Feb. 4th: As expected, the MLBPA has asked for the case to be tossed out as well, reports Michael O’Keeffe. “Mr. Rodriguez does not and cannot plausibly allege that [the union's] advice was unreasonable, given in bad faith or that it undermined the MLBPA’s prosecution of the grievance,” said a letter the union sent to Ramos. A hearing is scheduled for February 14th.
Jan. 29th: Via the AP: Howard Ganz, one of MLB’s lawyers, sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos saying Alex Rodriguez’s lawsuit should be tossed out because it does not come “remotely close” to what is needed to overturn an arbitration ruling. “A court must confirm an award even when the arbitrator has offered only a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached, and even if the court considers the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract to be plainly wrong,” said the letter, whatever that means.
A-Rod and his legal team filed the lawsuit against MLB and the players’ union a few weeks ago, after his record 162-game suspension was upheld by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz. Ganz also said the MLBPA plans to seek dismissal of the suit as well. The suit is seeking an injuction that would overturn the suspension and allow Rodriguez to not only play this year, but also receive his massive $25M salary. From what I understand, the chances of a federal court re-opening the case and actually overturning the suspension are very small, so this is basically a Hail Mary. · (20) ·
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Next Monday at 7pm ET, the YES Network will air Masahiro Tanaka‘s June 9th start against the Yomiuri Giants in its entirety. John Flaherty, Ken Singleton, and Al Lieter reviewed the game (seven shutout innings) and provided their thoughts, which you can read right here. The video above is the pitch-by-pitch of that June 9th start, but Monday’s broadcast will be our first chance to see him pitch an actual game, not just some cut-up highlight video.
In other Tanaka news, just-released PECOTA (subs. req’d) projects him as a 180-inning, 3.45 ERA pitcher in 2014. The projected peripherals are very good (8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 45% grounders) and the top comps are Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Mat Latos. I’ll take it. Projections don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but I’d rather see a good projection than a bad one, that’s for sure. Steven Marcus says the Yankees will try to have a press conference for Tanaka in New York before Spring Training starts next Friday, but that is still up in the air. He will definitely have one in Tampa if they can’t do one in the Bronx.
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Here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers and Islanders are the only local teams in action, so talk about those games, Tanaka, or anything else right here. Enjoy.
Via ESPN NY: The Yankees may use left-hander Manny Banuelos as a reliever this coming season. He is returning from Tommy John surgery. “Banuelos has got that big arm,” said one member of the team’s front office. “If it’s still there and the lightning still strikes then you’re going see people say, ‘F— it, bring him with us [on Opening Day].’”
Banuelos, 22, missed all of last season following elbow reconstruction and was limited to only 24 innings in early 2012 due to a different elbow injury. Spring Training will be the first time he pitches in a competitive game in nearly two full years. Banuelos wasn’t exactly a finished product before the elbow injuries, so I think making the Opening Day roster is unlikely, even as a reliever. I’m not opposed to having him (or anyone, really) start their big league career out of the bullpen as long as there is a clear plan to get him back into the rotation at some point relatively soon. · (111) ·
Via Joel Sherman: The Marlins have signed utility man Jeff Baker to a two-year contract worth $3.75M, plus incentives. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and he made a lot of sense as the right-handed half of a third base platoon. Asking him to play the hot corner everyday would have been a real stretch though. Baker signed a minor league deal last summer, so I’m guessing that two-year guarantee (plus the promise of lots of playing time) put the Marlins over the top. · (24) ·
These last few years I’ve posted my annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List the Friday before pitchers and catchers report, which would be this coming Friday. I’m going to be out of town these next few days though, so I’m going to push the Top 30 back to next Thursday, the day before pitchers and catchers are supposed to show up to Tampa. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then:
- Marc Hulet at FanGraphs posted his list of the top ten Yankees prospects today. C Gary Sanchez sits in the top spot (duh) and then the usual suspects fill out the next nine slots. I really feel like you could put those nine guys in almost any order and it would be defensible. There isn’t much separation there.
- Keith Law (Insider req’d) posted a list of ten players who just missed his top 100 list last week, and C J.R. Murphy is one of the ten. Law says he “looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations.”
- MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, meanwhile, posted some players who missed their top 100 list this year but could make the jump in the future. RHP Rafael DePaula is one of those guys, and Mayo says he “has the chance to have three average or better pitches and could start moving fast.”
- Baseball America’s Ben Balder reports that the Yankees spent $2.45M on international players during the 2013 calendar year, seventh lowest in baseball. That’s a function of the spending restrictions more than anything. Note that the $2.45M spans two signing periods (2012-13 and 2013-14), so it doesn’t tell us how close they are to their 2013-14 pool.
- In another FanGraphs piece, David Laurila interviewed Murphy about his development as a catcher. “I was not very good when I was drafted. I’ve come a long way,” he said. Murphy also talked about learning to call a game and his approach as a hitter.
- Danny Wild at MLB.com interviewed 3B Eric Jagielo, the first of the Yankees’ three first round picks in last summer’s draft. It’s a pretty generic Q&A, though Jagielo did talk about what he learned from a rehabbing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in Tampa last year.
- Here’s a fun Sporcle quiz: name every Yankees prospect to make Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list over the years. I got 72 of 93 and didn’t miss anyone obvious. Not sure I would have gotten the last 21 with unlimited time.
- And lastly, Triple-A Scranton is holding a fun promotion this summer. Donnie Collins says August 8th will be “What If Night,” when they will play as the Trolley Frogs instead of the RailRiders. Trolley Frogs inexcusably lost a fan vote to Railriders when the team was renamed prior to last season.
It could just be posturing, but Brian Cashman has said the Yankees are done with their major moves for the winter following the Masahiro Tanaka signing. The club still needs infield and bullpen help, but a trade involving similarly priced players is more likely than a free agent signing. Swinging a trade may be difficult because the Yankees don’t have many trade chips aside from Brett Gardner right now.
A few weeks ago we heard about a possible Ichiro Suzuki for J.J. Putz swap, but that seemed to be Ken Rosenthal’s speculation more than anything. The Yankees are shopping Ichiro and that trade is on the right track — it involves two players with similar salaries who have been marginalized by their teams this winter. Ichiro is an extra outfielder making $6.25M in 2014, Putz a middle reliever owed $7M. It’s a good ol’ fashioned baseball trade. Both teams fill a need by trading from a position of depth with no fancy accounting or throw-ins.
Finding a trade match for Ichiro is rather difficult. The Yankees need to find a team not only in need of a speedy, defense first outfielder, but a team with a similarly priced infielder or reliever to spare. Putz likely represents the best, most realistic case scenario. Here are four others who could be matches.
Mike Adams, Phillies
Philadelphia has been looking for bullpen help all offseason at least partially because their two-year investment in Adams has gone south. The 35-year-old was one of the two or three most dominant setup relievers in the game from 2008-12 (1.98 ERA and 2.67 FIP), but back and shoulder problems limited him to only 25 innings last season. Adams had surgery to repair small tears in his labrum and rotator cuff in June and then needed surgery for a sports hernia in December. GM Ruben Amaro told Todd Zolecki that Adams won’t be ready for the start of Spring Training and will probably have the start of his season delayed.
The Phillies had interest in Ichiro last winter and they could use a defensively minded extra outfielder right now, plus Amaro loves big names. Ichiro makes sense for them, but, given his age and injuries, Adams isn’t a great fit for the Yankees. He is owed $7M this coming season ($6M club option for 2015) so the salaries match up well, but the team couldn’t count on him to be ready in time for Opening Day. There’s a lot of risk here and Adams has a history of shoulder problems (also had labrum and rotator cuff surgery in 2008). It would be awesome if he could get back to being his 2008-12 self but I don’t see how anyone could reasonably expect that.
Brandon League, Dodgers
We all knew League’s three-year, $22.5M contract would be bad the day he signed it last offseason, but I don’t think anyone expected it to go so bad so soon. The soon-to-be 31-year-old had a 5.30 ERA (4.93 FIP) in 54.1 innings last summer and didn’t just lose his closer’s job, he lost a setup job and a middle relief job as well. League was pulling mop-up duty by mid-June. The Dodgers have a full bullpen and some interesting arms in the minors, so they’d probably jump at the chance to unload the $15M left on League’s deal even though they aren’t shy about having a sky high payroll.
Los Angeles has a shockingly bad bench despite being an NL team with a massive payroll, plus Matt Kemp recently said he might not be ready in time for Opening Day following offseason ankle and shoulder surgery. Adding someone like Ichiro seems like a wise move on their part. League was awful last year — his strikeout (4.64 K/9 and 11.2 K%) and homerun (1.33 HR/9 and 19.0 HR/FB%) rates both declined big time — but he was very good from 2011-13 (2.97 ERA and 3.00 FIP) and he has AL East experience after spending the first few years of his career with the Blue Jays. I don’t think adding someone signed through 2015 is a bad idea, but the Yankees would have to be absolutely convinced they can fix League if they’re going to take on that contract.
Sean Marshall, Reds
Marshall, 31, is the only lefty among the three relievers in this post, but he is no specialist. He dominated both righties and lefties from 2010-12 (2.47 ERA and 2.12 FIP overall) before missing most of last season with a shoulder strain. When he’s right, Marshall is a high strikeout (10.35 K/9 and 27.9 K% from 2010-12), low walk (2.47 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%), high ground ball (55.3%) reliever who can (and has) pitched in almost every situation. He was very, very good before that shoulder acted up last year.
The Reds owe Marshall $12M over the next two years and they tried to trade him earlier this winter, but talks with the Rockies fell apart due to some lingering concern about his health according to Troy Renck. That’s obviously a red flag. Cincinnati will attempt to fill their gaping center field/leadoff hitter void with speedy rookie Billy Hamilton, but they have been looking for some outfield depth and insurance in case that doesn’t work. Ichiro is certainly capable of filling that role. Again, I’m not against adding a player signed through 2015, but the Yankees would need to look over Marshall’s medicals thoroughly before pulling the trigger.
Cliff Pennington, Diamondbacks
There aren’t many extra infielders making Ichiro money, so the 30-year-old Pennington is among the closest at $3.25M in 2014. He’ll also remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015. Pennington is essentially the infield version of Ichiro — he can’t hit (76 wRC+ from 2011-13) but he’s an outstanding defender who won’t kill you as an everyday guy because of his glove. The problem is the Yankees have almost the exact same player in Brendan Ryan and I’m not sure how many no-hit, all-glove infielders one team can roster. Arizona has plenty of young infielders and Pennington could be the odd man out, but he’s not what New York needs right now. Trading Ichiro for him would be about saving $3M or so and putting it towards a free agent reliever.
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Unless someone surprises them with an offer, I think the Yankees are best off holding onto Ichiro for another few weeks. Some team is bound to lose an outfielder or two to injury in Spring Training — that team could even be the Yankees! — which could improve his market. The Bombers have an obvious replacement in Zoilo Almonte, who is sound defensively and a switch-hitter who might actually provide some offense off the bench. Putz and the three relievers in this post all have some kind of injury and/or performance concern, but that’s what you get when you’re talking about trading pricey spare parts.
Now that the Super Bowl is in the rear-view mirror, the start of Spring Training is officially the next significant sports event on the calendar. Other than the Olympics, I guess. Pitchers and catchers report in eleven days, the Yankees hold their first full squad workout in 17 days, then they play their first Grapefruit League game in 23 days. Hooray for that. I’m really looking forward to Spring Training this year because the bullpen is wide open and I want to see guys like Jose Ramirez and Dellin Betances as they try to win a big league job in camp.
This is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing. Talk about those games, waiting for Spring Training, or anything else right here. Have at it.
Via the AP: Derek Jeter took live batting practice on the field and fielded ground balls at shortstop at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa today, both firsts as he works his way back from an injury-marred 2013 season. “Everything is good so far, knock on word,” he said. “This offseason is like a normal offseason. I’m four months ahead of where I was last year. Last year, quite honestly, I want to forget about it.”
Jeter, 39, started hitting off a tee and taking ground balls on the infield grass late last month. He didn’t start doing the stuff he did today until early-March last year, when he was recovering from his broken left ankle and subsequent surgery. I assume he will continue to ramp up his workouts in the coming weeks but the Yankees have every reason to be cautious and take it slow with their captain given his age and the nature of his injuries. There’s nothing exciting about a “normal offseason” but it’s very good news for Jeter. · (17) ·
Thanks to the busy offseason, Brett Gardner will be the Yankees’ only player in both the 2013 and 2014 Opening Day lineups, and he’ll be at a different position. All of that roster turnover is a good thing given how poor the team’s offense was last summer. The Yankees will score some more runs this year, but that isn’t the only part of the team that will change with the new additions. The defense will as well, especially on the infield.
Last year’s Yankees boasted above-average defenders in Gardner, Robinson Cano, Lyle Overbay, and Ichiro Suzuki. Chris Stewart was solid but I’m referring to the four infielders and three outfielders, the guys who handle the majority of balls in play. Jayson Nix was reliable but unspectacular while Vernon Wells and Eduardo Nunez were negatives. The defensive stats say the 2013 Yankees were a better than average defensive team (+21 DRS and +12.5 UZR) but Gardner is the only returning starter now that Ichiro has been pushed into a bench role.
Cano and Overbay have been replaced by Brian Roberts and Mark Teixeira, Nix and Nunez by Derek Jeter and Kelly Johnson, and Wells by Jacoby Ellsbury. The only clear upgrade there is Ellsbury, who is an elite defender. Teixeira has always been stellar in the field and I don’t think his wrist injury will impact his glovework much, if at all. Johnson has been generally above-average at second throughout his career but he is moving to third, where he has only 118 innings of experience. Roberts has been more or less an average defender at second but has barely played the last few years, so who knows what he can do defensively. Jeter has clearly been below-average in the field for a while now, even before the leg injuries.
Regardless of whether Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Beltran is in right, it’s clear the strong part of the Yankees’ team defense is their outfield. Gardner, Ellsbury and a potted plant would rate as one of the best defensive outfields in the game. The infield is a different story. Unless Brendan Ryan gets more playing time than expected, Teixeira will be their only obviously above-average defender on the infield. If Johnson shows his inexperience at third while Jeter and Roberts show their age at short and second, the infield could actually be pretty terrible defensively in 2014.
Therein lies the problem. Thanks to homer friendly Yankee Stadium, the Yankees have geared their pitching staff towards ground ball pitchers. That makes sense. Ground balls don’t go over the short porch for homers. Here are the team’s seven 40-man roster pitchers with at least two years of MLB experience:
|2013 GB%||2011-13 GB%|
Kelley is the only one of the seven who is an extreme fly ball pitcher. The other six guys have sat right around league average or been comfortably above. Adam Warren (45.3%) and Preston Clairborne (44.8%) were average ground ballers last season while Michael Pineda (36.6%) was a big time fly ball pitcher with the Mariners in 2011. That was two years and one major shoulder surgery ago, so who knows what he’ll do this year. Masahiro Tanaka could be a ground ball pitcher because of his diving splitter or he could be a fly ball guy like Dan Haren, his most popular comp. We won’t know until he pitches in an actual MLB game.
There is a pretty big disconnect between the strengths of the pitching staff and the team’s defense. The Yankees’ best defenders are in the outfield but three (perhaps all five depending on Tanaka and the outcome of the fifth starter competition) of their starters and two of their late-game relievers tends to keep the ball on the ground. Kelley and probably Pineda will love the Gardner-Ellsbury outfield but the other key members of the staff are going to hate the infield defense behind them, unless they learn how to make sure everything is hit towards Teixeira. I’d bet against it.
Fly balls have gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years, especially since the new Yankee Stadium opened. Yes, fly balls do occasionally go over the fence for homers, but they’re also relatively high-percentage outs when they stay in play, especially with Gardner and Ellsbury on the roster. Ground balls don’t go for homers but they do find holes for base hits. Given the crop of infielders and the team’s uncanny ability to use defensive shifts at the wrong time (confirmation bias, but you know what I’m talking about), there figure to be a lot of grounders sneaking through for hits and leading to extended rallies in 2014. The starters will wind up throwing more pitches and that means the questionable middle relief crew will see more innings in general.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much the Yankees can do to improve their infield defense at the moment. They could play Johnson at second and Ryan at short, but we all know Jeter will play the field as long as he’s physically in one piece. Other infield candidates who may sneak onto the roster are unlikely to offer much help — Nunez can’t field, Scott Sizemore is coming off two knee injuries, and Dean Anna isn’t considered a strong defender — so the team is stuck with what they have. Asking the pitchers to change their styles to get more fly balls is not realistic, but they could emphasize strikeouts. They’ll have to in big situations this summer because converting ground balls into outs will be no sure thing this summer.