There are less than two weeks left in Masahiro Tanaka‘s signing period, and if the Yankees manage to lure him to New York, an argument can be made they signed the two best free agent starters this winter. The team re-upped Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $16M contract weeks ago, but because he was re-signed and not brought in from another team, it doesn’t really feel like an addition. It’s weird.
A few days ago, Kuroda spoke to Sponichi Annex about all sorts of interesting and important topics. A reader (@iyasuN) was kind enough to send me a translation … like a real translation, not some Google translate gibberish. Kuroda discussed a whole bunch of stuff, so here’s a point-by-point rundown.
On playing in 2014
Kuroda said he seriously considered retirement this offseason and spoke to Hideki Matsui — he holds Matsui in very high regard among his peers (they’re the same age) — about walking away at Mariano Rivera‘s retirement ceremony in September. Matsui told Kuroda he retired because “he did everything he could and he was done.” Because he is healthy and doesn’t have any physical problems (like Matsui’s knees), Kuroda decided to return for another season. He is very much year-to-year at this point of his career, however.
On re-signing with the Yankees
Once he decided to pitch another season, Kuroda gave the Yankees “top priority” during the offseason. The Hiroshima Carp (his former team in Japan) did contact him over the winter but by then he had already decided to return to New York. If he does ever return to the Japan, it will be for Hiroshima and not another club.
On the Yankees and a contract extension
The Yankees approached Kuroda about an extension the day after he beat the Angels for his 11th win of the season (so August 13th). Hal Steinbrenner specifically told him they were “ready to talk” that day in the Yankee Stadium weight room and soon opened negotiations with his agent. Kuroda was not ready to commit to another year just yet, so nothing came of it. Between Kuroda, Robinson Cano, and Russell Martin a few years ago, the Yankees appear to be loosening on that archaic “no extensions” policy.
On his late-season fade
Kuroda was unable to figure out why he struggled so much late in the season, but, in hindsight, he thinks he put too much pressure on himself and worked too hard early in the season, especially as the team struggled. From the beginning of May through the end of July, the Yankees scored a total of 41 runs in his 16 starts, an average of 2.56 runs per start. That’s an awful lot of stressful innings. Kuroda said he simply wore himself out both physically and mentally, and there was nothing in the tank those last few weeks.
On throwing 200+ innings
Although he has thrown at least 200 innings each of the last three seasons, Kuroda isn’t sure how important that is to him. He specifically cited Andy Pettitte, who scaled back his workload later in his career and was successful all season and into the postseason. (Pettitte last threw 200+ innings in 2008.) Given his age, Kuroda indicated he and the team might try to control his workload a bit better next year in an effort to stay fresh for all 162 games and a potential postseason run. He’d rather be a 180+ inning guy who is effective all season than a 200+ inning guy who is out of gas in September. Makes sense to me.
4:14pm: The Yankees have officially announced Matt Thornton’s two-year contract and confirmed Wells has been designated for assignment.
1:16pm: According to his Twitter feed, the Yankees have cut ties with Vernon Wells. Buster Olney says he was designated for assignment. The Yankees need 40-man roster space for both Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton and this clears one spot. Wells, 35, hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) last season and although he would have counted as $0 against the luxury tax in 2014, the team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars. The Angels owe him $18.6M. · (103) ·
3:42pm: Now Nightengale says the Dodgers “won’t spend wildly” on Tanaka. So, yeah. Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, John Shea hears Tanaka prefers to play in New York, Los Angeles, or Boston.
3:00pm: Via Bob Nightengale: The Dodgers have let it be known they “plan to go all-out” to sign Masahiro Tanaka and claim they will not allow themselves to be out-bid. That could just be posturing or, given how Los Angeles has spent these last two years, completely sincere. The Yankees are interested in Tanaka but it is unclear exactly how far they’re willing to go to sign him. The signing deadline for Tanaka is two weeks from today. · (59) ·
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees are one of several teams monitoring Johan Santana as he rehabs from his second torn shoulder capsule. He has not yet thrown off a mound. “I don’t know what to think of Johan right now. I haven’t looked at his medicals,” said Brian Cashman at the Winter Meetings. Joe wrote about Santana as a potential target last month.
Aside from monitoring Johan, McCullough also mentions Cashman has discussed replicating the team’s 2010-11 offseason pitching plan. They signed cheap guys like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon after missing out on Cliff Lee, as I’m sure you remember. If the Yankees fail to sign Masahiro Tanaka before his deadline in two weeks, the alternative might not be Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza. They could target cheaper options and that’s not necessarily a bad idea. · (19) ·
Five questions and five answers this week. If you want to send us a mailbag question, you probably know how to do it by now. (Hint: the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.)
Paul asks: Are there still deals that haven’t been made official yet? What’s the hold-up? Is it a 40-man roster thing?
The Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are still not official. I don’t know why but the Yankees tend to drag these things out. I’m guessing the holidays gummed up the works as well. The 40-man roster is full so they’ll have to clear up spot for both guys. They’ll need to do the same if they add another starting pitcher as well, Masahiro Tanaka or otherwise. I suppose they could be working on an Ichiro Suzuki trade to open one spot, but who knows. Roberts and Thornton are the only big league contracts that are still not official yet, however.
To the table:
Ellsbury was the better player overall in the three years prior to signing with the Yankees — Damon was way more durable; his ability to stay on the field was always a big part of his value — but remember that a lot of his production came during that outlier 2011 campaign. Like, 32 of the 45 homers and 9.4 of the 16.3 fWAR came that year. That season is getting further back in the rear-view mirror and I’m not all that confident Ellsbury will come close to that production again. Hopefully he proves me wrong.
I think the best way to answer this question is that Ellsbury is the more exciting player and he offered a greater upside, but Damon was more predictable and reliable. Ellsbury is a few years younger now than Damon was when he joined the Yankees and that’s a big deal. The team will, at least theoretically, get more of Ellsbury’s prime years. The Yankees are obviously counting on that considering the contract they gave him.
Alex asks: What about Joe Blanton as a depth signing? The Angels appear ready to release him this offseason and if the Yanks don’t add Tanaka (or even if they do), there could be value in a workhorse who underperformed his peripherals. What would his upside realistically be?
I mean this is in the nicest possible way:
Blanton was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, so bad that the pitching-starved Angels dropped him from their rotation. He hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since 2009 and he’s underperformed his peripherals in each of the last four seasons (5.09 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 540.2 innings since 2010). I have no reason to think a righty with a below-average fastball (averages a touch over 89 mph these days) will buck that trend in a small ballpark in the AL East. I don’t see Blanton as an upgrade over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. He’s not even worth a 40-man roster spot in my opinion. Easy pass, even if he comes for the minimum. The Yankees need to add good pitchers. Emphasis on good.
Nick asks: With all the talk of contract overpaying this winter, I’d like to bring up Alfonso Soriano. If the Cubs are paying $13m of the $18m he’s owed in 2014, and even at age 38, couldn’t he be a bit of a bargain? $5m for a .250/.310/.480 hitter with 30+homers seems reasonable no?
Oh yes, absolutely. The three projection systems at FanGraphs (ZiPS, Steamer, Oliver) work out to a combined .240/.293/.455 batting line with 25 homers and 11 steals per 500 plate appearances, and that’s with Oliver expecting him to fall off a cliff (-0.1 fWAR). That is definitely worth $5M right there, especially to the Yankees given where they sit on the win curve. Soriano just turned 38 and there’s a chance he will completely crash and show his age next year, but the upside is a 30-homer, 10-steal right-handed batter. Getting that for $5M is great in this market. Among the guys who are not still in their arbitration or pre-arbitration years, Soriano is probably the best dollar-for-dollar player on the roster.
Kevin asks: Am I the only one who really likes Nik Turley? I don’t think he’ll be more than a #4 but the Yankees need to stop walking away from these back-end starter prospects. We could really use a young guy to soak up innings, even if its not elite status.
I see Turley as another member of the Phelps, Warren, and Nuno group, just a notch below because he hasn’t spend significant time in Triple-A yet. Solid enough to be a back-end starter but not exactly someone who is going to come up and make a real impact in the rotation. There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. Teams need those cheap back-end types for depth and to help cover for injuries, and heck, every once in a while one will exceed expectations and turn into Doug Fister. Turley had a good year with Double-A Trenton in 2013 (3.88 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 139 innings) and as a left-hander with a good breaking ball, he’ll get a million chances in this league, at worst as a reliever. I wouldn’t call him untouchable but he’s certainly worth keeping around. The only problem is that the Yankees have a serious 40-man roster crunch and Turley is near the bottom of the pile.
Seven years ago today, the Yankees traded Randy Johnson back to the Diamondbacks for four players, the most useful of whom proved to be right-hander Luis Vizcaino. I looked for some highlight videos of Johnson during his time in New York, and, long story short, I got stuck in a YouTube wormhole and wound up at the Tino Martinez-Armando Benitez brawl. That was pure chaos. The whole video is worth watching but the best part is at the 6:00 mark. And no, I never did find a decent Randy Johnson highlight video to post.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Knicks are both playing, so talk about those games, the Tino-Benitez brawl, the upcoming A-Rod ruling, or anything else. Have at it.
Via NYDN: Alex Rodriguez could ask a judge for an injunction if he feels arbitrator Frederic Horowitz hands down an unfair ruling. He is unlikely to get one, as Wendy Thurm explained in November, but it is something he could pursue as part of his scorch the Earth legal battle with MLB. “The papers are all ready. They are just waiting for the announcement,” said one of the Daily News’ sources.
Meanwhile, the Daily News says Rodriguez would likely accept a 65-game (or less) ban without a fight. The legal fees to combat a suspension of that size would be greater than the salary he stands to lose, they say. Ryan Braun received 65 games and both he and A-Rod were considered MLB’s top targets as part of this whole Biogenesis investigation. Horowitz could hand down his ruling any day now, and the sooner that happens, the better. Let’s get this show on the road already. · (67) ·
Three years ago, the Yankees gave veteran right-hander Luis Ayala an opportunity to bring his career back from the dead. He had not been an effective big leaguer in four years (or a big leaguer at all in two years) when they signed him to a minor league deal, but he impressed in winter ball and the team gave him a chance. Ayala wound up making the club and having a strong season in a middle relief role.
The Yankees now find themselves in a similar situation as three years ago. They need some bullpen arms and Ayala remains unsigned, looking for a job. The Tigers, Indians, Orioles, Red Sox, Rays, Dodgers, Giants, and Phillies have all expressed interest in him according to Tim Dierkes and Chris Cotillo, enough teams that he is holding out for a multi-year contract. I’m not sure if that will happen at age 35 (36 on Sunday), but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Does a reunion with Ayala make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look at what he has to offer.
- Since resurfacing with the Yankees three years ago, Ayala has remained effective and pitched to a 2.58 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 164 innings. He’s been outperforming his FIP pretty much his entire career. At this point we have to say it’s a skill, not a fluke.
- Ayala is a classic sinker/slider guy who gets grounders (51.4% since 2011) and limits walks (2.58 BB/9 and 6.8 BB% since 2011). His trademark sinker continues to sit right around 90 mph.
- He hasn’t had a platoon split these last three years. He’s held righties to a .311 wOBA (53.8% grounders) and lefties to a .318 wOBA (48.3% grounders) since 2011.
- Ayala has done it all out of the bullpen, so he has experience in a number of roles and is versatile. He closed earlier in his career, he’s been a setup man, a mop-up man, a middle reliever, you name it. Hooray flexibility.
- Ayala is a low strikeout pitcher (6.15 K/9 and 16.1% since 2011) and his strikeout rate is slowly trending in the wrong direction: 6.27 K/9 (16.7 K%) in 2011, 6.12 K/9 (15.9 K%) in 2012, and 6.00 K/9 (15.0 K%) in 2013.
- Although his overall platoon split is small, lefties have been giving Ayala a harder time in recent years. They tagged him for a .301 wOBA in 2011, a .322 wOBA in 2012, and a .346 wOBA in 2013. He might devolve into a pure righty specialist in 2014.
- Ayala is no stranger to the DL. He missed more than two months with an axiety disorder last year and he spend a month on the sidelines with a shoulder problem in 2011. Ayala also had shoulder (2003) and elbow (2005-2007) problems earlier in his career.
The Yankees and Ayala are already familiar with each other from their previous marriage, so both sides know what they’re getting into. The team knows what he is like in the clubhouse, knows his medical history, all that stuff. Ayala knows the coaching staff, a bunch of guys on the team, and the expectations that come with wearing pinstripes. I don’t think that stuff is a huge deal — especially when talking about a middle reliever on a short-term deal — but it’s not a negative.
When the Yankees let Ayala walk following the 2011 season, I was totally cool with it because he is exactly the kind of pitcher you want to cut ties with a year too early rather than a year too late. He’s since gone on to have two strong seasons with the Orioles and Braves, so his success in the Bronx was not a one-year fluke. The declining strikeout rate and decrease in effectiveness against lefties are red flags, no doubt about, but not big enough to scare me away from a one-year deal. Multiple years though? No thanks.
The 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced yesterday and three all-time greats were elected to Cooperstown: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. The Yankees tried to sign Maddux as a free agent back the 1992-93 offseason, but he took less money to go to the Braves. New York wound up signing Jimmy Key instead, then Key beat Maddux in the decisive Game Six of the 1996 World Series. That was fun. Here are some random thoughts.
1. Mike Mussina is the first Hall of Fame candidate I am really invested in. (Jorge Posada will be the next when he hits the ballot in three years.) I love Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams as much as anyone, but I never did think of them as Cooperstown-worthy. I do think Moose is deserving and I’m really hoping he gets inducted at some point, even if he will almost certainly wear an Orioles hat on his plaque. Needless to say, I was disappointing to see him appear on only 20.3% of the ballots yesterday. That’s a lot of ground to make up and the ballot isn’t going to unclog anytime soon — Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas will be replaced by first-timers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz next year. It’s going to be a few years before Mussina even gets close to the 75% requirement.
2. While we’re on the subject of the Hall of Fame: how many future Hall of Famers are on the Yankees’ 40-man roster right now? Derek Jeter is a lock and I think Ichiro Suzuki is as well. Alex Rodriguez has all the requisite stats but he’ll never get in because of the performance-enhancing drug stuff. His admission in 2009 sealed his fate. Carlos Beltran has a very strong Hall of Fame case and these next three years could help push him over the top. CC Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame path for most of his career, but if last season is the new normal for him, he’ll probably end up on the outside looking in. Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira are Hall of Very Good players at best. Aside from Jeter, Ichiro, Beltran, and Sabathia, the Yankee with the best Hall of Fame chances might be Brian McCann. He’s only 29 (30 next month), so if he takes advantage of the short right field porch these next five (possibly six) years and holds up physically for another year or two after that, he could wind up with around 300 homers and 45 fWAR. Those would be top five and top 15 marks, respectively, among catchers all-time. McCann has a ways to go but the Cooperstown foundation is in place.
3. Now that the Hall of Fame announcement has passed, the A-Rod ruling could be handed down at any moment. I suppose MLB may have asked arbitrator Frederic Horowitz to hold off until next week, after the new Hall of Famers do their interviews and all that, but he isn’t under any obligation to follow along. Still, I think the ruling will be announced Monday at the earliest. (Now watch it be this afternoon.) Whenever it comes, it will be good to finally get that out of the way, regardless of whether the suspension is overturned or upheld or reduced or whatever. I’m sicking of hearing about it and waiting around for it. I just want the Yankees to move forward with their offseason — it’s clear they’re waiting for the ruling before making more moves — and get this roster settled. Especially the infield. It worries the heck out of me.
4. The bullpen worries the heck out of me as well, but I am more confident in the team’s internal relief options than their infield options. By a lot. Unless the Yankees sign about three relievers these next few weeks, they’re going to have some bullpen competition in Spring Training and I’m curious to see how much of a chance right-hander Jose Ramirez will be given to win a job. He threw 9.1 innings in camp last year (three starts and one relief appearance) but he had not yet pitched above High Class-A. Ramirez chucked 42.1 innings in Double-A and another 31.1 innings at Triple-A last summer, so he has some upper level experience. The problem is that he’s been completely unable to stay healthy as a starter throughout his career — he’s had arm trouble in the past, and last year he missed time due to fatigue and an oblique problem — so much so that it might be time to stick him in the bullpen and let him air it out. Ramirez will turn 24 in two weeks and he’s got a really big fastball with a knockout changeup and a good slider. There’s a chance he can be an impact reliever as soon as this year if given the opportunity.
Today is the halfway point of Masahiro Tanaka‘s 30-day negotiating window. He has 15 days left to work out a contract before the 5pm ET deadline on January 24th, and the entire deal must be complete by that time. Tanaka needs to pass a physical and sign on the dotted line by then. There won’t be any of this “agree to a deal and three weeks later it’s official” nonsense. Only 15 days until he is on some team’s roster. Love the hard deadline.
Anyway, we know the Yankees have already contacted with Tanaka’s agent Casey Close, but there haven’t been any real updates since. That doesn’t mean talks have stalled or anything like that, just that no updates have leaked. The whole process has been very tight-lipped, it seems. I’m guessing that’s by design. Here are some Tanaka-related notes from around the league in what I suspect is the first of many update posts:
- Tanaka flew to the Los Angeles yesterday to begin face-to-face meetings with teams. He is slated to meet with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and Angels this week and he will also be seen by a doctor to get the physical process going. [David Waldstein, Bill Plunkett & Jon Heyman]
- D’Backs GM Kevin Towers said Close “pretty much asked those clubs that are involved that just less is better and not to really say anything or divulge the process or what’s happening.” That explains the lack of updates. [Steve Gilbert]
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti confirmed he has touched base with Tanaka’s camp but the two sides are in the “feeling out” stage. Negotiations with various clubs are “still in a very preliminary phase” and things might not heat up until next week. [Dylan Hernandez & Andy Martino]
- If you missed it earlier this week, here is our massive Scouting The Market post on Tanaka. Pretty much everything you need to know about the guy is in there.