Mailbag: Strasburg, Kendrick, Shields, Moncada, Lee

There are 14 questions and 13 answers in this week’s mailbag. I feel like these things get longer and longer each week. Send us questions via the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar at any time.

(Jonathan Ernst/Getty)
(Jonathan Ernst/Getty)

Lonnie asks: Any chance the Yankees could go after Strasburg? The Nats would want proven stars … would a package built around Betances and Sanchez/Murphy get it done? Maybe throw in Refsnyder as well?

Oh I’m certain the Yankees will at least make a call about Stephen Strasburg (and all of the Nationals starters) if they haven’t already. Aside from not being nine feet tall, Strasburg fits everything the Yankees look for in a starter — velocity, strikeouts, control of the strike zone, and ground balls. I mean, every team looks for that in a pitcher, but the Yankees really seem to emphasize the velocity and control part. They didn’t just randomly target Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi on a whim, you know.

Anyway, I think Lonnie answered his own question. The Nationals are the ultimate win now team and they’re going to want proven players in return, not a reliever and a handful of prospects. As good as Dellin Betances is and as promising as Gary Sanchez/John Ryan Murphy and Rob Refsnyder look, that’s not even close to what it’ll take to get two years of a 26-year-old ace. The Yankees would do that in a heartbeat. A half-season season and a half of David Price got a young big league starter, a young big league infielder, and a very good shortstop prospect, for example. I’m not sure the Yankees have the pieces to get Strasburg. They don’t have that potential star young MLB ready player to give up.

Will asks: Would Marco Scutaro make any sense for the Yankees?

Not at this point, no. Scutaro, who I just learned has the same birthday as me (different years!), was designated for assignment by the Giants earlier this week. He played only five games last year due to back problems and had another pretty serious back surgery last month — they had to fuse two vertebrae together — which will keep him out for roughly six months. So Scutaro won’t even be able to play until June at the earliest. Since he is 39 and we’re talking about a serious procedure, chances are his rehab will extend longer than that. There’s a chance he’s already played his final MLB game.

Adam asks: Does Kyle Kendrick make sense for the Yanks? If no … why?

The Yankees do need pitching but I’m not sure they’re desperate enough to outbid teams for Kendrick. The 30-year-old had almost identical 2013 and 2014 seasons resulting in a 4.65 ERA (4.31 FIP) with good walk (2.46 BB/9 and 6.3%) and ground ball (46.9%) rates but an awful strikeout rate (5.46 K/9 and 13.9 K%). If you remove opposing pitchers, Kendrick has struck out only 13.0% of batters faced these last two years. That’s really, really bad. He has no out pitch. The only thing Kendrick has to offer is innings, but they aren’t quality innings. People like to talk about guys being NL pitchers, well Kendrick is the classic example.

Sam asks: It is FanFest season around the Majors and I always wonder why the Yankees don’t hold one. Is it cost or are there too many fans to accommodate? Does the club feel it’s unnecessary? I’d like the chance to meet some present and future players. I need a Greg Bird autograph now — so what gives?

I honestly have no idea why the Yankees don’t do anything like this. They’re a blast and I’m sure teams make a decent amount of money from them. (If they didn’t make money, they probably wouldn’t do it.) The Yankees don’t do a whole lot to cultivate young fans and maybe that’s because they think the Yankees #brand speaks for itself. I doubt the marketing folks think like that though. The Yankees aren’t the only team to not do some kind of caravan or FanFest event, but it would be really cool if they did. They draw nothing but positive reviews around the league.

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Kevin asks: If James Shields really is in the 4-year, $80 million range shouldn’t the Yankees jump all over that?

I haven’t heard he’s come down that far just yet. I think the Yankees are concerned not so much by the total dollars or years or anything like that, but with buying too much decline. A seven-year deal for 30-year-old Max Scherzer and a four-year deal for 33-year-old James Shields takes you through their age 37 seasons, except with Scherzer you’re getting more peak years. Shields is very good and I think he’ll age better than Scherzer (I base that on nothing tangible, just a hunch, really), though if you give a 33-year-old with that many miles on his arm four years, you’re buying nothing but downside. If the Yankees were a no doubt contender looking to put themselves over the top, I think signing Shields would make more sense.

Vinny asks: Regarding Scherzer’s contract: do the deferred payments affect the luxury tax hit in any way?

No, Scherzer’s luxury tax hit is based on the average annual value of his contract, not when the money is actually paid out. So his seven-year, $210M contract comes with a $30M tax hit even though he will really make $15M for the next 14 years (!). According to Cot’s, the Nats are up around $160M in payroll for luxury tax purposes with Scherzer on board, so they aren’t close to the $189M luxury tax threshold. (They have a freaking ton of money coming off the books after the season.) If deferring money reduced how much a player counts against the luxury tax, everyone would be doing it. MLB won’t let teams get off that easy.

Ian asks: If you had to guess, what would A Rod, CC, and Teixeira have gotten on the free agent market this winter?

I’ll start with A-Rod because he’s the easiest: nothing. I don’t think anyone would sign a 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips coming off close to two lost seasons. Not even a token minor league contract from his hometown Marlins. Alex would be pushed right out of baseball if he was a free agent this winter. Teams want no part of that baggage.

The standard contract for a “veteran starter we aren’t quite sure about” these days seems to be two years and $20M or so, and that’s what I think Sabathia would get. Jason Hammel, Bartolo Colon, Edinson Volquez, and Scott Kazmir have all signed contracts like that recently. Maybe Sabathia would get less because he missed the end of the year following knee surgery, or maybe he would get more due to his reputation and name value. Teams are still absolutely guilty of paying players for past performance.

Teixeira’s the most difficult one to me. Adam LaRoche just got two years and $25M and he’s both the same age (approximately) as Teixeira and a better player at this point of his career. At the same time, Kendrys Morales just got two years and $17M and is a far inferior player to Teixeira. So does that put Tex in the two years, $20M to $22M range? Maybe Morales isn’t the best player to use as a basis of comparison. I’m not sure what Teixeira would have gotten as a free agent at all.

Alex asks: Would the Yanks have any interest in Cliff Lee still? Short term commitment and likely cheaper to acquire than Hamels?

Yeah, possibly, but I think they want to see him healthy first. Lee is owed $25M this coming season with a $27.5M vesting option ($12.5M buyout!) that will kick in if he throws 200 innings in 2015. He dealt with a lot of elbow problems last season and although he has been throwing this winter, I think the Yankees would still want to see him on a big league mound before pulling the trigger. If you get him now and his elbow gives out, you’d get absolutely nothing from the trade. Let’s see him healthy first.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hit .268/.399/.441 (123 OPS+) in his career. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

John asks: I saw an article recently on the retired Adam Dunn and how 49% of his plate appearances ended in a guaranteed outcome (walk, k or HR). Wondering where this ranks and if any Yankees would make the top ten of the list, like Nick Johnson or Jason Giambi. Thanks and keep up the great work.

Since 1910, a total of 1,577 players have accumulated at least 3,000 career plate appearances. (Strikeout data isn’t all that reliable prior to 1910.) Here are the ten players with the highest (and, for fun, the lowest as well) career percentages of the three true outcomes, meaning walks, strikeouts, and home runs:

Ten Highest Rates Ten Lowest Rates
Player TTO% Player TTO%
Russell Branyan 50.47% Emil Verban 5.88%
Adam Dunn 49.93% Stuffy McInnis 6.84%
Rob Deer 49.06% Bill Killefer 7.21%
Mark Reynolds 48.58% Lloyd Waner 7.45%
Jim Thome 47.58% Ivy Olson 7.84%
Mark McGwire 45.64% Eddie Brown 8.06%
Ryan Howard 45.53% Homer Santana 8.20%
Carlos Pena 45.48% Charlie Deal 8.22%
Mike Napoli 44.09% Nap Lajoie 8.23%
Mickey Tettleton 43.53% Don Mueller 8.23%

Unsurprisingly, all of the guys on the lowest three true outcome rate (TTO%) list all played a very, very long time ago, back when no one hit dingers and everyone put the first pitch in play. You can see the full 1,577-player spreadsheet right here. (Use Ctrl + f to search through it for any specific names.)

Nick Johnson ranks 99th all-time at 35.86% and Jason Giambi ranks 56th at 37.92%, so no, they aren’t close to the top ten. Mickey Mantle is the highest notable Yankees player on the list — he ranks 19th all-time with a 40.16% three true outcome rate. Reggie Jackson isn’t far behind at 23rd overall (39.72%). Derek Jeter is 576th (25.25%), Jorge Posada is 73rd (37.26%), Bernie Williams is 374th (28.37%), and A-Rod is 126th (34.99%).

Jonathan asks: So what exactly is the holdup with the OFAC and Moncada? Is it just government bureaucracy or is there more to it? Seems like we’ve been waiting for him to be unblocked longer than other international FA.

Mike asks: How will Yoan Moncada’s contract work? I have read it will be a bonus since he has less than 5 years professional experience. Is he on the books for league minimum for the first 3 years? What happens when he is arbitration eligible?

Going to lump these two together. From what I understand, the OFAC hold-up is all bureaucracy. Moncada didn’t defect from Cuba — the Cuban government gave him a visa and let him leave — and apparently that’s slowing down the process. I don’t understand it at all. All I know is that the Yankees can’t sign him until the OFAC signs off.

Moncada is like every other international free agent teams sign out of Latin America each summer. He gets his bonus up front and goes into the farm system like everyone else. When he reaches MLB, Moncada will make near the league minimum during his three years of pre-arbitration and then go through three years of arbitration before qualifying for free agency. Aside from the massive bonus, he’s just like every other draft pick or international signing.

Dan asks: Why are some players given 4th options – how does that process work? I know Dellin received one last year, and it would certainly be nice if Romine got one this year.

Fourth options are confusing. There are several ways a player can qualify for one, but the only one I actually understand is when the player burns all three options within his first five full professional seasons. So if the Yankees call up Rob Refsnyder — a 2012 draftee with two full pro seasons under his belt — this year and wind up optioning him in 2015, 2016, and 2017, he’d get a fourth option for 2018. That doesn’t apply to Betances. I have no idea why he qualified for a fourth option. It would have been very nice if Austin Romine had a fourth option for this year, but Brian Cashman confirmed that is not the case.

Brad asks: If he retired today, would Brian Cashman be honored with a plaque in Monument Park?

I think the answer is no right now. The only GM in Monument Park at the moment is Ed Barrow, who called the shots from 1921-46. The Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, first half of Joe DiMaggio’s career era. His plaque was dedicated in 1954. Cashman is entering his 17th season as GM and he’s still eight years behind Barrow. If the Yankees win another World Series or three before the end of Cashman’s tenure, then yeah, I think he might get a plaque. Otherwise the answer is no.

Dan asks: If the Yankees wanted to, could they consider exploring a trade of Brian McCann to the Braves, now that they have parted with Gattis?

The Braves can’t afford McCann — their payroll has held steady at $90M or so since 2001, and Cot’s says they have $81M on the books for 2015 with Mike Minor’s arbitration case still pending. The team filed for $5.1M, so even if they win the hearing, their payroll is over $86M, which leaves them no wiggle room. I don’t see any reason why the Yankees should pay McCann to play for another team. Even trading him for Craig Kimbrel — the salaries aren’t a wash but they’re the closest the Yankees and Braves can get — wouldn’t make sense for the current roster. The Yankees need a starting catcher more than they need a closer. Don’t see it at all.

Update: Yanks return to WPIX for over-the-air broadcasts

Thursday: The Yankees and the Tribune Company have officially announced the deal. WPIX will begin airing approximately 20 over-the-air games this coming season, though the schedule has not been finalized. So no more My9. The Yankees are back on WPIX just like the good ol’ days.

Tuesday: The Yankees are close to an agreement to broadcast over-the-air games on WPIX, reports John Ourand. It is expected to be a four-year contract worth $11M to $13M per year, and would cover approximately 21 games per season. The team’s deal to air games on My9 expired after the 2014 season.

WPIX aired the Yankees for decades until the team left the station in 1998. The new agreement is expected to be finalized soon, perhaps this week. Here’s more from Ourand:

WPIX already carries an over-the-air package of around 25 games with the Mets, a deal that still has a few more seasons to go. It is not clear how the station plans to schedule both teams’ games. YES’ deal with WWOR expired at the end of last season. Ironically, WWOR is a Fox owned-and-operated broadcast station in N.Y. and YES Net is majority owned by Fox. YES Net reps declined to comment for this story.

WPIX usually airs the Mets on the weekends and My9 aired the Yankees on weeknights, so I assume they’ll keep the same schedule and there won’t be any conflicts.

According to Bob Raissman, WWOR simply did not want to pay the fees necessary to air games on My9. WWOR likely lost money during their last contract with the Yankees, he says.

Either way, My9 or WPIX, the Yankees will broadcast their usual slate of free over-the-air games the next few seasons. Now when you turn on your television to see the Yankees aren’t on YES, you’ll change the channel to see they aren’t on MY9 either before realizing they’re on WPIX.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Very sad news to pass along. Last night a massive fire ripped through one of those huge apartment complexes in Edgewater, NJ, and John Sterling’s home was destroyed. “I won’t have anything left … I’ll have to start over, as they say,” said a surprisingly upbeat Sterling to the NY Post. Hundreds of people were displaced and thankfully there were no serious injuries. I know this is a Yankees blog and we’re thinking about the memorabilia he lost, but, more importantly, that was Sterling’s home and I’m sure it was full of family memories he’ll never be able to replace. Let’s all keep him and his family in our thoughts.

This is your open thread for the evening. The NHL is on their All-Star break, but the Nets are playing and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about whatever’s on your mind right here.

A trip through the MLBTR archives: January 2008

Morgan Ensberg! (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Morgan Ensberg! (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Last month, before the chaos of the Winter Meetings, I decided to go back and look through the December 2007 archives at MLB Trade Rumors. The Yankees rumors, specifically. This is a Yankees site, after all. The idea was simple: to look through the old rumors to see how just they silly looked in hindsight.

Just to be clear, I had not intention of mocking or otherwise disparaging the hard-working crew at MLBTR, of which I was a member for more than three years. I just want to look back at some old rumors and remember how we reacted to them, mostly to see how ridiculous we were. Baseball rumors is a wacky business. You see a lot of weird stuff thrown around.

My trip through the December 2007 archives seemed to go over pretty well, so I think I’m going to try to make this a monthly feature. Hopefully with a more regular schedule. It’s not like there’s a shortage of rumors or anything. What good are they if we only look at them once and forget about ‘em? Since we covered December 2007 last month, we’ll now flip the calendar to January 2008, which was peak Johan Santana trade craziness. Good times. Let’s get to it.


Peter Abraham had a note this morning about Johan Santana. He says “there are no indications the Yankees will suddenly get back into the mix for Santana.” Abraham notes that the main issue for the Yanks remains the massive extension they’d have to give Santana.

Might as well start with Johan. In December we heard the Yankees’ best offer was Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Marquez, and Mitch Hilligoss. This is the first time we heard that the extension — which ended up being a six-year, $137.5M deal — was the problem. The Yankees didn’t want to pay twice. They didn’t want to hand over a group of young players only to pay Santana like a free agent anyway.

The Yankees have sorta softened on that stance in recent years, but not when it comes to players of Santana’s caliber. They did trade young players for rentals like Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley last year before trying (and half-succeeding) to re-sign them this offseason. It’s the big name players they seem unwilling to pay twice for, once in prospects and again with a contract. I can’t say I blame them, really. Especially considering the team’s current situation. If they were legit contenders, I’d hope they would be more open-minded about renting a big name player.


Anthony McCarron got another tidbit out of Hank Steinbrenner in his interview yesterday. He learned that the Yankees will not consider re-signing Roger Clemens, if he does play in 2008.

Clemens never did play after the 2007 season, so the Yankees didn’t want to re-sign him and no other team wanted him either. The fun part of this rumor is the source: Hank Steinbrenner was doing the talking. He was the head honcho back then. This was a month after the team re-signed Alex Rodriguez, remember, a deal Hank reportedly brokered. Hal Steinbrenner and the rest of the family seems to have pushed Hank out of the limelight since then. Can’t say that’s surprising.


According to Tyler Kepner, Alex Rodriguez has been “privately endorsing” Mike Cameron. Well, it’s not private anymore! The Yankees could entertain such a signing if they trade Melky Cabrera but don’t want to move Johnny Damon back to center. Kepner’s article also discusses the internal struggle between Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. Hank wants Johan Santana, Hal wants to show a little financial restraint.

More Hank vs. Hal, more Johan, and the first time we really saw Hal wanting to show financial restraint. Cameron was still really good back then — he hit .255/.341/.456 (112 OPS+) with 43 homers for the Padres from 2006-07 while playing his his usually excellent defense — and the Yankees actually worked out a trade to acquire him at the July 2009 trade deadline, but Hal squashed it because he didn’t want to take on the extra salary.

Cameron, by the way, signed a two-year deal with the Brewers a few days after this rumor and hit .247/.337/.464 (111 OPS+) with 49 homers in 269 games for Milwaukee. Cameron was a damn fine player. Traded for both Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr., you know.


Brian Cashman admitted that he lost some power when the Hank and Hal regime took over. He no longer has full authority to run everything, a sticking point when he signed on several years ago. It would not be shocking to see Cashman move on when his term ends after the 2008 season. He’s finishing up a three-year, $5.4MM deal.

Yeah, I think it was pretty obvious Cashman lost some power when Hank put that A-Rod contract together. Since then ownership has gone over his head to sign Rafael Soriano, trade for Alfonso Soriano, and re-sign Derek Jeter, among who knows what else.

That said, Cashman hasn’t moved on. He signed a three-year contract after the 2008 season, signed another three-year contract after the 2011 season, and another three-year contract after the 2014 season. Say what you want about Cashman’s moves, but the man is fiercely loyal to the pinstripes.


Kat O’Brien spoke to Hank Steinbrenner yesterday, and learned that the Yankees’ take on Johan Santana has not changed. They’re still in on him. One new tidbit: Hank said he wouldn’t go past a five-year extension for Santana. Since he’s already signed through 2008, an extension would go through 2013.

Hank’s still talkin’.


UPDATE, 1-10-08 at 10:34pm: According to Peter Abraham, the Yanks signed Lane to a minor league deal.

“Oh my gosh how could the Yankees sign Jason Lane!? What a dumb move. He’s taking playing time away from real prospects who might have a future with the team.”

I assume that’s what everyone said at the time. That’s what everyone says whenever the Yankees sign someone to a minor league contract. (Lane played 97 games with Triple-A Scranton and was released in August. The franchise somehow survived.)


The Yankees, Mets, and Pirates are interested in free agent lefty reliever Ron Villone.

Ron Villone! The search for a reliable lefty reliever in the post-Mike Stanton era really took some weird turns. Villone was with the Yankees from 2006-07 and had a 4.77 ERA (95 ERA+) in 122.2 innings as Joe Torre ran him into the ground. He signed with the Cardinals during this offseason and wasn’t very good for them in 2008 (91 ERA+).


UPDATE, 1-14-08 at 10:28pm: Hank says “there’s still a little back and forth” between the Yanks and Twins regarding Santana. Ugh.

Ugh is right. It never ended.


The same source told me on Friday that the Yankees, A’s, and Mariners have expressed interest in Wilkerson as well.

The Wilkerson in this case is Brad Wilkerson. The Yankees were looking for a first baseman to split time with Jason Giambi and, well, Wilkerson had hit 20 homers with a 104 OPS+ with the Rangers in 2007. He was as good a candidate as anyone. I don’t remember the Wilkerson chatter at all and I’m guessing my reaction would have been: meh.


Anthony McCarron says a long-term deal with Chien-Ming Wang looks unlikely, and the Yankees may have to go to a hearing with him regarding his ’08 salary.

The Yankees did eventually go to an arbitration hearing with Wang, and they beat him. He wanted $4.6M but they only had to pay him $4M. I’m pretty sure I was all for signing Wang to a multi-year extension back then, but it’s good thing they didn’t. Wang’s days as an effective big leaguer were over six months after this rumor made the rounds. For shame.


The Yankees considered bringing Octavio Dotel back, but wouldn’t go two years on him.

Dotel was only 34 at this time. It seemed like no matter how much everyone else aged, Dotel always stayed 38-39.

Anyway, the Yankees had Dotel in 2006 on one of those “he had Tommy John surgery but he’ll be totally awesome when he gets healthy in the second half!” contracts, when he allowed 13 runs in ten innings. Dotel got his two year contract from the White Sox and had a 3.55 ERA (131 ERA+) with 167 strikeouts in 129.1 innings from 2008-09. He was still pitching as recently as 2013.


Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Yankees are close to a four-year deal with second baseman Robinson Cano. Since he’s a Super Two, this will cover all of his arbitration years. Rosenthal also says that the deal will include a club option or two, allowing the Yankees to buy out some of Cano’s free agency. The deal looks to be worth $30 million.

No deal for Wang, but the Yankees did lock up Cano and the contract actually looked bad in the first year, when Robbie hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) with 14 homers. There was much second guessing.

Thankfully, Cano turned into a star in the second year of this four-year contract — Robbie hit the quietest .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+) with 25 homers as a second baseman in history in 2009 — and the Yankees eventually did pick up those two option years. All told, Cano had a 129 OPS+ with 34.4 WAR during the life of the contract. The Yankees paid him $57M total. Heck of an investment.


Bob Nightengale of USA Today says an agreement to trade Santana to the Mets has been reached. They’ll send Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey to the Twins. The Mets still have to work out a six or seven year extension for Santana, according to Nightengale. If this baby reaches its true conclusion we’ll sit down and analyze.

Thank the baseball gods! The Johan saga was finally over. Well, no, not really. The Mets and Twins agreed to the trade but the Mets still had to sign him to an extension within the 72-hour window, which eventually happened.

But what would have happened if they didn’t agree to an extension? Would the whole thing have been called off? And if it was, would the Yankees have jumped back in and low-balled the Twins? I’m guessing no since they seemed to be pretty firm on that “not paying twice” thing, but it’s fun to think about. Maybe they could have gotten Santana at a discount — Melky, Marquez, and Hilligoss with no Hughes? — then let him walk after 2008?


The Twins tried to re-engage the Yankees Monday night, calling and asking, again, for Hughes to be in a package. The Yankees said no, and the Twins then asked, instead, for Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Kennedy, and the Yankees said no.

The Twins wanted Hughes, and when the Yankees said no, the Twins instead asked for the team’s best MLB pitcher and their other prized pitching prospect? That seems backwards. Those were the days when prospects had more value than actual big leaguers, though thankfully that seems to have corrected itself the last few years. Hughes was an elite prospect, but Wanger was an above-average starter at the MLB level. Wang had more value.


According to a source, the Yankees have signed Morgan Ensberg. They’ll use him at first base (and maybe off the bench). It’s a minor league deal. Jerry Crasnick confirms it, noting that the Rays and Giants expressed interest.

Contrary to the Jason Lane signing, the reaction to the Ensberg signing was something along the lines of “he hit 36 homers three years ago, what a great pickup!” Then Ensberg had a 34 OPS+ in 28 games and everyone hated him. The Yankees released him on June 10th and he never played another MLB game.

Yeesh, dark ending to this month’s trip through the MLBTR archives, eh?

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 17-19

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Mitchell.. (Presswire)
Mitchell.. (Presswire)

As we jump into the top half of our 40-man roster rankings, we are now looking at players who are projected to have significant roles with the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and beyond Yankees. At least most of the time. There is still one exception to the “significant role with the 2015 Yankees” thing and we’ll cover him today.

Today we’re going to cover spots 17 through 19, which include two starters who are not expected to start the year in rotation, but seem likely to wind up there come the second half. The other spot belongs to the team’s best prospect on the 40-man roster. All three are important pieces to the future of the franchise. To the next batch of rankings …

No. 19: Bryan Mitchell

2015 Role: I don’t want to say sixth starter, but it’s something close to that. Mitchell made his MLB debut last season, including a spot start against the Orioles during a doubleheader, and he handled himself well. That doesn’t guarantee success this coming season, of course, but it’s better than getting lit up and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

Mitchell will presumably get regular work in Spring Training and could win the final bullpen spot as a long man, I suppose, but an assignment to Triple-A Scranton seems more likely. That way he could remain stretched out and available for whenever the Yankees inevitably need another starter. Given the state of the rotation, there’s a good chance Mitchell will make double-digit starts in the big leagues in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Middle to back of the rotation starter. The 23-year-old Mitchell is well ahead of where Shane Greene was in his development at the same age, and he has similarly nasty stuff in his mid-90s fastball and curveball, though he’s not a finished product. They sort of project to be the same type of pitcher though. Workhorse starters with A+ stuff but maybe not A+ results all the time.

Mitchell was drafted out of high school as a raw hard-thrower and has worked hard to improve his control over the years. He had a 13.6% walk rate in Low Class-A, a 9.3% walk rate in High Class-A, a 9.8% walk rate in Double-A, and an 8.9% walk rate in Triple-A, so he is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done and it appears much of it will happen at the big league level. The Yankees need Mitchell to help both now and in the future.

No. 18: Gary Sanchez

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

2015 Role: Doesn’t really have one outside of being a September call-up and the emergency extra catcher. A lot would have to go wrong for Sanchez to get a chance behind the plate before rosters expand, I think. His defense, specifically his receiving — he has thrown out 42% of attempted base-stealers the last two seasons and that’s outstanding — is still a work in progress and so is his bat, really. Sanchez will spend the season as the regular catcher with the RailRiders.

Long-Term Role: Impact bat. Hopefully at catcher, but if not, at first base or even DH. Either way, Sanchez is a bat-first prospect and that’s why he is so highly regarded. When Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect a few weeks ago, they said he has “the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually,” and that’s what the Yankees are hoping to see within a year or two.

Sanchez has shown quite a bit of improvement at making contact and controlling the strike zone as a pro — he had a 25.0% strikeout rate in Low Class-A, a 19.2% strikeout rate in High Class-A, and an 18.2% strikeout rate in Double-A. As with Mitchell, he’s trending in the right direction. Sanchez has power and a strong arm, so the physical tools are there. And he just turned 22 last month, making him the youngest player on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees very clearly value defense behind the plate. It all started years ago, really. They acquired Jose Molina from the Angels in the middle of the 2007 season and the only poor defensive catcher they’ve had since was Jorge Posada. Despite that gaudy caught stealing rate, Sanchez could find himself in another organization if the Yankees don’t like his defense enough. He could wind up being used as trade bait a la Jesus Montero.

Nova. (Presswire)
Nova and his braces. (Presswire)

No. 17: Ivan Nova

2015 Role: Rehabber, at least at first. Nova had Tommy John surgery in late-April and isn’t expected back until May or June of this year. He hasn’t had a setback or anything, the Yankees are just playing it a little safe. A lot of pitchers have recently needed a second Tommy John surgery soon after the first one — Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon Beachy just to name a few — and a lot of people (including Dr. James Andrews) say it may be because they are pushing too hard during the rehab of the first procedure. That’s why the Yankees are taking their time with Nova.

Once healthy and rehabbed, Nova will be expected to jump right back in the starting rotation and contribute. Every team needs more than five starters in a given season and these Yankees figure to be no different considering the injury risks present in the current projected rotation. If Nova comes back in May or June and the team doesn’t have an obvious spot for him, that’s a good thing. Let him get healthy first, then worry about where he fits. My guess is it won’t be a problem.

Long-Term Role: Like I said, Nova will jump right back into the starting rotation once healthy and he’s expected to be in the rotation in 2016 as well. That’s the extent of Nova’s ties to the Yankees though. He will become a free agent after the 2016 season and either he could decide to go elsewhere or the team could decide to move on.

That decision is still a long ways away, of course. Nova has to finish rehabbing his rebuilt elbow, get over the initial strike-throwing issues that so commonly plague recent Tommy John patients, then show in 2016 he is back to where he was before surgery. Now that I think about it … what was Nova before his injury? There were times he looked like an ace and other times he was throwing batting practice. We still don’t really know who the real Nova is at the MLB level. Isn’t that weird?

Coming Friday: Nos. 15 and 16. A young player about to get his first extended taste of big league action and a versatile reliever.

The very wide range of possible outcomes for the 2015 Yankees

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

This could be nothing more than the long offseason taking its toll, but I’ve found myself changing how I feel about the 2015 Yankees on an almost everyday basis. Some days I think they’re much improved and in position to contend in the AL East. Other days I think they have no shot whatever. I keep going back and forth. And the thing is, I don’t think either stance is wrong.

As presently constructed, the 2015 Yankees could either be very good or bad very. I mean, that’s true of every single team every year, breaks go both ways, but I feel these Yankees have a wider ranger of possible outcomes this coming season than any other team in the game. They have so much riding on health and the development of young players, two of the most unpredictable things in the game.

First and foremost, the quality of the rotation depends tremendously on Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and Michael Pineda‘s shoulder. Those two are the biggest x-factors of the season in my opinion. If they both stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day, the Yankees will be in very good shape. Healthy Tanaka and Pineda are difference-makers and arguably the two best starters in the division.

But, on the other side of the coin, if they both get hurt and miss substantial a amount of time, the Yankees will have a major uphill battle to climb. I won’t say it isn’t doable — they lost Tanaka and Pineda for extended periods of time last year but were able to keep the rotation afloat thanks to some shrewd pickups — but losing those two guys would take a huge, huge bite out of their chances to contend.

The health concerns extend to the position player side as well. Healthy Mark Teixeira is better than Garrett Jones, but healthy Teixeira is something we don’t see much of these days. Health Carlos Beltran is way better than a Jones/Chris Young platoon. Beltran flat out mashed before the bone spur in his elbow gave him problems last May. Teixeira and Beltran are not close to what they were at their peaks but they can still contribute more than their replacements.

And then there are the young players, specifically Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. Gregorius is the new everyday shortstop. The Yankees might sit him against the toughest of lefties, but otherwise the job is his. They seem determined to let him sink or swim, and since he’s a young player without much of an MLB track record, sinking is more likely than swimming, even with his defense. Being an everyday big leaguer is hard.

Eovaldi is a different story because he’s been a full-time big league starter for just about three years now. He’s coming over from a pitcher friendly park in the inferior league (come at me, NL diehards) where he had a very good year in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP) and a not so good year in 2014 (4.37 ERA and 3.37 FIP). The Yankees clearly hope the 2013 version is the real Eovaldi, but until he gets out there every fifth day, who knows?

CC Sabathia has his own health and performance concerns. He had his knee cleaned out in July and is expected to be ready to go come the start of Spring Training. Great! But just how good is healthy Sabathia at this point of his career? He’s not an ace anymore, but could he be what Hiroki Kuroda was last year? The veteran guy who goes out and eats innings every fifth day with a league average-ish ERA? That would be a big upgrade over what Sabathia gave the Yankees the last two years.

In my opinion, the Yankees have significantly improved the left side of the infield as well as the bullpen. I also think the farm system is in better shape with more call-up options (Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, etc.) and more trade chips. There are tangible reasons to believe the Yankees will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014. The injury risk really lets a lot of air out of the balloon though. If you could tell me with certainty that Tanaka and Pineda and everyone else will stay healthy, I’d pick the Yankees to win the AL East. But we can’t say that with any certainty. Not even close.

I see Tanaka as a microcosm of the 2015 Yankees. He could either win the Cy Young or pitch literally zero innings this coming year. Somehow neither would surprise me. He’s a boom or bust player for 2015 and the Yankees are a boom or bust team, a team with some interesting young talent that could take the next step and a team that could be crippled by injuries to veterans.

The worst case scenario for the 2015 Yankees is very bad. Like low-70s win total bad. Maybe worse. The best case scenario is pretty good though. Better than I think they get credit for, maybe something along the lines of 90-92 wins. As the title says, this team has a very big range of possible outcomes, and while it’s easy to expect the worst, we should also keep the mind the best case is likely enough to take the AL East.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

You guys, A-Rod is working out with Barry Bonds! This is a Very Big Deal. Josh Shea says Rodriguez and Bonds were spotted together at a Bay Area facility where apparently several players spend time working with Bonds throughout the offseason. Can’t believe A-Rod had the nerve to seek out the knowledge of the best hitter most of us will ever see. Go forth with outrage.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. There’s no hockey tonight, it’s all basketball. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing and there’s the usual slate of college hoops as well. Have at it.