I was in the mood for some Brett Gardner highlights earlier today, so here are some Brett Gardner highlights. I’m pretty sure this coming season will be Brett’s last with the Yankees, mostly because I don’t think the team wants to pay two no power outfielders top dollar via free agency. Plus I’m sure Gardner would prefer to play center field and bat leadoff, all other things being equal. Will he be worth the qualifying offer in a year? That’s the interesting question to me. He could turn down a one-year, ~$15M offer if he and his agent think a Michael Bourn deal (four years, $48M) is out there.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Devils are both playing, so talk about those games or whatever else. You folks know how this works by now, so have at it.
The Yankees announced five additions to their Major League/pro scouting staff today: Kendall Carter, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Espada, Dan Giese, and Dennis Twombley. Background info on all five is right here. Carter and Twombley are moving over from the amateur scouting staff and Espada was hired away from the Marlins. You probably remember Giese from his brief 2008 stint in pinstripes.
Duckworth, who bounced around the league as a journeyman right-hander for more than a decade, is the most interesting of the new hires simply because he spent the last two years as Masahiro Tanaka’s teammate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Did they hire him to help ease Tanaka’s transition, or did they get to know Duckworth while scouting Tanaka and felt he could help them as a scout? Either way, the Yankees haven’t dug up many hidden gems since Billy Eppler was promoted from pro scouting director to assistant GM two years ago. Hopefully that changes with the new additions. · (12) ·
Ivan Nova‘s relatively short big league career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He was okay during the first half of 2011 (4.12 ERA) and dominant in the second half (3.18 ERA). The 2012 season was atrocious from start to finish (5.02 ERA), and that carried over into early 2013 (5.16 ERA in April and May). But, after returning from a brief DL stint and a trip to the minors, he was again dominant and arguably the best pitcher on the staff the rest of the season (2.70 ERA). This graph tells the story:
Yeah, these last three years have been pretty up and down for Nova, but that’s okay. Not every young guy comes into the league and dominates right away like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. Most young pitchers take their lumps before learning what works for them and how to make the necessary adjustments. Heck, some guys never learn that stuff. It’s just the way it goes. Pitching is hard.
To his credit, Nova has already shown the ability to make some adjustments. That excellent second half in 2011 came after he started using his slider more often. When he was demoted to Triple-A last season, he focused on his curveball and rode that pitch to a successful second half. I don’t think anyone would question the quality of Nova’s stuff — he shows some nasty, nasty stuff when he’s on — but learning how the command it well and get by on days when one or two pitches aren’t working has been a challenge. Again, that’s part of the learning process.
Now, that said, Nova turned 27 earlier this month and he’s about to enter his fourth full season with the Yankees. He’s also earning some decent money ($3.3M in 2014) now that he’s gone through arbitration for the first time as well. The learning process never stops, but Nova is at the point where that rollercoaster ride should end and he puts together a consistent and productive season, from Opening Day through Game 162. The days of posting an ugly first half and going to Triple-A for a wake-up call before finding success down the stretch should be in the past. They have to be — Nova is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers.
“When I got hurt and went to Tampa [for rehabilitation], I really thought about what I want to do and what I want to be. I forgot about the past and focused on doing what I have to do,” said Nova to Ken Davidoff last September, after his complete-game shutout against the Orioles. It certainly appeared as though the figurative light bulb had turned on late last year, but I felt the same way in the second half of 2011. Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but Nova has given me some reason to doubt whether that success last year will carry over into this coming season.
At this point, three full years into his big league career, we still don’t know what Nova is. Is he the guy who’s slung to a 3.00 ERA for a half-season on two occasions? Or the guy with a 5.something ERA for the season and a half in between? Reality is probably somewhere in the middle and that’s fine. He has shown he can get ground balls and strikeouts, two skills that are a pretty good recipe for success. Chris Moran took an in-depth look at why Nova might be ready to emerge as a steady rotation presence earlier this winter, but we need to see that emergence actually happen.
The Yankees spend a boatload of money to make Masahiro Tanaka the centerpiece of their rotation going forward, and now they need Nova to shed the “enigma” label and become Tanaka’s running mate as CC Sabathia declines. I wouldn’t call this a make-or-break year, but the time has come for Nova to stop being an interesting young pitcher and become a reliable member of the rotation. This is the year for him to show the team he is a building block and not just more back-end fodder.
One day after posting his top 100 prospects list and two days after posting his organizational rankings, Keith Law released his top ten prospects lists for each of the 15 AL clubs today (East, Central, West, subs. req’d). The NL will be released tomorrow, if you care. Here are the Yankees’ top 11, according to KLaw:
- C Gary Sanchez (68th on the top 100)
- OF Tyler Austin (85th)
- OF Mason Williams (87th)
- C J.R. Murphy
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- RHP Luis Severino
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Jose Ramirez (Law said he is #11 in the write-up)
Judge is mentioned as a breakout candidate (video link) who could jump not just into the top 100 next year, but into the top 25 with a strong season.
In his write-up, Law says Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody” while Bird’s “patience/power game could make him a second-division regular down the road.” Severino might not stick as a starter long-term but his “three-pitch mix might be three pluses out of the pen, and it’s a grade-65 or 70 fastball [on the 20-80 scale] even in the rotation.” Law also quotes a scout who said Heathcott is “legitimately a crazy person,” which is kinda funny. The kid always seems to have his dial set to 11.
“The Yankees have to be excited about Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens, whom they signed for $1.3 million in July 2012,” added Law, picking Torrens as the organization’s sleeper prospect. “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”
Sanchez is the clear top prospect in the organization right now. I’m not sure anyone will disagree with that. After him though, there really isn’t much separation between the guys Law has ranked from two through about eight. You can rank those players in almost any order and it would be tough the argue. Either way, the Yankees need better results from their minor league system and that starts with rebound seasons from guys like Austin and Williams. Both will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so hopefully that 40-man roster spot serves as a nice carrot this summer.
The Yankees have made a series of major moves this winter and barring something unexpected, the team you see right now will likely be the team they take into the regular season. Sure, there might be some tinkering here and there, but another big move probably isn’t happening. Once the season begins and we see how some things play out (the infield and bullpen, primarily), the Yankees can start to look for in-season upgrades via the trade market.
The most common trade deadline fodder is a player making decent money on a non-contender, and these days most teams stay in contention until late in the season thanks to the second wildcard spot. The Yankees have already blown past the $189M luxury tax threshold, so they’re in a position to take on salary to facilitate a trade without worrying about staying under the threshold. Obviously it’s way too early to seriously look at potential midseason trade targets, but here are a few players who could wind up on the block and be of interest to the Yankees.
The White Sox have three first base/DH types in the newly signed Jose Abreu, franchise icon Paul Konerko, and impending free agent Dunn. Dunn is the obvious odd man out here. The Yankees do not have a true backup to Mark Teixeira, so if his surgically repaired wrist flares up and causes him to miss significant time, one of their very first calls will be to the White Sox. Dunn is owed $15M this year, the last of his four-year contract, and the ChiSox will probably jump at the chance to unload even part of it. He would make sense for New York if Teixeira goes down with another injury.
Okay, the Dodgers figure to be the opposite of a non-contender looking to shed salary this summer. They do have a pricey front four of the rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren) with Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Josh Beckett (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome) slated to return early in the season, so it’s possible one will become available as Los Angeles looks to plug another hole on their roster via trade. The 29-year-old Billingsley is more marketable than either Haren or Beckett (the other three guys aren’t going anywhere) and his contract includes an affordable $15M club option for next season. It’s a long shot but there could be a fit between baseball’s two highest spending clubs come June or July (or August).
Asdrubal Cabrera & Justin Masterson
The Indians snuck into the postseason last year thanks to a baby soft late-September schedule — they won their final ten games of the season, all against the awful White Sox, Astros, and Twins — and they got worse this winter by losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency. I suppose they could still re-sign Jimenez, but there are no such rumblings at this point.
Both Asdrubal and Masterson are due to become free agents next offseason — extension talks with Masterson were recently “shelved,” according to Paul Hoynes — so if the Tribe is out of contention, both could wind up on the market if the club wants something more than a draft pick in return. Heck, Cabrera was pretty bad last year (95 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR) and there’s no guarantee he’ll be worth a qualifying offer at the end of the year, so they might lose him for nothing. If Cleveland falls out of contention sooner rather than later, both guys could be fits for a Yankees team with a weak infield and in perpetual need of rotation help.
Rickie Weeks & Aramis Ramirez
Okay, now we’re talking. Non-contender? Likely check. Big salaries? Definitely check. Free agents after the season? Check as soon as their pricey club options for 2015 are declined. New York has holes at both second and third bases, so both Weeks and Aramis would make sense. The former would have to show something with the bat (94 wRC+ from 2012-13) while the latter would have to stay healthy (knee problems limited him to 92 games in 2013) first, of course. The Brewers figure to cut both Weeks and Ramirez loose next winter and would stand to save upwards of $18M by dealing both for a small-ish return at midseason. Given the state of the Yankees infield, both players will represent upgrades even if they are league average producers.
Chase Headley & Pablo Sandoval
We’ve already talked about both guys this winter (Headley, Sandoval). The Padres and Giants would not only have to fall out of contention for them to become available, but they’d have to believe they are unable to sign either player to an extension. Even at the trade deadline, both Headley and Sandoval would fetch something via trade that is more valuable than the draft pick their teams would receive when they sign elsewhere after the season. Either player would be the realistic best case upgrade scenario at the hot corner.
Jesse Crain, Jose Veras, Matt Lindstrom, Huston Street, Jason Motte …
… pretty much any reliever, really. Crain, Veras, and Lindstrom are on one-year contracts with presumed non-contenders, so they figure to be on the move come the trade deadline. Street is owed $7M with a $7M club option for 2015, but even if the Padres make him available, he wouldn’t be a great fit for the Yankees because he’s so insanely homer prone (1.40 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB from 2011-13). That won’t fly in Yankee Stadium.
Motte is the most interesting name in this cherry-picked group. Not only is he coming off Tommy John surgery and owed a considerable salary ($7.5M) heading into free agency, but the Cardinals have already replaced him at closer with Trevor Rosenthal and have more young power arms than they know what to do with. There is no such thing as too many good relievers, but trading Motte for a little salary relief and a player to plug a hole elsewhere on the roster seems very possible. If so, the Yankees should be at the front of the line for the right-hander.
This one is pretty far-fetched. The Rockies have been stuck between rebuilding and going for it these last few years, so trading their franchise player would not only require them being terrible in 2014, but also finally deciding to tear it down and start over. Tulo just turned 29 in October but he can’t stay on the field (126+ games played in only two of the last six years) and is owed at least $134M through 2020. When he’s healthy though, he’s a brilliant two-way player who plays elite defense and hits like a first baseman at shortstop. I wouldn’t count on Colorado making Tulowitzki available this summer, but if they do, the Yankees are one of the few teams that can absorb that contract.
Via Andy Martino: The Yankees have not had any recent contact with right-hander Fernando Rodney, though the two sides did touch base and have a preliminary chat back in November. The team claims it does not have the payroll flexibility to add bullpen help through free agency after signing Masahiro Tanaka, which seems like posturing more than anything.
Rodney, 36, is probably the best free agent reliever still available. He had a 3.38 ERA (2.84 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.07 K/9 and 28.3 K%) and ground balls (50.6%) in 66.2 innings last year, though his walk rate (4.86 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%) returned to its pre-2012 levels. The Yankees have a lot of interesting young guys and minor league pickups who will get a chance to make the team in camp, but I’d really like to see one more established late-inning reliever brought in. A thin bullpen could undermine the lineup and rotation improvements. · (46) ·
Although he was only with the Yankees for a few weeks, I’ve gotta mention Lance Berkman confirmed to Richard Justice that he is retiring from baseball. After five knee surgeries and countless other physical problems, his body just can’t take it anymore. Fat Elvis retires as a .293/.406/.537 (144 wRC+) hitter with 366 homers in parts of 15 seasons, good enough to get him some Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. I don’t think he’ll ever get in though. Godspeed, Puma.
This is your open thread for the evening. The Rangers and Islanders are playing the second NHL game at Yankee Stadium tonight (7:30pm ET on NBCSN), and that’s pretty much it for local sports. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.
Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa in two weeks and two days, and today the Yankees announced their non-roster Spring Training invitees. Last year the team brought a ridiculous 44 non-roster players to camp, but this year the number is a much more normal 26. As a reminder, players on the 40-man roster will automatically be with the big league team in Spring Training. Here’s the list of non-roster players:
* * *
The most notable ommission is probably UTIL Ronnie Mustelier, who was invited to camp last year and almost won a bench job before getting hurt just as the Yankees were preparing to head north. He had a good but not great minor league season (101 wRC+ at Triple-A), and if the team was unwilling to call him up to help that big league roster last summer, they probably never will.
One thing I am looking forward to this Spring Training is the bullpen competition. There are a lot of open spots and there will be a ton of young arms in camp trying to win one. If nothing else, they’ll be fun to watch in March as we wait for games that mean something.
As of right now, the Yankees are heading into the season with only one infielder devoid of injury concerns. Both Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Derek Jeter (leg) are coming off lost seasons while Brian Roberts appeared in only 192 of 648 possible games over the last four years due to a myriad of problems (concussion, hip, hamstring). Even Scott Sizemore, a depth pickup on a minor league deal, is an injury risk after tearing and re-tearing his ACL.
The only infielder who will come to camp without some kind of physical concern is Kelly Johnson, who was signed to be a bench player back in early-December. Now he is expected to hold down an everyday job with Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez no longer with the team. Johnson has been on the DL twice in parts of nine big league seasons, once for Tommy John surgery (2006) and again for wrist inflammation (2009). The elbow reconstruction cost him the entire year, the wrist only two weeks. Otherwise he’s been healthy and durable.
With Cano in Seattle and the rest of his infield-mates questionable, at least until they show up to camp and prove the injuries are behind them, Johnson is going to have to be Joe Girardi‘s anchor on the infield. The guy he knows he will be able to trot out there everyday without having to ask him how he feels before each game. The Rays used him as a super utility guy last summer — the role he was initially expected to fill when he signed with New York — but Johnson has been an everyday player before and he’ll get the chance to be one again. At age 31 (32 next month), he’s the young guy on the infield.
This isn’t just a “he needs to stay on the field” thing either. It’s not unreasonable to question how much Jeter and Roberts can contribute offensively at their age, ditto Teixeira given the nature of his injury. Jacoby Ellsbury was given a boatload of money to set the table from the leadoff spot and the trio of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano will be tasked with producing from the middle of the order. Johnson won’t (or shouldn’t, really) be asked to contribute significantly at the plate, but he needs to be something more than a zero from the bottom third of the order.
With the Rays last year, Johnson hit .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven steals in 407 plate appearances. That’s perfectly representative of his game: low average but enough walks (9.8% from 2011-13) and power (16+ homers in four straight years) to remain league average. He’ll even steal some bases (four seasons of 10+ steals). Yeah, Johnson will strike out a bunch (26.3% from 2011-13) and he probably needs a platoon partner (98 wRC+ against righties and 73 against lefties from 2011-13), but what did you expect from a $3M signing? Hopefully Yankee Stadium boosts his offense some.
Given how the offseason has played out and the general uncertainty with the infield, Johnson has already gone from being an excellent part-timer to an important everyday guy. The Yankees and Girardi are going to have their hands full keeping Jeter and Roberts healthy and productive, and in-house alternatives like Sizemore, Dean Anna, and Eduardo Nunez are hardly appealing. The team needs Johnson to stay on the field and provide some offense from the bottom of the order. He’s already climbed the depth chart from role player to everyday guy even before the start of Spring Training and there doesn’t appear to be any more help on the way.
One day after posting his farm system rankings, Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today (1-50, 51-100, subs. req’d). Twins OF Byron Buxton tops the list and is the clear number one prospect in the game right now. No doubt about it. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Athletics SS Addison Russell follow him to round out the top three. The Yankees landed three players on the list: C Gary Sanchez (#68), OF Tyler Austin (#85), and OF Mason Williams (#87). RHP Masahiro Tanaka was not eligible due to his time in Japan even though he’s technically a rookie/prospect.
In the write-up, Law says Sanchez “has huge upside as a hitter, with plus-plus raw power and very hard contact.” His defense behind the plate, while improved, continues to need work. “Even a grade-45 defender [on the 20-80 scouting scale] back there with Sanchez’s potential offensive upside will be an MVP candidate, and if he continues to work at receiving and on his plate discipline he’ll be ready to take over and make a real impact for the Yankees by 2016,” added Law. The comparisons to Jesus Montero are inevitable, but Montero showed more potential with the bat and was far worse defensively.
Austin’s appearance on the list is somewhat surprising given his underwhelming and injury hampered season, but Law says he believes in the bat enough to keep him on the list. “When healthy, Austin has a very sound swing that is geared both toward contact and power and is short to contact with good extension. He rotates his hips well to generate power, all with enough patience to keep his OBP in the .350 range,” he wrote. “He’ll be only about average in right field — making the necessary plays but not much more — so he needs to hit and hit for power to be a regular.”
Law has always been high on Williams, but his stock took a hit last summer because he showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t play with much energy throughout the season. The tools are still there though. “He is a potential Gold Glove defender in center, a future 70 on the 20-80 scale with good reads off the bat and bursting speed to chase down balls in the gaps … His ultimate outcome should be a high-average, doubles-power guy who might hit 15 homers in his best season, but even .290-plus with 50-60 walks and 10 homers with great defense is an above-average regular,” said Law. I guess that means Williams will be a $153M player down the road.
Here are the MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus lists, for reference. Sanchez is the Yankees’ only consensus top 100 prospect right now thanks to all the injuries and underperformance last year, and I suspect three top 100 guys is the most we’ll see this spring. I do think there’s a lot of potential for farm system improvement in 2014, which would require some of the injured players (Austin, Manny Banuelos, Ty Hensley) to stay healthy and last year’s top draft picks (Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh) to live up to the hype. Every team has some interesting guys who can take steps forward, but the Yankees seem to have more than most.