• Former Yankee Paul Blair passes away at 69

    Former Yankees outfielder Paul Blair passed away at age 69 yesterday. He reportedly died shortly after collapsing at a celebrity bowling tournament in Maryland. Blair, who spent the majority of his career with the Orioles, was with the Yankees from 1977-1980 and helped the team to the 1977 and 1978 World Series titles. He was one of the best defensive center fielders in history and a staple at Old Timers’ Day. Condolences to his family and friends. · (18) ·

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Frank asks: Can you give a rundown of what’s going on with Manny Banuelos? I know losing two years of development to injury has a way halting conversation, but he was our very best pitching prospect in the not-too-distant past, and he didn’t really do anything on the mound to dash all hope. Is there any chance he contributes to the big club in some capacity next season?

Banuelos, who is still only 22, has not pitched in a game since May 2012 due to a series of elbow problems, first a bone bruise and then Tommy John surgery. He reportedly tore the ligament while rehabbing from the bone bruise, which is why the surgery didn’t happen until October even though his season ended in May. Before the elbow problems, Banuelos missed about three weeks with a minor back issue. An appendetomy in 2010 rounds out his injury history.

Joel Sherman reported Banuelos was pitching in simulated games back in September and, a month later, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Chad Jennings the southpaw will be ready for Spring Training. They opted not to send him to winter ball just to give him a rest after rehabbing for what amounts to 15 straight months. “Newman said he was reaching 92-94 mph with a good changeup and getting breaking balls over the plate,” wrote Jennings back in October.

If we take Newman’s word for it, Banuelos is healthy and his stuff has returned following the two elbow injuries. I know Tommy John surgery has a very good track record but there’s always that small chance the guy is never the same again. It happened to J.B. Cox back in the day and Ryan Madson sure seems to be having a devil of a time following the procedure as well. Here is what Baseball America (subs. req’d) wrote about Banuelos before the 2013 season, when they ranked him the team’s eighth best prospect:

Before he got hurt, his fastball sat at 91-94 mph and touched 96, with good tailing life at the lower end of that velocity range. He also threw a sharp curveball in the upper 70s and a tumbling changeup, giving him two above-average secondary pitches at his best. He had trouble harnessing his livelier stuff and was unable to make adjustments to throw quality strikes prior to his injury.

Brian Cashman confirmed at the Winter Meetings that Banuelos is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton to start 2014 and that makes sense. He has not pitched in competitive games for a long time and he’ll get a chance to get back in the groove in an environment where results don’t matter. David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno give the team enough back of the rotation depth to start the year, so they’ll be able to bring Banuelos back slowly. As Baseball America indicated, he wasn’t exactly a finished product before the injury. The command (once his trademark) needs work.

Now, that said, I definitely think Banuelos could wind up helping the team at some point next season, probably in the second half. I thought he was in position to help them in the second half a year ago, before the elbow problems. The Yankees shouldn’t count on him for anything though, whatever he gives them is a bonus. Banuelos has lost enough development time these last two years. Next season has to be about getting back on track and ironing out the command first and foremost. If that leads to a big league audition — Banuelos is already on the 40-man roster — at some point, great. If not, there’s always 2015. He’s still so young.

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  • Carig: Yankeees have already been in contact with Tanaka’s agent

    Via Marc Carig: The Yankees have already been in contact with agent Casey Close, who represents Masahiro Tanaka (and Derek Jeter). Yesterday was the first day teams were allowed to negotiate with the right-hander. The 30-day negotiating window expires at 5pm on January 24th and he must be officially signed by then. Passed physical, signature on the dotted line, everything.

    Tanaka, 25, has reportedly been the team’s top pitching target all winter, so it’s no surprise the Yankees reached out so early. Considering every team is free to talk to him, I don’t expect this to be a quick process. Close and Tanaka will take the most of those 30 days to hear the various sales pitches, visit cities, so on and so on. There’s no rush, really. My official contract guess (emphasis on guess): six years, $112M ($4M bonus plus $18M annual salary) with an opt-out after the fifth year.

    Aside: I wonder if the Yankees will ask Hiroki Kuroda to make a recruiting call to Tanaka. Jeter said he doesn’t make recruiting calls and Ichiro Suzuki will probably be gone soon. Kuroda’s a fellow starter who can talk about living in New York, pitching in Yankee Stadium, wearing the pinstripes, etc.
    · (157) ·

  • Former Yankee Mike Hegan passes away at 71

    Former Yankees first baseman and outfielder Mike Hegan passed away at his South Carolina home yesterday due to heart problems. He was 71. Hegan played two stints in the Bronx (1964-1967 and 1973-1974) and was part of the 1964 AL pennant squad. He later won a World Series with the 1972 Athletics. Hagen was the last player to bat at the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium in 1973 and he also hit the first homer in Seattle Pilots franchise history. He worked as a radio broadcaster for the Indians for 14 years after his playing days were over. Condolences to his family and friends. · (7) ·

(David E. Klutho/SI)

(David E. Klutho/SI)

Mason asks: Watching the press conference I couldn’t help but wonder what the Yankees’ postseason history would look like had they signed Carlos Beltran back when he was a free agent coming from the Astros. It just seems inconceivable looking back that they wouldn’t have brought him on. What changes if he is brought on in that offseason?

I’ve said this more than once and I still think it’s true: passing on Beltran during the 2004-2005 offseason was the team’s biggest mistake during the Brian Cashman era. I thought it was a no-brainer. Beltran was only 27 at the time and he was a 30/30-ish switch-hitter who got on base a ton and played very good defense in center. Bernie Williams was pretty much done and the team had no obvious long-term center field solution. He was perfect. The Yankees didn’t sign Beltran that winter and instead spent their money on Randy Johnson, which was justifiable. Starting pitching was a huge need as well.

Anyway, it’s impossible to say how things would have played out had they acquired Beltran instead of Johnson that winter, so this is nothing more than guesswork. The Yankees went to the postseason six times and won a World Series during the span of Beltran’s seven-year contract with the Mets and it’s not a guarantee he would have made things better. Remember, they were bounced from the postseason in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010 largely because the pitching stunk. The hitting was a problem in 2011 and maybe having him would have helped them beat the Tigers in the ALDS. Otherwise the pitching was never good enough for one big bat to make a real difference.

Had the Yankees signed Beltran back in the day, I’m pretty sure they would not have signed Johnny Damon the following the winter. Damon was very good in New York but Beltran greatly outproduced him from 2006-2009 (135 wRC+ and 22.9 fWAR vs. 116 wRC+ and 12.7 fWAR). I do think they would have still re-signed Hideki Matsui that winter since he was a True Yankee™ and the difference in annual salary between Damon and Beltran was only $4M. Not enough to throw a wrench into future deals.

Is the Bobby Abreu trade still made with Beltran? Probably, since both Matsui and Gary Sheffield were hurt. Damon was both healthy and productive in 2006. I don’t think having Beltran would have changed Melky Cabrera‘s career path all that much aside from not getting the ill-advised call-up in 2005. There still would have been plenty of opportunity for him in 2006, which is when he played his way into a regular job (98 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR, which he never repeated in New York). I don’t think the outfield picture would have looked radically different from 2005-2008, it just would have been Beltran in center and Melky in left instead of Melky in center and Damon in left.

(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

The 2009 season is where this hypothetical gets interesting. Beltran’s knees started to give out that year and he missed close to three months in the middle of the season. He was healthy when September rolled around though, so the Yankees would have had him for their playoff push. That team was so good that I don’t think losing Beltran for three months would have derailed them. They won the division by eight games, though they were four back on the day he got hurt (June 21st). Maybe that leads to Cashman making a deal at the deadline. Matt Holliday was the big name outfielder traded that summer, but lesser guys like Nate McLouth, Mark DeRosa, and Scott Hairston were also dealt. A trade for one of those guys would have changed things quite a bit both that year and in future years depending on the trade package.

Beltran missed most of 2010 with knee problems but was healthy for the second half and a potential playoff drive. The Yankees made the postseason by seven games that year, so losing him wouldn’t have been a season-killer. Beltran was no longer a superstar at that time anyway. Going from him to say, McLouth for three months would have been a two or three win drop. That assumes McLouth would have been as terrible in New York as he was in Atlanta. The Rangers outscored the Yankees 38-19 in the ALCS that year and I doubt Beltran makes much of a difference. He was healthy in 2011 and could have made a difference in the ALDS, when New York lost three games to the Tigers by a total of four runs. Would that 2011 squad have beaten the Rangers in the ALCS or the Cardinals in the World Series? I don’t think so. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia were the number two and three starters, remember.

Like I said earlier, this is all just guesswork. Beltran’s career path would have changed completely had he signed with the Yankees back in the day — maybe he would have avoided the knee problems all together or maybe he would have been hurt even more. Maybe the team signs Damon and lets Matsui walk instead. Maybe they can’t afford to trade for Abreu in 2006. Who knows? I thought the Yankees should have signed Beltran back in the day (especially after he offered to take a discount, geez) but I don’t think we can simply assume the club would have been better off from 2005-2011 just because he was on the team. Way too many variables in play.

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  • Crasnick: Yankees touched base with Bronson Arroyo last week

    Via Jerry Crasnick: The Yankees touched base with Bronson Arroyo last week. We heard they had interest in the free agent right-hander earlier in the offseason. I’m guessing the team was just doing their due diligence as they awaited the Masahiro Tanaka decision.

    Arroyo, 36, had a 3.79 ERA (4.49 FIP) in 202 innings this past season. His value lies in his durability (199+ innings in each of the last nine seasons) and general league averageness. There’s nothing sexy about that but it is valuable. Arroyo’s age and soft-tossing ways would make me really nervous in a tiny ballpark in the AL East, but at the same time, I can’t say I’m entirely sold on Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and/or Ervin Santana being more effective in 2014.
    · (49) ·



Wednesday: The posting period officially begins tomorrow morning and ends at 5pm ET on January 24th, reports Anthony McCarron. The contract must be signed and made official within the 30 days, not just agreed to. Tanaka will reportedly be represented by Casey Close, who also represents Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.

Tuesday: After weeks of conflicting rumors, there is finally resolution to the Masahiro Tanaka posting saga. The Rakuten Golden Eagles have indeed decided to post their ace right-hander and make him available to MLB clubs this winter, team president Yozo Tachibana announced on Tuesday. Tanaka is widely considered to be the offseason’s best available pitcher, it just wasn’t clear if he would actually be made available.

“After evaluating Tanaka’s contributions in the seven years since joining the franchise, owner Hiroshi Mikitani accepted his wish to challenge himself in the Major Leagues and decided to petition for him to be posted,” said Tachibana in a statement. “As a team which has valuable players, there’s no change in our view that this is an extremely unfair system.”

Now, just to be clear, there is no bidding under the new posting agreement. Tanaka is essentially a free agent with a $20M surcharge. He can negotiate with any team for a 30-day period — I’m not sure when that period begins, it might not be immediately due to the holiday — and whoever signs him has to pay an addition $20M “release fee” to the Golden Eagles. In the highly unlikely case that Tanaka fails to agree to a contract within the 30 days, he’ll return to Rakuten and have to wait until next winter to be posted again.

Tanaka, 25, has been one of the best pitchers in Japan for several seasons now and the best pitcher since Yu Darvish left two years ago. It hasn’t been particularly close either. His gaudy 24-0 record garnered a ton of attention this year — his 30-start unbeaten streak, which came to an end during Rakuten’s postseason run to the Japan Series title, is a professional baseball record — but his appeal extends far beyond win-loss record. Here are the obligatory stats:

’07 18 Rakuten 11 7 3.82 28 4 186.1 183 83 79 17 68 196 1.347 0.8 3.3 9.5 2.88
’08 19 Rakuten 9 7 3.49 24 5 172.2 171 71 67 9 54 159 1.303 0.5 2.8 8.3 2.94
’09 20 Rakuten 15 6 2.33 24 6 189.2 170 51 49 13 43 171 1.123 0.6 2.0 8.1 3.98
’10 21 Rakuten 11 6 2.50 20 8 155.0 159 47 43 9 32 119 1.232 0.5 1.9 6.9 3.72
’11 22 Rakuten 19 5 1.27 27 14 226.1 171 35 32 8 27 241 0.875 0.3 1.1 9.6 8.93
’12 23 Rakuten 10 4 1.87 22 8 173.0 160 45 36 4 19 169 1.035 0.2 1.0 8.8 8.89
’13 24 Rakuten 24 0 1.27 27 8 212.0 168 35 30 6 32 183 0.943 0.3 1.4 7.8 5.72
7 Seasons 99 35 2.30 172 53 1315.0 1182 367 336 66 275 1238 1.108 0.5 1.9 8.5 4.50
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2013.

According to Ben Badler (subs. req’d), Tanaka boasts a four-seam fastball thats sits anywhere from 88-96 on a given day. He locates his heater well but tends to pitch up in the zone with it, which gives some scouts pause. His 6-foot-2, 200 lb. frame makes it tough to drive the ball downhill as well. Tanaka’s mid-80s splitter is a legitimate out pitch that falls right off the table, and his low-80s slider is a quality third offering. He also throws a soft low-70s curveball. Badler says scouts project Tanaka to be a number two starter in a Major League rotation pretty much right away. Here is the obligatory video:

The Yankees, who need another starter, are expected to be very much involved in the bidding for Tanaka. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Mariners are viewed as their primary competition while clubs like the Rangers, Giants, and Angels could get seriously involved as well. Pretty much every team will at least check in since it costs nothing to talk. The $20M release fee will not count against the luxury tax but Tanaka’s eventual contract, which could top six years and $100M, will. That hurts every big market team but especially the Yankees and Dodgers, who figure to be over the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014.

The pitching market has been handcuffed in recent weeks due to the Tanaka indecision. Interest in guys like Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana has been minimal as clubs waited to see if Rakuten will post their ace simply because they want to do their due diligence and look at all available options. The pitching market as a whole should pick up now but the Yankees are expected to focus primarily on Tanaka. If they don’t land him, I don’t think it will be because they made a low-ball contract offer. They’re going to be serious players for him.


Christmas Open Thread

By in Open Thread. · Comments (131) ·

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. Barring some kind of breaking news — rumor has it the Rakuten Golden Eagles may announce whether they will post Masahiro Tanaka at some point in the next 48 hours — I don’t anticipate posting anything either today or tomorrow. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, enjoy the downtime and family and friends and all that. Feel free to talk about whatever right here over the next two days.

(Here is last night’s open thread. I bumped it back a day just so the top two posts were open threads.)

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The Yankees have re-signed right-hander Matt Daley to a minor league contract, reports Matt Eddy. I assume he received an invitation to Spring Training as well. Daley was non-tendered earlier this month, but soon thereafter we heard the team had interest in retaining him as a non-40-man roster player.

Daley, 31, allowed two hits and zero walks while striking out eight in six scoreless September innings this past season. The Queens native was awesome in the minors, pitching to a 2.02 ERA (1.88 FIP) in 53.1 innings at three levels after returning from shoulder surgery. Daley has a 4.38 ERA (3.65 FIP) in 86.1 career big league innings, all with the Yankees and Rockies. The Bombers originally signed Daley soon after the surgery two offseasons ago and rehabbed him.

As of right now, the only players guaranteed to be in the bullpen next year are David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and the recently signed Matt Thornton. The Yankees obviously like Daley, otherwise they wouldn’t have signed him after the surgery and helped him rehab for two years. Depending on how the rest of the offseason shakes out, he could compete against kids like Dellin Betances and Jose Ramirez for a bullpen spot in camp.

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