Weekend Open Thread

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in less than two weeks now, so MLB and the MLBPA don’t have much time to hammer out a new deal. It’s even less time than it seems because I doubt the two sides will be negotiating during Thanksgiving dinner. Nathaniel Grow has a great column up looking at the legal ramifications of the CBA and the December 1st deadline. Make sure you check that out.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers, Islanders, and Nets are all in action, plus you’ve got a full slate of college hoops as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else right here.

Saturday: This is the day’s open thread again. The Devils are playing and there’s a bunch of college #sports on too. You folks all know how these things work by now. Have at it.

Sunday: For the last time, this is the open thread. You’ve got all the day’s NFL action plus the Knicks, Nets, Rangers, and college basketball. Fun little Sunday. Go nuts.

Tanaka’s Falling Strikeout Rate

Masahiro Tanaka

There’s no denying that Masahiro Tanaka had a brilliant season in 2016. For the first time in his three-year career, he had a legitimate shot at the Cy Young Award and ended up finishing seventh in the balloting. He tied his career high in ERA- at 72 and was close to his career high FIP- of 78 with a mark of 80 this year; he put up a career high ground ball rate while notching new career lows in infield fly ball percentage and home run/fly ball percentage. The only thing he didn’t do as well as he’d done previously is strike batters out.

Continuing a trend, Tanka’s K/9 dipped again this year, falling to 7.44 from 8.12, which was down from 9.31 in 2014. His K% shows a similar downturn, going from 26 in 2014 to 22.8 in 2015 and 20.5 in 2016. 20.5 K% is still good, especially considering he’s never posted a BB% above 4.5 (this year’s mark). And given the change in approach that Mike described here, a drop in strikeout numbers wouldn’t be unexpected. Still, it’s worth taking a look to see what’s behind the dip in whiffs because punchouts are fun and the most efficient way to get a batter out.

tanaka cap tip

Let’s start with the out-pitch, the one whose reputation came in tow when Tanaka arrived in MLB, the splitter. In 2014, he generated a 46.01 whiff/swing rate on the pitch. It dropped to 33.33 in 2015, then to 30.00 in 2016. As a percentage of his strikeouts, the splitter has gone from being about half of them (2014) to about a third of them or a little more (2015-16). Of course, when your groundball/balls-in-play percentage is in the mid to high sixties with a pitch, the declining strikeout rate is something you can live with. Tanaka’s slider tells a similar story. The whiff/swing rate on his slider has gone from 39.55 to 34.38 to 33.16. The GB/BIP rate has gone from 31.37 to 39.00 to 40.74.

If we take a look at the splitter and where Tanaka likes to throw it, we get a good idea of why whiffs and grounders happen. The bottom drops out of the splitter and the batter either swings over it or beats it into the ground. The conclusion drawn before–fewer strikeouts, more grounders–is fleshed out here as well. Take a look at the whiff/swing rate on Tanaka’s three most popular spillter locations in 20142015, and 2016; there’s a general downward trend, suggesting that hitters are making more contact with those pitches, even if they’re not doing a lot with them. His slider has shown a similar trend, gathering more grounders in the lower part of the zone as the years have gone on.

We tend to take a drop in strikeout rate as a cause for alarm among pitchers and I’m generally inclined to agree with that quick assessment. However, while it’s something to watch with our beloved, underrated TANAK, I’m not overly worried. He showed this year that he can be incredibly successful without having to get too many strikeouts and, frankly, this is a microcosm of him as a pitcher. Each game, Tanaka seems to bring a new strategy, a new approach to the mound and that’s been true on the broad scale of his three year career. As a pitcher who seems to reinvent himself every start, he’s capable of displaying greatness in myriad ways, strikeouts or not.

Update: Torres named Arizona Fall League MVP, becomes youngest ever to win batting title

Update: SS Gleyber Torres has been named Arizona Fall League MVP, the league announced. He’s the youngest MVP in league history. Torres is the third Yankees farmhand to win the award, joining 1B Greg Bird (2014) and 3B Eric Duncan (2005). C Gary Sanchez nearly won it last year. Congrats, Gleyber.

In case you missed it yesterday, the Yankees added six players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. OF Jake Cave and LHP Tyler Webb are among the most notable players left exposed. Here are some minor league notes and links:

  • In their latest podcast, the Baseball America crew spent a good 40 minutes breaking down the Yankees’ system system (pre-Brian McCann trade). Make sure you give that a listen. Ton of great stuff. The Yankees’ portion begins at the 13:50 mark.
  • SS Gleyber Torres was named Arizona Fall League Player of the Week again. Second time in the last month. Also, Torres finished fifth in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. And Sam Dykstra singled him out as a standout AzFL performer. He is: good.
  • RHP Drew Finley, who was limited to 27.1 innings this year by an elbow issue, has resumed throwing off a mound. I know this because he posted video of himself throwing off a mound on Instagram. /journalism

The Arizona Fall League season ended earlier this week — the AzFL Championship Game will be on MLB Network and MLB.com at 3pm ET this afternoon, but the Scottsdale Scorpions didn’t make it, so no Yankees farmhands are playing — so all the AzFL stats in this week’s update are final.

Arizona Fall League

  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 19 G, 19-67, 10 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 5 RBI, 9 BB, 11 K, 1 CS (.284/.364/.373) — very nice finish to his breakout season … the 21-year-old Andujar hit .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) with 12 homers, 12.9% strikeouts, and 7.4% walks in 156 total games
  • 1B Greg Bird: 17 G, 14-65, 9 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 12 BB, 17 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.215/.346/.354) — not the best numbers, but the shoulder is healthy and that’s by far the most important thing … see you in Spring Training, Greg
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 18 G, 25-62, 15 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 14 BB, 8 K, 4 SB, 2 CS (.403/.513/.645) — led the AzFL in AVG, OBP, and OPS (1.158) … he’s only 19, and he’s the first ever player under the age of 21 to win the AzFL batting title … Eric Longenhagen also says Torres cleaned up some leg kick issues in two-strike counts, so that’s cool
  • UTIL Tyler Wade: 18 G, 13-54, 17 R, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 13 BB, 11 K, 10 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.241/.391/.278) — ended up playing one game at second, one at third, three in left, seven in center, and six in right
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 6 G, 7.2 IP, 6 G, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 10 K (4.70 ERA and 1.57 WHIP) — six tough outings in the AzFL raised his 2016 ERA from 1.78 in 111 innings to 1.97 in 118.2 innings
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 10 G, 14 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 18 K, 1 WP (2.57 ERA and 1.57 FIP) — the fourth piece in the Andrew Miller trade finishes the season with a 1.71 ERA (2.75 FIP) with 33.0% strikeouts and 11.3% walks in 79 total innings
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 7 G, 7 GS, 27 IP, 22 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 8 BB, 26 K, 4 HR (4.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP) — throwing 45 total innings in 2016 stinks, but at least the elbow was healthy enough to make it through the AzFL in one piece
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 6 G, 4 GS, 20 IP, 24 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 11 BB, 13 K, 1 HR, 2 WP (5.85 ERA and 1.75 FIP) — last year’s 17th round pick was limited to 54 innings this year by an unknown injury, but like Kaprielian, he was able to make it through the AzFL healthy
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 6 G, 9.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 HR 2 HB (3.86 ERA and 1.07 WHIP) — he was shut down a few weeks ago after reaching his innings limit for the season

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 10 G, 3-13, 2 R, 2 K (.231/.231/.231)
  • SS Jorge Mateo: 15 G, 6-41, 4 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.146/.222/.220) — don’t be afraid to hit a little at some point, Jorge
  • RHP Anyelo Gomez: 2 G, 1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K (10.80 ERA and 1.80 WHIP)
  • RHP Adonis Rosa: 3 G, 1 GS, 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K (0.00 ERA and 0.38 WHIP) — nice little winter ball showing for the 22-year-old

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 18 G, 15-66, 13 R, 4 2B, 1 RBI, 5 BB, 19 K, 8 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.227/.320/.288)

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) started its season a few weeks. IF Vince Conde and OF Aaron Judge are both listed on rosters, though they haven’t played yet. Judge is going to be in Tampa working with the team’s hitting instructors this offseason, so I doubt he’s playing winter ball.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • IF Angel Aguilar: 9 G, 2-9, 4 R, 5 K, 1 SB (.222/.222/.222)
  • C Francisco Diaz: 28 G, 19-78, 8 R, 3 2B, 2 3B, 3 RBI, 9 BB, 15 K, 1 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.244/.330/.333)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 4 G, 2 GS, 11.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB, 2 WP (5.56 ERA and 1.68 WHIP)
  • RHP David Kubiak: 8 G, 2 GS, 19 IP, 20 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 14 K, 1 HR, 3 HB, 3 WP (6.16 ERA and 1.42 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 5 G, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP) — hasn’t pitched in two weeks now … I doubt he went all the way to Venezuela to throw the last 3.2 innings to reach his innings limit for the season, so he might have gotten hurt

Yankees add six to 40-man roster, trade Pazos to Mariners among bevy of roster moves

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Friday was the deadline for teams to add eligible players to the 40-man roster, and given their deep farm system, the Yankees had to make a bevy of roster moves prior to the 8pm ET deadline. Here’s a recap of all the moves, which involve 13 players:

Phew. Got all that? Andujar, Enns, Gallegos, Herrera, Mateo, and Ramirez were all Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason. Now they’re not. Welcome to the 40-man roster, fellas. Andujar and Mateo were the only absolute locks to be added to the 40-man. The other four guys — as well as many others — were borderline.

The Yankees had one open 40-man spot thanks to yesterday’s Brian McCann trade. They cleared the other five spots by releasing Ackley, trading Pazos, and designating Eovaldi, Mantiply, and Rumbelow for assignment. Rumbelow, like Pinder, is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’ll probably clear waivers, also like Pinder.

Ackley and Eovaldi both ended the season hurt and were expected to be non-tendered. There’s no sense in waiting until the December 2nd deadline though. They need the 40-man space. The Yankees get the roster spots and Ackley and Eovaldi get a little extra time to find new teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees try to re-sign Eovaldi to a two-year deal. We’ll see.

The 21-year-old Littell is the new addition to the organization. He was an 11th round pick in the 2013 draft out of a North Carolina high school, and this past season he had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 173 innings split between Low-A and High-A. That’s a ton of innings for Single-A. Geez. That’s some 1980s pitcher development stuff right there.

Chris Crawford says Littell has “shown two plus pitches and throws three pitches for strikes,” which is a pretty nice starting point. MLB.com ranked Littell as the 14th best prospect in Seattle’s system before the trade. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Littell’s heater is his best offering, registering in the low 90s and topping out at 94 with late life. He fearlessly attacks hitters with the pitch, commanding it to both sides of the plate while working down in the zone so as to generate ground-ball outs. His curveball is his primary secondary offering and makes him particularly tough on same-side hitters, but he’ll need to refine his changeup in order to neutralize lefties at higher levels … he receives rave reviews for his makeup, both on and off the mound.

I gotta say, Littell seems like a really excellent return for Pazos, who is a hard-throwing but erratic left-handed reliever. Littell’s not a future ace, but he has starter stuff and there’s a pretty good chance he’ll pitch in Double-A at some point next season. And he’s not Rule 5 Draft eligible yet. Nice little pickup by the Yankees.

Mateo, 21, is one of New York’s top prospects, though he had a disappointing season in 2016. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with eight homers in 113 games with High-A Tampa, and was suspended two weeks for violating team rules. Still, given his ability, Mateo would have been the very first player taken in the Rule 5 Draft.

The 21-year-old Andujar had a breakout season this year, hitting .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) with 12 homers in 137 total games with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He then played in the Arizona Fall League after the season. Neither Andujar nor Mateo is big league ready, but the Yankees couldn’t risk losing either in the Rule 5 Draft.

Herrera, 21, came over from the Padres in last winter’s Jose Pirela trade. He pitched to a 4.12 ERA (3.27 FIP) in 146.1 innings with mostly Double-A Trenton in 2016. Herrera’s not a top prospect by any means, but apparently the Yankees think he can help them at some point, so on the 40-man roster he goes.

Gallegos, 25, broke out as a full-time reliever this season, putting up a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 5.7% walks in 84.2 innings at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Relievers with those numbers are prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. Gallegos was a goner had the Yankees left him exposed. No doubt about it.

The 25-year-old Enns has been off the charts since returning from Tommy John surgery last year. The finesse southpaw has a 1.37 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 197 innings with his new elbow, and he spent much of 2016 in Triple-A. Enns has three pitches and can start. That’s a guy you don’t leave available in the Rule 5 Draft. More than a few teams would be willing to take a look at him in camp.

Ramirez, 22, was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick from the Diamondbacks last year. The ex-infielder had a 2.82 ERA (3.13 FIP) with 26.8% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 124.1 innings at Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa this year. Heck of a scouting job by the Yankees. They managed to fine a nice arm in the minor league Rule 5 Draft.

Among the notable players the Yankees are leaving exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are OF Jake Cave, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Brady Lail, OF Tito Polo, LHP Stephen Tarpley, C Luis Torrens, and LHP Tyler Webb. RHP Domingo Acevedo is not Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason. I know I said he was earlier, but I was mistaken. My bad, yo.

Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, so if he gets popped again and doesn’t stick, he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees. Chances are his time with the organization is over, one way or the other. As a lefty who’s had success at Triple-A, Webb is definitely getting picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is talented, but he’s too young and too far away to stick in MLB in 2017. He’s barely played above rookie ball.

As a reminder, players taken in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s active 25-man roster all season in 2017, or go through waivers and be offered back to their former team. The Rule 5 Draft success rate is pretty low, unsurprisingly. The draft itself is Thursday, December 8th.

Update: Yankees announce 2017 Spring Training schedule


November 18th: For whatever reason, the Yankees have pushed back their reporting date for pitchers and catchers one day, the team announced. Pitchers and catchers will now report Tuesday, February 14th. The rest of the Spring Training schedule remains the same.

November 7th: Earlier today, the Yankees announced their 2017 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Monday, February 13th. That’s 98 days away. Position players will follow on Saturday, February 18th. The first full squad workout is scheduled for the next day.

The Yankees begin Grapefruit League play on Friday, February 24th, at home against the Phillies. They’re also going to play an exhibition game against Team Canada on Wednesday, March 8th. That’s a tune-up game prior to the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees close out Spring Training with an exhibition game against the Braves at brand new SunTrust Park on Friday, March 31st.

All told, the Yankees will play 35 exhibition games next spring, including 17 at the newly renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The Yankees and every other team scaled back on their number of Spring Training broadcasts last year — I guess those mid-week afternoon split squad games don’t draw many eyes — and I assume that will be true next spring as well.

Eventually the Spring Training schedule will make its way on to the official site. Perhaps even by time this post goes live. Spring season tickets are on sale right now. You can buy them here. Individual spring game tickets don’t go on sale until Friday, January 13th. The Yankees open the 2016 regular season on Sunday, April 2nd, on the road against the Rays.

The Spare Part Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Bleier. (Presswire)
Bleier. (Presswire)

The active player portion of our 2016 season review comes to a close today with the random pitchers pretty much no one expected to see in pinstripes this summer. There are a few of these guys every year, and really, every team needs them. Sometimes the best option is to call up a veteran with no long-term future in the organization so you can run him into the ground for a few weeks.

That sounds harsh, but it happens all around the league, and these guys would rather chew up undesirable innings in the big leagues than sit in the minors. These guys aren’t kids. They’re journeymen either trying to hang on and extend their careers, or get to the big leagues for the first time and lock in that sweet affordable health care for life. Here are the random journeyman relievers who found themselves with the Yankees in 2016.

Richard Bleier

None of these spare part arms had more success this year than Bleier, who the Yankees signed as a minor league free agent last winter. The 29-year-old bounced from the Rangers to the Blue Jays to the Nationals in recent years before hooking on with New York. He started the season in Triple-A Scranton, as expected, then received his first big league call-up in late May.

Bleier had been a starting pitcher pretty much his entire career, and that was his role early in the season with the RailRiders, but the Yankees needed him in relief. Joe Girardi used Bleier as kind of a Swiss Army reliever. He was used as a left-on-left matchup guy, as a one-inning reliever, or as a multi-inning mop-up man. Bleier faced as few as one and as many as 14 batters during his 23 total appearances with the Yankees.

Believe it or not, the first of Bleier’s two stints in New York lasted nearly three months. He was called up on May 26th and not sent down until August 9th. That’s a span of 66 team games. And in those 66 team games, Bleier made only 16 appearances. That’s a pace of 39 appearances per 162 games. So yeah, Bleier was a very rarely used low leverage reliever. In those 16 appearances he had a 3.38 ERA (2.70 FIP) in a whopping 13.1 innings.

The Yankees sent Bleier down in August to get stretched back before bringing him back when rosters expanded in September. He actually had to wait until September 9th to come back. Bleier wasn’t among the first wave of call-ups. The southpaw’s best outing of the season came on September 12th, when he hurled four scoreless and hitless innings of relief against the Dodgers. No video of this performance exists, so you have to take my word for it.

Bleier closed out his season with a scoreless September, and towards the end of the year he seemed to work his way into the Circle of Trust™. Four of his final five appearances came in close games. Bleier finished the season with a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 23 innings, and as per the finesse lefty rulebook, he had a low strikeout rate (14.1%), a low walk rate (4.4%), and a high ground ball rate (54.1%). Bleier is still on the 40-man roster, and while I would never say a soon-to-be 30-year-old journeyman’s spot is safe, he’s not at the front of the DFA line either.

Phil Coke

The Yankees had a little 2009 reunion going on for a while in Scranton. The team signed Nick Swisher as a backup backup (backup?) first baseman and stashed him in Triple-A for a while, and, in late April, they also brought in Phil Coke and sent him to Scranton too. Coke was pitching in an independent league at the time and the Yankees were already running short on pitching depth, so the veteran lefty plugged a hole.

Coke, now 34, made two appearances with the RailRiders before the Yankees decided to call him up when CC Sabathia went down with his groin injury. Coke made three relief appearances with the big league team, allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks in six innings, and struck out only one. He did give up one home run, but sadly it was a line drive, so Coke didn’t point up like it was a routine fly ball. Would have liked to have seen that for old time’s sake.

The Yankees dropped Coke from the roster after that game and he spent almost the entire rest of the season in Triple-A. He was pretty good for the RailRiders, pitching to a 2.96 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 70 innings spread across eleven starts and nine relief appearances. Coke tossed two perfect innings in Scranton’s win in the Triple-A Championship Game.

Believe it or not, one team was so impressed by Coke’s work this season that they actually traded for him in September. Following the Triple-A title game, the Yankees sent him to the Pirates in a cash trade. Coke threw four scoreless innings in three games with Pittsburgh. He became a free agent after the season, and apparently Coke recently signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Can’t say I expected to write a Phil Coke review blurb this season, but here we are.

Tyler Olson

Olson. (Presswire)
Olson. (Presswire)

Olson, 27, is best known as the other guy the Yankees received in the Ronald Torreyes trade with the Dodgers. It was Torreyes and Olson for Rob Segedin. Olson has a classic lefty specialist skill set, right down to the mid-80s fastball and funky delivery, yet the Yankees had him open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Weird move, but whatever, it’s Triple-A. Who cares.

Getting Olson stretched out came in handy in mid-April, when he was called up to the big leagues to serve as an extra mop-up man. In his only appearance with the Yankees, Olson allowed two runs in 2.2 innings against the Mariners, the team that originally drafted and developed him. The Yankees lost the game by six runs. They sent Olson back down to Triple-A immediately, then eventually designated him for assignment in June. He went from the Yankees to the Royals to the Indians on waivers, but alas, Cleveland didn’t call him up in September. No AL championship ring for Olson. Womp womp.

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak. (Presswire)
Swarzak. (Presswire)

Olson was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Swarzak, who the Yankees signed to a minor league contract last offseason. The 31-year-old right-hander had a 3.86 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 46.2 innings with the RailRiders. He was called up to serve as the team’s veteran innings eating low-leverage reliever, or so we thought.

Swarzak’s first few weeks in pinstripes were fine (two runs in 7.1 innings), and in hindsight, that’s probably the worst thing that could have happened. Girardi started to give him some more responsibility and it cost the Yankees games. Swarzak made ten appearances from June 22nd through July 30th, and he allowed at least one run in seven of those ten appearances. Oy vey.

In mid-August, when the Yankees were making a spirited run towards a postseason spot, Swarzak played a major role in two crushing losses. On August 16th, he allowed four runs in two-thirds of an innings against the Blue Jays to help the Yankees blow a 6-0 lead.

Can’t help but wonder how that game would have turned out had the lengthy rain delay not forced Michael Pineda from the game after five scoreless innings and only 68 pitches. But still, maybe get more than two outs before allowing four runs with a 6-0 lead?

Because that wasn’t bad enough, Girardi called on Swarzak to help protect a two-run lead against the Mariners on August 22nd. There were two outs in the inning, but Seattle had runners on second and third with the powerful Mike Zunino at the plate. He hammered Swarzak’s sixth pitch of the night out of the park for a go-ahead three-run home run. The Yankees went on to lose the game.

After the game, Girardi said he went to Swarzak in that spot because he “liked his slider,” which I’m pretty sure is a sentence never uttered before or since about Swarzak. Baseball is a team sport and no loss can ever truly be blamed on one player, but yeah, Swarzak really blew those games. In fact, his performance in the Seattle game was the team’s eighth costliest pitching appearance of the season in terms of WPA. That’s out 645 total pitching appearances by the Yankees in 2016.

The Yankees placed Swarzak on the disabled list with a shoulder issue following that game against the Mariners. He remained sidelined close to a month before returning in late September. Swarzak appeared in just one more game the rest of the season, tossing two scoreless mop-up innings against the Orioles in Game 160. He finished the season with a 5.52 ERA (6.11 FIP) in 26 games and 31 innings in pinstripes. Swarzak elected free agency after being removed from the 40-man roster after the season. Let us never speak of this again.

Mailbag: Gray, Archer, Holliday, Moustakas, Sheffield

Only eight questions in the mailbag this week. It was ten before the Brian McCann trade made two questions obsolete, but also I’ve been in a fewer questions/longer answers groove the last few weeks for some reason. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us anything.

Gray. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Gray. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Bryan asks: The Rockies always need pitching so I’m not betting on them dealing it away, but what would your interest level in Jon Gray be and what would you be willing to give up? Young, tall, hard throwing, and I’d assume they like him after trying to get him in the ’11 draft.

Interest level: Extremely high. Willing to give up: Lots. I’m all in Gray. The 4.61 ERA is ugly, I know it is, especially since it was actually worse on the road (4.91) than it was at Coors Field (4.30), but the guy had a 3.60 FIP with a 26.0% strikeout rate in his first full season as a big leaguer. That’s a good sign. He also had a better than average 88.7 mph exit velocity, which is on par with other weak contact pitchers like Justin Verlander (88.2), Jacob deGrom (88.7), and Jose Quintana (88.9).

(Amazingly, MLB.com doesn’t seem to have video of Gray’s 16-strikeout game in September.)

Gray turned 25 earlier this month and he comes with five years of team control. This is the kind of dude you go all out to acquire. Swing and miss power stuff — Gray had better than average swing-and-miss rates with his fastball and slider, and an average swing-and-miss rate with his changeup — and a half-decade of control. He might not be an ace right away because being an ace is hard, but the tools are there. He’s a rotation cornerstone going forward.

The Yankees did draft Gray out of junior college in 2011, though I don’t think that matters much. His dominance and potential is not some secret. There are 30 teams who want this guy. The Rockies actually have a good amount of young pitching these days (Gray, Tyler Anderson, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez), so while they might be in position to trade a starter, I’d be floored if it’s Gray. He’s their best pitcher and someone to build around. If they put him on the market and demand, say, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, plus some other stuff, how do you say no?

Jon asks: Any chance the Yanks could swing a trade for Chris Archer this offseason? What do you think it would cost them?

I’ll start out by saying no, I don’t think there’s a chance the Yankees could trade for Archer. Not because they don’t have the prospects to make the deal. They certain do. I just don’t think the Rays will trade him within the division. Archer had a down year in 2016 but there will still be plenty of interested teams if they put him on the market, enough that Tampa could get a great package without getting the Yankees involved.

That said, pursuing Archer would be worthwhile and a no-brainer for the Yankees. He just turned 28 — fun fact: Archer is 36 days older than Masahiro Tanaka — and he’s owed only $38.5M over the next five years when you include the club options.  That’s a bargain price for a pitcher of his caliber. Archer’s is a long-term rotation piece and the Yankees need a few of those going forward. The fact he’s already had success in the AL East is a plus.

Archer’s performance did take a step back this year — he had a 4.02 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 2016 after putting up a 3.23 ERA (2.90 FIP) last year and a 3.33 ERA (3.39 FIP) the year before — though the only significant change in his underlying performance was his home run rate, and everyone gave up more homers this year. The slider is still electric and the velocity is there. As long as Archer is healthy, I’m in.

My trade proposal sucks, but I’m thinking Tampa needs some combination of three top prospects or young players ready to step right into the MLB roster, plus some secondary stuff. Trading for a pitcher as good and affordable as Archer should hurt like hell.

Matt asks: With the Cubs possibly looking for a lefty swinging outfielder (if Dexter Fowler declines the QO), and the Yanks surplus of outfielders, would the Cubs have any interest in acquiring Brett Gardner? And if so, would Ian Happ be a possible trade target for the Yankees?

No on Happ. I can’t imagine the Cubs would give him up for Gardner. Way too good of a prospect. Gardner could be a fit for the Cubs though, considering they need a center fielder and leadoff hitter given Fowler’s impending departure. Perhaps they’d even have interest in Jacoby Ellsbury given Theo Epstein’s history with him from their Red Sox days. That’d be swell. Gardner seems more likely though given his far less painful contract. Too bad the Cubbies don’t have any real pitching to trade. I’m a Rob Zastryzny fan, but not enough to take him back as the centerpiece in a Gardner deal.

Holliday. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Holliday. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Reggie asks: Now that he’s a free agent , wouldn’t Matt Holiday make a good option as a DH/emergency outfielder? He might be a quality veteran bat to be had on a two-year deal.

Holliday turns 37 in January and is in clear decline — his wRC+ the last four years: 147, 132, 124, 109 — so I’d try to limit it to a one-year contract, but yes, I think he could be a good DH candidate. Holliday would have to be cool with playing some first base though. He played ten games there for the Cardinals this year, so I assume this won’t be a problem. He’s not very mobile in the outfield these days, and limiting him to first and DH may keep him healthier.

This past season Holliday hit .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+) around a broke thumb that was suffered on a hit-by-pitch. There are some worrisome trends in his underlying performance. His walk rate, which hadn’t been below 10.4% since 2007, dropped to 8.2% in 2016. When an older player stops walking, it usually stems from hunting fastballs early in the count because he knows can’t react to soft stuff as well as he once did. Also, Holliday’s ground ball rate has climbed from 45.6% to 48.1% to 50.0% the last three years. More balls on the ground is a classic sign of aging.

I’d target Carlos Beltran over Holliday as a one-year DH, but Holliday is probably option No. 2. I’d take him over Mike Napoli, who certainly has more power, but has extreme contact issues and gets chewed up by even decent righties. Holliday is what announcers like to call a “professional hitter.” He grinds out at-bats and is a right-handed hitter with a true all-fields approach (via Baseball Savant) …

Matt Holliday spray chart

… and I’d rather hitch my wagon to that guy than the grip it and rip it Napoli. I’m a little wary of hitters on the wrong side of 35 after watching Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez go from great to useless in an offseason, but if the Yankees are going to sign someone like that to be their DH next season, Holliday wouldn’t be a bad choice. I’d prefer Beltran because he’s a switch-hitter and there’d be less of an adjustment period, but Holliday would work too.

Ladislao asks: Hey quick question for mailbag, what do you think about Eric Thames who is playing out in the KBO? He has power and speed and wasn’t terrible when he last played in MLB. Could he be a productive cheaper OF/DH/1b option?

Thames, who you might remember from his time with the Blue Jays a few years ago, has spent the last three seasons in Korea and his numbers are insane. He hit .317/.425/.676 with 40 home runs this year, which is down from the .381/.497/.790 and 47 home runs he hit last year. Keep in mind the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league as a whole hit .290/.364/.438 overall this year. It’s an entire league of Buster Poseys (.288/.362/.434 in 2016).

Thames turned 30 earlier this month and he’s probably worth a deeper look outside a mailbag setting. My big question is this: how did he improve? Is he still the same guy he was in MLB, and he just spent the last few years feasting on inferior pitching? Or did he make legitimate progress in some way? Byung-Ho Park had huge numbers in KBO (.343/.436/.714 in 2015) but he fell flat on his face with the Twins (.191/.275/.409), which was a reminder not everyone makes the transition as easily as Jung-Ho Kang did with the Pirates last year.

Moose tacos. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Michael asks: If the Yankees did end up dealing Headley, how do you see them filling 3rd base?  Also what would it take to get Mistakes, ones year to free agency and coming if an injury?

Shout out to Michael for the A+ autocorrect. I’m assuming Mistakes is Moustakas, as in Mike, who is indeed one year from free agency and coming off a torn ACL. The Royals are at a crossroads right now. Basically their entire core will become free agents after 2017. I’m talking Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar, and Danny Duffy. They’re going to be left with Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Ian Kennedy. That’s about it.

Kansas City, who reportedly listened to offers for Davis at the deadline, has to decide whether to tear it all down now and begin a rebuild, or try to win one last time with the core in 2017. Personally, I think they should go for it, and if things aren’t looking good at midseason, tear it all down at the trade deadline. They might not get the best possible trade return that way, but they’d still get plenty. More than a bunch of draft picks, anyway.

Moustakas would certainly be a fine option at third base for the Yankees even after the injury. You get him for a year, and if he plays well, the Yankees could either re-sign him (he’s only 28) or make him the qualifying offer and get a draft pick. As always, it comes down to cost. If the Royals make Moustakas available, teams are going to flock to him before looking at Chase Headley, so he won’t come cheap.

Sam asks: Could the Yankees trade several lesser prospects (the ones they’d probably lose in the rule-5 draft, maybe others of that ilk) plus some money, along with ARod’s contract to a big-market team with small payroll (I’m thinking the Phillies)? The Phillies would, in effect, be buying some prospects.

In theory, yes, they could do this. The problem with this is lesser prospects who might get popped in the Rule 5 Draft don’t have much trade value. The Phillies are certainly in position to absorb Alex Rodriguez’s contract as a way to net some prospects, but Rule 5 Draft fodder ain’t gonna get it done. Guys like Gio Gallegos and Tyler Webb don’t move the needle a whole lot. If you want to unload A-Rod‘s contract on another team, it’s going to take real prospects to make it happen. Eating $21M in salary should net you a Jorge Mateo or an Aaron Judge, not random fringe players, and I’m not trading those guys to dump $21M. The Yankees can afford that dead money.

Dennis asks: What is your opinion on Justus Sheffield? Does he have top starter potential? And do you possibly see him splitting this upcoming season between AA and AAA and then coming to Spring Training 2 years from now with a chance to crack the rotation.

Yes I see him possibly splitting next season between Double-A and Triple-A. I think Sheffield is likely to spend most of the year in Double-A before a late season promotion to Triple-A rather than a true 50/50 split at the levels. He is still only a 20-year-old kid, remember. Getting to Double-A at age 20 is quite an accomplishment. Hopefully Sheffield doesn’t get the same “he had 60 good innings hurry let’s promote him!” treatment as Luis Severino. Patience, yo.

As for his long-term potential, Sheffield figures to be more a very good mid-rotation guy than a true No. 1 starter. Aces are rare. There’s like 12-15 of them in baseball at any given time. Sheffield has above-average velocity and an out-pitch curveball, as well as an improving changeup, and right now his biggest need is to improve his command of his secondary pitches. He’s looking more like a +3 or +4 WAR starter long-term rather than a +6 WAR guy. That’s really good!