Got four questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box to send us your questions or anything else throughout the week.
Mark asks: If Jacoby Ellsbury stays healthy and has a productive 2013, should the Yankees consider signing him as Curtis Granderson‘s replacement in the unlikely event Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this offseason? Even though he is a Scott Boras client, I cannot imagine he will get anything close to the 7-10 guaranteed years Cano likely will get from some desperate team given his past injury history.
Ellsbury, 29, desperately needs to have a strong season in 2013. He was a monster in 2011, but otherwise has only played 92 games with four DL trips in 2010 and 2012 combined. I’m pretty sure the Red Sox will let him walk — or even trade him at the deadline — after the season because Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming, so Ellsbury really needs to have a good healthy season if he wants to cash in next winter.
Here’s the thing though: if Ellsbury does stay healthy and has a strong year, Boras will be looking for $100M+. No doubt about it with an MVP-caliber season so close in the rear-view mirror. If he gets hurt again, then you’re talking about signing an injury prone player and expecting him to play everyday. Not the wisest idea. Ellsbury is a good player but I don’t thing he’ll ever repeat his 2011 effort, so I don’t like the idea of signing him to replace Granderson. Even if he stays healthy this summer, there’s still a long injury history there and it would make me wary considering his likely asking price.
Kevin asks: What about Francisco Rodriguez? He isn’t is former self obviously but I refuse to believe he is useless. He could give us insurance with closer experience if Mariano Rivera has a set back.
K-Rod, 31, pitched to a 4.38 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 72 innings for the Brewers last year, his worst season in the big leagues. His strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 23.6 K%) and walk (3.88 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%) were right in line with his career rates, but his swing-and-miss rate (7.9%) was by far the worst of his career (career 12.4%). His homerun rate (1.00 HR/9 and 12.3% HR/FB) were his worst since he first broke into the show. On the bright side, Rodriguez’s fastball velocity spiked back up last summer after a steady multi-year decline.
Last week Jon Heyman reported K-Rod will pitch in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and use the event to showcase himself to teams. The Yankees have a good amount of bullpen depth behind right-handers David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Rivera, but K-Rod would be the first guy I’d call if one of them got hurt in camp. He’s had continued off-the-field troubles and I doubt the makeup-loving Yankees would go for that, however. Rodriguez isn’t what he once was, but he’s still a useful reliever and someone New York should keep tabs on during the WBC.
David asks: Just happened to be surfing during a boring part of SNL and took a look at the MLB list of players with no options. What do you think of Conor Gillaspie? If the Giants don’t keep him, I’m sure someone will claim him, but I’m wondering if it makes sense to try to work out a trade? Yankees would use a young lefty bat who plays third with good minor numbers. Could be a useful left-handed bat on the bench to pinch-hit for a catcher or someone to spell Youk.
I’m willing to bet you are able to do a whole lot more than skim the out-of-options list during the boring part of SNL these days. Ba-dum ching!
That was my attempt at humor. Anyway, the Giants drafted the 25-year-old Gillaspie with the 37th overall pick in the 2008 draft and rather than give him a Major League contract, they promised him a September call-up. He made his big league debut that September and has since burned through his four minor league options (he qualified for a fourth because he used his original three during the first five years of his pro career).
Over the last two seasons, Gillaspie has hit .289/.368/.447 (~107 wRC+) with 25 homers and strong walk (11.1%) and strikeout (13.7%) rates in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s had three big league cups of coffee but hasn’t hit (60 wRC+) in 48 total plate appearances. Gillaspie is primarily a third baseman but the Giants have tried him out at first and in left field in the past. Baseball America did not rank him as one of the 30 best prospects in a brutal San Francisco farm system — system ranked 26th by Keith Law and 28th by BA — in their latest Prospect Handbook, which gives you an idea of how farm his stock as fallen. At this point he’s more of an organizational player than anything.
The only locks for Bruce Bochy’s bench right now are backup catcher Hector Sanchez, infielder (and former Yankees farmhand) Joaquin Arias, and outfielder Andres Torres. That leaves two spots open, one of which figures to go a left-handed hitting pinch-hitter. Given the names on their 40-man roster and non-roster invitee list, it sure looks like Gillaspie has a great chance to make the team. If he doesn’t, then I doubt he’s good enough to crack anyone’s bench. The “former (supplemental) first round pick” stuff means he still has a little bit of prospect shine, but I’m not sure Gillaspie is a legit big leaguer. He might be worth a minor trade or waiver claim, but I wouldn’t offer up much of anything even though he appears like a nice fit for the Eric Chavez role on paper.
Update!: The Giants just announced that they traded Gillaspie to the White Sox for a fringy minor league pitcher. I suppose the Yankees could look to acquire him from Chicago, but meh.
Sal asks: Who is the best player the Yankee farm system EVER produced? I’m guessing Derek Jeter or Mickey Mantle?
Without looking, I’m guessing Mantle. Now here are the top five position players and top five pitchers in franchise history according to bWAR…
Yogi Berra (56.2 bWAR) was a distant sixth behind Jeter and Lefty Gomez (39.5 bWAR) was right behind Ruffing, in case you’re wondering.
Ruth obviously wasn’t homegrown, so he’s not relevant in this discussion. Gehrig and Mantle are essentially tied — a difference of 3.0 bWAR spread across nearly 10,000 plate appearances is nothing. Gehrig is the best first baseman in history by a not small margin (Albert Pujols is second at 88.5 bWAR) while Mantle is “only” the fourth best center fielder (behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker). Is that enough to say Gehrig is the greatest homegrown Yankee over Mantle? Eh, sure. Why not.
Now, we have to remember that back in Gehrig’s and Mantle’s day, every amateur player was a free to sign with whatever team. The draft and international free agency as we know it (more or less) were implemented in 1965. The best homegrown Yankee during the draft era is Jeter by a mile. Rivera is the second best, then you’ve got Bernie Williams (45.9 bWAR), Thurman Munson (43.3 bWAR), Pettitte, and Guidry essentially tied for third. Fred McGriff was a Yankees draft pick who was traded away before reaching the big leagues, and he managed to rack up 48.2 bWAR. He’s the second best player the team has ever drafted with the caveat that Pettitte could pass him in 2013. Pretty crazy.
Thursday: Unsurprisingly, Price backtracked today. “It probably wasn’t the best thing to say, but I didn’t mean anything by it … I wasn’t looking to offend the Yankees. It’s probably the best organization in all of sports. Not just baseball, but all of sports. I didn’t mean anything (against) the New York Yankees. I’ve had friends on that team for multiple years,” said the left-hander. Sounds like his agent told him it wasn’t a good idea to say he wouldn’t sign with one of the game’s wealthiest teams, eh?
Wednesday: Via Jon Morosi: David Price said he would not sign a long-term contract with the Yankees because of their facial hair policy. “I wouldn’t stay there very long (if traded to New York),” said the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. “I wouldn’t sign a long-term deal there. Those rules, that’s old-school baseball. I was born in ’85. That’s not for me. That’s not something I want to be a part of.”
Price, who was in fact born in ’85, won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. He is slated to earn a little more than $10M this year, making him the highest paid player in franchise history. It’s also his second of four trips through arbitration as a Super Two, and as Morosi’s column states, it appears to be only a matter of time before Price gets too expensive for the Rays and they trade him for what might be an unprecedented prospect package. It could happen as soon as the trade deadline but I’m thinking next winter. Either way, I’m guessing David would be singing a different tune in a few years if he hits the open market and the Yankees make the largest offer. It is his destiny. · (121) ·
Only one more workout day left before Spring Training games begin. Here’s the latest from Tampa…
- Chad Jennings has the day’s batting practice, fielding drill, and bullpen assignments. Hiroki Kuroda threw live batting practice — Juan Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki both took him deep — while David Phelps threw a side session, the only two projected big leaguers to throw today. Dan Johnson was joined by Corban Joseph at third base during fielding drills. [Mark Feinsand]
- As expected, Curtis Granderson took fly balls in left field during today’s workout, though the outfielders did rotation all around. Joe Girardi said they’re “going to toy with it and see if we like it (and) if we do, we’ll stay with it.” Granderson is on board with a switch if the team feels it’s best, which is not a small deal considering he will hurt his free agent stock by playing left. [Jennings, Jack Curry & Meredith Marakovits]
- Mark Montgomery (back sprain) and Phil Hughes (bulging disk) are both feeling better. Montgomery will throw a bullpen session tomorrow. Girardi said Vidal Nuno is likely to start the team’s third Grapefruit League game — Phelps and Adam Warren have the first two — while the projected big league guys are unlikely to get into games until early-March. [Jennings]
- Mariano Rivera will throw a round of live batting practice tomorrow, his first time facing hitters since having his right knee surgically repaired last May. [George King]
Here is your open thread for the evening. All three hockey locals are in action, so talk about those games or anything else on your mind here. Go nuts.
5:57pm: Infielder Walt Ibarra (Mexico) and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte (Italy) will also play in the tournament according to Wally Matthews. Guess this means Venditte’s right shoulder is healthy following labrum surgery.
5:30pm: Via Dan Barbarisi: Outfielder Melky Mesa, left-hander Juan Cedeno, and infielder Gil Velazquez will all participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Velazquez will play for Team Mexico while the other two will suit up for Team Dominican Republic.
The 33-year-old Velazquez and 29-year-old Cedeno are expected to serve as depth pieces with Triple-A Scranton this summer. Mesa, 26, has an outside chance of making the big league team as the right-handed hitting outfield bench bat with a strong spring, though this might be a once in a lifetime thing for him. The Dominican Republic’s outfield has been decimated by declined invites (Melky Cabrera and Carlos Gomez, specifically), so Mesa might be their everyday center fielder. I don’t blame him for going, and there’s a good chance we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer anyway. He should be the first outfielder recalled when injury strikes. · (4) ·
The Yankees are still two days away from playing their first exhibition game of the spring, but they’ve already suffered their first pitching injury of the year. Phil Hughes managed to suffer a bulging disk in his mid-upper back during a routine fielding drill earlier this week, an injury that will keep him on anti-inflammatory medication and off the field for at least five days. The always conservative Brian Cashman was thinking more like two weeks.
“The doctor clearly isn’t aggressively treating it and that’s a good sign,” said the GM to Chad Jennings. “But there’s no guarantees until we get through the two-week process, and we see where he’s at and he’s back on the mound and stuff like that … I could stand here and say, ‘Yeah, we’re excited thankfully it’s a low-level situation and blah blah blah,’ but I think we need to really get through this stuff and see that it responds that way. So it’s a question mark until we can all forget about that it ever happened.”
Since it is still only February, the Yankees are sure to play it safe with their number four starter. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi told Mark Feinsand that he doesn’t expect the injury to impact Hughes’ status for the start of the season, saying “he’s a little bit ahead of where he’d normally be … If you’re going to get a break, I’d rather it be early in Spring Training because I think you can make up a little bit of time now more than later, but we’ll see.”
Although I’m hopeful the back injury isn’t anything serious, it is a harsh reminder of the importance of depth. Baseball isn’t a 25-man game anymore, teams need those useful pieces in Triple-A to cover for injury and ineffectiveness, especially in the ultra-competitive AL East. The Yankees have a number of older players who are either coming off injury (CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, eventually Alex Rodriguez) or are just injury prone (Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis), so that depth will be extra important for them. Hughes is no stranger to the DL himself, and seeing the 26-year-old starter get hurt before games even begin is discouraging.
“I don’t think you really know how good your depth is until you get tested,” said Girardi to Jennings. “And then, once you go through what we went through last year, we found out it was pretty good. But until you go through it, and you have to run guys out there every day — a lot more than they’re supposed to — you don’t really know how good it is … There’s less experience there.”
Girardi said it perfectly, teams don’t find out how good their depth is until they have to use it. Cases in which a club has an established big leaguer stashed (and healthy!) in Triple-A are rare — think the Nationals and John Lannan last year — so most depth pieces are prospects or guys on prove-yourself minor league contracts. Guys like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise last summer, for example. Prospects and fringy big leaguers tend to be hit-or-miss, they either exceed expectations or have their clubs scrambling for a replacement. It’s a mystery until they’re called upon.
Despite having Adam Warren and Brett Marshall slated for the Scranton rotation, the Yankees are still looking for a veteran starter to stash in Triple-A. Because these depth pieces tend to be a mystery, the best thing to do is stockpile options and hope for the best. Pitchers with big arms and position players who do at least one and preferably two things — hit for power, play defense, run, etc. — well are the standard fodder. For the Yankees, that means guys like Warren, Marshall, Shawn Kelley, Cody Eppley, Corban Joseph, Dan Johnson, Melky Mesa, maybe Ronnie Mustelier, and maybe David Adams if he stays healthy. No sure things but the potential to be helpful. Again, a mystery until called upon.
I feel like I preach the value of depth several times every year, but that’s only because I think it’s so important. Cashman & Co. appear to have realized this in recent years and have done a much better job of stockpiling miscellaneous pieces — it’s been a long time since they had to scramble for a replacement a la Shawn Chacon, Tim Redding, and Raul Mondesi. That depth will be extra important in 2013 given the big league roster construction and the expected tougher-than-usual AL East. When so many clubs are bunched close together, the team that gets the most production from their spare parts will have the best chance of coming out ahead.
12:57pm: Brian Cashman confirmed to Curry that both Gardner and Granderson will play left this spring as the team evaluates its options.
12:00pm: Via Jack Curry: Curtis Granderson is taking fly balls in left field during today’s workout in Tampa. This is obviously a precursor to the long-rumored position switch with Brett Gardner, which would put the better defender in the more premium position. Just to be clear, this isn’t a guarantee the switch will happen, but it does show the Yankees are seriously considering it. Expect them to try out the new alignment in numerous Grapefruit League games before making anything final. · (51) ·
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been going back and forth with one-time RABer Moshe Mandel about Robinson Cano‘s impending free agency. We’ve debated almost everything, from whether they should re-sign him to how much is too much, and all sorts of stuff in between. I’m guessing we’ll discuss it a few more times between now and November.
Anyway, during one of our recent friendly debates we got into talking about what a potential mega-contract for Cano would mean for the farm system, specifically the need to produce quality big leaguers. Obviously it’s important for every team to have a productive farm system, but factors at the big league level impact just how important it is. For total rebuilders like the Astros and Cubs, the farm system is very important. For clear contenders like the Nationals and Tigers, they aren’t as crucial.
The Yankees are much closer to clear contender than total rebuilder, but the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by next year means some level of rebuilding is on order. The club will need to develop a few productive players of their own, but how a new contract by Cano impacts that need is up for debate.
The case that re-signing Cano means they’ll need more from the farm system
The exact amount is still far from determined, but it’s safe to say Robbie’s next contract will be worth more than $20M annually. Add in existing commitments to Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), and Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), and the Yankees are going to leave themselves with something like $90M to fill out the rest of the roster. With three starting pitchers, one outfielder, and at least three relievers scheduled to hit free agency next winter, the Yankees will need their farm to plug some holes on the cheap. On the other hand, they won’t be desperate for a homegrown impact hitter because Cano will still be around.
The case that letting Cano walk means they’ll need more from the farm system
If the Yankees are unable to retain their second baseman, they’ll have approximately $110M in wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold going forward. They’ll have those same holes — three starters, three relievers, one outfielder — to fill plus the second base spot, and it’ll be tough to plug all those holes with free agents. The Yankees would need their system to produce an impact middle of the order bat in very near future plus other useful pieces to shore up the roster. They’d have more money to spend, but also a much bigger hole to fill in the lineup.
* * *
As I said before, the Yankees are going to need to farm system to start cranking out capable big leaguers regardless of what happens with Cano. They can thank their self-imposed payroll cap for that. Is the farm system more important with or without Cano? Moshe and I haven’t been able to agree about that, so let’s bust out the ol’ RAB pollin’ machine.
This completely slipped my mind until just now, but today (Wednesday) is RAB’s sixth birthday. The time just flew by and I speak for myself, Ben, and Joe when I say none of us expected the site to turn into what it has. We’ve met a ton of cool people and made many great friends during these six years, and we owe it all to you. Thanks for reading and hopefully there are many more years to come. · (66) ·
Via Wally Matthews: Hal Steinbrenner appears ready to ditch his plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by next season. “This is the first time since George died that it appears a Steinbrenner is actually running the Yankees,” said a source. I feel obligated to warn you that nothing is set in stone and this report is speculation more than anything.
Hal was “freaked out” by the negative response to the team’s plan to cut payroll according to Matthews, and it didn’t hurt that the savings are likely to be less than anticipated. I guess it’s possible season ticket sales were lower than expected as well. Earlier today we heard the team informed Scott Boras they are willing to discuss a “significant” contract for Robinson Cano, which may have been the first sign that the 2014 payroll plan is crumbling. If it is, then fran-freaking-tastic. I’ll believe it when I see it though. · (108) ·
Today was photo day down in Tampa, though most are pretty boring outside of Joba Chamberlain‘s dirtstache. There was no Instagramming this year, but check out Getty Images and US Presswire for the various pictures anyway. Here’s the latest from Spring Training…
- As usual, Chad Jennings has the batting practice, fielding drill, and bullpen assignments. Ivan Nova (simulated game) and Joba (live batting practice) both faced hitters while Dan Johnson again worked out at third base.
- Mark Montgomery (back sprain) played long toss today and will play catch tomorrow. If he makes it through that without any problems, he’ll get back up on a mound and throw a bullpen session on Friday. [Jennings]
- Michael Pineda plead no contest to his August DUI charge and received the minimum penalty for a first-time offender, which includes 12 months probation, 50 hours of community service, a fine, and six months with no license. [Dan Martin]
- In case you missed it earlier, we had an update on Phil Hughes and his bad back. He’ll be shut down for a minimum of five days, likely more.
Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, so talk about either of those games or anything else on your mind. Enjoy.