For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are looking for a second baseman. Well, they’re looking for an infielder. Kelly Johnson‘s flexibility allows them to look for someone to man either second or third depending how the market shakes out. Omar Infante makes a lot of sense since he’s versatile and can play either spot, but Buster Olney says he’s seeking more than $8M annually on a long-term deal. That’s crazy even by today’s standards.
The rest of the infield market is pretty crummy — the Yankees really did a good job by signing Johnson early and at that price, the more I think about it and look at the alternatives — but one player who stands out as a potential fit is veteran second baseman Mark Ellis. The 36-year-old was the token non-star player in the Dodgers’ lineup this past season after spending the majority of his career with the Athletics, and now he’s a free agent. Does he fit with the Yankees? Let’s find out.
- Offensively, Ellis is a contact-oriented guys who hits to all fields (spray chart). He hit .270 (.310 BABIP) this past season with a 15.4% strikeout rate and an 86.5% contact rate. Over the last two years with the Dodgers, Ellis has hit .263 (.303 BABIP) with a 15.3% strikeout rate and an 87.3% contract rate. That’s the 26th highest contact rate among the 190 players to bat at least 800 times since 2012.
- Ellis, a right-handed hitter, does pound southpaws. He put up a .282/.331/.412 (112 wRC+) line against them in 2013 and a .302/.354/.457 (128 wRC+) line against them from 2012-2013. That includes a tiny 12.7% strikeout rate.
- In the field is where Ellis earns his money. He’s a standout defensive second baseman who has graded out very well according to the various stats: +23 UZR, +39 DRS, +9 FRAA, and +28 Total Zone over the last three seasons. His defensive spray chart shows just many balls he can get to. Pretty cool.
- The Dodgers did not tender Ellis a qualifying offer, so it won’t cost the Yankees or any other team a draft pick to sign him.
- Ellis has no power at all. He has hit 25 homers total over the last four years (1,955 plate appearances) and over the last two years he has a measly .093 ISO. As his batted ball distance graph shows, he simply doesn’t hit the ball very far. There’s no reason to think Yankee Stadium will help his power output in a meaningful way.
- Right-handed pitchers eat him right up. Ellis hit only .265/.319/.325 (83 wRC+) against righties in 2013 and .247/.316/.312 (80 wRC+) against them while with the Dodgers over the last two seasons. He’s just a platoon hitter on a light side of the platoon.
- Ellis doesn’t provide much on the bases. He’s stolen nine bags in ten tries (hooray efficiency!) over the last two years while taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 36% of the time. That’s a few ticks below the 40% league average.
- Ellis may be slick with the glove but he has close to zero versatility. He has played a total 147.2 innings at positions other than second base in his career. That is broken down into 20.2 innings at first (14.2 since 2006), 63.2 innings at short (none since 2005), and 63.1 innings at third (0.1 since 2002).
- Injuries are a problem. Ellis has been on the DL at least once every year since 2008 and in eight of the last ten seasons. His list of injuries include a torn labrum (2004), broken thumb (2006), another torn labrum (2008), calf strain (2009), hamstring strain (2010 and 2011), acute compartment syndrome surgery on his left leg (2012), and a quad strain (2013). Ellis has played in 130+ games just once since 2007 and twice since 2003.
The Cardinals and Rays are among the clubs pursuing Ellis according to Susan Slusser and Ken Rosenthal, so if nothing else, it’s reassuring to know some smart clubs are looking at him. He’s basically the second base version of Brendan Ryan, only a bit more useful with the bat, especially against lefties. A Ryan-Ellis middle infield would be the team’s best defensive double play combination in a long time, which would be very useful if they acquire an extreme ground-baller like Justin Masterson. That seems unlikely at this point, however.
Ellis made $5.25M in 2013 and the Dodgers elected to pay him a $1M buyout rather than exercise his $5.75M club option a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine he will get a multi-year contract at this point of his career — I said that two years ago, but then Los Angeles gave him two guaranteed years, so what do I know — and a deal similar to Johnson’s seems reasonable. One year and $3M or so. Infante is asking for a ton of money — he looks like a classic case of a guy who had a career year offensively at just the right time, no? — and the trade market is mostly barren, meaning Ellis may be the best realistic option. He’d bat ninth, catch everything hit his way, do some damage against lefties, and be eminently replaceable if someone better comes along.
The Yankees have acquired right-hander Kyle Haynes from the Pirates to complete last week’s Chris Stewart trade, the team announced. Stewart was dealt for a player to be named later a few hours before the non-tender deadline. New York was going to cut him loose for no return before working out the swap with Pittsburgh.
Haynes, 22, was a 20th round pick out of Virginia Commonwealth in 2012. He had a 2.38 ERA (2.68 FIP) in 83.1 innings for the Pirates’ High Class-A affiliate this past season, making 33 relief appearances before moving into the rotation and closing out the year with eight starts. Haynes had a very nice strikeout rate (9.18 K/9 and 24.6 K%) but walked a few too many (3.89 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%). He has allowed one homer in 110 career innings since signing. Pirates Prospects has a scouting report and says he’s a low-90s fastball guy with a slider and a changeup. Stewart had basically no trade value, so getting a Double-A ready arm who misses bats is a solid deal for the Yankees. · (20) ·
Eric Jagielo | 3B
Jagielo (pronounced “ja-guy-low”) is from the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, where he lettered all four years in baseball at Downers Grove North High School. He hit .585/.676/1.137 with 17 doubles, 16 homers, 47 runs driven in, and 52 runs scored — school records across the board — with only four strikeouts as a senior and was named First Team All-State. Despite the production, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Jagielo as one of the 30 best prospects in the state for the 2010 draft. The Cubs selected him in the 50th round with the 1,510th overall pick, the 15th to last pick in the draft.
Jagielo declined to sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Notre Dame. He started all 53 games as a freshman for the Fighting Irish and was something of a super utility man, starting 30 games in left field, 15 in center field, six at first base, and two at third base. Jagielo hit .269/.355/.418 with 13 doubles, five homers, five stolen bases (in ten attempts), 25 walks, and 30 strikeouts that year, becoming the first freshman to hit third on Opening day for Notre Dame since 1988.
When pitching becomes available, the Yankees will undoubtedly show interest. So when we learned yesterday that the Indians are willing to listen on Justin Masterson, it was only a matter of time before some reporter noted that the Yankees are in on him. Sure enough, this morning Bob Nightengale mentioned that the Yankees “would love to grab [Indians] Masterson in a 3-team trade involving CF Gardner.” Plenty of other teams will be interested, of course, and we know the Yankees have limited resources to use in a trade.
Buster Olney might have thrown cold water on the idea, but trades with no legs can sprout legs pretty quickly, especially when every team is in the same place with nothing else really to do except talk trade. Then again, this situation appeared to be a long shot even when we first heard about it. For that reason, we’ll start with the cons of the deal.
- The Yankees and the Indians don’t match up directly. With Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, the Indians have no need for Brett Gardner. That would necessitate a third team, as Nightengale noted. While we saw a three-team trade yesterday, they’re notoriously complex.
- The Indians, who made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2007, are still contenders in 2014. They already lost Scott Kazmir, and their best 2013 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, is currently a free agent. Without Masterson they’d have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer in the rotation. That’s young, sure, but they’d need more to become a playoff rotation.
- In fact, they might need more now in order to be a playoff rotation, further confounding the situation.
- Masterson is a free agent after this year, leaving the Yankees again in a position where they need rotation upgrades. That could be a pro, as Mike wrote yesterday, but how many of those six pitchers will actually make it to free agency?
- Masterson improved his game in 2013, increasing his strikeout rate and improving his performance against left-handed hitters. At the same time, he still generates a huge number of ground balls.
- At age 29 in 2014, Masterson is in position for a monster year. At various points in the past he has shown a decent walk rate (2011), a high strikeout rate (2013), and the ability to pitch over 200 innings (2011 and 2012). If he puts them all together in his walk year, he’ll provide insane value.
- Since coming up in 2008, and throug his 1013 career IP, Masterson has never hit the DL. That’s only slightly misleading; a ribcage injury last September would have put him on the DL if it weren’t for expanded rosters. True, Masterson did undergo shoulder labrum surgery — but on his non-throwing shoulder. Perhaps that threw him off in his career-worst 2012.
- After earning just over $5.5 million last season, Masterson appears in line for a $10 million salary this season, according to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. That’s easily affordable for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, in a situation like this, the pros also lend themselves to cons. The Indians will likely get more value out of Masterson, especially considering their current state of pitching, than they would in a trade. The necessity of adding a third team pretty much puts the nail in the coffin on this one. Maybe there’s one nail left to be hammered down, leaving just enough breathing room to keep our hopes alive.
While speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees are planning to retire #6 in honor of Joe Torre at some point. “We haven’t given it out for a reason,” said the GM. “It’s been tucked away for quite some time. At some point, that’ll happen, not doubt about it. Clearly it has already unofficially happened.”
Torre, 73, was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era committee on Monday thanks to his 12-year stint in the Bronx. The divorce was not pretty, but the two sides have since made amends and Torre has returned to Yankee Stadium on several occasions. Old Timer’s Day, Mariano Rivera’s going away ceremony, stuff like that. He deserves to have his number retired and I’m glad the team will make it official at some point.
Fun Fact: The last player to wear #6 before Torre was Tony Fernandez in 1995. Here’s the full list. · (41) ·
The Yankees did not clear a 40-man roster spot prior to Monday’s deadline, so they will not be able to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. I thought they might roll the dice on a reliever or two given the state of the bullpen, but I guess not. Not a big deal, obviously. The success rate of Rule 5 Draft picks under the current system is so low it’s not even worth thinking about.
The Yankees will need to open a 40-man spot once Carlos Beltran’s three-year contract becomes official. Otherwise all of the team’s recent additions are finalized and on the roster. · (14) ·
The second day of the Winter Meetings came and went … well, kinda. It’s still going on but you know what I mean. The Mark Trumbo trade is the big baseball news of the day (yawn), and as far as the Yankees are concerned, the only interesting thing was Brian Cashman (transcript) and Joe Girardi (transcript) speaking to the media. Both guys discussed a number of topics but didn’t say anything overly interesting, typical YankeeSpeak. Girardi did acknowledge that Robinson Cano was not happy batting second this past season, which we first heard a few days ago. Oh well. It’s in the past.
This is your open thread for the evening. The five hockey and basketball locals are all in action, so talk about any of those games, the Winter Meetings, or anything else on your mind. Enjoy.
By Winter Meetings standards, Monday was pretty slow. Most of the top free agents have signed already, and until we get some resolution regarding Masahiro Tanaka, the pitching market will remain relatively quiet. The Yankees are still looking for a starter even after re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, plus they need some bullpen help and either a second or third baseman. Oh, and general depth. That’s always necessary.
Here are yesterday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most notable thing we learned is that New York’s asking price for Brett Gardner is “through (the) roof” while rival executives think he’ll fetch a number three starter at best. His value is greater to the Yankees than it is anyone else, really. We’ll keep track of the day’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times at ET.
- 9:18am: The Yankees want to import two relievers and they’ve been discussing Joaquin Benoit internally. Matt looked at him earlier today. [Bob Nightengale]
- 5:46pm: The Yankees have not yet shown much interest in left-hander Paul Maholm as a back of the rotation stopgap. [McCullough]
- 5:39pm: Unsurprisingly, Ichiro has a “limited trade market, maybe very limited.” The Yankees want to move him and keep Gardner. [Heyman]
- 3:00pm: The Yankees are one of three teams to inquire about Dustin Ackley. He’s a buy-low second base candidate. Like the idea but not sure how salvageable he is. [Jon Heyman]
- 2:08pm: “Signing one might be easier than trading for one,” said Cashman, referring to the market for starting pitchers. Not surprising given the team’s trade chips. [Chad Jennings]
- 1:57pm: Cashman confirmed other teams have inquired about Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy, and Ivan Nova in addition to Gardner and others. [Andy McCullough]
- 1:49pm: “I have thrown a lot of trade proposals out there, as well as conversations with free agents,” said Cashman while adding he’s unsure if these talks will actually lead to anything. [Barbarisi]
- 1:38pm: The Yankees have not had any trade talks about their spare outfielders (i.e. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) with the Giants. [John Shea]
- 1:28pm: Brian Cashman called Kevin Youkilis‘ agent to gauge his interest in returning, but Youkilis wants to play closer to his home in California. Funny, I want him to do that too. [Jack Curry]
- 12:17pm: The Yankees do have interest in re-signing Mark Reynolds. Alfonso Soriano is the team’s only right-handed power hitter, so Reynolds would fit in a limited role. [David Waldstein]
- 11:52am: The Yankees and others have interest in Danny Espinosa, but the Nationals are balking at moving him right now. I looked at him as a buy-low target back in August. [Ken Rosenthal]
- 11:45am: There is nothing going on between the Yankees and Mets about Daniel Murphy at the moment. I looked at him as a potential trade target last month. [Andrew Marchand]
- 8:24am: The Yankees are “very much interested” in Michael Young and have also checked in on Juan Uribe, Eric Chavez, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Talks with Garza and Ubaldo are not serious. [Erik Boland & Steven Marcus]
- The Yankees did contact the Reds about Homer Bailey. It’s unclear what they were offering or what Cincinnati was seeking in return. Gardner makes an awful lot of sense here. Two underrated players both one year away from free agency and the Reds needs a leadoff man/center fielder. [Dan Barbarisi]
- Other clubs do not think highly of New York’s outfield prospects and that limits their ability to make trades. “The Yankees have no upper-level talent,” said a Cubs official after the Yankees asked about Jeff Samardzija. [Joel Sherman]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
Six years ago, the Yankees took one of the biggest risks in franchise history. The Twins were shopping two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana one year before free agency and he was a perfect fit for the Yankees, a team in need of a workhorse ace left-hander. There were offers and counteroffers, a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox, and weeks of rumors. It was exhausting, really.
Santana was a perfect fit for the Yankees … except that he wasn’t. Not only would they have had to trade away some of their top prospects to acquire him, but they’d also would have had to give him a nine-figure contract extension to keep him around. Johan was also showing some signs of decline, particularly in his spiking homerun rate and sudden decreased usage of his slider. There were definite red flags. It was a risky move but the type of move the Yankees usually make, except this time they didn’t. They passed on Santana and off he went to the Mets for a mostly forgettable four-player package.
The Yankees passed on Santana for two reasons. One, they wanted to keep their young pitching. Given the state of the franchise at the time, it was the right move. Two, there was a better option coming along the next offseason. CC Sabathia, another Cy Young winning workhorse left-hander, was due to become a free agent following the 2008 season, when New York could acquire him for nothing but money (and a draft pick). It was an incredibly risky move because there was no guarantee Sabathia would actually hit the open market, but the Yankees rolled the dice and a year later they got their man. They kept their young starters and got their ace lefty. Santana, meanwhile, gave the Mets one Cy Young caliber season before starting to break down. The plan couldn’t have worked out much better for the Yankees.
Fast forward to present day, and the Yankees are in a bit of a similar situation. No, they aren’t trying to trade for a Cy Young winning ace southpaw (that would be David Price), but they are in the market for pitching and there are some pricey options sitting out there for the taking, namely Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana. Those are the three best free agent starters available right now while Masahiro Tanaka sits in posting system limbo. And you know what? None of those three guys is a slam dunk, we gotta have him starter. Jimenez was awful as recently as the All-Star break, Garza has been hurt the last two years, and Santana was awful in 2012. The track records are as sketchy as they get for a high-priced starter.
Those are the top free agent pitchers available right now, with Hiroki Kuroda off the board and Tanaka not yet available. Now, courtesy of MLBTR, here is a sampling of the hurlers scheduled to hit the open market one year from now, during the 2014-2015 offseason (2015 season age in parenthesis):
Homer Bailey (29)
Clayton Kershaw (27)
Jon Lester (31)
Justin Masterson (30)
Max Scherzer (30)
James Shields (33)
Those are six pretty great pitchers, right? Just about all of them are reasonably young too. I’d rather have any of those six over Ubaldo or Garza or Santana, that’s for sure. Obviously those guys could sign extensions between now and next winter — Kershaw, Scherzer, and Lester seem most likely to ink an extension at this time — but there’s just so many of them that one or two figures to slip through the cracks and be available next offseason.
If Tanaka doesn’t get posted — I still think they should go all out to land him if he does indeed become available at some point — I think the Yankees would be better off repeating their Santana-Sabathia strategy. Rather than pay for an imperfect solution like Garza or Ubaldo or Santana right now, they could sign a stopgap starter (Bartolo?) for this year before going hard after one (or maybe even two) of those top guys next winter. They’ll want to have as much money available as possible if, say, Kershaw and Scherzer hit free agency next winter. Or Bailey and Masterson. Or Lester and Shields. You get the point. A stray Ubaldo could gum up the works.
Would this plan be risky? Absolutely. There’s a chance all of them will sign extensions before free agency and the Yankees will be left out in the pitching cold. Is it worth the risk? I think it is when there are six (not one or two) of these guys and the alternatives are Garza, Jimenez, and Santana. That’s easy for me to say when my neck isn’t on the line, obviously. It could be that the Santana-Sabathia situation was a one-time thing the Yankees are not willing to risk again, but because they took that risk once before and it worked out so wonderfully, we kinda have to assume it isn’t completely off the table in the future. If Tanaka is not posted, the Yankees’ best course of action maybe be signing a stopgap starter and focusing on those premium arms slated to hit the market next winter.
The Yankees have approached the offseason aggressively — Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are all big money import signings – particularly now that Robinson Cano has joined the most dysfunctional team in baseball Mariners. The team really can’t afford to stop there though, if they wish to compete in 2014. A quality second/third baseman along with another solid rotation arm is an absolute must. Additionally, the bullpen needs some revamping too. Fortunately, there are several relief options and one such option might come in the form of Joaquin Benoit. Let’s take a look.
- The man knows how to throw strikes (averaged 9.92 K/9 over the past three seasons) and he’s done it in high leverage situations. Benoit’s done a good job of keeping the ball in the park as well (averaged 1.06 HR/9 over the past three seasons) which would obviously be important in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee stadium. According to PitchFX, Benoit’s fastball velocity has consistently sat around 93 miles per hour over the past few seasons.
- In terms of overall results, in 2013 he pitched to a 2.01 ERA which ranked fifteenth among active relievers (2.87 FIP, 3.16 xFIP). Over the past four seasons he produced a 2.49 ERA (3.13 FIP, 3.04 xFIP). In other words, he’s been productive.
- Benoit has averaged 67 appearances in each of the past four seasons. Although no player is guaranteed to remain healthy over the course of the year, it’s good to see some semblance of durability and consistency – particularly from a player in a role that is notoriously volatile when it comes to health and production.
- Despite Benoit’s effectiveness last season, the Tigers elected to not extend him the qualifying offer. If the Yankees sign him, there would be no draft pick compensation.
- I don’t envy the man who has to take over the closer role now that Mariano Rivera has retired. In a way, I’d rather have an “outsider” come in and face the ninth inning pressures instead of David Robertson. It’s not that I doubt D-Rob’s ability, but we know he can excel in his current role and provide a lot of value, so why screw around with a good thing. In any event, regardless of who closes between the two of them, some much needed depth will be provided to the relief core with the addition of a guy like Benoit.
- Benoit isn’t a kid anymore. Next season, he’ll turn 37 years old. That’s not exactly a deal breaker, but on a team with several older players on its roster already, it’s not exactly ideal either.
- For what it’s worth, Benoit does not have a long history of closer experience. Although he earned 24 saves last season in convincing fashion, he really hasn’t spent much time in the closer role for any extended period of time prior. (I do believe he’s shown himself capable of handling that job though).
- Although there are several closers available this offseason (not to mention Jonathan Papelbon who’s apparently being shopped), Benoit’s price tag will likely wind up being expensive – both in terms of dollars and years ($8-9M / two years maybe?). Multiple years for another aging veteran might not be worth the risk. On the other hand, I suspect most of the quality relief options will require at least two years so maybe that comes with the territory anyway; I suppose the real question comes down to who do you trust out there over the course of a long grueling season.
- Comerica Park is a pretty big stadium, and is certainly a pitcher’s paradise compared to the small confines of Yankees Stadium. Benoit won’t turn into a pumpkin overnight, but his stats will inflate some for sure in NY (though this can be said for any pitcher coming to NY really). Fortunately, he does have good strike out stuff which should help.
The Tigers decision to not give Benoit the qualifying offer doesn’t feel like one of those situations where they know something about him that everyone else doesn’t. I really do think it’s a matter of dollars and cents, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers ultimately try to retain his services. As far as the Yankees are concerned, adding one more quality arm with strikeout ability to the bullpen sounds like a great idea. I’d be all for it.