Earlier today at ESPN (subs. req’d), Keith Law published his annual farm system rankings. The rebuilding Braves take the top spot with the Dodgers and Twins rounding out the top thee. The Angels rank 30th, and Law says they have “by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Poor Billy Eppler.
The Aroldis Chapman deal didn’t make much of a dent in the system; the Yankees bought the troubled reliever with quantity rather than quality, and a strong draft in 2015 helped make up for some recent promotions.
Based on his chats in recent weeks and months, Law is pretty high on James Kaprielian, last year’s first round pick. Kaprielian plus Jorge Mateo and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez is a really strong top prospect core. The Yankees also have a nice group of MLB ready talent in Rob Refsnyder, Bryan Mitchell, and all the relievers and outfielders.
Last year Law ranked the Yankees’ system 20th, so jumping up to 13th while graduating Severino and Bird (and trading Eric Jagielo) is pretty good. I’m pleasantly surprised. I figured the Yankees would find themselves in the 18-22 range somewhere this spring. That could still happen with the other rankings, of course, but Law likes the system.
Chance Adams | RHP
Adams grew up in Scottsdale and attended Chaparral High School, where he both pitched and played third base. He helped the Firebirds to back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012, his junior and senior years. Adams was not much of a pro prospect at the time — Baseball America did not rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2012 draft — so he went undrafted out of high school.
As a freshman at Yavapai College, Adams focused on pitching full-time and had a 5.40 ERA in 16 2/3 relief innings. He struck out 18 and walked eleven. He was draft-eligible again in 2013 since Yavapai is a two-year school, but he was still not much of a pro prospect, so he went undrafted. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Adams among the top 500 draft prospects overall or the top 45 prospects in Arizona.
The second year at Yavapai went much better. Adams moved into the rotation and had a 2.88 ERA in 56 1/3 innings with 62 strikeouts and 19 walks. He also managed four complete games. Baseball America (subs. req’d) again did not rank Adams among the top 500 prospects for the 2014 draft and again he went undrafted.
Adams transferred to Dallas Baptist for his junior season and moved into a full-time bullpen role. He had a 1.98 ERA with 83 strikeouts and 13 walks in 59 innings for the Patriots. Baseball America ranked Adams as the 245th best prospect in the 2015 draft class, and the Yankees selected him with their fifth round pick, No. 153 overall. He signed for a $330,000 bonus, just below the $342,000 slot value.
The Yankees did not screw around with Adams. He signed quickly and they sent him to Short Season Staten Island. After four appearances with the Baby Bombers, the Yankees moved him up to Low-A Charleston. After five appearances with the RiverDogs, Adams was bumped up to High-A Tampa. All told, Adams threw 35.1 relief innings at three levels after signing last year. He had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) with 45 strikeouts (31.7%) and nine walks (6.3%).
Last spring at Dallas Baptist, the 21-year-old Adams was a low-90s fastball guy with an inconsistent cutter as his primary secondary pitch. His velocity jumped into the 93-96 mph range in pro ball — he reportedly ran his fastball up to 99 mph with Staten Island — and the Yankees helped him turn the cutter into a true slider. Here’s some video:
Adams, who as best I can tell has never had any injury issues, uses a full windup in relief and his control is fine. After spending the spring as a low-90s fastball/cutter pitcher at Dallas Baptist, Adams finished the 2015 pro season as a mid-90s fastball/slider guy with an okay changeup.
The Yankees do have a recent history of moving college relievers into the rotation — they did it last year with 2014 sixth rounder Jonathan Holder, for example — so I don’t doubt they’re planning to try Adams as a starter in 2016. Either way, starter or bullpen, he seems likely to begin the 2016 season back with High-A Tampa. Adams might stay there all season if he remains in the rotation. If he works as a reliever, he could zoom up the ladder and possibly even make his MLB debut late in the season. That’s the very best case scenario though.
I like Adams as a prospect and kinda wish the Yankees would just leave him in the bullpen, but I suppose they do have a ton of upper level relievers, so they have the depth to try him as a starter. Now’s the time to do it, early in his career. I’m interested to see if the mid-90s velocity sticks going forward — probably not as a starter, but who knows — because if it does, it changes his outlook considerably. At 91-93 mph he was interesting. At 94-96 mph he was dominant. The Yankees know how to get power arms to MLB quickly and Adams could be next in line.
As you know, the Yankees are the only team in baseball that has not yet signed a Major League free agent this offseason. They have taken on some money in the Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman trades — about $23.5M for luxury tax purposes in 2016 — but otherwise they’ve limited their spending. Once again the team focused on trades.
Next offseason the Yankees are going to start to shed some of their expensive long-term contracts. Mark Teixeira ($22.5M per year) and Carlos Beltran ($15M) will come off the books next offseason, then CC Sabathia ($23.4M) and Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M) will join them the following year. Possibly Masahiro Tanaka ($22.1M) as well if he stays healthy and opts out of his contract.
We know Hal Steinbrenner & Co. want to get under the luxury tax in the near future, and those expiring deals will help the Yankees accomplish that goal. Doing so would reset the team’s tax rate and entitle the Yankees to some revenue sharing rebates. Getting under the tax threshold potentially equals tens of millions of dollars saved. It’s a substantial sum. Last week Jeff Passan had some details on New York’s financial situation:
Now, we’ll get to that, though first it’s imperative to understand how and why the Yankees are looking years down the road when deciding to sit out this offseason. And it’s best to start with two numbers: $508 million and $8.1 million. The Yankees’ yearly revenues in the most recent franchise valuations by Forbes were $508 million, and their operation income – money in the black – was $8.1 million. That is not a lot, not when New York’s revenues exceed the second-place Dodgers’ by more than $100 million.
If reason No. 1 (to pass on free agents) was minimal profit, No. 2 is every bit as important: the fear of the unknown. And with baseball ready to begin negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement soon, the unknown is palpable. New York has no idea what percentage of its revenue it will be sharing with lower-revenue teams. Currently, the tax rate assessed to every team is 34 percent of local revenue, and that pool is split evenly among the 30 teams. High-earning teams pay what amounts to another 14 percent on top of that. The Yankees give more in revenue-sharing dollars than every other team, and it’s not particularly close. With the gap between the richest and poorest teams as significant as ever, they could give even more, something they’ll surely resist.
The expectation is the Yankees will go back to spending big on free agents in a few years, once some of the big contracts are off the books, the luxury tax rate has been reset, and the terms of the next CBA are known. I don’t know when the Yankees will spend big or exactly how much they’re planning to spend, but I’m sure it’ll happen. They’re not going let all that money come off the books and save all that cash on luxury tax and not put at least a big chunk of it back into the team.
That brings us to Bryce Harper, the just-turned-23-year-old wunderkind of the Washington Nationals. Harper silenced all of his critics last season with a historic .330/.460/.649 (195 OPS+) batting line and 42 homers. Here is the full list of players who had a 180 OPS+ or better season at age 22 or younger: Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Bryce Harper. That’s it. Harper’s 42 dingers are the most of the trio. People ripped Harper when he hit “only” .272/.351/.465 (121 OPS+) from 2012-14, but that’s not possible anymore. He’s a megastar.
Harper is now three years from free agency and he is a Scott Boras client, so it’s a damn near certainty he will hit the open market. If the Nationals want to approach him about a long-term extension, they’d have to start their offer at Giancarlo Stanton’s massive 13-year, $325M contract. That’s the starting point. Stanton is awesome, but Harper is younger and better than Giancarlo was at the time of his deal. More than likely it’ll take something closer to $400M to get Harper and Boras to the negotiating table.
There are still three years between now and then, but Harper is the odds on favorite to become the first $40M a year player in baseball history. Whatever we think it’ll take to sign him is probably too low. In all seriousness, I expect Boras to ask for something like 15 years and $600M in three years. He’s going to want to smash records with Harper, not beat them by $1M or $2M. Remember when A-Rod was a free agent way back when? His ten-year, $252M deal was exactly double the richest sports contract at the time (Kevin Garnett’s $126M deal). Boras brokered that deal for Alex and he’ll want to do something similar with Harper.
It’s impossible to ignore the timing of all this. The Yankees have all these contracts coming off the books and are very likely to get under the luxury tax at some point in the next two or three years, right as Harper hits the open market. The club will have this huge financial windfall at the same time a generational talent becomes available for nothing but cash (and presumably a draft pick). Not just a generational talent, a generational talent in the prime of his career; Harper will turn 26 the October of the offseason of his free agency.
Personally, I do not believe the decision to get under the luxury tax and have enormous future payroll flexibility is tied to Harper’s free agency. It’s a coincidence. Hal has been talking about getting under the luxury tax for years now (the original plan was to do it in 2014, remember), long before it was clear Harper was a superstar of the first order. I do, however, believe the Yankees are very aware Harper is likely to become a free agent in three years, and that they’re going to be in a better place financially at the time, putting them in position to sign a marquee free to what will surely be a record contract.
That said, planning for a free agent three years into the future is foolish. Yes, teams do need to plan ahead, but you can’t plan that far ahead with any sort of certainty. Way too much can and will change between now and then. The Yankees can have their eye on Harper down the line and also understand it’s unlikely to happen. Realistically, what are the chances Harper will be a Yankee come the 2019 season? 25%? Even that seems high. Maybe 50% is the absolute best case scenario right now?
“You can’t predict free agency multiple years out,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings earlier this offseason. “I can’t project availability. Obviously if you turn the clock back and look at projecting (David) Price’s availability, (it was impossible to know), would he be healthy? He’s been with three teams since. It’s such a guessing game when you go through that process that far out to forecast.”
Assuming the Yankees do achieve this goal of financial flexibility and Harper remains a star, going after Harper in three years is a total no-brainer. The Yankees brand is built on stars and winning, and a player as good and as young as Harper is someone you absolutely go all-out to acquire. They don’t come along very often at all. He’s the guy you make a $400M+ offer on day one of free agency to let other teams know you aren’t screwing around. Just drop the hammer the first day and let two-thirds of the league know they shouldn’t even bother making a phone call to Boras.
Those are two pretty big assumptions though, right? The financial flexibility and Harper hitting free agency as a megastar stuff. It’s have financial flexibility AND Harper becomes a free agent AND Harper is still a star. All of that has to happen, and it very well might. But it goes to show how much can change between now and then. It wouldn’t take much to derail this plan. I hope the Yankees get Harper in three years, but the Yankees can’t plan on him being the endgame for this financial flexibility. He’s not the driving force behind the team’s austerity, but man, the timing sure does work out well.
According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees have reached out to former Mets reliever and free agent right-hander Carlos Torres. Torres elected free agency last week after being designated for assignment when the Amazin’s needed a 40-man spot for Yoenis Cespedes. Roughly 20 teams have contacted him already, including clubs in Asia.
Torres, 33, has spent the last three seasons working mostly as a swingman with the Mets. He has a 3.59 ERA (3.94 FIP) with a 21.9% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate in 241 innings during that time. Last year Torres had both the highest ERA (4.68) and lowest FIP (3.53) of his three seasons in Flushing, weirdly.
The Yankees traded swingman Adam Warren earlier this offseason and they’ll head into Spring Training with three open bullpen spots. (Maybe four depending on Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension.) They do have a ton of internal candidates though. I count 20 bullpen candidates between the 40-man roster and non-roster invitees.
Right now the Yankees have six starters and Brian Cashman confirmed whichever one doesn’t make the rotation will likely be the long man, assuming everyone stays healthy. Torres has a rubber arm — it seemed like the Mets were bringing him out of the bullpen for multiple innings every other day — and he would add swingman depth in case a starter gets hurt.
The Yankees have not yet signed a Major League free agent this offseason and I don’t think that will change now. If they wanted Torres on the 40-man roster, they could have simply claimed him off waivers. It’s not like he’s making a ton of money. (He agreed to a $1.05M salary to avoid arbitration before being designated.) Chances are the Yankees want him on a minor league deal.
Beyond the top six starters, the Yankees have Bryan Mitchell and journeymen Anthony Swarzak and Tyler Cloyd as rotation depth. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Brady Lail are in that mix as well. If the Yankees can bring in Torres on a minor league deal, great. Never a bad idea to bring in more depth. He’s not a sexy name but he’s a capable last guy in the bullpen.
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees fielded calls from teams looking to acquire Dustin Ackley earlier this offseason. Interestingly, Sherman says teams wanted Ackley to play first base. That seems … weird. A lot of his value is tied to his ability to play several different positions.
The Yankees acquired Ackley from the Mariners for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez at the trade deadline last year. Flores and Ramirez were essentially role players, not cornerstones, and both will be out of minor league options this coming season. Point is, they didn’t have much trade value. The Yankees got Ackley relatively cheap.
Ackley, 28 later this month, hit very well in his limited time with the Yankees (161 wRC+), though I have a hard time thinking his value increased substantially during his two months in pinstripes. (One month really, since he was hurt in August.) Ackley’s been around a while and he has a track record, and it’s mostly not good.
It makes sense to listen to offers for Ackley the same way it makes sense to listen to offers for any player. You never know when a team will really love a guy and make a shockingly big offer. Realistically, the Yankees weren’t going to get anything better than Flores and Ramirez types. They still have plenty of those too.
Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees on the roster than anything they could have probably gotten in a trade this offseason. Greg Bird‘s recent injury makes Ackley the only backup first baseman now, so he’s pretty important, especially since Mark Teixeira is known to visit the DL from time to time.