Via Jon Heyman: The Diamondbacks and Eric Chavez have agreed to a new contract. No word on the terms, but it’s probably a one-year deal worth a couple million bucks. Chavez hit nine homers with a 114 wRC+ in 254 plate appearances for Arizona this past season.
The Yankees reportedly had interest in bringing Chavez back earlier this offseason, before signing Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts. The team still needs infield help but it appears they will wait for the ruling in Alex Rodriguez’s appeal to be handed down before making another position player move. They also need a right-handed hitter; there are enough lefties on the roster as is. Chavez was an option for the Yankees but not a great fit. · (24) ·
Shane Greene | RHP
Greene is from the Orlando suburb of Clermont. He played both baseball and basketball at East Ridge High School but wasn’t much of a pro prospect, so he went undrafted in 2007 and followed through on his commitment to the University of West Florida. Greene was a mop-up as a freshman, pitching to a 7.71 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 17 walks in 28 innings spread across four spot starts and eight relief appearances. He blew out his elbow late in the season and had Tommy John surgery in May 2008.
The Argos took his scholarship away following the injury, so Greene transferred to Daytona Beach Community College. He didn’t pitch as a sophomore and wasn’t on the draft radar at all. Greene was throwing a bullpen session at his high school when he asked a Yankees scout (who was there to see someone else) to watch him throw and put in a good word with the University of Central Florida. The team ended up bringing him to Tampa for a workout three weeks before the draft.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Greene as one of the 80 best prospects in Florida prior to the 2009 draft following his lost year. The Yankees liked what they saw during the workout enough to select him in the 15th round (465th overall) even though he had not pitched in an actual game in over a year. He signed relatively quickly for $100k, below the maximum $150k slot recommendation for picks after the fifth round under the old system.
Once it became clear that they weren’t making progress with Robinson Cano, the Yankees acted. They moved quickly on Jacoby Ellsbury, but weren’t quite done yet. As Newsday’s David Lennon said, the Yankees were ready to act the night before Cano signed with Seattle. Once the signing was confirmed, it was pretty obvious that they’d sign a hitter in short order. When we learned that hitter was Carlos Beltran, it was no surprise. The Yankees had been linked to Beltran not only earlier this off-season, but also in 2011 and 2004. The fit seemed obvious.
Yet it appears Beltran might not have been the Yankees’ top choice. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan shares an anecdote that shines a different light on the situation.
In the aftermath of Robinson Cano’s defection to Seattle, New York presented Choo a seven-year, $140 million deal, three sources outside the Yankees’ organization told Yahoo Sports. When Boras countered asking for more money – one source indicated he wanted “Ellsbury money,” or $153 million over seven years – the Yankees pulled the offer and signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal.
With four starting outfielders now in the fold, it’s unlikely that the Yankees will get back into Choo talks. It wouldn’t seem a wise use of resources, given the needs of the pitching staff. But it’s interesting to see that the Yankees were willing to spend $20 million per year for seven years on Choo, rather than the $15 million per year for three years on Beltran.
It might seem foolish to turn down such money, but Boras is known for doing right by his clients. Chances are Choo will stay on the market for the time being; with at least a half dozen, and more realistically a dozen, teams pursuing Masahiro Tanaka, there could be a few losers with money to spend. At that point, one of them will probably ante up “Ellsbury money” to get the deal done.
I was planning to write one of these thoughts posts this week anyway, but at least yesterday’s activity gives me a decent title. The Yankees agreed to sign both second baseman Brian Roberts (one-year, $2M) and left-hander Matt Thornton (two years, $7M), two moves that put a small dent in a lengthy offseason wish list. They still need a third baseman, a starting pitcher, another reliever (preferably two), and general depth. Here are some nuggets for the time being.
1. The Roberts signing really doesn’t accomplish much in my opinion. You can’t count on him to stay healthy and even if he does manage to stay healthy, there’s no guarantee he’ll be any good. Gotta hope his .284/.327/.441 (109 wRC+) line against left-handers this past season was legit and not just noise from a 110 plate appearance sample because his .249/.312/.392 (90 wRC+) overall line was pretty mediocre. Everyone loves those high-risk, high-reward signings, but I think Roberts is better described as low-risk, low-reward. The Yankees are said to be seeking more infield help and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure they actually added any yesterday.
2. Thornton, on the other hand, is a real nice pickup as long as Joe Girardi uses him as a true lefty specialist and doesn’t force him out there against righties. He was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball once upon a time but that is no longer the case. Thornton has been better than Boone Logan against same-side hitters these last few years (doesn’t strike out as many but also gives up fewer extra-base hits) and the Yankees landed him for less than half the total cost. Heck, they got him for less than J.P. Howell (two years, $11.5M). Everyone wants a lefty reliever who can handle both lefties and righties, but there aren’t many of those guys around. As long as Girardi keeps him away from righties, Thornton should be very useful.
3. At some point soon, the Yankees will need to open 40-man roster spots for Roberts, Thornton, and the still not officially signed Carlos Beltran. Vernon Wells and David Huff stand out as obvious candidates to be taken off the roster, but after them? I have no idea. Ramon Flores and Nik Turley could end up going, but the latter would surely get plucked off waivers since he has minor league options remaining and is both left-handed and breathing. It seems unlikely Eduardo Nunez will go because the team isn’t in the position to give away middle infield depth. Maybe they’re working on dumping Ichiro Suzuki for some salary relief, which would also clear a spot. Either way, the Yankees have a serious roster crunch at the moment.
4. Grant Balfour (two years, $15M with the Orioles) and Jose Veras (one year, $4M with the Cubs) signed with new teams yesterday and both guys made a ton of sense for the Yankees, especially on those terms. Those are pretty sweet contracts, more than reasonable in this market. Both guys were handed the closer’s role by their new teams though, so this isn’t a simple “they should have matched the offers” situation. David Robertson should get the ninth inning next season for reasons Joe outlined over the weekend, but damn, I would have loved to see the Yankees add Balfour and/or Veras on those deals.
5. The Yankees have committed just under $231M to five outfielders over the last calendar year (Ichiro, Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran), which is mind-blowing. Only one of them is younger than 35 and only one (Beltran) feels like a lock to post an .800+ OPS next year as well. Sure, Soriano could do it, but he needed that huge finish with New York to finish with a .791 OPS this past season. He turns 38 next month and, as Ichiro and David Justice showed, big finishes following a midseason trade don’t always carry over to the next season. The point of this is … I dunno. I guess that the team has spent a ton of money on outfield help over the last year and didn’t get a whole lot of offensive help in return.
6. This crossed my mind the other day and I figured I’d bring it up here: how long will it be before another homegrown Yankee tops a .900 OPS while playing a full season/qualifying for the batting title? The last five guys to do it were Robinson Cano (2010 and 2012), Jorge Posada (2003 and 2007), Derek Jeter (1999 and 2006), Bernie Williams (1996-2002), and Don Mattingly (1984-1987), so it’s not exactly a common occurrence. Gary Sanchez is a possibility but the kid is 21 with only 23 games of experience above Single-A. Hard to pin it on him. There’s no obvious candidate. Could it be another ten years (the gap between Mattingly and Bernie) before it happens again? Fifteen? Five?
Dec. 17th: According to Ronald Blum, the Yankees were hit with a $28,113,945 luxury tax bill for the 2013 season. They finished the year with a $237,018,889 payroll, the highest in baseball history. (The Dodgers were only $146,647 behind New York.) Checks are due January 21st. Oh, and by the way, Maury Brown reports MLB’s annual revenues topped $8 billion for the first time in 2013. The game is healthier and teams are wealthier than ever before.
Sept. 11th: Via Bob Nightengale: The Yankees are currently looking at a record $29.1M luxury tax bill after the season. That is based off a $236.2M payroll and is not yet final. The luxury tax is officially calculated after the season and team payroll could still go up or down depending on trades (Brendan Ryan!) and call-ups and whatnot these next two weeks. The Dodgers ($9.9M) are the only other team facing the luxury tax this year.
The Yankees are taxed 50% on every dollar over the $178M threshold, which climbs to $189M next year. As you know, the team is trying like hell to get under that number and save both luxury tax and revenue sharing money down the road. Assuming that $29.1M number doesn’t change much, the Yankees will have paid over $253M in tax since the system was implemented in 2003. The rest of baseball will have paid just $32M or so. The Steinbrenners have shelled out $19.3M, $13.9M, $18M, and $25.7M in luxury tax in the three previous seasons. · (51) ·
The Yankees agreed to deals with Brian Roberts (one-year, $2M) and Matt Thornton (two years, $7M) today, and, according to Jeff Passan, the team’s internal calculations currently have them sitting on a $178M-ish payroll for next season. That assumes Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for all of 2014. I have them at $188.2M following today’s signings, so there’s a discrepancy but a relatively small one. I had to make a lot of assumptions and I tend to be conservative. Given their still long list of needs (third baseman, starting pitcher, at least one reliever), staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold just isn’t happening without a trade to free up some cash (Brett Gardner? Ichiro Suzuki?). Hooray for that.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local pro team in action, so there’s not a whole lot going on. Talk about that games, today’s moves, potential future moves, whatever. Go nuts.
Via Emily Smith: A multi-million dollar deal for Alex Rodriguez’s tell-all book is in the works. HarperCollins and Random House are two big name publishers looking to secure the rights, with offers topping $5M. There’s even talk about a documentary. The book will focus on A-Rod’s legal battle stemming from the Biogenesis scandal and will feature “full dirt of Major League Baseball’s tactics,” according to Smith. I feel like this will either be the greatest thing ever or a total letdown. No middle ground. · (60) ·
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have expressed interest in free agent utility man Jeff Baker. They’ve been connected to him a few times over the years but never did land him. New York added Brian Roberts earlier today and are still looking for position player help, particularly on the infield.
Baker, 32, hit .279/.360/.545 (143 wRC+) with eleven homers in only 175 plate appearances for the Rangers last season while missing more than a month with a thumb sprain suffered during a high-five (not joking). The right-handed batter has a history of mashing lefties (186 wRC+ in 2013 and 128 career), plus he has experience at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. Baker fits the roster really well in a platoon role. Makes a lot of sense. · (57) ·
Jack Curry of YES reports that the Yankees have signed left-handed reliever Matt Thornton to a two-year, $7 million contract. It might seem as though he replaces Boone Logan, who recently signed a three-year deal with the Rockies, but Thornton probably isn’t the setup man we saw the past few years in Chicago. Today his value is more as a lefty specialist.
A former first-round pick (Seattle in 1998), Thornton struggled upon promotion to the big leagues. In Spring Training 2006 the Mariners swapped him for fellow first-round disappointment Joe Borchard. The White Sox easily got the better of that deal, as Thornton blossomed into an effective reliever who worked his way into late-inning roles.* From 2008 through 2010 Thoronton threw 200 innings with a 2.70 ERA, which amounted to the third-highest bWAR in that time frame among relievers (Mariano Rivera, of course, was first).
*White Sox GM Rick Hahn, then the assistant GM, spoke to a room of FanGraphs writers in 2010; Mike and I were both in the audience. In talking about why Thornton succeeded in Chicago after failing in Seattle, Hahn said that they didn’t try to make Thornton into a pitcher he wasn’t. Paraphrased, Hahn said, “He told us he wanted to throw the ball as hard as he could right down the fuckin’ middle, so we let him.” It sure seemed to work.
In recent years Thornton has slipped quite a bit. At a time when strikeout rates have risen his has fallen, from a peak of 12 per nine in 2010, to 6.2 per nine last year. That production dip has come mostly against right-handed hitters. After holding them to a .254 wOBA in 2010, he grew worse in each of the last three years, all the way to a .370 wOBA against righties in 2013. It is pretty apparent now that Thornton is a lefty-only guy, making him a bit less versatile than Logan, who played more of a full-inning setup role during his final two years in New York.
Through the years Thornton has remained durable, serving just two DL stints since suffering a herniated disc all the way back in 2003. The first was for forearm soreness in 2010, which is always cringe-worthy. Obviously he’s avoided the dreaded Tommy John Surgery that often follows such a diagnosis. His other stint was last summer, with an abdominal strain. They happen, though it can’t be encouraging. The Yanks will need Thorton at full strength to make a difference.
This signing will not end the Yankees’ search for bullpen help. Joel Sherman notes that they also want to add a late-inning reliever. Given the risk with the Thornton signing, they might prefer Joaquin Benoit to the injured Jesse Crain. Who knows: maybe they’ll go nuts and sign both. But whatever the case, as with Roberts, Thornton is a complementary signing. They still have a ways to go, even as far as bullpen construction goes.
It took a few weeks, but MLB and NPB finally ratified the new posting system agreement yesterday. Instead of the old auction-based system, Japanese players will essentially become free agents with a “release fee” that serves as a tax. The release fee is set by the player’s NPB team and can not exceed $20M. Whoever signs the player has to pay the release fee. Simple enough, right?
Now that the new posting system is in place, the Rakuten Golden Eagles can officially post right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. It’s unclear if that will actually happen at this point but there’s a chance we’ll get an answer this week. Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana said he will speak to Tanaka this week before determining the next step. Needless to say, the club came into the winter expecting to receive a lot more than $20M for the best pitcher in the country.
The Yankees were reportedly ready to make a big run at Tanaka before the new posting system threw a wrench into things, but the expectation is they will still push hard if he is made available. Pitchers of this caliber at this age (25) are not available for nothing but money all that often. New York won’t be the only team after Tanaka if he is posted though. The competition should be pretty fierce since every team can talk to him without having to pay the release fee. Here is a look at the Yankees’ primary competition for the righty.
Rakuten Golden Eagles
Like I said, there is no guarantee Tanaka will be posted. Sponichi (translated article) reports Rakuten will try to talk their ace into returning next year, mostly because they’re a championship-caliber team (they won the Japan Series a few weeks ago) and can make another revenue-generating title run with him in 2014 before posting him next winter. They would risk having an unhappy superstar but more importantly risk him getting hurt, which would lead to no release fee next winter and a missed opportunity. Tanaka won’t be available until the Golden Eagles say the magic words, and my hunch is that even though they were screwed over by the new posting system, they’ll make him available because the alternative is too risky.
According to Ken Rosenthal, Tanaka is the D’Backs top target as they look to add an ace. GM Kevin Towers scaled back a bit while speaking to Jack Magruder recently, saying if “for some reason he becomes posted, we’ll circle back.” When push comes to shove, Arizona doesn’t have the ability to compete in a big time bidding war. Tanaka is likely out of their price range.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox already have six starters and they reportedly don’t have a ton of payroll space to work with this winter, plus Alex Speier (subs. req’d) says they only view Tanaka as a number three starter at best. That could be a ruse, of course. We can’t rule them out completely, but Boston seems like an unlikely suitor for the right-hander.
Bruce Levine says the Cubs will be in on Tanaka and they have the financial wherewithal to make a serious run at him. A young, high-end starter would be quite the addition to their rebuilding club. The Cubbies would have to sell Tanaka on the idea of joining a clear non-contender who hasn’t won anything in more than a century, which may not be easy if the money if their contract offer doesn’t blow everyone else’s out of the water.
Los Angeles Angels
After coming into the winter with minimal payroll space, GM Jerry Dipoto has cleared enough cash through trades (dumping Mark Trumbo, specifically) and non-tenders to make a run at a pricey starter. Dipoto told Jerry Crasnick the team will “remain patient and abide by the rules” until Tanaka is posted (meaning they won’t talk about him publicly), at which point they will have “a lot of conversation about it.” The Halos have some money to spend but they’ve taken a more disciplined approach to this offseason after spending big in recent years. Another huge signing may not be in the cards.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Surprisingly, the Dodgers appear to be lukewarm on Tanaka — Bill Shaikin says they are interested but not at any cost. Given their super-deep pockets and desire to add another starter, we can’t count them out. Not even close. Keep in mind that the team has a long history of bringing players over from Asia, most notably Hideo Nomo, Kaz Ishii, Takashi Saito, Hiroki Kuroda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have a ton of money, they’re in position to win a title as soon as 2014, there’s a big Japanese community in Los Angeles, and the travel back to Japan is as easy as it gets from an MLB city. There’s an obvious fit if the team wants to enter the fray.
The Mariners didn’t give Robinson Cano a ten-year contract with the intention of doing nothing else this winter. They’re pursuing David Price but do not want to part with top prospect Taijuan Walker, so Tanaka is an obvious alternative. The team has plenty of ties to Japan, including their ownership group (Nintendo!), former players like Ichiro Suzuki and Kenji Johjima, and current players like Hisashi Iwakuma, who was Tanaka’s teammate with Rakuten from 2007-2011. Like Los Angeles, Seattle has a big Japanese community and travel back to Japan is relatively easy. After dropping all that money on Cano, we can’t rule the Mariners out.
T.R. Sullivan says the Rangers will reach out to Tanaka if he is posted, but they do not expect to sign him. There is no such thing as too much pitching, but their priority right now is adding another outfield bat, not another starter.
* * *
Plenty of contending (or wannabe contending teams) need a starter like Tanaka but a bunch simply can’t afford him at this point. The Orioles, Braves, Reds, Giants, Royals, Blue Jays, Indians, and Pirates fit into this group. The Tigers, Cardinals, and Nationals have not been connected to him at all this winter either. The Yankees have the ability to outspend everyone if they choose, but the competition for Tanaka is going to be stiff if he is posted. The Dodgers, Cubs, and Mariners stand out as the biggest threats.