This was, without question, the craziest week of hot stove action I can remember. That includes the Winter Meetings. Teams just didn’t want to wait for Orlando next week to take care of business, and one of those teams was the Yankees. With Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and Jacoby Ellsbury already on board, the team added both Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M) and Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M). yesterday. Of course, they also lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners after they offered a tenth year and $240M. Bittersweet day (mostly bitter), to say the least. Here are some thoughts.
1. As soon as the Yankees splurged for Ellsbury, I honestly did not think they would let Cano walk. Spending that much money on a very good but not elite player like Ellsbury only to let your homegrown superstar leave doesn’t make much sense. They held the line at seven years and $175M and I truly believed they would bump their offer up to (and maybe over) $200M if push came to shove. It’s a huge blow to the Yankees short-term — I’d say the next two years at the very least, probably more like four or five — but it will help in the long-term, when they aren’t saddled with a huge albatross contract. I just can’t believe Cano’s leaving. Man, who thought this would actually happen?
2. The Mariners made it very, very easy for the Yankees to walk away. They’re a desperate franchise and desperate franchises do desperate things, like offer $65M more than the next highest bidder. Of course, Seattle had to blow everyone else out of the water if they wanted to land a premium player like Cano. The city itself is great and Safeco Field is gorgeous, but it’s a tough place to hit. The team itself stinks and the travel is awful (the Mariners fly more miles than every other club each season because they’re so isolated in the Pacific Northwest). Add all that together and you get a place that doesn’t attract many free agent hitters. Not many good ones, anyway. The Mariners blew Cano away with the offer and that makes his departure easier to swallow. It sucks he’s gone, don’t get me wrong. But at that price? Had to let him go. No-brainer.
3. I’m pretty sure the Yankees will go hard after Omar Infante to replace Robbie — what’s the over/under on the contract, three years and $30M? sounds about right — and he’s probably the best realistic second base option. I’d greatly prefer a trade for Howie Kendrick, who has two years and $20M left on his deal, but the Angels are looking for pitching and the Yankees just don’t have any to give up. David Phelps and a prospect ain’t gonna get it done. I don’t want any part of Brandon Phillips for reasons Joe already outlined and if Infante’s demands are unreasonable (he and his agent could jack up the price hoping to capitalize on the team’s potential desperation), I think Mark Ellis would be a tolerable one-year stopgap. He’s a very good defender and not a total zero at the plate (92 wRC+ in 2013). Infante is no better of a player today than he was two days ago. The Yankees shouldn’t go all out to sign him just because he’s the best available option with Robbie off the board.
4. I was thinking about this last night: Cano doesn’t really have a “signature moment,” does he? Derek Jeter has the flip play (and a bunch of other moments), Jorge Posada has the double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS (and a bunch of other moments), so on and so forth. Cano doesn’t really have one. That’s not meant to be a knock against him, it’s just one of those things. Winning the 2011 Homerun Derby doesn’t really count, and, according to WPA, his best game in pinstripes came on July 1st of this past season. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double in a blowout win over the Twins. Meh. I guess his game-winning homer off George Sherrill in 2010 stands out (video) — that was the game in which the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton with a big ninth inning comeback, which I’m sure you remember — but that isn’t anything special. When I think of Cano, I don’t think of a singular moment. I think of that sweet swing more than anything. Like this one. B-e-a-utiful.
5. I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks, but I am a bit nervous about Kuroda heading into next season. He’s getting up there in age and man, he looked like toast late last season. Hitters were squaring him up constantly and he couldn’t locate anything. I guess poor location is better than his stuff falling off — Kuroda’s velocity actually ticked up a bit late in the season — but it’s still a red flag. They still need to add another starter, Brian Cashman has acknowledged that already, and hopefully it’ll be Masahiro Tanaka. I think he’s a really good fit given his age and all that stuff. If that doesn’t work out, I’d rather see a short-term Bartolo Colon reunion than a long-term marriage with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. Either way, the Yankees have some decent back-end depth with Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno. Michael Pineda is the real wildcard. He could give the rotation a big boost or not throw a single pitch for the big league team for the third straight season.
6. Beltran definitely gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, meaning the Yankees are adding the right player, just nine years too late. He can still hit, there isn’t much doubt about that, but his defense is below-average and his knees are grenades with the pins pulled. the Yankees will be able to give him time at DH and are going to have to to keep him healthy. If I had known the Yankees were going to sign two outfielders coming into the winter, I probably would have pushed for Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. The club opted for Ellsbury and Beltran, which is perfectly reasonable but definitely the riskier option health-wise. Probably more expensive too. This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward roster at the moment. It could be great but it could also be really, really ugly if Father Time comes back to wreak more havoc in 2014.
7. One thing that I do like is the diversity the Yankees have added to lineup. McCann is a brute masher and Ellsbury is a speed guy while Beltran is an all-around hitter who will hit for average and power. He also gives them a switch-hitter, something they didn’t have at last season. Almost literally not at all — Mark Teixeira and Zoilo Almonte combined for 176 plate appearances and that’s it, they were the only switch-hitters the Yankees had this summer. Crazy. Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and Johnson all work the count well and that’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t have enough guys who could put together good at-bats and wear down the starter this year. There were an awful lot of quick at-bats and quick innings. That should change next summer with those four plus Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter returning.
8. Speaking of Gardner, I’d absolutely keep him unless some team offers a starting pitcher that is just too good to pass up. (Lots of people asked about Gardner for Homer Bailey and I don’t see anyway Cincinnati entertains that as one-for-one swap. Gardner’s trade value is along the lines of Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, and look at what those two were traded for this week.) Both Ellsbury and Beltran are injury concerns for different reasons, plus Beltran and Soriano figure to get regular turns at DH. Keeping Gardner as a heavily used fourth outfielder who could step into the lineup everyday if someone gets hurt makes an awful lot of sense. If the Reds will trade Bailey for him or another team comes along with a comparable offer, then by all means, pull the trigger. Otherwise keep him around and enjoy the depth. There is no doubt in my mind there will be a time next season the team will be happy they kept him around.
Carlos Beltran will finally get to wear Yankees pinstripes. The veteran outfielder has agreed to a three-year contract worth $45M with New York, report Mark Feinsand and Tim Brown. The contract is pending a physical. The Yankees will surrender their last remaining supplemental first round pick as compensation for the signing. Their second rounder will be their first selection in next June’s draft unless they sign another qualified free agent.
Over the last decade, the 36-year-old Beltran has made it very clear he wants to be a Yankee. Before joining the Mets in 2005, he approached the the Bombers and offered to sign at a discounted price, much to the dismay of agent Scott Boras. Then, before signing with the Cardinals prior to the 2012 season, Beltran gave the Yankees a chance to match the two-year, $26M pact he was about to take from St. Louis. New York passed both times but the third time is a charm. Hopefully it will be worth the wait. Cliche, cliche.
In 145 games and 600 plate appearances this past season, Beltran hit .296/.339/.491 (132 wRC+) with 30 doubles and 24 homers. That includes a .315/.362/.509 (144 wRC+) line against right-handers and a .252/.281/.448 (102 wRC+) line against left-handers. Everything you need to know about Beltran’s game is in our Scouting The Market post from a few weeks ago, so make sure check that out. He fits the lineup perfectly as a switch-hitter with power and patience, but he is not without his red flags at this point of his career.
The Yankees were reportedly holding the line at two years with Beltran, but they obviously changed their mind after Robinson Cano agreed to a ten-year contract with the Mariners on Friday. Beltran joins a revamped outfield that will also include new center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The club could use Alfonso Soriano as the everyday DH with Brett Gardner in left, or they could use Soriano in left and trade Gardner. They could also keep everyone and rotate. Lots of options and lots of time to figure it out. There’s nothing the Yankees can do to replace Cano but Beltran and the rest of the club’s additions will help pick up some of the offensive slack.
The Yankees have officially signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract, the team announced. He will reportedly earn $3M. Worse case scenario has Johnson playing second base everyday, but chances are the Yankees will add someone else for the position and Johnson will be more of a super utility player. Nice little pickup, he should be quite useful in 2014. · (31) ·
For the second time this off-season the Yankees lost an irreplaceable player. In Mariano Rivera they lost not only the greatest closer the league has ever seen, but they lost a leader and a legend. Even if David Robertson steps up and holds down the closer role for the next five years, he will never measure up to Mariano — by no fault of his own, of course. There is simply no way to replace a player like Rivera.
In Robinson Cano, who signed with the Mariners, the Yankees lose the best second baseman in the league. His presence and legacy might not measure up to Rivera, but his on-field production accounted for a greater portion of the Yankees’ success in recent years. Being the best at his position means that he is necessarily irreplaceable. In order to improve the roster, the Yankees will have to find reinforcements at other positions.
The void at second base
At second base the Yankees can only stanch the bleeding. They do have Kelly Johnson in the fold, but he’s probably not an ideal option as an everyday second baseman. He can hit a little, but much of his value comes from his ability to play second, third, and maybe a little left field. If Alex Rodriguez is suspended — a huge if that will color the Yankees’ moves going forward — then acquiring another infielder becomes crucial.
On the free agent market, Omar Infante sits awaiting an offer. During the course of his 12-year career Infante has been pretty average with the bat, a 93 career OPS+. Since 2008 he’s been perfectly average with a 100 OPS+, balancing seasons in the 90 range with some in the 110 range, including a career-best 113 OPS+ last year. He’s no Cano; he’s not even a Neil Walker. But he’ll likely come on a short-term contract and provide a decent combination of offense and defense.
The Yankees have been connected to Stephen Drew as well, though he’ll cost more in salary and years than Infante. He’ll also cost the Yankees a draft pick, not a huge consideration considering how many they’ve already given up (and received back for Cano and Granderson). Last year Drew put together a nice comeback season for the Red Sox, a 111 OPS+. Like Infante, he’s been up and down, with the result right around league average. He also had enormous home/away splits last year (.859 OPS at Fenway, .687 on the road), though playing in Yankee Stadium could keep his production high at home.
On the trade market, Howie Kendrick’s name has come up a few times this off-season on MLBTR. With two years and just under $20 million remaining on his contract, Kendrick could be an enormous bargain — which is why the Angels probably won’t trade him without getting back a starting pitcher. The Yankees need starters themselves, so chances are they couldn’t send one to Anaheim.
Supplementing at third base
Chances are the Yankees won’t make any big moves at third base. With Johnson in the fold they can wait until the Alex Rodriguez outcome. But if the Padres make Chase Headley available at the winter meetings next week, the Yankees will have to listen. He’s a guy who can potentially make a big impact on the lineup.
A heralded prospect in the mid-00s, Headley has held his own at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park, producing a 115 OPS+ in his six seasons. He hit a bump in the road in 2010, but bounced back with 120 and 145 OPS+ seasons in 2011 and 2012. Last year he fell off a bit, perhaps due to an injury that cost him about 20 games, but his numbers were still solid. San Diego is rumored to be listening on him, since he’ll reach free agency after the season.
There are two ways to look at this. The first is that any acquiring team will over pay in prospects. They’re getting just one year of Headley, though perhaps there is value in actually having him on the team, in that they might have an easier time re-signing him (obviously not guaranteed). The other side is that good third basemen are hard to find. The Yankees have a fine prospect in Eric Jagielo, and Headley could help bridge that gap.
Replacing offensive production
Even if the Yankees manage to trade for Headley and sign Infante, they’ll still be at a net loss on offense. Yes, adding Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury help, but the Yanks could still use a little more punch on offense. That’s where one of the remaining free agent outfielders comes into play.
Earlier in the week it appeared that Carlos Beltran was about to sign elsewhere. Rumor had it that a team had offered him three years and $45 or $48 million, which is beyond where the Yankees were willing to go. Yet he hasn’t made a move yet. He could still be a target for the Yankees, taking reps in the outfield and at DH.
Shin-Soo Choo could come into play as well. Even after the Yankees signed Ellsbury we heard that they weren’t out on Choo, likely as insurance in case Cano left. Acquiring Choo at this point would either push Alfonso Soriano to almost-full-time DH, or lead to a trade of Brett Gardner. Neither seems ideal, but both could help.
By the numbers, Choo looks like he belongs on the Yankees. He has a career .389 OBP, and has broken the .400 mark twice in the last four years. He’s had just one bad year in his six as a full-time player, and even then he was above average. He might require an Ellsbury contract, but there is perhaps no more effective move in replacing Cano’s offensive production.
As for what to do with the outfield surplus, either move could work. Keeping Gardner and Ellsbury atop the order and in the outfield will pay off greatly. Soriano has said that he prefers to play the field, though his defense is probably just average. There will be chances to sit Gardner, or even Choo, against lefties, so Soriano will still see time in the outfield.
Trading Gardner only works if they can fill another immediate need. That’s tough, since he’s a free agent after the season. But if they can use Gardner to pry Kendrick from the Angels, or combine him with prospects to get a No. 3 starter from another team (perhaps Cincinnati and Homer Bailey?) the trade could be worth exploring. It’s much easier to find a guy who can DH 50 or so games (Mark Reynolds?) than it is to find a mid-tier starting pitcher or second baseman.
Augmenting the pitching
Even if Cano had re-signed with the Yankees, they would have had to address the pitching situation. We’ve heard that they’ll be in heavily on Masahiro Tanaka, but the new posting system could complicate matters. Tanaka is still the Yankees best option, but they’ll have increased competition, since any team that bids the maximum $20 million will be able to offer him a contract. That makes the situation much less like Yu Darvish, where he could only negotiate with the Rangers. I’d expect Tanaka’s deal to call for more guaranteed money at fewer years — perhaps five years, $75 million, compared to Darvish’s six years and $60 million.
Re-signing Hiroki Kuroda does help matters, but he’s not providing even half of the 400 innings Brian Cashman admits he needs this off-season. And, being realistic, the Yankees need more than that. Given CC Sabathia‘s poor 2013 and Ivan Nova‘s up-and-down career, they could use as many pitchers as possible. Again, with the signing of Choo they could shop Gardner for a starter. They could also take a flier on Brett Anderson, in whom they’ve expressed interest. Still, many more innings are required for a quality 2013 pitching staff.
As Mike and I have both outlined, the free agent crop doesn’t look particularly inspiring. Ubaldo Jimenez has produced a combined two good seasons to date, and has been middling to terrible the rest of the time. Matt Garza has been okay, and could work depending on what kind of contract he ends up signing. Bartolo Colon? That’s a pretty big risk, despite his recent success. Ervin Santana? I’m a bit worried about his homer tendencies in Yankee Stadium. Signing Tanaka and trading for a starter seems to make the most sense, but as outlined above they might prove difficult. The Yanks might have to choose from among these players.
In the bullpen, Grant Balfour seems like a logical target. He pitched well with the Rays before signing a successful free agent contract with the A’s. He’s a bit older now, but on a two-year deal could provide setup help, or even close. Few other free agent relievers make sense, since they’re not very good. The Yanks will just have to hope they have enough internal reinforcements.
(Plus, by augmenting the rotation, they can bump someone like David Phelps to the bullpen, where he might be more effective and valuable anyway.)
Clearly the Yankees have a lot left to accomplish this off-season. Finding ways to compensate for the loss of Cano will comprise a multifaceted plan that covers not only second base, but third base, the outfield, and the starting rotation. Given the pace at which this off-season has moved, don’t be surprised to see the Yankees start to make moves, perhaps by the time this post goes live.
1:55pm: Scratch that, Feinsand issued a correction. The Yankees will indeed forfeit the Cano and Granderson picks for free agent compensation. That’s what the CBA says. One is already gone for Ellsbury — or will be as soon as his deal is official — and the other will go if they sign another qualified free agent. So much for that.
1:48pm: Via Mark Feinsand: The Yankees will keep the supplemental first round draft picks they receive as compensation for losing Robinson Cano (to the Mariners) and Curtis Granderson (to the Mets). The team will forfeit its second round pick for signing Jacoby Ellsbury after giving up its first rounder to sign Brian McCann. The Collective Bargaining Agreement says supplemental first rounders can be lost as free agent compensation pretty explicitly, but Feinsand is citing an MLB official. Pretty great news if true. · (15) ·
Via Joel Sherman: The Mets and Curtis Granderson have agreed to a four-year contract worth $60M. The Yankees would have received a supplemental first round draft pick, but it will be forfeited due to the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. Thanks for the dingers, Curtis. · (78) ·
For what is probably the first time in franchise history, a homegrown star is leaving the Yankees as a free agent because the team was outbid. Robinson Cano has agreed to a ten-year contract worth $240M with the Mariners, reports Enrique Rojas and Jon Heyman. The deal comes only a few hours after it was reported talks had fallen apart over excessive demands. He will take his physical on Monday. New York will receive a supplmental first round pick in return.
Cano, 31, receives the fourth largest contract in baseball history, behind Alex Rodriguez‘s two contracts (ten years, $252M and ten years, $275M) and Albert Pujols’ deal (ten years, $254M). It’s the tenth largest contract in history in terms of average annual value. The Yankees reportedly held a hard-line and topped out at seven years and $175M, and there’s just no way Cano could turn down an extra $65M. He’ll also keep a ton of extra money because Washington has no state income tax.
The Yankees have been adamant about not pushing their offer to ten years and rightfully so given the A-Rod nightmare. They take a huge hit in the short-term — Cano is irreplaceable, they’ll need to acquire about three players to make up the lost production — but will better off down the road, when they aren’t saddled with another albatross contract. I don’t blame them at all for meeting his asking price. It was excessive. This definitely has an A-Rod-to-Texas vibe, a great player joining a terrible team because they offered the most money. For his sake, I hope Robbie isn’t looking for a way out in three years.
Cano leaves the Yankees as a .309/.355/.504 (126 wRC+) career hitter with 1,649 hits and 204 homeruns. Over the last four seasons, he’s put up a .312/.373/.533 (142 wRC+) batting line while ranking first in baseball in bWAR (29.7) and second in fWAR (25.4). Robbie finished second in the 2005 Rookie of the Year voting (behind Huston Street) and is a five-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and two-time Gold Glover. He has received MVP votes in six seasons and finished in the top six of the voting in each of the last four years, plus he’s missed a grand total of 14 games in the last seven years. There’s no denying he is one of the five best players in the world right now.
Among Yankees second baseman, Cano ranks third in hits (1,649), first in doubles (327), first in homers (204), fourth in games played (1,374), and third in bWAR (45.1). He is obviously in the conversation for greatest second baseman in Yankees history, along with Tony Lazzeri and the perpetually underrated Willie Randolph. Among all players, Cano is ninth in franchise history in batting average (.309), eighth in doubles (375), tenth in hit-by-pitches (54), 14th in homers (204), and 14th in bWAR. The Yankees have had a lot of really good players over the years.
So where do the Yankees go from here? I don’t really know. They’ve been connected to Omar Infante and he seems like a logical second base replacement. Mark Ellis is a lower cost alternative and they did just signed Kelly Johnson, after all. Dean Anna and Eduardo Nunez are the other in-house candidates. The Yankees have a nice chunk of change to spend now though, and I definitely expect them to spend it somehow. Adding pitching is a necessity and they definitely need to add another bat now, even after signing Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury.
There’s no way to sugercoat it: the Yankees lost their best player and take a huge hit with the Cano’s defection to Seattle. They had an uphill climb this winter anyway after winning only 85 games in 2013 (79-win team by run differential) and now that climb will be much more difficult. Adding McCann and Ellsbury is a good start, but they need to do a lot more to get back to contention now. Cano was an elite player at a hard to fill position and he was a fan favorite. It’s tough to believe he’s actually leaving. The Mariners were nice enough to soften the blow with their huge offer; it’s a little earlier to say goodbye considering how much they bid.
10:53am: The Mariners and Cano are close to a deal worth “at least” $225M, reports Jon Heyman. Enrique Rojas says it’s a ten-year, $240M contract, for what it’s worth.
10:20am: Ken Rosenthal says talks between Cano and the Mariners are “still alive.” I get the sense that one side (Mariners) leaked the initial report of the snag and the other side (Cano) leaked the report that things were alive. Posturing!
8:26am: Via Mark Feinsand: The Mariners have broken off contract talks with Robinson Cano due to Jay-Z’s excessive demands. Feinsand says the team was led to believe the nine-year, $225M offer would get it done, but Jay-Z asked for ten years and $252M at the last second. CEO Howard Lincoln “exploded” and ended the meeting. Scott Boras must be loving this. · (165) ·
After landing two big position players in Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees have started to address their pitching staff. Joel Sherman reports the team finalized a one-year contract worth $16M with Hiroki Kuroda on Thursday night. He will earn an extra $250k for both 190 and 210 innings pitched, plus he gets an interpreter. The Yankees won’t receive a supplemental first round pick for re-signing their own player.
For the second time in three years, Kuroda is a complete afterthought on the day he signed with the Yankees because of the Mariners. When the team first brought him on board back before the 2012 season, he signed the same day they acquired Michael Pineda from Seattle. Today, Robinson Cano agreed to a ten-year, $240M contract to leave New York and join the Mariners. Flying under the radar is Kuroda’s thing, apparently.
In 32 starts this past season, the 38-year-old righty pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 201.1 innings. He was in the Cy Young conversation as late as mid-August before crashing hard late in the season, allowing 38 runs in 46.2 innings in his final eight starts. Fatigue has been an issue for Kuroda in each of the last two years — he stopped throwing his usual between starts bullpen session in September in both 2012 and 2013 — so it’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees do anything to manage his workload early in 2014.
Brian Cashman said the Yankees were seeking two starters this winter and Kuroda is just one. He’ll join CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, plus someone like David Phelps or Adam Warren or Michael Pineda figures to fill the fifth spot. Masahiro Tanaka seems like a perfect fit for the other rotation spot, but he might not even be available this winter given the unfavorable posting system changes. The team has dropped big bucks on Kuroda, McCann, and Ellsbury already this offseason, but they they still have quite a bit work to do.