Here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to Dodgers-Nats, there’s also the Thursday NFL game, plus the three local hockey teams all begin their seasons as well. Not sure I’m ready for Rangers-Islanders intensity right out of the gate. Could have used some warm up games against the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets first. Anyway, talk about whatever.
October 13th: The qualifying offer is $17.2M this offseason, according to Jon Heyman. That’s a bit higher than initially expected. It doesn’t change anything for the Yankees though. Teixeira is their only free agent eligible for the qualifying offer and he retired, so yeah.
July 28th: According to Buster Olney, the qualifying offer for the upcoming offseason is estimated at $16.7M. That’s up from $15.8M last season and $15.3M the offseason before. The QO is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and the deadline to make the offer is five days after the end of the World Series. Players then have seven days to accept or reject.
The Yankees only have one serious QO candidate: Carlos Beltran. He’s hitting .305/.347/.548 (134 wRC+) with 21 homers in 95 games this season, though his defense leaves much to be desired. I don’t think the Yankees should make Beltran the QO because he’ll probably accept it — who is giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent $16.7M, even across two years? — and I don’t see that as a good thing for the reasons I outlined yesterday.
Mark Teixeira and Ivan Nova are New York’s only two other impending free agents, and based on what we heard earlier today, Nova will be traded prior to Monday’s deadline. Teixeira has been beyond awful this season, hitting .190/.270/.325 (59 wRC+) with nine homers in 71 games around a knee problem. A year ago at this time he looked like a QO candidate. Now? Now he can’t get off the team fast enough.
It’s also possible for CC Sabathia to become a free agent after the season, though that would require him to suffer a shoulder injury that would void his $25M vesting option for 2017. A healthy Sabathia is not a QO candidate at this point of his career. Sabathia with a shoulder injury? No chance. With Aroldis Chapman gone, Beltran is the Yankees’ only QO candidate. We’ll see what happens with him.
The QO offer entitles the team to a supplemental first round draft pick should the player reject the offer and sign elsewhere as a free agent. Signing a QO free agent means forfeiting your highest unprotected draft pick. It’s worth noting players who accept the QO can not be traded until June 1st of the following season, so if your plan is to make Beltran the offer and trade him if he accepts, it won’t fly. At least not immediately.
It’s worth noting the new upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement could change the QO system and I think that’ll happen, but chances are it’ll be minor tweaks rather than an overhaul. If MLB and the MLBPA reach an agreement before the end of the World Series, then the new system will presumably take effect. If not, the current QO system stays in place until the two sides announce any changes. The current CBA expires December 1st.
Earlier today, Baseball America wrapped up their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d). Three big leaguers claimed the top three spots: Nationals SS Trea Turner, Twins OF Byron Buxton, and Yankees C Gary Sanchez. Hooray for that. OF Aaron Judge placed 19th.
“Sanchez stood out for his plus raw power even before mashing 11 home runs for the Yankees in August. He offers more at the plate than just raw power, however. He can use the whole field to hit, and he cut his strikeout rate this year,” said the write-up. The scouting report also lauds his “top-of-the-scale arm strength” and improved receiving while noting there’s still work to do defensively. Pretty much exactly what we saw this year, right? Right.
As for Judge, the scouting report says he is “more than just a masher” at the plate because he has discipline and uses the whole field, but “his size makes his swing long, and more advanced pitchers have been able to exploit some of his holes.” He’s also said to be a prototypical right fielder defensively, with a strong arm and better athleticism and mobility than you’d expect given his 6-foot-7 frame.
I didn’t realize the International League was so deep this year. There are 19 legitimate top 100 prospects in the top 20. Guys like 2B Rob Refsnyder, 1B Tyler Austin, RHP Luis Cessa, and RHP Chad Green had no chance to make it. OF Clint Frazier certainly would have made the top 20 had he spent enough time in the league to qualify for the list. You can see the top 20s right here (no subs. req’d).
Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.
This past summer the Yankees did something they hadn’t done in nearly three decades: they sold at the trade deadline. Truth be told, their efforts to sell veterans and restock the farm system began last offseason, when Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner were reportedly put on the trade block. The Yankees wanted young pitching in return and found no takers, so both players started the season with New York.
Unlike Miller, Gardner was not traded away at the deadline, though I’m sure the Yankees gauged his value. They did that with everyone. Gardner remained with the Yankees all season, first as their No. 2 hitter before moving to the leadoff spot. Not surprisingly, he led the team with 634 plate appearances. It’s been three years since someone not named Brett Gardner led the Yankees in plate appearances. He’s been a mainstay atop the lineup for quite a while now.
Same Ol’ Brett …
For all the talk about his streakiness and his second half slumps — he didn’t have one this year, by the way, his numbers before and after the All-Star break were nearly identical in 2016 — Gardner has been remarkably consistent the last four years. His numbers at the end of the year always finish in the same range. Check it out:
Gardner’s walk and strikeout rates this year were the best they’ve been since 2011, and that’s pretty cool. Otherwise that’s Brett Gardner. He’s going to give you an average around .260 and an on-base percentage around .340 year after year, like clockwork. Check out his monthly splits:
April: .254 AVG and .369 OBP
May: .184 AVG and .324 OBP
June: .323 AVG and .390 OBP
July: .269 AVG and .328 OBP
August: .262 AVG and .344 OBP
September: .269 AVG and .355 OBP
May and June kinda cancel each other out. The other four months are pretty much the same. Gardner is as predictable as they come. Predictable is boring. Predictable is comforting. The average leadoff man hit .273 with a .339 OBP this season. Gardner was right there, trading a few points of batting average for a few points of on-base percentage.
In addition to plate appearances, Gardner also led the Yankees in walks (70) and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.09) this season. Does he have a tendency to look at strike three? Sure. That tends to happen when you work deep counts like Gardner. When it comes to true leadoff man skills, meaning working the count and getting on base, no one on the Yankees is better than Gardner. He’s done a fine job setting the table for this team for several years now.
… Minus The Power
The single biggest difference between 2016 Gardner and the Gardner of previous years, particularly the 2014-15 versions, was his power production. No one thinks of him as a power hitter, but Brett did smack 17 home runs in 2014 and another 16 in 2015. This year he hit seven. And that’s with power up around the league and the baseballs possibly being juiced. On the bright side, one of those seven homers was a walk-off:
Gardner put the ball on the ground far more often this year (52.3%) than the last two years (43.2%), and he also didn’t pull the ball as often either (33.6% vs. 37.5%). If you’re a left-handed hitter playing in Yankee Stadium and you don’t pull the ball in the air, you’re not going to get any help from the right field short porch.
Contact quality was not the problem. Gardner’s hard (25.8%) and soft (16.9%) contact rates were right in line with what he did from 2014-15 (27.5% and 16.1%). The problem was launch angle, the new sabermetric hotness. Gardner didn’t get the ball airborne often enough in general, but especially to the pull side. That’s why his power dropped so much.
Here, let’s look at Gardner’s launch angle the last two years using one of the many cool features at Baseball Savant. We have two years worth of Statcast data now, so here are Gardner’s launch angles for 2015 and 2016. You can click the image for a larger view, and I recommend doing that.
That’s a pretty cool looking graphic, but what the hell does it mean? In the simplest terms, launch angle is the angle at which the ball leaves the bat. The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Exit velocity plays a role in this, but generally speaking, 10-25 degrees gives you a line drive to the outfield and 25-30 degrees is a possible dinger.
Last season Gardner spent much more time in that 10-30 degree range. In fact, we have exact numbers: Gardner hit 117 balls in the 10-30 degree range last year and 23 in the 25-30 range. This season it was 103 and 18, respectively. Gardner put 192 balls in play below the 10-degree launch angle last year compared to 220 this year, hence the increase is grounders.
I know this doesn’t seem like a huge difference. I mean, Gardner hit only 14 fewer balls in the 10-30 degree range this year than last year. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember, we’re talking about batted balls hit at the ideal angle here. A few of these can absolutely be the difference between, say, seven homers and 15 homers.
The question now is why? Why did Gardner hit so many more ground balls last season? We can’t answer that with any certainty. It could be the randomness of baseball. His bat could be slowing as he approaches his mid-30s. Maybe his swing was a mechanical mess. Maybe he was playing hurt. Who knows? There are countless possible reasons.
Whatever it is, Gardner’s inability to get the ball in the air this season, especially to his pull side, really dragged down his power numbers. He slugged .362 with a .101 ISO in 2016. It was .410 and .152, respectively, from 2014-15. That’s a huge drop. At this point expecting 15+ homers again is probably pushing it, but with balls flying out of the park nowadays, double-digit dingers doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
What About The Steals?
Gardner is, at the most basic level, a speed player. His legs got him to the big leagues, and while his power surge from 2014-15 made his valuable in a different way, Brett is still known for his speed. Not surprisingly though, his raw stolen base totals have fallen the last few years. That tends to happen once a guy gets over 30. Stolen base ability does not age gracefully. Here are some baserunning stats with some thoughts.
1. Gardner isn’t attempting to steal much these days. Obvious statement is obvious. Not only has Gardner’s stolen base total declined the last few years, his stolen base attempt rate (SBA%) has declined too. That’s the number of attempted steals divided by stolen base opportunities, meaning the times Gardner was on first or second base with no runner ahead of him. The league average is 5.5%, though for fast guys like Brett, you’d like to see it up around 10%.
“I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is, but obviously I was a little less aggressive. You can’t steal 40-something bases if you don’t try to steal 40-something bases,” said Gardner in Spring Training about his decline in stolen bases. “It’s not like I’ve tried to go 50 times and only been successful half of them. My percentage has still been pretty high … I think for the most part I’ve done a good job of trying to do that and being smart about when we run but we’re always looking for ways to improve.”
My guess is Gardner’s decline in steal attempts is the result of a number of factors. Age, for one. I also think there’s a self-preservation angle to this too. Stealing bases are rough on the body and Gardner has been banged up the last few years. Is it a coincidence he had his best second half in years this season after stealing fewer bags in the first half? Maybe not! No one expects a 33-year-old player to steal 40+ bases. But Gardner dipped below 20 steals sooner than I think anyone expected.
Joe Girardi has said Gardner always has the green light and it’s up to him when to run. Given his decline in stolen base rate and the fact there were several instances throughout the season when it make sense to run — late in a close game, etc. — and Gardner didn’t, perhaps Girardi should be a little more proactive and tell Brett to go. He doesn’t have to steal every time he reaches first. That’s unrealistic. But a little more encouragement wouldn’t hurt.
2. Gardner is elite at the other aspects of baserunning. Stolen bases are just one piece of the baserunning pie. They’re the most obvious piece of the pie, really. There are other aspects of baserunning though, like going first-to-third on a single and advancing on balls in the dirt. That sort of stuff. The numbers show Gardner is among the best in baseball at the non-stolen base aspects of baserunning.
For example, Gardner took the extra base (XBT%) a whopping 56% of the time this year. That was top ten in MLB. The all-encompassing baserunning stats at FanGraphs (BSR) and Baseball Prospectus (BRR) rate Gardner as the seventh and 12th best baserunner in baseball in 2016, respectively. That’s out of the 971 position players to appear in a game this year. The stolen base numbers are slipping. No doubt about it. When it comes to total baserunning value, Gardner is one of the best in the game. Has been for a few years now.
The Still Great Defense
There’s not much to say about Gardner’s defense. He once again had a very good defensive season, according to both the eye test and the various metrics (+12 DRS and +3.6 UZR). Gardner made his fair share of eye-popping catches as well this year. Remember this one in Anaheim?
Outlook for 2017
This offseason, perhaps moreso than ever before, it feels like the chances of Gardner being traded are relatively high. The Yankees committed to the rebuild by trading veterans for prospects at the deadline, and they figure to continue that this winter. Also, they need to start making room for their young outfielders. Aaron Judge arrived in August, Aaron Hicks and Mason Williams need more at-bats, and Clint Frazier is in Triple-A with Dustin Fowler not too far behind.
There are two years and $24M left on Gardner’s contract, plus a $12.5M club option for 2019, which is a very affordable rate, even with this year’s power outage. Denard Span got $10M a year last offseason. Two years ago Melky Cabrera got $14M annually and Nick Markakis got $11M annually. Gardner at $12M a year for two years is a fair price, if not below market value given recent inflation. It’s certainly not an albatross preventing the Yankees from making other moves.
Ideally the Yankees would trade Jacoby Ellsbury and keep Gardner, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Ellsbury’s contract is a major deal-breaker for most teams. If Gardner goes this offseason, he’ll leave as a very productive homegrown Yankee who never quite seemed to get the respect he deserved. The guy went from walk-on in college to World Series winner and All-Star with the Yankees. That’s pretty darn cool.
According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are planning to target one of the top free agent relievers this upcoming offseason. That means either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, or possibly Mark Melancon. They’re the three big names out there this winter. Heyman says the Yankees also want to bolster their rotation, though that’s not a shock. That applies to every team ever.
Anyway, this doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I said I expect the Yankees to pursue a top free agent reliever the day after the Chapman trade. The Yankees, like every other team, enjoy having multiple elite relievers in their bullpen. This offseason is an opportunity to add one (or two!) using nothing but cash, and the Yankees sure have a lot of that. In fact, I would be surprised if they don’t land a top reliever this winter. Here are some more thoughts on this.
1. The Yankees will have some money to spend. Let’s do some really quick and dirty math. The Yankees opened the season with a $226M payroll, or thereabouts. Carlos Beltran ($15M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), and Andrew Miller ($9M) will all be off the books next season. So will non-tender candidates Nathan Eovaldi ($5.6M) and Dustin Ackley ($3.2M). That’s a lot of big salaries going away.
That all adds up to $55.3M in savings, but, not counting Eovaldi and Ackley, the Yankees are facing roughly $12M in arbitration raises, so it’s really $43.3M in savings. That can buy you some great relievers, but we know the Yankees are going to want to get under the luxury tax threshold, whatever it may be. We’ll find out in a few weeks once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is finalized. Hopefully it’s north of $200M.
Assuming the new threshold is right around $200M, the Yankees will have about $18M to spend this offseason based on my back of the envelope math. That’s enough to give Chapman or Jansen the highest annual salary for a reliever in history, though there wouldn’t be much left over. For what it’s worth, Hal Steinbrenner recently told Joel Sherman he doesn’t anticipate getting under the luxury tax threshold until 2018. We’ll see.
2. Chapman and Melancon won’t cost a pick. Because they were traded at midseason, neither Chapman nor Melancon are eligible for the qualifying offer. They won’t cost anything other than a money. Jansen is going to get the qualifying offer, so teams will have to forfeit their first round pick to sign him. That assumes the new CBA doesn’t eliminate the qualifying offer system. I don’t think it will.
In a vacuum, giving up a draft pick to sign Jansen isn’t a big deal. He’s an elite player and a stupid little draft pick shouldn’t stand in the way of acquiring a player of his caliber. He’s a difference maker. This isn’t a vacuum though. Chapman and Melancon are excellent pitchers themselves. Why give up the pick for Jansen when you can sign a comparable reliever and keep your first round pick? I can definitely see Chapman and Melancon generating a ton of interest early in the offseason as teams try to nab a top reliever and keep their top pick.
3. Signing a top reliever doesn’t fix everything. Adding a great reliever to the bullpen is always a good thing. There’s not a team in baseball that wouldn’t benefit from signing one of these guys. The Yankees are not one reliever away though. Heck, just this season the Yankees had arguably the best 7-8-9 combination in the history of baseball, and it didn’t help them much because the offense stunk and the rotation was spotty.
The Yankees should sign one of those great free agent relievers because they have the money, they have the need, and because guys like that are unbelievably valuable in the postseason, which is where the Yankees ultimately want to go. They still need to address the offense and the rotation, however. And even the middle relief too. As long as signing a top reliever is just one move this offseason and not the move, the Yankees should be all-in on this free agent bullpen class.
4. Signing a free agent reliever doesn’t mean the trades were a mistake. With both Chapman and Miller helping their new teams to the League Championship Series, I’ve seen more than a few folks suggest trading one or both away was a mistake. No. Just, no. The Yankees were going nowhere at midseason and there was little reason to believe they’d climb back into the race in August and September.
Both Chapman and Miller were traded for monster prospect packages. We’re talking three top 100 caliber guys plus several more pieces. And Adam Warren too. He’s cool. The bullpen trade market was outrageous and the Yankees would have been foolish not to take advantage, especially given the free agent class. The Yankees finished five games back of the second wildcard spot. Dellin Betances struggled late in the season, but not enough that keeping Chapman and/or Miller would have been worth it. Trading those guys was 100% the right move. Zero questions asked. That they can sign a replacement elite reliever(s) this winter is gravy.
One quick note before we get to tonight’s special edition of DotF: 1B Greg Bird is still technically rehabbing from his shoulder surgery, reports Randy Miller. Bird has not yet been cleared to throw, so he’s only going to DH in the Arizona Fall League for the time being. He takes ground balls before games but otherwise hasn’t been cleared to do anything more than lob throws at this point. “I’m just trying to become the best baseball player that I can. Right now this is a big step for me just getting healthy and getting at-bats,” he said.
AzFL Scottsdale (6-4 loss to Salt River)
- 2B Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (missed catch) — no outfield for him just yet, but he’s supposed to see some time out there
- SS Gleyber Torres: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K — Eric Longenhagen says it was an opposite field home run Torres didn’t even fully square up … he’ll spend some time at second base out here … reminder: he doesn’t turn 20 until December
- DH Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI — two games, three doubles
- 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-4, 1 R
- RHP James Kaprielian: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 29 of 40 pitches were strikes (73%) … this is his first official game action since April 21st due to a flexor tendon strain … Josh Norris says Kaprielian sat 95-97 with his fastball, 87-90 with his slider, and around 83 with his curveball … that’s where he was before the injury, so that’s great news … and yes, the James Kaprielian Watch in the sidebar will be updated during the AzFL
- RHP Brody Koerner: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 21 of 40 pitches were strikes (53%) … this is his first appearance since May 3rd due to an unknown injury … last year’s 17th rounder had a 1.85 ERA (2.81 FIP) in 34 innings before getting hurt
If you’re interested, and I know you are, here’s some video of RHP Dillon Tate’s outing yesterday. He struck out three in two innings and was reportedly 95-97 mph with his heater.
Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s no baseball or football tonight, but the NHL season starts, and that’s pretty cool. Good night to catch up on some Netflix if hockey isn’t your thing, I suppose. Talk about whatever here.