Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Islanders are both playing, plus there’s college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, the Hall of Fame announcement, or anything else right here.
The Hall of Fame has four new members. On Tuesday, the BBWAA announced Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz have all been inducted into Cooperstown. This is the first time four players have been inducted in one year since 1955 (Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance) and the first time three pitchers were inducted in one year in history.
Biggio fell two votes short of induction last year, and historically when a player misses by that narrow a margin, he gets in comfortably the next year. That’s what happened here — Biggio appeared on 82.7% of the ballots this year, well more than the 75% necessary for induction. The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site.
Johnson is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and appeared on 97.3% of the ballots, the eighth highest voting total of all-time. He spent two seasons with the Yankees and is presumably going into the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback. Arizona signed him to a four-year contract in 1999 and he won four straight Cy Youngs from 1999-2002, so yeah. Pedro and Smoltz appeared on 91.1% and 82.9% of the ballots, respectively.
The Yankees had some pretty great battles against those three over the years, including beating Smoltz’s Braves in the 1996 and 1999 World Series. Johnson bested the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS and 2001 World Series and is simply one of the best pitchers ever, arguably the best lefty ever. Pedro … man did he and the Yankees share some memorable moments. His 17-strikeout one-hitter at Yankee Stadium on September 10th, 1999 is one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve ever seen:
In his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility, Don Mattingly received only 9.1% of the vote, so he exhausted his 15 years on the ballot and was not inducted to Cooperstown. He topped out at 28.2% of the vote during his first year of eligibility back in 2001 and has sat closer to 13% over the last decade or so, including only 8.2% last year.
Down the line, Mattingly could be eligible for induction via the Expansion Era Committee, which meets every three years to identify and vote on Hall of Fame candidates who started their careers after 1972. The Expansion Era Committee did not elect anyone this winter and will meet again in 2017. I love Donnie Baseball as much as anyone, but I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer and I don’t think he’ll get in via the Expansion Era Committee either.
Among the first-time-eligible players set to jump on the ballot next year are Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. No notable ex-Yankees though. Jorge Posada is set to appear on the ballot for the first time the year after that, giving me two years to prepare to the mother of all Hall of Fame campaigns.
No surprise here: Jon Heyman reports the Yankees are still keeping an eye on the second base trade and free agent markets, including Stephen Drew. The club has indicated they will let Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela (and others) compete for the second base job in Spring Training, but Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t look at other available options.
The free agent middle infield market is pretty thin now that Asdrubal Cabrera has signed with the Rays. There’s Drew, Kelly Johnson, Nick Punto, Rickie Weeks, Gordon Beckham, Everth Cabrera, and … that’s pretty much it. We saw Drew and Johnson in pinstripes last year and we’ve looked at Beckham, Weeks, and Cabrera as free agent options this winter. Punto … meh.
The trade market is more exciting. With Asdrubal signed, the Rays are widely expected to trade Ben Zobrist, who would be a great fit for the Yankees just like he would be a great fit for literally every other team in baseball. He’ll cost quite a bit though, plus he’s only a one-year rental, and I’m not sure Cashman will trade a bunch of prospects for a year of Zobrist after emphasizing youth. Then there’s the whole “trade with a division rival” thing.
Other second base trade options could include Chase Utley, Aaron Hill, and maybe Daniel Murphy. I thought there’d be more. Utley has given no indication he will waive his no-trade clause despite the Phillies’ rebuild and Hill was very bad (78 wRC+) last year. Plus he’s owed $24M over the next two years. The Mets have a ready-made second baseman in Dilson Herrera but insist they will keep Murphy, which could be posturing. He’s another one-year rental.
There really aren’t many good (nevermind great) second base targets out there, either in free agency or in trades, especially since Zobrist and Utley seem unattainable for different reasons. The idea of a very young and inexperienced double play combination makes me nervous, but at this point of the offseason I don’t see a realistically acquirable second baseman I’d prefer over Refsnyder or Pirela. Time to ride or die with the kids.
The holidays are behind us and a new year is now underway. Pitchers and catchers are due to report in 46 days, and before you know it, there will be real live baseball to enjoy. Granted, it’ll be Spring Training baseball, but those games are fun in their own way. Here are some thoughts at the start of 2015.
1. The Yankees have had a very busy offseason so far, making six trades and signing two notable free agents. I find it interesting that in three of those trades the Yankees received more players than they gave up. The three exceptions were all one-for-one swaps — Didi Gregorius/Shane Greene, Frankie Cervelli/Justin Wilson, and Shawn Kelley/Johnny Barbato. They received three players for Martin Prado and David Phelps, two players for Manny Banuelos, and one player for straight cash homey (Gonzalez Germen). Even by letting David Robertson walk and signing Andrew Miller, the club gained a player via the draft pick compensation. Usually the Yankees are the team giving up more players than they’re receiving. The Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Javier Vazquez trades are recent examples. They’ve focused on adding more youth to the roster this offseason and they’ve also added more depth to the organization overall, especially in the bullpen. That means more help from within during the season to cover for injuries/ineffectiveness and also more trade chips.
2. The Yankees have added youth this winter, and they’ve done it by acquiring players with MLB experience, not prospects. Gregorius has a little more than a full season of big league time under his belt. Eovaldi, despite being only 24, has thrown 460 career innings in the show and Wilson is over 130 himself. Even guys like John Ryan Murphy and Chasen Shreve have big league time. It’s not much, but they’re not coming in with no idea of what to expect. Despite all this roster turnover and the emphasis on youth, the only true rookie with zero MLB experience on the roster come Opening Day figures to be second baseman Rob Refsnyder, assuming he beats out Jose Pirela for the job. Prospects are great, everyone loves a good farm system, but they are still just prospects and they’ll break your damn heart time and time again. Other teams — most notably the Athletics but also the Marlins — have rebuilt in recent years by getting big league players in trades. It speeds up the rebuilding process and removes some of the risk. The jump from the minors to MLB has never been tougher than it is right now thanks to all the information teams have. Guys like Gregorius, Eovaldi, and Wilson have already made that jump.
3. Now, that said, I think it’s very likely the 2015 Yankees will be worse with Gregorius and Eovaldi than they would have been with Greene and Prado. Same with Murphy instead of Cervelli. These moves aren’t all geared towards 2015, however. For the first time in a very long time, dating back to the pre-Derek Jeter era, the Yankees appear to have one eye on this coming season and one eye on the future. And don’t get me wrong, I get it, the team had an aging Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada on the roster and tried to maximize the end of their careers. I totally understand going all-in from 2007 or so through 2014. There’s a time and a place for focusing on the here and now. The Yankees are no longer there. They need to start looking ahead and guys like Gregorius and Eovaldi help accomplish that. The 2015 Yankees may be worse off, but I think the 2016 and beyond teams are in better shape after this offseason. A lot better shape, really.
4. As for Gregorius, I feel like he’s somehow gotten underrated in recent weeks. And this is coming from someone who isn’t all that optimistic about his long-term offensive potential. But there seem to be a lot of people acting like he’s Brendan Ryan or Ramiro Pena, someone like that, which is nuts. Gregorius, in his 191 MLB games, has hit .262/.332/.411 (102 wRC+) with a 14.2% strikeout rate against right-handed pitchers, and that’s pretty good for a guy expected to hit eighth or ninth. Yankees’ shortstops hit .226/.277/.298 (58 wRC+) against righties from 2013-14. I’m going to repeat that: Yankees’ shortstops hit .226/.277/.298 (58 wRC+) against righties from 2013-14. Even if Gregorius’ true talent against righties is the .247/.304/.402 (91 wRC+) line he put against them in 2014, he’s a huge upgrade over what the team has been getting at shortstop. He’s on the right side of the platoon and his defense is leaps and bounds better than anything the Yankees have had in years. Gregorius is no star, and I remain skeptical about his bat going forward, but the bar has been set so low at shortstop that it’s hard to believe he’ll be anything but a multi-win upgrade as soon as 2015. His impact is being underrated.
5. The 2015 Hall of Fame class will be announced at 2pm ET today (here’s the ballot) and I think four players are getting in: Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz. (For what it’s worth, all four are currently tracking over the 75% threshold). I count 15 players I would vote for right now, but since the voting max is ten, five would get hung out to dry. My ten: Johnson, Pedro, Biggio, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Mike Mussina. Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Sammy Sosa would be left on the cutting room floor. (I would have voted for Mark McGwire in the past, but I’ve come around on the idea of him not being Hall worthy.) I understand the strategy of not voting for Johnson and Pedro and giving the votes to other players since those two are getting in anyway — that’s what Mike Bernardino did — but I’m not comfortable doing that. Maybe I’ll change my mind in a few years. As you can tell, I don’t really care about PED stuff or cheating in general. Players have cheated for over a century and as long as there is baseball, players will cheat. Doctored baseballs, doctored bodies, whatever. It would be nice if players didn’t cheat, but they do and it’s not the BBWAA’s place to “punish” these guys. I see the Hall of Fame as a record of the game’s all-time greats and I don’t think we can simply ignore the parts we don’t like.
This is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, the Ruth
trade sale, or anything else right here. Have at it.
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have re-signed Slade Heathcott to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The team non-tendered Heathcott back in November, allowing him to come off the 40-man roster without passing through waivers. They did the same with Jose Campos, who also re-signed.
Heathcott, 24, played only nine games last season due to a pair of knee surgeries — his season started late following offseason surgery and ended early due to another procedure in June. The invitation to big league Spring Training is an indication Heathcott either is healthy now or expected to be ready to play by time camp opens.
In parts of six minor league seasons since being the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft — the compensation pick the Yankees received for failing to sign Gerrit Cole in 2008 — Heathcott has hit .268/.346/.404 in only 309 career games. He’s had lots of shoulder and knee problems, including multiples surgery on each.
Assuming he’s healthy to start the regular season, Heathcott could head to Triple-A Scranton after playing 112 games with Double-A Trenton from 2013-14. A return to the Thunder is always possible, as is starting down in High-A Tampa to shake off the rust. We’ll have to see how the upper level outfields shake out. Lots of candidates.
In terms of the sheer number of transactions — not necessarily the magnitude of the moves — this has been the busiest Yankees’ offseason in quite some time. The team has already made six trades, one more than they made during the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 offseasons combined. They’ve also made two notable free agent signings in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley. It’s been a busy winter thus far.
All those trades have more or less exhausted New York’s big league trade chips, meaning the players on the projected 25-man roster with actual trade value. (So not Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example). The most notable exception is Brett Gardner, who seems unlikely to be dealt at this point. The other exception is Dellin Betances, who has not been seriously discussed as a trade chip this winter. So why don’t we do that now?
The case against trading Betances is pretty straight forward: he’s one of the five or six best relievers in the world, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control for another five years. That’s a core player a team can build around, even as a reliever. In fact, the Yankees (re)built their bullpen around Betances this offseason the way they built it around Mariano Rivera all those years. He was that dominant last season.
The case for trading Betances is much more complicated even though we all know no player is ever truly untouchable. There’s always a price. Don’t you think the Angels would listen if the Giants offered Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for Mike Trout? I think they would. They’d be foolish not to. There are several reasons — some more valid than others — for the Yankees to consider dealing Betances. Let’s run ‘em down.
Injury & (Lack of) Command History
The 2014 season was the first time Betances did not have any sort of injury and/or command issues since 2006, his draft year. He spent parts of eight years in the minors and there were a lot of walks and injuries along the way. Let’s review:
- 2006: Healthy and 7.8% walk rate after signing.
- 2007: Missed two months with elbow inflammation and had a 15.0% walk rate.
- 2008: Missed six weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 11.7% walk rate.
- 2009: Had a 13.1% walk rate then missed three months following Tommy John surgery.
- 2010: Missed two months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and had a 6.6% walk rate thereafter.
- 2011: Missed three weeks with an unknown injury and had a 12.6% walk rate.
- 2012: Missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 15.7% walk rate.
- 2013: Healthy, 12.2% walk rate.
- 2014: Healthy, 7.0 walk rate.
Like I said, lots of walks and lots of injuries. Arm injuries too. Betances has been healthy these last two years, plus his walk rate has been manageable since he moved into the bullpen full-time, though there’s too much ugly history here to ignore. One truly elite season doesn’t wipe this all away. Baseball history is littered with guys with bad command who figure it out for a season or three before falling apart. Look at Daniel Bard or Derrick Turnbow, for example.
He Can’t Possibly Be That Good Again, Right?
Here’s the list of full-time relievers with a sub-2.00 ERA, a sub-2.00 FIP, and 60+ innings in multiple seasons: Craig Kimbrel (2012-14), Greg Holland (2013-14), Eric Gagne (2002-03), and Dennis Eckersley (1990 and 1992). That’s it. Mariano Rivera never did it and David Robertson did it once (2011). Twenty-two others have done it in one season, including Betances last year, but only those four have done it multiple times.
If Betances repeats his 2014 dominance in 2015, he will buck a lot of history and join a very exclusive club. That isn’t to say Betances won’t be excellent in the future, I have no reason to believe he won’t be very good going forward, but it’s very likely he just had his career year. Robertson had a 1.08 ERA (1.84 FIP) in 66.2 innings during his age 26 season — the season Dellin just completed — and you know what? That was his career year. Robertson was very good during his age 27-29 season, but he never did repeat his age 26 performance.
“Selling high” isn’t really a thing — at least not in the sense that teams don’t see through superficial performance and know who is likely to decline going forward — because clubs make trades based on their own internal evaluations, not public opinion or FanGraphs stat pages, though Betances will have less trade value next winter. Even if he repeats his otherworldly performance — I suppose he could improve on it, but that’s damn near impossible — he’ll be one year closer to free agency and that matters.
The Yankees have acquired a lot of bullpen depth not just this offseason, but over the last several years. They’ve done it through the draft (Betances, Adam Warren, Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, etc.), through trades (Justin Wilson, Gonzalez Germen, Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve, David Carpenter), and via the scrap heap (Jose DePaula, Esmil Rogers). That’s not even all the upper level bullpen arms. Just most of them.
Although someone of Betances’ caliber is irreplaceable, the Yankees do have a small army of bullpen arms ready to step in and do the job. The drop off from Betances to the guy replacing him — meaning the last guy in the bullpen, not the guy who takes over the late-innings — isn’t as big as it would have been last year. It’s big, don’t get me wrong, just not as big as it would have been before this bullpen-heavy offseason. The Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth and are in position to deal from that depth to improve other parts of the roster. Betances has, by far, the most trade value among these bullpen arms.
Now, just to be clear, I am not advocated trading Betances. I think the Yankees should keep him as the bullpen cornerstone in the post-Mariano and post-Robertson years. That said, Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least entertain the idea of improving the team by trading Betances. They’ve acquired all this bullpen depth for a reason. Betances’ trade value is tough to gauge because elite relievers with five years of team control are never traded, but he could be part of the package to get an ace like Cole Hamels or a young position player like Addison Russell, for example. (Just spitballing here.)
The Yankees have changed course and built up a decent group of young players heading into the 2015 season, especially up the middle and on the mound. Betances is a huge piece of that. There is still more rebuilding work to be done (lots of it, really), and using Betances as a trade chip could be the quickest way to complete that process. His injury history, his lack of command history, the general volatility of relievers, and the team’s bullpen depth are all reasons dealing Dellin makes some sense.