The Yankees are handcuffed. It’s not as bad as feared earlier this off-season. They managed to add a number of players who will help in 2014 and beyond. But at the moment, despite their stated need for a right-handed infield bat, the Yankees will not make a move. The reason, once you break it down, is fairly obvious.
On the roster the Yankees have 11 position players under contract, though only one catcher. The backup catcher brings the total position players to 12, one short of the typical 13 they carry during the regular season. It might seem as though they have room for one more, but this projection doesn’t account for the man in limbo, Alex Rodriguez. Given the roster numbers, the Yankees really can’t do anything until they know his fate.
At this point, a complete overturning of the suspension is the best-case scenario. It didn’t always feel that way; with the shackles of Plan 189 looming, a full-season suspension seemed like the only way the Yankees could spend this off-season. Yet they’ve spent plenty of money before knowing how Fredic Horowitz will rule in the A-Rod matter. If he overturns the suspension completely, or even reduces it to 50 games, the Yankees will soar past the $189 million luxury tax limit without making a single other move.
“I think if people think there’s some sort of benefit by losing that talent, I mean, you can’t replace it. It’s not like, all right, well, Alex is gone. If he winds up getting suspended and it’s upheld, how do you replace that? It’s not easy.
“It’s not like, all right, we’ll take that money and go in this direction. I think … our fan base saw when we lost significant players at various positions, it was not easy to plug holes because the talent just doesn’t exist.”
No infielder on the market comes close to even an aged and injury-prone A-Rod. Even Yankees fans who hate the man’s guts should be rooting for him to stand at third base on Opening Day. We root for the laundry, right? Mark Reynolds or Jeff Baker might successfully play a role on the 2014 team with A-Rod suspended, but neither will match him in terms of overall production. Since they are role players, chances are they’ll remain on the board until the decision. Even if not, missing out on them is no huge loss.
True, the Yankees also seem handcuffed by the Masahiro Tanaka situation, but that’s another post for another day (or maybe today, who knows). That handcuffing seems a bit more damaging for a number of reasons, including the implications on spending. But with A-Rod, a complete overturn or even 50 games is a pure win for the 2014 team, while a full-season suspension leave them looking for an inferior right-handed-hitting infielder.
Got seven questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Anonymous asks: Why not an A.J. Burnett reunion? He could easily eat up 200 innings and wouldn’t be that expensive and doesn’t require a draft pick.
I mentioned this to Joe yesterday. If it wasn’t for 2010-2011, wouldn’t Burnett be the perfect one-year stopgap for the Yankees if Masahiro Tanaka is not posted? He has a 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) over the last two seasons, he misses bats (8.90 K/9 and 23.6 K%), the walks aren’t out of control (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), he gets grounders (56.7%), his velocity has been steady, and he’s thrown 180+ innings in each of the last six years. What more could you want?
Of course, it’ll never happen. Burnett was a disaster during his final two seasons in New York and I think the Javy Vazquez wound is still fresh enough to keep the team from trying a reunion. Burnett has said he will either pitch for the Pirates or retire next season, so maybe he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of coming to the Yankees. If he was open to it and his name was anything but A.J. Burnett … man he’d be a perfect fit.
Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka or he doesn’t get posted, what do you think of the Yankees offering Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza a one-year contract with a promise of not extending a qualifying offer? Yankees get a decent pitcher for one year that they can replace with one of the man good pitchers next off season, and Ubaldo/Garza can get to negotiate without having a pick attached to them. Do you think this is at all possible?
First, Garza will not cost a pick this winter, so that’s not an issue for him. He was traded at the deadline and a player has to be with their team for the full season to be eligible for the qualifying offer. Second, the Collective Bargaining Agreement strictly prohibits teams from promising they won’t extend the qualifying offer to help entice a free agent. I guess they could still do it under the table, but MLB is watching.
Third, I don’t think either guy would go for that. Ubaldo and Garza (and Ervin Santana for that matter) should have no trouble getting a nice multi-year contract as soon as the Tanaka situation is resolved. That is holding everything up, teams just want to know if he’ll be available before moving on to the alternatives. It would be hard for Ubaldo and Santana in particular to improve their stock in 2014 given their 2013 seasons. If any of those three are still sitting there unsigned when Spring Training rolls around, sure, make them a fat one-year offer. I just don’t expected them to still be on the board that long.
Kameron asks: Trey Haley was designated for assignment by the Indians yesterday. Do you think the Yankees should make a run at him? He has been around the 100 mph mark his entire career.
Yes, definitely. Haley’s name caught my eye when I saw the Tribe cut him to make room on the roster for John Axford. The 23-year-old had a 4.71 ERA (4.31 FIP) with 46 strikeouts and 39 walks in 44 innings at Double-A this season, so he’s a project. He has two minor league options remaining, so a team can afford to be patient with him.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Haley as Cleveland’s 14th best prospect before the season, saying his “fastball now operates at 93-98 mph (and) has touched 100 (with) late, heavy life” and his “curveball had good depth … it shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.” The raw stuff is awesome — the Indians paid him $1.25M as a second round pick in 2008, so he didn’t come out of nowhere — but the general strike-throwing ability needs a lot of work. The Yankees have a tight 40-man roster but they could make room for an arm like this. Someone is going to trade for Haley or claim him off waivers and it would be cool if it was the Bombers.
Dale asks: If Seattle needs a backup catcher and are trying to move one of Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin, would a Austin Romine for one of the two of them be fair enough? Or would we have to include another outfield prospect?
I don’t think Romine would be enough for either guy but especially not Franklin, who hasn’t been a Mariner long enough to have his value destroyed. A package of Romine plus a second prospect (Nik Turley? Jose Ramirez? Peter O’Brien? I have absolutely no idea) might be enough to land Ackley at this point, who I prefer to Franklin. I like the idea of buying super low on a guy who is only 25 and two years removed from being arguably the best hitter in the minors. Franklin is expected to be more of a solid regular long-term, and while that’s pretty good, I’d rather take a shot on Ackley’s talent while he’s still relatively young.
Adam asks: Thoughts on Carmol Marmol for the pen? Could he be a fit or is he done?
I don’t think he’s done, he’s just incredibly erratic. Marmol, 31, struck out 59 batters in 49 innings this past season (4.41 ERA and 5.19 FIP), but he also walked 40 (!). He’s got a 7.33 BB/9 and 18.0 BB% over the last two seasons. Few batters can miss bats as well as Marmol but few hit the strike zone less often. I’d take him on a minor league contract in a heartbeat — there’s always a chance it clicks and he has a Kimbrelian year or something — but I’d be wary about guaranteeing him a roster spot.
Jorge asks: Would you rather have a lineup composed of all 100 OPS+es or half 150 OPS+es and half 50 OPS+es?
Well, there are nine lineup spots, so let’s call it four 150 OPS+es, four 50 OPS+es, and one 100 OPS. The idea is that the nine spots would average out to a 100 OPS+ but that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. The four 150 OPS+es would be stacked at the top of the lineup and they’d get more at-bats than the 50 OPS+es. Instead of averaging out to a 100 OPS+, that lineup would average out to a 105 OPS+ or something like that.
Anyway, I’d much rather have a lineup of nine 100 OPS+ players. I prefer a deep and circular lineup to a top-heavy one. Those four 50 OPS+ spots are just killers. That’s three full innings in any given game where you have close to no chance to score. The lineup of league average hitters might not be sexy but the more good hitters you have, the better your chances are of scoring. Simple as that.
Jamie asks: What’s the difference between WAR used on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com? And why can’t they just agree on one? I think a universal WAR algorithm would go a long way towards old school guys taking it more seriously than they do.
I agree that having one universal WAR would lead to it being taken more seriously, but I also think the different versions (we could throw WARP from Baseball Prospectus into this ring) are a feature, not a bug. The WAR model isn’t perfect and as long as the various systems are coming up with different numbers, they will continue to be tinkered with and improved. I consider that a good thing.
As for the differences, B-Ref uses Total Zone for position player defense while FanGraphs uses UZR. The different defensive stats lead to different player values. On the pitching side, B-Ref’s WAR is built on runs allowed while FanGraphs’ WAR is built on FIP. I prefer FanGraphs for position players and B-Ref for pitchers — FIP is theoretical and if you want to but a number on a player’s value, it should be based on what he’s done, not what we think he should have done — but either way WAR is not definitive. It’s one tool in the shed. The concept of WAR (combining everything a player does into one number) is a really good but it’s not close to being a finished product.
Now that it’s Hall of Fame season, I’ve been getting all nostalgic about Mike Mussina. I liked him even during his days with the Orioles and he was easily my favorite non-Mariano Rivera pitcher on the team last decade. I’ve been looking for that video above for-frickin-ever but Twitter came through yesterday. Grumpy Moose telling grumpy Joe Torre to “stay there!” is just the best.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. There is no football game and none of the hockey or basketball locals are playing, so you’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about whatever here. Go nuts.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees continue to seek a right-handed hitting infielder even after agreeing to sign Brian Roberts. The team may wait until the Alex Rodriguez ruling is announced (likely next month) before adding that player, however.
Meanwhile, the team remain in touch with Mark Reynolds, but Dan Barbarisi hears “as far as a deal there is nothing even remotely close.” The Angels and Twins are among the other clubs with interest in the slugger, according to Jon Heyman. Reynolds would fit nicely since the Bombers only have one righty hitter capable of hitting the ball out of the park at the moment. · (46) ·
The Yankees came into the offseason needing at least two starting pitchers and so far they’ve added just one, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract. He was the team’s best pitcher in each of the last two seasons and makes perfect sense on a one-year deal, but he is also the second oldest starter in the AL behind R.A. Dickey. Age brings a bevy of concerns.
Chief among those concerns is injury … well, both injury and recovery time. Older players tend to take longer to heal, that’s just the way the human body works. The Yankees have had a lot of health problems in recent years (both injuries and setbacks) thanks in part to their older roster. They’ve made their bed and have had to sleep in it when it comes to players getting hurt, and given their moves this winter, they’re content with rolling the dice again in 2014.
Last week, Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs published his annual starting pitcher DL projections, which have been shockingly accurate over the years. It’s not a specific injury projection (so and so will have a shoulder problem, etc.), just a projection of who will visit the DL next season based on their age and workload, as well as other factors like breaking ball usage and strike-throwing ability. It’s complicated, so click the link for the full explanation.
The Yankees only have three starters locked into spots next season: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Kuroda. A bunch of young kids will compete for the fifth spot and that fourth spot figures to go to a pitcher to be acquired later. Not only are Sabathia (career-worst year in 2013), Kuroda (crashed hard late in 2013), and Nova (erratic has hell) performance concerns heading into next season, but they’re also DL risks according to Zimmerman’s data.
Sabathia: 47% chance of landing on DL
It wasn’t too long ago that Sabathia was baseball’s preeminent workhorse, and in some ways he still is — he is one of four pitchers to throw at least 200 innings in each of the last seven seasons (Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, and James Shields are the others). Over the last 26 months, however, CC has dealt with a torn knee menisicus, a groin strain, elbow stiffness, a bone spur in his elbow, and a hamstring strain. He has finished each of the last three seasons either injured or in need of offseason surgery. Sabathia is getting up there in years and he’s thrown a frickin’ ton of innings in his career, and he compounds the problem by not telling anyone he’s banged up until it gets really bad (he pitched through the knee, elbow, and hamstring problems). It’s no surprise his risk of landing on the DL is so high, 16th highest among the 128 projected pitchers.
Kuroda: 43% chance of landing on DL
Kuroda has avoided the DL since arriving in New York but he has dealt with fatigue late in each of the last two seasons, so much so that he stopped throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session in September. He had a shoulder problem in 2008, an oblique problem in 2009, and a concussion (hit by a line drive) in 2010. Kuroda has topped 195 innings in each of the last four seasons and 180 innings in five of his six seasons in MLB. His DL projection is the 34th highest thanks mostly to his age.
Nova: 41% chance of landing on DL
Coming up through the minors, Nova was a workhorse who rarely missed a start. He has been hurt in each of the last three seasons though, missing time with a forearm strain (2011), shoulder tightness (2012), and triceps inflammation (2013). That’s three arm-related injuries in the last three years, albeit minor non-structural injuries that shelved him no more than a few weeks at a time. Nova has youth on his side, but his DL projection is still the 45th highest out of the 128 projected pitchers.
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Now, obviously, every pitcher is an injury risk. It comes with the territory. Some are riskier than others for a variety of reasons. The pitcher most likely to land on the DL next season according to Zimmerman is Bartolo Colon (64%), which makes sense given his age, injury history, and general portliness. He’s the only active pitcher over 60% (retired Andy Pettitte is at 63%). The pitcher least at risk is Madison Bumgarner (26%). The top free agent hurlers rank anywhere from not that risky (Ervin Santana, 34%) to moderately risky (Ubaldo Jimenez, 38%) to very risky (Matt Garza, 51%).
As for the Yankees, they have three of the 45 starters most at risk of visiting the DL next season, and that’s on top of their performance concerns. The team does have some nice back-end depth in David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, but three of those four guys spent at least a few months on the DL this past season themselves. Only Warren made it through the entire year healthy. The Bombers not only need to add a starter, they need to add a durable innings guy they can count on to take the ball every fifth day.
Three weeks after agreeing to terms, the Yankees have finally announced the signing of Carlos Beltran to a three-year contract. He already revealed on Twitter he will wear #36. The press conference is scheduled for tomorrow at 11am and you’ll be able to watch on YES.
To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated right-hander Brett Marshall for assignment. The 23-year-old had a disappointing 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings for Triple-A Scranton this past season. He made his big league debut and allowed six runs in 12 innings across three appearances. I’m thinking he’ll slip through waivers. We’ll see. · (38) ·
Via Sponichi (translated by Yakyu Baka): Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana says the team is “still undecided” about whether to post Masahiro Tanaka this winter. They’re still discussing matters with their ace right-hander and there is no timetable for a decision.
A report floating around earlier today indicated Tanaka would not be posted, but it appears that was a game of telephone gone wrong. It was a report referencing reports from Japan, reports no one can seem to find. Rakuten is said to be willing to make Tanaka the highest paid player in NPB history at roughly $8M next season, but that’s still only about half what he’d earn by coming to MLB. So, anyway, there is still nothing to report about Tanaka’s availability. The pitching market is in a holding pattern until there is some resolution. · (65) ·
At some point very soon, perhaps today, the Yankees will formally announce the signing of Carlos Beltran. The 40-man roster is full at the moment, so someone will lose their spot when Beltran puts pen to paper. The same will happen when Brian Roberts becomes official. Ditto Matt Thornton and another starter and a third baseman and a reliever or two.
Needless to say, the Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make regarding roster spots in the near future. There are more pending contracts and still unaddressed needs than obvious designate for assignment/release candidates. Let’s sort through the roster (here’s the 40-man for reference) and attempt to figure out who is most expendable when 40-man spots are needed in the coming weeks.
Definitely Safe (19): Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Slade Heathcott, Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, Shawn Kelley, Hiroki Kuroda, Brian McCann, J.R. Murphy, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, Brendan Ryan, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Adam Warren
These nineteen players aren’t going anywhere for obvious reasons. They’re either key pieces of the big league roster or among New York’s top prospects. If any of these guys are traded, they’ll be traded for someone to help the big league team. Not a non-40-man roster candidate for a sake of clearing a roster spot.
It’s Complicated (1): Alex Rodriguez
The day will come when the Yankees dump A-Rod off the 40-man, but that day is not imminent. Not as long as the ruling for his appeal hearing — a ruling that could save the team tens of millions of dollars — is still pending.
Now, that said, Rodriguez would not count against the 40-man roster if he is suspended, so he could win up opening a spot anyway. The ruling is expected sometime next month and there are indications the Yankees won’t add another infielder until it comes down — makes sense since there is only one open position player slot on the roster at the moment — so either A-Rod or a player occupying his 40-man spot will man third come Opening Day. Like I said, it’s complicated.
Probably Safe (12): Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Jose Campos, Frankie Cervelli, Preston Claiborne, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Eduardo Nunez, Vidal Nuno, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine
I don’t think you can say any of these folks are absolutely locked into the roster spots and untouchable, but it would be surprising if they were dumped to make room for someone else. Is it possible? Sure. Likely? Nah. There’s no such thing as too much pitching or catching depth, and the Yankees are in a position to cut loose an infielder like Nunez at this moment.
These are the guys who could legitimately lose their roster spot in the next few weeks. Ichiro is a useful fifth outfielder at this point but he doesn’t really have a role with the team outside of defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Yankees have been shopping him in recent weeks and if the opportunity emerges to shed some salary, they’ll probably jump all over it.
Flores and Marshall had disappointing 2013 seasons and that’s probably enough to put them on the chopping block. They’re okay but not great prospects, the kinda guys who could slip through waivers. Turley is a notch above those two on the prospect totem pole and since he’s both left-handed and breathing, he’d definitely get claimed off waivers. He seems like an unlikely future roster casuality but I wouldn’t rule it out completely if things get tight.
Almonte and Anna are the “next in line” depth players. If (and when, really) an outfielder gets hurt next summer, Almonte will be called up to take his place. When an infielder gets hurt, it’ll be Anna. Maybe the Yankees feel comfortable with Heathcott and Nunez in those roles, but that MLB-ready depth is never a bad thing. Considering the current roster situation, it’s not unreasonable to think one of these two could be in jeopardy come February or so.
These two guys stand out as obvious candidates to lose their spots. Huff had a nice run as a swingman late in the season but he has a) not been mentioned as part of any kind of Spring Training competition, and b) been replaced as the lefty out of the bullpen by Thorton. As a soft-tosser in a tiny ballpark in the AL East with no track record of big league success, he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to dump too early rather than too late.
Wells, meanwhile, has been relegated to sixth outfielder status by the Ellsbury and Beltran signings. He doesn’t hit lefties (89 wRC+ vs. LHP in 2013) and his power completely vanished in mid-May last season. He also doesn’t play anything more than passable defense and isn’t particularly versatile. Wells is a man without a role now that he’s stopped hitting southpaws, making him a prime roster cut candidate. The fact that he counts as zero dollars against the luxury tax (the Yankees owe him $2.4M in real dollars next season) makes walking away a little easier to swallow.
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Whenever the Beltran contract is made official, it would make sense that Wells would lose his 40-man roster spot as the corresponding roster move. The Yankees would still have Ellsbury, Beltran, Soriano, Gardner, and Ichiro at the big league level with Almonte slated for Triple-A. Cutting Wells for Beltran is so obvious and makes so much sense it probably won’t happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut Huff instead.
Either way, both guys seem likely to lose their 40-man spots in the coming weeks given the roster crunch. After them, I would guess Marshall and Flores are most at risk of being cut. An Ichiro trade and/or an A-Rod suspension would both make life a little easier and give the team some added flexibility. Once Huff and Wells are gone, the Yankees are going to have to make some real tough decisions when it comes to fitting everyone on the roster heading into next season.
If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski published his ZiPS projections for the current Yankees roster over at FanGraphs today. The graphic above includes the WAR projections. Just to be clear, projections are not predictions. The system is just spitting out an estimation of each players’ current talent level. I wouldn’t take the projections to heart even though ZiPS has been the most accurate of the various systems (on a macro scale) for a while now. Just look at ‘em for fun.
Some quick observations: Holy cow that infield is awful. ZiPS has Ellsbury hitting 14 homers, which would be awesome. The system likes Dean Anna and J.R. Murphy (both 1.6 WAR) but hates Brett Marshall (-3.1 WAR (!)). I wonder if any other player projects that poorly. After David Robertson, the current bullpen is just about replacement level or worse. ZiPS thinks Derek Jeter is toast (0.4 WAR) while Alex Rodriguez has a tiny something left in the tank (1.0 WAR).
As the disclaimer in the ZiPS post says, don’t add up the projected WAR total and use that to come up with an expected 2014 win total. The system doesn’t work like that. If it did, the Yankees would be pretty screwed. Click the link to scroll through the individual projections if you’re so inclined.