Hot Stove Notes: Cecil, Cespedes, Napoli, Holliday, Moss

Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)
Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)

One week from today the 2016 Winter Meetings will begin at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, DC. Will MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before then? I sure hope so. The current CBA expires Thursday. If they don’t hammer out a deal, the baseball world could come to a standstill. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous bits of hot stove news.

Yankees had interest in Cecil

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees were in on lefty reliever Brett Cecil before he signed with the Cardinals last week. St. Louis gave him a four-year deal worth $30.5M. Goodness. Sherman says the Yankees never did make Cecil a formal offer, though they did talk parameters with his representatives. What they player wanted, what the team was willing to do … that sort of that stuff.

Cecil, 30, had a 3.93 ERA (3.64 FIP) in 36.2 total innings around a lat injury this past season. He had stellar strikeout (28.7%) and walk (5.1%) rates, though lefties managed a .254/.310/.364 batting line against him. You’d like your primary southpaw reliever to do a little better than that against same-side hitters. Although the Yankees didn’t present Cecil with an offer, their interest shows how seriously they’re looking for bullpen help. It’s not just to the top guys like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. They’re zeroing in on the second tier free agents too.

Cespedes not in Yankees’ plans

The Yankees are not planning to pursue Yoenis Cespedes even though they have checked in with his representatives, reports Christian Red. Cespedes is arguably the best overall free agent on the market and he figures to land a hefty contract. The Yankees checked in just because they check in with everyone. It’s due diligence. How else are you going to find out whether a free agent is interested enough in your team to take a discount?

Cespedes, 31, hit .280/.354/.530 (134 wRC+) with 31 home runs for the crosstown Mets in 2016. The Yankees, who were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball this summer, could certainly use a bat like that in their lineup. They’re also trying to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon, plus they have a ton of talented outfield prospects in the upper minors, so a pricey corner outfielder is not a pressing need. It’s worth making the call to check in. Spending huge on Cespedes doesn’t seem wise at this point in time though.

Yankees have checked in with several bats

In addition to the usual cast of characters (Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, etc.), the Yankees have also checked in on other free agent bats like Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, and Dexter Fowler, reports Jon Heyman. Napoli, Moss, and Holliday are all short-term DH candidates — or at least they should be — while Fowler figures to be more of a long-term addition.

With Brian McCann gone, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at DH for a big veteran bat. They’re said to be interested in a reunion with Carlos Beltran. If the Yankees are going to spend on a free agent bat, I would greatly prefer a short-term contract. Short-term as in one year. Napoli, Beltran, Holliday, and Moss make more sense for the Yankees right now than Cespedes or Encarnacion. Remember, the Yankees are still paying Alex Rodriguez. I’m not sure how eager they are to commit big money to another DH at the moment.

The Lessons of the Trade Deadline [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 trade deadline was, truly, a monumental event for the Yankees. The team’s mediocre on-field performance pushed ownership to give Brian Cashman the authority to sell at the deadline, something the club hasn’t done in nearly three decades. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call this year’s trade deadline a franchise-altering event.

Will the deadline alter the franchise for the better? That’s what we’re all hoping. The Yankees made five trades in the week leading up to the deadline, four of which qualify as “seller” trades, and those trades netted them two big leaguers and 12 total prospects. After the deadline Jim Callis said the Yankees have “the deepest system in the game.” The five trades told us five different things about the Yankees.

The Chapman Trade: The Yankees Are Opportunists

The first of the five trades was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs. It happened a full week prior to the deadline. I wanted the Yankees to trade Chapman even if they were in the race. I wrote that for I don’t know how many months before the trade actually happened. The club bought low in the offseason and had a chance to sell outrageously high at the deadline.

The Yankees did exactly that. They were 50-48 on the morning of the day of the Chapman trade, and they’d just won six of their last eight games. Rather than hang on to Chapman and try to get back into the race, they were smart about their situation. Contenders around the league were lining up for Aroldis and the offers were impressive. Far better than the draft pick the Yankees would have received after the season.

The Chapman trade told us the Yankees are going to be opportunistic. They acquired him at a deep discount (for terrible off-the-field reasons) and flipped him for a massive return. Getting Gleyber Torres alone would have been a major win. The other three players are gravy. I think it’s pretty gross the Yankees used the domestic violence incident to buy low on Chapman, but the team showed when an opportunity that is too good to be true presents itself, they’re going to pounce.

The Miller Trade: Committed To The Rebuild

Okay, fine, it’s a transition, not a rebuild. Whatever. The Yankees were in a very unique position at the trade deadline because they had not one, but two top notch relievers to peddle to contenders. Chapman was the first to go. Following that deal, the Yankees took offers for Andrew Miller, as they did last offseason. And of course everyone wanted him. Pretty much every contender was in on Miller.

Unlike Chapman, the Yankees didn’t have to trade Miller. I mean, they didn’t have to trade Chapman either, but it was such an obvious move. He was an impending free agent and his value was through the roof. Miller had two more affordable years left on his contract — plus he is insanely good and very popular — and keeping him would have completely justifiable. Teams wish they could have 25 guys like Andrew Miller on their roster.

Rather than keep Miller for those reasons, the Yankees acknowledged the bullpen market had exploded, and they capitalized on the opportunity. They’re so committed to the rebuild transition that they traded exactly the kind of player they want to acquire: affordable, effective, and likeable. The timetables didn’t line up though. A top notch reliever is not what they need right now. They need Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield more.

The Clippard Trade: A Complete Tear Down Isn’t Happening

The Yankees won’t say it, but they’re rebuilding. They’re just not rebuilding all the way. A complete Astros style tear down isn’t going to happen because a) it can’t due to some unmovable contracts, and b) ownership doesn’t want it to happen. Hal Steinbrenner has made that very clear. They want to remain in quasi-contention to keep fans interested (i.e. sell tickets, etc.).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Tyler Clippard trade, which went down a few hours after the Miller trade, is the perfect example. Rather than turning Miller’s vacated roster spot over to a young reliever, the Yankees brought in a productive veteran to help them win. The cost was minimal — the Yankees gave up Vicente Campos, who got hurt (again) a few weeks after the trade — and the message was clear. The Yankees are still trying to win, which is commendable. There’s something to be said for refusing to be an abject embarrassment on the field.

Now, does it makes sense to try to remain competitive even though the team on the field is telling you the postseason isn’t going to happen? That’s up for debate. I’m sure some fans appreciate the wins while others would rather a slightly better draft pick and larger bonus pool. That’s not for us to decide though. The Yankees have made their position clear. They’re going to try to win while rebuilding. The Clippard trade is the latest example.

The Beltran Trade: The Yankees Aren’t Afraid To Take Risks

The Yankees made five trades prior to the deadline this year but only two actually came on deadline day. The first sent Carlos Beltran to the Rangers for three Single-A pitching prospects in a deal that was more or less inevitable. Once Chapman and Miller were traded, there was no real point in hanging on to Beltran, another impending free agent. Yeah, he was the team’s best hitter, but that also increased his trade value.

As part of the Beltran trade, the Yankees acquired right-hander Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. Just last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the 2016 season. Tate’s stock took a hit in the first half because he hurt his hamstring and his velocity wavered, so much so that he sat in the upper-80s rather than the mid-90s at times. His stock was down quite a bit.

Rather than be scared away, New York targeted Tate in the Beltran trade and was willing to take on some risk in order to get premium talent. The Yankees never have access to players like Tate (and Frazier) in the draft. They never pick in the top ten. They were able to acquire that kind of talent at the deadline. To get Frazier, they gave up a great player in Miller. To get Tate, they had to roll the dice and trade their best hitter for a reclamation project. The Yankees didn’t play it safe. They’re shooting for the moon.

The Nova Trade: A Small Return Is Better Than No Return

Minutes prior to the trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Ivan Nova to the Pirates for two players to be named later. Two! That’s one more than I expected. Nova was another impending free agent, and again, there was no reason to keep him. He wasn’t a qualifying offer candidate and it wasn’t like he was pitching well either. A few teams were interested, including the Rangers, but ultimately Cashman connected with his favorite trade partner and sent Nova to Pittsburgh.

The Yankees didn’t get a whole lot for Nova. Tito Polo could maybe be a speedy fourth outfielder down the line, and Stephen Tarpley figures to get plenty of chances as a hard-throwing lefty, but neither player is likely to have much of an impact. They’re spare parts. They’re also better than nothing, which is what the Yankees would have received had they kept Nova and let him finish out the season in pinstripes. Keeping Ivan would have been pointless given the team’s place in the standings.

The Nova trade was a common sense trade. Get whatever you can and move on. Polo and Tarpley probably won’t amount to much, but you never really know. Tarpley could figure out how to throw his breaking ball for strikes, or perhaps some team wants Polo as the third piece in a trade. Point is, the Yankees had an asset in Nova whose value was rapidly approaching zero. They accepted a small return at the deadline because a small return is better than no return.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2016

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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This time, it’s personal

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Just a bit less than a year ago, I wrote  a piece detailing my inability to let go of caring about the Baseball Hall of Fame process. Now, all this time later, I still can’t stop caring. I’ve managed to let go of caring about the postseason awards voting, but the Hall of Fame stuff still lingers. In 2015, I talked about the idea of rational debate, of a love of logic and reason being behind my enduring attachment to the Hall of Fame process; this year, though, it’s different. I care his year for reasons that are wholly personal.

The first baseball mitt I clearly remember using was a small black one that I used up until middle school. On the palm in gold lettering was a signature that read “Tim ‘Rock’ Raines.” It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how good Raines was as a player, that he was more than just the dude whose signature adorned my first mitt, which I’ll seemingly never forget. Given that this is his last year on the ballot, it’s hard not to care, not to want to see him get in. It’s possible–maybe even probable–that he does this year. That would be sweet and a long time coming or a great, great player.

Jorge Posada, on the ballot for the first time–and probably the last–was a favorite player of mine growing up. The same is probably true of a lot of you. Whether it was his consistent, excellent bat or his passion for the game, it wasn’t hard to root for Jorge. Always the player surrounded by stars, Posada’s career is likely highly underrated by anyone outside of Yankee fandom. He’s not going to garner a lot of support–and he probably shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame player–but it’d be nice for Georgie to get some recognition.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All of us–well, except Michael Kay–loved Mike Mussina’s time on the Yankees. Combining his peak performance for the Bombers and his longevity, he’s got a case as one of the Yankees three best starters of the last twenty years.  He was a fantastic pitcher for a long time and is also underappreciated on a large scale and deserves Cooperstown just as much as any pitcher has in recent years.

The odds of all three of these favorites of mine getting in are incredibly long, nigh impossible. But having that connection to them is why I can’t stop caring, at least not this year. Maybe once this spate of ex-Yankees–ending with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and (hopefully) Alex Rodriguez in the next few years–comes to an end, I can finally put an end to caring about this damned process. Until then, though, I’ll continue to root, root for the home team and hope my favorites make it in.

Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

My second favorite holiday is upon us. Thanksgiving can’t beat Christmas — I don’t know about you, but with my family Christmas is basically a Thanksgiving-caliber feast with the added bonus of presents — though it’s still pretty great. Can’t wait.

I’m going to spend the next few days with family and stuff and I hope to forget all about baseball for a little while. I’ll post any breaking news or whatever, otherwise this open thread will carry you through the holiday weekend. Here are some links worth checking out:

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. I hope you have a great weekend wherever you are.

Greg Bird’s Lost Year [2016 Season Review]

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

This past season the Yankees started their youth movement in earnest. It kinda sorta began with the Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups last year, but it wasn’t until the team started trading veterans for prospects at the deadline that their direction was clear. The Yankees are going young, so much so that they’re moving productive veterans for kids in Single-A. It’s a whole new world.

Once again, the Yankees called up a bunch of young players in the second half this year, most notably Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Others like Tyler Austin and Luis Cessa were around too. So was Severino. The young guy who wasn’t around was Bird. The presumed first baseman of the future spent the entire 2016 season rehabbing from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The 2016 season was a lost season for Bird. He didn’t get to advance his career in any way, which stinks for a guy who would have played the entire season at age 23. That’s a crucial development year, especially after his successful MLB cameo last year. Let’s review Bird’s lost year and its big picture impact on the Yankees.

How Did He Get Hurt?

Bird hurt himself during an offseason workout, though the shoulder trouble was not new. He spent a month on the Double-A disabled list with a shoulder problem in the middle of the 2015 season. Apparently the shoulder was never really healthy the rest of the season. Bird admitted to not necessarily playing through pain, but playing through occasional discomfort. He hit those eleven homers in 46 games with the Yankees with a less than 100% shoulder.

The offseason workouts exacerbated the problem and led to the surgery. It was not one awkward movement or one exercise that caused it. This was a wear and tear injury. It started in Double-A and gradually got worse and worse. In February, the shoulder finally gave out and Bird needed surgery. Maybe the Yankees could have done something differently to keep Bird healthy. I have no idea. I’m no doctor. Won’t change anything now.

The Rehab

By all accounts Bird’s rehab went according to plan. His surgery came with an 8-9 month recovery timetable, which meant there was a chance he could return late the season, but the Yankees were never going to push it. Bird spent the summer rehabbing in Tampa and the rehab went well enough for him to get at-bats in Instructional League in September. That was our first indication Bird was getting better.

Following the stint in Instructs, the Yankees sent Bird to the Arizona Fall League for more playing time, where he hit .215/.346/.354 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 17 games and 78 plate appearances. I’m not worried too much about the statistical performance given the long layoff. Bird had to get his swing back. The most important thing is he made it through the AzFL healthy and didn’t miss a game. He was limited to DH because he hasn’t been cleared to throw at 100% effort yet, but everything else is going well. The rehab is right on track.

The Service Time Situation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bird spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list following the injury. I know he started last season in Double-A, but he was a big league ballplayer at the time of the injury. He played in the 2015 Wildcard Game, remember. Bird was a big leaguer when he got hurt and that means he spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list collecting big league salary and service time. Good for him.

For the Yankees, it’s not so good. They lost one of Bird’s dirt cheap pre-arbitration years to injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and eligible for free agency following the 2021 season, which is the same as it would have been had Bird been healthy and spent the entire year at first base and DH. Injuries are part of the game. They happen. It stinks when they happen to good young players when they are in the most cost effective years of their careers.

The Yankees Really Could Have Used Him

Geez, did the Yankees miss Bird this season or what? He hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games during his 2015 cameo, and last winter ZiPS pegged Bird for a .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) batting line with 26 homers in 2016. That would have been really useful! The Yankees got nothing from the first base and DH positions this past season. Bird would have been a huge, huge help. Enough to get them into the postseason? Doubtful. But enough to make them more competitive and fun to watch.

Outlook for 2017

Hitters who have surgery to repair a torn labrum in their front shoulder are known to lose pop for some length of time. Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp both had the same surgery as Bird and needed a year or so to get back to normal. On the other hand, Brian McCann had the same surgery while with the Braves in 2012, and he bounced back just fine in 2013. There was no short-term power loss.

The Yankees are hoping Bird follows the McCann path and not the Kemp/Gonzalez path. The good news is the timing of the injury is on their side. Bird is going to be a full year out from surgery by time Spring Training rolls around. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had surgery after the season and were racing against the clock to get ready for Opening Day. There are no such issues with Bird. He’ll have a nice long rehab.

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Bird to grab the first base job in Spring Training and run with it. That would be ideal. I also think they’re prepared to send Bird to Triple-A should he need time to get back on track following surgery. There’s little doubt Bird is the first baseman of the future. That’s the plan. Is the first baseman of the present? The first few weeks back from shoulder surgery will determine that.