That short video above is a look at Yankees farmhand SS John Murphy, the team’s sixth round pick out of Sacred Heart University in last summer’s draft. He signed for $20k as a fifth year senior and had a rough pro debut (38 wRC+ in 137 PA) with Short Season Staten Island. The video focuses on Murphy’s family and how his outlook changed after his father’s death. It’s pretty neat, so check it out.
Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread for the night. The Devils and Knicks are both playing, so talk about those games or anything else your heart desires right here. Have at it.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed catcher J.R. Murphy to a one-year contract worth $502,700 at the MLB level. I assume it’s a split contract that will pay him a lower salary in the minors, which is typical for players in their pre-arbitration years. The league minimum is an even $500,000 this coming season.
Murphy, 22, hit .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) with 12 homers in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his big league debut in September but is expected to return to Triple-A Scranton to open 2014. Murphy still has all six years of team control remaining and can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season at the earliest. The Yankees have 20 unsigned pre-arb players remaining, but they’ll all get done very soon and chances are most of those deals won’t even be made public. · (13) ·
The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.
Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.
By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.
The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.
If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.
The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.
At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.
The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.
Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.
After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.
Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.
The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.
The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.
Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.
The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?
Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.
Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.
Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.
Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.
Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.
Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.
Keith Law posted his annual farm system ranking today (subs. req’d), a list that is predictably topped by the Astros. I guess that’s the reward for running out a $25M payroll and making no effort to be competitive: the best collection of minor league talent in the game. The Twins and Pirates round out the top three while the Tigers, Angels, and Brewers sit at the bottom.
The Yankees rank 20th on the list, which seems right. Middle of the pack-ish but closer to the bottom. “It seemed like everyone who mattered in this system got hurt in 2013, and of those who didn’t had disappointing years,” wrote Law while noting just about all of those injured prospects will open the 2014 season healthy. He also mentions the team’s three first round picks in last summer’s draft helped keep them from ranking even lower. The Yankees don’t have a good minor league system right now and we really didn’t need Law to tell us that. · (65) ·
I swear, it still feels like the 2006 draft was just yesterday, but the 2014 season will be Dellin Betances‘ eighth (!) full season in the organization. The Yankees gave the towering right-hander from Washington Heights a $1M bonus as their eighth round pick back in ’06 and hoped he would develop into a frontline starter. That has not happened but the team has not given up on his enormous potential.
Last May, following six ugly starts with Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees moved the soon-to-be 26-year-old Betances to the bullpen full-time and the improvement was immediate. He struck out 43 of the next 136 batters he faced (31.6%) while allowing only eight runs and 12 walks in 34 innings. The Yankees called him up briefly in mid-August and then again as an extra arm when rosters expanded in September. Betances finished the year with a 2.06 ERA and 93 strikeouts (35.3%) in 65.2 total relief innings.
“I just feel like, confidence wise, I feel good,” said Betances to Anthony McCarron last August when asked about moving into a relief role. “I get to pitch more often, instead of going every five days. I get to go two or three times in that span, so I think the more time I get on the mound has helped me be more consistent … I think it’s just being more aggressive, attack the strike zone right away, where if you’re a starter, you kind gradually get aggressive as the game goes on.”
Repeating his delivery and keeping his long limbs in check has always been a struggle for the 6-foot-8 Betances, but apparently working more often out of the bullpen helped him stay in control even though he threw fewer total pitches. There’s nothing particularly impressive about a 10.6% walk rate (his walk rate as a reliever in 2013), but it’s substantially better than the 14.3% walk rate he posted from the start of 2011 through the conversion last May, when he looked close to a lost cause.
Betances struck out eight and walked one in 4.1 innings last September and barring some last minute additions, he’ll head to Spring Training as part of a wide open bullpen competition. The only relievers guaranteed to be on the roster come Opening Day are David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton, so that is potentially four open spots. I count as many as ten guys competing for those four spots, including potential fifth starters like David Phelps and Adam Warren and minor league free agents like Robert Coello and Brian Gordon.
Brian Cashman confirmed that, for whatever reason, Betances qualifies for a fourth option and can be sent to the minors this season without having to pass through waivers. Had he not qualified for the fourth option and instead required waivers to go to back to Triple-A, he might have won a bullpen spot almost by default. Now Betances will have to not only earn a big league job in camp, but he’ll have to continue to pitch well in the regular season to keep it. Spring Training competitions don’t end on Opening Day.
For the first time in his nearly nine full years as a pro, there is a clear path for Betances to make the Yankees out of camp and play a rather significant role this coming season. Nothing in the bullpen is set aside from Robertson being the closer and Thornton being the lefty specialist, so if Betances shows last summer’s success was a true indication of his ability and not just a fluke, he could assume an important late-inning role rather quickly. This is his chance to justify that seven-figure signing bonus and more than a half-decade’s worth of patience.
“I’m thrilled to just come out here and whatever situation I need to be used in,” added Betances while talking to McCarron. “I’m ready for that.”
Via Alex Seixeiro: The Yankees have signed right-hander Chris Leroux to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He will presumably compete for a bullpen spot with other non-roster invitees like Brian Gordon, Robert Coello, and Matt Daley.
Leroux, 29, spent last year with the Yakult Swallows in Japan, pitching poorly (26 runs in 22 innings with a 14/11 K/BB) before a shoulder injury ended his season. He dominated in winter ball (2.76 ERA and 16/3 K/BB in 16.1 innings) and spent the 2011-12 seasons as an up-and-down arm with the Pirates. He’s got a 5.56 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 69.2 career big league innings. Leroux has a low-90s fastball and he relies heavily on his low-80s slider. Another arm for the stable. · (27) ·
It was brutally cold up in the grandstand, but yesterday’s Rangers-Devils game at Yankee Stadium was one of the five best sporting events I’ve ever attended. Maybe top three. Everything about the experience was awesome and the light snow that fell during the second period was the icing on the cake. You can see various shots of the Stadium in the highlight video above and there are photo galleries at NHL.com and Eye on Hockey. I’m sure there are tickets still available for Wednesday’s Rangers-Islanders game in the Bronx, so if you’re a hockey fan and can swing it on short notice, I recommend going. It was a blast.
This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets and Islanders are both playing, but you’re on your own for entertainment otherwise. Talk about those games, yesterday’s game at Yankee Stadium, or anything else right here. Enjoy.
Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus published his list of the top 101 prospects in baseball today, a list that doesn’t require a subscription and is free for all. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot and is followed by Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras. Those will be the top three guys on pretty much every list you see this spring.
C Gary Sanchez was the only Yankees farmhand to make the list and he ranked 85th. That’s down from 47th last year. OF Mason Williams, who ranked 51st last year, fell off the list following a disappointing season. This is probably the lowest you’ll see Sanchez on a top 100 list this year and that’s fine. Parks doesn’t like him as much as some others and it’s not like he’s some flawless prospect who clearly deserves a better ranking.
Other top 100 lists: MLB.com. · (24) ·
The Yankees are said to be done with their offseason “heavy lifting” following the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but there is still some roster fine-tuning to be done. More than fine-tuning, really. The infield and bench are glaring needs and the final open position player spot figures to address both. The team is said to be leaning towards someone like Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, or Dean Anna for that spot at the moment.
Aside from Stephen Drew, who may or may not interest the Yankees, the free agent infield market is thin. Michael Young and Placido Polanco are among the biggest name players still available, but New York doesn’t need another player casual fans will recognize. They need someone who can actually produce. The best available option might be someone who is more of a utility man than a full-time guy: the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker. The Yankees showed interest in him last month and they’ve been connected to him at various points in the past. He appears to be a great fit for that last roster spot, at least on paper, but what does he really bring to the table? Let’s look.
- The 32-year-old Baker punishes left-handed pitching. He hit .314/.407/.667 (186 wRC+) against southpaws last season and .287/.342/.496 (124 wRC+) against them over the last three years. All but two of his 18 homers since 2011 have come against lefties.
- Baker hits the ball to all fields and has power the other way against left-handers (spray chart). He does the most damage when pulling the ball like everyone else, but has power to right and that fits well with Yankee Stadium.
- Since breaking into the league, Baker has played every position other than shortstop, center field, pitcher, and catcher. He has plenty of experience on the infield and enough in the corner outfield to be more than an emergency fill-in.
- This is easy to overlook, but Baker knows how to remain productive as a bench player (he has played more than 100 games just once in parts of nine big league seasons). A lot of guys struggle initially when moved into a part-time role. It can be a tough adjustment to make.
- Baker is a pure platoon player. He mustered a weak .204/.250/.286 (41 wRC+) batting line against righties last summer and over the last three seasons, it’s a .213/.251/.298 (45 wRC+) line. Don’t kid yourself: this is a straight platoon player who is completely unusable against same-side pitchers.
- The various defensive metrics says Baker is a below-average gloveman pretty much everywhere. He’s versatile but not an asset in the field. It has been a few years since he played more than ten games at second or third as well.
- Injuries have been an issue. Baker suffered a thumb sprain during a high-five last year and missed a month (true story), and he’s also had groin (2011), hand (2009), and elbow (2009) problems over the years.
- Baker won’t give you anything on the bases. He has gone 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his career, but he’s never stolen more than four bags in a season and over the last three years he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 25% of the time, well below the 40% league average.
There hasn’t been much interest in Baker this winter despite his obvious usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat. The Rangers want him back according to Gerry Fraley and of course the Yankees have interest, but that’s pretty much it. The Giants checked in earlier this offseason but Andy Baggarly says the two sides stopped talking in December. Baker signed a minor league deal with Texas late last January and he might have to do something similar this winter.
The Yankees could really use a no doubt everday infielder regardless of position. Derek Jeter is going to need to spend time at DH given his age and myriad of leg injuries, plus we all know Brian Roberts is very unlikely to make it through the season healthy. With Mark Teixeira‘s wrist still stiff, Kelly Johnson is the team’s only question-free infielder. Baker wouldn’t improve that situation any, but he would given them a legitimate starting option against southpaws and an awesome pinch-hitter for lefty relievers. He’s a useful but limited player when used properly. Nothing more than that.
By any measure, Kei Igawa was one of the biggest busts in Yankees history. The team spent a total of $46M to acquire him ($26M posting fee and then a five-year, $20M contract) during the 2006-07 offseason, and in return they received a 68 ERA+ in 71.2 big league innings. Igawa made his final appearance in pinstripes in June 2008 and spent most of those five years in the minors.
“It was a disaster. We failed,” said Brian Cashman to Bill Pennington in July 2011 when asked to evaluated the southpaw’s tenure with the team. According to NPB Tracker, Igawa told the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal that Cashman and the team’s coaching staff had to ask him what his best pitch was during their first meeting. It became clear then and is obvious now the Yankees didn’t do their homework before investing $46M in the lefty. Failed might be an understatement.
For the first time since the Igawa fiasco, the Yankees finally dipped back into the Japanese talent pool last week, signing right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155M. The $20M release fee means the total investment is $175M, or nearly four times what they put into Igawa. Tanaka is younger and has been statistically better than Igawa was when the team signed him, but, more importantly, the Yankees made sure not to repeat their mistake and actually did their homework this time.
“We started evaluating [Tanaka] back in 2007,” said Cashman to reporters (including Andy McCullough) during a conference call last week. “So clearly we’ve been scouting over in Japan for quite some time. The evaluations on him started on him back in 2007. Certainly paid attention to him back in the 2009 WBC, when we were first able to evaluate him with a Major League baseball, against Major League hitters. This year we were at 15 of his games, including the WBC, and we sent a Major League scout from the U.S. to evaluate him in the playoffs as well.”
Tanaka was an 18-year-old rookie with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2007, so the Yankees have essentially watched him grow from a just-graduated high schooler into the best pitcher in the world who wasn’t employed by a Major League team. “By 2009, the Yankees were drooling over Tanaka and imagining what it would be like to have him in their rotation,” wrote Jack Curry following the deal. Here’s some more from his post:
Across the last few seasons, the Yankees have studied Tanaka’s impressive exploits on the mound and have seen a fierce competitor, someone that reminds them of CC Sabathia. The Yankees interviewed Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee and Darrell Rasner, former Yankees who all were teammates with Tanaka, and heard superb reports about his demeanor and toughness. By the time the Yankees made their offer to Tanaka, they had 11 different scouting evaluations from members of their organization.
When that many people evaluate a player, there are bound to be differences of opinion. It’s no surprise then that we heard one unnamed team official recently say: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.” Those differences of opinion are a good thing. There should always be someone challenging the popular opinion and forcing them to look deeper, especially when talking about a deal of this magnitude.
“We made a determined effort to put ourselves in the position to know as much as we possibly could, in the event that he was ever posted,” added Cashman. “So this has been a long, drawn-out process, not just from the financial negotiating standpoint that’s taken since he was posted. But obviously making sure that we were in a position that in the event a talent such as his became available that we were able to make recommendations accordingly, based on the scouting assessments.”
Based on various reports, several other clubs had interest in Tanaka and were offering contracts in excess of $100M, including the pitching-wise Dodgers, White Sox and Diamondbacks. The Cubs supposedly made an offer similar to the Yankees’ but refused to include the opt-out clause after the fourth year, which is why they lost out. They aren’t ready to contend immediately and didn’t want to lose him right as their window opened. Those teams all spent time scouting Tanaka and thought enough of him to make significant offers, so the Yankees aren’t the only team to consider him an impact starter. (Just FYI: The next highest bid for Igawa was $15M by the Mets.)
It’s entirely possible Tanaka will be a bust like Igawa, just way more expensive. No one can truly know how he will handle the big leagues until he gets up on a mound in games that mean something. If Tanaka does flame out or merely settles in as a number four or five starter rather than the number two he is widely considered, it won’t be because the Yankees didn’t do their homework. They’ve been on him for years and were one of several teams to think highly of his combination or age, ability, and stuff. Igawa was a disaster, no doubt about it, but the Yankees seem to have learned from that experience. They won’t be caught with too little information again.