If he continues to hit like he has the first few weeks of the season — he’s shown no signs of slowing down at this point, amazingly — Yangervis Solarte will go down as one of the best minor league free agent signings in baseball history. The switch-hitter has been a godsend for the Yankees, solidifying the infield and adding serious thump to the lineup. It’s been remarkable to watch.
I like to think that I’m pretty well-versed when it comes to prospects and the minors, but even I had never heard of Solarte before he signed with the Yankees. He came out of nowhere. Major League teams sure knew who he was, of course, and the Bombers were not the only team who pursued him over the winter. Joel Sherman says the Tigers were aggressive as well, so much so that they even promised him an opportunity to win their second base job. Here’s more from Sherman:
As a player who had spent eight years in the minors and was consistently — in (agent Peter) Greenberg’s words — “the 41st man” in a sport of 40-man rosters, Solarte wanted to see a road to make a team and perhaps start.
But then Detroit obtained (Ian) Kinsler. The Yanks were aggressive from the outset. They often have trouble convincing minor league free agents to sign with them because those players believe in the organization’s rep to go with stars over unknowns. The Yanks try to use money as a lure, and Greenberg said the $22,000 a month was the most any of his minor league clients ever had been offered, plus the Yankees were willing to guarantee three months of that contract.
Not only had Solarte never been in the big leagues before this season, he had never even been on a 40-man roster either. At least as far as I can tell. Solarte had several years of Triple-A experience though, so, according to Jeff Blank, he was earning upwards of $2,700 per month the last few years. Probably a bit more since he signed with the Rangers as a minor league free agent in both 2012 and 2013, when he had some negotiating leverage. It wasn’t $22k per month though, according to Sherman.
Being a pro baseball player is a good gig if you can get it, and if you injected every player in the world with a truth serum, I’m sure every one of them would say they are in it for the money, at least to some degree. It’s impossible to ignore the millions and millions of dollars on the table. Solarte signed with the Twins for a relatively small bonus as an amateur player out of Venezuela back in the day, and he didn’t exactly make huge bucks in the minors all these years. A $22k a month salary with $66k guaranteed would have been hard to pass up. Now it’s likely Solarte will earn more this season ($500k, the MLB minimum) than he did in his entire minor league career.
Like every other team, the Yankees sign a bunch of minor league free agents every year. Some work out — Solarte is an extreme example of one of these deals working out, but other minor league signees like Jayson Nix, Cory Wade, and Clay Rapada have contributed to the MLB team in recent years — and most don’t, but these deals are super low risk. No 40-man roster spot is required, and in many cases the actual salary is measured in the low six figures (or in Solarte’s case, five figures). It’s a place where the Yankees can flex their financial might by offered those extra couple thousand bucks per month, amounts that barely put a dent in the team’s bottom line.
Minor league salaries and free agency are still a bit of a mystery these days, especially when it comes to guys like Solarte, who have yet to make their MLB debut. He’s an outlier, and building a team around minor league signings is not something that will win titles, but these players are necessary to provide depth and fill out Triple-A (and sometimes Double-A) rosters. Even the best farm systems have holes — the vaunted Cardinals farm system had no shortstops, hence four years for Jhonny Peralta — and this is one way to fill them. It’s another spot where the Yankees can flex their financial muscle and it helped them strike minor league contract gold in Solarte.
You might remember a review of Out of the Park Baseball 14 from about a year ago. For those who don’t, OOTP is a powerful baseball simulation game that provides a fully customized experience. If you like the management aspects of The Show, but think that actually playing the games takes too long*, OOTP can scratch that itch.
* From what I’ve read, The Show is much more manageable this year due to a number of new features. It’s also apparently not impossible to score runs in The Show 14. Too bad this is the year I decided not to buy it.
For a full treatment of OOTP, please click the link above and read last year’s review. There are also some great points in the comments from long-time OOTP players. The beauty of OOTP is that the engine largely stays the same from year-to-year. Yet there are always changes that make the newest version better than the previous.
3D Live Simulation
If, for some reason, you would like to watch and manage one of your games, OOTP has a new feature to make it more worthwhile. You can actually watch the game in 3D mode. It might not be my bag — I want to plow through seasons and see the fruits of my labor — but OOTP has at least made the sim process interesting.
I imagine in a few years they’ll have actual 3D player models to stand on the 3D field. A few years after that, actual pitches and swings. For now we have this. It’s not the most compelling feature, but it certainly beats the old watching method, if you prefer to play the dramatic games rather than just hit the sim button.
All sorts of leagues
You don’t have to play starting at the 2014 MLB season. You can start from many historical points, which is part of what makes this game stand out. It’s pretty fun to start a historical team and sim like crazy.
You can also create a completely custom fictional league, even with fictional players. Have ideas for different rules? You can implement them. If you want to play with an international league — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Cuba, Netherlands, Italy — you can do that, too.
The ratings system
One thing I love about OOTP is the ratings system. When you set up a new league, make sure that scouting is on. You’ll have to hire a scouting director, and the strength of your scouting director will determine how well you evaluate players.
For instance, your scouting director might rate a guy as having five-star potential, but the default ratings might have him as two-stars. If you have a great scout, you might have a diamond in the rough on your hands. But your scout can be wrong. To me this is one of the most realistic aspects of the game.
You can, if you’re so inclined, eschew the star rating and put guys on the 20-80 scale. It’s not for me, but it might give you some granularity you don’t get with the 10-point system (half stars).
The ratings seem to be stronger this year, too. There are a number of ratings, both actual and potential, that underlie a player’s star rating. It’s a lot of information to process, but it ultimately makes the game satisfying.
Strongest suggestion: make trades hard
If you leave trades at the default setting, they’re far too easy. There is just no way the Pirates would deal a healthy Jamison Taillon for Jeff Samardzija and a three-star prospect. Yet that’s what happened during the first year of my first franchise. It’s almost like MVP 2004: if you make enough trades, you can get a team full of four- and five-star prospects and players.
If you bump up the trade difficulty one setting, you’ll have a much more difficult time trading. That makes it more realistic. If you have a poorly performing reliever on a one-year contract, you won’t get any offers for him. That’s the way it should be. Teams just don’t do that; otherwise maybe the Mets could have traded Kyle Farnsworth. It also means that you can’t go plucking top prospects from teams. They don’t trade them unless there’s a need and it makes sense for them.
I also got a chance to check out iOOTP, the stripped-down iOS version of the game. For $5 you could do a lot worse. It gives you the most basic version of the game. There is no minor league system, just a list of 20 to 30 minor leaguers who you can call up and send down at will. They develop, but they don’t play any games while in the minors.
I find the interface a bit obnoxious, but that’s because I’m used to the desktop version. You have to tap through a few screens to edit your lineups. In fact, the entire problem with the UI is the sheer number of times you have to tap the screen. But other than that, it’s a nice alternative if you’d rather just lay on the couch and sim some seasons.
Where you can get it
Head over to OOTP Developments website to pick up a copy of OOTP 15 for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It costs $39.99, so less than a copy of The Show. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself engaged in OOTP for far longer than I am with The Show or any other console baseball game.
You can get iOOTP 2014 from iTunes. Again, it’s $5. Not bad at all.
You know, I had a pretty crummy day on Tuesday. Not a bad day, I didn’t get bad news or anything, I just felt out of sorts. I hit off instead of snooze and overslept by like three hours, which is probably why. I was hoping the Yankees and Masahiro Tanaka would make everything feel better in the series opener against the Cubs, but nope. They lost 6-1.
For the first time in his big league career, Tanaka allowed four runs in a start on Tuesday night. Only three of them were earned because, well, the Yankees have a terrible team defense, but runs are runs and they all count. The first two runs scored on base hits through the drawn in infield, the next two on sacrifice flies. It could have been worse had the Cubs not bunted into two (!) outs at the plate in the fourth inning. Cubs gonna Cubs.
Tanaka was facing a team for the second time for his first time as a big leaguer, and while that may have contributed to his worst start of the season, I thought he just made a lot of bad pitches. Lots of hanging offspeed pitches. It’s not like they were laying off the splitter — seven strikeouts including nine misses on 18 swings against the splitter, identical to his 50.0% whiff rate for the season — or hitting pitchers’ pitches. Tanaka just made a bunch of mistakes and he paid for them. That’s life. Chances are the steady rain had more of an effect than the lack of a surprise attack. Oh well. Tanaka lost a regular season game for the first time since August 2012, which is very clearly not what the Yankees paid for.
Remember when A.J. Burnett dominated the Yankees like five times in 2008? Then the Yankees went out and signed him as a free agent after the season in part due to that dominance? This feels like the kind of game that could lead the Yankees going out and trading a bunch of prospects for Jason Hammel. The ex-Devil Ray held New York to one run on four hits and a walk in 5.2 innings, though he was in total control for most of the game. Things went off the rails a bit in the sixth after Brett Gardner doubled and Mark Teixeira came through with a two-out hit to score the team’s only run.
The Yankees put two men on in the first inning without the ball leaving the infield — Gardner infield singled literally off Hammel and Teixeira was hit by a pitch — but then Hammel settled down to retire the next six and 13 of the next 14 men he faced. It looked like he would be forced to leave the game after Gardner hit him with a comebacker leading off the game, but the Yankees weren’t that lucky. Outside of Gardner and Teixeira, the lineup mustered nothing all night. (The Yankees did load the bases on an infield single and two walks in the ninth, but that went nowhere.) Gardner and Teixeira went 3-for-6 with a double, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch while the rest of the lineup went 3-for-26 with two walks. Two-man army.
The Preston Claiborne/Matt Thornton/Matt Daley portion of the bullpen let things get out of hand in the late innings because that’s what the Claiborne/Thornton/Daley portion of the bullpen does. They combined to allow two runs on five base-runners in the seventh inning and it would have been a lot worse had Daley not stranded the bases loaded. David Robertson, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and healthy Shawn Kelley are pretty awesome. Every other reliever? Hide the women and children.
Jacoby Ellsbury went 0-for-4 and has one hit in his last 27 at-bats. He’s mired in a 5-for-49 (.102) slump and is down to .269/.347/.391 (102 wRC+) on the season. Gardner, on the other hand, is up to .303/.376/.428 (125 wRC+) on the year. The Yankees have committed $231.7M to five veteran outfielders since the start of last season and the homegrown guy is better than all of ‘em right now. By a mile too.
The umpires reviewed — at the urging of Joe Girardi (it wasn’t an official challenge, the umps reviewed it on their own) — a potential strikeout/foul ball by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth inning. The umps got on the horn with the Midtown office and were told that play wasn’t reviewable, so it was a big waste of time.
The Yankees seem to be getting burned by the infield shift more and more often these days. It happened twice in this game — the first time leading off the two-run sixth — and hopefully it’s just part of the randomness of baseball. Regardless, it’s annoying.
This quick little two-game series ends with a classic Wrigley Field day game on Wednesday afternoon, when Chase Whitley makes his second career big league start. He’ll be charged with stopping a two-game losing streak. Trade bait Jeff Samardzija will be on the bump for the Cubbies.
Some notes and links:
- Based on his Twitter feed, RHP Ty Hensley (hernia) will throw his first simulated game on Saturday. Seems like he’s on target to join either Short Season Staten Island or the Rookie GCL Yanks when their seasons start next month.
- Ken Rosenthal has a short note about how the Yankees found RHP David Phelps prior to the 2008 draft. Long story short: scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was their to see another prospect and fell in love with Phelps’ competitiveness.
- Ben Badler wrote about the lack of information available for international prospects because teams get them to verbally agree to contracts early, then essentially hide them at their Latin America academies. No one else sees them.
Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Pawtucket)
- 2B Jose Pirela: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
- LF Adonis Garcia: 4-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB — got picked off first and threw a runner out at home … 32-for-71 (.451) during his 17-game hitting streak to raise his season line to .340/.369/.490 in 37 games
- RF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K
- 1B Kyle Roller: 0-4, 3 K
- RHP Shane Greene: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4/4 GB/FB — 56 of 88 pitches were strikes (64%) … I wonder if he or RHP Alfredo Aceves is next in line to join the rotation if a need arises
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB – 21 of 39 pitches were strikes (54%)
It’s that time of the week again. The Yankees open their two-series, six-game stay in Chicago with their ace on the mound tonight, as Masahiro Tanaka and his unique belt buckle take on the Cubbies at Wrigley Field. Tanaka held these same Cubs to two infield singles and a walk in eight scoreless innings in the Bronx last month. It will be the first time a team sees him for the second time.
The Yankees come into Chicago week having won four of the last five games and somehow still in first place in the AL East. I mean, it’s a little too early to worry about the standings, but it’s surprising to see the Bombers atop the division when it feels like they’ve been playing meh at best for the better part of a month now. The AL East is a mess this year. Both the Cubs and White Sox are rebuilding — the Cubs have literally the worst record in baseball right now — so this a good week to pad the win total and start creating some separation with the rest of the division. Here is the Cubs lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- RF Alfonso Soriano
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- 2B Brian Roberts
- RHP Masahiro Tanaka
It’s warm and cloudy in Chicago right now, but there are thunderstorms in the forecast later tonight, starting around 10pm ET or so. That might be a problem. We’ll just have to wait and see. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch the game on My9. Enjoy.
5:31pm: Beltran will try to swing a bat on Monday, Joe Girardi announced. If that doesn’t go well, he will have surgery.
3:26pm: Via Mark Feinsand: Carlos Beltran will try to play through the bone spur in his elbow. If there is too much pain, he will have surgery and be sidelined for roughly two months. He received a second cortisone shot over the weekend.
Beltran, 37, is not eligible to be activated off the disabled list until next Wednesday, so I assume he’ll spend the next several days trying to hit. He might try to “play through” the bone spur without actually playing for the Yankees, if that makes sense. If it bothers him in the batting cage or in minor league games, Beltran could decide to have the surgery without ever actually being activated. Seems like he knows he needs the surgery but will try to put it off until the offseason. We’ll see. · (35) ·
Matt Chapman | 3B/RHP
Chapman is an Orange County kid from Trabuco Canyon who went undrafted out of El Toro High School (Austin Romine‘s alma mater) in 2011. He hit .285/.380/.413 with seven homers and seven steals in 108 games as a freshman and sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, and so far this spring he has a .318/.417/.511 batting line with six homers, five steals, and nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (23) in 46 games.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., Chapman stands out for his defense at the hot corner, where he has quick feet, soft hands, and a rocket arm. He has some power in his right-handed swing and a good approach at the plate, but he has struggled against premium velocity throughout his career. Chapman has been classified as a hard-nosed, blue collar player who plays very hard. Although he has not pitched during his three years at Fullerton, Chapman threw 98 mph out of the bullpen with Team USA last summer. He is considered a better prospect as a position player, but the mound is an obvious fallback option.
In their recent rankings, Keith Law (subs. req’d), Baseball America, and MLB.com ranked Chapman as the 54th, 64th, and 77th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. As I mentioned yesterday, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer loves his SoCal prospects, and he has sown an increased affinity for college bats the last two drafts. Chapman appears to be a player the Yankees could target with their top pick, their second rounder (55th overall).
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Red Sox have re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract worth $14.1 pro-rated, so basically the qualifying offer he turned down over the winter. He will presumably take over shortstop with Xander Bogaerts moving back to third base. Drew will be a free agent again after this season, but because he did not spend the entire season with Boston, they will not be able to make him a qualifying offer.
The Yankees had on again, off again interest in Drew during the offseason and even in recent weeks — we recently heard they would reconsidering signing him after the draft — which makes sense given the infield situation. Just this morning I said I expected Drew to sign with the Tigers after the draft, which shows what I know. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned, and if the Yankees lose Carlos Beltran to elbow surgery, he would make some sense as a full-time DH and replacement middle of the order bat. · (51) ·
For the fourth series in a row, the Yankees are playing a National League team. This time they’re on Chicago’s north side for two games against the Cubs. These clubs played two games at Yankee Stadium last month and the Yankees didn’t just win both games — the first game was rained out, so they played a doubleheader the next day — they shut the Cubs out both times. It was pretty great. Alfonso Soriano is returning to Wrigley Field for the first time since being traded back to New York last July, so it’ll be interesting to see the reception.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Lovable Losers took two of three from the Brewers over the weekend, winning both Saturday and Sunday. They dropped three straight and ten of 12 before that. The Cubs have lost 90+ games in each of the last three seasons and they are again terrible in 2014, coming into today with a 15-27 record and a -3 run differential. That is the very worst win-loss record in baseball despite a decidedly average run differential.
The Cubs average 3.95 runs per game and have a team 82 wRC+, so they are well-below-average offensively. They are missing two outfielders in OF Justin Ruggiano (80 wRC+) and OF Ryan Sweeney (36 wRC+), both of whom are on the 15-day DL with hamstring problems. Ruggiano started a minor league rehab assignment yesterday, so I suppose he could be activated at some point during this series. Sweeney is out long-term.
Rookie manager Rick Renteria has two above-average bats in his lineup in 1B Anthony Rizzo (134 wRC+) and SS Starlin Castro (126 wRC+). Rizzo has bunted to beat the shift several times this year, including once against the Yankees, so expect them to pull the third baseman a little closer to the line. Castro has rebounded quite well following a brutal 2013 season. IF Luis Valbuena (114 wRC+) plays just about everyday, either at second or third. OF Junior Lake (103 wRC+) has been solid in left field.
OF Emilio Bonifacio (89 wRC+) got off to a ridiculously hot start but has cooled down considerably. He leads the team with eleven steals and is their only serious threat to run. 3B Mike Olt (89 wRC+) has hit a bunch of homers (nine) but also has a .254 OBP and a 31.6% strikeout rate. C Welington Castillo (94 wRC+) has been good by catcher standards. Everyone else on the active roster — OF Nate Schierholtz (33 wRC+), OF Ryan Kalish (69 wRC+), UTIL Chris Coghlan (-6 wRC+), IF Darwin Barney (38 wRC+), and C John Baker (-46 wRC+) — has not hit at all.
The Yankees are in serious need of rotation help following the CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova injuries, and it just so happens two prime pieces of trade bait will be on the mound for the Cubs this series. They aren’t shy about being terrible for the sake of accumulating prospects with an eye towards a future that may never come. Consider this a chance to do some advance scouting.
Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. CHC) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Hammel, 31, took a one-year “I know you’re going to trade me but hey, money” contract from the Cubs over the winter and has a 3.06 ERA (3.36 FIP) in eight starts and 53 innings so far this season. His strikeout (7.30 K/9 and 21.2 K%), homer (0.85 HR/9 and 8.5% HR/FB), and ground ball (43.9%) rates are alright, his walk rate (2.04 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) very good. Lefties (.303 wOBA) have hit him much harder than righties (.207 wOBA), and his still ridiculously low BABIP (.217) has recently started to correct. Hammel has been throwing his low-90s two-seamer way more than ever before this year while cutting back on his mid-to-upper-70s curveball. A hard low-to-mid-80s slider is now his top breaking ball. He also throws the occasional mid-80s changeup. Hammel held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings a few weeks ago.
It’s worth noting tonight’s game will be the first time Tanaka faces a team for the second time this season, so the element of surprise will theoretically be gone. He held them to two singles and a walk with ten strikeouts in eight scoreless innings last month, and I’m not sure the Cubs will be the best litmus test for how Tanaka will pitch the second time around the league because they aren’t a great offensive team.
Wednesday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. CHC) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (vs. NYY) (GIFs)
Some pitchers get undeservingly raised to ace status for some reason, and the 29-year-old Samardzija is one of those guys. He’s been excellent so far this year — 1.62 ERA (2.86 FIP) in nine starts and 61 innings, and prepare yourself for a lengthy discussion about his 0-4 record — but there’s also nothing in his track record as a starter to suggest his homer rate (0.30 HR/9 and 4.2% HR/FB) is close to sustainable. Samardzija’s strikeout rate (7.50 K/9 and 20.7 K%) has fallen off big time this year while his walk (2.80 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) and ground ball (50.3%) numbers are right in line with the last two seasons. Like Hammel, he’s been getting knocked around by lefties (.308 wOBA) but not righties (.228 wOBA). I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s very good. Let’s pump the breaks on the ace talk for a bit though. Samardzija sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his running two-seam fastball and a couple ticks lower with his cutter. A low-80s slider is his top offspeed pitch, and he’ll use a mid-80s splitter as a changeup. The Yankees did not see Samardzija in the Bronx earlier this year.
The Cubs are carrying eight relievers for the time being, presumably until Ruggiano is ready to come off the DL. Former Yankee RHP Jose Veras (10.03 FIP) just came off the DL himself and is being eased back into things right now. Renteria has been using RHP Hector Rondon (1.60 FIP) as his closer even though he’s stopped short of declaring him the guy. RHP Pedro Strop (4.65 FIP) and former Yankees property RHP Brian Schlitter (3.45 FIP) have been seeing most of the setup time. Schlitter never actually pitched for the Yankees; he was briefly with the team between waiver claims in 2011.
LHP Wesley Wright (3.46 FIP) and LHP James Russell (5.77 FIP) are Renteria’s two lefties, and both are specialists more than anything. RHP Justin Grimm (3.66 FIP) and RHP Neil Ramirez (1.89 FIP) fill out the rest of the bullpen. The Cubs were off yesterday, so their bullpen is nice and fresh. The same is true for the Yankees. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on the recent reliever usage, then check out Bleacher Nation for whatever you need to know about the Cubbies.
Tuesday: The Yankees have been scouting Carbonell during his workouts in Mexico, but they have not offered a contract and are not seriously pursuing him according George King, Dan Martin, and Jesse Sanchez. Carbonell is said to be seeking a four-year deal.
Saturday: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are one of five finalists for Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell. We heard they had interest in him a few weeks ago. Carbonell has to sign by July 2nd, otherwise he will be subject to the international spending restrictions.
Carbonell, 23, is said to be a speedy switch-hitting center fielder with some power. He hit .288/.378/.405 with two homers, six steals, ten walks, and eleven strikeouts in 127 plate appearances in Cuba last season before defecting. Here is his over the top workout video. It’s unclear what kind of bonus Carbonell will command. The Yankees had interest in Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz earlier this year, but not enough to make an offer. · (32) ·