The Yankees are reportedly hoping to add another starting pitcher before the season begins, which both is and isn’t surprising. It is surprising, because they currently have six starters under contract for 2019, plus Jordan Montgomery slated to return from Tommy John surgery around the All-Star break. At the same time, it is not surprising because Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and CC Sabathia (who also just had heart surgery) make semi-frequent trips to the disabled list, and Sonny Gray is persona non grata. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
Given that, it stands to reason that the Yankees may not want to invest heavily in an ‘in case of emergency’ starter; and, by the same thought process, there’s no guarantee that any pitcher on the market would accept such a role (or the pay scale that’s likely to come with it). And all of that is my roundabout way of saying that the job is most likely to go to a pitcher looking to rebuild his value and/or simply not in high demand.
So let’s talk about Drew Pomeranz.
The 30-year-old Pomeranz was the fifth overall pick by the Cleveland Indians back in 2010, and, as one would expect from his draft position, was immediately considered a top prospect. He was ranked as the 61st best prospect in the game heading into 2011 by Baseball America, and climbed up to number 30 prior to the 2012 season. And he made his MLB debut in September of 2011, albeit as a member of the Colorado Rockies (he was the prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade).
Pomeranz was mostly an up-and-down arm for the next two years, struggling to find success or a straightforward role with the Rockies. He was dealt to the Oakland A’s for Brett Anderson in the 2013-14 off-season, and it was in Oakland that he would settle-in as a swingman – and thrive. He’s been a big-leaguer ever since, pitching for the Padres and, most recently, the Red Sox.
A year ago, this section would have looked absolutely stellar. Unfortunately – or fortunately, for suitors that believe in his ability to bounce back – 2018 did happen. In the interest of capturing where my positivity that will follow comes from, take a look at Pomeranz’s production from his 2015 breakout forward:
That’s four very good to great years in a row, followed-up by a big time stinker in 2018. So what the heck happened? In short: everything.
Pomeranz got a late start to the 2018 due to a forearm strain, and he never really got on-track after returning in late-April. His strikeout and groundball rates were way down, and his walk and home run rates were way up, and that’s … well … really bad. And he was hit way harder than he ever had been before:
You see those blue-ish marks? All of those mean that he was in the bottom-5% of the league in 2018. Again, that’s really bad. It’s so bad, in fact, that it’s difficult to mine the data for anything even bordering on positive, or suggestive of the year being overtly flukish. And this is why Pomeranz hasn’t been popping up in many rumors, if any, and why I’d hazard that he’ll end up signing on the cheap.
That being said, you cannot simply ignore the four previous seasons. He had success in the bullpen and in the rotation, and he thrived in the AL East for a year and a half. Above-average strikeout rates along with average groundball and walk rates is a recipe for at least a reasonable amount of success.
The vast majority of Pomeranz’s offerings are his four-seam fastball and curveball, which generally account for between 75 and 80% of his selection. However, he also throws a sinker, a cutter, and a change-up. Here’s how they look velocity-wise:
And the rightmost dots on the graph give us what may well be the reason for Pomeranz’s struggles last year: his velocity dropped by over a MPH on everything but his infrequently used change-up. His elite spin rates (especially on his curveball, which is among the best in the game) remained intact, per Statcast, but nothing had the same oomph. And, as you can tell from his walk rate above, he couldn’t locate, either.
Pomeranz blamed the lack of velocity and struggles with location on rust and mechanical issues, which seems fair. I’m putting off the injury talk for a bit longer, but he did miss a significant amount of time last season with a couple DL stints, and he also may’ve been tipping pitches. That doesn’t exactly make him an appealing option – but it must just be fixable.
And this is what his curveball looks like, up close and personal:
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 26, 2017
How can you not want a shot at fixing that?
Here’s the elephant in the room: Pomeranz opened the season on the DL with a forearm/flexor strain. That doesn’t sound good. And then he spent almost all of June and July on the DL once again with biceps tendinitis. Both injuries impacted his left arm, too. And that’s not encouraging.
This isn’t the first time that he has dealt with an injury to his pitching arm, either. When the Red Sox acquired him from the Padres in 2016, there was a mild uproar when it turned out that the Padres didn’t disclose information about Pomeranz receiving some manner of treatment for his arm. In fact, Padres GM A.J. Preller was suspended for this offense. Pomeranz would end up having stem cell treatment for what was described as a flexor tendon issue that off-season.
And that came just a year after he had “minor” shoulder surgery for a clavicle resection. Add in a broken wrist in 2014 and biceps tendinitis in 2013, and it seems as if Pomeranz has never been truly healthy for a full season. He managed to make 30-plus starts in 2016 and 2017, though, and you can’t take that away from him.
Given the way this off-season has unfolded, just imagine me shrugging here. There are a variety of one-year pillow contract estimates floating around the internet, and that’s probably what Pomeranz will end up with. I’d assume it’ll be a low base salary with tons of incentives, for what it’s worth.
Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?
In my mind, the Yankees desire for another starter is more akin to adding legitimate rotation depth than adding an actual starter. And, even with his injury issues and rocky 2018, I think that Pomeranz is all but a perfect fit for what the team could use. My rapid-fire reasoning:
- He’s had success in the AL East
- He’s a lefty
- His curveball is among the best in the game
- He has plenty of experience as a swingman
- He’ll come cheap
I wouldn’t expect Pomeranz to repeat his 2016 and 2017, but I think that 2018 can largely be chalked-up as a lost season. It doesn’t sound as though he was ever really healthy, and there are plenty of rumblings that the Red Sox rushed him back not once, but twice last year. Give him an off-season of rest, ease him into the team as a long-reliever, and have him be first in-line for a spot start. And I genuinely believe he can be an asset in such a role – he’ll be 30 for the entirety of the season, after all, so it feels too early to write him off.
We have nine questions in this week’s mailbag. Only three more of these until pitchers and catchers report and only five more until Grapefruit League games begin. Hooray for that. Send all your mailbag questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll answer as many as I can each week.
Tamir and Gai ask: Other than Robinson Cano’s 2008 season are there other comps of a player having one atrocious down year like Gary and then coming back as if nothing happened?
Oh sure. Robinson Cano is great example we’re all familiar with. He hit .314/.346/.489 (113 wRC+) with +7 WAR from 2005-07 then dropped to .270/.305/.410 (86 wRC+) and +0 WAR in 2008. Robbie looked like he forgot how to play baseball that year. Cano bounced back in 2009 and has been on the Hall of Fame track since. Too bad he won’t get in due to the performance-enhancing drug suspension.
Anyway, I went back to the turn of the century and searched for players who had a terrible second full MLB season (like Gary Sanchez) or a terrible third full MLB season (like Cano), then bounced back. Here are some examples, ignoring guys whose down year was the result of missing time to injury:
|Good Year||Down Year||Bounceback Year|
|Yoenis Cespedes||+4.0 WAR||+1.4 WAR||+4.1 WAR|
|Prince Fielder||+3.6 WAR||+1.5 WAR||+6.3 WAR|
|Eric Hosmer||+1.4 WAR||-0.5 WAR||+3.5 WAR|
||+4.3 WAR||+1.0 WAR||+5.5 WAR|
|Yadier Molina||+1.4 WAR||-0.2 WAR||+2.1 WAR|
|Stephen Piscotty||+3.0 WAR||+0.6 WAR||+2.8 WAR|
Several players, including Mike Moustakas and Jean Segura, had terrible second and third big league seasons before finding their way again in their fourth season. Repeat after me: Development is not linear. There are often bumps along the way.
Maybe Sanchez is bad forever now. It could happen. I am nowhere near ready to say that. Being a young catcher is really difficult because there is so much responsibility, plus Gary apparently played through some shoulder trouble last year, hence offseason surgery. Trust in the talent, trust that he can again do things you’ve already seen him do, and be patient.
Les asks: Should the Yankees consider trading Betances this year or risk the chance of re-signing him after the season. We all know the history between the two parties, mainly due to the publicized comments made by Randy Levine. It may be make it extremely difficult to re-sign him. I think it would be sad to see him leave without any real compensation, especially when the bullpen is the one area of the team where his loss could be tolerated.
I get what you’re saying. Potentially losing Dellin Betances for nothing more than a draft pick next offseason would stink — that’s if the Yankees make the qualifying offer too, which is hardly a given — but, when you’re the Yankees and you’re on the very short list of World Series contenders, I think you have to keep him. Betances is an impact reliever and the more good players on the roster, the better. It’s hard for me to see a scenario in which trading him makes the 2019 Yankees a better team.
I will say that the Adam Ottavino signing makes trading Betances a little more plausible. I’d still keep him, but now the Yankees are in better position to absorb the loss. They’d still have Ottavino, Zach Britton, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman. When you have those guys penciled into the bullpen, trading Betances to address another need, whether it’s on the MLB roster or in the farm system, is easier to swallow. I’d still keep him. The Yankees will need Dellin to get to where they want to go.
Brian asks: The Yankees decided Gardner was no longer a starter down the stretch and McCutchen was their starting LF. Is Gardner suddenly a starter again? Any chance that Frazier could force his way into replacing McCutchen as starting LF and force the Yankees to carry Gardy as a 5th OF (really a 4th since someone is probably at DH)? Could Ellsbury?
I don’t think Brett Gardner is going to be an everyday player this coming season. Not unless he’s playing too well to keep him out of the lineup. With Troy Tulowitzki seemingly locked in as the starting shortstop, my guess is Gardner is effectively platooning with DJ LeMahieu. Something like this:
- vs. RHP: Gardner in left, Andujar at third, Stanton at DH, LeMahieu on the bench
- vs. LHP: Stanton in left, LeMahieu at third, Andujar at DH, Gardner on the bench
The Yankees have to see Clint Frazier healthy and playing without restrictions before considering him for a big league role and I’m not sure he can accomplish that in Spring Training. Starting the season in Triple-A seems most likely. Frazier’s missed too much time to throw him right into an MLB role, I think.
My hunch is the master plan is using Gardner to hold down left field to start the season, at least against right-handed pitchers, then begin phasing him out for Frazier at midseason. If Clint’s health doesn’t cooperate, the Yankees could look outside the organization for outfield help a la Andrew McCutchen last year. As for Jacoby Ellsbury, who knows? He has to get healthy before we worry about him. I don’t think the Yankees plan on using Gardner as an everyday player though. Not unless he forces their hand or they get hit with injuries.
Ed asks: Doesn’t LeMahieu’s good OBP numbers against LHP’s give the Yankees another option at the top of the order?
Yes, and this is why I think LeMahieu plays third base against lefties, with Giancarlo Stanton in left field and Miguel Andujar at DH. LeMahieu hit .330/.360/.540 (124 wRC+) against lefties last season and is a career .313/.369/.445 (104 wRC+) hitter against lefties. Gotta get him in there against southpaws. The leadoff spot could work too as long as LeMahieu continues hitting like that against southpaws. I am on team #BatJudgeLeadoff but I don’t expect it to actually happen. If the plan is to squeeze Aaron Hicks between Aaron Judge and Stanton, then LeMahieu at leadoff is as good an option against lefties as the Yankees have, at least until Gleyber Torres forces the issue.
Alberto asks: How many assistant GMs does Brian Cashman have beside Jean Afterman?
Cashman has two assistant general managers, officially: Afterman and Mike Fishman. Afterman joined the Yankees in 2001 and she is the highest ranking woman in an MLB front office. She largely deals with contracts and legal matters, from what I understand. Fishman joined the Yankees in 2005 and more or less built the team’s analytical department from the ground up. The Yankees quietly gave him the assistant GM title a few years back.
Afterman and Fishman are Cashman’s only two official assistant general managers but he has a lot of lieutenants. Vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring effectively replaced current Angels GM Billy Eppler as Cashman’s right-hand man. Special assistant Jim Hendry seems to be involved in everything, including draft scouting and contract negotiations. Pro scouting director Dan Giese, player development director Kevin Reese, and quantitative analysis director David Grabiner are high enough up on the ladder that they were involved in manager interviews last offseason.
The “manager” part of “general manager” seems to get overlooked these days. Cashman oversees a lot of people — a lot of people — and they bring information to him, and they use it to collectively make a decision. It’s not like the wild west days when the general manager ran his own ship and made his own moves. The decision-making process is much more of a collaborative effort these days, all around baseball, and Cashman sits at the head of the table.
Alex asks: Given the lack of upper level catching prospects, how much does the organization miss Luis Torrens and what are the chances that the Padres’ gambit turns out to be worthwhile?
Following his 2017 big league stint as a Rule 5 Draft pick, the Padres sent Torrens to High-A last season, where he hit .280/.320/.406 (94 wRC+) in 122 games. It really feels like San Diego did the kid a disservice. I get that playing a year in the big leagues has real value. He also missed out on a lot of development time. Torrens received 139 plate appearances and caught only 310.2 innings in 2017. That’s after only 214 plate appearances and 440.2 innings at catcher from 2015-16 due to shoulder surgery. That is fewer than 400 plate appearances and 800 innings behind the plate from 2015-17, his age 19-21 seasons. How is that good for his development?
I understand the “get the talent while you can and figure it out later” aspect of all this, but it really feels like Torrens was put behind the 8-ball developmentally. That’s a shame. I hope he can overcome it. As for the Yankees, I’m not sure they miss Torrens because it’s unlikely he would’ve been a big league factor at this point, and they have a pretty good young catcher in Sanchez as it is. They don’t have Torrens as a trade chip, which stinks, but not having a top upper level catcher in the system doesn’t hurt as much when you have a guy like Gary in MLB.
Dave asks: Any thoughts for a Severino long term contract that would work for the Yankees and for Sevy? Maybe use one of the newfangled multi year options? Or is it just too soon since it’s his first year of arbitration?
Believe it or not, only one starting pitcher in the last nine years has signed an extension in his first year of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two: Gio Gonzalez. He signed a five-year, $42M contract with the Nationals back in 2012. At the time Gonzalez had eight fewer days of service time than Severino has right now, and Gio had 58% of the career WAR in 103% of the career innings. Between inflation and performance, Gonzalez’s contract doesn’t serve as a great benchmark for Severino.
We do know what Severino’s salary will be this coming season. It’ll be no less than $4.4M and no more than $5.25M, the salary filing figures. Could the Yankees build an extension around $40M for the four arbitration years (say $4M, $8M, $12M, $16M from 2019-22) and then $22M per free agent year? Let’s call it six years and $84M. Severino is seeking $5.25M this year, but, in exchange for the long-term deal and large guarantee (plus being able to hit free agency at age 30), the Yankees would presumably seek a discount up front.
Although I would like the Yankees to be a little more aggressive signing young players long-term, I can totally understand waiting on Severino and pitchers in general, only because there’s so much injury risk. The Yankees can afford to pay big arbitration raises and, if something terrible happens, they can walk away. It’s worth approaching Severino about an extension because you never know what’ll happen. He might be open to a big discount. His big filing number suggests otherwise.
Julian asks: Hall of Fame voters seem to always discredit Rockies players like Larry Walker because they played at Coors Field with high altitude. How come writers don’t discredit Yankees players for playing at a relatively small stadium?
It does seem like Rockies players get unfairly dinged for playing in Coors Field, doesn’t it? Obviously Coors Field boosts their numbers, there’s no doubt about it, but you’re right. We won’t hear anything about Derek Jeter playing in a small ballpark when he joins the Hall of Fame ballot next year. We didn’t hear anything about Trevor Hoffman playing in pitcher’s parks or Jim Thome playing in many hitter’s parks. It seems like we’ve gone too far with Coors Field. We’re punishing players too much. Consider Walker’s numbers:
- Coors Field: .381/.462/.710 (lol)
- Everywhere Else: .282/.371/.501
Those numbers outside Coors Field are really good! Ken Griffey Jr. is a career .284/.370/.538 hitter and he received the highest Hall of Fame voting percentage in history. Walker’s numbers outside Coors Field are on par with Griffey’s overall numbers, and only 31% of Walker’s career plate appearances came in Coors Field.
I’m not saying Walker was as good as Griffey. I’m just saying I think he’s being dinged too much for Coors Field — Walker’s voting percentage has topped out at 34.1% in his eight years on the Hall of Fame ballot — and it does feel like we hear more about park factors with Rockies players than all other players during Hall of Fame voting season. It’s disproportionate.
Tom asks: Did Sonny Gray agree to lower $$$ this year in order to facilitate a trade? Maybe the Yankees used that as a bargaining chip in order to get more interest/a higher return in a possible trade?
If Gray agreed to a lower salary to increase his trade value, he’s an idiot. He should look out for himself and only himself. He owes the Yankees nothing and that would be a thankless gesture. Sonny is one season away from free agency. If he’s that desperate to change teams, he can do it next offseason. He shouldn’t sell himself short financially to do it now. Get paid while you can because, these days, owners are doing everything in their power to reduce spending. I think Gray’s lower than projected salary has to do with the MLBTR model being a bit too optimistic with his arbitration case. I hope Sonny didn’t voluntarily take less money. His agent failed him spectacularly if that is that case.
Say what you want about what the Yankees have done this offseason — or, more accurately, what they haven’t done this offseason — but they have been one of the most active teams in baseball. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Red Sox have been very quiet while the Astros and Brewers have made one notable free agent signing (Michael Brantley and Yasmani Grandal) and done nothing else. The Yankees and Nationals have been busy. That’s about it.
The Yankees came into the offseason needing three starting pitchers and they brought in three starting pitchers. CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ were re-signed to sensible contracts and James Paxton came over in a trade with the Mariners. Those moves leave the Yankees with six viable big league starters, plus some depth options:
- Luis Severino
- James Paxton
- Masahiro Tanaka
- J.A. Happ
- CC Sabathia
- Sonny Gray
- Domingo German
- Jonathan Loaisiga
- Luis Cessa
- Chance Adams
That doesn’t include Jordan Montgomery, who is on the mend following Tommy John surgery and is due back sometime around the All-Star break. I wouldn’t count on him for anything only because it is not uncommon for pitchers to struggle when they first return from elbow reconstruction. Montgomery could give the Yankees a nice boost in the second half. I think it’s more likely he’s a 2020 option.
Anyway, German made the fifth most starts and threw the fifth most innings for the 2018 Yankees and now he’s seventh on the depth chart, with an option to go to Triple-A, and that’s pretty good. Most seventh starters around the league stink. If you have an young-ish power arm like German in that spot — with a guy like Loaisiga behind him — you’re in okay shape. The Yankees aren’t getting enough credit for their rotation, I don’t think. (FanGraphs has it third best in baseball.)
Even with five good to great big league starters plus some quality options behind them, the Yankees are still in the market for more rotation depth. Jon Heyman reports that, while the Yankees continue shopping Gray, they are also seeking another starting pitcher. We’ve heard nothing about the Yankees wanting another starter since re-signing Happ. Now, four weeks before camp, they want another starting pitcher. Three possibilities here.
1. They want a better sixth starter than Gray. The most likely scenario. The Yankees have made it clear they do not believe Gray can succeed in his current environment and, in that case, he doesn’t really qualify as rotation depth. Trading Gray, which is still very likely, and then picking up another sixth starter/swingman type strikes me as the most likely outcome. The Yankees figure to even save some money in the process.
2. They have something bigger in mind. The Yankees have been connected to Corey Kluber pretty much all winter. They could revisit those conversations with Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres as the centerpiece, then roll with a six-man rotation until someone pitches his way into the bullpen or gets hurt. It should be noted the Indians have shed considerable payroll in recent weeks and presumably aren’t as desperate to clear salary, meaning keeping Kluber is more viable than it was earlier this winter. This seems like the least likely scenario to me.
3. It is business as usual. Yeah, this is possible. The Yankees could be looking for another starting pitcher the same way every team is always looking for a starting pitcher. The day a general manager stops looking for ways to improve is the day he should be replaced. Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they weren’t scouring the market for possible upgrades, even if we are only talking about a potential sixth starter. This could all be nothing more than standard operating procedure.
* * *
Sabathia’s heart procedure and Gray’s ineffectiveness have made finding a reliable sixth starter a greater priority for the Yankees than it normally would be. Can they find a free agent willing to sign to be a sixth starter? It’s usually a last resort thing, and that goes double in Yankee Stadium. Who wants to sign a contract to be a sixth starter in a home run happy ballpark? It’s the last place I’d want to go.
At this point, I would be very surprised to see the Yankees swing something big, like trading for Kluber. They’ve been taking small nibbles all winter rather than great big bites. Spreading the money around is not my preferred strategy — especially for a team with the Yankees’ resources — but it can work. Trading for Kluber or signing Dallas Keuchel would run counter to that. Trading Gray and replacing him with a cheaper and possibly more reliable swingman is the most likely outcome to me.
In three weeks and six days Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa to begin Spring Training 2019. We are five weeks and two days away from the first Grapefruit League game. There are still a lot of free agents who have to sign between now and then — a lot of big name free agents, at that — but, soon enough, baseball will return. I can’t wait. I’m totally over the offseason.
The Yankees have, for the most part, handled all their offseason business. The rotation has been bolstered, Didi Gregorius has been replaced, and the bullpen has been shored up. There is always room for improvement, but, generally speaking, the Yankees are in good shape. FanGraphs currently projects them as the second best team in baseball, two games behind the Red Sox, and I’m not sweating a projected two-game difference in January.
Even with the roster largely set, there are still four weeks to go until camp opens, and that gives the Yankees some time to address any remaining items on their to-do list. It also gives them time to pounce on anything unexpected that comes their way. Here are six things the Yankees should look to get done before Spring Training (or shortly thereafter), in rough order of importance.
Monitor the Machado and Harper markets
Has to be done. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are still unsigned and it doesn’t seem like either player is particularly close to making a decision. As long as these two sit in free agency, the Yankees have to remain engaged in case something falls into their lap. Reports that the White Sox offered Machado seven years and $175M have been shot down several times over. Still, the offers can’t be that good if he and Harper are still unsigned.
If Machado and Harper continue to sit out on the market, I am confident Brian Cashman will lobby ownership to expand payroll and sign them, the same way he (successfully) lobbied for Mark Teixeira. Will ownership say yes? Who knows. I guess it depends on the contract terms. Point is, as long as Machado and Harper remain unsigned and this is their market, the Yankees owe it to themselves to stay involved. Not doing so would be negligent.
Find Another Reliever
The Yankees reportedly want two relievers this winter and so far they’ve only added one, re-signing Zach Britton two weeks ago. They could stand pat with their current bullpen. Britton, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder form about as strong a bullpen top five as you’ll find. Others like Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Tommy Kahnle, and Stephen Tarpley are interesting enough that giving them a chance is not unreasonable.
That said, the Yankees are built around their bullpen, and any additional depth they can add would surely come in handy. Remember, the Yankees had Britton and David Robertson in their bullpen late last season. Robertson’s gone and has not been replaced. Here, in my opinion, are the top unsigned free agent relievers:
- Craig Kimbrel
- Adam Ottavino
- Mariano Rivera
- Cody Allen
- Adam Warren
Eventually some team will show interest in Kimbrel, right? His market has been extremely quiet thus far. After Kimbrel there’s Ottavino, a fine fit for the Yankees, and a bunch of reclamation projects and third tier relievers. The free agent reliever market has thinned out quite a bit these last few weeks. Kimbrel and Ottavino are far and away the best available and I can’t see the Yankees splurging for Kimbrel. Ottavino? Maybe.
Either way, Kimbrel and Ottavino or no Kimbrel and Ottavino, the Yankees do have room in their bullpen for one more established reliever. They don’t necessarily need another high-leverage guy but hey, I’d take one. Someone to reduce the reliance on Kahnle bouncing back and Cessa or German figuring it out would be appreciated. Aside from keeping tabs on Machado and Harper, adding another reliever is the top priority right now.
Explore Contract Extensions
The Yankees signed eight of their nine arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts prior to the salary filing deadline last week. Now that that’s out of the way, the Yankees can begin to explore contract extensions with their impending free agents, specifically Betances, Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks. Those are three really important players! They’re under contract for 2019. That part is out of the way. Now they should discuss 2020 and beyond.
Because Betances, Gregorius, and Hicks all have one-year contracts in place for 2019, the Yankees can sign them to a multi-year extension that begins in 2020 without it changing their luxury tax number this year. Any raise would be pushed back a year for luxury tax purposes, which is helpful. Get them signed long-term without altering your short-term payroll. That’s why the one-year contract for 2019 was so important. It allows the extension to begin in 2020.
There are of course reasons to wait on extending these players. Betances is volatile, Gregorius is hurt, and Hicks seems like the type of player who could get screwed over in free agency. In a normal free agent market, seeking Lorenzo Cain and Dexter Fowler money (five years, $80M or so) would not be unreasonable. Look at what’s happening to A.J. Pollock though. What if he gets, say, three years and $45M? Doesn’t that change things for Hicks?
Keep in mind this applies to players who aren’t impending free agents too. The Yankees have a lot of young and talented players. Why not see what Aaron Judge wants for a long-term contract? Or Luis Severino? Or Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and James Paxton? There is less urgency to extend players with team control remaining beyond 2019. It never hurts to ask though. Maybe someone is willing to sign cheap to lock in the guaranteed payday.
Late-January through March is extension season. That’s usually when we see teams lock up their young players. Maybe the league-wide unwillingness to spend money will change that and we’ll see fewer extensions than usual. For the Yankees, three important players are due to become free agents after the season and at some point they have to engage them in contract talks. The sooner, the better. At the very least, they have to find out what their contract demands are so they can plan accordingly.
Try To Settle With Severino
Severino is the one arbitration-eligible player the Yankees did not sign prior to last week’s salary filing deadline. He’s seeking $5.25M while the Yankees countered with $4.4M. Seems to me the Yankees will have an easier time defending their number. All signs point to the Yankees and Severino going to an arbitration hearing at some point in February. Supposedly all 30 teams are “file and trial” these days, meaning they cut off contract talks once the two sides file salary figures.
An arbitration hearing is not the end of the world. They can be contentious but they don’t have to ruin relationships long-term. The Yankees and Betances went to a hearing in 2017 and they had no trouble hammering out contracts the last two years. Back in the day the Yankees went to arbitration with Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter, and everything turned out fine. The Red Sox and Mookie Betts went to a hearing last year. They’re all good. It’s not the end of the world.
That said, avoiding an arbitration hearing is preferable, which is why players and teams work so hard to get a deal done before the salary filing deadline. The midpoint between the filing figures is the logical place to start when seeking a settlement. Can the Yankees and Severino agree to $4.825M for 2019? How much wiggle room is there? Bottom line, avoiding a hearing is preferable. The Yankees and Severino should try again to see if it’s possible.
There are still a ton of free agents looking for work this coming season. Guys like Machado, Harper, Kimbrel, Ottavino, Pollock, and Dallas Keuchel will be fine. They’ll get paid at some point. Maybe not as much as they were expecting a few months ago, but they’ll be set for life. What about guys like Warren though? Or Neil Walker? Logan Forsythe, Derek Dietrich, Francisco Liriano, so on and so forth? Those guys might be in trouble.
In this current free agent climate, February and March will be a great time to bargain shop because many players will be desperate to sign. That’s exactly how the Yankees landed Walker last season. I hate that it’s come to this for the players. It is what it is though. The Yankees have some open bullpen spots and still an open bench spot even after signing DJ LeMahieu. Scouring the free agent market for bargains as Spring Training draws closer is an obvious move. There could be some real nice depth pieces available on the cheap.
Trade Sonny Gray
My hunch is trading Gray is higher up the Yankees’ priority list than I have it. They seem done with him, and unloading his $7.5M salary frees them up to do other things, like sign Ottavino. I’m fine with bringing Sonny to Spring Training though. It might be a little awkward, but whatever. You can never have enough pitching depth, and all it takes is one spring injury to rekindle trade talks. Hey, maybe the Yankees lose a starter to injury and need Gray for the rotation. That would be kinda funny. Sonny saves the Yankees with 180 innings of 3.25 ERA ball.
But yeah, the Yankees are pretty much done with Gray. They want him gone and have not been shy about saying it. It is (very) surprising to me this has dragged on so long. The sooner the Yankees can move Gray, the sooner everyone can move on from this weird situation. A trade is best for everyone. The Yankees clear payroll and get a player(s) in return and Gray gets a fresh start. I’m okay with keeping Sonny around a little longer. I also think the Yankees want him gone and soon, so get it done.
One year later, the Yankees still employ the best quarterback in New York. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will again join the Yankees in Spring Training this year, his agent told Jon Morosi. The Yankees haven’t announced a schedule or confirmed anything yet. That’ll happen soon enough.
Last spring the Yankees acquired Wilson’s baseball rights from the Rangers so they could bring him to camp and have him spend time with their young players. Even though he plays a different sport, Wilson is an elite athlete with knowledge to share, and he’s long been regarded as a high-character guy. He has a lot to offer.
Wilson played some baseball in college at North Carolina State. The Rockies drafted him in the fourth round in 2010 and he played two years in their farm system, hitting .229/.366/.342 (105 wRC+) with five homers in 93 Single-A games from 2010-11. He gave up baseball after the Seahawks drafted him in the third round in 2012.
The Rockies retained Wilson’s baseball rights after he started his football career. The Rangers selected him in the minor league phase of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and brought him to camp one year as a motivational speaker. The Yankees got him for future considerations last spring and here we are.
Wilson, a second baseman back in the day, spent five days with the Yankees last spring, during which he worked out with the team and hung out in the dugout during games. After clearing it with the Seahawks, the Yankees gave Wilson an at-bat in a Grapefruit League game. Remember this?
(If you’re wondering about the roster mechanics, Wilson spent last year on the minor league restricted list. He didn’t take up a roster spot or anything like that.)
Garrett Whitlock | RHP
Whitlock, 22, grew up outside Atlanta in Snellville, Georgia. He played four years of baseball at Providence Christian Academy and posted a 0.62 ERA as a senior. Despite that, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2015 draft, and he went undrafted out of high school. Whitlock followed through on his commitment to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
As a freshman with the Blazers in 2016, Whitlock worked almost exclusively in relief, throwing 51 innings with a 3.00 ERA and a 46/21 K/BB. He made one start and 24 relief appearances. Whitlock headed to the Cape Cod League for summer ball and struck out eight in six shutout innings for the Chatham Anglers. Given his limited workload, it should be no surprise Whitlock did not make Jim Callis’ top ten Cape Cod League prospects that year.
Whitlock moved into the rotation as a sophomore in 2017 and in fact he drew UAB’s Opening Day start. He got off to an excellent start to the season before suffering a back strain that sent him to the sidelines for a while, and pushed him into a relief role when he returned. His effectiveness waned and Whitlock finished the spring with a 4.03 ERA and 44/24 K/BB in 60 innings. Not the breakout year he was hoping to put together.
Because he turned 21 within 45 days of the draft, Whitlock was draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2017, and Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him the 331st best prospect in the draft class. The Yankees selected him in the 18th round (542nd overall) and paid him an above-slot $247,500 bonus*. Whitlock had leverage because, as a draft-eligible sophomore, he could return to school for his junior year and reenter the draft in 2018.
* Every dollar over $125,000 given to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the bonus pool, so Whitlock came with a $122,500 bonus pool charge.
Whitlock signed on draft signing deadline day, so he didn’t get many innings under his belt during his pro debut in 2017. He allowed seven runs in 14.1 rookie ball innings split between the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League. On the bright side, Whitlock struck out 22 and walked zero in those 14.1 innings. Not much to his pro debut.
The Yankees sent Whitlock to Low-A Charleston to begin last season and he carved up South Atlantic League hitters, throwing 40 innings with a 1.13 ERA (2.27 FIP) and strong strikeout (29.7%), walk (4.7%), and ground ball (62.0%) rates. A promotion to High-A Tampa followed. Whitlock had a 2.44 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 70 innings with Tampa. His strikeout (25.1%), walk (9.2%), and grounder (50.5%) rates were solid.
A two-appearance cameo with Double-A Trenton was uneven (10.2 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 4 K) — Whitlock actually jumped from Low-A to Double-A for a spot start in April — and Whitlock finished his first full pro season with a 1.86 ERA (3.01 FIP) in 120.2 total innings. The strikeout (24.9%), walk (8.4%), and ground ball (53.0%) numbers were good. His 1.86 ERA was fourth lowest among the 510 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the minors in 2018.
The Yankees bet an 18th round pick and a $247,500 bonus on Whitlock returning to form as he got further away from the back injury and that’s exactly what happened. This past season the right-hander showed the same low-to-mid-90s sinking two-seam fastball he had as a freshman and on the Cape, and the Yankees also had him start throwing four-seam fastballs up in the zone to change eye levels.
Whitlock boasts two solid secondary pitches in his power slider and changeup. The Yankees have helped him gain consistency with his slider, which sometimes looked like a slider and sometimes looked like a curveball in college. Now it is a slider, definitively. The changeup is a quality pitch as well and allows him to neutralize left-handed batters. Whitlock is a true-four pitch pitcher with a four-seamer, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup.
On the durability front, Whitlock has had no injury problems aside from his poorly timed back strain during his sophomore season at UAB — he might’ve been a top five rounds pick with a healthy back that spring — and he has plenty of size (6-foot-5 and 190 lbs.). Enough that you could see him adding velocity should he add a little more muscle.
After ripping through two levels of Single-A ball last season, Whitlock is all but certain to begin the 2019 season with Double-A Trenton. I have to think the Yankees are hoping he can pitch his way up to Triple-A Scranton at some point as well. Half a season in Trenton and half a season in Scranton would be ideal. I’d bet against Whitlock making his MLB debut this year — he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft purposes until the 2020-21 offseason — but don’t be surprised if the Yankees bring him to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
I really like Whitlock. The Yankees have become quite good at developing mid-to-late round arms (Chance Adams, Cody Carroll, Jordan Montgomery, Josh Rogers, Caleb Smith, Taylor Widener, etc.) into big league pieces or trade chips, and Whitlock appears to belong in that mix. He has a deep enough arsenal and good enough control to start, which is quite valuable even if he’s only a back-end guy. In relief, he could really be something. Part of me wonders whether Whitlock is more trade chip than big league option because he’s not a huge velocity guy and the Yankees usually steer clear of middling velocity righties. Either way, what a get in the 18th round.