Thoughts on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement

The Commish. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)
The Commish. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)

Last night, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will run from 2017-21. Baseball’s unprecedented streak of labor peace has been extended to 26 years. Back in the day nearly every CBA negotiation was met with some sort of work stoppage. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the new CBA and what it means for the Yankees.

1. First things first: I’m relieved MLB and the MLBPA hammered out the new deal, though I never expected it to get to the point of a work stoppage. There were no outstanding issues worth doing something that extreme. At worst, I thought the two sides would agree to continue negotiating beyond last night’s “deadline” while operating under the terms of the old CBA. I’m glad this is over though. It was hanging over everything this offseason. Now we can forget all about the CBA stuff and focus on the Hot Stove season and next week’s Winter Meetings.

2. As expected, the luxury tax threshold has been increased, though not by a whole lot, and that’s a big win for the owners. It’s going to slow down payroll inflation, in theory. The threshold will increase a mere $9M over the next two years, going from $189M in 2016 to $195M in 2017 to $198M in 2018. That’s obviously important for the Yankees, who are dead set on getting under the threshold at some point soon. The 2018 season, with the $198M threshold, seems like the year to do it. Hal Steinbrenner has indicated that’s the goal. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez will be off the books by then, possibly Masahiro Tanaka as well, which will give the Yankees much more flexibility. We don’t know exactly what getting under the threshold means with the new CBA — I assume the tax rate resets, but is that it? — though at least now we have a target number. The goal is $198M in 2018.

3. The free agent compensation rules are much more lenient. A team over the luxury tax threshold has to give up their second rounder, fifth rounder, and $1M in international bonus money to sign a qualified free agent. The draft picks aren’t a big deal. I don’t think any team will hesitate to give up their second round pick to add a quality player. The expected return on a second rounder is pretty small. Losing the associated draft pool money stinks, but even that isn’t a huge deal. Using the 2016 slot numbers, New York’s first rounder had a $2.442M pool value. Their second plus fifth rounders had a $1.382M pool value. See? Not a big deal. This is close to a true free agency. I can’t imagine we’ll see any players get hung out to dry a la Ian Desmond last year because no team wants to give up their second rounder and fifth rounder, plus $1M in international money. That would be silly. (Teams under the luxury tax threshold, which is most of them, only have to give up their third rounder.) This is much better for MLBPA.

4. The hard cap on international bonus pools — losing that $1M to sign a free agent is much more meaningful with a hard cap, though I still don’t think it’s much of a deterrent — really stinks. Especially since it’s only $5M to $6M, which is nothing. Individual players were getting more than that the last few years. This system ensures no top international amateur will be paid as well as a top U.S. amateur who goes through the draft. The only people who benefit from an international hard cap is the owners. That’s it. It stinks for the teams because they can’t spend as freely — the teams that invest the most in scouting and state of the art facilities may have an even bigger advantage luring premium talent going forward — and it really stinks for the players, who now have their earning potential extremely limited. Make no mistake, this is a cost-cutting move, not a competitive balance move. The biggest international spender this year was the Padres. The Royals, Pirates, and Indians were among the top spenders in 2011, the year before the bonus pools were implemented. The hard cap is a result of the owners wanting to save money, and since international amateurs are not union members, the MLBPA has no problem collectively bargaining away their rights. This bites. The international kids got hosed big time. This isn’t any better than international draft for the players. It might be worse.

4.5. The only thing I do like about the new international system is that every team gets the same bonus pool. There are too many rewards for being bad in baseball. Now that teams know they’re getting the same international bonus pool now matter how many games they lose, there’s less of an incentive to be bad. Now that much less, but less.

Sorry Joe, no 26th roster spot to play around with. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Sorry Joe, no 26th roster spot to play around with. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

5. I’m so glad the roster rules are staying the same. No 26th man, no weird September rules. I get why the union wants the 26th man — that’s 30 new full-time jobs around the league — and I do think that’s coming in the future, especially with starters not pitching deep into games anymore and teams needing more innings from their bullpen. Maybe the 26th man is added as part of the next CBA in five years. As for the September rules, I am very pro roster expansion, so I’m happy that’s staying the same. Reward the teams with depth and reward the minor leaguers who had strong seasons. As long as every team has the opportunity to call up 40 players in September, the system is fair to me. If one team calls up ten players and another calls up three, whatever. That’s their decision. Hooray for 25-man rosters and hooray for September call-ups.

6. The elimination of the Performance Factor in the revenue sharing system is huge news for Hal and the Yankees. Wendy Thurm explained how it works a few years ago. In a nutshell, there’s the general revenue sharing pool, plus a supplemental pool based on market size and revenues. Because the Yankees are in the biggest market and generate the most revenue, they were paying a ton into that supplemental pool. That’s gone now. As long as the Yankees stick to the luxury tax threshold, all the revenue sharing money they’re saving won’t be put back into the team, so it won’t have much of an impact on the field. Behind the scenes though, my goodness. The elimination of the Performance Factor will save them tens of millions of dollars a year. Remember, they Yankees paid $90M+ into revenue sharing in 2014 and 2015. Not combined, $90M+ each year. It’s a significant chunk of change. (This, by the way, is the new CBA’s way of dealing with small market teams that pocket revenue sharing. The Yankees no longer have to pay into the supplemental pool and the small market clubs no longer take from it. Less revenue sharing dollars for them.)

7. One thing that hasn’t changed as far as we know: service time rules. Players are still going to kept in the minors just long enough for teams to gain that extra year of control, which stinks. The best players should be in MLB when they’re ready, not when it’s most convenient to the team. I’m not sure how this problem could be solved — teams are always going to find a way to manipulate service time to their advantage — and maybe the best possible solution is the current system. It takes only eleven days in the minors to delay free agency a year. That gets the player to the show pretty quickly, as we saw with Kris Bryant last year.

8. Okay, now for the Yankees. Now that the CBA is done, I suspect we’re going to see the team really get down to business. They have a history of targeting the free agent they want and making an aggressive offer for a quick strike, and since they’re said to really want one of the top free agent relievers, my guess is they’re gearing up for a run at someone very soon. Probably Aroldis Chapman. That’s something that could come together pretty quickly now that the free agent compensation rules (not that they apply to Chapman, I’m just saying in general) and luxury tax thresholds are in place. I’m sure other big market teams have been operating the same way. They wanted to see the new CBA before committing big dollars anywhere. Now that the CBA is done, the Yankees and Dodgers and Red Sox and whoever else can begin to move forward with their offseason plans in earnest.

9. What are those plans, exactly? I think the Yankees are looking to add three things right now. One, a top reliever. Duh. Two, a veteran bat to plug in at DH, and I think they want to limit it to a short-term deal to ensure they can get under the luxury tax threshold soon. And three, a starting pitcher. A young one would be preferable. If the Yankees can’t get a young starter, I think they’ll make a serious run at Rich Hill despite his obvious red flags. He’s the only free agent starter who qualifies as an impact pitcher. The guy dominates when healthy. The Yankees will just have to hope they get Hill for 180 innings a year and not 80. I’m on the fence about Hill and right now I lean no. That feels like a move a win-now team makes, not a team in transition, but what do I know? Either way, things are going to start happening now. I’m sure of it.

Reports: MLB, MLBPA agree to new Collective Bargaining Agreement

Manfred. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)
Manfred. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)

Baseball’s unprecedented streak of labor peace will continue. According to multiple reports, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The new deal covers five years.

“I want to thank the Players for working diligently for more than a year to negotiate an agreement that, when finalized, will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow,” said union chief and ex-Yankee Tony Clark in a statement.

The current CBA was set to expire at midnight tonight. That was not a hard deadline — the two sides could have agreed to continue negotiating while operating under the current CBA terms — but neither MLB nor the MLBPA wanted to drag this out longer than necessary. The owners floated the possibility of a lockout, which struck me as nothing more than posturing.

Full and final terms of the new CBA are still unknown, and based on how this has worked in the past, the details will trickle in over the next few days and weeks. Here’s what we know right now:

  • Free Agent Compensation: Teams over the luxury tax threshold will give up their second and fifth round picks as well as $1M in international bonus money to sign a qualified free agent. Teams below the threshold only have to surrender their third rounder. These rules take effect next offseason. [Ken Rosenthal, Jon Morosi, Jon Heyman, Jayson Stark]
  • Qualifying Offer: Players will now only be able to receive the qualifying offer once. Also, the player’s former team only gets a draft pick if he signs a contract worth more than $50M. The exact pick they receive will depend on their market size. [Rosenthal]
  • Luxury Tax: The luxury tax threshold will be set at $195M for 2017, so an increase of $6M from 2016. The threshold will then rise to $197M, $206M, $208M, and $210M in subsequent years. The tax rate is 20% for first time offenders, 30% for second time offenders, and 50% for third time offenders. Teams with a payroll in the $250M range will be taxed at upwards of 70%. [Joel Sherman, Associated Press, Stark, Rosenthal]
  • Revenue Sharing: The “Performance Factor” of the revenue sharing system is gone, which will save the Yankees and other revenue sharing paying clubs a ton of money. Wendy Thurm explained the gory math a few years ago. [Jeff Passan]
  • No International Draft: There will be no international draft. Instead, teams will have a hard cap of $5M to $6M for international players each signing period. The signing age will remain 16. It won’t be pushed back to 18. [Heyman, Ben Badler]
  • Roster Size: Turns out there will not be a 26th roster spot or any other roster changes after all. There will still be 25-man rosters and full September call-ups. Hooray for that. [Sherman]
  • Miscellany: Starting in 2018, the season will begin midweek to accommodate more off-days during the summer [Rosenthal] … Smokeless tobacco is banned for new players. Current players are grandfathered in and can still use it [Sherman].

Based on what we know right now, the new CBA doesn’t bring any drastic changes. There were a few tweaks and that’s pretty much it. Baseball didn’t need anything more than that, really. This is a $10 billion industry nowadays and there were no major sticking points. Both MLB and MLBPA stood to lose an awful lot of money and goodwill with a work stoppage.

Baseball has not had a work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike, and it took the game a few years to truly recover from that. It wasn’t until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa started bashing homers every other day in 1998 that attendance really spiked. The game hasn’t looked back since. Nine-figure payrolls are the norm, people all around the world can watch thanks to MLB.tv and MLB At-Bat, and more teams are competitive than at any other point in history.

According to Bob Nightengale, commissioner Rob Manfred will brief the owners on the details of the new CBA tomorrow. The owners and players must still ratify the new agreement before it is officially official, though that’s just a formality. Last time around the CBA was agreed to on November 22nd and ratified on December 15th, so that’s not necessarily a quick process. No big deal though. The new CBA is done and now we can get back to a normal offseason.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at midnight tonight and so far MLB and the MLBPA have not agreed to a new deal, as far as we know. They’re really taking this down to the wire, huh? I would be stunned if there’s a lockout. There’s too much money and goodwill to be lost. If the two sides don’t agree to a new CBA tonight, my guess is they’ll agree to continue negotiating in the coming days while operating under the terms of the current CBA. We’ll see.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the CBA, or anything else here.

Hal indicates two rotation spots will be up for grabs in Spring Training

Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.

“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”

The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.

1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.

Severino. (Elsa/Getty)
Severino. (Elsa/Getty)

2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.

3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.

4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.

The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?

Year Two of the 2014-15 International Free Agency Class [2016 Season Review]

Wilkerman. (@MLBPipeline)
Wilkerman. (@MLBPipeline)

Two and a half years ago the Yankees did something that sent shockwaves throughout baseball. On July 2nd, 2014, the first day of the 2014-15 international signing period, the Yankees committed more than $17M in bonuses to amateur players and completely blew their $2.2M bonus pool out of the water. Between bonuses and penalties, the team spend upwards of $30M on international free agents that signing period.

The Yankees were not the first team to exceed their international bonus pool but they were the first to do it in such an extreme way. Since then other clubs, including the Dodgers and Braves and Padres, have followed suit and spent huge on international free agents. The tax and other penalties, including a $300,000 limit on bonuses during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods, were a price worth paying for a one-year talent windfall.

As the owners continue to push for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations — Ken Rosenthal says they’ve backed off that demand, for what it’s worth — the Yankees are in the process of developing and cultivating that 2014-15 international class. International free agency is not the thing for you if you’re looking for instant gratification. Turning 16-year-olds into big leaguers is a long and not always smooth process.

The 2016 season was the second full year in pro ball for players signed during the 2014-15 period — players sign contracts that begin the following season, so the kids who signed on July 2nd, 2014, signed 2015 contracts — and the Yankees are starting to see some exciting things happen in the lower minors. Here’s a progress report on that 2014-15 international signing class.

The Top Prospect

You know, it’s actually very up for debate who currently is the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of the spending spree. But, since this is my blog, I’m making an executive decision. SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus) burst onto the scene with a huge debut in 2015, hitting .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with more walks (15.8%) than strikeouts (12.0%) in 39 rookie ball games. He’s the best prospect from the 2014-15 class. Unfortunately his 2016 follow-up didn’t go too well.

Garcia, who won’t turn 19 until April, suffered a shoulder injury in Spring Training this year, and while he didn’t need surgery or anything like that, he spent much of the first half rehabbing in Extended Spring Training. When he was ready to play, he went to rookie level Pulaski and put up a disappointing .198/.255/.284 (52 wRC+) batting line with 18.4% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 54 games. Wilkerman was two and a half years younger than the average Appalachian League player.

The stat line is not pretty, but the most important thing is Garcia’s shoulder is now healthy and he didn’t lose any of the high-end athleticism that landed him such a large bonus. Wilkerman is a switch-hitter with bat control and strike zone knowledge, plus he runs very well and has a strong arm, which suit him well at shortstop. Hopefully 2016 was just a bump in the road. Garcia projects as an impact AVG/OBP/speed/defense leadoff type.

The New Hot Prospect

Florial. (@jarahwright)
Florial. (@jarahwright)

One of the best prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period did not sign on July 2nd. He signed in March 2015. OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) was a highly regarded prospect heading into the signing period before being suspended by MLB for paperwork issues. Joel Sherman has a great story on Florial’s background. Apparently his mother used fraudulent paperwork to get him into school.

Florial, who turned 19 last week, annihilated the Dominican Summer League last season, hitting .313/.394/.527 (154 wRC+) with seven home runs and 15 steals in 57 games. His stateside debut in 2016 didn’t go quite as well. Florial put up a .228/.310/.370 (92 wRC+) line with eight homers and ten steals in 70 games at mostly Pulaski. (He also made brief cameos with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.) Florial struck out in 28.9% of his plate appearances.

The stat line is not what gets folks so excited about Florial. It’s the scouting report. During a recent Baseball America podcast, Josh Norris said scouts are giving Florial a 70 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) for three tools: power, running, throwing. That’s bonkers. Florial, a lefty hitter, has huge power and is a tremendous athlete. The only red flag in his game — and it’s a significant one — is his tendency to swing and miss.

More than a few tooled up players have been sabotaged by insufficient hitting ability, but that doesn’t mean you stop targeting those players. Every once in a while they turn into Kris Bryant. Florial is so well-regarded that teams are already asking for him in trades, according to Sherman. Given his natural ability, the Yankees scored a major win signing Florial for a mere $200,000 that late in the signing period.

The Power Threats

The two largest bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period went to 3B Dermis Garcia ($3.2M) and 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M). (Garcia signed as a shortstop and has since moved to third.) For both players, their calling card is their power. MLB.com ranked them as the top two international prospects in 2014 and they gave Dermis a 65 for his power. Gomez received a 60. Those are huge numbers for kids who were only 16 at the time.

Garcia, 19 in January, showed off that power during his 57-game stint with Pulaski this summer. He hit .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) overall and finished second in the league with 13 homers. The home run leader, Bradley Jones of the Blue Jays, hit 16. He’s three years older than Garcia. Dermis also struck out 34.3% of the time because he takes a big aggressive hack, which leads to a lot of whiffs. When he connects though, this happens:

At one point this summer Garcia went deep in four straight games — only 15 teenagers hit at least four home runs all season in the Appy League — and eight times in the span of 15 games. Eighteen-year-old kids in rookie ball just don’t do that. His power is truly special.

Garcia is not a mindless hacker. He knows the strike zone (13.9 BB%) and which pitches he can punish. His swing is just so aggressive — it’s basically a Javier Baez swing, that kind of aggressive — that he comes up empty a good amount of the time. Once Dermis realizes his power is so great that he can still hit the ball out of the park while taking a more controlled swing, he’s going to be a monster.

As for Gomez, the just turned 19-year-old made his stateside debut in 2016 and authored a .194/.249/.403 (92 wRC+) batting line in 54 games with one of the Yankees’ two rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates. The good news: Gomez was second in the league with nine homers. (The leader, Ignacio Valdez of the Tigers, had eleven and is two years older.) The bad news: Gomez struck out 25.8% of the time and walked 3.8% of the time.

Unlike Garcia, Gomez is a true hacker who will swing at pretty much everything and chase out of the zone. His plate discipline and approach are a very long way away from being competitive. Neither player offers a ton defensively, so their value is tied up heavily in their bats. Garcia is much more than a mistake hitter. He can hit. He just needs to tone things down a notch. Gomez has to figure out how to read spin and discern a ball from a strike.

The Sleeper

Unlike the players above, SS Diego Castillo ($750,000) does not come with loud tools. He’s not going to wow you with speed and his arm like Wilkerman, or hit the snot out of the ball like Dermis or Gomez, or grab your attention like Florial. Castillo, who turned 19 last month, is a bat-to-ball machine with a sweet swing and an opposite field approach. He can also play the hell out of shortstop thanks to good mobility and a strong arm.

This summer Castillo came to the U.S. and hit .267/.332/.327 (102 wRC+) with one home run and five steals in 44 GCL games. His strikeout rate (11.4%) is a result of his contact-focused approach, plus he drew a good amount of walks too (7.6%). Castillo is a boringly good prospect. He’s not flashy, but he’s very fundamentally sound and instinctive on the baseball field. Castillo has the ability to be a rock solid shortstop who helps on both sides of the ball at the next level.

The Advanced Prospect

Advanced is a relative term. We are talking about (mostly) teenagers here, after all. The oldest bonafide prospect the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period is SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.2M), who signed at 18 after graduating high school in South Korea. He spent this past season sharing second base and shortstop with Kyle Holder at Low-A Charleston, where he hit .225/.336/.329 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 32 steals, 23.2% strikeouts, and 13.0% walks in 116 games.

At this point Park’s offensive game lags behind his defense because he didn’t face the greatest competition growing up. He’s a left-handed hitter with a good swing and a plan at the plate, and once he adds some meat to his frame (6-foot-1 and 175 lbs.), the power should come. Park is a no-doubt shortstop with a quick first step and a strong arm. He’s prone to being a little too flashy and making mistakes, but that’s nothing a little experience can’t fix.

Park is older than most of his 2014-15 signing period brethren and he’s already spent a full season in Low-A, so he’s higher up the ladder as well. His offensive game has started to come around nicely since signing. Park’s easy to overlook in a farm system loaded with shortstops, but he has some really exciting skills. He has the potential to be a standout shortstop on both sides of the ball.

The Pop-Up Prospect

Freicer. (Robert Pimpsner)
Freicer. (Robert Pimpsner)

“Pop-up” prospects happen a lot with international free agents. Jorge Mateo and Luis Severino were pop-up prospects. Both were lower profile prospects signed to relatively small bonuses, their physical development was favorable — a lot kids go through growth spurts and lose the athleticism that get them signed in the first place — then bam, they were top prospects. Scouting kids who are 15 or 16 years old and projecting what they’ll be at 21 and 22 is awfully tough. The error bars are huge.

RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000) is the pop-up prospect from the 2014-15 signing period. The 20-year-old held his own with Short Season Staten Island in 2016, pitching to a 4.47 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 20.6% strikeouts and 10.5% walks in 13 starts and 52.1 innings. Perez is massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 190 lbs., which means he still hasn’t filled out and could add to a fastball that already sits 95-97 mph. His breaking ball and changeup need work, as does his overall command, but squint your eyes and you can see a Dellin Betances starter kit. Not too shabby for a $10,000 investment.

The Other Big Money Prospects

The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 international signing period. Stick to the spending pools and most teams would be able to afford two $1M+ bonuses, maybe three. The Yankees made a complete mockery of the system. No wonder the owners are pushing for an international draft now.

Anyway, four of those seven $1M+ bonuses went to Gomez, Park, and the two Garcias. One of the other three went to OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), an 18-year-old who hit .269/.321/.394 (112 wRC+) with two homers and an 18.8% strikeout rate in 29 games while repeating the Dominican Summer League in 2016. Amundaray has been billed as a good worker and very coachable, and the Yankees are waiting for his athletic ability to translate on the field.

OF Juan DeLeon ($2M) was arguably the most exciting prospect the Yankees signed two years ago thanks to his well-rounded game and true five-tool skill set. He appeared in only a dozen GCL games this summer due to an injury, hitting .212/.308/.364 (103 wRC+) in 39 plate appearances. Meh. I wouldn’t call this a lost year — DeLeon did get to work in Extended Spring Training before the GCL season — but not much happened for him in 2016.

The final seven-figure bonus went to C Miguel Flames ($1.1M), whose development behind the plate has been slow. Last year he caught nine games in the DSL (41 at first base) and this year he caught ten games in the GCL (36 at first). Many of them weren’t even full games. The Yankees had Flames catch five innings every few days for a while, and that was it. Not everyone takes to the position as quickly as Luis Torrens. The Yankees have had to ease Flames into it.

The Best of the Rest

Among the other notable 2014-15 international prospects are OF Brayan Emery ($500,000) and RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000), both of whom played in the GCL in 2016. Emery, 18, hit .208/.328/.255 (88 wRC+) with one homer in 32 games and has insane tools. He was initially expected to sign for $1M+. Troya, 19, broke out last year after some mechanical tweaks, though he took a step back this summer and put up a 3.78 ERA (4.41 FIP) in 50 innings. He stands out for his fastball/curveball combo and pitching know-how.

Here are the rest of the notable prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period, plus a note on their 2016 performance and current status:

  • OF Antonio Arias ($800,000): 18-year-old hit .239/.350/.266 (95 wRC+) in 51 games while repeating the DSL. He’s a great athlete and incredibly raw. A total lottery ticket.
  • OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000): 19-year-old was overmatched in the GCL, hitting .111/.265/.185 (52 wRC+) in 26 games. Baseball is hard, even when you have premium bat speed like Blanco.
  • OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000): 18-year-old hit .196/.261/.224 (53 wRC+) in 43 GCL games. He’s a raw athlete who stands out most for his throwing arm.
  • OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000): 19-year-old playing sparingly in the GCL and hit .267/.302/.350 (96 wRC+) in 30 games. Cuevas is a lefty hitter with some pull power and approach issues.
  • IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000): 19-year-old followed up a solid 2015 debut by hitting .182/.238/.223 (44 wRC+) in 36 GCL games. He profiles best a contact heavy utility infielder.
  • C Jason Lopez ($100,000): 18-year-old hit .192/.267/.346 (85 wRC+) in only eleven GCL games. He’s a recently converted infielder with a rocket arm and some pop.
  • OF Erick Mendez ($250,000): 20-year-old put up a .243/.318/.393 (112 wRC+) line in 40 games between the GCL and Pulaski, then failed a performance-enhancing drug test after the season. He’ll serve a 50-game suspension at the outset of 2017.
  • OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000): 18-year-old hit a fine .284/.381/.333 (119 wRC+) in 56 games while repeating the DSL. He’s got some loud tools and could make a name for himself in the GCL in 2017.
  • OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000): 18-year-old put up a .285/.378/.392 (135 wRC+) batting line in 47 GCL games. He a right-handed hitter who sprays the ball to all fields and is an excellent center field defender. The Yankees might have something here.
  • IF Danienger Perez ($300,000): 20-year-old hit .213/.248/.283 (60 wRC+) in 35 games between the GCL and Low-A. Perez is a speedy slap hitter who hasn’t hit much in pro ball.

These are not even all the prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period. These are just the most notable. All told, the Yankees brought in about four years worth of international talent two years ago. Most years you may get one or two premium prospects and two of three secondary guys of note. In 2014-15, the Yankees landed four headliners (Park, Florial, the Garcias) and a host of second tier prospects (Gomez, Perez, Castillo, DeLeon, Flames, Amundaray, Emery, Troya, Olivares).

I’m not sure how many of these players will play full season ball in 2017 — Park will for sure, and I could see the Yankees pushing Florial and Perez to Low-A — but the Yankees have more than enough short season league teams to house them all. No one has knocked your socks off statistically yet — hey, they can’t all dominate instantly like Jesus Montero — but Florial, Dermis, Park, and Perez have all made improvements while others are still showing the big tools that got them signed at 16. With kids this age, that’s not always a given two years later.

Scouting the Trade Market: Arizona Diamondbacks

Bradley. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Bradley. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

After two pretty miserable years under Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks cleaned out their front office at the end of the 2016 regular season and brought in longtime Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to run the show. Arizona went 69-93 this year, down from 79-83 in 2015 despite spending big to acquire Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller last offseason. Ouch.

The D-Backs are an interesting team because they do have some impressive talent. You can do a heck of a lot worse than building your lineup around Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, for example. The club also has some interesting young arms, and according to Ken Rosenthal, Hazen & Co. are expecting to field a lot of calls about those young pitchers this offseason.

The Yankees, like every other team, are perpetually in the market for rotation help. The younger the better. The three best starting pitchers in the organization at this very moment (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda) can all become free agents after 2017. That’s sorta scary. Do any of Arizona’s young arms make sense for the Yankees? Let’s dive in.

RHP Archie Bradley

Background: Bradley, 24, was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, and prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in baseball. The right-hander has struggled in his fairly limited MLB time, pitching to a 5.18 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, 47.8% grounders, and 0.96 HR/9 in 177.1 total innings. That includes a 5.02 ERA (4.10 FIP) with similar peripherals in 141.2 innings in 2016.

Scouting Report (via Brooks Baseball): “His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo. His curve is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves, has a sharp downward bite, is slightly harder than usual and has primarily 12-6 movement. His change is slightly firmer than usual and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Bradley is a pure power pitcher — his four-seamer averaged 93.4 mph and topped out at 97.0 mph in 2017 — and the Yankees love power pitchers. He can miss bats and get grounders, which is a darn good recipe for long-term success. Bradley have five years of team control remaining, though depending on the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could qualify as a Super Two if the cutoff drops a bit lower. Not a huge deal though.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? That 11.1% walk rate is no fluke. Bradley has a 12.3% walk rate in over 440 minor league innings, so throwing strikes is an issue. The kid averaged over 18 pitches per inning in 2016. That’s crazy high. Bradley’s changeup isn’t very effective either, which is why left-handed batters hit .315/.412/.523 (!) against him this year. Yikes. Also, he missed close to three months with shoulder tendinitis in 2015, but was fine in 2016. Strikeouts and grounders solve a lot of problems and Bradley can get them. The walks and inability to neutralize lefties are an ongoing concern though.

LHP Patrick Corbin

Background: The 27-year-old Corbin, a semi-local kid from up near Syracuse, was an All-Star with the D’Backs back in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training 2014 and needing Tommy John surgery. His performance after returning last season was promising (3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 85 innings), but the wheels came off this year, so much so that Arizona had to move him to the bullpen. Corbin had a 5.15 ERA (4.84 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts, 9.4% walks, and 53.8% grounders in 155.2 innings covering 24 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2016.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has some natural sinking action and has slightly above average velo. His slider generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has some two-plane movement. His sinker generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slightly above average velo. His change is much firmer than usual.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees love buy low opportunities and Corbin is exactly that. He was a deserving All-Star three years ago and it’s worth noting his stuff has bounced back well following surgery. Corbin’s velocity has held steady and he’s getting similar movement on his secondary pitches. A true four-pitch lefty with a history of missing bats and getting grounders is a mighty fine rotation piece. There’s a chance Corbin’s numbers will bounce back simply by getting away from Arizona’s league worst defense too.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The Tommy John surgery is not nothing. Corbin had a major arm procedure two and a half years ago, and while he’s been healthy since, it is a red flag. Also, we can’t ignore the dreadful statistical performance too. The shoddy team defense didn’t cause his 1.39 HR/9 this year, for example. Corbin was an All-Star three years ago. Now he’s not close to that level. Is he fixable? Considering he’s only two years away from free agency, the Yankees might not have enough time to find out and reap the reward.

RHP Shelby Miller

Background: Gosh, Miller has been through an awful lot in his career so far. The 26-year-old was a top 2009 draft prospect who slipped to the 19th overall pick due to bonus demands, then went on to be ranked as a top 13 global prospect by Baseball America in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Miller’s rookie season in 2013 was good enough (3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP) to earn a third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. His sophomore season was bad enough (3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP) that the Cardinals soured on him and traded him for one year of Jason Heyward.

Miller was an All-Star with the Braves in 2015 (3.02 ERA and 3.45 FIP) before being traded to the D’Backs in that insane deal last offseason. He had a 6.15 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 101 total innings this season. His strikeout (15.2%), walk (9.1%), grounder (41.9%), and homer (1.25 HR/9) rates were all … not good. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher this young and this talented going from All-Star one year to arguably the worst pitcher in baseball the next without a major arm injury, but Miller managed to pull it off.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo. His cutter results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters and has some natural sink. His curve generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ curves. His change generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups and is much firmer than usual. His sinker results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slightly above average velo.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Is there a bigger buy low candidate in baseball right now? Unless he hid an injury all season, Miller’s issues were all mechanical in 2016. And probably mental too. It’s hard to think his confidence didn’t take a hit while getting blasted every fifth day. Miller got into this weird mechanical funk in which he dropped so low in his delivery he would hit his hand on the mound during his follow through …

Shelby Miller

… which briefly sent him to the disabled list with a sprained finger. Miller legitimately throws five pitches, and at his best, he’s a weak contact guy who gets a lot of soft ground balls and lazy pop-ups. Fix the mechanics and rebuild his confidence — not easy to do in the offense happy AL East and Yankee Stadium — and you could have yourself a pretty good pitcher. As an added bonus, the D’Backs sent Miller to the minors juuust long enough this season to delay his free agency, so he comes with three years of control.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Obvious, right? Miller might not be fixable. His mechanics could be beyond repair and his confidence could be completely destroyed. I am no pitching coach, but what Shelby went through this season doesn’t strike me as a quick or easy fix. He’s a reclamation project now. No doubt about it. I’d dub this an “extremely high risk, kinda high reward” play.

LHP Robbie Ray

Background: Ray, 25, was a 12th round pick who developed into a solid pitching prospect. The Nationals traded him to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal three years ago, then the Tigers traded him to Arizona as part of the three-team deal that brought Didi Gregorius to New York two years ago. In 2016, Ray had a 4.90 ERA (3.76 FIP) despite striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. His 28.1% strikeout rate is the 20th highest by a qualified left-handed starter in a single-season in MLB history. (Ten of the 19 ahead of him belong to Randy Johnson.) Sam Miller wrote about Ray’s statistically odd season (ton of strikeouts, ton of runs) not too long ago, and I recommend checking that out.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, is blazing fast, results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slight armside run and has some added backspin. His sinker is blazing fast, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and has slight armside run. His slider has primarily 12-6 movement, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is much harder than usual, has less than expected depth and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders. His change is thrown extremely hard and is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The appeal of an extremely hard-throwing lefty — Ray averaged 95.3 mph with his four-seamer and 94.5 mph with his sinker in 2016 — who can miss this many bats is pretty obvious, I’d say. Add in the fact he has quality secondary pitches in his slider and changeup and you’ve got a nice little rotation piece. Ray is four years away from free agency as well, so he’s a long-term buy. A southpaw who can miss bats is a welcome addition to a team that calls Yankee Stadium home.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There is more to life than throwing hard and striking out batters, as several members of the Yankees’ pitching staff have taught us (coughMichaelPinedacough). Ray’s walk (9.2%), grounder (45.2%), and homer (1.24 HR/9) rates left something to be desired this year, plus righties hit him pretty hard (.269/.350/.447). Ray fits the mold of a “great stuff, dubious command” pitcher, and the Yankees haven’t had a whole lot of success helping those guys figure out the command part.

RHP Taijuan Walker

Background: Walker, 24, still has some prospect shine remaining after be named a top 20 global prospect by Baseball America in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His MLB performance to date has been just okay overall (4.18 ERA and 4.30 FIP), and this past season he had a 4.22 ERA (4.99 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, 44.1% grounders, and 1.81 HR/9 in 134.1 innings. It seems the Mariners got sick of waiting for Walker to take the next step, so they sent him to Arizona in the Jean Segura deal last week.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball has slightly above average velo and has some added backspin. His splitter is thrown extremely hard, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ splitters, has movement that suggests a lot of backspin and has slight armside fade. His curve generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ curves, has a sharp downward bite and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves. His cutter results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Walker just turned 24 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game, so there’s definitely still a chance things will click and he’ll reach his admittedly high ceiling. His value is down right now — example: he was just traded for Jean freaking Segura, who is only two years from free agency and has been terrible two of the last three years — so this is a chance to get a talented pitcher on the cheap. Walker misses bats and he uses three pitches regularly — the cutter is basically a show-me pitch — so the tools to remain in the rotation are there. He comes with four years of team control, all arbitration-eligible as a Super Two.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Two or three years ago Walker made a mechanical change and he hasn’t been the same guy since. I don’t know if he did it on his own or if the Mariners talked him into it, but he shortened his stride and finishes more upright now, which has taken some of the bite off his curveball and hinders his command. Walker has had some on-and-off shoulder injuries since the mechanical change as well — he’s actually coming off foot surgery at the moment, though that’s an unrelated injury — so that’s no good. This stride shortening thing isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw — Aaron Sanchez had the same issue, for example, and he got back on track last year — but it is something that needs fixing. Right now, Walker is a different pitcher than the guy who was atop all those prospect lists back in the day.

* * *

I really have no idea what to think about these young D’Backs pitchers. They all have talent, that much is obvious, and all but Corbin come with at least three years of control. These are, in theory, exactly the type of pitchers the Yankees are looking to acquire. At the same time, every single one is coming off a below-average season, even Ray with all his strikeouts. They all need to be fixed or helped in some way. They’re projects.

As always, it’s going to come down to the price. There’s always a point where it makes sense to roll the dice on a young project pitcher. Hazen has been at the helm for only a few weeks now, so he has no real attachment to these guys. Well, except maybe Walker because he traded for him, but otherwise these are not kids he drafted and developed. That connection is not there and it could make him more willing to trade them. We see that sort of thing all the time when a new GM takes over.

This free agent pitching class is so incredibly crummy that competition on the trade market figures to be fierce, so much so that even “broken” pitchers like Corbin and Miller will generate a ton of attention. The Yankees have plenty of prospects to trade. Finding a match won’t be hard. The real question is how much are they willing to give up, and how confident are they in their ability to fix one of these guys?

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the first big free agent signing of the offseason finally went down. Hooray for that. The Mets lured Yoenis Cespedes back to Flushing with a four-year deal worth $110M. The Yankees were kinda sorta in on Cespedes but not really, as far as we know. Spending big for an over 30 outfield bat didn’t make much sense anyway. At least the hot stove is finally cooking, eh?

This is the open thread for the night. The (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all in action, plus there’s college hoops as well. Talk about those games, the Cespedes deal, or anything else right here. Have at it.

PSA: A-Rod Corp. shirts are now for sale! Here’s the link. All proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Club in Miami, and Alex is matching all the donations, so they’re for a good cause. Go buy a few.