Cliff Lee is a distant second at 57.4%. That “pound the zone with fastballs” approach has led to a lot of weak contact and few balls hit further than 300 feet.
- Since resurrecting his career with the Yankees in 2011, Colon has put together back-to-back 150+ inning seasons. He threw 190.1 innings in 2013 and he would have thrown a similar amount in 2012 had he not been suspended in mid-August. Bart will chew up from innings for you.
- The Athletics did not make Colon a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him.
- Colon neither strikes guys out nor gets ground balls. He had a steady 5.46 K/9 (14.8 K%) during his two years in Oakland — hitters made contact with 88.5% of their swings, the highest rate in baseball since 2012 — and his ground ball rate dropped from 45.7% in 2012 to only 41.5% in 2013.
- Although lefties did not give Bartolo a problem this past season (lefties had a .297 wOBA, righties .281), they did hit him hard from 2011-2012. Colon held righties to a .245/.275/.330 (.265 wOBA) batting line during those two seasons while lefties tagged him for a .283/.326/.505 (.355 wOBA) line. That would be a problem in Yankee Stadium.
- Injuries have been an issue since Colon returned in 2011. He has been on the DL in each of the last three seasons because of a hamstring strain (2011), an oblique strain (2012), and a groin strain (2013). At least none were arm injuries, I guess.
- As I mentioned before, Colon was suspended 50 games in 2012 (the suspension carried over into early 2013) after failing a performance-enhancing drug test. He was connected to Biogenesis this summer but wasn’t suspended since he had already been disciplined. PED guys are always a bit of a question mark.
Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the market for Colon has been heating up, with the Orioles and Mets among the interested teams. The Yankees have not been connected to him. Heyman adds that if Colon takes a one-year contract (likely given his age), it’ll be for pretty big bucks, around $10M or so. He won’t come as cheap as he has the last three years now that he’s shown a) the arm problems are a thing of the past, and b) he can be an effective starter in the AL.
Among the free agent pitchers who are likely to take a one (or even two) year contract, Colon appears to be the best. That crop of players includes Bronson Arroyo, Erik Bedard, Chris Capuano, Paul Maholm, Mike Pelfrey, and Edinson Volquez. There are obvious red flags here — Colon’s arm could explode or he could simply stop getting guys out, among other things — probably more red flags than any other available pitcher who was actually good in 2013. The Yankees know Bart and he knows them, so there is some type of relationship in place and that could help spur along a deal. Colon does fits the team’s needs but boy is he risky.
Via David Waldstein: The Yankees will honor the late Nelson Mandela by placing a plaque in Monument Park, which will be unveiled on Jackie Robinson Day next season (April 15th). Mandela famously visited New York and Yankee Stadium after being released from prison in 1990, and during that trip he put on a team cap and jacket and said “You know who I am. I am a Yankee.”
The Yankees already have several plaques in Monument Park for non-Yankees and non-players. The aforementioned Robinson has a plaque, as do the three popes who visited Yankee Stadium (Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI) and the victims of the Sept. 11th attacks. The decision to add a plaque for Mandela, who passed away last week, trickled down from ownership. Pretty neat. (Comments off because politics!) · Comments Off ·
By Nick Tranfaglia, TiqIQ
The New York Yankees are the premier franchise in all of professional sports, having won an unprecedented 27 World Series Championships throughout their storied history. As such, they have rarely offered discounted ticket specials. However for 2014 season they have decided to reward their loyal fan base by offering some fantastic deals for the upcoming season. Beginning at 12pm EST on Black Friday (November 29) and lasting until December 24th, the Yankees, in conjunction with MasterCard, will offer three different promotions for fans to purchase tickets.
MasterCard Preferred Pricing
- $15 off select seats when purchasing tickets with your MasterCard.
- Available for every home game through June.
- New for the 2014 season!
MasterCard Holiday Buy 2, Get 2
- Save 50% on select seats (Terrace Level, Grandstand Level or Bleachers) for the following games:
- Must be purchased with a MasterCard between 12 pm EST on Black Friday (11/29) through Cyber Monday (12/2).
- Entering the promo code “MCB2G2” at check out.
- 4/8 vs Baltimore Orioles
- 4/9 vs Baltimore Orioles
- 4/15 vs Chicago Cubs
- 4/16 vs Chicago Cubs
- 4/29 vs Seattle Mariners
- 4/30 vs Seattle Mariners
- 5/1 vs Seattle Mariners
MasterCard $5 & 1/2 Priced Games
- Tickets available in select areas of the Stadium in the Terrace Level, Grandstand Level or Bleachers
- Tickets must be purchased with a MasterCard.
- Tickets can be purchased on the day of the game.
- 4/9 vs Baltimore Orioles
- 4/29 vs Seattle Mariners
- 4/30 vs Seattle Mariners
- 5/1 vs Seattle Mariners
- 6/3 vs Oakland Athletics
- 6/17 vs Toronto Blue Jays
The Winter Meetings started today in Orlando, and, sure enough, things were a bit slower than usual thanks to all the craziness of last week. I’m talking about all baseball, not just the Yankees. Most of the top free agents are off the board already and the starting pitching market seems to be in a holding pattern until the Masahiro Tanaka situation plays out. There is very little reported interest in guys like Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana at the moment.
Today was a really busy day here at RAB, so to make sure you didn’t miss anything, here’s a recap of everything we posted:
- Fan Confidence Poll (make sure you vote if you missed it!)
- Joe on blowing past the $189M luxury tax threshold
- Joe on the problem with trading Brett Gardner
- Ben on Robinson Cano leaving the Yankees
- Scouting The Market: Omar Infante
- And finally, here is our running thread of the day’s Yankees-related rumors.
This is your open thread for the night. The Cowboys and Bears are the Monday Night Football Game plus the Islanders are playing as well. Talk about either game, the Winter Meetings, or anything else right here. Go nuts.
It’s hard to believe that after everything that happened last week, today is the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. These next three days — the fourth day of the Winter Meetings is always slow because teams head home around noon-ish — might be a little slower than usual only because some of the very top free agents are always off the board. I still expect this week to be pretty busy, with lots of rumors and trades and signings with whatnot.
Robinson Cano is leaving for the Mariners and Curtis Granderson is going across town to the Mets, but the Yankees have already inked Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153M), Brian McCann (five years, $85M), Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M), Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M), and Kelly Johnson (one year, $3M). They still need another infielder to help replace Cano as well as another starting pitcher — Yu Darvish was posted during the 2011 Winter Meetings, so hopefully we get some clarification about Masahiro Tanaka this week — and some bullpen help. General depth is always something to monitor as well.
Brian Cashman is not expected to arrive in Orlando until this afternoon according to Andy McCullough, but that’s pretty typical. A few clubs and executives are already there but most trickle in throughout Monday. We’re going to keep track of any Yankees-related news right here throughout the day, so make sure you check back often. All of the timestamps are ET.
- 10:58pm: The Yankees have not changed their stance on Gardner. They will listen to offers but aren’t overly motivated to trade him. [Jack Curry]
- 7:47pm: The asking price for Gardner is “through (the) roof” and the Giants don’t have much interest in Ichiro Suzuki. Not surprised on either count. [John Shea]
- 6:58pm: The Giants are intrigued by Gardner. One person involved in talks called a trade “not likely, but not impossible.” [Sherman]
- 6:38pm: The most likely return for Gardner would be a number four starter, according to rival executives. A number three would be a strong return. Just keep him in that case. [McCullough]
- 5:05pm: The Yankees are looking for relievers and they have stayed in contact with Boone Logan. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow after the season and is expected to start throwing this month. [McCullough]
- 5:01pm: Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz will be eligible to sign on February 19th after being suspended for falsifying his age. The Yankees had a “large presence” at the 23-year-old’s recent showcase events in Mexico. Some teams like him more as a second baseman. [Jeff Passan]
- 11:10am: The Yankees have not expressed interest in Johan Santana. He’s coming off his second torn shoulder capsule and the first is usually the kiss of death. [McCullough]
- 11:03am: Thinking about Roy Halladay? Forget it. He’s retiring. Halladay will sign a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and make the official announcement later today. [Jon Heyman]
- The Yankees are one of the teams with interest in trading for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija. I wrote about him around the trade deadline. [Bruce Levine]
- 9:00am: “That’s the last thing I’m worried about,” said Cashman when asked about acquiring a closer. He acknowledged they’re seeking another starter and bullpen help in general. “Listen, we have enough voids that you don’t have to prioritize any of it. You hope to run into something sooner than later that makes you better.” [Dan Martin]
- The Yankees did look into a reunion with Raul Ibanez but he isn’t much of a fit now. The outfield is crowded and there’s no room for another DH-type. Ibanez is expected to sign this week. [Joel Sherman]
- The Yankees still have interest in Omar Infante as a Cano replacement. They are not talking to Mark Ellis, however. [Ken Rosenthal]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
A big part of being a Yankee fan is buying, hook, line and sinker, into the concept of mystique and aura, so mocked by Curt Schilling during the 2001 World Series. We expect dramatic victories, World Series titles and every player to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. We expect the Yanks to pay what it takes to retain their players, and we expect those players to embrace their time with the Yankees and stay in the Bronx to earn their spots in Monument Park and, for some, a plaque in Cooperstown. So what happens when they leave?
When Robinson Cano jetted for Seattle, of all places, it was more than a little bit of a shock to fans of the Bombers. Here was a player in his prime with multiple All-Star appearances, 1649 hits, 204 home runs, and a .309/.355/.504 slash line, all at the ripe old age of 31. The Yanks offered him seven years and were willing to pay him $25 million a year with an annual salary higher than everyone but A-Rod‘s. But it wasn’t enough, and now Robbie is Seattle’s, and Seattle’s problems are Robbie’s.
As the reactions from Robbie’s departures have come in, we’ve heard about disputes with Joe Girardi over lineup philosophy, and now, CC Sabathia has joined the fray with comments that stick to the heart of the Yankee legend. In comments to this weekend, CC spoke about the power of the pinstripes. “Just a player like that, putting on the pinstripes, and being able to play your whole career in New York means something – to me, obviously. It didn’t mean that much to him,” CC said. “It’s a difficult choice being a free agent. And he made a tough choice. I know he’s happy with his decision, and his family’s happy. So that’s good.”
Over the years, plenty of Yankee legends have had the opportunity to leave, and most didn’t. They earned their dollars because George Steinbrenner was willing to pay and because they wanted to stay. Derek Jeter hasn’t put himself into a bidding war, and Jorge Posada stuck around. Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, to differing degrees, both nearly left the Bronx but backed away from Boston at the last minute. Andy Pettitte left only to return while Reggie Jackson left never to return. Some players have walked away to avoid donning another uniform when their tenures were over, by their choice or the Yanks’, but I can’t think of someone else who walked away mid-career for another team who outbid the Yanks.
For Robbie, the choice was purely dominated by dollars, and I won’t begrudge him that. While the Yanks were willing to give him more per year, they didn’t want to give a middle infielder entering his age 31 season a ten-year commitment. Cano, meanwhile, figured that the guaranteed money today — the $65 million difference — is something he wouldn’t make up at the end of the seven-year deal the Yanks offered him. He didn’t want to gamble against his own age-related decline, and in today’s world where baseball teams are flush with cash, that’s certainly his prerogative and a fine choice.
But where it hurts is with that mystique and aura. It’s something fans buy into far more deeply than many players do, and it’s a stark reminder of the business of the game when a fan favorite and pinstripe native leaves. Maybe Cano didn’t think the Yanks during his career would ever be more than Derek’s team. Maybe Cano saw ten years of executive office upheaval, various team-building approaches and just one World Series win and simply decided there was nothing particularly compelling keeping him around that didn’t have a lofty price tag. Maybe we all overrate mystique and aura anyway. It hooks the fans, but what does it mean to the players anyway?
Without Robbie, Yankee life will go on. Brian Cashman says he’s disappointed, but he’s not $65 million worth of disappointed. The post-Robbie era will feature a Yankee team with a new look and a new approach. For nine years, Cano was the next great Yankee bound for Monument Park, and now he’s just another guy on the hapless Mariners. It may not feel good now, but it’s all part of the game, mystique, aura and free agency.
The murmurs started when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, but grew much louder when they signed Carlos Beltran last Friday. Given the Yankees’ myriad needs, they could trade Brett Gardner to help shore up an area of weakness. While it might make sense in terms of the current roster construction, the proposition becomes much more difficult when viewing it from a resource allocation standpoint.
Just because the Yankees have something of a surplus does not mean they must trade it away. We’ve seen first hand how quickly a surplus can become a deficit. If the Yankees were to trade Gardner, and then saw Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Alfonso Soriano miss time due to injury, they’re facing time with Zoilo Almonte as a starting outfielder.
Injuries happen, of course, and it’s not as though teams are expected to have major-league-ready backups at every position. Perhaps the better point is that since both Beltran and Ellsbury have injury histories, keeping Gardner helps insure the Yankees against missing too much production if they do miss time. Beltran could need more than a few games at DH, and chances are the Yanks could use Soriano there for a non-trivial number of games as well. Keeping Gardner allows them to keep the DH spot rotating, perhaps helping keep everyone healthy.
Insurance and flexibility aren’t the only reason to consider keeping Gardner. They might not even be the strongest. If the Yankees can’t get back a player as valuable as Gardner, trading him becomes a liability. There are many different ways of assessing value, but by most measures Gardner has been an underrated player throughout his career, particularly since he took over as a starting outfielder in 2010.
While a large portion of Gardner’s value comes from his defense, which is difficult to quantify, he’s no slouch on offense. Since he became a starter in 2010, Gardner has produced 35.2 runs with his bat. He’s no Jose Bautista or Ryan Braun, but he has still created the 39th (out of 117) most runs in the majors in that time span. In 2013 his 8.3 runs on offense ranked 29th out of 50 qualified OF. That’s not bad for a guy who creates most of his value with the glove.
Speaking of his glove, Gardner has proven his value in left field. While he started there, in 2010 and 2011, he was far and away the best defensive LF in baseball by every available measure. A move to left field actually increases that overall value,* since Gardner is orders of magnitude better than the average MLB left fielder. All of this makes it difficult to get a real grasp of Gardner’s actual value.
*Yes, the defensive stats at FanGraphs are all flawed in ways. You can plug in plenty of numbers and come to this conclusion, but for this exercise we’ll just use FG’s. In 2011, Gardner produced 26.7 runs with his glove. Since he played in left field, he got a -5.8 positional adjustment, for a total defensive value of 20.9 runs. In 2013, in center field, he produced -0.5 runs with his glove, and got a positional adjustment of +1.8 runs, for a total of 1.3 runs. The points are 1) Gardner is much better compared to the league average left fielder than his is the average center fielder, and 2) even if Gardner produced 18 runs with his glove in center, he’d still be a wash with his value in left. It’s not the most airtight argument in the world, but from it we can discern the premise: playing a player with a great glove and decent bat in left field can pay dividends.
If Gardner reaches free agency next off-season, what are the chances he gets a contract within $100 million of Ellsbury’s deal? While his market could change between now and then, especially with a strong 2014 at the plate, I can see him getting a four-year, $50 million contract. That would represent one of the greatest bargains on the market, given what other, less valuable outfielders have gotten. If this is Gardner’s perceived value around the game, he could very well be more valuable playing for the Yankees than in a trade for another player.
On trade possibility making its rounds is Gardner for Homer Bailey. With the expected departure of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. The Yankees need pitching, so the swap seems reasonable on the surface. It’s when we examine the issue through the lens of actual vs. perceived value that we see discrepancies.
From the commentary I’ve read, the idea is Gardner and a prospect for Bailey. That certainly represents Bailey’s and Gardner’s perceived values, but in terms of actual value it’s tough to justify. After years of struggling, Bailey has rounded into form the last two seasons, producing a 111 ERA+ in 417 innings. That is, he’s a solid No. 3 on a first-division team, an asset the Yankees could certainly use.
For his part, Gardner has been a solid starting outfielder no matter his position. His bat might not rank among the best, but it’s better than is generally perceived. If that value isn’t reflected in his trade value, then he could be worth more playing for the Yankees, in a season when they’ll almost certainly need four outfielders, than as a trade chip, even for a position of need. That goes especially if the Yankees can lock him up on a reasonable deal. Given the sizes of left and center fields at Yankee Stadium, they might need two guys like Ellsbury and Gardner to cover ground.
If the possibility came up and Walt Jocketty offered Brian Cashman Bailey for Gardner, straight up, Cashman would have a difficult time refusing. He needs a reliable starting pitcher, and Bailey has proved himself as such in the last two years. Entering his age-28 season, he could be poised for a career year. At the same time, Gardner has plenty of unperceived value on the field. It’s not as though he’ll languish on the bench and get two starts a week. If he stays he’ll get at least 550 at-bats and plenty of time in the field.
The question of perceived vs. actual value makes the idea of trading Gardner a complex one. If he’s more valuable than the player coming back, then why would the Yankees trade him? Unless they’re desperate to fill a position of need, they should probably refrain. Which is to say, I don’t think they’re going to trade Gardner in the next few weeks unless someone offers a player within Gardner’s actual value range.
Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You’ll need a subscription to read them. The name atop the list won’t be a surprise, but things are pretty wide open after that. They could have gone in any number of directions. Here’s the top ten:
- C Gary Sanchez
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Mason Williams
- C J.R. Murphy
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Luis Severino
- 2B Gosuke Katoh
The feature also includes a list of the organization’s top 15 players under the age of 25 and none of the 15 are big leaguers. Can’t say I’m surprised. Those ten guys up there are the top ten and are followed (in order) by LHP Manny Banuelos, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Jose Campos, and RHP Rafael DePaula. I suspect those guys will be prospects 11-15 when the Prospect Handbook comes out in a few weeks. The notable omission is OF Tyler Austin, who had an okay year but dealt with injury problems, specifically a bone bruise in his right wrist. It forced him from the Arizona Fall League after only four games. His stock took a hit this summer.
Sanchez, who has “effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool,” is an easy call for the top spot, especially now that his defense has improved. After him? I don’t see how there could be a consensus. I think it’s somewhat interesting that the top three prospects all have some kind of makeup concern — Sanchez was suspended for insubordination in 2011, Heathcott has had drug an alcohol problems, Williams was arrested for DUI earlier this year and has had run-ins with coaches — despite the team’s renewed emphasis on character. In the end, talent always reigns supreme. Can’t teach it.
A few things from the write-ups stand out. Williams “adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach” this year and didn’t show the same tools as he had last year. Like Austin, he took a step back. The Yankees project Murphy as a “potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power” while Sanchez is regarded as more of a “.260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually.” Both profiles fit just fine behind the plate. As for Bird, “some scouts and SAL managers questioned his future power” despite his awesome year. The plate discipline and everything else is fine, but low-power first baseman aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Severino is said to have “raw stuff that is as good as any Yankees farmhand” with a fastball that “sits between 93-95 mph and touches the upper 90s often.” His slider was his best secondary pitch when he signed but his changeup has since surpassed it. Neat.
Heathcott and Murphy are the only players in the top ten slated to open next season with Triple-A Scranton, and I suppose there’s a chance Heathcott will be sent back to Double-A Trenton to start the year. That’s unlikely though. The Yankees didn’t have any big league ready help this past season and for the most part, that will be the case again in 2014. Their farm system took a slight step back overall but not as big as it would have been without those three first rounders. The team needed to add some impact talent and it did with that draft. Most of their highest ceiling prospects are in the low minors — the short season leagues — and will need time to develop.